If you’re an avid trail runner, hiker or the type that likes to spend their time outdoors, the chances are you have already encountered a tick and are versed in what to do if you find one. If you’re a dog owner, you’ve probably had to deal with these nuisance creatures on more than one occasion. When it comes to ticks and running, or any other type of outdoor activity, you need to know what ticks are, what they do and how you should deal with them!

In this article, we offer advice on: 

  • How to avoid ticks when running
  • Identifying ticks – what do they look like
  • How to remove them 
  • Lyme disease and what to watch out for 

Why you need to know about ticks 

We’re not trying to scaremonger here, especially if you are new to trail running but, ticks are an issue that need to be taken seriously. They spread disease and should be avoided, or at least identified and removed as soon as possible. 

You are more likely to encounter a tick in grassy or woodland areas, the types of terrain you will experience when trail running, hiking, camping, brushing the dogs after a wild walk and generally spending time in nature. 

Lyme disease has long been the main concern associated with ticks and tick bites however, with the discovery of Tick-borne encephalitis (TBEV) in the UK, now it’s perhaps more of a concern. For this reason, it’s important that you are fully versed with the possible consequences of ticks and trail running.

What is a tick?

A tick is a small arachnid belonging to the order Parasitiformes. They are ectoparasites, meaning they live on the outside of their host’s body, feeding on the blood of mammals, birds, reptiles, and sometimes amphibians. Ticks are known vectors of various diseases, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tick-borne encephalitis.

Ticks have a distinctive body structure with a tough outer shell called the exoskeleton. They have four pairs of legs as adults, but as nymphs, they only have three pairs. Ticks use specialized mouthparts, called hypostomes, to pierce the skin of their host and extract blood. After feeding, ticks can swell significantly in size.

They are often found in grassy, wooded, or brushy areas where they can easily latch onto passing hosts. They are commonly encountered in outdoor environments such as forests, fields, and gardens. Checking for ticks after spending time outdoors and taking preventive measures like wearing protective clothing and using insect repellent can help reduce the risk of tick bites and tick-borne diseases.

When is tick season?

Ticks are most active during warmer months, typically from spring to early fall, when temperatures range from 45°F (7°C) and above. However, the exact timing can vary depending on your location and local climate conditions. In some regions, ticks may become active as early as March or April and remain active until October or November. It’s essential to be vigilant and take preventive measures such as wearing long clothing, using insect repellent, and checking for ticks after spending time outdoors during these seasons.

How to spot a tick 

Young ticks can be difficult to spot as they are so tiny. They are only as big as a pinhead but they do carry diseases as they can still bite! Adult ticks are easier to spot. They are approximately the size of an apple seed. When they have had a good feed and are attached to a host, they become very fat and round and are a lot easier to spot. At this stage though, they have already been there a while.

How to remove ticks 

If you do end up finding a tick on your body, it’s very likely that it will have attached itself to you well. It is feasting on your blood so it will have a good hold. 

Don’t make the mistake of trying to remove the tick by pulling at it. This will more than likely result in the body coming away from its head and the head still being buried. In order to remove the whole tick, you need to be careful, patient and get the tools and techniques just right. There is a technique to removing a tick to ensure that you get the head and the body. You will be able to see the whole tick with legs still moving if you get it right. 

A tick removal tool like this is designed to remove ticks safely and effectively. 

ticks when running

Once you have removed the tick, be careful how you discard it. If you just throw it out in the garden, it has the chance to reattach itself to something else. You need to squish it and dispose of it so that it can’t find a new host – the dog or cat for example.

How to avoid ticks

The best way to avoid ticks is to stay away from areas they like to inhabit however, trail runners, and other outdoorsy types will know how hard that is. Where possible though, stick to the footpaths, avoid running through long grass and growth.

You could wear leggings or long socks too if you know you are going to be running through long grass and woodland. This will also protect you from bramble scratches. 

Use an insect repellent which can be applied pre-run or activity to keep them at bay.

Check yourself after your run, walk or activity. Pay particular attention to areas such as If you are quick, you may be able to brush ticks off before they make themselves at home. If you find one, remove it and then clean the area with soap and water or antiseptic. 

Lyme disease 

Most tick bites are harmless, but in a small number of instances, they can carry  Lyme disease. It is important to be aware of the symptoms as the sooner you get treated the better. Early symptoms of Lyme disease can present as a circular red ‘bull’s eye’ rash around the site of a tick bite. Be warned that not everyone gets a rash. Also be aware of flu-like symptoms including fever, headache, tiredness and general aches and pains. 

If you are bitten by a tick and experience any of these symptoms see a GP as soon as possible. You can learn more about Lyme disease on the NHS website.

This article is not designed to put you off trail running or any of your other favourite outdoor activities, just to make you aware of ticks and the damage they can cause. As long as you check yourself, and your dog after a run or walk, and remove any ticks quickly, you will have little to worry about.