Home Commentary DOT'S BEAT: One Step Forward at a Time

DOT'S BEAT: One Step Forward at a Time


by Dot Helling

Each spring runners, joggers and walkers take to our roads to train for events like the Corporate Cup and the Vermont City Marathon.  Are you one of them? If not, why not? I hear many reasons for not getting out there:  “The weather is bad. My knees are bad. I’m too busy.”  In my book, there is no excuse. I’ve been an athlete most of my adult life. It has not always been easy to get out the door.  Sometimes, like the Nike slogan, you have to “Just Do It.” 

So what does it take to get out the proverbial door to exercise? Most important is the right pair of shoes, which means a good fit and shoes that are not worn down or broken down due to age and time on the shelf. A popular banker in town stopped running because of sore knees. Turns out she was running in very old, broken down shoes. Shortly after she bought new ones, she was back on the road pain free. Don’t cut corners on a pair of shoes. You can patch together your outfits but shoes are critical to the enjoyment of being on your feet and not getting hurt. You may need to consider specialized footbeds or orthotics, particularly if you are flat-footed, in order to avoid chronic syndromes like plantar fascitis. Beware if you run in Yaktrax during the winter, especially on uneven terrain, as they may cause fascitis or other foot injury.

Start conservatively and realistically. If your goal is to run a marathon, work up gradually for a period of six months to a year depending on how naturally running or jogging comes to you. The same with walking. Don’t start with a 10-mile hike, start with a half mile or a half hour. Work up incrementally either by mileage or time.  Take rest days in between. Talk with someone you know who is a successful walker, jogger, or runner about how they started. Remember that each of us is different and listen to your body. What may work for your friend will not necessarily work for you.

Set a goal for yourself. Your goal can be meeting new people, an event, an adventure trip, or simply to feel fitter, perhaps even lose some weight. Setting goals as well as finding others to exercise with provides incentive on the days when you are struggling to get out the door. You can find “partners in crime” by joining a group like Central Vermont Runners, the Green Mountain Club, or “Walks with Harris” at the Montpelier Senior Center.  There are many opportunities in Central Vermont to congregate with others who want company when they walk, jog or run. Find companions who match your pace and your approach. Some athletes choose to work out “on the watch” while others are out there to “smell the roses” while getting fit. Don’t obsess about pace, time or distance. Daily workouts and local events are not the Olympics.

If you need discipline, try counting steps with a Fitbit, or get a GPS watch that keeps track of distance, pace and other variables. Or go to a program online that creates a schedule to follow in reaching your goal. Personal coaches work well for some but there’s an expense involved. The plus side to having a personal coach is that your program should be individualized and geared to how your body is reacting to the workouts. Focus on hydration and nutrition to give you the energy to do your workouts and the liquids and nutrients needed to recover from them.

Pick different routes and vary your workouts.  We have a myriad of trails, dirt roads and paved courses for walking, jogging and running safely in beautiful settings.  Starting out I recommend our bike path that runs from the Taylor Street Bridge to the Junction Road. There is also a section adjacent to Stonecutters Way which will soon extend to Gallison Hill Road. Currently you can get up to three miles in one direction if you maneuver the length of the existing paved path. For those who prefer dirt, the trails in Hubbard Park and in North Branch Park are delightful, as is the Junction Road from the end of the bike path out to Three Mile Bridge.  You can go uphill via routes like North Street to an endless mecca of dirt road loops and grids with jaw-dropping views.

While I prefer dirt, I have several “in-town favorites.” A quick after work six miler is to go out Route 2, turn left at the Creemee Stand, cross over Three Mile Bridge, then back on the dirt Junction Road and bike path. From town there are two eight-mile loops I love but both involve difficult hills. First is to head out Route 12 to the base of the Wrightsville hill, turn left on Bolduc, left on Portal, then left on Terrace with a beautiful downhill back to town. Get off Terrace and come around through Clarendon to avoid traffic at the end and then work your way around the Capitol.

My second favorite in-town eight miler is to go out Route 12, turn right up Gould Hill Road to the top, then right on Sparrow Farm Road, then right again on North Street and sail home downhill. Hang a left on Cummings if you want to add on, then head up to Barnes or just come straight down County Road. These routes work for walkers, runners, and joggers. During winter conditions, these routes are often more negotiable than City streets, with less traffic. The dirt sections are easier on your knees and back.

The trails in Hubbard and North Branch parks access a system that will take you miles and miles for hours upon hours through beauteous parts of Central Vermont. You can access the East Montpelier trail system by running through North Branch to the top of Gould Hill. In the winter you can run or walk the Vermont Association of Snowmobile Travelers (VAST) trails, or else snowshoe or ski them, from Montpelier through East Montpelier, to Worcester, and beyond. If you join your local snowmobile club, eg. The Gully Jumpers in East Montpelier, it’s inexpensive and supports the grooming of the trails. The Gully Jumpers section of VAST trail is user friendly to runners and walkers with friendly sign postings for snowmobilers to be on the lookout.

Whatever approach you choose, the most important thing is to put that first foot out the door, then another, and another.  Keep stepping forward. The rewards outweigh the effort. To help you get started, here are some links to athletic opportunities in the area: