The best way to move into May

When you enter MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena’s far east entrance and take the elevator to the third floor, you step into a long corridor leading to the Bay Athletic Club.

All along this hallway — through the Rehabilitation Services Department — notices are posted: “Please refrain from running”

These requests are aimed at youth tempted by a long hall’s intrinsic freedom — not at seniors like me.

But a funny thing is occurring. The more I walk that hall, the more I read those signs, the greater my exposure to the hall’s inherent invitation — the more I feel compelled to run.

It’s May, after all, and I can feel it; the sun is warming, the birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and the leaves budding — I’m awakening from a slumber, and I want to move.

But, if I run, I’ll get in trouble.

You’ve heard of nurses giving healing glances — well, they have other messages they convey by glance. If I were to run that hall, a nurse would give me one of those and slow me in my tracks.

I suspect nurses take a course in communicating by glance. My wife — a retired nurse — is a master of the form.

So, even though it’s May, I can’t run down that hall.

How can I move smartly in keeping with the season, but not violate this no-running rule? Is there a fast walking technique I could use? So often, in life, forward momentum is gained through the use of proper technique.

My friend, Charles Girard, is a competitive racewalker. Not only can he walk fast, but he’s met many a long-haul challenge, so Charlie will know what to do. I asked.

Here’s what he suggested:

“Well, I am advising we start with double knots in our shoelaces to avoid having them untie at an untimely moment and trip us up.

“We need to wear colorful shirts or jackets: yellow, 10-mile green, or orange. We have to be ever vigilant about traffic and avoid cracks.”

Didn’t I tell you Charlie knew his stuff!

“While running the Boston Marathon on one bad knee, I came to realize that it would be my last long race, running. I was saddened as so many were passing me after mile 18.”

Then, Charlie noticed a race walker — he began to copy his form.

“I found my knee started to feel better. I was able to continue and claim my finisher’s medal. I was determined to learn all I could about this new way of moving my damaged body down the road (or down a hall).

“Here’s what I can tell you; running transfers three times your weight to the legs and knees. Race walking cuts that number in half. So, if you are in that group that is overweight — not too keen on running because it just isn’t comfortable — walking is a perfect way to, 1.) start to strengthen muscle, 2.) lose a bit of weight, and, 3.) benefit from the endorphins exercise creates.

“Rule #1 is that the walker remains in contact with the ground at all times. In short, that requires at least one foot is always on the ground. Rule #2 requires that the leading leg lock at the knee as the heel touches the ground; the knee remains locked until that leg passes under the body.

“So think of the foot as a curved rocker; first, the heel touches the ground, the whole foot rolls through to the toe, which is the push-off point before that leg is snapped forward to repeat the cycle.

“Imagine walking a painted white line; (down a hall) each step should be on the side of that line, toe straight ahead. Arms are bent 90 degrees at the elbow and swing to aid balance and momentum. On the backswing, it should be as though you are grabbing for a bandana in your hip pocket. On the forward swing, the loosely closed fist (thumbs up) should not cross the midline of your body.”

Even without the hall, Charlie thinks Alpena would make an excellent competitive racewalking destination, as people here smile at each other in passing.

So, when moving down a hall with signs that say “Refrain From Running,” proceed in racewalk form, with toes pointed forward, eyes looking straight ahead — disregarding glances.

Moving into May?

Follow a straight line, smiling — keeping one foot always on the ground.

Doug Pugh’s “Vignettes” runs weekly on Saturdays. He can be reached at pughda@gmail.com.


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