If you’ve been on the trails within the last few years you may have worryingly noticed caution signs at trailheads that say something along the lines of “Warning, ticks may be found in this area”. If you haven’t noticed the signs before, you probably will now, sorry! This article should hopefully answer all your questions relating to ticks and trail running.
But what are ticks and why should trail runners care about them? Ticks are technically small arachnids (not insects) varying in size from 0.8mm to 6mm. When ready to feed, they’ll wait on long grasses for a human or animal to brush past, so that they can latch onto them. Ticks prefer warm, moist areas of the body so they’re likely to then migrate to your armpits, groin, or hair. When they’re in a desirable spot, they’ll bite into your skin and begin drawing blood, and as a result, can potentially transmit Lyme disease to you.
Why should you avoid getting bitten by a tick?
Yes, it’s pretty gross being bitten by an ugly little bug but that shouldn’t be your main concern. Certain ticks like the Blacklegged Tick (Deer tick) can transmit diseases when they feed off you, the most infamous one being Lyme Disease. Lyme Disease is an infection that is carried by deer ticks and can lead to some serious symptoms like a nasty rash, joint pain and swelling, and even neurological problems if not treated properly in a timely manner.
What does a tick look like?
They are essentially 8 legged arachnids with a bulbous body varying in size from 0.8mm to 6mm but can grow to 1cm after feeding. The below image shows what a tick looks like once it has bitten you and latched on to your skin.
How do you prevent ticks when trail running or hiking?
- Be cautious on wooded or long Grassy trails especially in the Spring to Fall months.
- Wear a good insect repellent, I recommend using UltraThon Insect Repellent which is 34% DEET (the most effective insect repellent available) and provides up to 12-hours of protection; resists rain, water splashes, and perspiration.
- Consider wearing running tights if it’s not too hot, otherwise opt to wear some compression shorts like SAXX Underwear underneath your running shorts, as ticks like to go for hairy areas. Wearing long socks may also be a good idea.
- Check your skin every couple of hours. If you do this simple check and you notice one before it bites then you can just brush it off.
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How to remove a tick if you’re bitten during a run?
Unlike most other bugs that bite, ticks typically remain attached to your body after they bite you. If one does bite you, you’ll likely realize at a later date after it has grown from feeding. After a period of up to 10 days of drawing blood from your body, an engorged tick can detach itself and fall off but there’s no need to wait for it to get to that.
Your first step for tick removal should be to shower soon after running on wooded or long grass trails where ticks are known to be in the area. Showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease and may be effective in reducing the risk of other tickborne diseases too. Showering may help wash off unattached ticks and it is a good opportunity to do a tick check.
So what do you do if you find a tick on you? If you do notice that a tick has bitten you and it has latched on tight then you’ll need a good tick removal tool to detach the tick safely without its head breaking off and remaining stuck under your skin, and so that you can pull it out without squeezing its abdomen in the process (which increases your risk of infection, as the tick may regurgitate whatever it’s eaten from you/other animals – yuk!).
A proper tool is much easier and safer to use than tweezers, I know this from personal experience after discovering multiple tick bites in various places on my body after a Survival course in the Scottish Highlands. Use the instructions specific to your tool, which should typically involve you grasping the tick as close to your skin as possible, between its head (which will be embedded in your skin) and abdomen, and pulling slowly until the tick releases its bite and comes away from your skin. Then you can dispose of it safely and clean the bite area thoroughly afterwards.
Hopefully, this article has answered all the questions you may have had about ticks and trail running (and hiking for that matter), if not, feel free to ask any extra ones in the comments below. Please, don’t let ticks put you off enjoying the trails because they really are very easy to prevent while running in wooded areas and trail sections with long grass. At the same time, it’s worth every trail user being aware of them, for your own safety and peace of mind.