Michelle vanDellenComment

The 55 Mile Day

Michelle vanDellenComment
The 55 Mile Day

This week I walked 55.44 miles in one day. The feat took place after walking 36 miles on Sunday and then 41 miles on Monday. I'm still recovering from the event and processing what happened. As someone who gets paid to study goal pursuit and self-control, it was a really fascinating experience. 

How Did It Happen?  Back in January, a local Facebook group started a discussion about a four-week step challenge. I am super active. The buy in was $10 with a cash prize to the winner (and 2nd-5th). I figured I could take the pool without doing too much more than normal. I'd just bump my average ~18000 daily steps to ~25000 steps or so. I run every morning, walk at night, play soccer a couple times weekly, and have a treadmill desk to keep me going throughout the day. How bad could it be?

The Step Challenge Begins. The first week of the challenge was fine. A major contender kept me going pretty hard but I was comfortable. But then I made a rookie mistake and didn't pay attention to the third place person. She swooped past me on a day where I had a lot of sitting obligations at work. For a few days, I'd catch up and then go to bed at my normal time only to wake up and find she had paced around her house until midnight to regain her lead. I couldn't go a month without sleeping regularly so staying up later just wasn't an option. 

I finally schemed a plan. I would get 60,000 steps (if I could) in one day. After 25,000, I turned off my bluetooth so my FitBit wouldn't sync with the app on my phone. My competitor would not know how many steps I had. But, neither would I. In the middle of the night, I woke up and turned bluetooth back on to find out I had done 62,000 steps in the day to retake the lead. She pushed in return the next day and nearly caught me. The next day, I did 55,000 steps on a weekday to get an 18,000 step lead (nearly 9 miles).

Would this be my life for the next three weeks? My options were yes, I could keep pushing. Or no, I had the lead now and I could offer a peace treaty. And so I did. I suggested a max of 35,000 daily steps for the remainder of the contest, which would bring us each to just over 1 million steps for the challenge. And I offered to split the first and second prize money with her in return. She countered with one major amendment: a final three day step-off for bragging rights only. I felt it was a bad idea but that I couldn't say no. Surely I was tough enough. Three days couldn't be so bad.

The Step Off

So I let her catch up to me, we maintained our agreed pace for a blissful two weeks, and then the step-off began. I set a goal of getting 200,000 steps in the three days (~67k per day). The first day, I turned my bluetooth off after 55,000 at 6 pm. I knew I had to play my own game so I didn't check the standings or my steps until the next morning. I just moved. 

The next morning, I synced my steps. I had done a little over 80,000 steps that day. She had done 84,000. What had I gotten myself into? 

Day 2 was a workday. I ran in the morning. I used the heck out of my treadmill desk and took frequent walking breaks outside. I ran home from work, walked back to work with my husband so he could drive the car home, and then I ran home from work. I paced until my brain said it was bedtime (~10:15 pm). 

Day 3, I couldn't sleep and woke up at 2 am. I checked the standings. I had done 89,000 the day before and she had done 92,000. I was losing by 7,000 steps. I got some steps to catch up but I knew I needed sleep so I set back to bed. My alarm was set for 6 am but I got out of bed shortly after 5 am and started walking. No sense lying in bed being anxious about not walking. 

I didn't think I could win and I didn't have a specific goal. I just committed to seeing what I could do. I was on my feet from that moment until midnight. Nineteen straight hours. I sat down to use the restroom and for a few minutes at work to fix a small glitch in one of my studies.  I got the lead by 11 am and then managed to just barely keep it throughout the day. Friends and family joined me by phone or in person. Kelly kept me waking from 9 pm to midnight. I won by 5100 steps with a daily total of 117,958 (she did about 105,000) steps. 

The Aftermath

I had been careful throughout the challenge to pay attention to my body and back off as needed. I am a runner but running is hard on your joints and so I switched to walking and jogging for most of the three days. Endurance would matter more than speed. My knees and ankles were inflamed but I had no specific injuries. Three days later, my feet still swell quickly when I get out of bed but then loosen. I've walked around 16,000 steps each of the two days since the challenge ended. It feels like I am not moving at all.

I went to Barre class yesterday to push my other muscles and get back into my routine. Physically, I had to make some adjustments on the leg sections. But as my physical fatigue built during class, I was taken aback by my psychological fatigue. When I tried to push myself, physically I was fine, but psychologically, it was like stepping on a broken leg. I crumbled. The wounds of having pushed myself beyond the possible were exposed for the first time; they are still healing. 

What did I learn? 

1) Pride goes before the fall (or in this case, 28 days of foot pain). Never underestimate someone else.

2) Never underestimate myself. What I did was physically and psychologically impossible. Once I decided not to stop, it didn't even occur to me to so. It was as if I had blinders to temptations. Next time I run a race or need to sit down and write a paper, I can draw back on this to remember I really can do anything.

3) I may be a crazy nutso, but even at my most stubborn, I couldn't have done this without support from others. Texts, calls, meet-ups, and shared laughter kept my day going. My friends and family deal with lower levels of this crazy in me every day but didn't hesitate to step up.


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