Under my feet I can feel twigs and rocks too small for the eye to see. A discoloration on the pavement is a thin layer of dust, not a stain. In one fluid, uninterrupted motion I hop sideways onto the street, a move I’ve made because I want to bypass the pavement in the crosswalk coming up, pavement that is broken and choppy because it lies at an intersection of two streets on different repaving schedules.
As I begin running up the short, shallow grade west on Galer I remind myself to resist the urge to lunge, push, power. Stay low, stay light, stay gentle. Cycle through quickly. When you wonder whether to take one step or two, take three.
It feels good to be running again. The cool morning air rushes past me, and my perspective on the city changes every few seconds as I move through it. I turn a corner here, turn a corner there, run up one hill, run down another. The sky opens up as I pass a park on the left, then closes as I run between two rows of tall buildings, then opens up again as I pass another park and run downhill towards the bay.
For the past three months I’ve let my running slide completely. I used to love popping my bare feet up on an ottoman in the evenings while I watched TV, flexing my toes and arches during the commercials and watching the muscles spring to life, muscles I didn’t even know existed. Now my feet are just weak, passive slabs I shove into shoes each morning when I dress for work. It will take another month for the muscles to reappear.
Sometimes people think I’m kidding when I tell them I run like this, but then when the disbelief subsides they ask me three questions. The second question is usually about calluses. I tell them that I don’t get calluses partly because the road is one huge emery board, but mainly because running barefoot is about learning how to run so gently walking seems violent in comparison, learning how to be physically and mentally intimate with your surroundings, reminding yourself that the barriers that limit you in life have often been erected by you, that they are there not because they are, but because you think they are.