Adventures in Running


image courtesy of ^@^ina via Flickr's Creative Commons


I’m not sure I’m going to make it to try this half marathon. It’s not the distance that has me so concerned (although, the distance does have me concerned) but, rather, surviving the training that has me nervous.

This past weekend I, once again, headed out to a park to complete a run, this time five miles. Previously, I looked at the map of all the trails, and I noticed a trail that was a 5.5 mile loop. Perfect, I thought. I can run the five miles and walk the last .5 to cool down. However, once I arrived at the park, I had the feeling that this run would not turn out perfect.

Unlike the last time when I felt so cool arriving at the park around 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, only to find out that there are a lot of cool people (do people even say ‘cool,’ anymore? The fact that I’m asking shows how cool I really am), this time I was one of a handful of people. Granted, I was at the other side of the park this time, and my arrival was closer to 7:30 a.m., but I felt a little nervous getting out of my car to run under that gray sky.

I proceeded, though. Matt knew where I was, I told him how long the run should take me, and I took Tae Kwan Do for a few months when I was 17; I was good to go. I locked my wallet in the glove compartment, tied my key around my shoe lace, grabbed my phone, and started walking toward the big map of the park.

I knew where I was going, but I wanted to double-check my route. It looked easy enough–I’d walk about a half mile on one loop, pick up another trail, and then the entrance to the five mile trail should cut into that second trail near the beginning. I started my walk, anxious to begin, wondering if I would struggle or find my groove on my big run.

As I entered the second route, I began looking for signs for the five mile trail. I remembered passing them on previous runs, so I knew I wasn’t far. Almost immediately, I saw a wooden sign pointing the way to the entrance…except I didn’t see an actual entrance. All the other trails that I had run were very clearly marked–white lines divided the pavement into two halves, and there were even arrows painted on the ground to signal how to exit the one loop to pick up another. However, I wasn’t noticing any of these clues. Hmm, I thought. I’ll just keep walking. After all, I knew there were a few entrances since the trail was a loop.

I walked, enjoying the quiet and the music on my iPhone. As I came upon the wooden marker showing that I had walked a half mile on this trail, I noticed another wooden marker showing the entrance to the five mile trail. Except I didn’t see an entrance. I saw grass. A field. And woods. “What the heck?” I said audibly, and I just stood for a minute. Now I was frustrated. Between the two loops, I had already walked about a mile, and I hadn’t even begun my run yet. “How am I lost on a trail with a big map and signs everywhere?” Yes, I said that audibly, too. I was talking to myself, but that was okay since I was alone on a trail on a cloudy, gray Saturday morning.

And then I knew exactly how I was lost. I was still the same woman who tried to get to a leadership retreat in Destin, Florida with some friends by taking 1-75 South. After driving for about five hours, we bought a map at the gas station and realized we were in the middle of the state instead of in the Panhandle, which, of course, is the northwest of the state. After screaming for a few minutes, we took every back road in the state to Destin and made our trip in about nine hours instead of six.

I was still the same woman who felt her stomach drop and her head get light when she was handed a compass and told she would navigate her group through the outdoors during the deployment exercise, the final project of Officer Training School. Thank God a hurricane came rushing through Alabama, forcing us on lockdown in our rooms for three days. My group might still be out in the woods had it not.

So I continued on past the marker, thinking that, once again, this sign was just pointing the way to an entrance up ahead. I walked, and when I saw that I was nearing the entrance to the first loop, I turned around. I head back to the wooden marker, stopped in front of it, and stared.

It clearly said, “Entrance to 5.5 mile trail.” I looked at the field. I looked at the grass. I looked at the woods, and I started to walk. My feet stepped through the grass until they felt dirt and pebbles and roots underneath. Yes, I was entering the woods alone on a Saturday morning with nothing but my phone, key, and Tae Kwan Do skills. And in that moment, I remembered that a body was found at this park recently.

I shook off the thought. I let a brief feeling of triumph wash over me because I had, in fact, found the trail. It wasn’t a paved trail, yet, but I clearly was on the path of the 5.5 mile loop. I started running, but not on purpose. The trail immediately sloped downward, and I jumped over roots as I made my way down. As I dodged a branch, I thought, This is ridiculous. I’ll just go a little further until this natural path leads into the paved loop where I will find a crowd of people joyously running in a five mile circle while little birds sing above their heads in a sunny sky full of puffy, white clouds.

Yeah, that didn’t happen. I did see a deer, though. As I came to a flat surface and could stop hurdling over roots and dodging tree branches, I looked to my right where I saw her. She was beautiful. I tried to remain still so I wouldn’t scare her away, and I stared. She stared back. “Hi,” I offered.

I had hoped that we would have a spiritual moment that transcended the need for language, that we could communicate in the forest together and find harmony. Instead, she looked at me and pounded her hoof into the ground two times.

I didn’t need to understand ‘deer’ to understand that deer. She was calling her family, and I now knew how the body found in the woods had met his demise. He pissed off a deer and was trampled to death by her and her family. So I turned around and ran back up the trail, looking, but not stopping, at the six deer that were hidden on the other side of the forest. Yeah, if I was going to die, I didn’t want my obituary to read Local girl dies after being trampled to death by a herd of deer. No, it needed to read Local girl dies after vicious bear attack. Bear found alive but with broken arm and puncture wound most likely made by a key.

I returned to the second loop, and walked around to where it picked up the first loop. I called Matt to tell him I was on my way home. I had walked nearly three miles in the hopes of running five. Yeah, it was time to go home and get help reading a map.

I hate fitting the role of the stereotypical woman who gets lost all the time. I want to ask for others to comment if they can relate, but maybe, instead, I should ask for stories from women who have a great sense of direction. Make us look better than I!


11 thoughts on “Adventures in Running

  1. I can totally relate, Jennifer — I have a terrible sense of direction, especially in the woods. I never trail run by myself because I know I will get lost and never be found!


    1. Yes, now I know to double-check to see what kind of loop I'm actually running. I need to stick to pavement that travels in a complete circle.


  2. And now for the rest of the story. I saw a bear in the woods that was limping and after close examination, I noticed he had a broken leg and a puncture that looked like a wound made with a key. Although he had been limping, I noticed that he was leaning against a sign that said "Exit -5.5 mile run. As he burped, I did notice a green karate belt hanging from his mouth.



  3. Jennifer–it's called SprintNav! I have it on my phone, and most of the time it is pretty accurate! BTW, which park? Maybe a more urban park would have fewer rogue deer hungrily waiting for lone runners. Come on down to Grant Park with me sometime!


  4. Yeah, sorry about that navigation gene gone awry, Jen. And to think i scored extremely well in my Army
    mapreading skills. I once drove from NJ to Mass. to visit Aunt Pat and realized when i saw the "Welcome to New Hampshire" sign, something was amiss. Oh well, life is good! even when you don't know how to get from A to B.


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