Whew. I’m here to tell ya, 18 miles on foot is far. My training “program,” such as it is, called for just this distance, and as The Flight of the Conchords would say, conditions were perfect. Rain-pregnant clouds ballooned over Tulsa. The heavy air got a rather urgent nudge from the southerly wind. Temperatures hovered in the low 70s. The stretch of paved trails that skims the edge of the Arkansas River teemed with health nuts, dog walkers, rugby players and the Irishesque tarted up in green. Green hats, green hose, green jog bras. I had no idea Tulsa was such an Irish hotbed.
I set off feeling…intimidated but determined. I had my plan. I knew at which mile marker I planned to turn and make my way back to the northern tip of town. I had my gu gels and power shots and water and audio book. I decided not to track my time, or to get updates on distance; Tulsa’s road grid marks out perfect miles. So I just got after it.
I was lost a little bit when a greying man I had passed early lapped me on his return. I wondered briefly if he happened to hear me talking to the narrator of my book. Because I was talking to him, telling him that I did not like this character and I wish we could talk about something else. I cursed the zippy running man in his zippy yellow tank and his long purposeful strides.
But for the most part, the long way south gave me lots to watch. I saw the rugby players tossing the ball across the field, even hoisting a teammate in the air. Those dudes were big. I prayed a little prayer that the rugby groupies would be there on my return; the burgers and beer they enjoyed smelled like heaven. Young parents and kids ran wild at the playground, a line formed for the opportunistic ice cream van. Skateboarders, cyclists, rollerbladers, other runners fought the wind and pushed south, or celebrated the turn northward.
At the turnaround, I had a momentary freak out. I had just finished nine miles and I had nine to go. The beginning of a nasty case of chub rub had blossomed and I choked on the fountain water in a moment of anxiety. What the hell was I thinking? This was both my genius and my torture. I knew going out that I would have no choice but to get my little hiney back to my car. And I knew my car was nine miles away. You see? I had to go back, and I sure as heck wasn’t going to walk it.
So I turned into the wind and began the jog home. I was fine, watching the cars swarm in and out of the casino. I marveled at the line of trucks drawn up around the drive through smoke shop. I made myself catch other runners or walkers. I gave the stink eye to the cyclists. Just because.
Mile 14. That mile took my name. Balled it up. Stomped on it, threw it in the trash. Then, just for kicks, spit on it. My legs were made of dough, hurty hurty dough. My toes tingled. My head throbbed. I wondered about my sanity. But I kept going. I told myself to listen to the book pulsing annoyingly through headphones, to push it. It was only 4, 3 more miles. Was it me or was someone stretching the river, elongating the path?
My legs were heavy as the sodden clouds, hungry to stop, to end this madness. As much as I may have wanted to stop running, to surrender and walk the rest, I gritted my teeth. I told myself get it. I said I was running 18 miles and I meant to run 18 miles. No walking, no whining, no nothing but running. I had a plan and a purpose.
In the movie “Hugo” the eponymous hero says, “when you lose your purpose, it’s like you’re broken.” and at mile 14, I was broken, broken down, exhausted and nearing the edge of hopelessness. We can talk about what kind of moron decides to put herself through that kind of…experience some other day; too tired to explain it today.
When I reached my car, a crazy kind of sorrowful elation thrummed through me. I was relieved, proud and a little bit giddy.
The point is, young fictional Hugo was right. What do you do when you lose your purpose?