ANDREW SHURTLEFF/THE DAILY PROGRESSElaine Chapman walks on John Warner Parkway trail in Charlottesville.

One of our country’s fastest growing sports and leisure activities is walking.

Yep, you heard right: good old fashioned, easy as pie, no frills, simple as putting one foot in front of the other walking!

Of all the hundreds of sports options out there, this very accessible and inexpensive activity actually is one of the best for you, with a variety of long-lasting benefits such as increased cardiovascular efficiency, high calorie burn, building your core and enhancing balance.

All of the long-term research tells us that weight bearing exercise, specifically running and walking, at a conversational but sweaty pace, is the safest and most efficient route to healthy longevity. Add all of these wonderful walking benefits up and you’re looking at a longer and healthier life.

The social perks are great, too.

As a lifelong runner, I’m now, at 64 years old, walking more for exercise than I run. I have five standing hour-long weekly walks with five different buddies. We hoof it fast enough to sweat but just slow enough so we can talk, chatting about everything from politics and film to family and personal issues. It’s like private therapy on the move.

Because many of my hour-long walks are done in and around town, we’re constantly greeting our neighbors along the way. Many are community friends, while others, we say “hi” to, are folks we don’t know. This brief, on-the-move social stimulation has a positive and peaceful effect on me, of making this growing city small and quaint again.

Lately, I’ve even taken to doing many of my one-on-one meetings on foot. They’re private, healthy, more productive and the scenery beats the heck out of any four cornered meeting room.

I find after I complete my brisk walks that I’m not only invigorated but, as a bonus, I’m much more relaxed and less stressed. Now that’s no small accomplishment, as it takes something pretty monumental to chill this uptight Type A guy!

I’m still enjoying my three weekly five-mile runs but, I must say that this walking sure is fun. I can see why so many physicians are prescribing it to their patients as a daily regimen.

Good stuff!

Getting in shape

The Charlottesville Track Club and the University of Virginia Urology Department want to help you get started with a weight bearing exercise regimen of running or walking.

Dr. Bill Steers who, up until his untimely death a few years ago, was on a mission to get as many of his out-of-shape male patients into a lifestyle of fitness through walking or running. So, starting this Saturday and running every Saturday until Sept. 28, the week before The Bill Steers Men’s Four Miler, some of the most of out-of-shape guys in town will be embarking on a journey to fitness and health as they participate in a training program just for guys.

Our program will be ably guided by John Moody, one of my most incredible athletes, who, at 60 years old, started a walking program and lost 65 pounds en route to running his first half marathon. The program, which is safe, supervised and free, will take place every Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m. at The UVa Park. The more out-of-shape and overweight you are, the more welcome you are!

For more information on how to get you or that out-of-shape guy in your life signed up, go to charlottesvilletrackclub.org. I sure do hope to see you on Saturday.

Walking in England

While we’re still talking walking, Cynthia and I are hiking the legendary Coast to Coast Walk across England next month. Our 15-day journey will take us 190 miles and we will traverse the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and finally the Moors of Yorkshire along the way.

It’s a poor man’s version of the Appalachian Trail — the complete Irish Sea to North Sea journey only takes about two weeks — but Cynthia and I have been talking about doing this dream walk ever since our close friend and eight-time Boston Marathoner Linda Scandore hiked it solo and came home raving about it almost 20 years ago. The time is right for us 60-somethings, so we can’t wait to get started!

On deck

There are all kinds of local running events on the immediate horizon, of which many, since I’m talking “walking” so much, actually have a walking component to them. Here’s just a small sampling:

Aug. 31: The Women’s Four Miler. About 35% of the field of 2,000 plus are walkers and yes, this popular UVa Cancer Center fundraiser event is still open!

Sept. 14: The Pepsi 10K with a 2-mile walk and all benefiting our Special Olympic neighbors. One of the coolest things about this community event is the national champion UVa men’s lacrosse team will be all along the course, helping as volunteers, as they do every year with the support of Coach Lars Tiffany and former coach Dom Starsia.

Oct. 5: The Bill Steers Men’s Four Miler, with many of the guys covering this scenic and fast UVa course by walking the entire way.

Oct. 12: The Community Bridges 5K. Run or walk with UVa President Jim Ryan in this huge fundraiser event on foot.

For more information on these and other community events on foot, go to charlottesvilletrackclub.org.

Locals ready to go

Our area high school cross country athletes will kick off their fall season at the 35th running of The Ragged Mountain Cup on Tuesday, Aug. 27 at beautiful Panorama Farms. This fun four-by-two-mile relay event always showcases some of the best runners in the state and this year’s edition is highly anticipated, as the Western and Albemarle boys and girls squads, led by the likes of the speedy Joe Hawkes and Arianna DeBoer, look mighty impressive!

They, along with talented Fluvanna, Louisa, Woodberry, Fork Union, Monticello and other competitive teams, can’t wait to lace up their spikes in their quest to be on the podium at the state championships in November. It all gets started at Panorama on the 27th.

A huge welcome back to Coach Al McLearen, who will once again be at the helm of the Madison squads. The beloved “Coach Mac” led many Madison teams back in the early ‘80s to states, so we’re delighted to see him back again!

Fast feats

There have been some mighty fast times recorded by area runners on the roads and tracks around the country this summer. Here’s just a few of them:

Anne Chapin (3:58) and Peggy Mowbray (4:00) scored near the top of their 60-64 age group at the Jack and Jill Marathon in Seattle, as did Tammy Meeks (3:53), who also finished way up high in her 50-54 division. All three qualified for the Boston Marathon with their speedy times.

Sarah Wymer ran a sweet 4:00 in her debut marathon in Duluth.

74-year-old Jim Collins took home three gold medals at the USATF Masters Track Championships, including a blazing 37.7 in the 200 and 77.6 in the 400!

Farewell to a friend

It was with great sadness that we learned of the untimely passing of our longtime friend John Little a few weeks ago. I knew John from not only seeing him cheer for his wonderful kids, Liza and Johnny, as they raced cross country and track for CHS throughout the years, but also as one of my athletes in the Men’s Four Miler and 10 Miler training programs.

This gentle and peaceful man was always so appreciative of having the opportunity to run with his neighbors and he would often take the time to personally thank me for coaching him. That thoughtfulness never failed to touch me. I will forever remember him as being a truly kind father, husband, neighbor and friend. All who had the pleasure of knowing him are missing him very much and my heart goes out to his wife Tara and her family.

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Mark Lorenzoni has been coaching area runners of all abilities and directing local races on a volunteer basis, for close to 40 years. He can be reached at 293-3367. Follow him on Twitter at @CoachZoni.

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