10 Things I Learned in 30 Years of Walking

I walked my first 10K walk on September 22, 1984. I was shocked that I could actually walk six miles. It transformed my life. I began walking our local volkssport walking events every weekend. Here are just 10 ways that walking set me on a completely new path.

1
Your Body is Built for Walking

Woman walking on track at sunrise
James Braund/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

At age 24, I had a limp from nerve damage following a knee operation. I couldn't run and I avoided any impact workouts. Walking is low-impact, and it was a revelation that I could walk for six miles. In the years since that day, I've taken many newbies on 5 kilometer (3 mile) and 10 kilometer (6.2 mile) walks and they have all made it to the finish line. Beyond those distances, steady training by increasing your longest distance by a mile each week works wonders. Each spring I wonder how I ever could walk a half marathon, but in a few weeks I'm good for the distance.
More: How Far Can You Walk With No Training?

2
Walkers Are Active, Fun People

Three Women Walking
Walking for Fitness. Sean Justice/The Image Bank/Getty

The walkers I met at volkssport walking events were full of stories about the places they walked and the places they wanted to walk. It was easy to join in a carpool or a road trip to to walk through a park, tour a historic area, or enjoy a festival. Along the way we enjoyed conversation, food and camaraderie. I never lacked for something to do for the weekend for the past 30 years. Although I love traveling with my husband, I could always find another walking gal to travel with if he wasn't available.

3
The Right Shoes Make a Huge Difference

Brisk Walking
Brisk Walking. © michaeljung / Depositphotos.com

It's not a myth. You need the right shoes to walk comfortably at any speed, but especially at a brisk walking pace for aerobic exercise. It took me 10 years of walking before I learned how to pick flat and flexible walking shoes. I have been spreading the word ever since. Once I got the right shoes, I was even able to speed up with racewalking technique.

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4
Walking is a Lifelong Activity

Wendy with Marge Bergeron - Walking on her 88th Birthday
Wendy with Marge Bergeron - Walking on her 88th Birthday. Wendy Bumgardner ©
I've walked with my nieces and nephews aged 3 months through teens. On the other end of the age spectrum, I've walked with many walkers who are in their 80's and going strong. Throughout my walking life I was often the youngest one in the bunch, and that always takes away any excuses I have about aging. Here I am walking with Marge Bergeron on her 88th birthday as she enjoys a 5 kilometer volkssport walk. I've walked with her or waved howdy to her at walks since the 1980's. If I walk another 30 years, I'll still be younger than Marge is now.

5
You Won't Melt in the Rain, But You Will in the Sun

Walking Your Dog in the Rain
Walking Your Dog in the Rain. AJ_Watt/E+/Getty Images

I walk in the Pacific Northwest. If I didn't walk in the rain, I would be stuck on the treadmill. A four-hour half marathon walk in a downpour is no fun, but your body is drip-dry. So long as you don't get hypothermia, you'll do fine. On the other hand, I've had heat sickness on hot walks and that is a show-stopper. At 3-Day Breast Cancer Walks I watched long lines of ambulances taking away walkers who succumbed to heat sickness, dehydration or hyponatremia. No walk is worth an expensive trip to the hospital.

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6
Volkssport Walking is Still Great

Volksmarch Medal - Forest Grove 1984
Volksmarch Medal - Forest Grove 1984. Wendy Bumgardner ©
Volkssport walking began in Germany in the early 1970's and was very popular in Europe and America before a steady loss of participation in the past 20 years. It proved to be hard to bring younger people into the sport to replace the originals. But I still find volkssport walks to be the best walking experience. You can't beat a route designed for walkers, by walkers. We aren't looking for the finish line, we want to enjoy what we see along the way. The group events have gotten smaller and smaller, but you can still enjoy over 1600 map-guided volkssport routes in the USA, and thousands more worldwide.

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7
Marathon Walking is a Full Time Job

Purple-faced at the Portland Marathon Finish
Purple-faced at the Portland Marathon Finish. Wendy Bumgardner ©
I walked my first marathon 26.2 mile walk in 1999. After earning seven marathon medals, I quit. Marathon training took up every bit of my free time in summer in those years. Every weekend I needed to spend one day with a long, long walk. The next day I spent recovering. I decided that was not sustainable and switched to enjoying half marathons. My marathon medal gallery is there to impress anyone visiting my office. But it is now far outpaced by the 10 or more half marathon medals I've been racking up each year. The funny thing is that the half marathon distance was the easy day while I was marathon training. Now I just pay a lot of money and get a medal for the same effort.

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8
Things are Different at the Back of the Race

Walkers at Heart Breaker Half Marathon
Walkers at Heart Breaker Half Marathon. Wendy Bumgardner © 2014
Besides volkssport walks, I walk many half marathons designed for runners that have time limits that accommodate walkers. They may say they are walker-friendly, but I get lots of writing fodder from what goes wrong for us at the tail end. I know to be prepared to have my own water, snacks, and map back to the finish line when the route markings disappear. But you also see many charity walkers whose stories can inspire you and whose triumphs restore your love of walking.

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9
You Never Lack for Things to Write About Walking

Santiago Marker
Santiago Marker. Wendy Bumgardner ©
"Walking? You write about walking?" People can't believe that you can spend decades writing about such a mundane topic. I started in 1996. When walking is not only your healthy exercise activity but also your social life and entertainment, you never get writer's block. There is always a new health study, a new fun walking event, or a trail I've finally been able to walk. All you need to do is ask people if they ever have any foot pain and they begin to understand that the walking topic is for just about everyone.

10
Walk Your Own Walk

Camino Kilometer Marker 111
Camino Kilometer Marker 111. Wendy Bumgardner ©

At 30 years, I don't stress if I am the last walker across the finish line - I get the same medal everyone else does and I enjoy the course for twice as long. I don't stress if I decide to drop out because I'm getting overheated or I've had enough of sideways rain. There will be another walk on a better day. My next big adventure was to celebrate my 31st year of walking by walking the Camino de Santiago. I made it my own Camino, without worrying about how my style would be judged by others. I am not walking to prove anything to anyone else, or to beat anybody else. I walk for my own health, fitness and entertainment. Take that attitude and a great walking life will follow.

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