When some of us were kids, it was conventional wisdom that no one could run faster than a four minute mile. Scientists who measured the muscles and design of the human body under all forms of stress were convinced that the barrier could not be broken. Until Roger Bannister did it! Today, records are set by runners from countries all over the world. All are under the four minute mark.
Which brings me to those of us who are walkers. We are usually considered second class citizens by the runners. But, no matter. They have their world and their high tech sneakers. And we have ours. Walking shoes of every imaginable contour are in the stores waiting for us. The manufacturers of what used to be called ‘tennis sneakers’ have graduated to a higher level of merchandising. They trumpet all sorts of computer mapped air pockets to add bounce to my step. I keep looking for an all white or black good support walking sneaker in vain. The emphasis is definitely on ‘color accents’, such as vivid purple or turquoise.
Switching from style to substance, exercise guides routinely recommend a fifteen minute mile for walkers as the threshold for cardiovascular benefits. Ah, there’s the rub.(And I don’t mean Ben Gay.) As a long time morning walker, over three decades and still on the move, I have found that the difference between the fifteen and seventeen minute mile adds up to more than two minutes. It’s more than simple arithmetic. There appears to be an existential force at work at 9:00 a.m. when I venture forth to meet the outside world.
I have timed my two mile walk over the years, first on the boardwalk and for the past 24 years on the lanes, roads and avenues in Linwood. The wooden way had the advantage of resilience and the vast changing seascape; the country byways hold an edge for variety of turns, leafy vistas and floral displays. The boardwalk was a treat for the flat straight away, easier in the legs. The country ways are more of a challenge to certain muscles with the rise and fall of the terrain. The bottom line for me is that wherever I walk, the time comes out the same. Seventeen minute miles. And the nagging question: should I be upping the speed and meeting the 15 minute mark?
I should add that I did try to up the ante in the boardwalk years. I watched the parade of athletes pumping their arms as they whizzed past me in the fast lane. What was I doing wrong? What was I doing right? The best I could achieve was an out-of wind 16 minutes
with some cheating in the count. And I would feel exhausted. I was definitely not having a good time.
Thus, I arrived at my final appraisal of the entire process. Or you may call it my rationalization — cop out. I walk for several reasons every morning. It is my way of greeting the day whether it is clear skies or rain. Unless there’s a downpour or a blizzard, I’m out there. It revs up the body and mind for me. Some of my best ideas for writing come together as I walk. I know I feel toned up even if I have not met the official cardiovascular rung on the fitness ladder. And I cover far more than the recommended 30 minutes, three times a week.
All in all, I’ve arrived at a regimen that suits me. During the winter months with temperatures in the teens and wind chills dipping too low, I do not walk outside. If the roads permit, I may drive to the nearby mall and walk my two miles along the broad aisles of the stores. Several winters ago, I came to know most of the inventory of the Burlington Coat Factory. Workers would greet me with smiles of recognition. I have been known to walk back and forth in long airport corridors, or round and round in hotel hallways to work off the morning energy. Not quite the same, but better than missing out completely,
I’ve learned that breaking the 15 minute mile is not my goal. I have set my own pace. It’s not a question of ‘Am I there yet?’ Rather, I am enjoying the clear cerulean blue skies and brisk air that I found this morning. I feel refreshment of the body, mind and spirit. For me, it’s a question of what I gain along the way — rather than how long it takes me to get there.