Literary Lessons Learned Walking Fast

Race walking around the running track — at more than four miles an hour for ninety minutes is a meditative as well as an aerobic sport. Recently a recurring meditation during my three times a week effort took me back to last November two Sundays before Thanksgiving.

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

I discovered online, reached out, and joined a handful of race walkers during their weekly Sunday morning jaunt. I was welcomed and one of their leaders stayed with me as I almost kept up with the main group.

It was a crisp morning as we race-walked around the Lake of the Isles, aptly named as it is dotted with islands as its host city Minneapolis is dotted with lakes. Notable highlights included a bald eagle perched tree top, and a chance encounter with Alan Page and friends — walking as apparently is his habit the same time of day, in the reverse direction. Page is a retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice and Hall of Fame former Purple People Eater from the days when Minnesotans still hoped their Vikings could win the big one.

Both sightings were worth sharing with friends afterward, but the true value of that walk was the coaching tips my mentor imparted. It was only later while practicing those tips I realized they had multiple applications.

As a septuagenarian hoping to be a nonagenarian if not centurion, I have been investing time getting into shape to live a longer life and in learning how to distill the lessons of my life into palatable sips others might enjoy savoring.

For longevity, I have been losing weight — over 60 pounds plus so far- via both diet and exercise. Thus the walking — not running — to protect knees that already mark one as artificial. As to the distillery, it is thoughts and form that I have been working on, with William Zimmer’s On Writing Well and Steven King’s On Writing Memoir of the Craft and dozens of Medium articles as guides.

Shortly after our chance meeting and brief greeting to Justice Page, my companion coach asked, “See that tree ahead, and then the next one?”

“Between the two, I want you to take as many small steps as you can, keeping your eye on the second tree.” I did as instructed.

The distance between the two was short, which made it easy to do — even if a bit awkward. Lots of tiny steps. Once at the second tree, I resumed my normal pace which somehow seemed to be a bit brisker than it had been moments earlier. The smaller stride made the interval between steps shorter and one of the keys to race walking is to take frequent steps.

I have been practicing that tip during my Midtown YWCA race walks ever since. Recently during one, it occurred to me that this was similar to an article I had read on Medium by Monica Leonelle in which she suggests speed writing 8 minutes a day to complete a novel in less than a year. My own writing takes hours to cobble together a coherent page that Zimmer would still request multiple rewrites.

With that thought in mind, I reflected on how other suggestions also applied. During my YWCA walks, I extended the “second tree” to the next corner on the running track. I began to see that each segment from corner to corner was simply a series of small interim goals leading toward the larger goal of a completed workout. So too, could be Leonelle’s 8-minute segments or my own dedicated one hour writing time slots become interim objectives on the way toward a more significant goal.

Race walkers bend their elbows at ninety degrees, “similar to joggers or runners,” my coach pointed out. During my Lake of the Isles event, I started out in good form, but as the trek moved on, the began to droop a bit. In the weeks that have transpired, by repeated practice, I now walk the entire route with elbows up. I trust that continued writing will lead to a constantly improving form as well.

Another suggestion from my coach surprised me at first. He told me to disregard the walking style championed on a Youtube video his group had on their own website. In that video, the instructor suggested placing one foot directly in front of each other as if walking along a straight line. I had been practicing that approach and had found it somewhat awkward. “Then don’t do that,” he advised. “It will take six months for you to develop your own stride. Once you have done that, you can go back and learn to refine your style.”

Now several months later, I can see that he is right. I’ve started to take notice of some little things in how I rock my arms back and forth during my walks. Sometimes it is straight forward and back as though I am pulling on an invisible rope dragging myself forward. Other times, I am pumping up and down raising my hands to heart level and then down. Time will tell which will win out as my natural style. I see value in both.

At first, my fists tended to be clenched as I walked, now I make an effort to relax my hands and walk with them open. Less stress. More relaxed. More confident?

During my meditative walk at the Y, I reflected that I should work on getting as much writing done as I could and later pay attention to style. I cheat on this, reading about style as I go, but I am trying to just write. Producing product, not perfection. Perhaps a lesson worth sharing.

Prior to my Lake of the Isles walk, I was doing 24 laps around the 6 laps to a mile track. Now I do 36, and I am pleased to say with my elbows up and my form at least pretty good. Can I get better? Of course.

My writing has made a less dramatic increase in terms of volume, but that too will improve as I put the time in to write more. Once I am up to the 4 mile an hour rate with my writing, I will pay more attention to style.

If this makes sense to you, on your mark, get ready, go.

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