Summer is here and hiking season is fast approaching. Last year we went to the Hocking Hills and Smokey Mountain National Park. Both times I found I was able to put in four to seven miles the first day, then could barely bend my legs on the second. This year the goal is to be able to put in a few miles every day without so much pain that it spoils the rest of our trip.
Because our schedules are so packed, I'm pretty much limited to my lunch hour and a few hours on weekends for any kind of dedicated exercise time. Luckily I have the Kal-Haven trail (a 33 mile railroad bed turned into a hike and bike path) a few minutes from my office. Before the ice cover was entirely off the trails I was out on my lunch hour every day for a half-hour walk.
The time limitations mean that I can't really train for distance. After all, the best training for an eight mile hike is an eight mile hike. When I can't increase my time, I can build endurance to some extent by increasing my intensity.
Despite recent studies showing that running isn't so hard on the joints as often assumed (in fact it can IMPROVE joints by building cartilage and bone density over time), the health mythology of exceptions for fat people continues to linger. I love the catch-22. Fat people should exercise, but fat people shouldn't exercise. Somehow what's good for the joints of a thin person is terrible for mine, in a grand example of "I reject your reality and substitute my own" (quoting Adam from Mythbusters).
What's bad for ANYONE's joints, regardless of weight, is over-exertion and injury. If your frame and joints are small or weak for your body mass, you may need to be more careful to avoid injury. That doesn't mean you can't run. It just means you (along with everyone else) needs to build up a pace gradually, listening carefully to your body to know how to adjust. It means you start slow and add small increments of increased activity.
I started off dedicating half an hour of my lunch break. At first I walked, and the ice hazards meant I went less than a mile in that 30 minutes. As March advanced and the trail thawed, I was able to go faster in clear areas, until I was doing a 20-25 minute mile (approx 3mph). That's what they generally mean when they say "moderate walking speed".
When I could walk for 30 minutes at that pace without huffing and puffing and without pain or tiredness afterwards, I started to incorporate running.
When I say running, of course, I mean a rather slow jog. I also mean for about 30 second intervals. I would do three 30 second intervals in the course of the walk, with about 5 minutes of walking in between. Every other day I would walk only, and do the running intervals on the off days.
That doesn't sound like a lot, but that's what slow and steady means. By starting out slow and being honest about my body's capabilities, I can avoid injuries to my foot, legs, tendons, etc. that would force me to stop altogether for weeks and start again at the beginning.
As my body adapts to the routine, I've increased each interval, so that I'm now at one 30 second interval followed by two 1 minute intervals with five minute walking gaps between. Once I'm at three 1 minute intervals, I'll work on shortening the time in between. I've already noticed that I recover from each "run" interval more quickly every day, meaning that my heart rate and breathing return to normal a little faster.
Once I'm doing alternative 1 minute walk/run intervals, I may add more. Once I'm up to 7 or so, I'll start stringing them together into extended runs. Or I may switch that routine around and keep adding 30 seconds to each interval until I have extended runs.
Regardless, while it may make a marathon runner snigger a bit, this is the pace my body has set. There's really no reason why a heavy body is any more or less incapable of any physical activity. Mine just takes a bit of a run-up to get there.