Mountain Grit-Training for the Long Haul


The Simple 7 Buckets That Build My Buffer: Suppleness-Stability, Speed (Gait), Skills, Strength, Stamina, Specificity, Spirit

“It’s never too late to change .... So change now ... and reap the gains!”

The two previous ‘Grit’ columns, Buckets 1a and 1b, addressed our baby bucket, our ground game of suppleness and stability. On to Bucket #2, GAIT, how well and how fast we walk.

We take walking for granted until we can’t do it. Because we walk around every day, unlike sitting on the floor or crouching in the yard, we don’t really think about it. We just do it, unless it hurts.

‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it’ rings true for many things in life. But for the human body, norms, as in standard medical reports, are not benchmarks. If anything, acceptable ranges lower the bar, and are not ‘optimal’ for how we envision living our mountain lifestyle for decades to come.

The slipper shuffle is NOT part of aging, nor is a hunched posture. A shorter, wider stride, stiffer ankles and feet, and a slower pace are not a function of aging per se.

We CAN be spry, walk tall, with purpose and spring in our step well into our 80’s and 90’s.

This is not to dismiss accidents and serious medical conditions, and the cumulative effect of hard physical labor, or just plain bad luck.

Mountain Grit focuses on thwarting the effects of NOT moving enough, and on the other end of the spectrum, doing ‘too much too soon’ with a vehicle that may be in need of repair, restoration and daily maintenance.

Bucket #2 ‘Grease My Gait’

Why should I care?

  • Walking gives me the freedom and energy to live, labor, work, play, care-give, and travel;  it gets me on the trails, snow, ice, skis, in the river, or wherever else I choose to move.

·       It provides a huge bang for the heart, lungs, circulation, and mood, extending my health-span, and countering the ill-effects of sitting, couching and screens.   

  • Gait speed in midlife is a vital sign, as important as BP, lipids, body fat, and stamina, among the 19 biomarkers used to predict the pace at which we age.  
  • A gait speed of > 1.3 m/sec is enough to climb stairs.   To add perspective, walking at a 15:00 mile pace (4mph) is about 2 yds/sec or 1.8 m/sec.  For comparison sake, world class sprinters cover 10 m/sec.
  • Fast walkers fall less, have better dynamic balance, and are better multi-taskers.

·       Walking briskly and in stimulating outdoor environments greases brain function, lighting up new circuitry, a surefire way to preserve and grow our cognitive health for the long haul.    

·       Springy equates to efficiency and a propulsive push-off with a quick toe flip;  that translates into clearing obstacles and negotiating stairs, not tripping.  

·       Confident in my gait, I can continue to thrive in my current home, and enjoy the activities that make me ‘tick’, adding purpose, relevance and vitality to my life.  

Since the Suppleness Bucket #1b column, any progress?  Nailed ‘8’ yet?  If not, stay the course.   

Now, it’s gait check-up time.  

PLEASE, do NOT self-inflict pain or injury just to prove you can do it. 

YES [1 point]:  I did it automatically with ease    NO: I struggled or felt pain   


1.   Stand up straight;  spread my toes, & lift the balls of my feet off the floor towards my shins?

2.   Walk briskly and rhythmically in a straight line with a natural arm swing?

3.   Walk with a stride that feels easy and springy, rolling from my heel through my big toe?

4.   Walk one mile on flat terrain in 15:00, 20:00 if I am short, without stopping?

5.   Climb stairs easily and evenly, one stair at a time?

6.   Keep my gaze out in front versus looking directly down in front of my feet?

7.   I can walk and talk, walk and carry, walk and look around, no problem?

8.   I can hike the trails I enjoy, without worrying about tripping, stumbling or sucking wind?

BONUS:                       I can rhythmically skip high and far 10X, with light, quick landings.   

Scoring for Bucket #1b:


GREEN:            8+        holding your own, and denying the slide.

YELLOW:          4-7       some kinks in the chain;  have started to slide, reverse course now. 

RED:                0-3       multiple kinks in the chain;  it’s never too late to start the restoration and  re-learning journey;  be sure to EASE* back in.


*Remember the analogy of the rusty bike sitting idly outdoors for years.  Before I hit the trail, I lube it up, work the oil into the movable parts, check the tires and the brakes, and test it out on a smooth level surface.  If my ankles and feet are locked up, and my trunk is a noodle, I may not have the necessary ‘buffer’ to withstand pounding the pavement.      

Common Sense Solutions:           

DAILY, walk, walk BRISKLY, and climb stairs whenever possible.   OWN these abilities!  

Keep our feet ‘smart’.   Shoes ‘blunt’ signals to the brain, as to how well we navigate our environments.  

Walk barefoot at home, and wear minimalist shoes when appropriate.  

Invest in optimal footwear for our chosen activities.  

Avoid fashion footwear, a known foot-knee-hip and back wrecker.   

At HOME, walk the dog often.  Climb UP the stairs every other one, and do all your own chores and maintenance if possible.  

At WORK, seated and stuck to a screen?  Every 30 minutes, stand up, walk around, climb stairs, stretch, reach, arch, bend, squat and rotate away from the chair.  

On your feet all day, with lots of steps? GREAT!  On your feet all day, and standing still?  Break it up, by walking away and getting the muscle pump going. 

At PLAY, backpack, hike, camp, paddle, golf, or take up any activity that requires walking.  DANCE of any type stimulates the brain and improves gait speed.

TRAIN:   Walk briskly a minimum of 30 minutes per day.  Twice a day is better.  Outdoors is even better.  In the winter, wear spikes.  Accumulate a minimum of 6000 steps/day.  XC skiing and pole-walking reinforce the arm-leg patterns and stoke the brain networks.   

Find walking boring, but hate running?  Try ‘rucking’, where you add a weighted pack.

In TRAINing, fix what needs fixing.  Consider a DAILY practice of breath work, bending, and rotating into and out of positions that are ignored.  Yoga, martial art, Pilates, other mind-body blends done in bare feet, along with foam rolling and stretching are all key players in ‘greasing the gait’. 

Want to jog or run?  Fortify my buffer first, so the impact doesn’t beat me down.  

BUT, if my jog is more like a plod, and my brisk walk is faster, then WALK.  

Not hard enough?  Hit the mountains.

Put a competition on your calendar, and train for it. 

A TRAINING BENCHMARK:    Keep the 4mph pace, a 15:00 mile, for 2 miles on flat terrain.  Of course, there are 5ks, marathons, ultras and ‘The Rut’.  Go for it.  Be wise, and ‘train’ for it.

If you are not sure where to start, seek out a movement professional that can safely and strategically get you on your way.   Join small and large group training sessions remotely or live.   

See for Pat’s Masters in Motion class.

In closing, ponder this:  

“Winning isn’t imperative, but getting tougher in the 4th quarter is!”  

Bear Bryant, Alabama Football Coach

For Mountain Gritters:  

“Re-strategize at half-time, and get tougher for the second half, of life, that is!”  

Next up on GRIT:   Bucket #3a  Skill - balance


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