Walking is a sport

I’m not sure how I managed it, but somehow, I talked my husband, Justin, into walking the Ogden Classic 5K with me on Memorial Day weekend.

I considered myself a 5K veteran, having walked in many 5Ks around the area, although I was admittedly quite rusty. It had been well over two years since I’d attempted any competitive 5K walking. Justin, on the other hand, did not have any 5K experience, although he ran cross-country in high school. When I first texted Justin with the proposal to enter the race, I was not surprise when his response was, “Maybe. But only if you walk with me. No leaving me.”

Justin failed to grasp the concept that I’d “walked competitively” in 5Ks. He envisioned me doing that really fast power walk that requires a very special form – you know the one, hips swaying, arms swinging wildly, legs practically running but not quite. And every time he brought this up, I’d give him the same answer: “How many times do I have to tell you that I walk like a normal person but just at a faster pace?!” I still don’t think he was convinced, even after he agreed to do the walk with me.

The night before the race, Justin realized he didn’t have proper athletic shoes to compete in a 5K. Or athletic shorts. Or a shirt. So after we picked up our race packets downtown, we made a special shopping trip so he could purchase the proper 5K equipment. He even primed his special small backpack with a hydration bladder (for filling with water and ice) so he could carry it during the race. I, on the other hand, wanted nothing that would make me less aerodynamic. If he wanted to tote along that extra weight, even though he insisted it was not heavy, that was his time at stake, not mine.

Race morning arrived, and I was geared up. Justin remained his usual calm self, but I paced around the house until it was time to leave. Unfortunately, the weather was hot and humid, and I felt very melty even before the race started. After the gun sounded for the 20K runners (which was very loud and scary and made me wonder if there was a battalion downtown), I dictated to Justin exactly where we should line up for the race.

“We have to stand to the left side of the pack,” I explained, “Because we’re making two left turns around this part of the course.” I’d done the Ogden 5K walk at least four other times, so I knew the course pretty well.

To his credit, Justin let me boss him around, probably because he noticed the competitive spark in my eyes. However, he did feel compelled to remind me once again that I was not to leave him in the dust.

The battalion signaled the start of our race, and as we took off, I feared that perhaps I would have to slow my pace to keep up with Justin, as he seemed to be lagging a step or two behind me initially. However, after we made the first two turns and wound up back on Main Street, he fell into step next to me and pointed out that he needed to get himself accustomed to the pace and the crowd.

After we got a mile or so in, there was one thing that was very evident. It was hot. Blazing hot. The humidity made it hard to breathe, and even though I felt like I was pushing pretty hard, I felt like I was walking through syrup.

“I should have trained a little,” I stated as I huffed my way down the street.

“What do you have to train for?” Justin wondered aloud. “It’s just walking.”

I made a face. “I always used to train for these. I trained for pace, not distance,” noting that when I did go for walks I typically walked at least two and a half miles.

At about the time we passed the Imperial Teacher’s Store, Justin suddenly became chatty. To be honest, I don’t recall what he was talking about because I was trying to focus on keeping a quick pace without passing out in the heat, but he sure was jabbering away. Oddly, we can take a ride in the car from Wheeling to St. Clairsville and he’ll barely say five words. But here we were, in the thick of a 5K competition, and he’s carrying on this elaborate conversation.

Justin continued talking, up to when the course took us underneath the I-470 viaduct and curved onto the Wheeling Heritage Trail. I glanced at him and informed him that he was more than welcome to continue speaking, but I was not really in any condition to attempt to carry on a conversation.

As was my plan, I picked up my pace on the back stretch of the course. Justin didn’t have much problem keeping up with me, and I noticed that I was having to go faster to keep up with him.

“This is my normal pace,” Justin bragged at one point. “This is how fast I’d walk all the time when I had to go downtown.”

I frowned. “Yes, but you didn’t sustain this pace for 3.2 miles!” As I practically tripped over my own feet to keep up, I explained to him breathlessly, “See, this is why I can’t keep up with my sister either. You have long legs, just like her. For every step you take, I have to take one and a half steps.”

“Oh,” Justin answered, not slowing down at all.

We continued at this quick pace, and perhaps he didn’t know it, but he was providing great motivation to keep me going. As we rounded the last of the corners and turned onto the home stretch – down the hill at 14th Street – I could see the finish line.

But then I also saw my husband . . . slowly gaining two, three, four steps on me.

“Hey!” I yelled, even pointing my finger at him. “Don’t even think about it! You walked with me this whole time. Don’t even think you’re going to cross the finish line way ahead of me!”

Justin grinned sheepishly and then slowed his pace, allowing me to catch back up. “OK,” he said, sounding a little like Eeyore, “I’ll let you cross first.”

My intention had actually been for us to cross the finish line together, but his new plan sounded appealing.

We crossed at pretty much the same time, although I did go first, but he was a split second behind me. However, when the results were posted at the race, they showed that Justin beat me by one second.

“How is that possible?” I asked. “I crossed before you.”

Justin merely smiled and shrugged. “Oh well.”

Eventually the times were fixed, so his one second victory was short-lived.

Justin was such a good sport about the whole thing. He enjoyed it so much that he contemplated maybe running it next year or even walking the 20K. And when I told him there were plenty of other 5Ks around the area this summer, he appeared interested.

It was great being able to share an activity with him that I’ve always enjoyed – and it was even better when I realized that he enjoyed it too. Perhaps you’ll see the Hershbergers at another 5K this summer. And maybe next time, I’ll let Justin win.