I learned to run when I was eighteen. One mile became two, two became three.
My running shoes have been constant companions. Over the years, I’ve offered them more quality time and given them more of my disposable income than many friends and family members. In packing a suitcase for a trip, I often must choose between these bulky pals or another outfit. I always pick the runners. Fashion be damned.
In the early months of the pandemic, I started to have ankle pain. First in the right ankle, then in the left. The cause was unknown. May be related to my rheumatoid arthritis, may be to extended time in Allbirds (fun but no support).
Rest, cortisone shots, braces, hot/cold therapy, and time have healed. And yet, two years later, the ankles remain fragile. This has meant less running. More walking.
I’ve had the tendency to frame this shift as a personal failure. Just recently, a younger woman jogged past my husband and I on a hiking trail. “I used to run like that,” I commented. In my mind I thought, “Wow, I really suck now.”
Aging inevitably comes with more aches. (Think about how easy it was to do a cartwheel when you were seven. Have you tried to do one lately?) I need to be kinder to myself.
According to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “So often in life things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be good fortune.” Trusting that there are few people better to take advice from than RBG, I decided to make a list of the good fortunes of walking.
Walking is safer. I am a serious tripping risk. I’ve gone down in road races and on short jogs. Black eyes, bloody knees, and broken ribs. I don’t put it past myself to fall on a walk – I once tripped jumping a hopscotch on a Mother’s Day stroll – but it’s less likely.
I interact with neighbors. Many elderly people walk alone midday. I typically stop and say hello, and let them pet my dog. People have lived in isolation the past two years. So these interactions matter.
Breathing less hard frees up brain space. On my walks, I’ve crafted solutions to both personal and professional challenges. The bigger the issue, the longer the walk.
I let my dog take the lead. When I run, I drag Oakley along. Stops are minimized. He sets the pace when we walk. The other day, we spent extended time staring into a tree. I have no idea what he saw, but we moved on only when he was ready. Walking also allows him to carry big sticks.
Slowing down allows me to notice small things. I’ve discovered a village of fairy houses built into entry steps and a miniature Green Lake created atop a Little Library. (The I See Beauty post includes some additional treasures espied on a walk.)
Phone conversations happen. None of us has enough time in the day to be the kind of friend or sibling we aspire to be. I’m able to walk and talk on the phone at the same time. I’ve never been in good enough shape to do so while running.
Looking stylish is possible. Running requires very specific clothing with tags that read breathable, lightweight, and Gore-Tex. Walking, less so. I enjoy wearing a new baseball hat or snappy t-shirt as I’m out and about.
I make more progress on Audible books. Early in the pandemic, I listened to a fascinating book called Hidden Valley Road. It chronicles one family’s experience with schizophrenia. Currently, I’m into Brandi Carlile’s memoir, Broken Horses.
My family walks too. For me, running is a solo sport. When my children were little, I remember telling my husband, “No one is coming with me on this jog!” I love company when I walk. I especially love it when my 17-year-old daughter joins. Important conversations happen. And one-on-one time with her is limited.
It’s one way to practice radical self-care. My husband plans to live until he’s 100. If I have any hope of being with him for even a chunk of that time, I can’t be breaking myself down, physically, or mentally.
My friends, be kind to yourself. There’s good fortune to be found in change.