I didn’t set out to become a mall walker. It was the furthest thing on my mind. I wanted to be outside. I wanted to see trees and sky as I walked, so initially I walked a golf course. In Phoenix in the summer, it can be 95 degrees shortly after sunrise, so I began my walks at sunrise. There were trees. There was sky. There were lots of people walking their dogs!!! I love dogs. Life was good. Hot and sweaty, but good.
I only got lost the one time I deviated from the golf course, so I didn’t do that again. I walked out a mile and 1/2, and then back along the same route. I said, “Good morning!” to the same friendly folks every morning, and loved on the same friendly dogs. I listened to audiobooks and my workout playlist. But there were a few problems.
First, the golf course had sprinklers that were turning off just as I arrived. The combination of water and heat made for a rather hot and humid walk.
Second, there was no bathroom.
Third, I had two nasty bouts of shin splints.
Now the third problem was my own fault. I was trying to do too much too soon. In my ignorance, I thought I should just be pushing through the pain. No pain, no gain, right? The runners/walkers on my virtual race support group Facebook page quickly corrected me. I was told to halve my workout, wear better shoes/inserts, and wear compression socks. I was given an article by a physician about compartment syndrome and how it can happen in your shin muscles when you overdo (I thought that was something that only happened to people with severe breaks/crushing injuries. Who knew?). It advised to stop doing whatever exercise caused the shin splints until the pain was entirely gone, and then when you are ready to try again to reduce how much you had been doing.
I rested up a few days. Then the impending monsoon storms pushed me to find another place that wouldn’t subject me to the elements when I walked. The mall seemed the perfect fit. It opens at 6 am so that’s plenty of time for me to drive there, get my 3 miles in, and get home and shower before work. It was air-conditioned and had an open restroom.
It’s a bit of a drive, but my focus was more on eliminating any excuses for walking.
Walking in air conditioning is lovely. Regretfully, it doesn’t eliminate me from sweating like a… do pigs actually sweat? I’ve never seen one sweat. Who came up with that phrase?
I have learned why mall walkers “walk the edges” of the mall, dipping down toward each mall anchor store and back up to the main path again. If you walk the edges, one loop is almost exactly .75 of a mile. Four laps = 3 miles. Perfect. I was now an edge-walking mall-walker.
In the time I’ve been walking the mall, I’ve come to recognize certain types of people that frequent the pre-store hours of the facility.
First, there are the T-Rex-armed speed-walking ladies. They breeze by everyone with their elbows tucked in and their hands up in front of them, bobbing as they walk. They float past even the most focused of walkers, tossing a brief but friendly, “Good morning,” as they leave you behind.
Next are the short-route walkers. These people are focused on fast and would rather walk more laps than cave-in to walking the edges of the malls. When the edge-walkers dip to the right toward an anchor store to maximize their steps, the short-routers keep going straight, undeterred by anything but the fast track.
Then we have the Grunts. These are the gentlemen in their mid-70s or so who walk with their eyes focused 12-inches in front of the tips of their shoes. They keep their heads down and plow past anyone who gets in their way. When they reach the ends of the mall, they stomp up one side of the not-yet-moving escalator and back down the other side of it in a fast loop before continuing with their walk. They walk like they are on a forced march with the enemy closing in. If you try to say good morning to them, you will not be acknowledged with anything more than a grunt.
I’m happy to report I am no longer the slowest walker there. I now fall in the mid-range walkers. Most of us are women, walking alone, listening on our headphones to whatever encourages us to keep moving. We smile and, “Good morning!” back when greeted, but for the most part, we are lost in our thoughts and our tunes or our audiobook.
There is a single couple that walks against the crowd. Everyone else follows the traditional keep-to-the-right and walk counter-clockwise route. This sweet couple keeps to the left and walks into the faces of everyone else. They have beautiful smiles as if to say it’s more important that we see each other than that we are all going the same way. Inevitably, I turn a blind corner and nearly walk into them. The wife and I giggle and the husband laughs, and we all keep moving in opposite directions.
The last group is the slow walkers, among whom there is an odd subset. There are a certain number of gentlemen who come and walk alone, but they dress as if they are going straight to work afterward. They often have a briefcase or a coffee in one hand. I can’t quite figure them out.
There are some heart-wrenching walkers. There are adult children (30s-40s) talking painfully slow walks with their parents who are clearly recovering from some illness/surgery. The parent often looks grieved and humiliated. Growing older stinks.
There are other walkers that are clearly struggling to walk with every step. Some with some sort of palsy or muscular challenges that make them fight for balance and control. One gentleman with a prosthesis from his knee down walks every day. Progress is slow, and I’m guessing painful, but he does it. He motivates me to silence my own excuses and keep moving.
We are a motley crew. But I’m starting to feel I belong there.