Wednesday, April 8, 2009

From the False Dichotomy File: Are You a Walker or a Runner?

April 8, 2009 8:00 pm

From the False Dichotomy File: Are You a Walker or a Runner?

There is a long-running discussion amongst the Gym Buddies: which is better, walking or running? All the bipeds in the room will reasonably answer, “Aw, why you gotta set me up like this? Both have their place.” Of course you’d be correct. Walking is preferrable when I’m perusing the 70% clearance rack at Target (one of my favorite pastimes ever! Most recent bargain buy: Secret gel deodorant for 49 cents each! Plus I had a 1$ off coupon. So it’s like I made money. Anyhow.) but of course running is the method of choice when chasing down a toddler who ran off while I was perusing said clearance rack (don’t worry, I found him… after he’d opened 3 tubes of lipstick and drew me a picture. On the floor. And his brother.)

Now that we’ve cleared that up, all of you in the fitness realm know what I’m talking about. Some people love to run more than they love to breathe and others would sooner walk across hot coals than do a 5K, “free” t-shirt be darned. Gym Buddies Lisseth and Megan proved their membership in the former club today waxing poetic about the possibility of running soon in the great outdoors, while Gym Buddy Krista informed us today that “love” and “running” will never be in the same sentence for her - a fact she reinforces by missing boot camp days with some frequency despite being a dedicated workout junkie all six other days of the week. For me, however, the answer is a little more complicated.

Running interval sprints is the only workout I’ve ever done that has actually made me puke. From a conditioning perspective you can’t beat ‘em. And yet - have you ever ran interval sprints? They hurt. Bad. And if they didn’t then you weren’t doing them right. Back during the CrossFit experiment, Gym Buddy Allison and I would routinely end our sprints by seeing “tunnels of light”, “black spots” and losing all sense of hearing - before collapsing on the ground and/or dry heaving. It’s brutal. And yet as every fitness professional without exception will tell you, interval sprints are the most effective conditioning exercise out there. Not only do you build your aerobic tolerance, lung capacity and VO2 max but you also maximize fat burning and up the production of HGH (human growth hormone). You can pretty much guarantee that if a magazine spouts the cover line “The secret to melting fat off!”, “The most effective workout ever!” or “Lose 10 pounds a week - with just 10 minutes a day!” is going to have an article about interval training.

Despite their many accolades, however, I rarely see people at the gym sprinting. One may chalk this up to the fact that our treadys only go up to level 10 (6 minute miles) which is actually not a serious sprint but our Y also has a track (that doubles as a geriatric obstacle course replete with walkers, nordic walking poles, and even sometimes small children.) But that just ups the fitness challenge right? No, people don’t sprint very often because it sucks. Even though they only last 20 minutes at most, I dread my sprint workouts. Interval sprints take all the joy out of exercise. But by golly they work.

Thankfully not all running is sprinting (or fartleks if you want a good giggle). And running or jogging is what I see most people doing. A lot of people love it. I personally hate treadmill running. I do it but only if I’m fortified with a really good playlist on my MP3 player and if I get the tready with both the fan and CNN in front of it. I simply cannot run to Lifetime, Hallmark, TBS or any other plot contrivance channel. The food network makes me nauseous. And The View and Ellen are not as entertaining when all you get is the closed-captioned version. Say what you will but CNN loses remarkably little in the translation. Outdoors, however, is a whole other story. I can put 10 miles under my feet with little consternation. Especially if it’s a beautiful trail run around a lake. Sadly, that’s only comfortable in Minnesota about three months out of the year, not to mention that the Y won’t babysit my children if I choose to run outdoors and CPS frowns on leaving the little nibblers alone for an hour or two. (Fortunately, I recently discovered National Geographic posts their “daily dozen” photographs - like this one below of a frog eating a Christmas light - of the beautiful outdoors 52 weeks a year so I can get my nature fix. Sort of. Egads, I’m a computer geek.)

And then there’s walking. Nothing beats a nice long walk outside with a good friend. You get to not just pass through the scenery but admire it, take it in. You have enough breath to talk about your deep inner angst, her child’s sleep problems and whether or not Michelle Obama is going to do her own gardening. You don’t get really sweaty so no extra showers or clothing changes are needed. Plus, you get places. Sure you can always run or jog to your family brunch but then you have to sit in a restaurant all sweaty in your split shorts and I know you have nice hams but that is not the kind of tip the waiter is looking for. But walk and the world is yours! One thing I really miss about Europe (besides the cheese - oh the cheese!) is how pedestrian friendly everything is. My neighborhood here doesn’t even have sidewalks.

All things considered, I’d have to say from a fitness perspective I’m more of a runner than a walker. It’s more efficient and I get more bang for my buck. But deep down, I do love walking. So what is it for you? At heart, are you a walker or a runner? What can you not stand to watch while you’re on the treadmill?