by Rebecca McTaggart
As a 50-plus woman weighing over 200 pounds, I had a serious choice to make. My family physician had pronounced that I was on the path to Type 2 diabetes. I was referred to an obesity specialist and began a weight management program that included setting a fitness goal.
I struggled mentally with finding the right goal, one that was achievable, yet difficult enough and challenging, that would impress my doctor, and that would shock friends and family. I decided to start by training to walk 10 kilometres at a pace of 5 kilometres per hour. Then, I would train to walk a half marathon.
I had never set that type of fitness goal. I had taken a walking training program at a nearby Running Room location and I used the lessons I learned to guide my training. It took me three months to achieve. Having accomplished it, I was encouraged to continue working with my trainer toward walking a half marathon. I decided to map my own route and not participate in an organized race. The thought of it was just too overwhelming: too many fit runners and walkers; too many onlookers; too high a risk of failing publicly. I told friends and colleagues about my goal. Most thought I was insane, as they couldn’t imagine walking that far. As I trained, walking 12K, then 14K, then 16K, there were times where it seemed like a ridiculous thing to do. I told myself that was the point: to walk a distance that no one would expect of someone my age and size.
My colleague Albert shared that he had started walking in the summer as part of a fitness regime. We agreed that walking with others was better than alone, so we trained together throughout the season. Another colleague, Satoshi, decided that he would join us.
A major test came on a sunny day in January. The three of us had agreed to meet at 12:30 at my apartment in downtown Toronto. The temperature was about -5˚C with no wind chill factor. The route I had mapped to mimic a half marathon would be challenging: Jarvis north to Mount Pleasant, ending at Lawrence then west to Avenue Road, south to King and home.
Urban walking requires constant alertness, especially to drivers at intersections wanting to turn. There are cyclists on the sidewalk, runners passing by and pedestrians moving at a pace faster or slower than your own. Despite these distractions, the longer you walk, the greater the sense of physical meditation you feel.
We reached Lawrence, a mental checkpoint—no further walking north. As we turned to go south, I proclaimed: “We are headed home.” As we reached Queen’s Park, though, I wanted to stop. I was tired from walking over 17 kilometres for over three and a half hours. I started mentally checking off each street we passed and silently praying that we would get green lights. If we had to stop for a red light, I wasn’t sure I would be able to begin again. I became conscious of every step. I counted breaths, in for four, out for eight. The only sound was my inner dialogue: you are almost there, just keep going, you are not cold, you can do this, you will do this.
At Yonge and King, I allowed myself to slow down. It was only 50 metres to my front door. This was not the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront race. There were no cheering crowds, no announcers congratulating me at the finish line, no balloons, no photographers. I hugged my friends and said thank you. It was all I could manage.
The sense of having accomplished something that seemed unachievable did not leave me. Having done it once, I mused, there was no reason why I couldn’t do it again in a more formal, recognized manner. My trainer and I completed the Scotiabank race and we bettered my time by 45 minutes. Since then, I have completed three additional races. I continue to work with an obesity specialist to ensure a healthy lifestyle. My blood sugar levels have been reduced to normal levels and I no longer require diabetes medication. Walking continues to be an important form of exercise and physical meditation for me. I reached my goal, and I proved my point.