When I first met Marty Kennedy, one of our EPIC EverWalkers who has participated in all four of our weeklong EPIC walks, she told me—with no hubris, just a matter-of-fact statement—that she just happens to be born for long distance walking at a pretty decent speed. Marty didn’t have time to train much for our first long walk, 134 miles from Los Angeles to San Diego, and she didn’t push with a competitive drive to beat everybody else to our Achieve Line every day. Marty’s natural gate just kicked into high gear from the first step each day. She smoothly strode up the hills, along the beach paths, and always finished quite a bit ahead of the rest of us each day. As Marty puts it: “It seems I was just a born distance walker.”
Well, it turns out Marty Kennedy represents very well the natural endurance gifts of the homo sapien. It’s evident that we humans are weaker and slower than most of the animal world. But when it comes to moving over many miles, for an extended period of time, we are the superior endurance athletes among animals. The theory is widely accepted that we at one point were successful in hunting our food because we could wear our prey down, even before our first use of slingshots and arrows and such. A faster animal could outrun us but we would persist. We would chase them all day long until they were at last too exhausted to continue, while we still had energy. With sweat glands, much more efficient for cooling our systems, rather than the animal system of panting, we could keep from overheating over the long hours of a hunt. And our relatively little amount of body hair has also kept us from overheating during long walks or runs. People have on many occasions run the marathon distance, 26.2 miles, faster than horses, especially on a hot day.
When I would swim for more than 48 continuous hours, which I did on five occasions, I would maintain a pulse of approximately 135, which would be a strain and cause huge distress for most animals. And so it goes for walking and slow running. A person is capable of maintaining constant progress for literally weeks and months, with only slight pauses for body eliminations, hydrating and refueling. When our original home, Africa, heated beyond bearable living, we walked up toward Europe and all the way east to Asia. Centuries ago, we were stellar endurance walkers and the truth is that we carry the genetic code for distance walking to this day.
Yes, we are natural walkers. It is said even our short toes, compared to most long-toed animals, are much more efficient for walking forward. And it helps our walking also that our big toe faces forward, unlike the splayed toes of the great apes, to aid us in pushing off with that big toe to move forward in a straight line. The middle of our bodies being more slender than the apes leaves room for a natural swing of our arms. And the anatomy of our necks and heads allows us to effortlessly keep our heads balanced as we ambulate.
Even if you’re not in walking shape, it feels natural to you to head down the road, to push off with that big toe, your arms easily swinging up and back, your head easily balanced atop a supple neck.
Not all of us have a feel for moving with ease through the water. Not all of us swing a racquet with natural fluidity. But for almost all of us, strolling and sauntering needs no instruction. Yes, by all means, we need to get our feet calloused for contact with the pavement. We need to get our hips and knees and ankles in shape. But we’re for the most part not going to be subject to the long list of runners’ injuries, such as shin splints and thinning cartilage under the patella. Walking should put a smile on our faces, it comes so naturally to us. Not many of us may be as gifted as Marty Kennedy, but you too were born to walk. We all were.
About Diana Nyad:
A prominent sports journalist, filing for National Public Radio, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, The New York Times and others, Diana has carved her place as one of our compelling storytellers and sought-after public speakers. .