What Makes An Athlete: Walking

I definitely stand by this quote from Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman.

If you have a body, you are an athlete.

I know that individuals might not understand all the differences and complexities between different forms of exercise. But that does not mean that someone who walks to be healthy is any less of an athlete than someone who runs marathons or competes in Ironmans. It’s easy sometimes to fall into the mentality that if they are ‘not like me’ and aren’t doing the same level of activity, then maybe they’re not an athlete. The truth is they are just a different type of athlete.

Recently I’ve been reminded that the decision to put on shoes, step out the door, and take part in activities towards a healthier life is what really defines an athlete.

My point is this: the first step out the front door is the hardest and I respect anyone who takes it.

startSeveral members of my family, as well as a few friends, have taken up forms of exercise in an effort to become—and stay—healthy. Anything from cycling short distances to walking a few times a week. I hope to tackle the cycling perspective (from someone who isn’t me—aka not a cross training marathoner) in the future (maybe this will be a new segment like my tips posts). But today I really want to talk about walking and walkers.

My mother, who I’ll refer to as Mama P, got the final word from her doctor over 8 months ago. She needed to do some serious work to improve her health. Mama P was a borderline Type 2 diabetic, overweight, and has issues like arthritis that could be better handled if she took on a healthier lifestyle. So she sat down with her doctor to discuss what actions to take and then later with myself. We went over what she’d learned and how I could help get her started with exercise (I’m not a coach, but I know some stuff).

Due to the arthritis and some joint issues regarding her knees, Mama P had limited options for exercise if she didn’t want to do more harm than good. We discussed not only what she was comfortable with, but also what she was most likely to stick with. As much as she’d love to take up running, that just wasn’t feasible as a starting option. So we decided on walking.

There were two big hurdles Mama P had to overcome. And while some parts of those two were physical, the biggest ones were mental.

Hurdle #1 was the perception that because she spends a good part of her day job moving around and on her feet, that she was already in decent shape to walk for exercise. While I definitely do not doubt that some jobs require us to move around more, it doesn’t meant the transition to exercise will be easy and seamless.

Things you do regularly can create a base, but tackling an activity as exercise is just not the same.

Mama P may be on her feet a good amount, but wandering around the office is completely different from going out for 45-60 minutes to get exercise. Even if it was, in her mind, ‘just walking’ she was still forcing her muscles to go farther at a faster pace and raising her heart rate. That was a mental hurdle she had to overcome; treating it as the exercise it was. Not as the same thing she’d already been doing.

Plus Mama P had to deal with the fallout on the physical side. Because it wasn’t the same as what she thought she’d already been doing, her body had to adjust. It took over a month for her calf muscles to settle into the new level of activity without aches. Mama P became good friends with things like IcyHot and compression socks.

Hurdle #2 was almost entirely about her frame of mind and comes in several parts. The first is that she had to make the decision to change; Mama P had to be the one that said ‘I need to make time to exercise.’ Added to that Mama P had to accept that she was making an entire lifestyle change, not just attempting to lose weight. Change is gradual & we were looking past days and months into potentially several years to reach that point. It was more than taking part in exercise but also included what she ate and her schedule. She had to reset her priorities.

change

Finally, Mama P had to adjust her view of what walking was. She could no longer equate it to moving about the office or home. She had to mentally restructure her perception of walking. In doing so, she would be able to approach it as what it really was: exercise.

In the beginning she made excuses of “well I walked a lot at work” when she didn’t go out for a walk at home. Once she overcame hurdle #1, then she could tackle the fact that she still wasn’t treating walking like I treat running. In her mind, it still wasn’t exercise. But once she was able to alter her definition she was able to become, in her mind, an athlete.

Now changing a perception isn’t easy. In the case of Mama P, I took a sort of extreme approach. I signed her up for a 5K. Luckily, she treats events the same way I do. If we pay for it, only death or severe injury is going to stop us from doing it. And in the case of many events, from 5Ks to marathons, there’s a time limit for the road closures. Due to this, she had a distinct goal to work towards—being able to walk 3.1 miles within a certain time.

Seeing the steps Mama P has taken and the struggles she’s faced, I’m reminded that the hurdles don’t have to be the same as mine to be difficult. While I may face different challenges as a runner, she’s battling her own in an effort to be healthier. That, in my mind, makes her as respectable an athlete as any other I may be tempted to call the same.

So I’ll end with this. Here is a list, straight from Mama P, on what she’s learned. And more importantly, things she thinks you should know if you want to start your own journey and choose walking as the way to do so.

  • Don’t wait to finish this or that before you walk—make time now.
  • Vary your route to keep things interesting.
  • Got a dog? Take him/her with you sometimes.
  • Under the weather? Don’t walk or make it a short walk. Listen to your body.
  • Check the weather so you don’t get rained out or struck by lightening.
  • Don’t go hungry or dehydrated.
  • Just starting? Expect your legs and/or feet to be sore.
  • Watch the ground in front of you and be aware of your surroundings.
  • Carry a cell phone with you—there are pouches made for runners & walkers you can buy.
  • Make sure someone knows what direction you’re heading and how long you expect to be gone.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothes.
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