Ides of March

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Foster Park as it will appear in the Spring
Foster Park as it will appear in April 2016

As I recall, the line appears in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”

“Beware the ides of March.”

It’s actually about the end of March. But I get the “Beware” part.

Walking in Foster Park this morning reminded me of these lines from the Shakespeare play, one of several I taught to high school students some years ago.

At 8 a.m. or so the sky was overcast, so uniformly grey it looked as if it could commence to pour rain any time.

It wouldn’t have mattered. If it had started to rain before I left the house, I would have just put on my waterproof pants and jacket and headed for the park.

It’s not that I’m such a hardy soul. Walking my four miles-plus every day is my habit. If there’s snow or ice, I’ll strap my spikes on my running shoes.

Dreary is dreary, whether it’s raining to beat the band or just overcast and sprinkling a few drops. You remember then that April is almost upon us. And the May flowers.

The park’s road takes you around the golf course and the clubhouse on the east side. On the west side the road is lined with trees and bushes that lead down to the St. Mary’s River.

I admit the golf course was starting to perk up with mostly warm-weather green grass. So far today, no golfers had dared to start a round. Temperatures remained in the 40s.

The chill wouldn’t have stopped Dad. He had won a few golf tournaments. He scored a 72 on his last round of 18 holes before his cancer kept him house bound.

Somehow, today’s bleak weather had me thinking about him. I found myself glancing first at the still barren trees along my route and then¬†looking at the empty putting greens, a lone flag at each one waving in the chilly breeze.

Yes, today Dad might well have been pulling into the parking lot and getting his golf clubs out of the trunk of his big blue Chevy. If he were with me on this walk, he would have named all the trees we passed.

This morning, I counted more than a dozen squirrels scampering around the trees. I assumed they had already dug up nuts they had buried before the snow fell in early winter.

Somehow, thinking about my golfer father and the bleakness of the still barren trees along my path didn’t make me sad. In fact, my daily hike never fails to perk me up. At the early hour I head for the park it’s a mostly quiet time in the city. I hear traffic pick up across the river but it’s just a friendly kind of hum.

I do confess I miss the daily jogging. It’s not only the stress fracture that developed on my heel a month ago. At 77, I know that I’m prone to trip and fall. Which would put me out of commission for some time. For long walks, not to mention jogging.

I don’t watch much TV, mostly the PBS Nightly News and Masterpiece Theater. I enjoy visiting with friends and family. Most of them live nearby. My wife and I are lucky to be connected to such nice people.

Beyond those relationships, and the true blessing they are to me, I celebrate my freedom to head out daily to the park for my walk. I did notice a cardinal this morning. One of my first this season. I bet he was enjoying the park as much as I did.

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Walk, don’t run

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Foster Park as it will appear in the Spring
Foster Park as it will appear in the Spring

I guess March 1 is as good a day as any to launch one’s new exercise regimen.

I find it hard to give up jogging. Even though my jog probably looks a lot like a faster walk. When it’s your exercise, you’re entitled to call it what you like.

Mine was a jog. I say it was and my word is final, especially at age 77 and grew up as an only child.

No I didn’t stumble and scrape my hands and bang my knee yesterday.

My balance has been in the toilet for years. So my risk of stumbling during a morning jog probably has been higher than other joggers in their seventies.

But I didn’t just switch from jogging one day and fast walking the next. I don’t rely on my hunches or feelings.

I don’t just consult our family doctor or my physical therapist.

I spent years writing editorials for the morning paper. I didn’t just check my personal beliefs or those of the editorial board to craft an opinion.

I researched the issue. It’s a habit I’ve carried into retirement. And what does the research say about jogging vs. fast walking for guys in their 70s?

In a nutshell, the experts I consulted said the walking has about the same health benefits as the jogging. Plus, walking is easier on the joints and you have less risk of a fall.

So today I walked. About four miles, my usual route through Foster Park. Yes, my old body felt the urge to pick up the pace and break into a run. I resisted. I resisted because I knew that the walk gave me as many health benefits as the jog. And it was safer.

Would the switch be as good for other joggers in their 70s? It might well be the case. But too many variables enter into any person’s exercise practice for me to advise my fellow oldsters.

A lot of joggers have made a practice of a daily run for all their adult lives. The exercise has become a part of their identity. For other joggers, the mental health benefits exceed the physical risks.

Finally, most long-term joggers have had their share of injuries. Yet those hurts haven’t prevented them for getting back on the road. (In my case, I even jogged when it was icy in the neighborhood and in the park. I just slipped spikes on my running shoes.)

In the final analysis, everybody needs to find his or her own way to stay physically fit. Every day in the park, I meet others who are walking. And I see a few runners, most much faster than I ever jogged.

Hey, it’s a big park. The trail around the golf course is wide enough to accommodate a lot more people jogging or walking. I believe the daily routine has done me a lot of good. I’m fairly trim and have no serious health problems.

I’m no role model. But I applaud anyone who’ll give a jog or long walk a shot.

For my part, I should see if a fast walk every day keeps me in as good shape as the jog. At 77, I’m not about to fear change.

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