Less than 2 months into being 50 and my greatest fear about aging is coming true. It isn’t completely unexpected, there’s been some warning signs but I was hoping it was a temporary glitch. But I really do think I am becoming a walker.
This is not to suggest that I’ve previously been unable to walk, it is my transition from former runner to walker that signals old-agedom. It removes any shadow of doubt that I have definitely crested the peak of the hill and am now fitness-walking my way down to the valley of death, possibly aided by a set of those walking sticks that look ski poles and confer the status of twat on all who use them.
Everyone (under 50) knows that much like aqua-aerobics and mini-trampolines, walking is what you turn to when you’re too old to run. There is no kudos in downgrading your status from runner to walker. There are no training programs that guarantee to take you from runner to coach/potato walker in only 6 weeks. No-one’s going to be cheering you on when you walk your first 10k with dreams of finishing your first walkathon.
And there is definitely no walkers high, just a series of monotonous endless steps that take forever to cover the same distance that you used to run. Especially because you have to keep checking Facebook and sending text messages and taking in the stupid lovely surroundings.
This was all brought home to me last weekend while watching the Austin Marathon (online). Before I started running in 2000 I used to watch the London Marathon on TV and would laugh, through mouthfuls of Hob Nobs, at all the idiots plodding through the wasteland of the Isle of Dogs. Then I moved to Austin and became an idiot myself and called myself a marathoner for a few years. Then I stopped doing that but called myself a runner because I still competed in races. Now I only run on Sundays with my sprints group and am usually winded by the end of the warm-up.
I blame all of this on my recent FronteraFest show. I rehearsed a lot of my lines while out walking, partly because the rhythmic monotony of the steps helped me to focus but mostly because rehearsing in the house kept upsetting the dog who would always tear up at the slightly maudlin ending and we’d have to pretend it was just her allergies. But the bonus of the monotonous walking is that it frees up the brain a bit to ponder about other things so I would often come up with new lines whilst out and about, thus necessitating further walks to memorize the newest new stuff.
I’ll admit that it was enjoyable not having to blast my music so loud to cover the sound of my wheezing. Nor having to watch that bit of the trail where I tripped one time and now feel the gravitational pull every time I approach it. And definitely not having to practice defensive-driving-style moves whenever there’s a loose dog, a militant cyclist or a pack of shirtless cross country boys taking up the half the trail. But once the show was over I thought I would just bounce back into running again and this would just be a horrid blip. But 50 doesn’t work like that. A few days as a walker and suddenly you’ve turned into one of the very people that you used to smugly pass and judge multiple times as you lapped them.
But once you realize this it’s too late. You’re already a third of the way down the hill and the general malaise that also hits at 50 means you lack any motivation to pull out your ski poles and climb back up. It’s then that you start noticing articles about how walking is a good workout for cardiovascular health. There was a report a couple of years ago about the optimal level of exercise needed in order to live longer. The conclusion was that the ‘sweet spot for exercise was working out moderately, mostly by walking, for 450 minutes per week, or a little more than an hour per day.’ Those people were 39 percent less likely to die prematurely than people who never exercised. This is like saying that if you move into a nursing home at age 70 you’ll live for an extra 20 years. It’s just prolonging the agony. I’d sooner run every day and pop my clogs early than have to live out the rest of my days identified as a walker.
I suppose at least there’s less risk of becoming an exercise bore if you’re a walker. You don’t hear walkers obsessing about their weekly mileage or having to carb load before taking the dog out but you’ll probably still have to look at their photos of the blue heron/wild sloth/sunrise over the lake all handily captured and stored for your viewing pleasure on their phone.
Runner’s bore is an affliction most commonly found in long distance extreme runners. The single-mindedness
required to complete these ultra-ultra-events seems to take away from the rest of their personality, as evidenced by once brilliant comedian Eddie Izzard. In 2009 he ran the equivalent of 43 marathons in 51 days and raised a lot of money and was generally praised for his supreme effort. But since then his stand-up shows have paled a bit his hair’s gone sensible and he’s been talking about getting into politics. Now he’s making a second attempt at 27 marathons in 27 days in South Africa as a tribute to Nelson Mandela and those who fought against Apartheid.
“‘I tried to do this four years ago and failed. This time, I will succeed. But if I fail, I will come back again and again and again until I do succeed. Because that’s what Nelson Mandela would have done.’”
I’m not convinced of this because it’s all rather speculative and unproveable. Nelson Mandela was not known as a long distance runner so it’s hard to say what he would have done in the same circumstances. It seems unlikely that he would have been selfish enough to risk permanent self-inflicted damage to his body instead of campaigning to end apartheid and of course now we’ll ever know, which perhaps explains the confidence behind Eddie Izzard’s assertion.
He further adds:
“But of course – 27 marathons in 27 days is nothing compared to what Nelson Mandela did by serving 27 years in prison.”
Really? I would argue that 27 marathons in 27 days is actually harder because you have to make that choice every morning when you wake up and have to retrieve your blackened toenails from the bottom of your sleeping bag. Unlike Nelson Mandela who didn’t willingly choose to serve 27 years in prison. Given the choice I’m sure he would have gone home early.
I’m not sure where this leaves me or what is ahead. If I keep walking will I stop checking my watch to see how long it takes me to do the 3 mile loop? Will I take it too far and decide to walk across Texas as a tribute to that bloke in ‘Making a Murderer’? Or will I go back to 2000 and figure that the only way to start running again is to sign up for a marathon when the furthest I can currently run without stopping is 2 miles.
One marathon in 365 days. It would be my salute to all those who struggled and fought against middle-aged apathy.