LONG WALKS – NO!
I’VE been reading one of our most modern books on training for running. Most of the advice was, or so I thought, just what was needed ; it gave an impression of careful study and considerable thought ; and as the outlook was decently broadminded it came as a shock when I suddenly collided with a point I couldn’t stomach at any price. It was as though the author had over-run red traffic lights without having been aware of their existence—he not only advocated, but even emphasised as so many others have done in previous books, the wisdom of taking long walks if fellows wanted to learn to run well.
I’m quite aware that I’m not inevitably right ; there’s always a chance, and quite a big one, that I’m wrong, but in this particular instance it looks to me as though the boot were on the other foot and no two doubts about it. My own experience, after having covered more than an eighth of a million miles afoot, tells me that walking, like any other’ natural exercise is excellent in itself, but does nothing whatever to help a runner to run : you might just as well expect talking to help a singer to sing;, for both are voca! exercises.
It seems queer that we didn’t discover this long ago. Pick a casual score of men as you go along the street, all between the ages of twenty and forty, and you can take it for granted that they are all quite capable of walking anything up to about ten miles on end.
some, no doubt, very much more. How many of them could run half that distance without a stop ? Probably not more than ten per cent, and then only those who had specially trained for it. In rough figures that’s somewhere about what it would work out to. That proves right away that walking doesn’t make runners at all, or they’d all be able to run at any rate half as well as they could walk.
No author has yet attempted to tell us in what way runners benefit by taking long walks except to point out that such exercise develops stamina. Prolonged any-other-exercise does exactly the same thing, but you wouldn’t, for instance, tell a runner that he must do a lot of boat-rowing (which gives exercise for the legs and feet) as part of his specialised training for running, so the extra stamina theory hasn’t brought a solution of the problem any nearer. Evidently it is a question that only reason can decide, since mere practice hasn’t so far given us a definite ruling.
Both running and walking are primarily leg exercises, and it would seem therefore that they ought to assist each other. That’s what you’d expect and what, if you didn’t give the matter any thought, you’d state. Yet actual practice doesn’t show any such thing. Fellows may take long walks and run splendidly, yet there seems to be little doubt that if they cut out the walks, even cut them out entirely, they’d still be able to run just as well. I’ve tried both, and for the last half-dozen years of my training only indulged in long walks when running practice was highly inconvenient. When training hardest I walked least.
For many decades it has been drummed into us that walking is an essential item in a runner’s programme, and it has sunk in so deeply that it will take a lot of shifting. But it’s high time we stopped taking for granted everything that has come down to us from our grandfathers ; instead we ought to investigate each detail for ourselves. There’d be no need to take this trouble if our knowledge were complete, but we all know that nothing ever stays quite still ; everything in life—and this includes training of course—either progresses or the reverse, and unless we keep constantly on the move we shall be steering for the scrap heap.
Walking has become a fine exercise, though it might be as well to remember that in prehistoric days it wasn’t an exercise at all; it was merely a convenient means for covering very short distances. All animals, and man is one, had to learn to walk before they could learn to run—a proof that running is more suited to active existence than walking since it must have been acquired at a later date in animal history. Once they had mastered the double lesson they dispensed with walking almost entirely and trotted everywhere. Take a look at wild life in the bush or on the veldt when it doesn’t know it’s being observed and you will notice that practically everything proceeds at a trot unless circumstances render such action dangerous. Almost the only time wild life walks is when it is feeding or stalking.
We humans walk more than we run because we have been able to drop so much of the violent exercise of former times and have replaced it with more moderate types. Yet to the really well-trained man trotting is distinctly easier than walking ; even today I would far sooner trot fifteen miles than walk a dozen—and I’m in the old-age-pension class. Proof that it actually IS easier is shown by the fact that the trotting records are always ahead of the walking ones ; also that the only men who came in anywhere in the 3,500-miles American Transcontinental Footraces were those who trotted nearly all the time.
Walking, like swimming or any other natural exercise, will make and keep a man fit without any running at all; and you might note that the reverse is equally true—running, for those who wish to specialise temporarily, will also make and keep you fit whether you walk or not. Neither walking nor swimming nor any other exercise will add in any way to your running abilities ; each of them has its own sphere to cover and beyond adding to the general health and stamina extends very little outside. In other words, from the runner’s point of view long walks are only a waste of time : any other action than running merely sidetracks time and energy which could profitably be devoted to further specialised development. Mind, I wouldn’t have you think for a moment that I despise walking : far from it. As a matter of fact I would always fight shy of super-specialisation at running because it is apt to lead to a sort of lopsided result—a man’s legs become splendidly developed while his arms fail to keep pace, and this sort of thing applies similarly to any single form of sport. Quite a fair proportion of your spare time therefore might well be devoted to walking, swimming or games of any description and, although they won’t enhance your running abilities, they’ll do a lot of good in other respects.
Now for another side to it, and one that I’ve left very much alone till now. I can’t help thinking that ordinary walking and healthy youth don’t go overwell together. Ask any active schoolboy which he’d rather do, go for a long walk or have a good game of football, and 99 per cent, would plump for the game. Young men should, in the nature of things, be very lively and active and would almost certainly wish to indulge in exercise which had a spice of excitement about it, and you can’t accuse walking of that. I suppose it’s our upbringing that makes us still do so much of it, probably due to our having been, indirectly anyhow, taught that what was good enough for our forefathers must be good for us too, and this regardless of the fact that the lapse of time ought to have effected improvements or called for adjustment in many ways. Fifty years ago the bulk of the nation might have been less practised in athletics because of lack of opportunity and equipment; and whereas walking might then have suited a large number of men, our more active modern life needs a more energetic form of exercise to keep us up to the mark.
It seems to me, then, that the average young man would be better off if he left long walks until later on in life when strenuous exercise won’t have so great an appeal; surely it’s better to make use of opportunities for vigorous action while he is fully capable of enjoying it.
From the above you can gather what my advice to runners would be, and not only to runners but to all athletes, for in principle the thing holds good throughout all sports. I’d tell them to study and practise running first of all, and to spend more time at it than any other form of recreation if they want to make a mark of sorts. But I would at the same time advocate reasonable indulgence in any other athletic activity that gave pleasure, provided of course that it did not definitely interfere with the specialised subject. Weight lifting and long-distance running, for instance, would not mix well, any more than would distance cycling and distance running, though a trifle of either would not make any appreciable difference to the other. If walking happens to be your fancy, get busy with it, but, and I would underline this, never take any other exercise whatever as an integral part of your specialised training.