Friday, April 23, 2010

Lessons from the old man's 48-K walk

The older I get the longer I must exercise before it has much effect. That’s how it seems to me as I train for the 42-kilometre marathon walk on September 26.

I began my training January 17, but walking in January and February was only occasional, as snow and ice conditions permitted. I try to exercise five times a week, and when I don’t walk I ride my exercise bicycle.

March weather was unseasonably warm and sunny, allowing more consistent walks, varying from 5 to 25 K. The record in my eXerlog shows that by April 10 I had walked on 38 days for a total of 222 miles or 355 K, an average of a little more than nine K per walk.

I thought it time to try a longer walk — not “just a closer walk with Thee,” as Tennessee Ernie Ford pled in his powerful hymn—but a longer walk with me and myself. The section of the Victoria Rail Trail from Lindsay to Fenelon Falls is 22 K, according to a trail map. There are at least two more Ks from our house to the trailhead. The round trip is 48 K.

There was promising blue sky and a cool 4 0 when I set out at 8 a.m. I wore short pants with a bottle of water in a pocket, long wool socks, comparatively lightweight hiking boots, a tee shirt, a light sweater, a heavy work shirt, and a baseball cap—but, no gloves. Only my hands felt a little uncomfortably cold.

The first couple of kilometres are paved, followed by another two K of fine, crushed gravel, tightly packed, as smooth as pavement. Then, for about 18 K beyond the Ken Reid Conservation Area to Fenelon Falls, the trail has looser gravel with a good supply of rocks and stones. Hiking boots, not too heavy but with good, thick soles, help avoid the feel of every stone jabbing the feet.

When I began training for the marathon, my walking speed was 5 K or three miles per hour. It took me four hours and 20 minutes to cover the 24 K to Fenelon, or 5.5 K per hour. That’s a bit of an improvement. To cover the 42 K on the September marathon in the qualifying 6.5 hours, however, I would need to average 6.5 K, and for a longer period of time. It was not walking to Fenelon, but walking back that showed how difficult it might be to do the marathon in the qualifying time.

Before heading back, I lingered a little in Fenelon, with a leisurely cup of coffee and a raisin bran muffin at a Tim Hortons, and a little loafing in the lovely park beside Cameron Lake, where a fair breeze stirred up a few whitecaps under the blue sky.

The walk home was not easy. With muscles starting to stiffen and ache, I had to push myself. I developed a sore at the heel of my left foot that felt like a blister. It took me more than five hours to struggle home, a full hour longer on the walk back than on the walk to Fenelon.

In training, I am to push myself a bit, but within my comfort zone. And I did, to the extent that there was no gasping for breathe, no pounding in the chest, no exceeding my heart-training rate, and I felt capable of carrying on a conversation at any time. I said hello to everyone I met on the trail, and to every friendly tail-wagging dog that came up to greet me.

But I pushed my muscles to the limit of my comfort zone, and possibly a bit beyond. Those who engage in competitive sports constantly push themselves beyond their comfort zone, and frequently are at least temporarily disabled as a result—like baseball players officially marooned on 15- or even 60-day disabled lists. That’s not necessary to improve or maintain health and fitness by vigorous but enjoyable walks.

The blister, painful enough, turned out to be not a blister but an embarrassment. The long walk induced a crack in the dead skin that builds up at the heels on people who don’t take care to regularly scrub it away, and the crack exposed a sliver of raw flesh. With medicated ointment, it took four days before I was able to resume walking with comfort. Time, however, heals all heels.

Here is what the Mayo Clinic, in its booklet Walk Your Way to Fitness, says about foot callus:

“…if it starts to hurt, get bigger or crack open, soak your foot in warm, soapy water. Then gently file the callus with an emery board and give it a generous dose of moisturizer. Petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, is preferable. If it doesn’t go away, your doctor can remove the callus by cutting it away.”

Improvement is still needed to do the 42-K marathon in September within my comfort zone and at least reasonably close to the 6.5-hour qualifying time. Not to worry. There are still five months of training left, and a new pair of good walking shoes, suitable for pavement pounding, to buy.

1) Be patient. Desired fitness goals can take months, or a year or more, to attain.
2) Stay within the comfort zone. Minor muscle aches and stiffness might be no problem, but pushing past the comfort zone could risk the type of more serious injuries that sometimes land athletes and those who play hard at competitive sports on the disabled lists.
3) Take care of the feet. To enjoy vigorous walking, you need to know what you’re doing, and the feet are the basis of a good under standing.

Search terms. Exercise. Fitness. Walking. Hike. Victoria Rail Trail. Sports injuries.

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