A blog by runners. For runners.

Take the bite out of running: How to protect yourself from bugs


When I was in grad school, I used to go running with my dog on the trails of a national park several mornings per week. It was easily the highlight of both of our days until spring turned to summer – when bugs ruined our ritual. My pup ended up with Lyme disease, and I was just sick of being eaten alive.

Granted, runners deal with bugs year round. I probably get a cobweb in the face a couple of times per month, and a gnat in the eye or mouth every so often, too. But during the warmer months, bugs can really spoil our runs from bee stings to mosquito bites.

Understanding how to protect yourself from insects can help take the bite out of your summer running experience.

Where the bugs are
There’s a reason why many bugs only bother you during the summer. Most insects only live in moist, humid environments and in wooded or grassy areas – which is not good news for trail runners. Mosquitos, especially the ones that carry dangerous West Nile virus, are usually only out from dusk until dawn.

Protect yourself
Bugs can be more than just bothersome pests, though. Ticks and mosquitos can carry disease, and bee stings cause allergic reactions in some people. So protecting yourself on the run is key. Here’s how runners can keep bugs away and stay comfortable:

  • Wear an insect repellent with at least 20% DEET at the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. DEET repels best against ticks and mosquitoes, works for hours, and will withstand sweating.
  • Consider running with a mosquito head net, like this one, or an insect blocker jacket, such as this model, if you’re looking for a more natural alternative to DEET or if bugs are really bad in your area. Sure, you may look ridiculous but at least you won’t be swatting bugs away from your face while trying to do speedwork.
  • Try roll-on type repellents. These repellents may be less greasy than the sprays. Some runners can even apply the roll-on version to their faces without causing irritation.
  • Run during the middle of the day if there are a lot of mosquitoes in your area. Most mosquitoes are only out from sundown to sun up, so you’re less likely to get eaten during midday runs. Keep in mind that it only takes one bite to get West Nile virus though, so wear repellent no matter what time you run. (If you run during the midday hours, don’t forget to lather up with sunscreen. Better yet, choose a sunscreen that also contains insect repellent.)
  • Wear sunglasses and a hat. Sunglasses can keep pesky insects from getting into your eyes (choose a clear lens if it’s not sunny out), and a hat can stop ticks off your head.

If you run in a heavily wooded or grassy area in the northeast or other locations where Deer ticks live, check yourself thoroughly after each run for ticks. Don’t forget to look in and around your ears, under your arms, behind your knees, between your legs, and in your belly button. Deer ticks transmit Lyme disease which can be serious.

It’s also a good idea to become familiar with the symptoms of Lyme disease and the signs of West Nile virus so you can get treated as soon as possible.

Written by Jen Matz.