I’ve had conversations on occasion with non-runners who tell me that they’d like to run, but that when they do it hurts their knees, or hips, or some other sensitive part of the body. It’s my opinion that joints hurt initially because their body isn’t used to the strain of running, and their muscles simply aren’t developed enough yet to properly support the joints. Realizing the difficulty in getting a non-runner to overcome this particular mental challenge, my advice to them would be “If you can’t run, then walk.” After all, walking is reputed to give you 80% of the aerobic benefits that running gives, but with virtually no risk of injury. This is good news, and it makes the case for walking difficult to refute. And in my devious mind – the one in which I want everyone to be a runner – I know full well that once a person starts walking on a regular basis, the likelihood of their turning into a runner increases appreciably.
But what about runners? What would be their interest in walking? If you were injured, I suppose you might consider walking as a means of maintaining a certain degree of fitness while the injury heals. But for whatever reason, most runners eschew walking, even under those circumstances. Instead, athletes seem to look to swimming, the bicycle, the elliptical machine, or some other tool to keep fit during their recovery period.
Well, today I’d like to make the case for walking, and it won’t be a long-winded dissertation full of scientific study data and multi-faceted arguments. I’ll make it simple, and you can decide how you wish to process my advice and what to do with it.
Walking is a fantastic recovery exercise, period. And I say this not from reading books about running, but rather, from my own personal experience. After a long training run of say, 20 miles or more, my old rule of thumb was that the next day was an off day.
I knew that the run had beat me up, and I was convinced that I needed to give my muscles proper opportunity to rebuild, to repair the damage I had selfishly done to them the day before. Invariably, I would go out for a recovery run on the 2nd day, and to my frustration, I was still unduly sore, and the run wasn’t fun.
But…………….what if instead of taking the next day off, you went for a good walk? After a long workout, how would the muscles respond to a brisk 4-miler at, let’s say, a 16:00 per mile pace?
Well, the answer that I discovered is that the muscles respond quite well, thank you! And although you may feel a little stiff during the first mile or so, before long, the quadraceps, hamstrings and calfs will all loosen up and you’ll be humming along like you’re having an enjoyable stroll in the park (which is the place I’d recommend doing your walk, by the way).
This past week I followed up a 27-mile, 4 hour and 15 minute training run with a one-hour walk the next day, and it was a decidedly good feeling to be marching off a few miles after such a long run the day before. By the time I was in my third mile, I was loose and happy and looking forward to my 6-miler of the next day.
So get out there and walk, folks ! Just do it!! It is an exercise for runners whose time, I believe, has paradoxically come.