Walking the distance

(or How to walk 8,207 kilometres in a year)

I think the realization that I was no longer a seemingly indestructible youth was when a close friend had a heart attack – thankfully, they recovered – but it did trigger something in my head.

It was obvious to me that I seriously needed to do something about my weight which had slowly crept up entirely too close to my previous peak of 127kg (280 lbs). I was worried that I’d possibly surpass that peak as many other crash-dieters had – back in 2005, I lost over 50kg (110lbs) in approximately a year.

Another indicator that I needed to do something was one day in early December 2017, my Apple Watch’s High Heart Rate notification warned me that I was experiencing a high heart rate while technically at rest – that freaked me out a bit, especially after reading up on the effects of tachycardia.

These led me to begin what my brother-in-law amusingly called my “mass reduction project” at the beginning of 2018 by doing all the things you’d expect; eating healthier and increasing exercise – which for me which meant more walking as it was easiest for me to incorporate into each day.

By the end of 2018, I had averaged 14.3 km per day, for a total 5,220 km.

Enter 2019 (I know, it feels it was forever ago), but I’m feeling retrospective.

Anyone that knows me or read this infrequently updated blog knows I love to walk. I’ve regularly been walking what most people would consider long distances for nearly a decade, and I’m incredibly fortunate to be in a position where I can make the time to invest in my health like I have been.

I started 2019 off with an average of 17km in January, nearly 18km in February – typically my months with the lowest distance covered. March and April were around 21km (you may see where this is going). May and June were roughly 23 km.

Around the middle of July (of 2019), I realized that it would be possible – with some additional effort – bring my average daily distance for the year to over a half-marathon (21.1 km) if was willing to push myself harder and faster – to an average of 25km every day for the rest of the year.

So, I did.

It wasn’t easy. There were blisters, lost toe nails, powerful leg cramps, at least two pairs of destroyed shoes, all sorts of weather, and more.

August and September averaged 24km, October 25km, November – I really did great that month – averaged 28km(!), and December I squeaked by with 22km.

By the end of 2019, I’d walked over 8,207 kilometres (nearly 3,000km further than in 2018), an average of 22.49 km/day in temperatures ranging from -40°C to +47°C (including windchill and humidex, both of which factor heavily when walking outdoors for hours). I averaged about three hours and twenty minutes per day of walking.

For a sense of scale, the Trans-Canada Highway (the transcontinental federal-provincial highway system that travels through all ten provinces of Canada) is 7,821 km long.

The question I got the most often (after the initial “You’re bleeping crazy” comments) is what was the hardest walk?

By far the worst day was that 47°C day – I ended up with heat exhaustion after a 24 km walk. I knew I was in trouble when my heart rate reached 168 BPM while *walking* (admittedly, I do walk fairly quickly, but not that quickly). I stopped in some deep shade, used the Breathe app on my Apple Watch to get my rate down to something more reasonable and changed my route so I could stop in an air conditioned mall to cool off before heading home, showering, and napping curled up beside the air conditioner.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, I don’t think I can pin down any one specific best walk – one really fascinating things I got to see walking these distances was how beautiful Ottawa is, how fortunate we are to have so many recreational paths, and how much the city changes over the course of a year, if only we make the time to look and see.

The second most asked question is what did I do during the walks. Listened to over one hundred audiobooks, tonnes of podcasts, listened to music, and, most importantly, let my mind wander while I walked, watching the world around me.

Everyone’s experience with walking is different, but for me, 2019’s walks were life-changing.  As I write this, it’s the fall of 2020, which has been a very different journey for me.

4 thoughts on “Walking the distance”

    1. I think I lost three toe nails over the entirety of the year. Not as big of a deal as you’d expect, though.

  1. I had no idea you went on a “mass reduction project.” Incredible journey Tom. Thanks for sharing!

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