If you stand clear of the cheering throngs at the NYC Marathon you will notice one thing about the elite runners as they whiz by. The silence. Their mechanics are so efficient that they barely make a sound with each footfall. Contrast this to most of us plodders, who sound like elephants chasing along with the herd. The other day I decided to try to implement “soft running” advice from an article I found online. I was heading out for a four-miler around the hood. Grabbed my baseball cap with secret stash tucked in the headband (Baggie with cash, credit card, subway pass, and a couple salt packs I grabbed from corner deli, a handy supplement on super sweaty long runs), snagged my keys, and off I went.

On a quiet stretch of road I tried to implement the article’s one-minute rule, speeding up my cadence to 180 strikes per minute, landing mid- to forefoot rather than heel-striking. It was working. I could barely hear my footsteps. It was silent enough to hear the loops on my shoelaces flapping around so I stopped and tucked those in. Another minute, and I realized my keys needed to be held a certain way to muffle any jingling. Done. Run silent, run deep.

As I came up on a pair of Hasidic women walking side-by-side on the sidewalk, I went back to my usual noisy form so as not to startle them with my approach. Soon I was back up to 180 bpm’s and quietude. Except for the strange noise that I was now picking up. Swish, swish. Was it a wardrobe issue? I checked my shirt and shorts but couldn’t find any flapping fabric. Swish, swish. Maybe it was simply the sound of silence, I figured, the sound of efficient running. Something I would have to get used to.

Working on my form took brainpower and I didn’t always have the right concentration. I’d space out about other things, or get bogged down negotiating busy streets and sidewalks, and forget my Quiet Mission. But then I’d drift back to concentrating. Except the swishing started bugging me more and more. Again a wardrobe check. Nope, nothing rubbing to make that noise. Weirdly the swishing seemed to focused in my right ear, and was so gentle I could only hear it on the quietest of stretches. A burst of traffic would disappear and the noise would be back. Swish, swish.

It was really starting to bug me and stress me out. Where is this noise coming from? What is happening? Until I took off my cap. The noise vanished. Ohhhhhhh, the little salt packets. In the Baggie. Tucked in the headband an inch from my right ear. I shook the Baggie and sure enough, they were the culprit. So much for silent running. Oh, well. I put my stash back in my hat and put the hat back on the noggin. I 86’d the alternate-running effort and just let myself fall back into my usual rhythm, my emergency salt stash working like little egg shakers, keeping my own plodding absurd beat as I moved down the street.