September, 2012

How could I say no? In a recent blog, I made a public declaration that I accepted a challenge to join a wonderful group of women in their quest to walk 100k in 36 hours. It’s for a good cause: to raise money for OXFAM. At the time I thought: how hard could it really be? Walking is my favorite “sport”. (Yes, it is a sport here in New Zealand.) It’s not like I’m running…gasp! In my mind, I just had to build up endurance. So imagine my surprise – it’s turning out to be more of a challenge than just adding extra kilometers each week.

I have happily explored all the neighborhoods and footpaths between them in my immediate area. Along with my 10 month old puppy, who is now fitter than I am. His advantage? He does have four legs, even though they are more than four times shorter than mine. My challenge? I am much older, even in dog years. And that’s revealed an interesting problem.

It turns out I have a lifetime of walking habits to unlearn. My father is 6’4” and walks briskly. He loves longs walks and exploratory hikes and even when I was a child, I always managed to keep up with him. Apparently that’s the genesis of my extra-long stride today. For short walks, it’s never been an issue. I like to get from place to place fast, which come to think of it, probably ties in with my previous blog, about my addiction to life as a speed demon. Hmmm…and I am well known for leaving my immediate family leave trailing behind. Maybe there is more to this.

Primarly, for the longer walks that I’m now taking, long strides are a painful habit. In an effort to explain an aching hip and back, I went first to a physiotherapist and then a podiatrist. Who knew taking up walking could get so expensive? The “physio” gave me exercises to do to strengthen what I thought were already strong legs. (Remember, I have to start climbing hills as soon as I step out the door in Wellington.) The podiatrist went even further. He deconstructed my every single step and left me with about five things to think about every time I put one foot in front of the other.

So now, when I walk, I am pretty preoccupied. First, I have to force myself to take shorter strides, to take the stress of my hip and lower back. The trick is not to make the steps look “mincing”. Second, I have to lean forward a bit at the hips, to give myself more forward momentum. Momentum should be very helpful from the 10k marker forward. Third, I have to make sure I don’t come down too hard on my heels and then try not to use my big toes for balance. Yes, big toes. Weird, huh? Both are bad habits I never knew I had, and could cause problems in the long run…I mean walk…you know what I mean.

Okay, so that’s just three things. The fourth is, as I step, I need to remember to push up through the balls of my feet, but be careful to get the feeling of “floating”, not forcing. You try that and see how it goes! Finally, I have to find my rhythm. Ha! That’s not too likely with all my focus on mechanics. Finding a “rhythm”, for me, requires a mantra I can repeat in my head – and my head is already overflowing.

Not that I’m complaining. It’s about time I learned to walk properly and it already is helping. It’s just that from a macro point of view, right now it’s my lifestride I’m also deconstructing. After stepping away from my career and leaving my home, I’m re-learning my way forward in every arena. It is exciting but also exhausting.

It’s a little like trying to write with my left hand for the first time. Have you ever tried that little exercise? Overhwelming. Experts say it uses different pathways in the brain and can lead to personal discoveries and growth: “baby steps” to a long-term goal of self-discovery. So, with thoughtful, little steps and plenty of patience, I trust I’ll find both my rhythm and my new path forward, feeling stronger and more focused in the end. You know what would be motivating? To find out if you’ve had to go through something like this too… Bring on the inspiration!

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In case you were wondering why I haven’t updated this site recently…I was distracted. Please check out my featured blog, “From News to New Zealand” on the Cultural Weekly website.

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