I was never much of a runner. Or, a runner at all. As a kid in gym I was usually the last to finish the mile, with the exception of one or two others in class. I never completely stopped running, but I would slow to a jog or speed walk while holding my side because of the cramping. I did have asthma growing up, but I wouldn’t say that was why running was an issue. I was big-boned, stocky, and built more for being a defensive linemen. I was no Carl Lewis, Prefontaine, or Forrest Gump.
In my adulthood I would start running on the treadmill during workouts to push my heart rate up, and I got to a point where I could go for five or six minutes at a time. I’d run half a mile, three quarter mile and then slow back down to a brisk walk. I never had aspirations of becoming a jogger like my dad was, but I wanted that quick pulse and heaviness in my lungs, at least for a few minutes at a time.
I’m more like my mom. I’m a walker.
The long walk is meditation for me. It’s always been a time to disconnect from the world for an hour or so, listen to music or a podcast, and get the blood pumping. I can remember being a little kid and my mom taking walks. Behind our house in the woods was a road that had been paved with the anticipation of houses being built in said woods. Back then there were probably two or three houses tops, so it was relatively peaceful and traffic-free. It was a great place to walk five or six laps in relative solitude, get some exercise, and not have to go to a gym. On the days it was rainy she’d walk on the treadmill in the basement.
I’d occasionally walk with my mom, but I had a feeling that maybe she wanted that time to herself. Now that I’m nearing 50-years old I know that my instinct was right. A walk can be nice when walking with someone else, but the best ones are when you’re solo.
We’ve got a membership to the YMCA, but I’d rather walk in the sunshine. I love the exercise, but there’s a certain amount of calculation to walking at the Y. It feels planned and scripted, whereas an outdoor walk feels more like an adventure. An outdoor walk can be improvisational. You can choose a different route; go right instead of left. Take a surprise jaunt into a neighboring housing addition you don’t normally go through. Just a slight change in the normal route and the walk feels like you’re making it up as you go along.
I love warm, sunny day walks, but I also love overcast days as well. Fall walks with overcast skies and slight wind get my brain going. I can get lost in ideas. Movie premises, camera shots, and key plot points on those brisk, fall walks. I can work out problems in my own life walking as well. How to approach an issue I’m dealing with currently; conversations that need to be had and the best way to bring it up with whoever I need to talk at.
I get song ideas while walking, too. I can hear chord changes and melancholy melodies echoing in my head as I’m getting miles in. Where I’m walking makes a big difference in the compositions I’m coming up with as well. Song ideas range from the geography I’m walking in.
Of course, what’s playing in the headphones plays a big roll.
Early on it was loud and fast music. That’s what got me going, especially when I was intermittently running on the treadmill. Classic 80s speed metal; the ‘Big Four’ were always in rotation. Then newer stuff like High On Fire, Mastodon, and Deafheaven. LCD Soundsystem was a great band to listen to when trying to get the heart pumping. But once my knees told me running might not be so good for me I went with different vibes. I went for more nuanced, ethereal electronic music. I went with something that inspired longer walks. Things that allowed me to get lost in my own head while putting in the miles. Boards of Canada, Huerco S, Jonas Munk, and Oneohtrix Point Never were perfect artists to lay out an existential soundtrack for meandering county roads and hiking trails.
2020 was the year of the long walk.
2020 was a year where getting out and putting miles in was not only the healthy option for my body, but also for my mind. It was a confusing, weird year where you really weren’t sure what was happening, why it was happening, and whether we’d ever see the other side of that pretty harrowing time. Long walks were as much mental therapy as they were physical.
For about two months out of that year we were only working three days out of five, while still getting paid for five. So I was off Thursday thru Sunday. While my wife and the kids were working and doing school from home during Thursday and Friday I would head out in the late morning and get a walk in. One day in-particular I figured I’d take a new route and see how far it was. A little over halfway through I’d realized I may have gone too far, but it was too late to turn back around. I’d committed, so onward and upward. When it was all said and done I’d walked a little over 7 miles on sloping county roads. My ankles were sore as hell from trying to keep from going off the road into ditches. Busy county roads are no fun to contend with, especially on busy mornings.
I think I bought new walking shoes after that day.
Over the last few years I’ve come to realize not only how important walks are to me physically, but mentally. Between pandemics, kids and parents getting older, work, and just the everyday wear and tear on the head and heart getting out and walking three to four miles is a therapeutic endeavor. I’m never going to run a marathon. I have no interest in that. But getting lost in the summer sun or the auburn haze of fall is my jam. It’s the perfect after work come down, while still burning calories and getting the heart and body moving. I’ve worked in resistance bands and dumbbell work as well afterwards, but that’s just me. You do you. Go buy yourself some worthy walking shoes(go to a real shoe shop and spend the real dough…your feet will thank you) and hit the trails, the sidewalks, the indoor tracks, or the county roads(watch for cars.)
You’ll be surprised what it does to your head and heart.
Xander Harris – Villains of Romance from Justin Miller on Vimeo.