10 Threats You Should Never Try to Outrun

Running away from a hazard always seems like a good idea in the movies. But not so much in real life. See pictures of brown bears. © Fotofeeling/Westend61/Corbis

Don't pull on Superman's cape. Don't spit in the wind. Never get involved in a land war in Asia. Avoid playing leap frog with a unicorn. There are plenty of things we humans simply shouldn't do and nearly just as many that folks give a shot anyway.

Take emergency situations. Whether it's a tsunami, an active shooter or a grizzly bear, the first thing that people normally do when faced with a threat is try to get the heck out of dodge. Heading for the hills, however, might very well put you in more danger than hunkering down in place.

Kenny Rogers sang, "You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk away, know when to run." Take a cue from "The Gambler" and check out 10 of the most dangerous threats that you should never try to outrun.

A Tornado
Nope, you can't outrun a tornado. Your best bet is to shelter in place. Ig0rZh/iStock/Thinkstock

Most crazy storm chasers that you see on TV know well enough not to try to outrun a twister. They just try to stay far enough away from a tornado to avoid its wrath. For the rest of us amateurs, the best thing to do is shelter in place. Evacuation routes can get easily clogged with cars, especially in small towns and rural areas with fewer get-away routes. That leaves people trying to flee from a tornado in the more vulnerable position of being trapped in their cars when a big one barrels through the area [source: Terry-Cobo].

The best option is to go to the basement of your home, or at least to the area closest to the ground. Use pillows and blankets to cover yourself from falling objects [source: Terry-Cobo].

A Bear
Black bears tend to climb trees rather than attack humans. Grizzlies, on the other hand, are more aggressive. Alsandair Toms/iStock/Thinkstock

Ever hear the one about Bob and Joe hiking in the woods when they come across a bear? Bob immediately prepares to make a dash for it by tying his shoes. Joe says, "What are you doing? You can't outrun a bear." Bob replies, "I don't have to outrun him. I just have to outrun you!"

Running away is a bad plan if you find yourself toe-to-toe with a grizzly, black or any other type of bear. While bears rarely attack, they are wild animals and therefore unpredictable. They can also run as fast as 30 miles (48 kilometers) an hour [source: National Park Service]. The good news is that they usually just want to be left alone. Encounter one in the great outdoors and your best bet is to back away slowly while facing the animal and avoiding direct eye contact.

If the bear continues to follow, you'll likely have to go on the offensive. There are limited circumstances in which "playing dead" can help you. Namely, if you're being sized up by a grizzly or brown bear that sees you as a threat to her cubs. These bears are commonly found in the western U.S. and are distinguished from black bears by a shoulder hump and "dished" face [sources: Murray; PBS].

Under all other circumstances, it's best to get aggressive. Despite their size and strength, bears of all colors are intimated by loud noises and dangerous objects. Start by making yourself as big as possible — by going to higher ground, for instance. Shout at the bear, wave a stick and even throw rocks at it. Also, be sure that you're ready to use that bear spray if the animal gets close enough [sources: National Park Service; Murray].

The Police
Running from the cops will usually get you slapped with the additional charge of resisting arrest. Even if you're innocent, it’s best to submit to the handcuffs and challenge later. UpperCut Images/Getty Images

When you fight the law, the law usually wins. Not only is running from the cops a bad idea, but it's also likely to get you in more trouble than you would be if you simply stuck around. In some jurisdictions, running could result in a resisting arrest or obstructing justice charge [source: Robinson].

The better course of action is to ask if you're being detained and simply walk away if the answer is "no." Even if you aren't doing anything wrong and think that the officer is exceeding his or her authority by stopping you for questioning, forcing you to empty your pockets or rifling around in your car, it's best to assert your objection and to calmly make clear that you don't consent to the officer's actions. Submit to a search or arrest, then challenge those actions in court if necessary [source: American Civil Liberties Union].

A Flood
As little as 6 inches of rising water can sweep a person off his feet, while just 18 inches can carry a car away. Jerry Sharp/iStock/Thinkstock

The best way to react to a severe flood situation is to do the exact opposite of what you would do in a tornado. In other words, seek the highest possible ground.

The inclination to run -- or drive -- away from rising flood waters is understandable, but it's also dangerous. As little as 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rising water can be enough to sweep a person off of his or her feet, while just 18 inches (46 centimeters) of rising water can carry a vehicle away [sources: National Weather Service, Tamayo].

Downed power lines from a hurricane or tsunami can still be live, leaving you one false move from being lit up like a firecracker on the Fourth of July. Hopping behind the wheel also poses its own set of hazards. Floodwaters may hide debris, potholes and other damage that could make roads impassable. If your car stalls, abandon it immediately and head for high ground [sources: National Weather Service, Tamayo].

Aggressive Dogs
A red-nose pit bull and its owner cool off in New York City. Pit bulls are not necessarily more aggressive than other dogs. Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

Perhaps the best cure for a shy bladder is the sight of an aggressive dog barreling toward you at full tilt. If that doesn't make you question every decision you've made in your life, probably nothing will.

Though many people think certain breeds (like pit bulls and Rottweilers) are more aggressive than others, any dog can turn angry if surprised or threatened. A study of dog bite statistics from the 1980s to 2000s didn’t show any breed as being more dangerous than another. Whichever breeds happened to be most popular in a given period were the ones that showed up for most dog bites in that period [source: American Animal Hospital Association].

What everyone agrees is that a person faced with a threatening canine shouldn't try to run away. Doing so may simply provoke the animal to attack. Plus, you're not going to be able to outrun it. Instead, cover your eyes and stand still. (Dogs take staring as a challenge; also, you'll want to protect your face). Try not to make any noise. Hopefully, the dog will take you for a tree or log and leave you alone [source: Smith].

A Rip Current
Rather than swimming toward shore if you're caught in a rip current, swim parallel to shore until you bypass the current. Zoonar/N.Okhitin/Thinkstock

Most people won't actually try to run away from a rip current; they probably hope to outswim it. An unexpectedly strong current that forms at low spots or breaks in a sandbar, a rip current can move at a speed of up to 8 feet (2.4 meters) per second. Swimming toward shore might be your first move when a leisurely dip in the ocean is threatened by a powerful current channel, but it could also be your last [sources: National Ocean Service, Popular Mechanics].

Experts say that the currents are tough to outswim, and those who try to do so may become fatigued (and risk drowning) before reaching dry land. Instead, swim parallel to the riptide. It's likely to be less than 100 feet (30 meters) wide. If that doesn't work, lie flat on your back and let the current take you away from shore until you've passed beyond it. Then try swimming around it or to shore [sources: National Ocean Service, Popular Mechanics].

An Earthquake
Third-grade students in San Francisco take cover under desks as they participate in the 'Great California ShakeOut' earthquake drill in 2011. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

As in all the other emergency scenarios we've gone through so far, it's important to remain calm when the earth starts a-shakin'. If you're indoors, get away from windows, drop under a sturdy table, desk or other protective area and cover your head with a pillow. Failing that, go to an interior wall in the house and protect your head with a pillow.

If you're outside, move to an open area that's away from buildings, power lines and other potential hazards that could be knocked down during an earthquake. If you're driving, get your vehicle out of traffic and park it somewhere that's also clear of trees, signs, traffic signals and light posts if possible [sources: CDEMA, California Department of Conservation].

Whatever you do, just don't run. Most earthquake injuries occur when people are hit by falling objects while trying to enter or exit a building.

An Active Shooter
Students comfort each other as they stand on the football field after a gunman was spotted inside Arapahoe High School, Colorado on Dec. 13, 2013. John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Whether it's at a school, in a workplace or at a movie theater, an active gunman poses not only a serious threat, but also one that's largely unpredictable. Just like a roving bear or aggressive dog, a gunman's attention is likely to be drawn to moving objects. It's also impossible to outrun a bullet.

The FBI tells folks that the best response to an active shooter situation is "Run, Hide, Fight." But the "run" part of that plan is more about getting to a safe place than actually outrunning the gunman. The safest place may be outside of the building, but it may also be in a locked room or office or behind some sort of barricade. That's where the "hide" part comes in. Meanwhile, "fight" is a last resort that should be implemented only when there's no other option [sources: FBI, Precision Risk Management, University of Delaware].

Despite their pack behavior, wolves prefer to be left alone by humans and can be easily frightened off if you do it correctly. yairleibo/iStock/Thinkstock

The trouble with wolves is that they like to travel in packs in search of prey. If you happen upon them— or them upon you—running for your dear life is likely to make you look like potential prey. Fortunately, the chance of encountering wild wolves is pretty slim, and even if you do they won't usually pounce [source: Spector].

Wolves are hunters by nature. They're coursing predators that prefer to take their prey on the run and are unlikely to attack otherwise. However, it's best to take the experts at their word and avoid testing these animals. That means moving away slowly without making direct eye contact.

Despite their pack behavior, wolves prefer to be left alone by humans and can be easily frightened off if you do it correctly. If they advance, make yourself appear as big as possible and yell at the animals to try to scare them off. If all else fails, curl yourself into a ball, cover your face and wait (pray?) for the attack to be over [source: Spector].

A Crocodile
A crocodile can run as fast as you, so it's best to back away slowly rather than to sprint. deyangeorgiev/iStock/Thinkstock

Crocodile Dundee had a preternatural ability to lull crocs to sleep by making a strange inverted "surf's up!" hand gesture and weird noises. You are not Crocodile Dundee. If you come across a croc on a golf course or in your backyard, you are likely to run. That's a bad idea. It's only likely to aggravate the beast. Not to mention, a crocodile can run as fast as a human [source: Hickman].

The best course of action is to back away slowly and try not to attract any attention, which -- as you can tell by now -- is the "go-to" strategy for dealing with dangerous animals. If that doesn't work, go for the eyes. In 2011, an Australian miner named Eddie Sigai successfully fought off an attacking crocodile after being dragged underwater by one of the razor-toothed beasts. How'd Eddie pull it off? By making like a professional wrestler and gouging the croc in the eyes. Experts say it's one of few viable options, crocodiles jaws are too strong to unclench -- especially if you're trying to do it with one arm -- and its skin is thick enough to fend off ward off punching and stabbing [sources: Hickman, BBC].

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Author's Note: 10 Threats You Should Never Try to Outrun

Here's one thing you can outrun: death by old age. A 2012 study out of Norway concluded that moderate runners can increase their life expectancy by more than five years. The common thinking that high-impact exercise like jogging does more harm than good to older folks simply isn't true, if you ask another set of researchers who assessed the correlation between exercise and osteoarthritis in 2013. They found that people who engaged in running were less likely to need hip and knee replacements. Looks like grannie needs a new pair of running shoes.

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