Yesterday was my 500th consecutive day of walking 3 or more miles and I thought I would share a few thoughts about the experience.
I became a “walker” out of necessity. “Runners” think they have the higher ground on exercise, and they are not shy about letting you know. However, in my 20s I began developing shin splints that were at times debilitating. I also received really bad advice from people, who insisted I needed to “walk through it,” which I now know is the exact opposite of what you need to do.
By the time I saw a podiatrist, it was too late. I had stress fractures in both shins, and there wasn’t much to do about it. The procedure to fix this would be to re-break and set the bone, followed by being in a cast for 8 weeks, for each leg. The doctor pointed out the obvious: was that even worth it?
The podiatrist did say something that became very important. He essentially said that if walking was not painful, I should just walk the distance I would have intended to run, and that walking was obviously better on my body. I became a “walker.”
The shin splints were slow to stop though. At some point, a number of years ago, I discovered that I was simply walking too fast and causing further issue. I did something that took my years to even consider. I simply slowed down. For a number of months, I walked at a pace that was likely embarrassing, except for the fact that few probably took notice or cared. That was when the repetitive strain finally began to heal. In time, with shoes that fit better, I began to increase my pace to a normal 3 miles per hour. I was finally succeeding as a “walker.”
Still, my consistency often waned. I actually walked over 2,200 miles in one year (2015), and did so at the expense of everything else. The following year, I think I walked about 500 total. In many ways, I created a great accomplishment in one year, and then invalidated it one year later.
Then, the pandemic hit last year. You might remember all manner of hysteria in the news because we didn’t exactly know how it spread. Everything seemed to be a risk. By the April time-frame, though, it became clear that outdoor activity was not only pretty safe but also a great way to cope with the stress and anxiety. That was when I resolved to keep up a walking streak and see what happens.
Now technically, my target was 7,500 steps, which comes out to about 3.4 miles at my stride.
I burned up a lot of sidewalk along Fanita Parkway. While a busy 2-lane road, it is relatively quiet for walking. I remember so many people instinctively crossing to the other side of the road as I passed, something we would think to be silly, now that we’re 18 months into this.
I also burned up a lot of carpet during days when it was too hot outside, or too inclement, or I was still feeling socially anxious even passing by other walkers and runners. But the steps counted, the distance counted, and I kept things up.
Occasionally, I got my feet on some actual trail and got the hiking miles in. Certainly not enough though. Like all of us, the pandemic hit my finances and I really couldn’t travel as much as I would have liked to. Many of our local places were just too busy with people. In some cases, friends gave me tips for quieter areas, preserves, or trails that aren’t as busy with people.
There were so many days when I just didn’t want to do it. KEXP has a Runcast put on by one of the DJs, and he talks about this all the time. Getting that mental edge to push through the run. This exists for walking too. It is super easy to just “take the day off,” but we all know that one day quickly becomes three or four. So I have been stubborn and forced myself to not miss a day, ever. Yes, there have been many 11 PM evenings getting those last steps in, but I persevered.
The question of how beneficial this has been is a little inconclusive. I have been back and forth about 10-20 pounds under my pre-pandemic weight. That is good, but I realize that with all the stress and uncertainty, I have been coping with eating. Logically, I should have lost much more weight than I have.
I am not even more limber, because, while I can walk until I am ready to pass out, I suck at stretching. Or, I am simply less committed to it.
That being said, I believe I feel fewer aches and pains, particularly with my often problematic back. It may be my imagination, but I feel my general gait feels smoother and there is something that seems to indicate I feel better.
Walking is also an opportunity for some type of stress relief, meditation, and thinking. I actually considered this blog post while walking. It is about an hour per day when I can attempt to shut off a noisy life and bring some quiet. This hasn’t really helped my mental health that much. Life still has too much stress to make all of that go away.
How Long To Keep This Up?
Of course, this streak will end at some point. I keep wondering when a day will arrive that logistically, it isn’t possible to keep up my 3 miles. That is one thing I have considered – when will it be okay to stop? The concern, just like my 2016, is that missing one day will grow deep roots where I miss many days. So for now, I will keep up the stubborness.
Now, I must get to bed now, because I need to be up early and get those steps in bright and early.
T.M. Schultze is a San Diego-based photographer, traveller, and writer. He writes, photographs, and draws things of the outdoors that have inspired humans for thousands of years. He co-authored the Photographer’s Guide to Joshua Tree Park which can be purchased here.