Elite ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes rang alarm bells when he shared a disturbing video he shot during a 150-mile endurance race last weekend. Breathless and bloodied, Karnazes said in the post that he’d been “attacked by a coyote” out on the trail, and had managed to fend the predator off using poles he’d taken for support.
Now some animal experts are saying his account of the coyote’s behavior might be slightly closer to that seen in Looney Tunes than reality.
“I just had something rather terrifying happen,” Karnazes says in a graphic clip shared with his 102,000 Instagram followers. “I’m out on a 150-mile trail run, and I just got attacked by a coyote. That was a first. It knocked me over. Thankfully, I was running with poles, so I whacked it and it ran away. Kind of brutal. Not sure what I’m gonna do. I guess I gotta keep going, or else it’ll probably come back for me.”
In an email to SF Gate, he further elaborated that he had “peed [his] pants” during the assault. “That was also a first,” the hardcore runner added.
But in the aftermath of the 3 a.m. incident, National Park Service officials say they spoke to Karnazes and found that calling it an “attack” might be something of a misnomer. “To be clear, the fall, rather than the coyote itself, was the source of Karnazes’ injuries,” NPS spokesperson Julian Espinoza told SF Gate. “It wouldn’t be accurate to refer to the encounter as an attack.”
Coyote experts were also somewhat dubious about some of the behavior the 59-year-old celebrity athlete claims to have witnessed. After saying the animal had lunged for his just-unwrapped energy bar, Karnazes admonished the public to stop feeding wild coyotes. “This has got to stop,” he wrote in a Monday Facebook post. “If you see someone feeding a coyote, please say something. The local Rangers are doing the best job they can, but we trail runners are out in these areas more than anyone.”
Citing NPS biologists, Espinoza said such behavior would be “extremely unusual,” adding that “coyotes do not sprint at people when they approach them for food.” Camilla Fox, a spokesperson for the animal conservation nonprofit Project Coyote, concurred that such an incident would be “very uncommon” but agreed that feeding wild coyotes is an issue. Fox was also skeptical that Karnazes “heard the coyote snarling above him,” as he claimed, because she said snarling is “not one of their known vocalizations.”
The San Francisco Chronicle also reported that the NPS had tagged several coyotes in the area with ear tags in 2020, but those tags haven’t returned any information relating to the Karnazes incident. What really happened on the trail may forever remain between the runner and the coyote.