AUBURN — A professional runner from Kenya put his skills to the test Wednesday when two bears charged him during his morning training.
Moninda Marube said he awoke early to make an 18-mile run from his home on Hotel Road; too early, he would later learn. The black bears who live in the area of the Whitman Spring Road Trail make their way to Auburn Lake to drink at about 5 a.m. That’s when Marube was loping along the city-owned dirt road that’s closed to vehicles and now serves as a nature trail.
He had just passed a vacant house on the lake six miles into his run when he heard a rustling in the woods, believing it was deer or squirrels stepping on dry leaves. Farther up the trail roughly 20 yards, he watched as two black bears came out of the woods to his right and onto the road, likely on their way to the lake for a morning drink.
They stopped and looked at Marube. He quickly came to a halt and looked at them.
“I had to think very fast,” he said.
Jumping into the lake wasn’t an option.
“In my head, I know I can’t swim. I fear swimming. I fear water,” he said.
“Secondly, I knew I could not climb up a tree because bears can climb a tree,” he said. “The only solution I had at that time was to be able to run.”
Those calculations took about five seconds, he said.
The moment he turned his back to them, both bears charged him, he said.
He ran for the house, also about 20 yards from where he stood, screaming as he went. Nobody could hear him, he said. He had been alone on the road at that early hour.
“This is the only savior,” he thought of the house. “That house will be my refuge.”
Even if it meant breaking the door, he was determined to get in, he said.
Someone had told him to stand your ground when encountering a bear, he said. “But, at that time, you cannot think standing your ground once they start running towards you.”
Instinct kicked in.
By the time he reached the screened door on the porch of the house, the bears had closed the distance by half and were about 10 yards behind him, he said.
He kicked at the door, but it wouldn’t budge. He noticed a latch and handle. Unlatching the door, he pulled it and slipped inside, locking himself inside the porch.
The bears followed him to the door, then stopped and began sniffing. All that separated him from the bears was the thin screening in the door, he said.
“They could see me. I could see them,” he said.
He realized the bears could easily break through the screening, but they didn’t. They just looked at him, their snouts catching his scent.
Marube stood on the screened porch of the house for about 10 minutes, he said, wondering what the bears would do next. They wandered around the base of the porch and some of the out-buildings, then suddenly took off, chasing each other across the dirt road and into the woods.
He opened the screen door slowly, watching and listening for any sign of the bears. When it appeared they weren’t coming back, he ran from the house in the opposite direction from where the bears had disappeared into the woods.
An hour later, he had made his way back to his house on Hotel Road, still in shock from the encounter.
Had the house been any farther down the road, the bears would have caught up with him, “for sure,” he said.
“It’s not the house that helped me,” he later said. “It’s God.”
A day earlier, Marube had run a four-mile race in Bridgton, finishing second. Had he been chased by bears that day, he surely would have won that race, he said Wednesday.
Marube’s road has not been an easy one.
He arrived in this country from Kenya seven years ago. For nearly a year, he and other professional runners from Kenya were victims of an unscrupulous manager who took advantage of them, keeping most of their earnings from road races while housing and feeding them. Marube realized what was happening and broke with the man, securing his freedom.
Marube was befriended by veteran runner and track coach Dan Campbell of Auburn, who took Marube under his wing. Marube lives at Campbell’s home as a member of Campbell’s extended family.
Two years ago, Marube embarked on a 3,700-mile cross-country run in an effort to raise awareness of human trafficking.
He competes in road races to raise money for charities and to raise awareness of human trafficking. He works as a volunteer with the Auburn Police Department’s Police Activities League and is starting a running group of Twin Cities teenagers.
Marube, now a student at the University of Maine at Farmington, said he once was running in Kenya when he became separated from his group. Lost in the woods as he ran, he encountered a leopard that was perched in a tree.
Wednesday’s incident was different, he said.
“I don’t fear lion,” he said. “I don’t fear anything else. But a bear is scary.”
According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife website, if a black bear should become aggressive, running is not recommended. One should try to appear larger and make loud noises, repeating, “Hey, bear,” while slowly backing away. If a bear charges, one should “remain calm” and “stand your ground.” If a bear makes human contact, one should “fight back with anything at hand (knife, sticks, rock, binoculars, backpack or by kicking.)”
The next time Marube sets out for his morning run, he said he plans to leave home an hour or two later, when the bears are less likely to be active. He also hopes to find a can of pepper spray to carry with him, just in case.
The biggest lesson he learned from his encounter, he said, is: “”Just make peace with people. You never know when your day comes.”