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First Race of the Year: the 2010 “Polar Bear”

Walking For Fitness and Weight Loss

walking-for-fitness (Not me!)

I began walking for fitness and weight loss in the autumn of 2008 as a means of preparing for the Indianapolis 500 Festival Mini Marathon the following May. For the last few years my brother Kerry and some friends had set aside time each summer for an “adventure”. While discussion options for the following year’s challenge around a campfire on the Appalachian Trail in West Virginia Kerry, a former Hoosier, suggested they attempt to complete the country’s largest half-marathon.

When he told me about the upcoming challenge I immediately invited myself to join them and said invitation was enthusiastically accepted. I was 57 years old and had grown sedentary; I was looking for an excuse to get off my butt and back onto the street (I had been a runner for many years). I had also fantasized about completing the Mini, 13.1 miles through the streets of Indianapolis, including a lap around the fabled 2.5 mile oval known as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

I’m proud to say that Kerry, 6 years my senior, and I completed the daunting task. And in the process I increase my level of fitness and lost a few pounds to boot. But more important than those results was the fact that I’d developed a new, good habit—walking for fitness and weight loss. The benefits of exercise as well as the process of exercising itself become almost addictive. Someone once said that you can never be too rich or too skinny; I don’t know about the first but I do know from experience that looking at a pile of jeans that are just too big to wear anymore is intoxicating!

I’m now preparing to meet Kerry again in May for our second Mini. I’ve begun adding some jogging to my routine; another intoxication to competitive walking is to improve your times and pace. When I started my walking program I set a goal of completing any race I participated in at a 15 minute/mile pace and was proud to have completed the Mini in 3 hours and 8 minutes or 14:35/mile. But now I want better.

runinsnowIndianapolis has many opportunities to test your progress while walking/running with others. The first such competition is the Polar Bear 3 mile/5mile which takes place on the third Saturday in February. In my first run/walk competition of any kind I completed 2009’s 3 mile in 43:35, a pace of 14.06; I was pretty happy with that. This year’s race was cold (duh!) and my upper body layers (tech tee-shirt, heavy cotton hoodie covered by a Gore-Tex shell) immediately felt like chain mail armor. But I did my best and finished at a markedly improved pace over the prior year. Here is my evaluation:

Weather: cloudy and cold, 28 degrees at start. Nominal wind, some puddles and snowpack in places on the streets but not enough to affect the outcome of the race.

My general condition/well being:

Before the event: I felt great, excited to be with like minded people, confident of my ability to show improvement, no injuries.

During the event: A sense of doom at the outset. I’d planned on jogging the first 10 minutes but as soon as I began my upper body felt like I was wearing lead. I probably jogger for 2-3 minutes before I had to begin walking in order to catch my breath. For the remainder of the race I felt burdened and strained.

After the race: Jubilant! Despite the apparent burden of my low-tech upper body clothing I finished far better than I thought I would. About 200 yards from the finish line I saw the timer turn to 38 minutes; I’d set a goal of 40, and quickly calculated that I had 1 minute to finish at a sub-13 minute pace. I turned on the afterburners and looked up to see the timer tick off 38:47 as I crossed the finish line—I let out an audible “Yes!”

My conditioning, 1-5: I’ll give me a 3. I’ve come a long way the last few months but I’ve got a long way to go. By the end of the season I want to be able to complete a 5K in 31 minutes, a 10 minute pace.

My effort, 1-5: 5 I’m proud to say. I pushed myself hard, particularly at the end

Miscellaneous notes:

I finished in the 33 percentile; 2/3s of the participants were faster than me. But there’s something wonderful about being in the bottom third. I am surrounded by non-athletes; brave souls who are no longer young, overweight, out of shape or a combination thereof. Their likes all over the country are still in bed on this Saturday morning or sitting at McDonalds eating pancakes and sausage. For every one of these non-athletes doing this athletic thing in the cold there are thousands of people just like them who have waved the white flag and surrendered to the onset of their oldness, fatness and out-of-shape-ness. But not us; each of us is driven to be more, be better, be happier with ourselves. I don’t know your reasons for being out here on this gloriously miserable morning and you don’t know mine. But as I pass you, or watch you pass me, I feel the unacknowledged camaraderie we share and I silently cheer you on to the finish line and your own personal victory. See ya’ at the next race!

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