August 11, 2009

Gray Skies and a Heavy Heart

I've been ignoring my blog lately. I apologize profusely for the vast chasm of nothingness between posts. I'll explain what's been going on with me lately, and I promise, there's a valid reason why I've neglected things.

Tendonitis is currently the bane of my existence. It's brought my months and months of hard work to a screeching halt. This was a bitter pill for me to swallow, and has been a severe setback for me. I've spent many an evening drowning my sorrows in alcoholic beverages and horrible chick-flicks (DO NOT see "Confessions of a Shopaholic," I beg you.) There's also some family issues I've been dealing with, and I'll post about that later. Work, Life, and the usual daily drama have increased their stranglehold on me right now, and I've been grasping for breath at every waking moment.

All in all, I've been derailed in a major way. My head is foggy. My heart is gray and gloomy, like the Portland sky outside my window. My tears fall like fat raindrops, splashing on my concrete floors with an empty, hollow thud. I know I'm feeling sorry for myself and numbing my pain in unhealthy ways. I have to keep reminding myself that things will get better. I will resume my level of physical activity soon, and things will start looking up.

But it's so hard to keep your spirits up when stupid things are weighing them down. I have to move out of my loft. I have to take a further paycut at work. My feet hurt incessantly. I can't sleep. My grandmother is dying. The sky outside is cold an grey, just like my spirits.

I have to suck it up and keep moving onward and upward. Until then, I'm searching for that elusive silver lining.

July 26, 2009

Hotter Than July

This day is the stuff that dreams are made of. The sun hangs brightly in the crystal clear sky, warming the earth up to a toasty 95 degrees. We venture out of our loft, headed toward the waterfront for an afternoon adventure.

We park the car and walk toward the Willamette river. We buy wooden tokens, enough for several tastes of the best microbrew beers I've ever had. We meet friends underneath the tents, and wander about experiencing the thrill of discovery. The sun and suds make for a hazy, buzzed feeling that permeates the hot, sweaty tent. I've probably had the equivalent of three or four beers. The strong kind. We melt in the summer heat, drinking more beer to stay cool, the effervescent bubbles going straight to our heads.

Dusk settles, and the temperature drops to a more forgiving 83 degrees. We head out in search of Mexican food and, of course, more beer. We eat slow cooked pork carnitas, rice, beans, and handmade tortillas, washing each delicious bite down with our favorite IPA. We talk and laugh, discuss intense topics, and wax philosophical. The night is warm, young, and vibrant. We decide to head out towards Mt. Tabor park to catch a spectacular view of our city.

The crescent moon hangs brightly, big and yellow against the pitch black night sky. The warm summer breeze whips through our hair languidly. There are no clouds in the expansive sky, which appears to stretch on for an eternity. I inhale deeply, the cool, fresh air filling my lungs, and exhale long and slow. This beautiful stolen moment, shared with the man I adore, is when I feel more alive than I have in years.

I can't run. My Achilles tendonitis is preventing me from doing anything remotely athletic at the moment. I have to rest, rehabilitate, and listen to my joints, bones, and muscles. I believe this is the end of the line for me - no marathon in October. It pains me to write these lines, to throw up my arms and denounce all those months of hard work. But such is life.

I'm taking my time to heal, and stopping to enjoy life while I'm at it.

July 18, 2009

The King of Pain

In a cruel twist of fate, it turns out that my Achilles Heel is my "Achilles Heel."

I felt the swelling and tenderness in the Achilles tendon on my left foot after a 6 mile run this Tuesday. At first, I wondered if maybe I hadn't given myself enough recovery time after the half marathon. I stretched thoroughly and rubbed both my heels tenderly. The pain subsided, but something told me that this time, it was different. It was a little more intense, a little more lingering.

During sprints at the track on Wednesday, the pace leader remarked that my left foot must be feeling the pain, because I took shorter steps on that side. He was left heel throbbed angrily. I returned home and soaked in a mineral bath with kosher salt. I applied a cold pack, and was startled to see how inflamed my heels were, especially on the left side. When I got to work that day, I promptly called my acupuncture clinic.

I discovered that my acupuncturist is only in on Thursdays now. This didn't surprise me, since he's quite brilliant. When I developed tendonitis in my right wrist, a few of his treatments cured it straightaway. I'm sure he'll move upward and onward to some fancy clinic rather quickly, and then I'll never be able to get an appointment. For the time being, I'll get as much relief as possible for this condition that is turning out to be the bane of my existence.

Needles, electrodes, and a deep calf massage provided instant relief. The swelling went down a bit, and I pondered this Saturday's long run: 16 miles, flat. Hm. That will prove to be a challenge when walking is rather difficult at the moment.

I resigned to the fact that if I don't slow down and rehabilitate my tendons, I might cause irreversible damage. I have to miss this Saturday's long run. What will happen? Will my fitness evaporate overnight? Will I gain 5 pounds? Do I have to kiss my training goodbye?

Is this the end of Project Marathon?

I don't know the answer. All I know is that my tendons are inflamed, and it's exceedingly painful. I want to keep going (and I NEED to keep going at this stage in the game) but I have to listen to my body. It's tired. It's irritated and angry. Proper rest and rehabilitation right now just may allow me to continue forth to my ultimate goal. It would be a shame to have done such hard work for so long, only to have to abandon it. It kills me, but I need to take some time off to get better.

Here's my tendonitis treatment regimen:

Ice Massage: get an ice cube and rub it into the really painful spots. Do this for about 5 -6 minutes per heel.

Cold Pack: apply to heels directly, for 10 - 15 minutes.

Ibuprofen: 500 milligrams, on a full stomach.

Foam Rolling: calves, 10 minutes.

Stretching: calves, 10 minutes. Push wall, downward facing dog, runner's lunge.

Zeng Gu Shui: tincture, applied directly to Achilles tendons before bedtime.

Hydrate: grape juice for antioxidants, tons of water. No more coffee (sniff, sniff.)

*Repeat whole regimen twice daily, and apply cold packs 4 times daily.

I'll post an update next week with my results. Until now, I'm hurting but hopeful. Wish me luck.

July 13, 2009

Civic Duty

I've posted here and here about my experiences with the irrepressible Wildwood Trail. This weekend I adopted a more altruistic relationship with my nemesis. I volunteered a Saturday morning of my free time to work the aid station for this week's long run, a 16-mile jaunt through Wildwood Trail and down the path to Nature Trail. I figured it was the least I could do in exchange for all the wonderful fully supported training runs that the Portland Marathon Clinic provides, free of charge.

Due to a slight misunderstanding at the beginning, I had to walk 2 miles down the road to reach Aid Station #1. At least I got my legs moving, and gorgeous scenery to boot.

The table was completely set up by the time I arrived. Check out our gourmet spread.

That morning, someone had mentioned that one year, Runner's World Magazine rated Wildwood Trail the #1 marathon training trail in the US. I can see that.

As a Portlander, I feel incredibly lucky to have such amazing natural beauty at my fingertips.

Sunlight filtering in through the dense tree cover.

A long and winding road.

The path to Nature Trail, the second half of today's 16-mile route.

A fallen tree...

...and its mass of thick, gnarled roots.

It was interesting to witness the differences between the various pace groups. The first few groups of fast runners were obviously Aid Station experts. They burst forth from the trail entrance, sinewy and focused, spending only a few quiet minutes hydrating, eating pretzels, and refilling sports bottles. You could tell this was old hat for them. They thanked us graciously and were off quickly, moving single-file like a well oiled machine.

The subsequent groups stayed progressively longer, chatting with us and smiling, milling about and stretching their muscles.

The 5-hour plus marathon group were the stars of the show, because they were all heart. It was easy for the other "fast" groups, but this brave group ran on guts alone. They kept going with determination, making it all the way to the finish line. When they thanked us for being there to help, we saw the sincerity in their eyes.

Sometimes it feels good to be needed.

July 7, 2009

Going Halvsies

Okay, Sauvie Island, check it out: Maybe...maybe...we could go half on a marathon. What do you think?

To say that I did not plan well for race day is an understatement. My head hit the pillow no earlier than midnight the night before, my body spent and exhausted after 4 hours of flying and schlepping through airports. My belly ached, courtesy of having In-N-Out burger for dinner (Note to self: fast food does not equal adequate pre-race nutrition.) I overslept my alarm and woke with a start at 5:15 AM, desperately rushing to get out the door.

Reaching Sauvie Island in time for the 7:00 AM start was no small feat. Traffic came to a standstill near the St. John's bridge, and we inched along infuriatingly. I watched, anxious, as the minutes ticked by: 6:15, 6:20, 6:30, 6:40. When the clock struck 6:45 and I could see the start line, I practically fell out of the car and sprinted over.

I had a mere 15 minutes to register, pick up my number, and wait in the horrendous lines for the port-a-loo. The start time was delayed a few minutes, so I lined up at precisely the right moment. A young musician played a stirring rendition of "America the Beautiful" on the tuba, and we were off!

I smiled as I took my first few strides. The start was slow, as the pack bunched up around me. I swished past some of the slower runners and watched as the crowd thinned out. It took me a couple of minutes to settle in, and then I remembered The Plan I'd hatched in my mind to run smart on this day.

A half marathon sounds hard if you think of it as 13.1 miles. If you break it up into two 10-K's, with a mile at the end, it seems more manageable. I planned to spend the first two miles settling in, keeping the pace up but not killing myself. After that, I needed to kick it up a notch and steadily increase my speed. After the first 10-K, I planned to stop for a few seconds and refuel. The last 10-K? Run like I stole something. The last mile? Finish strong. Whatever I do, don't bonk.

The first two miles were scenic and casual. My mind was all over the place, going over every subtle nuance of the road, and how I felt. Once I passed the 2nd Mile marker, something inside my brain clicked. My eyes narrowed. My jaw set. I picked a focal point and set my gaze intently on it: The Guy With The Red Shirt. My arms pumped, my feet turned over, and my body fell into a hypnotic rhythm. I engaged in a zone of mental clarity and focus unlike any other I've experienced. Throbbing music swirled in my ears and propelled my feet forward.

Nothing else matters right now
, I told myself. It's just you and this road. You will finish in two hours. You will do it.

I kept this intense focus locked throughout the first 10-K. I never let The Guy With The Red Shirt out of my sight. When I reached the 6 Mile marker, I stopped briefly as planned. I drank fluids, I ate a packet of chocolate Gu. I checked my time thus far: 58 minutes. Excellent, right in line with my goal. Gotta keep up the momentum. I took off for the second half, willing my focus to stick. Don't break the trance. Keep the body moving, pick up those feet. I remembered the levitation game I played as a kid, and adopted it as my mantra:

Light as a feather, stiff as a board.

If the first half was mostly Body, the second half was all Mind. I tried not to let myself give in to the pain. The sun beat down on my body relentlessly, and the bug spray mixed with sweat stung my eyes, but my feet and arms kept moving like clockwork. I forced myself to try and keep up the momentum, even though The Guy With The Red Shirt was so far ahead of me that I couldn't see him any more. People all around me eventually broke their stride and walked, but I didn't stop once. I pressed on. I kept the focus and mental clarity that had me in a trance.

The Guy With The Red Shirt finally stumbled into a walk, and I sailed right past him.

When you hit the 10 Mile marker, you can stop for a second and refuel, I promised myself. You can have a Gu packet and finish that last bottle of Cytomax. Just keep going. Just get there. Then you only have two miles left. Run fast, faster than you ever have.

I hit the marker, refueled, and took off for the home stretch. Everything hurt terribly, but I tried to breathe long and slow into the trouble spots. When I hit the last mile, The Plan told me to go all out. I tried desperately to pick up the pace, but I struggled. I could see the finish, just around a big bend, and thought I would never make it. Focus. Breathe.

A burst of adrenaline surged through my body when I approached the finish line. Hundreds of people lined up with cameras, signs, and smiles for their loved ones. I flew past the finish and slowed down to a walk. I hit "stop" on my heart rate monitor and wheezed heavily as I stared at the resulting data:

Miles run: 13.1
Time: 2:07:01
Calories Burned: 1477

They put a medal around my neck and I felt like a winner. They put strawberry shortcake in my hands and I realized I could eat whatever I wanted.

I had definitely earned it.

July 6, 2009

Rediscovering Enlightenment

Let me make this clear: I am a yogi before I am a runner. Long before all of this crazy distance running business, I had a deeply personal relationship with my yoga mat. I will always be a yogi first and foremost. It's my thing.

I found yoga (or more accurately, it found me) a little over 5 years ago, when the stress of a grueling job began to manifest itself physically. It registered in my upper shoulders, with pinched nerves. It travelled down my right arm and wrist in waves of numbness and tingling. It took up residence in my lower back, with an ache that steadily worsened as my work days grew longer and more demanding. The day I started having chest pains, I knew I had to make some serious changes or risk suffering a nervous breakdown.

I lived in a tiny studio apartment in Venice Beach that was about the size of a walk-in closet. My neighbor down the hall, sensing my desperation, casually mentioned a yoga studio 2 blocks away that had half-price classes on Saturday afternoons. I knew the place. I'd walked past it several times before, but never got up the nerve to go inside. What could it hurt, I thought. I headed over there one day to see what it was all about.

I had no idea I'd feel so at home in that calm, airy space. The quiet energy forced my mind to be still. I flowed through asanas, opening up all the tight spots in my body. I unleashed all that negative energy and allowed myself to be present in the moment. I gained strength, flexibility, focus, and acute self-awareness. It was absolutely the thing I needed to gain clarity and take control of my life. I eventually changed jobs, but my practice always remained. I returned dutifully every week, sometimes twice a week. I was hooked.

It's been a year since I moved to Portland, and I still haven't found a yoga studio that I've connected with on that level. The week before flying to LA to see family, I frantically checked the class schedule for my long lost yoga studio, mentally carving out time to make the journey back to Venice. It was just like old times: making a much-deserved appointment with myself to find my center and reconnect.

The space hadn't changed much since I left. Same half-price classes in the afternoon, same core group of talented instructors. I took a Level 1/2 class, since I was a bit rusty. With my rented mat tucked under my arm, I crept into the large, open Sun room. I settled down on my back, breathing deeply, and briefly glanced up at the open ceiling above me. Same faceted teardrop crystal dangling from the exposed metal pipes, tied in place with a red ribbon. Good Feng Shui. Just knowing it was still there, hanging in the same spot, gave me a sense of reassurance.

The instructor greeted the class warmly. "You can always tell how your practice is going," he began, "by what kind of person you are when you're on a family vacation." It was uncanny how he practically read my mind. "I think I stay enlightened for about...two days, tops." Everyone giggled knowingly.

He went on to say that nurturing relationships with family is important because you've known each other your whole lives. You have deep karmic ties with family. They know you best, you know them best.

"The deepest ravines of karma, that need to be cleaned out occasionally," he said.

We all closed our eyes and brought our palms to our hearts' center. Inhale. Exhale.


July 5, 2009

Palm Trees and Power Lines: My L.A. Vacation in Photos

What a long, strange week it's been. J and I headed back to L.A. for a much-needed escape from reality. Pull up a chair, sit back, and enjoy the highlights of our misadventures en la ciudad de los angeles...

A day at the beach was at the top of my list. The cruel Portland winter had left me with a sickly yellow pallor, which I was desperate to erase. An afternoon of Vitamin D left me with a healthy, sun-kissed bronze glow. Aaahhhh...

J was desperate for some quality saddle time. He borrowed his old Cinelli road bike from my uncle, and navigated PCH with vigor. Canyons, scenery, sun, and the crisp sea salt air...

We scheduled a reunion with our former roommate and Jamie's best friend, Bryon. When we lived together, I always said it was like "Three's Company: The Dyslexic Version."

The Parentals.

No L.A. trip is complete without the obligatory stop here.

We went to the drive-up In N Out on Ventura Blvd., which has been around since I was a kid. For some reason, the burgers just taste better here.

Burger bliss.

Commuting. View from the Hollywood Freeway.


Capitol Records building.


We stopped at Touch gallery in Culver City to visit our friends Zoe and Peter. They were hosting a cool exhibit called "Indisposed." The premise was to creatively intermix art and design with a strong message of sustainability. We viewed some very clever forms of environmentally friendly, chic product design.

Firewall. Reclaimed pine firewood is CNC-milled and stacked into an integral architectural sculpture. Using the logs as kindling alters the shape and form, resulting in a continuously evolving art project.

The Auto-Cannibalistic table. It's made from paper egg cups, flour paste, soil, and seeds. Just add water, and the seeds germinate, eventually causing the table to eat itself.

Pleated Paper Can, made from recycled and folded paper cups. No need for a trash bag - just use until it's full, then take the whole thing out with the garbage.

TRASH: anycoloryoulike. Biodegradable trash bags are dressed up in fun, bright colors and create visually arresting images when heaped in piles on the streets and sidewalks.

Wasabi. So Takahashi creates chic paper plates so you don't have to suffer the indignities of generic floral print. Wouldn't you think twice before throwing these away?

Furniture To Go. Lego-shaped take-out containers are reused as furniture components so the user can assemble their own custom designs. Eat and build, build and eat.

We had to visit our old Santa Monica neighborhood hangout, The Daily Pint. They have an impressive selection of about 180 bottles of single malt scotch...

...and cask-conditioned English IPA.

More beach time. On our way back through Malibu, we stopped at Moonshadows Blue Lounge for some cocktails. This was our view from the deck.

J lounging on a cabana.

Ah, summer vacation.

Mojito madness...

...and delectable Ahi tuna tartare with wasabi cream and avocado. Yum.

It was one of those picture-perfect afternoons on the coast. The sky was crystal clear, the ocean bright blue. Don't the clouds look like a map of Hawaii hanging in the sky?

Cute new sandals, courtesy of Mesh & Lace in Silverlake.

Self-portrait, snapped in the car. "Smile with the eyes."

J got in more coastal bike riding, while I (of course) strapped on running shoes and hit the pavement.

Cycling, running, yoga...all that activity sure builds up an appetite. This looks like a job for...

...The Godmother, courtesy of Bay Cities Italian Deli. Throw in a Coke and you've got quite possibly the best lunch on the Westside.

And that concludes our trip to L.A. Even though I only moved a year ago, it no longer feels like home to me...but it does make for a pretty nice visit.

So glad to be back in Portland and ready to run on!

July 1, 2009

Rising Like the Phoenix

These past few weeks have derailed my training regimen. Family visiting, heading to Eugene for a weekend, getting sick with a stubborn cold that won't go away, and travelling to Los Angeles to visit family all pushed me further away from my goals. At the end of the week, I was absolutely desperate to elevate my heart rate and get my wobbly legs moving.

I woke up early in a suburban enviroment that had once been so familar, but was now completely foreign. The sky was bright and crystal clear. The Santa Ana winds blew gently, rustling up dead leaves and small puffs of dust. It was only 7:00 AM, but the oppressive sun was already making its presence known. Dry waves of heat reverberated from the black asphalt, creating a blurry mirage effect from several feet away. My throat was parched and my nose stuffy, but I was compelled to log some miles.

I dressed in my lightest layers, sensing the challenge ahead. I stocked the hydration belt with an extra bottle, and went for fresh, cold water instead of sugary sports drink. After six months of solid training, I cut a sleek form in my black Nike running capris and slim, fitted technical tee. My stepdad surveyed me as I ambled into the living room. "You look fetching," he observed. I couldn't help but smile, as this was me in my most natural state these days.

I had mapped out a loop in my head, which roughly equaled six miles out-and-back. Quiet side roads, hills, some trees for shade, lots of dry brush, very few cars, perhaps a few cyclists, and lizards. The absence of flying insects that sting was graciously welcomed.

I slid the iPod ear buds in. The music was my companion today, my motivation.

Work it, make it, do it, makes us smaller, better, faster, stronger...

I was pleased to see that a few slow weeks didn't completely eradicate my fitness. In fact, afer my "mini taper" I felt energized. Punchy, even. Ready to kick it up a notch.

Are ya hot mama? You sure look that way to me...

After only two miles, my face glowed bright red like the center of the sun. God, it was hot. Sweat and road grime rolled steadily down my face, legs, arms, and midsection.

Rescue me...should I go wrong...if I dig too deep...if I stay too long...

I plodded on. The run was a bit ambitious for me after a six-day hiatus, but I was determined to finish. I told myself that this was just a weekday training run, and six miles is nothing compared to the distance I've corvered. Are we at the halfway point yet? The heat was testing my resolve, stretching each torturous mile out longer and longer.

You got me begging you for mercy....why won't you release me?

After the turnaround, the worst part of my run loomed before me: an absolute wall of a hill. All those Tabor runs hadn't prepared me for this: running up a steep grade in 95 degree weather. I fought and wheezed through the pain, as the searing heat made my heart rate skyrocket. I pushed harder than ever, dug deeper. per minute...

My heart was pounding at 181 bpm. It's amazing how much harder running is when the relentless sun beats down on you, penetrating every muscle in your body. I finally crested the hill, and stomped down the descent. Short, quick steps, strike with the ball of your foot. When I reached flat road, my body had gotten used to the motion. My arms and legs moved like clockwork, my entire body swimming through an ocean of heat waves. I fell into the hypnotic rhythm and willed it to carry my home.

Whatever's in front of you, keep on keepin' on...

Just when I was ready to give up and slow to a walk, I turned a corner and knew the house was only a block away. I knew I would make it to the finish. I hit the final stop sign and sprinted up the street - anything to get this run over with and get out of what felt like a dry sauna. When I saw the house, I slowed to a walk and tried to bring my heart rate down carefully.

It was over. With one oppressively hot training run, I'd put myself back in the game. Like a phoenix from the ashes, I rose again to reclaim my training regimen. After all, July is almost upon us, and it's time for me to get really serious.

June 21, 2009

Ctrl + Alt + Del...Restart

I suffered what you might call a minor setback this week. I'd been plugging along dutifully, carefully tracking each bite of food that entered my mouth and proudly checking each workout off the weekly calendar, when all of a sudden, Life Happened.

I felt like I'd walked blindly into oncoming traffic. The work days stretched out, each one longer and more arduous than the next. Family obligations beckoned. I found myself desperate to regain my focus and commitment, strapped for time, low on energy, and mentally drained. I had to force myself to do the bare minimum to keep up the status quo, and cursed myself for missing too many workouts.

By Wednesday, I'd had enough. It was time to get back to reality, and back to my training. Onward and upward, so to speak.

I never know where my mind will take me when I strap running shoes on my feet and head out the door. The second my soles strike pavement and the momentum builds, my thoughts drift away and swirl round my head rather dreamily.

One afternoon, I got to thinking about computers. They can freeze and crash when too much information overloads the system, and conversely, they can go into "sleep" mode after a significant lull in activity. When you encounter some computer trouble, sometimes simply restarting it can help clear up whatever went wrong. You reboot, and the problem simply vanishes, as though there had never been anything wrong in the first place.

I feel I'm the same way.

I overextended myself, as I often do. I have a problem saying no, and can't help feeling guilty whenever I put myself first. As a result, my mind was foggy, my body was tired, and I had to recharge. A quad-crushing hill run is exactly what I needed to clear away this oppressive cloud of listlessness.

I woke up early. I put on my favorite running gear (Adidas sports bra, Nike running capris, and my blue Santa Monica Classic 10-K tee shirt.) I wore my favorite Assos headband to keep my awkward "bangs" out of my face. I slid the iPod earbuds into my ears, hit "start" on my heart rate monitor, and took off in the direction of Mt. Tabor Park.


June 14, 2009

Wildwood's Revenge

The week pressed on as I dutifully stuck to my training regimen: 6 mile hill run, track workout, two 5:00 AM gym workouts, and a nice flat 5 miles on the waterfront. My legs are slowly beginning to come around, which I think is due mostly to the speedwork. On Friday night, I double-checked the training log for tomorrow's long run.

Well, well, well. Wildwood Trail, we meet again. This time, I'll be ready for you...or so I think.

Same bleary-eyed morning routine: whole grain cereal, fruit, cottage cheese, and coffee. Sports drink: check. Chocolate Gu packets: check. Hydration belt: fully stocked. Muscles: stretched. 7:30 AM rolls around and I'm out the door and off into the wilderness.

The distance today is a choice of 12, 14, or 16 miles. Since I've had experience on this trail, I know better than to shoot for a 14. Knowing how Wildwood will surely test my will, I settle on 12 miles. I don't want to be disappointed when I inevitably tap out at the end. I line up with the four-hour marathon pace group and we hike up the road to the starting point.

Everything starts off swimmingly. We head off at a relaxed 11:20 per mile pace, and my heart rate settles comfortably at 161 bpm. The first two miles are gently rolling hills, and the scenery is beautifully green and lush. I'm with a faster group this time, and my footsteps fall right in line with theirs. My place at the front of the single-file line makes me feel like an integral part of the team.

We arrive at Rest Stop #1 in no time. Stretch, hydrate, refuel. We start the descent down for Part 2, and I know that this is where the fun will really begin. The steady and sharp downhill pitch in the beginning always makes me dread the return. Sharp switchback, steep incline, root, branch, rock, fern. The guy in front of me stumbles over a wayward branch, so of course, I immediately trip over it and fall down in the dirt. The trail is jarring on my ankles, knees, and hips. It's a challenge just to stay balanced and upright.

We get pretty far along, without the soft, oozing puddles of mud this time. I'm proud to see we've gone much further into the trail than we did last time. I'm so focused on myself and my thoughts that I don't even hear the commotion in front of me. I'm suddenly seized by an intense, searing pain in my thighs and it feels like daggers driving into my flesh. Everyone is panicking. Did I get hit with a stinging nettle or something? What the hell just happened?

It takes me a second or two to discover we've been attacked by a swarm of aggressive, angry wasps. The groups in front of us must have disturbed their nest and boy, are they pissed off. There's about six wasps latched right onto both of my legs, stinging repeatedly. I have a phobia of bees and wasps, which doesn't help because I only have a tiny, single track trail on which to COMPLETELY FREAK OUT. I jump up and down, brushing them off my throbbing legs. Another one descends on my right thigh and I swat at it frantically. My right index finger promptly swells up and hardens. "Did anyone get stung?" asks the pace leader. I nod and manage to say yes. Not sure how many times, but it feels like a thousand.

I will my aching legs to move on. We hit the second rest stop and collect ourselves. I can barely stand up straight at this point, and peel back my running tights at the knee to have a look at what lies beneath. There's a raw, red, bleeding dot where I got stung. I know there are several more on my upper thighs, but I have to ignore them for now. My finger is swollen and bruised, and I'm not looking forward to the return trip.

Our group comes up with a plan: separate and sprint through the wasp's nest. I ask if I can use anyone as a human shield, half in jest. I sprint for my life, waving my arms in front of my legs and desperately hoping they got enough of me the first time around. I narrowly escape, unstung this time. My comrades aren't so lucky - two girls get stung, one of them on her neck.

I can feel my thighs swell and harden through my running tights, and the multiple spots where I got hit are throbbing and burning brightly. I press on, and start to fall behind a little. I had tried to make a mental note of all the steep downhill spots on the way out, but there were too many to remember. It feels like we're running completely uphill the whole time, and hill running isn't my strength.

Around a bend, I let most of the group pass me by. As we move on, the gap widens even further. Another member of the group falls back with me, due to an IT band injury. We slog up the big hill alone, having completely lost sight of the pack. I'm wheezing and panting, willing my swollen legs to stumble upward while my companion is taking it easy to protect his left leg. We're trail running road kill. There are so many twists and turns that I can't see the opening of the trail, and the rest stop. It's killing me, and just when I'm about to give up and start walking, I hear whoops and hollers. Oh sweet Jesus - we're done. We've made it.

When I finally get home and run a hot bath, I peel off my sweaty layers to carefully inspect the carnage. I have 11 wasp stings total, all glowing red, swollen, and angry. I wonder briefly if I should seek medical attention. As I sit on the edge of the tub and wait for it to fill, I give myself kudos for finishing what I started. Sure, I ran the shortest distance of the day, fell face-first in the dirt, got attacked by wasps, lost the group, and ran out of steam at the end, but the point is, I never gave up.

Oh Wildwood, you'll test me every time, but you'll never get the best of me.