Commentary by Joe McWilliams
I met a man on the trails the other day who told me he’s been running for 50 years and still finds it thrilling. He started when he was 16, he said. His 66th birthday is next month.
He goes out every day, almost without fail. I don’t know what other good habits he may have that contribute to his youthful appearance, or genetic or physiological advantages, but this fellow appears to have not an ounce of extra weight on his bones. We should all be so active and so healthy in our seventh decade.
The day I ran into him was a cool morning in late March, with a couple of inches of fresh stuff on the trail, and I don’t mean dog sh*t, although there’s always plenty of that. He was taking his chances running on fresh snow and he knew it. But you can’t keep a dedicated ‘lifestyle’ jogger off the path, and it hasn’t hurt him too badly yet. But this could have been the day.
As it happened, I had been walking in the opposite direction he was running, mincing along because I was leery of encountering hidden ice. Since a nasty fall two or three years ago in exactly that situation, I have been nervous about walking on fresh snow over what appears to be clean concrete or asphalt. All it takes is one bad spot, combined with the right (or wrong) step and down you go. That certain unfortunate step is much more likely when running than when walking. I had just slipped on such a patch of ice – not disastrously – when I saw Mr. ___ jogging down towards me. I warned him about the invisible ice, we chatted for a moment and he continued, cautiously. Had I not come along at that moment, he could easily have gone down hard, and quite easily broken something. At 66 years of age, a busted hip, or wrist or shoulder is far from out of the question.
In the case of my bad fall, I was walking to work on what I thought were clear sidewalks under about half an inch of fresh snow. It turned out I was stepping along in a fashion unfit for the conditions. I didn’t realize this until my feet were in the air in front of me and my head was bouncing off the concrete with an audible crack. It was a shock – exactly the kind of impact you sometimes see in hockey games that result in concussions.
So… not to go into too much detail, but the experience has made me wary. I won’t be running on fresh snow – ever – and my walking has become cautious.
What this leads to is a consideration of how we get our exercise. Long gone are the days when most people got enough of a workout in their daily jobs. Most of us don’t, and the cumulative impact on fitness and health is obvious enough. You could get the impression that running is popular – look at the thousands who show up for the Boston Marathon! But they are a drop in the bucket, let’s face it. The great majority are overweight, under-exercised and not eating well. Runners are considered a bit odd, and people who walk places they could easily drive are objects of indulgent bemusement. This is the culture we have developed, or fallen into by default, and it has all kinds of drawbacks.
Then again, if you go running or even walking in the wrong conditions you could end up on the ground with something broken. Be careful out there.