This afternoon, I walked with a friend who doesn’t walk as often as I do. As we walked, she commented on how much faster my pace was than hers and encouraged me to walk ahead of her. She suggested that I wasn’t “getting anything out of my walk,” and therefore shouldn’t be held back at her pace. I explained to her that I don’t need to walk fast or hard, I simply need to walk. In my thinking, any walk is a good walk, and any walk is training.
I walk all the time. And every time I walk, I think of it as a training walk. If it is just a mile or two, and the event is 10 months away, it is a training walk. If it is 15 miles, and the event is 3 weeks away, it’s a training walk. If I am wearing jeans and sneakers, it’s a training walk. If I am wearing all my walk gear, including a water bottle and a fanny pack, it is a training walk. You get the point, right? Every time I get my sneakers on and hit the pavement, I am training. Right now, I am training for my 12th walk (my 17th event, but crewing takes a different sort of training!). “My” 3Day is still almost 7 months away. And yet, I am training. Matt and I started training for the 2010 3Day as soon as we got home from the 2009 3Day.
Preparing for a 3Day walk takes lots and lots and lots of training. It’s not just about getting into good physical shape; it’s so much more. I think of it this way: to be ready for the 3Day, I must train my body, my head and my heart.
Train my body.
My feet and legs are going to do a lot of work in those three days. They deserve to build up to it. I have learned that my body really needs to be trained fresh year after year. Training gives my feet a chance to develop new calluses, and my leg muscles the time they need to gain the strength and endurance to go the distance. Training to walk also prepares parts of my body that can’t be trained any way other than with lots and lots of walking. For example, joints need lots of training. Given an average stride, my hip and knee joints will bend about 200,000 times each in those three days. Training for miles and miles beforehand gives them a chance to make all those bends without giving in or giving up.
Train my head.
The 3Day walk is a brainy event. I am thinking all the time out there. I’m meeting new people, hearing stories, seeing new places, and trying to focus on all of it. During my training walks, I am training my head at balancing all the opportunities that will come my way during the 3Day. When I am out on a training walk, I love to talk about past 3Day events or spend miles planning our current fundraising projects. We also try to watch the scenery around us, drawing one another’s attention to a bird or critter, or to try and find a bird based on its birdsong. Hours into a walk, my head can get tired and distracted, so I need to train myself to be focused and keep me, and those around me, safer on the actual event. Training walks prepare me for the many ways that my head will be engaged during the 3Day walk.
Train my heart.
This is probably the most important training for me, and possibly the hardest. My training walks are a chance to reflect on walks of the past, think about my reasons for walking, and prepare my heart for the work it will face during the 3Day.
I’m not talking about cardio-training, but rather about training my heart to handle the pressure that will grow inside my chest as I move through those three days. My emotions will ebb and flow from joy and elation to fear and sadness in an unpredictable unending circle. Each training walk is an opportunity to think about all the reasons I have for being a part of the 3Day, and to train my heart for the emotions of the event.
Here’s what I am training my heart to be ready for:
First thing in the morning, my heart will work hard as I see the smiling faces of total strangers waiting at the starting gate to cheer for the walkers. They’ll be yelling and handing out high-fives. All I’ll be doing is walking, and yet these people will make me feel like I am a true hero.
The day will move forward and before I know it, the young woman walking alongside me will call my heart into action. She’ll be telling me her story. She’s 20 years my junior and yet she has already lost her sister, her mom, and last spring, her breasts. And here she is walking in this event. My heart will be in full swing as she will stop, take my hand, and thank me (who she has just met) for my commitment. She will be thanking me?! Okay, heart – keep me moving.
After lunch, my heart will be taking a rest as I walk alone for a few miles. I’ll be dog-tired, my dogs will be barking and I’ll be looking dog-eared. The heat and exhaustion will be sinking through me, threatening to drag me to a stop. I’ll turn the corner and see a fire truck ahead. It’ll be a big, red hook and ladder, the kind that causes young kids to dream of being firefighters. This truck’s ladder will be fully extended and I’ll see a swarm of firefighters, spending their day off dressed in pink. They’ll have made a bursting fountain of cold water to soothe the tired walkers. As groups of icy walkers laugh and dance our way through this torrent of man-made rain, I’ll hear the firefighters chanting, “3Day Walkers save lives!” Totally refreshed, my heart will gladly carry me through the next several miles. Thank you, heart – keep me going.
At the end of a long day, my body and my head will have carried me about 20 miles, but it’s my heart that will soar as I see those pink gates welcoming me into the most beautiful city I have ever seen. It looks like miles of pink tents when you see camp at the end of the day, and that sight stirs my heart with far more emotion than one expects from tents. As I approach camp, I’ll feel aware of, and connected to, every story of every walker and every crew member waiting to be a part of my community for the night. Everyone I walk past has his or her own reason for being there. Maybe they’ve lost someone or maybe they’re celebrating that nobody close to them has been struck by this disease. Maybe they’re on this journey to test their fortitude, or maybe to rejoice that they have finished chemo. I wish I had time to hear every story. But at night, as I rest my tired body in the cocoon of my pink tent, I hear the murmurs of all the walkers around me, and my heart knows that their stories have become a part of who I am. My heart rests with this knowledge and sends me off to sleep to walk again another day. This is what I have trained for.