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Run Forest Run

Posted: July 10, 2015

We are but mere mortals when it comes to those who run IN the forest.
Photo credit: Missy Pocsics

Photo credit: Missy Pocsics

Last weekend I ran my first half marathon (I’m only half crazy).

I started training for it 3 months before the big day – short run Mondays, speed work Wednesdays, and long run Saturdays. For 12 weeks, I ground away adding miles each week until my heart, legs, lungs, and head were strong enough to go 13.1 miles.

Needless to say, I was pretty excited come race day. The human body and its physical capacity is a marvel. That is until you look at another creature and marvel at their amazing abilities.

As usual, I’m referring to the white-tailed deer.

Every aspect of a deer is built for survival – from its eyes to its ears to its nose; from the hair on its chinny, chin, chin to the waving flag of its tail; from its sure footed hooves to its powerful thighs. If its nose, ears, and eyes let it down and its coat can’t camouflage it, a deer’s last resort is to RUN. 

No problem. A whitetails’ gluteus are the reason they run – they are tasty and powerful. They can clear a 7-foot obstacle from a standstill - handy when you have to dodge downed trees and underbrush.

And they can reach a top speed of 30 mph.

Well, that kind of bursts my bubble and eclipses my whopping 6 mph race pace. For cryin’ out loud, by 3 weeks old fawns are big enough and fast enough to outrun a coyote! I’m not sure I could do that now.

These muscles are supported by a large heart and lungs. Resting heart rate in deer is between 40 and 50 beats per minute. Compare this to people which range between 40 and 100 beats per minute.

Basically, deer have a resting heart rate lower than an 18-25 year old male athlete (49-55 beats per minute). Why do I mention resting heart rate? The fitter you are, the lower your resting heart rate because your heart is bigger and stronger making it more efficient at pumping blood. Even without a pumping heart (kill shots for harvesting deer are heart and lung shots), deer can run several hundred yards before exhausting their oxygen supply.

So who would win in a distance race like a half marathon? I doubt it would be me.

Deer can’t sustain 30 mph over long distances but I doubt I would ever catch up at my slow and steady pace.

I didn’t break any land speed records and neither do deer (as there are many other critters faster than our whitetail) but it certainly gives you a new perspective on those people and creatures that do!

-Jeannine Fleegle, biologist
PGC Deer and Elk Section

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