Use Your Feet, Frank!
By Frank Horwill
These were the words uttered to me as I was waiting for a No. 137 bus outside Battersea Park, a few months ago. I turned just in time to see a rucksack-carrying Hilary Walker disappearing over the bridge. Her words, from a less eminent lady, could be regarded by some as impertinent! However, I took Hilary’s advice philosophically. If I walked to Sloane Square, a mere mile away, then I would not save any money for I possess a 'freedom pass' that provides free bus, tube and rail travel to far off places like East Croydon and Watford. But, then, why was I wasting valuable time waiting for a No. 137 bus which either arrives in convoys of three or singly every 30 minutes? It wasn’t raining, and if it was cold, I could get warmer by walking briskly. I was, in fact, being lazy. Hilary was right. I should use my feet because I am not disabled.
Hilary’s observations go further. Those of us who are not senior citizens can save a lot of money by walking. Did you know that in 1989 Andrey Perlov (Russia), walked 50 kilometres in 3 hours 37 minutes 41 seconds – that’s 8 kilometres more than the London Marathon. On that basis he would complete the London Marathon in just over 3 hours walking!
The success of Kenyan athletes is, in fact, attributable to Hilary’s observations, but there is a difference. They have no public transport in many areas of the country. They have to walk or run 10km to school and 10km back. That’s a half-marathon a day for five days a week. So, from a very early age Kenyan boys and girls are running possibly 65 miles a week. There are plenty of softies here in the UK who would say that to subject school children here to such a regime is a recipe for getting "burnt out". Well, Kenyan children don’t get burnt out, they get fired up instead to trounce most of the world’s best runners by the time they are twenty.
We can alter our lives for the better and improve the lives of others by walking or running to many of our destinations. There is nothing so galling as to see thousands of cars entering London each morning carrying just the driver. A bus occupies the space of three cars and carries ten times the number of passengers.
The strange thing is that the car as calculated to have an average speed of 5 miles per hour crossing London in the rush-hours. A walker can cover the same distance in the same time. A runner could cover twice the distance.
We often hear some athletes saying that they don’t really have time to train. I recall a mediocre athlete many years ago with a best time of 4:12 / mile. His coach told him he should go for the 10km event, but the mileage the coach asked him to do was so extensive that the athlete, a carpenter by trade, who travelled long distances to work, could not fit it in. The answer was to run to and from work. However, at the time, his work-site was 15 miles away. He was undaunted by the prospect and ran the 30 miles involved daily, five days a week. He rested Saturday and Sunday. This athlete, Roger Matthews, became the 4th fastest 10km runner in the world in 1970.
So, start using your feet, gradually at first. We can start with running to and from work carrying our clothes in a rucksack, one day a week, then twice the next week and so on, until in five weeks we are running every day. Or, we can opt to run either to work daily or just to run home and graduate to two runs a day in due course.
The physiological facts are proven. An athlete who moves gradually from 20 miles per week to 50 mpw of just steady running will improve his or her VO2 max by 10 per cent. In practical terms, this means that if you at present can only run 4,000 metres in 15 minutes, you will run 4,500 metres in 15 minutes when you reach 50mpw. And, if you carry on to 80 mpw, you will improve your VO2 max by 2 per cent more: that’s about 4650m in 15 minutes from 4,000m. It’s the difference between running 5km in 18:45 to 16:40! Well worth the effort. If you like running, you will like it more as you get better at it. To do that, use your feet, and use your car and public transport for really long journeys. A long journey is more than 10 miles. You can run that distance in an hour!