I began taking some extra exercise at the beginning of 2022, in the form of walking near my home town of Tramore, Co. Waterford in Ireland. After completing 7 days in a row, walking 4 km per day, I decided to keep going to see if I could make it to 28 days in a row, which I did.
I then added an extra kilometre to my route and set my sights on 50 days, which soon became 100, which became 200 followed by 300 and finally, today, Saturday, 31 December 2022, I am delighted to have completed 365 consecutive days of walking. With an average of 5 km per day, that’s a grand total of 1,825 kilometres for the year!
While chatting about this with various people during the final weeks of 2022, the questions about why and how kept coming up. As I recounted the same answers each time, I was encouraged to share some insights into what inspired me to undertake this personal accomplishment, how I did it and what I have learned from it. Here are some of those insights.
There were two main reasons why I undertook the journey that has transpired – why I started it (primary) and why I finished it (secondary). On reflection, only the first of these was apparent to me at the beginning of 2022.
The primary goal was to improve the amount of regular exercise I was getting, or not getting as was actually the case. Having an office-based job for all my professional working life, with a busy family life, I had known for some time that I was simply not getting nearly enough exercise. For me, the Covid-19 pandemic made this worse but also, eventually, made it more apparent, so I decided to finally try doing something about it in 2022.
The secondary goal, which only emerged towards the end of January 2022, was driven more by an emergent desire for personal accomplishment – to see if I could actually make it all the way to the end of the year without missing a day and, if so, what might I learn (or benefit) from that.
Anyone who knows an Irish person will know that we just love to talk about the weather. And so it is only fitting that I begin my insights with some reflections on this aspect of my journey.
Barring a proper bout of snow, which rarely happens in Ireland anyway (even less so in the seaside town where I live), I think I walked in all of the typically Irish weather conditions during 2022, which included wind, rain, fog, hailstones, balmy sunshine and frosty cold.
I think the warmest I walked in was 30C (in August) and the coldest was -4C (in December) and I can say with absolute certainty that, while dry weather was definitely preferable, it was the wind that really, really tested my resolve above anything else. Not only was windy weather significantly more draining on energy levels (burning more calories to walk the same distance) but it ruined any audio tracks I was listening to along the way, while raising body temperatures higher than wanted.
Surprisingly, for a country that sees a lot of rain, I only had to wear full-blown waterproof clothing around 5 times during the entire year and, of those, I only actually got properly wet around twice. This was partly due to the accuracy of the weather forecasting provided by Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE, whose predictability allowed me to time many of my walks avoiding any rain.
Ironically, the very last day of the year was one of the wettest of the year too.
Well over 90% of my walks took the same basic route, which was a loop from my house to the Tramore beach area, along the promenade and then back home again via a slightly different road, which was almost exactly 5 km in total length.
There were some days when, either because of weather or other circumstances, I was only able to manage 3 or 4 km, with 2 km being the absolute minimum I settled for. I made up for any difference by walking a little extra on other days but this was significantly less than 10% of the time overall.
It was only during holidays or day/weekend trips that alternative routes were used and these were usually devised with the goal of keeping my monthly averages ticking over.
Curiously, a key factor in surviving my year-long escapade was avoiding boredom – something that quickly seemed to stymie previous attempts to take regular exercise. In this regard, it was my Smartphone (and Spotify) that made the real difference, in the form of podcasts and music.
I think that, for every 4 weeks I spent listening to podcasts, I spent one week listening to music. The musical themes varied highly, often being influenced by podcast topics, which included:
- Playlists with songs whose basic rhythm were precisely 120 beats per minute, which seemed to suit my natural stride.
- Numerous guilty pleasures from the 1970s and 1980s, including Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi, Van Halen, Metallica, Billy Joel, Queen, Prince, ABBA and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
- The Soundtracks to several movies (incl. Platoon, O’ Brother Where Art Thou, Forrest Gump, The Commitments, Baby Driver, Pulp Fiction)
- Relistening to compilations that I used to own on cassette tape (incl. Now That’s What I Call Music Volume 4 and The Hits Tape Volume 2)
- Rediscovering a wide range of Classical Music (incl. Strauss, Bach and Mozart).
- Ireland’s own Jack Lukeman, who released a new album on vinyl during 2022 too.
The main podcasts I listened to (which could easily justify an entire separate article) included:
- The 2 Johnnies
- The Witness: In His Own Words
- The Missing Cryptoqueen
- The Making of a Detective
- Murder in Mauritius
- Why Would You Tell Me That?
- The Unusual Suspects
- Red Notice
- RTE Documentary on One
The Documentary on One series from RTE is an absolute treasure trove of fascinating stories dating back several decades and, with each one being around 45 minutes in length, they are also ideally suited to the duration of most of my walks. I definitely had a lot of favourites here (and skipped a few too) but far too many to list them individually here. This series is absolutely worth exploring in more detail, though, and I highly recommend it.
So, looking back at my year of walking, what do I think I achieved from it?
I set out expecting that improvements in my general fitness would be the main takeaway from this exercise (pardon the pun) and indeed it was. Back in January, it was taking me 40 minutes to walk 4 km and I was in really poor shape after doing so (aching, sweating).
However, I am now able to comfortably walk 5 km in the same amount of time (40 minutes), which equates to a brisk pace of 7.5km per hour. In addition, there are no particular dramatics in terms of body temperature or major fatigue afterwards (unless it’s very windy or rainy, of course).
For added fun, I also did all of my walking without a fitness tracker and instead gauged my fitness progress based on where, within a specific playlist of a very specific length (e.g. 45 minutes) I managed to complete my walk. When I first set out, I was just happy to get home before the playlist ended but I then set my sights on finishing before the guitar solo in the last song and then getting there with an entire song to spare. Maybe my daughter is right – I’m such a tech nerd after all!
I’ve heard lots of people talking about wellbeing and using “good for the soul” narratives in the past, but was never quite sure if/how this applied to walking. I’m happy to report that I think I now understand what they were referring to.
Apart from the innate sense that my new exercise regime is good for me (and seeing small wins via improvements in my general fitness), I have found immense personal satisfaction in having completed an entire year of walking. Admittedly, there are a great many people who take just as many steps in an average day during normal life, so it’s less about the distance and more about the commitment I gave it.
The other benefit I felt, which sits within the wellness genre also, was the simple joy to be had in hearing certain songs from a playlist begin just as the ocean came into view, or as the moon appeared from behind some clouds, or as some other aspect of nature took my breath away, all to the sound of a strong musical beat, guitar solo or a poignant lyric.
I found these enormously uplifting, even emotional at times, and drew wonderful energy from them, which is a benefit that I definitely was not expecting when I set out back in January.
Perhaps less unique to walking and more to do with simply being outdoors, I also found the various sights and sounds of mother nature to be enormously refreshing. From picturesque dawns and dusks, to stunning sunsets, starry nights and full moons, combined with the smell of fresh cut grass, low tide, cotton candy or fish & chips, there was plenty to savour here too.
Education and Musical Rediscovery
At 45-50 minutes per walk, I reckon I spent close to 300 hours listening to music or podcasts. Not only were many of the podcasts hugely educational (far more than I expected) but I also found myself discovering so much music that I’d forgotten I liked too. I had a few guilty pleasures thrown in here for good measure as well, all of which added to the enjoyment of the time I spent walking.
A few people have asked me if I’m going to keep the momentum going by continuing to walk every day in 2023. While I’ll absolutely keep walking regularly, I’ve not yet decided if I can truly justify or sustain the commitment needed for another year.
Upgrading to jogging is an option to consider too, as is walking a slightly longer distance every other day. I’m just mindful of the pressure to walk every single day, which could easily become an obsession that counteracts the other benefits, and there were definitely times this year when it felt a little this way so I’m very keen to avoid this spoiling the underlying purpose of the exercise.
All in all, it was a journey I’m very glad I started and I’m definitely not done, so you’ll definitely see me out and about near my home town regularly in 2023. I’m also immensely grateful to my wife for creating the extra time and space in our busy family life to allow me to venture out at random times during the day, every single day, in all kinds of weather.
You’ll Never Walk Alone!