Teaching Me to Run, Chapter 4 "Not Just Like Walking Fast?" by Tommye-K. Mayer © 2001

David and I hurried, walking as fast as I could.

If we were lucky, we'd make the seven o'clock showing of Prince of Tides at the Charles Cinema. Passing the old Boston Garden, I struggled to keep up, still insisting it wasn't a problem. When we'd first gotten together that evening, David had marveled at how much more energy he seemed to have, now that he was running.

"I do some work until lunch or so, go for a run, and then, you know, shower and change, and I can finish up a whole other day's work."

Watching me trip, just barely catching myself while trying to keep up and talk at the same time, David didn't miss a step pulling open the rear side door of a taxicab idling at the stand beside the curb.

"Come on, Tommye, let's take a cab," he said, waiting for me to step in.

"All right, but would you get in first? It's hard to lift my left leg over the hump that's the driveshaft," I said, a smile on my lips, laughter sneaking out with the words. Telling him, telling anyone what I had trouble with shamed me.

David shrugged, then lowered himself into the cab, onto the back seat, somewhat awkwardly arranging his broad-shouldered frame into the space behind the driver. As we drove away from the curb, the driver muttering about the unprofitably short fare, I responded to the question David had asked, the question I'd been thinking about when I caught my toe and nearly landed face-first on the pavement. I'd just told him I was thinking about teaching myself to run.

Furrowing his brow, his lips a thin white-red line, he'd asked, "What's to teach? Isn't it just like walking extra fast?"

"Actually," I replied, my shoulders turned to face him, "running is very different from walking, from walking fast, or even from race walking. I've been studying walking and running both."

"So, what's the difference?"

I pressed my lips together, planning the words I needed to explain it clearly. "If you concentrate on how it feels when you're out running next time, you'll sense there's a moment in each stride when you're airborne-a moment when no part of either foot is touching the ground. That's the difference-the airborneness."

I noticed the taxi driver, a guy twenty or so years older than I, nodding silently. He hadn't joined our conversation, so maybe he wasn't even listening . . .

David, his eyes locked on mine, the vertical lines between his eyebrows deeply creased, frowned, "So what's involved in teaching yourself to run?"

"I'm not sure." I paused. "But I think finding the right place to do it is the critical first step."

"Tell me about the right place. What does it look like?"

The taxi had turned into the parking lot for the theater and was pulling up to the curb. I would be the first one out. As I reached for the door handle, before pulling, I glanced at David "I don't know," I admitted.

It was a second-floor theater, accessed either by stairs or a ramp zigzagging up a gentle grade. I paused beside the cab, waiting for David to get out. Something about his question had me looking at the ramp.

It wasn't much to look at-just a run-of-the-mill, utilitarian, steel-and-cement urban construction, but on top of David's question, it got me thinking.

"Shall we take the ramp or the stairs?" he asked.

"The stairs." Between my strong arm and leg, I'd learned to climb stairs much faster than following the serpentined ramp path.

"Okay, let's go."

Grabbing the steel-pipe railing, I stepped onto the first tread with my right foot, drawing my left leg over the next tread and onto the next. Pulling with my arm, I brought my weaker leg over the next tread, then still up and over and onto the next with my strong leg, clearing two steps at a time.

The railing was central. It allowed me to take the chance-to push two stairs with each stride. Nearing the top, I glanced through the glass partition separating the stairs from the ramp for this last bit of the climb. It was a gentle slope, complying with the Commonwealth's Architectural Barriers codes. The same steel-pipe railing lined both side walls of the ramp at about waist height.

This might not be an appropriate place. But what if? I found myself thinking, the germ of an idea forming: a handrail, or something my one hand could rest against and use to help out in case I fell. That might enable me to break through what at that moment I now knew as the fear barrier, the barrier to learning to run because of the fear of falling and the fear of being airborne for that moment at each running step.

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