TALKING THE TALK ABOUT WALKING THE WALK
by Ken Stewart

As I write this in mid-December, plans are under way to offer attendees at the 2009 American Council of the Blind national convention an opportunity to participate in an organized run-walk. An event called the Watermelon 5K Run/Walk is held in the city of Winter Park every July 4th.

A task force led by Dan Dillon is developing plans for interested ACB members to join the festivities. For some, walking or even trotting 3.1 miles is no big deal. For others, special preparation will be in order. For that reason I have been asked to share my personal experiences preparing for road races and maintaining reasonable fitness generally.

Preparation for a long walk is walking. And an almost as basic second principle is, "Consistency trumps intensity.Ē My preparation for the eight marathons I have raced was to do a training run every other day. The length of each training run was less significant than the avoidance of any multi-day interruption in that training. In reality, my preparatory runs for those 26.2-mile marathons rarely exceeded 10 miles in length. In more than one fitness publication, in fact, I have read advice from experts that a good rule of thumb is that one-third of a race's distance is sufficient to train for that race.

The kinds of walking, too, can vary widely and still be quite beneficial. Pushing a heavy shopping cart around the supermarket or even strolling to the kitchen from the television room at the far end of one's McMansion during every commercial break can contribute. But that kitchen activity better be washing the dishes or sweeping the floor, not fetching a high-calorie snack ... but more about eating later.

One of my personal favorites for conditioning while carrying on with daily routines is stair climbing. In fact, when I am presented with an option of an up-escalator or an adjacent stairway in a public building, I typically select the stairs. Where there is no alternative, I walk during the ride up if possible. Fortunately I find that most other escalator riders stay to the right, keeping the "passing lane" clear out of consideration for people who are hurrying to catch a train or otherwise in a rush. My training for the Empire State Building Run-Up (described in "Runners High,Ē which appeared in May 1996ís issue of the Forum), consisted entirely of repeatedly hustling up the six flights in my Manhattan apartment building. It was sufficient to get me up the 86 floors on race day ahead of about half of the other competitors.

Among all the types of fitness and exercise equipment now in use, my favorite is the treadmill. It provides a moving surface for walking or running with side rails offering a hold option. The speed can be regulated and the surface can be tilted to simulate a hill. There are models designed for home use, and heavy-duty versions commonly found in fitness centers. I have described my experiences with two models at home in a Dialogue article, "A Tale of Two Treadmills" (www.blindskills.com). The ACB Fitness Equipment Equity Task Force, which I am currently chairing, will be approaching manufacturers to increase the accessibility of the control panels and other design features of their products.

The various leg muscles used while walking can be encouraged in more mundane activities too. A little jogging in place while waiting at the bus stop will add the side benefit of warming the body on a frigid afternoon. Even rapidly bouncing on the edge of the bed utilizes the quadriceps ("quads"), the set of four muscles down the front of each leg to the knee. The side benefit there is motivating your lazy sleep partner to awaken before noon. After the bouncing, try thrusting your knees forward repeatedly by pushing back your heels. That puts the hamstring muscles to work, in the back of each leg above the knee.

Iíve been doing daily leg-lifts ever since; full leg lifts while lying down, and lifts of the lower legs while sitting at a meeting if at a table so that only a guide dog underneath will notice. Only recently I was reminded of the amazing value that has accrued from those daily quad exercises. While rummaging through a long-closeted gym bag, I rediscovered the variety of knee supports, wraps and bandages I regularly employed because of a chronically sore left knee. The life-changing leg-lift exercises were suggested by a tennis-playing neighbor who told me she got the recommendation from her doctor, who bragged that half of the New York City Ballet were his patients.

What contributes to physical health is, of all things, wringing out one's washcloth after bathing. Believe it or not, the rigorous squeezing of every last drop of water can enhance finger and hand strength.

One frequently touted strategy is to fill the lungs gradually to their peak volume, hold for a few seconds, and then exhale gradually. This is one more activity that can be performed in many sedentary circumstances, remembering again the great value of consistency. The strenuous snow shoveling I did a few nights ago to clear a footpath through my patch of Warwick woods required frequent pauses to catch my breath. But I was cheered by the realization that my lungs would thank me later for working them so hard.

Then thereís body weight. The most important number is not what the scale presents, or even the now very popular body-mass index. It is the waistline measurement. One need not even calculate the inches with a tape measure. Just take note of the belt notch engaging the buckle as your eating habits and fitness improve.

And donít forget running! When I began road racing three decades ago, I read that it was best to apply maximum movement toward forward direction and minimum into vertical. The more level the head remains, the better this objective is being attained. I suppose if applied to walking too, one would concentrate on minimizing any bouncing effects. I have also read that arm swings contribute to efficiency. Each arm swinging in synchrony with the opposite leg, of course. And if running, letting the arms swing as they hang loosely rather than pumping while held up with tensed arm muscles. A white cane in one hand or a guide dog's harness unavoidably reduces the ability to swing arms. During my competitive road races I am always connected to my sighted guide by a strip of white cloth held in one hand of each of us. There is usually enough slack that I can swing that arm almost as freely as the other arm. My Dialogue article, "Running on Low," details my adventures as a road race participant. One disclaimer in closing: I have no personal familiarity with the possible fitness benefits of the Perp Walk.


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