Karen Williams was nearly finished with the Valles Caldera Marathon when she was attacked by a bear
Credit: Courtesy Karen Williams

As if running a marathon wasn’t hard enough.

Karen Williams had just 2.5 miles left in the Valles Caldera Marathon on Saturday when she was attacked by a bear.

Williams was coming up a small hill during the trail marathon, in the Valles Caldera Nature Preserve in New Mexico, when she saw a bear charging at her from about 15 feet away.

“I raised my arms and yelled ‘NO!’ then saw the cub,” Williams recounts in the marathon’s Facebook group. “Then I was on my a– and being raked with claws and bitten.”

The bear ramped up her attack on Williams to defend her cub.

“I cried out in pain and Mama bear did not like that so she hit me with a left hook and bit my neck and started to try to shake me,” Williams says. “I rolled into a ball and played dead.”

That deterred the bear enough to leave the seriously injured Williams alone and check on her cub, now up in a tree.

“Mama bear kept glancing my way to make sure that I was still ‘dead,’ ” she says. “I was at that point afraid I might die.”

“I didn’t know what the wound on my neck was like because I did not move for fear she would come wail on me some more. I waited about 10 minutes until the huffing she was doing was gone and I couldn’t hear the cub anymore. Then I tried to look around but was having trouble seeing much. I tried to sit up but was nauseated and my arms didn’t seem to work right.”

Thanks to another runner who came across Williams about 30 minutes after the attack, she was airlifted by helicopter to a nearby hospital, where they determined she had a fractured eye socket from the bear’s “mean left hook.” She was also missing part of an eyelid and eyebrow and had an injury to her left bicep, along with “a lot of punctures and lacerations.”

“But I am alive,” Williams says. “Unfortunately the bear is not.”

In accordance with New Mexico law, the Department of Game and Fish euthanized the bear once it was found, also testing it for rabies. Officials are now looking for her cubs and plan to place them in a nearby wildlife preserve.

“I want people to know that this incident was just an incident,” Williams tells PEOPLE. “The bear was just being a bear and I was just being a trail runner. She was protecting her family and I am so sorry that we were both hurt.”

And she says the entire incident could have gone completely differently.

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“There was a runner about 3 to 5 minutes ahead of me on that trail and I suspect that he passed the bear without seeing her,” Williams says. “I imagine [the bear] was fairly spooked and already anxious when I came along. I don’t know that anything different would have helped either of us – the bear or me.

Williams is healing at home now, but the five-time marathoner and three-time ultramarathoner isn’t afraid to go back and complete the race one day.

“I would like to finish the last 2.5 miles of the marathon,” she says. “[The race] is in a national preserve and permits are required so it may not be until next year. I will have my bear spray and will wear a bell to make some noise.”