I watched a little of the Illinois Marathon that passed by my apartment a few weeks ago. For some reason, I had always thought that everyone ran in a marathon, but appparently I was wrong. For the short time I watched, rather late in the race, most runners were walking. In retrospect, I wonder if I failed to notice that I was at a water post. I think it's possible, because I was distracted.
When I was growing up I had a recurring dream that I could fly. Not over the clouds or from the garage roof, but on the sidewalk in front of our house to the end of the block. I probably could have gone even farther if I hadn't had to stop at Spruce Street and look both ways. Or if, like in marathons, that cross street had been blocked off with people waving me on with no break in stride.
It was actually more like a hover than a flight. I would start off running rather slowly and then, once I got my strides just right, long and even and with the front foot reaching out in a smooth arc, I would lift off the ground and float forward.
It almost always happened before I reached the end of the block and had to stop, usually by the south edge of the Goekler yard, which gave me the entire Tarble yard, which was a double lot, to fly past. It was never a run that got me anywhere other than free in my head and with a belief that I could do things that others couldn't.
I was a fast runner back then and was proud every time I beat the rest of the class in blacktop races. But my nightly dream wasn't about winning a race or leaving people behind in my dust. It was all about technique and timing and floating--one long perfect stride at a time. The prize wasn't speed or adventure or far away places, it was the feeling of conquering earth and whatever grounded me.
I had that dream so often, that I was never sure it was a dream. In the light of the day, I really believed I could do it. But for some reason, I never tried. I stayed on the ground during the blacktop races. I flew only in my dreams. All these years later, there's still a part of me that believes if I ever get my stride just right, I'll fly.
As I was watching the Marathon runners walk by, I looked back and saw a single runner coming up on the outside of the pack, passing everyone. His stride was smooth and unlabored and his face serene. There was no flap of feet on the ground as he passed and no up and down movement characteristic of the joggers I see every day as I pass the park on my way to work.
With a run so smooth and a touch so light, it appeared that he wasn't running at all, at least not on the ground. It looked effortless and it seemed that he could run foreover. I followed his progress as he faded in the distance with the ease of a bird.
In the following days I went online to see if I could find out who the runner was. His position near the end of the race didn't seem to make him a leader. I thought he was perhaps an honorary runner, starting at the end and running on the outside as an inspiration to all the people determined to finish--as people did seem to pick up their pace as he passed.
I had no luck finding out who he was. But, in reading about runners and marathons, I discovered that there is a time in running where both feet are off the ground. It's called double float and and occurs during the swing phase of a runner's gait.
It looks a lot like flying.