A walk on the mild side

I started running at 22 and quit 45 years later, but not because I wanted to. I had a hip replacement and couldn’t run anymore.

Actually, strictly speaking I could run. But my orthopod Dan Bullock told me it wasn’t a good idea, since it could wear out the replacement.

When my hip went south on me, the pain was constant and extreme. I could barely walk, and couldn’t sleep at all unless I was on heavy-duty painkillers. And then, though I felt a lot less pain, I also felt a lot more screwed up. I forgot whole portions of my day, I nodded off in the middle of conversations, I blacked out with alarming regularity.

Within a few days after the operation, all those hassles were gone. And a week or so later, I was walking on my own, driving my car and, aside from a fabulous scar on my dupa, was the Old Dope I always was.

The point of all this background info is this: While the hip replacement itself and my recovery from it were almost painless, I never want to have another one.

And so when Doc Danny Boy told me not to run, I quit immediately and never gave it another thought.

Feelin’ the pressure

My post-running life was a walk in the park, so to speak. I no longer had to find the time and motivation to suit up and clomp up and down the roads in all kinds of crappy moods and even crappier weather. Being a non-runner was easy because it only required I do nothing, something I became very good at.

I debated speed walking a bunch of times but each time decided against it. With running, I’d head down the road, head back up and in a half-hour had an easy 3-mile workout, no sweat, tickety-boo. Walking that distance would take twice as long — at least.

Plus, did you ever get a good look at the speed walkers? There they are, steaming along the road, huffin’ and puffin’, arms pumping furiously, a look on their faces that can only be described as the picture of Gloom Itself.

So those problems prevented me from speed walking. But another problem made me reconsider it, namely my clothes: They kept shrinking.

At first I couldn’t understand it. I hadn’t changed detergents or washing and drying temperatures, but my clothes get getting smaller and smaller. The only thing I could figure was it had something to do with having stopped running. Maybe my aura changed and my vibrations as a non-runner made the threads in my clothes tighten up and draw closer together. Who knows?

But why my clothes had shrunk was irrelevant. What was relevant was if I took up aerobic exercise again, my clothes would expand to their previous size and I’d no longer look as if someone stuffed me in them with a giant shoehorn. And after thinking about it a lot, I decided to start speed walking so I could get back in shape … and my clothes could, too. Besides, how hard could speed walking be — especially for an experienced runner?

Before I went on my first fast walk I worked out a strategy. A decent hiking pace for me was always a 20-minute mile. So I figured if I really put rubber to the road speed walking, I could easily manage a 15-minute mile.

I suited up and stretched as I always did — that is, I stretched my imagination more than my connective tissue. Then I checked the time, shook one leg, then the other, and then diddy-bopped down the road.

Everything was working fine. My breathing was steady and controlled; my knees weren’t creaking, cracking or aching; my pace was darn near supersonic.

I cruised through one mile … then two … then three, and at four miles broke the invisible ribbon back home in what felt like record time. And it was, but not a record I’d brag about. While I thought I’d hit my 15-minute average, my watch told a different story — and a sad one at that. It took me an hour and 14 minutes; my mile average wasn’t 15 minutes, 16 minutes or even 17 minutes. Instead, it was a glacial 18:30.

The short side of evolution

The next day, humbled but determined, I took off at full speed and maintained it for the entire four miles. This time, I broke the 18-minute barrier … barely. My average was 17:45.

And then I realized something I’d never considered: Speed walking is actually harder than running!

I know that’s counter-intuitive, but I also think it’s true.

I believe it’s a result of evolution.

Let’s face it, in spite of that Ecclesiastes acorn, the race is to the swift. And so, after millennia of our ancestors either running to or away from whatever, the genes for fast running got passed on.

Of course we’re also built for walking, and walking mighty long distances at that. But (at least according to Darwin Dope) while we’re made for walking, we are not made for fast walking. The motions of walking fast are weird, and they don’t happen naturally, as they seem to with running. So in order to be a most effective speed walker, you have to learn its mechanics and techniques. And how do you do that? Simple. You just do what I did, which was call Bob Tysen at The Fallen Arch in Lake Placid.

Bob was always a serious, if not fanatical runner, till injuries and operations put the kibosh on it. Then, this past year, Bob took up speed walking — seriously, if not fanatically, as you might surmise.

Any questions I ever had about running, I knew Bob could answer. Ergo, when I started speed walking and had lots of questions about it, it was obvious who was my go-to guy.

It turned out, Bob agreed with me — that speed walking is harder than running. Or maybe more exactly, speed walking efficiently requires a lot more study than running efficiently. And to do it right, you have to keep studying it while you’re doing it. Otherwise, something’ll go wrong — hand height, arm pump, hip movement — something you never knew. Or if you did know about it, you paid no attention to it because you’re paying attention to something else equally important.

But while speed walking may be harder than running, in terms of technique, it’s a whole lot easier on the ole corpus. Because there’s no concussion of feet hitting pavement, there’s almost no body trauma involved in walking. When I ran, every morning after I got out of bed, it took me at least 15 minutes of walking around gingerly before stuff stopped hurting, “stuff” being soles, ankles, toes, knees, calves and so on. With speed walking I can crank out 6 miles at my max pace, and it’s painless — both while I’m doing it and when I get up the next day.

So in case you haven’t gathered, it looks like speed walking is my exercise of choice and will be for a good long time. While different from running, it’s every bit as beneficial. Already I feel better than I did before I started. I sleep better, I’m more awake during the day, and overall I have a lot more energy. Essentially, I feel myself returning to level of fitness I had back when I ran all the time.

And best of all, while my clothes have not started expanding, they have stopped shrinking.