When I think of my early days of walking two cliches come to mind. First, “The Journey of a thousand miles Begins With a single step”. The second one “No pain no gain”.
After my humiliation with the blood pressure machine I decided my best way back to health was walking. Up to this point in my life I had little use for running. A long time ago I would get my cardio exercise in the gym by running on a treadmill. And that was all the running I wanted to do. To me people that ran were strange and could not be trusted. Walking it would be. My journey of a single step started on the 16th March at 1:08 P.M. I walked 8.63k. It took 2:03:19 to do.
Early in my journey my goals were simply to lose weight, get my blood pressure down and start to feel good again. The confidence and relaxation fitness brings were just distant memories to me at this point in my life.
I’m not crazy about the pain no gain idea. I think people make the mistake of thinking if they aren’t in pain they’re not doing right. In a lot of circumstances the opposite is true. I think though some pain is unavoidable in the beginning. And boy oh boy did I feel pain. My first introduction to pain was when I discovered shin splints. Apparently even when walking you shouldn’t increase distances by more than 10% a week. You should also be in proper foot wear. My Doc Martens although long lasting and comfortable weren’t made for rigorous 10k walks. My solution? Keep going. I figured the pain would get better or worse. If it didn’t get better I could go to the doctor later. I wasn’t going to undo early gains over a little excruciating pain.
On my longer walks I would stop at the Sunnyside Mall. I usually visited the running room and try to get some free pointers on walking. One of the kind runners suggested I try some better footwear. So I agreed and got some fancy, shmancy running shoes. My shin splints got worse. I had to stop sometimes on the hills. The pain was unbearable. I blamed the new sneakers. And I vocalized my disappointment at the sadist who took joy in seeing me in excruciating pain. The reality was my doubling or tripling distances was likely the reason. Don’t worry, I did go back and apologize for my snarkiness. We’re good now. And eventually proper footwear would become a fact of life for me.
Eventually the pain stopped. I wouldn’t recommend the ‘keep going’ method with shin splints. I did it because that’s what I needed to do at the time. I couldn’t stop. Failure was not an option.
Another health related problem struck me in mid April. This one was very unexpected and to this day strikes me as bizarre. I was merrily walking down one of my favorite hills. This was a 10 k walk. One that felt routine by now. But something bad happened. I felt like someone hit me in the back of the head with a bat. Except I didn’t feel the pain, just the jarring sensation you get when your noggin gets a good whack. My breathing immediately went shallow and I felt like I was going to pass out. Then as quickly as it came, it went. I just stood there. What should I do? Call an ambulance? Walk home and risk, well risk what? I thought maybe I was just not breathing properly and may have hyperventilated. Yeah that’s it. Relieved I started walking again. A little slower and breathing a little more intentional.
Then four k from home it happened again. Worse this time. But when it was gone I felt fine. No pain, no numbness, all senses doing what they’re supposed to do. Guess I had been pushing too hard. Once I got home and relaxed I would be O.K.
I went to Starbucks after I got home. Sat in one of those big comfy leather chairs. Things felt good. Relaxed from a hot shower, something good to read. Nothing left to do but relax. And then whack. Felt like I was going to fall out of the chair. And if I was going to pass out I didn’t want to do it in a crowd. That’s stupid, but you would think it too.
O.K resting on the coach would fix everything. Nope. Whack, whack. This was getting annoying. But what to do? I didn’t want to wait two weeks to see the doctor. I felt too healthy to go the emergency department. Then again walking around feeling this sensation could be serious. So reluctantly I went.
They poked they prodded. Blood work, ECG, chest X-ray. Then I waited in the room. I had it all worked out in my mind how this would go down. A solemn looking doctor would come in from behind the curtain. He would look at his clipboard. He would flip through page after page of results. Just to make sure, before he had to give me the talk. He would take a deep sigh and put the clipboard down on one of those funny shaped bedside table. He would clear his throat and in his best doctor voice ask if I ever of transient ischemia attacks? I would pretend I hadn’t. The truth was different. You see before heading over I Google diagnosed myself.
It didn’t pan out that way. I young chipper doctor instead came in. He had no clipboard and didn’t look terribly concerned. He said there didn’t appear to be anything major wrong according to my tests. He then asked if I ever heard of panic attacks. I tried to correct him. I said don’t you mean transient ischemia attacks? He just dismissed my Google diagnoses and just barely suppressed a chuckle.
I said of course I have heard of panic attacks. Those are the things hysterical women have on airplanes in B movies. I really didn’t say that. I did remember learning about them when I was a medic so I was relieved. I confirmed with him that they were benign. He said yes. He mentioned something about follow up, blah, blah. Nope. Hopped of the stretcher and left much relieved. As I was walking across the parking lot, whack, whack. Whatever, you can’t hurt me.
I had a lot more that day. A few the next day. Occasionally weeks after that. And rarely months after that. And none anymore. I was curious as to why. My Google doctor said they really don’t know why. They do find that sometimes when we are going through a lot of change even the most normal people can have them. And so ends that problem and mystery.
By the end of April I had walked 257 kms or a 160 miles. I had also made some dieting changes. I had shed close to 15 lbs. My blood pressure was still spiking late afternoons. Which apparently blood pressure does. By golly it was falling. I’m talking 110/66 range. My goals had been achieved relatively quickly.
I didn’t want to enter maintenance mode. I wanted to get fitter. I was loving walking. I wanted to go longer distances. I was up to 16 kms. How much farther could I go? I started May with these questions in mind.
It was about this time a dream that had been sleeping for decades started to stir. When I was young I remember watching a marathon on T.V. How young? I’m pretty sure it was in black and white. There were only three stations on the T.V. And you got those stations through rabbit ears, not a cable. So yeah, it was a while ago. I didn’t intend to watch the marathon. I came across it serendipitously. Just turning the channel changing knob when my dad said stop there. It was near the end of a marathon. Olympic I believe. What left an impression was the enthusiasm and drama of the color commentator. I think the term he enthusiastically screamed was “Man’s ultimate challenge, the biggest test of will and strength”. I remember the runners. Their seriousness, their determination. My dad mentioned something about 26 miles. I had no idea how long that was. But I understood there was something special about this event. What I remember vividly is the finish line. By this time the colour commentator was full on frantic. The winner raised his arms. The camera zoomed in. Although it was so long ago I’ll never forget that look of triumph in the winner’s face. I don’t remember if this was the moment I said I will run a marathon some day. I do remember growing up in awe of the marathon. I remember watching them on TV whenever I could. I grew up fantasizing about throwing my arms up in victory after completing a marathon.
And then something happened. I joined the military. The military would throw many physical challenges at me. And I would complete them. But one thing became clear. I could do pushups until the cows come home. But run? Nope. My first time in basic training running the mile and a half was an eye opener. I was almost last. And I almost failed. We would run it again at the end of training. I improved dramatically. But I was still in the bottom third. I realized I was built more for power than speed and endurance. The ideas of running a marathon became a fantasy not a goal. And then it just became something I used to dream about when I was a kid.
Despite this I started to play with the idea of walking a marathon. You could walk them right? Yes. And then came May and nice weather. I realized if I was walking four and five hours every Saturday and Sunday this would cut into my motorcycle riding severely. As lousy a runner I was I would save time on my weekends. And from previous attempts at running I knew I could never, ever run a marathon. So back to sleep went the marathon dream.
My first attempt at running was an unqualified disaster. I could only manage about three kms. This after so much walking. I walked home. Sat on the sofa feeling dejected and sulked the rest of the day away. Pain without any apparent gain. A journey that had started so strong came to a halting screech.