Now with winter coming and the days getting shorter, in the long cool evenings the streets are filled with so many Prince Valiants in hooded warmup suits and reflective Jog-a-lite vests. Rock Creek Park warbler counts will soon be supplanted by early-morning jogger counts -- 12 red-hooded Adidas spotted along the Parcourse.
"Walk, don't run" the signs say in corridors and by swimming pools, and it's time people started taking these warnings to heart. Some people are quietly defecting from the runner's camp, walking off into the night.
Arms swinging like Foucault pendulums, legs reaching in giant steps, Pat Minami was striding around the track at Churchill High School in Potomac. As she chugged in the outside track, runners breezed or wheezed past. "I guess you'd say I'm a reformed jogger," she said.
Until a few months ago, she'd been running almost every day, up to six miles. During her four years of running, "All sorts of little things kept going wrong -- shin splints, one heel bothered me." Then she read a magazine article that extolled the virtues of walking as opposed to jogging. "It made me stop and think -- with all these problems, maybe I wasn't built to jog." So, at age 40, she quit. "I feel good. I finish and nothing ever hurts," she said as we marched past the bleachers.
She walks a good two miles a day. Lunchtime during the week, she walks up Seventh Street near her office, the Environmental Protection Agency, where she is a secretary. "At work, I just change my shoes, not my clothes." She keeps a pair of sturdy oxfords in her desk. "I get comments from weirdos. They call out and ask me if I'm in the army. Guys riding past in trucks yell 'hup, two, three, four.' But I just ignore them.
"I don't feel stress in my lower legs anymore," Minami said, with plenty of breath. "It keeps my weight down the same as jogging."
There's a lot to be said on behalf of walking; it just has to be glamorized.
To impress their jogging friends, walkers should have ready a tabulation of mileage: Not two or three miles a day, or 15 a week, but a whopping 730 miles -- a year. That's all the way to St. Louis, Missouri, and think of all the airfare you've saved.
Walking is very big in ending relationships (walking out on someone) and surprising people (walking in on someone). And where would Dionne Warwick have gone with her hit song a few years ago if Burt Bacharach had called it "Jog on by"?
Then there's that look of pain on the jogger's face, the mask of urgency. One former runner, now a grower of daffodils, advises, "It doesn't get any easier." And a marathoner in his early 50s isn't reassuring at all: "The more you run," he says, "the more it hurts."
According to C. Carson Conrad, executive director of the President's Council on Physical Fitness, "It doesn't really make too much difference whether you run three miles, or walk three miles briskly or jog three miles. As long as you walk three miles briskly -- at a 15-minute-mile pace, that's 45 minutes -- that's just so close to the biochemistry. Why put up with the pain?"
Conrad says that between 25 million and 45 million Americans identify themselves with jogging. "Many of these are not regular runners," he says, "but they do have shoes.
"We are finding," says Conrad, "that a number of people as they gain confidence in walking as a cardio-respiratory activity are turning from jogging."
The National Center for Health Statistics' annual survey came up with about 36 million adults who claim they walk practically every day, for pleasure, exercise or a combination of the two.
Says Georgetown University cardiologist Samuel Fox, "Many walkers feel better for having been involved. They say that they perform better -- have more spring to the step, sleep better, are more optimistic."
But, he says, "Most of us feel if you can jog and run it's the most efficient way to get a good workout."
In exchange for the concentrated effort, the runner sacrifices sensual delights: The walker can scrutinize the neighbor's chrysanthemums in their gradual decline, can smell who's got a fireplace going, or even what's for dinner.
There's a world of walkers out there that don't even know themselves to be such, who walk a ways, and then loll around looking in windows before setting out at a serious pace again. A casual walker deplores "these people who get into their running suits and run nowhere in particular just to get sweaty." The walker can stop and shop.
The jogger is so devoted, so causist. Though it was hailing one noon, the lunchtime joggers scurried, hobbled, bounced and bobbled around and through the monuments and the Mall. Ah, the effort, changing into running gear and warming up and sweating out and back to the office and showering and changing back into business clothes. The preoccupation consumes at least two hours. In the name of health, what do these people do for a living and when do they eat lunch? They virtuously brown-bag it. And another half-hour is spent in distracted eating, chasing crumbs across reports.
Walking can be a cause, too. There's the Walking Association, which among other things is concerned with "pedestrian rights," which are, according to executive director Robert Sleight, "few and far between. We have been so automobile-dominated," he says. "The pedestrian was the person who was supposed to flee across the road to get away from an automobile. Drivers ought to consider that this, too, is an animal they should brake for."
Some members of the association have even been lobbying for pedestrians to get a tax break.
Though competitive people will make a contest out of eating cottage cheese, it's harder to compete when it comes to walking. So it's less stressful than running: especially than running around the track. You hear the car keys jangling in the pocket of the guy behind you. That's stress. A teenage girl sprints past you. That's stress. Kids on bikes have white-line fever, on either side of your lane.That's really stress.
Perambulation can be a sport, but it doesn't have to be another American obsession, when the stroll along the Via Veneto, the Champs Elysees, the Great Wall, translates here as a forced march of ten miles along the Towpath.
And no proper sport can be without the mystique of its own special gear. A personal favorite for walking shoes is saddle shoes, but you may have others. In fact, says Sleight, "If you are not terribly style-conscious you can find some pretty good shoes." He recommends ones that lace, have a steel shank underneath and a heel cup that fits firmly. The best gear of all is the walking stick. "They're not just for old men that need three legs," says Sleight. "They're a weapon to keep off bad people and bad animals. They're a steadying influence. And you can do exercising with them, the shoulders and arms, to break the monotony.
"I have one that has a fold-out seat. It's very lightweight. You can take a broomstick," he says. "My wife sometimes walks with an old ski pole.
"Historically, there were times when nobody, but nobody, would go out without a walking stick, and I'm quite convinced it will come back in terms of being stylish."