Forty years running and where has it gotten me?

“Walk with purpose in life. Do not amble.”
-Marie, age 91, in response to my question, What’s your secret to longevity?

Homo sapiens has been walking with purpose since at least the day, some 100,000 years ago, that our African ancestors decided to pull up roots and head north, eventually spreading through what is now Asia and Europe, and, 10,000 or so years ago, making their way south to my home town, Farmers Branch, Texas. I can imagine Marie’s ancestors leading the march–“Don’t amble! Push forward! Walk with purpose!”

I think of Marie every other morning as I head out for a brisk walk through the streets of Farmers Branch, “the city in a park” as its nickname proclaims, in honor of the multiplicity of parks throughout this small town on the northwest edge of Dallas. And I walk with purpose–no ambling for me!– lest Marie get word that I’ve forgotten her shared wisdom.

Forty years ago I donned a pair of Brooks running shoes to take up the sport that was sweeping America, eventually becoming a 10K junkie and even racking up a few marathons. Forty years and thousands of miles later, I’ve resigned myself to the demands of age and succumbed to the advice of my doctor, who, for some ten years now, has been telling me that he doesn’t recommend running for folks over 60. It took me all those years to finally agree with him.

It was a twinge of pain in my right knee that produced the incentive. Beginning with discomfort, it went quickly to pain, and I thought I’d walk it off for a while, then pick up the pace again. That didn’t happen. Instead, I found that I enjoyed the walking, and the next day I dragged out a walking stick to keep me company and ward off the rare loose dog I might encounter in my pre-sunrise excursions; the opossums, raccoons, coyotes, and bobcats that populate the creek beds of Farmers Branch have never bothered me.

So now I leave my house every other morning and walk for an hour or so, walking stick in hand and looking quite jaunty in my safari shorts (“jaunty”: from the Greek, jaunteia, meaning “having the appearance of a total dork). I’ve found that I much enjoy it. I notice things in my neighborhood far more than when I was running, and I sense a greater freedom of movement. And the risk of a nasty fall is all but obliterated. Life is good.

Keep walking with purpose, Marie. Twenty years from now I hope to be passing on your wisdom to others.