Nothing says middle age like, ‘Charles Dickens was in better shape than me.’ Don’t laugh, if you’re even glancing at obscure blogs like mine you are likely a sad sedentary jumble of man boobs and a mid-section that resembles a sack of rice which has mostly settled at one end.
This summer, as part of a shameless plan to focus on reading shorter books to drive up my total books read for the year, I was working my way through the Penguin Lives series and got to Charles Dickens by Jane Smiley. Smiley wrote:
… Dickens more signal quality, the one most often commented upon by his acquaintances and the one he relied upon at all times, was his energy. It was in this period [age 26] that he took up the habit of long, vigorous daily walks that seem almost unimaginable today for an otherwise very busy man with many obligations. At a pace of 12 to 15 minutes per mile, he regularly covered 20 and sometimes 30 miles. Returning, as his brother-in-law said, “he looked the personification of energy which seem to ooze from every pore as from some hidden reservoir….”
I read that the first time just as I had returned from one of my favorite activities, an hour long walk along the shore of beautiful Siesta Key Beach in Sarasota. I resolved then and there to make a nightly walk part of my routine.
Five months later, while not a nightly routine, I do walk about 2 to 3 times a week, typically for about an hour. Combined with the amazing iMapMyRun app, I now know how I compare to Dickens 12 to 15 minute mile pace. Now in my 50’s, my walks are between 16 and 18 minute miles. How the the mightly flabby have steadily fallen. In my 30’s, I regularly competed in basketball pickup games at public parks located in neighborhoods which qualified as Federal Empowerment Zones. In my 40’s I placed in the top 5 in 3 marathons among those with a body fat which exceeded 30%. Now this.
First, it’s hard enough comprehending that one of the most prolific writers ever took daily walks which lasted between 4 and 5 hours. On top of that, Dickens superior pace comes despite the fact that he walked the cobbly streets of London while mentally registering bizarre characters who would find their way into his novels, while I walk the paved, painted, and reflector loaded streets along Coral Way as it intersects the Roads neighborhood. I only mentally register unlit condo balconies and the occasional vagrant who eyes me as cautiously as I eye them.
So then how to justify or explain the disparity in pace and distance with a 19th century writer with lumbago? I can’t, unless of course Jane Smiley, Diane Stanley and Peter Vennema are inveterate liars. I just have to look on the bright side, at least Dickens didn’t have a Masters in Fine Arts degree. Males who are physically outperformed by other males possessing an MFA — lowest known rung [to date] on the masculinity chart — routinely have their man card revoked for an indefinite period of time.