This weekend I missed my long run. I might not be the most consistent with my midweek runs, but I never miss my long run. They’re too important.
Sometimes things are beyond your control, like getting sick, or not getting any sleep the night before your planned 18 miler. As in zero hours of sleep. As in the clock says 3:30 and my alarm is going to go off in less than an hour and I haven’t closed my eyes once all night.
By 3:45 I knew I had to surrender and let my friends know I wasn’t going to make it. I felt like I was letting everyone down. I felt like such a loser. Runners are like that.
The next day I knew I still wasn’t up for running, so I decided to take a long walk with one of my dogs. My only plan was to make it to the lake, which is just under 3 miles from my house. Once I got there, I would assess what to do next.
Before I was a runner I was a walker. I used to walk just about every single day of the week, either 3 or 4 miles, and afterwards I would immediately do 20 minutes of yoga. I loved those walks, and I loved doing yoga even more.
Being outside, enjoying nature, has always been like church for me, even if outside is nothing more than concrete sidewalks in my neighborhood. I used to live in a huge apartment complex that had two ponds encircled by a walking path and I loved watching the seasons change as I walked daily around the ponds. There was a kingfisher I used to see almost daily, sitting on an overhanging branch, as if he was waiting just for me.
Being outside, and noticing the changes in nature, was like rejuvenating my batteries.
I loved yoga. I loved doing the various poses, and became the most flexible I’ve ever been. I felt completely relaxed after only 20 minutes of yoga, as if time slowed down. Yoga was like blowing the dust off the clock face, only to realize the hands were still moving.
When I started running (six years ago this month), I was hooked from the first step. Even though I thought I was pretty fit from walking and doing yoga, it still took awhile to build up my endurance. I loved the feeling of freedom I felt when I ran, and I loved pushing myself faster and farther. From my first 5K to six marathons, running has challenged me like no other physical endeavor has.
Most runners don’t run every day, of course. Some do, but most run 3-5 days per week and either rest the other few days, or do something else, usually cycling, swimming, or strength training. I’m sorry to say I’ve pretty much always fallen in the first category, as in REST. I’ve tried to incorporate yoga here and there in my training, and I sporadically take the dogs on long walks, but I’ve never been the best at cross-training.
So when I missed my long run I decided to take a long, brisk walk. It would be my cross-training. I have always read that walking burns the same amount of calories as running, even if it doesn’t have quite the same heart-healthy impact, so at least there was that. Once I got to the lake I would decide how much farther to keep walking.
My dog made the final decision. When we run together she is usually only good for about 3 miles, then she fades fast. You would think that walking 3 miles would be a lot less taxing that running 3 miles when you’re a dog, and she would be able to go farther, but this was not the case at all.
Here are some things I noticed about walking:
1. You miss a lot when you run. I almost couldn’t believe I was walking the same route I run nearly every Saturday. There were houses and gardens I swear I’ve never seen before. Some of this is because I’m running the opposite direction–uphill–and I’m working hard and focusing on making it to the top. Some of it is just not paying attention. I seem to pay more attention to things around me when I walk.
2. Your muscles still ache when you walk long. I could only cover 3 miles an hour walking with my dog, which meant I walked almost 2 hours. By the end of the walk my hamstrings were tired and achy, something I didn’t expect. I guess 2 hours is still 2 hours, even if you’re “just” walking.
3. I felt a lot more relaxed during the walk than I ever do when I run. I’m caught up in how many miles I’ve finished, how many more to run, how I feel, how many more hills, etc.
4. You don’t feel the hills like you do when you run. I can always tell when there’s the slightest incline on a run. Hills are much tougher when you’re running. I hardly noticed them on the walk.
5. Some runners don’t look like they’re having much fun when they run. Some look downright miserable. Just an observation. (I hope I don’t look like them.)
6. Walking makes you sore in places you don’t usually get sore when you run, such as buttocks and the lower front part of your legs, just above the feet. I heartily welcome anything that will help the buttocks muscles stay where they need to be.
7. I enjoy walking alone more than I enjoy running alone. For me, walking is more solitary, and running is best done with others. When I walk I can be alone with my thoughts; when I run, being alone with my thoughts is not a good thing.
8. I didn’t feel like I got the same level of cardio workout from the walk, but it was a good workout nevertheless.
As runners, we tend to discount walking as another type of cross-training. It’s time to reconsider. Perhaps walking has such a negative stigma attached to it as runners because some of us feel like failures if we have to walk during a marathon. My running friends and I struggled with having to walk so much this summer in the extreme heat, and we all kept apologizing to each other for it, as if walking was a sign of weakness.
I’ve always said that if I ever had to stop running, for whatever reason, I look forward to “just” walking. I really do, too. Sunday’s walk was a reminder of how nice it really is to slow down, look around, and still get in a pretty good workout.