Long-distance Walking: Discover Toronto km by km

On March 7th, I decided to walk 43 kilometers by my 43rd birthday.

Leehe Lev, July 18, 2016

On March 7th, six months from my 43rd birthday, I needed to make this year mean something. I thought about what I enjoy doing, and what might require focus, time and attention away from the feelings of sadness I’d been experiencing. I decided to walk 43 kilometers by my 43rd birthday. I make a lot of goals. Some I stick to, some I don’t. I publicly announce very few of them.

I knew walking was something other people might want to join me in during my training. My partner, who runs marathons (fast) started doing them because when you’re a runner, you meet runners, and those runners do this race and that race, and before you know it, you’re doing the next race because your runner friends are too.

I’m not like that. I like to choose the distance, the date, the route. I like freedom in my fitness activities. I don’t need a time chip to feel I accomplished my goal. But I do need people to walk with. I’m reaching out to the walkers of Toronto to join me. You can choose how much you want to walk, where, and what part of my route you want to join me for. Who’s in?? 

What has training been like?

Training has been mostly positive. It’s not too hard on the body. When I train, I carry a snack, water, emergency bus token, and an emergency MP3 player if I get bored. So far, the only thing I've needed is water. I eat a good breakfast and am generally not starved when I get back!

I like to do my long walks in the early morning. In my 4 hours of walking, I enjoy the peace and have witnessed many beautiful moments, both within myself and throughout the city as it wakes up. I’ve enjoyed fresh blossoms and birds. The air is fresher, cooler, calmer. The sun is low enough to provide light without burning me.  The longer I walk, the more I learn about where I live away from the comfortable radius around my home.

I’ve customized my training to my body and lifestyle. Training to do 43 km means that some aspects of training are different. An example training schedule for someone with average fitness might look more like this: hill training twice a week, long walks once a week, muscle and core conditioning twice a week, cross-training twice a week, and a rest day.

What are the long walks like during training?

On my first long walk back in March, I walked 2.5 kilometers to meet up with a walking group in Mt Pleasant Cemetery. They were fast, but I managed to keep up with the last person! I walked 15.83 km. I started getting up earlier each week to add more kilometers before and after I joined them. As I added more kilometers, I started discovering more routes I could do on trails away from traffic. By late April I was able to walk 21 kilometers, the length of a half marathon.

At the beginning of June, my walking group moved its route to the waterfront. Since then, I’ve been working on completing the 21 km alone. In mid-May, I walked 23.3 kilometers in the Kawarthas. It was interesting to walk on a highway in cottage country. I’ve run, cycled and driven this route, but rarely do I walk such distances with my day pack. Drivers probably wonder what I'm doing.  It's not a regular sight in those parts.

My “close to home” 21 km route is 10-12 kms in the Mt. Pleasant cemetery (14 km to get there and back). I find it very meditative to walk there. I think about time constantly through the rest of my day, but when time is spent simply walking, it seems to pass by unnoticed, as it does for the people resting there.

A month ago, I realized I couldn't do the second 21 kilometers alone. This is why I’m calling on my fellow Toronto walkers to join me in training for all or part of my 43 kilometer goal.

Best Moments

In some ways, I miss the reasonable 10-15 kms, with my walking group, keeping a good pace. I will go back to that once I’m done with my 43 km goal. For now, I’m continuing to learn about my body, train myself to maintain my focus, and realize each week that I am capable of more that I allow myself to believe. I’m proud of myself, though I’m still trying to figure out why I feel sad for the rest of the day unless I walk with others.

Recently, as I was walking on the East Don Rail Trail, I saw an opening to an area that’s been closed since the trail opened three years ago. I asked a nearby cyclist, but he didn’t know much about it. “It looks tempting,” he said. I had enough confidence to walk the couple of kilometers and come back if I needed to. I had just began when a woman yelled out and asked me if I knew if it went to York Mills. I told her I didn’t know, but was about to find out. She said, 'I’m too scared to take a chance'. I realized, that would have been me just a month ago, worried about whether my body could walk longer than I had trained it for!

What’s next?

Now with less than 2 months away from my 43 km goal, I want to start to plan longer routes that I can do with others, such as along the Don River. I’d like to further explore the Finch Hydro Corridor. On hot days, I always walk to the lake, from High Park to the Beaches. Lastly, I want to walk the Humber Trail from the lake to Eglinton. Walking Toronto will be a very different experience for each person who tries it. Want to see for yourself? Join me for my weekly routes, at leehe@wholeself.ca  

Leehe is a Walk Leader, personal trainer, pilates instructor and water exercise specialist.

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