Karen Williams had to play dead to stay alive on the trail.

By Anthea Levi
Updated June 22, 2016
Credit: Getty Images

With less than three miles to the finish line, Karen Williams was attacked by a black bear during a marathon through the Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico last weekend. On her Facebook page Williams wrote, “I have a fractured right orbit from the mean left hook, missing parts of eyelid and eyebrow, injury to the belly of my left bicep, and a lot of punctures and lacerations. But I am alive.”

The recovering runner described the harrowing encounter with a mother bear and her cub in the post. She initially “raised [her] arms and yelled ‘NO!’” but eventually “rolled into a ball and played dead.” At that point, the bear left Williams and walked off toward the tree her cub had climbed, about 30 feet away. "Mama bear kept glancing my way to make sure that I was still 'dead,'" Williams wrote.

Her decision to remain still may have saved her life. But experts actually advise against playing dead if attacked by a black bear. If you're not able to escape, "try to fight back using any object available," the National Park Service (NPS) says on its site. "Concentrate your kicks and blows on the bear's face and muzzle." (A run-in with a grizzly is a different story, however. The NPS says to lie still, unless the attack intensifies, in which case you are to "fight back vigorously.")

The bear that attacked Williams was part of a study, and wore a tracking device that allowed authorities to find her quickly and euthanize her. "It is regrettable when a wildlife encounter results in human injuries and requires we euthanize the animal," Alexandra Sandoval, the director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, said in a statement. "We are thankful that the injuries sustained by the victim were not worse and are hopeful that she is able to recover quickly."

The incident may be more than a little unnerving for those of us who love to explore trails in wild places. Should you happen to cross paths with a bear this summer, the NPS recommends speaking calmly to signal that you're a person, not a prey animal, and slowly waving your arms while standing your ground. For more tips, check out this safety information. It'll bear-ely take a minute.