I've heard the first reports of ticks this Spring in Western Montana, which means tick season is upon us. While just hearing the phrase "tick season" makes my skin crawl and prompts me to start checking for all the usual hiding spots, I still plan on running trails through the heart of tick habitat.
Ticks are tiny, creepy blood sucking bugs that latch onto any warm-blooded thing that moves. They tend to hang out on the end of plants waiting for the unwitting deer, bear, or runner to come by, at which point they transfer from the bush to the mammal. Ticks will then try to move to a protected space on the body, like arm pits and leg pits, before latching on and feeding. Aside from taking blood without permission, ticks also have incredible potential to spread disease through their bites: most famously Lyme disease. In Western Montana, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is the most likely disease and was actually first researched in Hamilton. Even if the tick biting you is not carrying any disease, I'm guessing you don't want to pick up any unapproved blood-sucking bugs on your next trail run.
Don't let tick season keep you from trail running! You can do a good job preventing ticks from finding a home with these steps:
1) Ticks are more prevalent on open grassy, south facing slopes. In Missoula that means Little Park Creek, O'Brien Creek, and the Lewis and Clark Trail (all time thickest ticks I've ever seen). The last few years there have been more reports of ticks on Sentinel, Jumbo, and Waterworks as well.
2) If you can't stand the thought of something crawling on your skin, consider tall socks.
3) Ring your leg above your knee with a line of bug repellent. Ticks won't cross that line.
4) Bug repellent in helps in general!
5) Running with two people brings more ticks out to play.
6) If you're running in a group and care more about not getting ticks than you care about your friends, position yourself to either be first (before ticks realize there's a line of humans) or last (after ticks have all found other carriers).
7) You can also go so far as to treat some of your running gear with pemetherin, which is basically bug repellent for clothing. Even just treating your shoes could be a big help to keep ticks off your laces.
8) Check yourself, your clothing, and your buddies when you get back to the trailhead. The worst things is driving home and finding a tick crawling on the roof of your car.
9) Check your dog! Frequent brushing, petting, and scratching behind the ears also serves to find and remove ticks.
Ticks are gross, but like bears, mountain lions, and bad weather, are just another aspect of trail running to negotiate. By taking preventative measures, and just being aware of where you're running, you can catch any creepy crawlies before they attach themselves to you.