“Are you telling me that the difference between Allen and Zoom - the reason he can’t outrun him - comes down to turnover?”
“Turnover?” Cisco mutters, confused.
“Well,” Caitlin looks back at the screen showing the model. “I suppose you could call it that, yes -”
Harry lets out a breathy snort, which builds into full-throated laughter as he reaches up and threads his fingers together behind his head as he paces across the room.
“What? What’s so funny?”
Harry turns and looks at them as though he had forgotten they were in the room. “None of you - were ever runners, were you?”
They all shake their heads. “Straight up F in gym, dude.” Cisco says.
Harry shakes his head distractedly, muttering something under his breath they don’t catch.
“Are you gonna let us in on the joke, or what?” Cisco asks.
“Turnover - it’s - your stride rate, how quickly you move from one footfall to the next. Good runners have quick turnover.” He says, as if it’s something he’s heard a hundred times. “The important thing is, it’s something you can train. If that’s what you need to beat Zoom - well. We can get you faster turnover, Barry.”
“No. Really -” Harry adds, “It’s something any half-decent Track - or cross country - coach would teach. Caitlin - how fast is Zoom’s stride rate? And can we program that into a digital metronome?”
“Yes, but at that rate the sounds wouldn’t be distinguishable, it’d just be one, drawn out … beep.”
“For us, but not -”
“Barry’s enhanced perception.” Caitlin and Cisco realize in unison.
“Uh, guys, you wanna loop me in?” Barry asks.
“You are going to run - on Cisco’s treadmill. The electronic metronome” He jabs a finger at Caitlin’s tablet “ - is going to produce beeps - eventually at the same rate as Zoom’s strides, but to start we should just take it up by about fifteen percent from your current stride rate - now, even at your original stride rate we wouldn’t be able to hear anything but a continual tone, but given your increased perception while you run, you should be able to distinguish the rate and try and match your strides to each beep. Once you get this, we can gradually increase the rate -”
“- until I can match up with Zoom.”
“Exactly,” Harry says, gesturing with open palms.
“Alright,” Barry says, nodding slowly.
Cisco claps. “Let’s do this! Time to kick Zoom’s butt.”
Harry comes back to the sorry sight of Barry Allen sitting on the cosmic treadmill, on the other side of the glass from the Cortex, Caitlin Snow running simulations, and Cisco Ramon hunched over his workbench.
“What happened?” Harry asks as he sets down the Big Belly Burger bag. “Why did you stop?”
“Well,” Caitlin starts.
“I had the idea that we could pipe the metronome into Barry’s earbuds, so we didn’t have to hear it, but, well - “ Cisco gestures at the tabletop. “We need new earbuds. Preferably ones a speedster can’t crush.”
“I’m sorry!” Barry shouts back, muffled by the glass. “It’s really annoying.”
“Tell me about it.” Harry mutters, rolling his eyes.
This has to stop.
Barry’s malingering around the cosmic treadmill. Cisco hasn’t left his workbench - not working, properly, but constantly torn between fidgeting with the vibe goggles and Jay - Hunter’s - helmet.
Caitlin’s chair sits empty in the Cortex.
He waits until Barry looks up before tossing the running shorts at him, followed by a shirt and shoes. The shorts hit Barry in the head, but he manages to dodge the shirt and catch the shoes.
“What the hell?”
“Come on, get dressed.”
“What is this?” Barry turns the running shorts over in his hands.
“Running clothes. Actual running clothes.”
“What’s the point? I don’t -”
“There’s no better time to work on your form than when I can actually see what’s happening. When you get your speed back - when -” he repeats, when Barry looks ready to object. “You’re going to be a more efficient runner than Zoom, and you’re going to be faster.”
“Okay, but -” Barry starts, holding up the shorts, but he’s interrupted by Cisco, unexpectedly away from his workbench.
“What’s going on?”
“We’re going to the track. You too, Ramon -” He adds, tossing another bundle of running clothes at Cisco.
“What - Wait, why?”
“You -” He jabs a finger at Barry. “Spend too much time training on a treadmill. Time for some real running.”
“Okay, but -” Cisco asks. “Why me? I’m not the speedster.”
“Running isn’t just training your legs, it’s training mental toughness.” He says, reaching out to tap Cisco’s forehead. “We may not fully understand the extent of your powers, but it’s clear your willpower is a major component.”
(He doesn’t say that if there’s anything the past week has made clear, it’s that they never know when any one of them will be in danger, and if training wouldn’t always save them, it could give them an edge when it came down to it. They didn’t need the reminder of that. But it wouldn’t hurt to teach Cisco how to throw a punch, when it came down to it.)
“You’re serious about this.” Cisco says, looking between the shorts and Harry. Harry shoots him a Look.
“10 minutes. I’ll pull the van around.”
It’s a Saturday, and he’s checked to make sure the local track team doesn’t practice here this early, so there are only a few people at the track - an older woman jogging in the outside lanes, a father and daughter running repeats, a woman gathering litter into a large plastic bag, a family playing soccer on the infield.
Barry turns to him as they pull into the parking lot. “What if someone recognizes you? I mean, not you, but -”
Harry pulls down the brim of his baseball cap and adjusts the collar of his polo shirt. “I’m not anyone. I’m just your track coach.”
“Really, it’s the cargo shorts that make it.” Cisco adds.
“Thank you, Ramon.” Harry says dryly. “Let’s go, take a lap warm up. Come on, go!”
After the struggle of hurdle drills - all of which had lead to a variety of bruised shins and the revelation that The Fastest Man Alive has the coordination of a kumquat before reaching a level of improvement Harry had deemed ‘acceptable’ - Barry is still quite literally tripping over himself to try and master the grapevine.
Cisco, who had gotten the rhythm of the weaving, side to side motion quickly, stops at the 100 meter mark with Harry.
“So, what is this supposed to do?”
“This,” Harry says, watching Barry as he stops in the middle of the track, having clearly lost track of where his feet are supposed to go. “Is a mobility drill. It’s helping train the stabilizing muscles in your core, so they’re stronger and more flexible.”
Cisco looks back at Barry as he stutter steps, clearly trying to decide between moving his right or left foot. “You sure you’re not just enjoying watching him flail around?”
Harry studiously examines his watch. “It’s a longstanding training technique - I had to do it when I ran. I noticed that you picked it up quickly.” He adds.
“Well yeah - wait, did you just say something nice about me?”
Harry takes a note of the scratch on his watch lens.
“I’m sorry, I’m going to have to ask you to repeat that.”
“It’s just an observation, Ramon.” Harry says, as Barry finally reaches the 100 meter mark and immediately puts his hands on his knees. “Alright, let’s start dribble drills.”
(They get through the first ankle, mid-calf, knee rotation easily. The real groans start when he brings out the metronome.)
They’ve just started the real workout when Joe pulls up.
“Heard you guys were out here. You’ve really got them running, haven’t you?”
“Hm - up off your toes, Allen!”
“Ah, this takes me back.”
Harry turns to look at Joe. “You ran?”
“I was a thrower in high school, but I steepled in college. Could hardly get Barry away from his books long enough to get him on the track though.” He chuckles. “You?”
“The 5k was my event, though, admittedly, my running wasn’t serious until I enlisted. You can have a bad a day as you’d like, a fifteen-miler with full packs will still get you to sleep.”
“Sounds like -” But Joe stops, watching Cisco - he’d been breathing heavily when he passed them on the last lap, and now he’s slowing rapidly. Cisco comes to a stop on the backstretch, doubled over.
Joe and Harry jog across the infield together. Cisco’s still coughing when they get to him.
“Hey, hey, Cisco, you okay? Can you breathe?”
Cisco nods, still coughing. “Yeah.”
“Come on, stand up,” Harry says, hand on his shoulder. Cisco looks at him disbelievingly, but pushes himself upright. “Put your hands behind your head.”
Cisco puts his hands up, looking at Joe, who nods. “It -” Joe gestures to his chest, “Makes it easier to breathe.”
Cisco nods, fingers locked together behind his head.
“Why didn’t you tell us you had asthma?” Harry demands, when Cisco’s coughing has calmed down.
“You do have asthma on this Earth?” Joe nods. “And does this always happen when you try and exercise?”
“I guess? I haven’t really run this much since I was in high school.”
“F’s in gym” Harry mutters, running a hand through his hair. “And no one even suggested you might have exercise induced asthma? Is education on this earth that much of a disaster?”
Cisco starts coughing again before he can respond.
“Who’s your doctor? We’re getting you an inhaler.”
“Caitlin” Cisco says. “Caitlin’s my doctor.”
Shit. Abort Abort Abort.
“Well, writing your prescription is going to be the first thing she does when she gets back.” He says, all too quickly. “Is public health always this shoddily handled on your Earth? You should easily have been diagnosed when you were in school. Honestly, this is ridiculous.”
“Hey, quit talking smack about our Earth.”
Barry’s come around the curve by now, slowing down to check on Cisco. “Keep going, he’s fine!” Harry says, and Cisco shrugs and waves him on.
“So am I done?”
“You’ve got stretching to do before you’re finished.”
“I got that,” Joe says with a little too much glee.
“And pay attention, because you’re going to teach Caitlin when she’s back.” Harry adds as they start to cross the infield.
When he makes his way back, Barry’s pulling up to the finish line. “Am I done?”
“Two minutes rest.” He says, and Barry sighs. “Focus on landing on your midfoot this time, not your heel.”
Across the field, Cisco laughs at something Joe said, and Barry looks around and smiles.
When his rest finishes, he starts off the line a little slower than before, but each step he’s striking with his midfoot.
He’s still moving.