As I checked the time as I reached the halfway point of my walk I realised I was a long way from being as I fit as I used to be, as fit as I want to be, or as fit as I need to be for the midnight charity walk I’ve signed up for in July. The message from my aching knees and sore hips was that I need this practice.
I promised to do it a few months ago but it’s only now, with just two months to go, that I’ve started to exercise seriously. It’s a good job I have – there’s still time to build up my stamina for the ten miles of sandy up and downhill trek along the North Downs and Pilgrims Way in aid of the hospice I work for https://www.pth.org.uk/events/steps-under-the-stars/. Today I managed half that distance, along pretty flat tracks along the local canal and river paths.
At first, I thought I could knock a good half hour off the estimated time given for this walk, going by my previous walking speed. Halfway round, I had a reality check. I’ve been out of the habit of long walks for some time and my deconditioning showed. I need practice, regular practice.
I became very aware of my body as I walked: the familiar knee pain coming and going, the tension in my shoulders gradually easing as my posture improved, the contrast of warm core with cold skin in the fresh spring rain, my sore throat from mouth breathing, my increasing hunger.
At times, I forgot the whole exercise premise and operated purely on a sensory basis. Despite much of the path being squeezed between waterway and busy dual carriageway, the abundant plant life was absolutely lush (in both English and Welsh senses). Sudden colour broke up the verdant green. I counted birds – terns, Canada geese, swans, great tit, magpie, robins, even a treecreeper.
I felt the difference in surface beneath my trainers as I negotiated between bumpy gravel, hard tarmac, and squidgy mud. The temperature and light varied as sun and clouds played hide and seek with the rain. Sound alternated as birdsong competed with traffic roar, sometimes as loud as an angry storm.
It was glorious. At one point, I confess I threw my arms wide to soak it all up like a child revelling in the excitement of so much.
But it also proved a mental challenge. There were moments, usually uphill, when I wondered if it was worth it, if I could succeed in my ten mile goal with this level of fitness, when it felt like slog rather than enjoyment, when only the thought of lunch kept me going. I dithered about whether I want to do that final walk with a speed objective or as a mindfulness exercise, if either is possible.
I became philosophical, wondering whether the meandering path, as river and trail interweaved like maypole ribbons, was indicative of my life. I thought about the unexpected places of rest God provides along the way. I marvelled at the beauty of a copse created from the unlikely foundations of an old filter bed for a sewage works and considered what miracles of transformation the Great Designer could do in my life. I noted the lesson of the river not always visible but evidence of its provision in the abundant life all around me.
I used to describe myself as a ‘practising Christian’. Both senses of the term work for me, i.e. in actions not just in name, but also as one who hasn’t got things right yet. It’s not just the walking I need to practise more.
If you’d like to read more or join in the fun of five minutes of free writing every week, you can find out more here: https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/05/09/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-practice/