Today I drove 90 minutes for a run in the Pyrenees. After about 500m of climbing, my path ran head-on into a pack of grazing cows, several not so friendly, insistent that I would not be passing. I’ve passed cows before on runs, but always separated by some fencing. I thought all cows were docile and friendly, which is not the case, demonstrated by the unwelcome noises and downright mean looks directed my way as I approached.
The horns and size of these animals didn’t help, let alone the fact there were 30-40 of them blocking my passage. I tried descending and wrapping around them but a set of cliff bands and my insufficient knowledge of the local geography made that impossible. I went back, thinking I’d give it another go, perhaps sneaking by, but it wasn’t any better on the second approach and more time to contemplate the situation only made me less confident about passing – cue the newsreel on repeat inside my head: “American Mauled by Cows After Willingly Walking Into Herd.” So I turned around, descended and drove home. What I later learned was that (1) you shouldn’t look angry cows in the eyes, which I did, (2) carry sticks to clap and make noise if needed (I purposefully went without my sticks for training reasons but will bring next time) and (3) if the situation calls for it, run as fast as you can downhill – apparently while they are fast they can’t chase descending. Thankfully I didn’t need to resort to that. That said, I was also told that if there are baby calfs nearby (which I made sure there weren’t), none of that matters and they will charge nonetheless. Meeting animals in nature is part of the deal with running in the mountains, and I have a healthy respect and admiration for the times we all “run into each other.” That said, stories of being chased away by cows sure sound a lot less exciting and “adventerous” than telling stories of my encounters with rattlesnakes, coyotes and mountain lions running in the US, even if they are less dangerous.