I’ll be honest: I’ve always scoffed at people who walk to get exercise. 1) Being honest is all I’ve got, and 2) I was a pretentious asshole. I mean, I’ve run marathons. What benefit could there be to walking over running?
I remember being a teenager and going for walks occasionally through my neighborhood. I’d lived there my whole life essentially, so there was nothing new to see. I hadn’t yet become aware of what “being present” felt like, so it really was just boring.
In college my friend and I would get together in the late evening and walk at the park. The city I grew up in has a beautiful park with a man-made lagoon. The sidewalk around it measures about half a mile, and we would usually do 4 or 5 laps. And she walked fast! Then, I walked because it was a good way to get exercise and socialize. Same when my husband and I were dating – there were very few places we could hang out and be alone in peace, so we went for walks in parks.
It wasn’t until the pandemic hit that I started going for walks. It even felt different coming out of my mouth at the end of a work day, words winding their way up the stairs while I put my headphones in, “Babe, I’m going for a walk.”
Last year, I took a running sabbatical (mostly). This means I didn’t train for any big races or have any sort of plan for my running. I ran when I felt like it. Like so much in my life, I got burnt out and figured since the earth was groaning and yearning for a change, so was I. So in the beginning of COVID-induced quarantine, being outside was one of the safest activities there was. I put on my running shoes and went out the door.
Before I knew it, I was walking for about an hour. That’s how long it takes to walk down to the water and back, even at a good clip. And because nearly all the streets in my town are north-south, east-west, there are endless routes to take to the Bay.
The weather improved as spring gave way to summer, and my body craved the calm but industrious energy that walking brings. Running doesn’t do the same thing – your heart and lungs and legs are working too hard. When I run, my thoughts really don’t have the space to wander – they’re usually too focused on pace and cadence and not tripping over perfectly flat concrete (yep, I’ve done it).
But with walking, the world moves by a little slower. I had the time to really look at the neighborhoods I was walking through, at the houses new and old, but mostly old. Some run-down, most with an addition or two. Some with balconies and crazy colors that could probably be seen from kayakers on the river. Some with garden decorations or old paint-chippy fences. All molded by character and curiosity.
A most valuable experience was walking the same neighborhoods as seasons changed. I wore the same shoes, but first donned a hoodie for fall and finally a coat for winter. I found that I could “run errands” during a walk, too. I could pick up or drop off a book from the library. I could stop at the post office to get stamps or mail a package. I could patronize my local coffee shop…. (yes, that counts as an errand – gotta keep local businesses afloat!). Some afternoons in the winter as we approached the solstice, the angle of the sun indicated it was almost time for twilight to meld into darkness fit for a cozy sleep.
Before COVID, I hadn’t really settled in our town, despite buying our own old-but-updated house. But walking allowed me to breathe the same air, wave to and chat with neighbors, and really feel like I am a part of this city. And for such a crazy year and having moved around as an adult, feeling at home is what I really needed.