Each week I plan to use my li’l piece of real estate on this Web site to link news events to running. Last week, it was tales of Tylenol abuse. This week, I’m going to use the media hype surrounding the release of the summer movie Snakes on a Plane to create a little hisssss-steria of my own.
Poisonous snakes are a real concern for anyone that runs, particularly those who like to explore off-road. There are four venomous snakes in the United States: rattlesnakes, water moccasins, copperheads and coral snakes. Canada lacks many—some say any—snakes with such a potent bite. Other countries are not as fortunate and have their own varieties of venomous, limbless reptiles to avoid or admire only from a distance.
Snakes tend to be most active and in the open when a) it’s above 40 degrees Farenheit; b) it’s below 100 degrees (F); and c) there are rodents aplenty. Snakes tend to be shy around people. In fact, almost all reported strikes in North America arise from a snake being startled or agitated, not from being on the hunt for human flesh. This is one reason it’s important for people running on trails in particular to pay attention to their immediate surroundings. That also means if you are running alone, do not be distracted by mobile music or podcasts; and, if you’re running with friends, do not get carried away with conversation. Stay alert.
Also, if you stop to sit on a rock, do a visual scan for snakes first. Once settled, do not reach in between rocks, just in case. Stay on the trail, too. Around this time last year I accidentally ran next to a nest of rattlesnakes escaping the heat under a shady bush. That’s when I learned my area’s resident rattlers breed in July and August.
Fortunately, venom is injected in only 40 percent of some 8,000 U.S. poisonous snake bites reported each year, and the chances of dying from one of those bites is quite rare. That doesn’t mean it isn’t painful. But poisoned or not, those wounds need to be treated immediately.
The most current medical advice advises the following if you are bitten by a snake:
- First, stop running. Try to remain calm so the adrenaline eases up and the venom has less chance of circulating through your system quickly.
- If you or someone with you brought a cell phone that can pick up reception (always a good idea), call 911.
- If you can’t summon an ambulance, get someone to take you to a hospital as quickly as possible, so medical personnel can administer an antivenom serum.
- Do not apply a tourniquet or cut the bite area.
- Do not try to suck the venom out.
- Do not ice the area. That makes it worse.
- If it happens during a race, notify volunteers at the nearest aid station (which is presumably where you’re heading) of the exact location. They’ll need to warn others. If it happens while you’re alone, wait for someone else to come along and help. If you find the trail is abandoned, walk slowly toward the nearest road, parking lot or occupied building.
Snakes on a trail is a reality in much of the U.S. It’s just one more reason why you should follow the standard safety precaution of always letting someone know where you’ll be running, and for how long.