Walking vs. Running
by Tracy E. Hill, Ph.D.
I’ve been running since I was in my early teens. It was my way to clear my head and have “Tracy time.” I used to be a triathlete and thoroughly enjoyed the cross training of cycling, running and swimming. The focus of an upcoming triathlon was perfect for a goal-oriented athlete like me. But a few years ago, a surgical procedure made running more and more uncomfortable for me to the point where, last year, I gave it up completely.
Until this past week.
So, for the past year, I’ve been mostly walking and using the elliptical while only occasionally riding my bicycle. But I noticed that my body changed. Although my weight stayed constant, albeit a few extra pounds over the past twelve months, it was the tone and shape that had the most dramatic change. My treasured jeans, which I have worn since high school, suddenly were a bit tight in the waist. When wearing tighter summer T-shirts and sleeveless dresses, I noted more flab and sag in my triceps, and my skin bulged around my back area—noticeable when wearing a bra.
As a psychologist, I tell patients all the time to embrace their bodies and optimal weights for their own individual selves and not to compare themselves to friends or others. Yet here I was inspecting myself in the mirror in my mid- to late 50s thinking, “What happened?” But it was less about my body than it was about my mind. When running, it was me and the road. On walks or the elliptical, it’s a much slower and easier pace, so I found myself working while exercising with tablet or textbook in hand. I already work close to fifteen-hour days, and it hit me that, without my runs, I was losing one of the few times during the day when I have to stop working and just let my mind wander. I missed “Tracy time” and, apparently, so did my body.
Over the many decades, doctors and researchers have argued the merits of walking vs. running. WebMD states that, mile for mile, they have equal for health benefits (https://www.webmd.com/walking-vs-running). Yet, the scientists do not account for the mental health benefits of your heart hammering, the sweat dripping down your back and face, and the exhilaration that comes with pounding out a few miles on the asphalt.
I went back to running and hoped that my body wouldn’t betray me. The first day, I took an old route thinking it was an easy 5K, only to remember halfway in, it was a 3.68-mile run, and I had to alternately walk and run to make it through. This only made my resolve more acute as I realized that running is in fact more difficult, since I could easily walk or elliptical five miles a day. By the end of the week, I had the old route down with no trouble—thus far. My triceps seemed less flabby, my stomach muscles appeared tighter, and I even dropped those few extra pounds I had added on over the past year. More importantly, I got my Tracy time back.
I allow myself the 30 or 40 minutes a day to just think, dream, and ponder, while my blood flows, my heart pounds, and the sweat drips off me. I come home smelling like a wild boar, and I love it.
Let’s hope my body doesn’t fail me and I can continue running. Who knows? Maybe, if the pandemic ends, triathlons will re-open and I’ll do that again, too!
Photo by Matthew LeJune @matthewlejune (New York, NY).