|As one of the latest finishers at the Reedsburg|
VetFest half-marathon, I was there to
see the clean-up. In the background vets
are taking down a huge flag that had been
suspended from those two cranes.
I'd walked the half-marathon. Later a friend emailed, "are you ok?" She was used to hearing about running - not walking - events: a few marathons, half-marathons, triathlons. And she'd heard of the injuries, too; a boring list most runners would know, from lost toenails to stress fractures. So with pleasure I trained to walk and I was exhilarated with the result: a zippy 12:53-mile average walking pace.
Yogi Bera is right, it's 90 percent mental (and, according to him, the other half is physical). It sure was mental for me. It was tough to seed myself absolutely last in the starting line. It was tough to not hop into a jog with the rest of the adrenalized group when the blast signaled the start. It was tough knowing I'd be the straggling final finisher. But I had a goal: race-walking.
About a quarter mile in, a volunteer shouted "good job getting out there." What he thought was, looks like you can't run but at least you're walking. To some, walking looks like failure.
But is running better than walking? The American Heart Association says:
"Equivalent energy expenditures by moderate (walking) and vigorous (running) exercise produced similar risk reductions for hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes mellitus, and possibly coronary heart disease."
The consensus of other web sites is: choose the sport that suits you, do it often and with vigor, and you'll benefit.
So this season I chose race-walking. Race-walking is not an amble nor a stroll. It's a sweat-through-your-shirt endeavor. The hips sway, the elbows pump, the stride rolls on the feet, and there is always contact with the ground. It's an Olympic sport and real pros can do a mile in about 6.5 minutes - far faster than I'll ever run. I don't aim for such speeds, but I do push.
Around mile two I was no longer alone with my thoughts and footsteps. I could see two women ahead. They were walking by now, talking animatedly. I was a little relieved to see other walkers, intentional or not. I gained on them but every time I got closer they would jog. I kept walking, they kept talking. Then I was talking with them, passing them.
By mile six I had passed three or four others: runners old and young who were not liking the cold or the hills. A few kind words and smiles, and back to just the road, and thinking, and walking. At mile ten I passed an encouraging mom and her tired, sore teenager. A volunteer shouted to us three, "you'll make it!" "Undoubtedly," I thought. I was sort of sad to have the end in site.
Browse online a bit and you'll find belittling comments about race-walkers. "If you can go that fast why don't you just run?" asks one commenter. "Looks f* weird," says another. Race-walking has some way to go before it has the status of running. But soccer, rugby, and football co-exist. And there is more to swimming than front crawl.
I finished in 2:48, 12 minutes ahead of my goal. I was thrilled. I'd enjoyed my training, added to my fitness, and remained without injury. Sure, it may have seemed like "only" walking to some - but ask a zumba dancer why they aren't doing ballet, and a road biker why they're not on a dirt path. Yes, there are so many paths up the mountain. But the view from the top, well, you know.