Sports & Recreation: Run don’t waddle
A legendary summer begins with breaking a sweat—one step at a time
No one has ever called me an athlete—until now.
I’m waddling around William Land Park, struggling to keep up my pace—a 24-minute mile is my personal best—and then Fleet Feet’s No Boundaries coach, a perky and very fit woman named Nancy Warren, pulls alongside me and says, “I love to see my athletes smiling!” She trots up to encourage someone else. She’s not breaking a sweat. I look like I’ve just come from a sauna.
Where’s my ESPN Web gem?
The last time I completed a 1-mile run, though, was years ago during a police-department physical. I was 23 years younger, 70 pounds lighter, and didn’t yet have arthritis in my knees, ankles and hips. I ran it in a respectable 12 minutes—and then I threw up. Now, the best I can manage is to walk at a fast clip.
No one but Nancy mistakes me for an athlete. But that’s the entire point of the No Boundaries program. Sponsored by New Balance, the shoe company (my hot pink Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure special edition sneakers are so cute!), Fleet Feet operates this coaching-and-training program, which targets people like me: those who think a “walk” is the trip from the couch to the book case, or that “weight lifting” is putting a book back on the shelf.
This summer, however, I’m putting my best foot forward.
Reality check: It would be polite to say that I’m “out of shape.” It would be honest to say that I’m an absolute physical wreck. I’ve got asthma, arthritis, high blood pressure, and I’m as big around as I am tall. (OK, that’s an optical illusion. Or an exaggeration. But I’m definitely rotund.)
Where my colleague Josh Fernandez can run (see “Run, Josh, run” by Josh Fernandez, SN&R Feature, November 27, 2008), I waddle.
Fleet Feet’s program consists of two workouts a week. One group meets in Land Park, another in West Sacramento. We walk or run rain or shine, and the goal is to prepare for a 5-kilometer run around Land Park on Memorial Day. Well, some people will run it, some will run/walk; I’m just hoping to be able to walk the whole thing in less than an entire morning.
In short, I’m precisely the kind of person that the program wants.
“The point is to get people moving. We want to help people see that it’s OK to start from wherever you’re at. The important thing is to move!” said Fleet Feet training programs director Lisa Riley at the kickoff event in March.
And move we do.
At the first meeting, we split up into groups and are taught the proper mechanics. Yep, it turns out that I’m walking wrong. I need to straighten my posture, put my shoulders back a little and tilt my pelvis slightly. This feels strange, mostly because I’ve devolved into a nice slouch over the years. But after I practice for a while, I see that it’s actually more comfortable.
To avoid injury and improve performance, we stretch after each waddle (stretching cold muscles actually increases the potential for injury, especially among novices like us). The coaches show how to stretch each muscle group that we’ve used and explain how to avoid injury. And after the walk/run, the stretches actually feel pretty good.
The first night of training includes a 1-mile walk, which leaves me tired, sweaty, and ready to sit down in front of Rachel Maddow and talk back to the TV until bedtime.
But walking outside is great, and something I haven’t done regularly—other than to get to work—in a long time. There’s the smell of the grass, the softball and baseball games, people playing with their dogs, and the one guy who runs past pushing a 4-year-old in a stroller, lapping me twice every time on the course.
Now there’s an athlete.
I’ll confess, I missed a bunch of workouts—first the flu, then work obligations—thus ensuring that I wouldn’t earn the bonus prize (a nifty long-sleeve running jacket). But I get the point: For a reasonable fee, I got experienced coaches—especially Nancy, who is peppier and more upbeat than any P.E. teacher I’ve ever met—who help me and keep me from hurting myself.
The commitment to the group made it easier to exercise and gave me people to commiserate with; hey, we’re all in it together. I received education in injury prevention—including some specialized stretches to deal with my plantar fasciitis—nutrition and workout planning. The enrollment fee included a cool shirt (sort of like joining a team, something I haven’t done in a very, very long time). Yeah, Fleet Feet sold me some shoes, but it wasn’t high pressure, I got discounts, and I would have bought new shoes for summer, anyway.
Besides, you try walking when your feet aren’t happy.
We worked up to what our coach called a 3-mile course. I never take anyone’s word for it; the distance checked out as 3.25 miles.
Then, at the end of the 10-week training, we were set to run, run/walk, walk—or waddle—the 5-kilometer No Excuses run. It’s an annual Memorial Day event that benefits the Vietnam Veterans of America.
But I twisted my knee the day before the race, which meant I limped out to watch. After the runners passed, I saw my training mates.
They looked like athletes.