Preview: Learning to Walk

(from the Introduction) Walking lessons? You might think these are as unnecessary as eating or breathing lessons. Isn't walking a skill we learn around the age of one, pretty much master by two and then never forget?

Not really. Children don't suddenly stand up and walk. Their first steps are lunging runs into the arms of waiting parents. They don't slow down much until their teenaged years, then soon get a driver's license and thereafter limit their walking to crossing parking lots or trekking home when the car breaks down.

A few of us keep running after learning to drive. I was among those lucky ones that way. However, more than 20 years passed between my first formal race and my return to walking. I took that long to adopt walk breaks as good and necessary additions to what remains today a running-centered routine.

As my years add up, the miles slow down. But I'm still a runner, in practice as well as at heart. You don't stop being one just because the pace and distance ease down.

My running dates from my first unsteady steps into racing on April Fools Day 1958 and continues at an age when I could be the grandfather of that kid who ran then. I've raced hundreds of times, from sprints to ultras. I.ve finished marathons in five decades -- from my 20s to 60s -- and plan to add in 2013.

I made a career of writing articles and books about running. I spoke about the sport before any group that would listen. Now I teach running classes at a university and coach teams of marathoners.

Running has set the course of my life. I still run, and think, act and work like a runner.

That said, I quickly admit that today, while pushing 70 really hard, I'm half the runner I was at half this age. That's almost numerically true. My distances are about half as long, my pace half as fast.

I also freely confess that little more than half of the "run" time nowadays is spent running. Walk breaks come often, and some days pure walks replace runs. Pure runs are as rare as lunar eclipses.

This confession will amuse, annoy, alarm or anger purist runners, but not inspire them to walk. I felt the same way myself once.

While training for track, I made it a point of pride never to walk for recovery between hard intervals but to shuffle at little more than walking pace. I jogged in small circles while waiting impatiently for stoplights to go green.

I thought "walk" was a shameful word, if not an epithet. Walking was for people who wouldn't run at all and for ex-runners who couldn't run anymore. Real runners ran.

My thinking changed completely, but only slowly. This book recounts how I gradually and sometimes grudgingly made peace with walking, and why I now praise and promote its beauties and benefits.

Walking hasn't replaced my running but has added to it. Walk breaks, the simplest and best type of cross-training, have extended my life as a runner. I happily stop to walk if it keeps me running longer -- if not in miles, then in years.