I am by no means an athletic superman, far from it in fact, but I have certainly achieved feats I am proud of including long-distance walks, mountain climbs and long rides including my fundraiser last year. I am, however, someone who believes in pushing myself, not just to achieve life-defining and memorable moments like scaling mountains or for the positive feeling that comes from doing good with a fundraiser, but sometimes the most fulfilling challenges are ones you tackle just to yourself. I have written about this kind of challenge before, and while they weren't always the grandest challenges, certainly something that many people in the past have surpassed, they always pushed me that little bit and meant I came out of them a little bit better than what I went in. The beauty of these challenges is each time I get a little better at them, they make me fitter and more capable and when I decide to do the bigger things mentioned above, I'm a little more prepared for them.
My walking goals started with 20k Saturdays, a simple challenge designed to train me to be more consistent when it came to my step goals; I will be the first to admit that 20k was less of a bold challenge and more of my personal sweet spot, a good number that I had to specifically work towards if I wanted to meet it week in week out but isn't insurmountable - you can read about that here, but the short version is that come rain or shine I managed to finish the year with no less than 20,000 steps for every Saturday. One Saturday, in particular, stands out, the 40k day. Anyone familiar with Fitbit profiles will know about badges, a simple concept where you get a new badge for various milestones with the most pertinent being the "boot" badges that you unlock in 5,000-step increments all the way up to 100,000 steps; the badges built into Fitbit are a great way to encourage you to just got that little bit further, and thanks to hitting my 20k day not long after lunch I kept chipping away at badges before setting my personal best with a day of 41,287 steps in total.
After hitting a big goal, I mostly need time to forget about the burning thighs, sore knees and swollen feet, so while I could try to hit another step goal every weekend I feel it best to give myself some time and let it happen as organically as possible - some days you are just in the zone, the steps come easy and you can capitalise on it to hit the big numbers. For me, after the 40k day (and finishing 20k Saturdays at the end of 2019) it would be another 2 years before I would try anything like it again - this was the 55k day, which I didn't write about at the time because it simply went so smoothly I had nothing to really report, it was much like the 40k day just 37.5% more! I started out with a grand adventure and spent the rest of my day racking up the steps on a sunny September beach in Wales and finished the day off with 55,426 steps.
Once again, the idea of big step goals fell by the wayside, it was always there in the back of my mind but needed the perfect cocktail to get it underway - a nice day, lots of free time and plenty of walking done early to make it easier. This opportunity struck once again this year, another 2 years since my last goal, and I was honestly only half committed to the idea. I found myself in the wonderful position of having time off from work I needed to use before the year's end, so I threw a few random days here and there just to make sure it was used up. I had no plans, but the weather was unseasonably gorgeous for a random day in February so I knew I was doing something outdoorsy. Anyone who frequents Love Our Adventures will know I am often found mountain biking down the trails and towpaths, but it had been a long, cold winter and I was missing walking, so I packed all the gear I could need (at least, I thought so at the time) and made out for adventure...
That was the plan at least, but life often likes to get in the way - I had some housework to take care of, but when life gives you lemons there is always a way or two to make lemonade. Naturally, every job was done in the least efficient way possible, need to carry something up or down stairs? Carry them one at a time. Hanging some washing out? Leave the washing in the house, hang them up one at a time, with the pegs somewhere else equally inconvenient. It worked really well, and I already had a few thousand steps under my belt before I had even stepped out the door. It didn't take long to clear the workload and I could get on my way, I grabbed my bag and headed to the local supermarket to stock up on sporty drinks and sugary goodness - I was going to need the motivation because even if I wasn't set on a big step goal, I knew I would be heading out on a long one.
I haven't taken too much time to explore the canals on foot, I know them like the back of my hand thanks to all of my cycling but if you honour the rules of the road then you can't take your bike everywhere - I have passed many little cut-throughs, footpaths and dirt trails and this little adventure would be the perfect time to see where they all went. My journey started with a diversion, thanks to the police having shut a section of the canal due to an unfortunate incident, but this forced me to visit a great little spot nearby, Pendeford Mill Nature Reserve. The lake made for a great start to the day out, adding a few steps onto my overall tally while appreciating all of the wonderful spring sights to behold, plus the reserve is just a short walk along a quiet road to rejoin the canals.
Now, my intention from here had been to join the canals and take an easy stroll along the flat towpaths that follow them, but I also wasn't 100% sold on hitting a new step goal this year, so of course I went off exploring! I took off zig-zagging, broadly following the route of the canal (I still had a destination in mind) while exploring the little paths dotted around the countryside. I found myself exploring farmland, tucked away country lanes and beautiful patches of woodland I would never have encountered had I not taken on this adventure and I was having a whale of a time. The beautiful weather was a brilliant motivator, so sunny for a random Monday in February (occasionally the clouds would roll in but there was no rain in sight) and I was buzzing. What wasn't quite as happy, however, was my feet - I like to keep plenty of spare socks to refresh my feet on long walks but, being a little out of practice after a long winter, I had forgotten to pack extras. I wasn't going to let this ruin my day, I did the best I could: I turned my current socks inside out, trying to trick my brain into believing they were a fresh pair (It works better than you might expect) and ventured forth. What couldn't be tricked so easily was my stomach, I was starting to get hungry for something with a little more sustenance than energy drinks and bars, I had nothing more on me (once again, out of practice thanks to winter!) but I wasn't too far from my originally planned destination: Brewood. I got underway once again, with my "fresh" socks, and made my way through the paths and back alleys keeping the church steeple in front of me...
I still took a little bit of a scenic route, exploring the back roads past the many farms and making a quick stop off at Chillington Hall's gates via the lower avenue, but I was always aiming towards my goal. Arriving at the town, belly rumbling, I had little luck at the few little cafés and sandwich shops, most were unfortunately shut on a Monday, but you can always rely on a pub for a bit of grub. There are a couple of options in town, but I settled on the perfectly situated Bridge Inn, perched over-top the canal it is a great place to grab a drink and sit outside in the summer. I went for a burger, a glass of icy Coke and of course a bit of whats on tap (only a half, didn't want to be too loaded down for the return journey) - all in, it was a perfect pick me up to see me through the return journey.
Full of food and ready to go, I was still feeling the effects of the walk out, so I took the return journey along the canals in a much more direct route, which is fine by me - I love walking the towpaths, you meet so many nice and friendly people (plus their dogs!) and I find the canals so peaceful and pretty year round, even if they can be seriously muddy at times. Luckily, once the food had hit my stomach I found a second wind and felt the urge to adventure again, picking random pathways before once again arriving at Pendeford Mill for a second lap of the lake. By the time I had reached home, I was sat at a very respectable 38,000 steps and was more than happy to call it quits there with a cold beer waiting for me at the finish line. You could stick a fork in me because I was done, but life had other ideas, namely: the weekly shop.
The brief relaxation at home, plus a quick extra 2,000 steps shopping where I got to use the trolley as a Zimmer frame, gave me a bit of a pep in my step, and suddenly I wasn't feeling quite so cooked. I pottered around the home a bit, up and down stairs and carving a path around the living room until I had clocked 50,000 steps - I wasn't feeling like my legs were going to buckle so I dug deep and began gingerly limping laps around the local area. I would love to say those last laps were easy, but with the sun now fully set and my dogs truly barking, I rounded out the last 10,000 steps to complete the 60k day, headed home and threw myself onto the sofa to let my thighs decompress, let my ankles loose their swelling and I could count all my lovely new blisters. To say I'm not thinking about another step goal is an understatement, but I know in the years to come the temptation will hit and I will go for that next badge once again...
So that was my latest journey into trying to hit larger and larger goals, and all in it was a great success. It may have only been an extra 5k steps, but every new achievement is something worth celebrating, and if I only ever increment 5k, or one badge, at a time I will still be celebrating each new milestone achieved. I recommend everyone take on something similar, whether it be like my 20k Saturdays where I try to hit a relatively low but consistent step goal, or a new overall personal best, I guarantee you will have fun and remember it forever. So now I've done this a few times, plus countless 20, 30 and 40k days in between, here is what I have learnt and what I recommend to anyone looking to stretch themselves a bit:
With the top badge on Fitbit requiring 100,000 steps in a day, it can be tempting to set your sights on glory and try to grind it out, but this is not the best of ideas. First and foremost, you're likely to burn out pretty quickly, meaning you may still hit a good step goal but you will end in disappointment because you didn't end up where you wanted. Secondly, if you aren't the fittest or even particularly experienced with longer walks then aiming too big is a recipe for injury. Take your current best and consider aiming for what you consider a reasonable goal and increment - maybe you currently only regularly walk 3-4k a day, shooting for some lofty goal would be silly, but hitting double your current steps would be achievable and in the long run, you could aim to do that regularly. After that, a nice even 10k, then aim for adding on 5k whenever you feel comfortable and the step goals will soon melt away.
As a rough rule, most people can probably double their average daily steps without too much hassle, and can probably do 10% over their previous best (unless you've never set one, of course). Obviously, there are people on both ends of the extremes, those who are extremely sedentary and those that are rarely still, who this rule may not work for, but for most this should work well.
Start early, start big
One of the biggest tips for success is to get an early start, which probably seems obvious, but planning a big exciting journey right away can take the sting out of what can feel like an insurmountable goal. This one is simple: make the most of the sunlight while you have it, so rise early, and do as many steps as you can do early on to make the evening, where you are unquestionably going to start feeling it, that much easier. I try to be around halfway done by lunch if I can help it, or at least a little after that - this of course depends on what time of year you are walking, it's easy to walk late into summer when sunset is pushing 9 pm, but in February you may not want to bank on walking quite so late...
Food, gear and preparation make it all possible
We as a nation have a tendency to do things like climb mountains in flip-flops, take winter walks in shorts and walk around topless as soon as the weather has double digits and just kind of hope it all works out in the end. I would seriously recommend against this approach to long walks, especially out into the countryside and away from civilisation without any chance of pit stops. Bring a good pack, loaded with water and food, bring clothes changes and bring clothes for pouring rain, icy conditions and freak heat waves regardless of what the forecast says. Make sure someone knows where you are and keep checking in with them semi-regularly, we may be a small island nation, but there are plenty of remote corners where a sprained ankle or running out of supplies could spell more of a problem than you might think.
Remember, you are trying to exert yourself beyond your normal comfort zone, so while you should absolutely have fun, you should still take it seriously too.
A quick loop to fill in the gap
Whenever I go for one of these goals I love to have a loop mapped out of roughly 1000 steps, something I can quickly and easily grind out between or after the big walks that take out most of the step goal. Prepare your route and you will be surprised how quickly 1000 steps can go down, probably little more than a lap around your local neighbourhood, and this can be a great motivator - finish your day out but still need another 10,000 steps? It can feel daunting, but 10 laps of your loop feels a little more manageable. It is a really simple idea, but that is what turned what was going to be a 45k day into the 55k day I mentioned above, and it too made the 60k day possible. When you desperately don't want to get off the sofa, 'one more quick lap' can just about convince you to keep on keeping on.
Weather is a motivator and a curse
Perfect weather can really help keep you going, better than freezing to death in winter or being soaked through on a stormy day, but too hot can be just as detrimental to your goals. As mentioned above, be prepared for all situations, but if the forecast just isn't going in your favour then don't pigheadedly push forwards, cancel and reschedule. Remember, you want to make this as easy as possible for yourself.
Stairs steal steps
If you are going seriously big then remember that every floor you climb is taking effort that could be spent taking steps instead. I have never really taken too much care about avoiding floors entirely for these days, but wherever I can I will aim for flatter routes. As someone who regularly does hundreds of floors on a 20-25,000 step walk around Snowdonia, my steps goals had the following floor count: 40k = 60 floors. 55k = 33 floors, 60k = 95 floors. The more you can avoid wasting energy going up, the more energy you can spend going forwards - canal towpaths work well, sometimes following roads can help because even if they have gradients they more often than not will have been smoothed out at least a little. You might not be able to completely avoid floors unless you live somewhere like the Netherlands, but keep them to a minimum.
Bookend your journey with rest
My biggest mistake on the 55k day was doing it on the last day of a holiday, not a single day that week was less than 20,000 steps and with multiple floors and it probably shaved a good few steps off of the total goal. Relax well before you try to set a personal best, and give yourself adequate time to recover - if you do these things then you will be ready to set another step goal sooner and are much more likely to remain injury free. It is unfortunate because the 55k day was done on a whim, and whims can be great motivators, but they are really well thought out.
Hopefully, you find the motivation to hit a goal you've never seen before, not just steps of course it can be anything, and that continues to inspire your journeys to come. Doing these things might not just be a thing of "because I can", but the improvements to your health and stamina could be just what you need to go further, see more, scale mountains and go where you never thought possible.