Vacation running is the best…until it isn’t.

I could have died on my birthday run last year. 

OK, that’s being dramatic. Let me rephrase: I could have been gravely injured on my birthday run last year.

Now that I’ve got your attention, here’s the story: It was February 15, 2023, and my husband, Mark, and I were on a delightful birthday/Valentine’s Day getaway to Mexico, where we were staying in a beautiful, luxe, all-inclusive Caribbean resort. Which happened to have a nicely-appointed gym with treadmills. But, on that morning, it was a breezy 75 degrees in Mexico and a less-than-pleasant 30 degrees at home in Maryland. I wanted to take full advantage of the glorious temps—to inhale the salty, tropical air and feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. An outside birthday run it would be.  

After quickly scanning a Google map of my surroundings on my phone, I decided I’d run an out-and-back on the sidewalk that meandered along manicured lawns and lush gardens paralleling the property’s main road. The thing is, the sidewalk ended after about 1.5 miles. And when I hit my intended turn-around spot, I was in a groove and craved more mileage. So, instead of looping around and returning on the safe sidewalk, I turned right and began following a wooded trail that beckoned to me from a nearby parking lot. 

Now, would I usually run on an unfamiliar trail, let alone in an unfamiliar environment? Of course not. But I was on a private property. And after a quick scan, I didn’t notice any signs discouraging entry to the trail. Plus, I could tell the trail wouldn’t be very long since we were so close to the oceanfront. I figured it was simply a shortcut to the beach, allowing me to pop out and do the rest of my run along the shoreline back to my hotel.

I entered the trail, admiring the thickets of mangrove trees bending before me, creating a tunnel of thin, brown branches. My gaze naturally fell to the ground below me as I looked out for roots and rocks, as you do when running in the woods. 

The (very safe, very guarded) resort property. My run took me somewhere to the very far left of this photo.

After about one minute of running on the trail, I rounded a bend towards what I assumed was the ocean, my eyes still cast downward. So I heard the deep growl followed by incessant, ferocious barks before I saw it. It being a giant guard dog that had been trained to attack trespassers attempting to enter the private property via the very trail I was on. The giant dog that was fortunately attached to a rope held by an armed guard, who had one hand on the leash and one hand on the rifle positioned at his hip as I happened upon them.  

The dog lunged at me, bearing glistening, pointed teeth and a snarled mouth. I screamed, jumped backwards, then froze, cowering to the dog and the guard with his gun, my mind swirling as I assessed the situation. Do I run? Do I stay put? Do I explain myself? Do I try to pet the dog? (Hey, I love dogs! I’m a nice human!) The guard yelled at me in indiscernible Spanish, likely something along the lines of What the eff are you doing here, woman? Go! Go! as he attempted to gain footing on the soft ground while pulling the dog back with force. 

“Go that way?” I panted, pointing behind me. The guard motioned with his head to turn around, still wrestling with his angry dog. So I did. I turned around, and dashed away, my heart rate soaring, back along the trail to the parking lot. As the leaves and dirt under foot first turned to grass, then black asphalt, I took a breath for what felt like the first time in minutes. I was safe. 

Powered by adrenaline (and an unmitigated fear that I’d be arrested for trespassing), I sprint-ran back to the resort’s gym on the sidewalk just in time to greet Mark as he finished his workout.

“How’d your birthday run go?” he asked, taking in my flushed cheeks and sweat-soaked clothes. 

“Well, I nearly died and my heart rate hit 181,” I blurted, glancing at the numbers on my Garmin screen. 

He looked at me, unphased. “Yeah, the humidity here can be a killer, huh?” 

My unusually high heart rate stats from the run. I’m not surprised it shot up to 181!

I filled Mark in on my near-miss. And, once the shock wore off and we acknowledged gratitude for my safety, we spent the rest of the trip laughing about the ridiculousness of it all. My naivety in thinking the trail would simply lead me to the ocean—not to a hiding spot for resort security tasked to keep the grounds safe from trespassers attempting to enter the property through the woods. What the guard must have thought as I cluelessly ran towards him and his dog. How I probably gave him just as much of a scare as  the one I received. My paranoia about my own potential trespassing arrest. And how the what ifs of it all could make quite the intriguing true-crime podcast plot: “Birthday run gone bad: Mom of four found dead in the woods on a property in Mexico during a run after an apparent dog attack. But who is at fault? The woman? The dog? The guard?” 

Out for my birthday dinner, grateful than ever for another trip around the sun!

I can joke about it all now, lucky to have escaped unscathed. But the vision of that dog lunging towards me still gives me chills nearly one year later. And it gives me even more pause whenever I approach unfamiliar areas, both on the run and in life. Because, with all due respect to the poetic advice of the great Robert Frost, I probably won’t take the road (err, trail)  less traveled. I’ll stay on the sidewalk, thank you very much. You just never know what could be lurking around the corner. 

Tell Us: What’s the best (or worst) vacation run you’ve had?