I live in a place where folks often say there’s only two seasons here: Winter and road construction. As a fair-weathered outdoor runner, the weather provides endless excuses to modify my training plans and utilize the beloved treadmill. (Interesting side note – did you know that treadmills derived from treadwheels, which were used in early prisons in an attempt to reform prisoners? And, that they were banned after being declared a form of torture? Google it. I swear I’m not kidding.)
Anyways, I distinctly remember when I started running eleven summers ago. It was the height of summer when I loudly declared I was training for a half-marathon. (I was not.) At the time, I thought it was the best time to pick up this new hobby, because at least I wouldn’t freeze to death or slip and fall on my ass.
I was wrong. At first, it was the simple obstacles. I had to learn to skip putting sunscreen on my forehead to prevent blindness or at least serious stinging when the sweat started pouring. Chaffing and hydration were easy to address after some minor investments in new shoes, clothes and Nuun.
In hindsight, those issues child’s play compared to what came next.
Deer flies. Wikipedia refers to them as blood sucking insects considered pests to humans and cattle. I call them the Devil’s spawn. A close runner-up is horse flies. Similar to mosquitos, only the females horse flies bite humans for blood. If you’re wondering, both are thriving here in northern Wisconsin.
I knew they both existed. I’m a tomboy after all, and grew up swatting these annoying pests, often times when swimming in one of our thousands of inland lakes. When I was unsuccessful at hitting the water fast enough, the sting would often leave a nice welt on my shoulder, back or neck. In this situation, I could count the enemy on one hand. And often times, friends were nearby to provide much-needed back-up and a warning call to dunk.
I run solo. Often times on an old railroad bed in the heart of the forest or on picturesque tree-lined country roads. The scenery and shade keep me sane. Turns out, this is also where millions of these pests await innocent, unsuspecting victims like me. While I have no scientific proof of this, I’m also convinced that my particular sweat is extra attractive to these bloodsucking beasts.
The first time I was attacked, I didn’t see it coming. I was perhaps a mile from my car when I ran through a marsh-like area. They feasted on me like an all-you-can-eat Friday night Fish Fry. By the time I made it back to my car, I counted over a dozen welts in hard-to-reach places like my shoulder blades and spinal column. Apparently, they also enjoy calves and creases behind knees.
I immediately turned to Google for help. Google made it sound so easy. Just use broad spectrum insect spray and run earlier in the day, the advice read. It didn’t work. Short of bathing in deet and never pausing, nothing seemed to deter these monsters.
Then Pinterest inspired me to attempt running with a fly trap on my head.
It seemed genius. You just attach a large Red or Blue Solo cup to your head and add tape to it. (Allegedly their favorite color is blue so that helps as well.) The flies generally start at the top of your body and eat down so they inevitably get stuck on the cup. The photos, while downright disgusting, seemed to promise success. I gave it a whirl.
It was not an epic fail. It certainly raised a few eyebrows from folks and felt extremely odd. Afterwards, I noted less than a dozen flies had succumbed to their death. My welt count was in fact lower but not statistically significant. It simply didn’t solve the problem. I abandoned the idea (although recreated it here for your viewing pleasure), but have been known to simply put some duct tape on the back of my hat or douse a sweat rag in bug spray to sport as a scarf and or quick leg wipe on a longer run.
I’ve also turned to grabbing a pine branch with long needles in an attempt to replicate the movement and effectiveness of a horse tail. Again, not super successful and equally entertaining for those who catch a glimpse of this insanity. The things we do to go for a run.
Kara Goucher recently shared on her Instagram account that for over 30 years, if she slides on her running shoe and it has a pebble or rock in it, she just leaves if there. She says it helps her see if she can push the annoyance out of her mind. That a little irritation is part of the challenge of running.
Such a true statement. Over the past decade, I’ve come to endure the blood sucking welts of a solid run. To embrace them as part of the journey. Occasionally I fight back, cut my run short, or hit the treadmill. But, for the most part, they are just one more obstacle that ultimately makes me stronger. And, when the breeze is just right and the bugs and humidity are non-existent, it makes an incredible run that much sweeter.