Trail running and snake paranoia

The sun was beating down, dispensing afternoon heat. Seeking shade, Colleen and I set out to run the woods segment of the middle school cross country course.

The Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake is the only poisonous snake native to northeast Indiana -- and it's on the endangered species list.
The Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake is the only poisonous snake native to northeast Indiana — and it’s on the endangered species list.

We plowed through about 50 yards of unmowed grass before we hit enough mud puddles to convince us to finish our run on an indoor track. But for me, at least, it wasn’t the mud or the heat that was the problem. It was the snakes – the ones in my head.

Can you be a trail runner if you’re paranoid about snakes?

The logical part of my brain knows the risk is minimal, especially here in northeast Indiana, where the only poisonous snakes that exist in the wild are on the endangered species list.

But in my mind, every patch of leaves or grass shrouds an imaginary snake poised to strike. Those Vibram Five Fingers that I bought on clearance more than a month ago? Still haven’t worn them out of the house. I don’t want to use them on pavement, but I’m too scared to try them on the trail for fear of stepping on a snake when I’m practically barefoot.

I DO like trail running MOST of the time. I like running in nature more than running in traffic. One of my favorite pictures of myself as a runner was shot as I crossed a stream during the Waterfall 5K, which is coming up again at the end of the month. (That photo, in fact, wound up as the T-shirt design for the 2012 race.)

So when am I going to get brave enough to try these out?

So when am I going to get brave enough to try these out?

Still, I can almost never get myself to go off road without a running buddy. A whole race full of running buddies, crashing through the woods and clearing the path ahead of me, is even better.

Could I overcome my fear of snakes? I’m sure it’s possible. I’ve rewired my brain before in the process of losing weight, unlearning many bad habits and training myself to adopt new ones.

I’d probably start by repeating this mantra: “Stay off the trails, snakes are too dangerous. Instead, run a few feet from two-ton speeding metal death machines.”

This is courtesy of a runner called Greyhound who posts regularly on the community forum at runnersworld.com. This guy works at a national park in Belize, where there are fer de lance and other poisonous snakes, and reports that his wife almost stepped on a cobra once when they were running in Sri Lanka. Even so, he’s hardly crippled by the prospect of encountering snakes on the run, noting that the risk is minimal.

I guess I should be glad I’m running in a part of the world where the only snakes I really have to fear are the imaginary ones in my head.

This photo from the Waterfall 5K helps me think of myself as a trail runner, but  my snake paranoia probably disqualifies me from that title.

This photo from the Waterfall 5K helps me think of myself as a trail runner, but my snake paranoia probably disqualifies me from that title.

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4 Responses to Trail running and snake paranoia

  1. This might sound counterintuitive, but you could volunteer at Eagle Marsh or somewhere else outdoors. And while you’re there with other people spend time around snakes. They’re really quite harmless (the snakes).

    • tischcaylor says:

      That’s a good idea. I’m not sure if I could do it unless they were just little garter snakes, though. Those quick-moving water snakes freak me out. I know they’re harmless. I think it’s the startle factor that gets me. (Funny how getting surprised by a spider doesn’t faze me, but a snake does.)

  2. I don’t know what to tell you to help you with your fear, but I can definitely say that it sounds like a valid concern to me! 🙂 I wouldn’t be happy finding a snake (or any other reptile larger than 2 inches for that matter) on my run either.

  3. tischcaylor says:

    There’s a paved jogging path near the local state park where my sister and I have sometimes encountered up to a dozen snakes on summer runs. They crawl on the path to sun themselves. Luckily they’re pretty small garter snakes, some no longer than my foot, but I’ve done some pretty amusing jumps to avoid stepping on them. 🙂

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