Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Walking...with purpose

When you're getting ready to run an ultramarathon, you hear all sorts of advice about...walking!

"There's no shame in walking!"
"Even the best ultrarunners will hike up steep inclines."
"Walk up any hill where you can't see the top."

But my favorite nugget of walking wisdom comes from the famously "somewhat legendary" ultrarunner Jeff McGonnell. He has completed over 100 ultramarathons, including an amazing 22 consecutive completions of the brutal Mountain Masochist 50 mile run. About walking, Jeff says "When you do walk, walk with purpose."

In other words, don't walk like you're out on a sunday afternoon stroll. Walk to make progress in the race.

I'm not very good at walking with purpose. When I paced Val Wrenholt at the Leadville Trail 100 in 2012, I had trouble keeping up with her when she took a walk "break." I often had to break into a jog just to keep up. I told her to just keep walking and not feel obligated to run. After all, she was 70 miles in to the race, and I had only accompanied her for 10. Her secret: 4-mph walking treadmill workouts at maximum incline.

Many ultrarunners actually train to walk. I've done a little walk-training, but almost certainly not enough. In a running group it's much easier to find someone who'll run with you than to find a walking partner, and I don't enjoy the treadmill enough to copy Val's strategy.

But now, in the final days before the Leatherwood 50-mile race, I am severely curtailing my running so as to be as fresh as possible on race day. For me, this means 4 miles on Monday and Wednesday, 2 miles on Friday, and walking on Tuesday and Thursday.

Our running group has a thread for each day's workout, so when people were posting their plans for this morning, I said I'd be doing a two-mile walk. I didn't expect anyone to join me -- I was more interested in joining the runners for coffee when they were all finished. But to my surprise, Ashley, who is recovering from a broken hip, was also interested in a nice walk.

Tuesday morning I ended up waking a little early, so I added in an extra mile to the meetup-spot, then met Ashley (along with a crowd of faster-paced creatures) at the usual spot in downtown Davidson. Ashley and I strode along in the darkness and had a very enjoyable chat, but I have to say, it was frustrating watching the other runners fade quickly into the distance ahead of us. I focused on good posture and a positive attitude. I could feel that this was the right thing to do: The usual niggling pains in my hamstring and hip flexor faded away, and my whole body just felt more relaxed than it does on a run.

Even walking "with purpose," I never felt out of breath; I was comfortable and smooth, all the way. I ran in to a couple other walkers -- folks with dogs, or escorting their kids to the bus stop -- and I noticed that I really was walking considerably faster than they. Given that I may be walking almost half the time in the race on Saturday, walking with purpose should save a considerable amount of time compared to just ambling along.

Including the two miles walking to and from the meeting spot, I walked four miles this morning, and probably felt better than if I had simply taken a rest day. Here's hoping the walk-breaks I'll inevitably be taking on Saturday during the race will have a similar effect.

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