Sunday, August 14, 2011

One Million Steps...and Then Some

by Conroy

Conroy on top of Uncompahgre - the symbolic peak of the challenge
Back in April I wrote about a challenge I had set for myself: take one million steps over the course of one hundred days; an average of 10,000 steps a day, the equivalent of just under five walking miles a day. On May 1, armed with a pedometer and a determined spirit, I stepped out.

I walked, I hiked, I ran, I even climbed a mountain, and slogged through a river of mud. I was dedicated to reaching the goal, and I achieved it - with ease. I took my 1,000,000th step on Day 60 (June 29), 40 days ahead of schedule. When Day 100 (August 8) - and the challenge - was over, I had taken 1,766,074 steps (give or take a few). That's equivalent to walking nearly 840 miles, or the distance from my home in Baltimore to Jefferson City, right in the heart of Missouri.

I started this effort because I feel that challenges like this are a great way to promote personal fitness, and keep a person interested and motivated in physical activity. I still agree with that, but I had a few other interesting insights along the way:

10,000 Steps and More - after the first few days it became clear that amassing 10,000 steps a day (however I went about it) was not a great challenge. An average walking pace will yield about 100 steps a minute, running about 150 steps per minute. So 10,000 steps takes more than an hour but less than two of concentrated effort. Even a routine day, no extra workouts, will yield several thousand steps, so I didn't find it to hard to carve time out of my day for the extra steps needed to get to 10,000. Lunchtime walks, weekend hikes, my normal running schedule would get the job done. After ten days I was averaging well over 11,000 steps a day. So I set myself to go farther. Could I average 15,000 steps a day? How about 20,000? Here's my average for each ten day increment:

[For a day-to-day listing of steps, see my One Million Steps page]
  • Day 1 to 10 - 11,321
  • Day 11 to 20 - 11,697
  • Day 21 to 30 - 17,755
  • Day 31 to 40 - 19,444
  • Day 41 to 50 - 21,044
  • Day 51 to 60 - 20,701
  • Day 61 to 70 - 25,534
  • Day 71 to 80 - 25,855
  • Day 81 to 90 - 13,674
  • Day 91 to 100 - 9,559
This listing shows that I kept upping my steps until about Day 80, when having far surpassed one million steps I eased off to understand what a "normal" day, one without concentrated stepping would yield. But the numbers tell only a portion of the story. I set out to make this a challenge, and it was.

Fatigue - it may seem strange, but even for someone fit, like myself, taking steps, just walking, day after day was draining, especially as I upped my steps through the challenge. As the days went by I found my running, which I usually did about three times a week, 20 or so miles total, decreasing. My legs grew too heavy. I replaced it with walking and hiking (and mountain climbing). These activities are slower, steps take longer to accumulate. My time commitment grew to two, three, fours hours a day. And sometimes more.

Mental Challenge - ultimately, my quest to take as many steps as possible became as much mental as physical, maybe even more mental. Every morning I woke up knowing I had to take tens of thousands of steps. I felt like Sisyphus, every day I took steps, made my daily goal (mostly) only to have to do it all over again the next day. Slowly, day-by-day, the challenge became a burden, a mental weight to carry. I wasn't free to just take steps, I had my job, my girlfriend, family, and friends - my life - to live. Ask my girlfriend and she'll tell you that as the steps mounted, the challenge began to overwhelm my thinking, becoming an obsession. Thankfully, she was a good sport and supported me (including taking hundreds of thousands of steps herself). She also was aware that the challenge had an end. My challenge might have been "sisyphean", but mercifully I wasn't condemned like the mythological king.

I actually related a lot to the documentary Running the Sahara. It presents the 111 day trek, where three men traversed the Sahara desert, ran more than 4,500 miles, from the Atlantic coast of Senegal to the Red Sea coast of Egypt. Don't get me wrong, my efforts paled in comparison, both in physical exertion and vision. But the idea of a day after day effort, no days off, until a goal is reached (distance for them, days for me) is as much mental and psychological as it is obviously physical.

Fitness - did I get fitter through the 100 days? Probably, my legs and feet certainly got used to more effort (I think my feet changed shape slightly because of all the steps, but I might just be imagining things). My climb up and down Uncompahgre, which occurred late in the challenge, was definitely aided by all those hiking miles I had taken in the months leading up to it. However, my running wasn't really helped. I'm getting back into my pre-challenge running form now. I also don't think I lost any weight, but that was never my goal, and I upped my daily food intake along with my increasing steps. It's nice to enjoy a large milkshake without worrying about the fat-laden calories.


In the end, I'm proud of my accomplishments, far far exceeding my goal. I'm also immensely relieved that I don't have to think of how many steps I'm taking anymore. If I never see a pedometer again it will be too soon. But would I recommend this challenge to others? Absolutely, big goals lead to big results, and fitness should be on everyone's mind. My advice, start stepping.

1 comment:

  1. That's awesome, Conroy! That's truly remarkable. My wife's company recently had a contest in which employees were given pedometers, organized into teams, and encouraged to compete for a prize based on which team could record the most steps. That contest is over, and now I have a pedometer sitting in front of me and I'm thinking about giving this whole step-counting thing a try myself. Thanks for the inspiration.