What bright spark thought about walking as a recreational exercise? Well, it was a North American, called Edward Payson Weston, (1836-1929). Weston the Walker set out to show walking was good for you in 1861 when the 22-year-old declared he would walk from Boston to Washington in ten days. Unfortunately, the exercise perambulator missed his mark by half a day, but the press followed his steps and the nation became transfixed with the “The Yankee Clipper”.
Off he jolly well went on other marathon walks across the US, travelling day and night. He stopped off to give lectures and gave personal appearances at county fairs. The pedestrian superman surpassed himself when in 1871 he broke all records by walking 400 miles in four days, 23 hours, and 32 minutes. That's 80 miles a day. Lured to Europe in 1879 he outpaced England’s champion perambulator "Blower" Brown. Weston, aged 70, broke another world record by walking 512 miles in 12 days. Four years later the septuagenarian walked 1500 miles from New York to Minneapolis in 60 days. Given the superstar treatment three hundred thousand people showed up in Minnesota to cheer him on. Weston died in his sleep at 93 but phenomenal walking feats reached their golden age in England during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
There were many celebrated pedestrians like rugged gentleman farmer, Robert "Captain" Barclay-Allardyce (1779), this strapping strongman and fist fighter amused the gentry with such stunts as raising 1,176 pounds, and once lifted a 240-pound man in the palm of one hand. But it was as a pedestrian that Captain Barclay truly excelled. A man who loved to make wagers on his skills, in 1801 he won the equivalent of $13,000 by hiking the 90 miles between the cities of Hull and York. Six years later, he challenged the world-champion walker Abraham Wood, in a contest for the greatest distance travelled in 25 hours. The walking race started from New Market on October 12, 1807. Wood shot out of the New Market like a streak. Six hours and 40 miles later, he collapsed, while Barclay stepped right along at a steady 6 mile-per-hour slip to become a local hero.
Struck with the idea of walking 1000 miles in 1000 hours, he set out on the marathon. Barclay placed a $15,000 bet on his ability to carry off 42 days of continuous walking, with tiny fractions of sleep between miles. Betting fever shot up, thousands came to the course, and about $2.5 million was wagered by the crowds. He started on a full stomach of four large meals of beef, fowl, mutton, and bread washed down with gallons of strong ale and port. After the first weeks of winds, dust, and rain he was in constant pain. Leg cramps gripped him severely. A toothache struck adding to his misery. More rains fell. Doubt swept the ranks of those who had put money on the fabled man of iron, as Barclay-Allardyce 's condition became more challenged. He limped; he groaned and began to waver unevenly in his courses around the track. Eight days before the end, Barclay-Allardyce was forced to be lifted by others from his chair onto the track. Four days before the finish, he could no longer eat. He cried with pain. Then on the 40th day, suddenly the athlete got his second wind and finished the fete with style. No sooner had he crossed the line then our intrepid hero was off for a hot bath. He carried on walking for another 45 years until eventually he went to the big walkway in the sky, when a horse kicked him with fatal consequences.
With the cost of petrol as it is, ‘walk to work’ campaigns may have more influence than was ever envisaged. Campaign organisers from Australia to the US have been delighted with the outcome of their ongoing campaigns to encourage us to walk more. Something which is a bit of concern is the almost complete absence of information from official sources on what type of shoes we should be walking in. Well hopefully we can fill that gap now. Those coping with high body mass index levels, diabetes and or other circulation problems, need not just a good walking program but also if they are going to avoid needless injury, be aware of proper footwear.
The choice of a good shoe can be critical to those living with life style disease and a simple blister from an ill-fitting shoe can become a serious infection. So whether you are hoofing it to work or rogaining for the first time, wear two pairs of socks. The friction which arises within the shoe occurs between the layers of sock and prevents painful blisters. To the uninitiated there may appear to be nothing more intimidating than popping into a sport shoe emporium where the operatives are dressed as if he/she is about to participate in an Olympic event and you are confronted with over a 150 different shoes to choose from. Fear not because well-trained salespersons can pull down five or six models that may work for you, your chosen activity, and your feet.
Sports shoes were developed to cope with the rigors and demands of physical activities and subsequently there is specialized footwear to suite different activities. Cross trainers for example refer to shoes designed to cope with moderate activities from a variety of sports. When you are serious about fitness walking this type of shoe is superior to everyday footwear but there are specialized walking shoes which usually come at a higher price. Ath-leisure shoes are more designer in origin, aimed at the fashionista and look trendy. Overall these usually have better cushioning, are reasonably hardwearing and provide greater stability to the foot. Care should be taken however depending on how fashionable they are this may determine how long they stay in your wardrobe. Other family members may borrow them (permanently).
Knowing your foot type before you buy walking shoes can make a difference. Even the oddest of feet can be catered for, from the highest arches to the flattest of feet. Careful selection and informed help makes the difference and keeps “the smiles in the miles”. If you take to walking regularly then plan to wear out one or two pairs of shoes per year. A good walking trainer does not require being expensive and $200 shoes offer no great advantage over $45 shoes. Favourite trainers can be repaired (usually by completely replacing the soling) so make a friend of your local cobbler. I myself like to mix and match my designer uppers and outsoles. It is just something a sneaker freaker does. Now after the first flush of interest passes and you find it easier to slip back into your old ways, keep your trainers in the box because they can increase in value. Sport shoes have become blue chip investments and are avidly collectable.
Six important points when buying walking shoes
Wherever possible have your feet measured by a qualified shoe fitter. They can match foot dimensions to shoe styles.
Always choose a style of shoe best suited to the activity. Good fitting cheaper shoes are far superior to expensive shoes that do not fit.
To protect the heel and tendon look for a solid heel counter.
The shoe should feel comfortable and provide cradle cushioning with enough room in the toe box to wiggle your toes.
Both length and breadth of the foot should be accommodated. At least a thumb's width (5-10mm) between the end of your big toe and the end of the shoe is a good indicator. Getting sport shoes with width has been difficult especially for ladies but Nike and Adidas have started to cater for different fittings. If they feel uncomfortable or tight choose another pair. Sport shoes do not require to be ‘broken in’.
Always remember the best time to buy shoes is in the afternoon. Physical activity causes fluid retention and the feet swell. Shoes with lacing or Velcro straps help adjust fit to accommodate changes in foot volume.
See you round the sidewalks.