Oak to Oak 09

The run had no sponsors, no finisher medal. Nobody got a cool t-shirt. Nobody could even really say when the field was done running. The course was not only unmarked but was determined on the fly.

There was only one runner. A lone support volunteer texted in her cheers. Ladies and gentlemen: Oak to Oak 2009.

As my seven loyal readers will note, a few days ago I wondered how much ground I could cover in a couple of hours.

My long run lately has been around four and a half miles. I expect then to be done, finished, my muscles ready to knock off for the day. But what, I started asking, would happen if I took the cap off?

What would happen on a run with a loose idea of a time frame, a general compass direction, and no need to prove I could run every step? What would happen just setting out to see how much ground I could cover? Two to two and a half hours, I figured, would be ample. That's longer than a sprint triathlon effort lasts. I'd at least still be walking comfortably by the end.

I called my friend Zip. "Oh, HONEY," she said (Zip is not just southern but Texas southern. Think sugar-plated steel.) — "Yes! Count me in on the big adventure! I'll pick you up and we'll have lunch and I'll be out on my bike by two. Perfect." (Since Zip's discovery of cycling this year through the WinforKC triathlon, I think she's actually retrofitted her watch to count down hours and minutes to her next ride.)

How it worked: I'd run for twenty minutes, stretch patiently, walk a bit — no break shorter than five and no longer than ten minutes — then grab the next twenty on the run. To pick the route, I'd point northeast, then look for the brightest, most vibrant autumn color I could find — a deep red maple, a scarlet burning bush, an fiery orange pin oak — and run toward it. No map, no schedule. Oak to oak.

Reader, it was amazing, and you should join me next year. Forty-eight degrees, sunny, the air crisp and still, the autumn city exploding with color, and much of the populace elsewhere attending college football tailgate parties. No iPod, just a water bottle on my belt and a thin nylon backpack with a big handful of trail mix and a couple of fruit rollups. Easy running. No hurry. Just covering ground.

Ran out of my neighborhood. Stretched. Walked. Ran through the adjoining municipality. Stretched. Ran to the state line. Refilled my water at the Circle K. I have now run farther than I have ever run. It's been an hour and fifteen minutes and I'm almost to the tentative meeting point for Zip. I'm loose and jumpy. I run through Brookside, as far as I'd guessed I'd go. Suddenly I realize what's happening. Grinning, laughing, I run to Loose Park. I text Zip: "Meet me on the Plaza? Beers on me." She texts me back: "GO GIRL."

If you don't know Kansas City, you may not understand that the Plaza, a Spanish-tiled, 1920s-vintage, upscale shopping district, feels like the other side of the world from the split-levels of the Johnson County suburbs. You wind through multiple municipalities to get there. While I might just jump in the car to go farther south, I plan a trip to the Plaza. It is, in my local geography, Well Away From Home.

A week ago, I'd have just as likely said, "I think I'll run to Nome, Alaska, back in time for dinner," as "I think I'll run to the Plaza today." But that was before the cap came off.

If my calves hadn't started to tighten, I might've asked Zip not to bother meeting me. After two hours and ten minutes of running and stretching and walking and running, I wasn't breathing hard. My heart was beating at a lazy trot. Wow, there's so much gas left in the tank. Oh, my God! I just ran to the Plaza!

And crap! I still have no idea how far I can run! Do I think -- holy cats, I think I could run back home. That's freaking me out. And whoa, those calves... ignore that soft ache and there might be no racing next weekend.

But from burning bush to burning bush, maple to maple, oak to oak — the runner covered 9.5 miles in 2:10, with 35 minutes of stops for patient stretching, a block or two of walking, traffic lights, water bottle refill, and futzing with a phone camera. The runner, who would have sworn to you she could run no more than 4.5 miles on her best day, ran nine 10:30 miles. Easy.

All because she had no idea what to expect. She still doesn't. Reader, I ask you: What would happen if all of us stopped telling ourselves exactly what we were going to achieve, and instead just set out to make an effort past what we've done before?

"I can't believe you," says Zip. "I never saw you smile like that. You can't stop smiling, can you?"




Zoolander said...

That is just about the coolest thing I've read in awhile. Thx for reminding me it was only upon letting go of goals, metrics, and expectations that things went to another level. Intuitively backwards. Oddly, it works both ways, depending.