“You Won’t Be­lieve What I Saw!”


Runner's World South Africa - - CONTENTS - (MOSTLY) BY RUN­NER’S WORLD STAFF

55 in­cred­ble, ter­ri­fy­ing, hi­lar­i­ous things we’ve en­coun­tered on the run.


IWOULDN’T SAY I HATE snakes like In­di­ana Jones hates snakes, but I would say I en­joy en­coun­ter­ing them on the trail about as much as I like run­ning into some­one blast­ing mu­sic from their iPhone speaker. The snake sce­nario has only hap­pened to me a hand­ful of times, but ev­ery time is about as pleas­ant as re­mem­ber­ing the ex­is­tence of a song called ‘Cot­ton Eye Joe’ be­cause some stranger de­cided to play it while hik­ing. I live in a dry, hilly area, so my nearby run­ning trails are in the foothills, an arid cli­mate that snakes love. If you’re run­ning on a Satur­day morn­ing in any sea­son but win­ter, there’s a good chance you might sur­prise a snake sun­ning it­self on the trail, which is ex­actly what hap­pened to me once.

That sum­mer Satur­day, I was run­ning with my friend Jayson on the trail. We rolled around a cor­ner into my favourite sec­tion, above a tree-lined gorge. I was say­ing some­thing to Jayson when he in­ter­rupted me with a “WHOA!” and stopped in his tracks. Think­ing he had rolled his an­kle or some­thing, I stopped and turned.

“That snake just lunged at you,” Jayson said, point­ing to the coiled-up scales, ly­ing half on the trail.

I must have stepped about 30cm away from it as I ran past obliv­i­ously. My heart jumped, then thun­dered in my chest, sim­i­lar to the feel­ing when you just miss be­ing in a car ac­ci­dent by half a se­cond.

I used to be a rock clim­ber al­most ex­clu­sively, un­til one day I sud­denly be­came aware of the fact that I could quite eas­ily die on an alpine climb. So I took up trail ul­tra­run­ning. I told my friends, “It’s all the pain and suf­fer­ing of moun­taineer­ing, with­out the risk of death.” Turns out I wasn’t 100 per cent cor­rect in that state­ment.

Here’s a fun fact: a sin­gle vial of some snake an­tiven­oms can cost over R1 000, and some­times you need 10-15 vials per bite. That’s R15 000.

So it’s in ev­ery­one’s best in­ter­ests to avoid snake bites. Which, sta­tis­ti­cally, shouldn’t be that hard, al­though around 7 000 se­ri­ous snake bites are re­ported in South Africa each year.

An­other fun fact: a re­cent anal­y­sis pub­lished in Wilder­ness & En­vi­ron­men­tal Medicine found that of the 8 000 or so snake bites that oc­cur an­nu­ally in the US, 92 per cent hap­pen un­der nat­u­ral cir­cum­stances, which means the victims were un­aware of the snake’s pres­ence be­fore they were bit­ten. Fifty-four per cent of victims en­coun­tered the snake while walk­ing or hik­ing, and 67 per cent of those victims were men.

I stood still, think­ing about how dis­as­trous that could have been, as Jayson picked his way through the brush far to the left of the snake, and my heart rate started to slow. I was lucky.

But can you blame the snake? If some­one 20 times your size came sprint­ing through your bed­room on a Satur­day morn­ing, you’d prob­a­bly be a lit­tle peeved too.

And yes, you should be wary of snakes. How­ever, if you avoid over­grown trails and watch your step (which will ben­e­fit you in all sorts of ways in ad­di­tion to snake eva­sion), you should have a much eas­ier time avoid­ing get­ting bit­ten.

I con­tinue to give snakes the re­spect they de­serve as an­i­mals that can cause enor­mous hos­pi­tal bills at best, and try to avoid them gen­er­ally by run­ning on fre­quently main­tained trails, higher in the moun­tains. I’m just try­ing to stay out of their way, and I hope they’ll stay out of mine.

Also, if the uni­verse is lis­ten­ing and would like some in­put on what type of an­i­mals I pre­fer to run into on the trail, how about more golden retriev­ers?

– Bren­dan Leonard is founder of the blog SemiRad, and has also writ­ten for Out­side, Na­tional Ge­o­graphic Ad­ven­ture, and Men’s Jour­nal.

Il­lus­tra­tions by KELSEY DAKE

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