A week ago, a friend and I participated in the Avon39 Walk in New York City. The idea of participating in this 39-mile walk had been mulling in my head for a few years, but I did not think I had it in me to walk those many miles, even if it was split over two days. The first day consisted of a 26-mile walk, and the second day a 13-mile walk.
Last year another friend participated in the same walk in Santa Barbara, and I thought it would have been a good opportunity for me to join. But, there was too much going on in my life at the time, and I couldn’t make it work.
Then, at the end of 2016 I got a bad case of pneumonia. I was hospitalized for a few weeks, and took a good six months to recover. When I went to my last appointment with the pulmonary doctor, she expressed how surprised she was that my lungs had healed. She thought I would have chronic and recurring respiratory issues, such as asthma. Thankfully, I didn’t.
I took it as a sign. Getting over that illness gave me the final motivation to participate in the Avon39 walk. It took time and preparation, and required the right set of circumstances, which I will share with you.
1. Participating with One or More People is Key
But, not just anyone. Having the right teammates makes all the difference. I participated in the walk with a dear friend, and reached out to her back in May to ask her if she would do the walk with me. I knew that if I were to make it through those 39 miles, having someone whom I could talk to endlessly about anything would be crucial. It would not only help pass the time, but also make it enjoyable. And, thankfully, she agreed.
It was also beneficial to have someone to share training strategies with, and to talk about successes, setbacks, and motivation. When we did not know how to continue, we shared ideas. When we did not feel that we could do it, we gave each other encouragement. And when we wanted to share excitement, we were right there for each other.
2. Having People to Cheer You On is Also Key
We had friends and family provide donations to the cause. Avon hosts and sponsors this walk in several cities around the United States to raise money towards Breast Cancer Research. As walkers, we also had to fundraise. Many of our loved ones contributed to the cause, and without their generosity, we would not have been able to participate.
Our friends and family also shared advice on how to tackle the walk and what to do in case of blisters and other issues, which proved to be extremely valuable.
During the actual walk, two of our friends walked with us for parts of the journey. One friend joined us on Saturday, and the other friend walked the last few miles with us on Sunday.
We didn’t expect it, but it helped us in such a big way to have that support. They distracted and entertained us, which helped the miles go by faster. And, because they came in with new energy, they made us forget we were feeling tired. We didn’t ask them to join us. They were inspired by what we were doing, and wanted to be a part of the experience, and that made the event even more special for us.
There were also people at cheering stations all along the path. These were strangers to us, but soon became familiar because the same people moved from one cheering station to the next, which meant that we saw them multiple times over the 2-day period.
They seemed to appear at just the right time when our feet felt heavy and our legs ached. With every clap and cheer, they gave us the push and motivation we needed to get to the next landmark.
There were also some of them who were clearly affected by breast cancer, whether they had the disease themselves or knew someone close to them who had. More than once, it brought tears to our eyes, and made us realize that what we were doing was more than just getting through the walk. It meant something to them, and in return, it meant something to us. It was just what we needed to continue walking.
3. Prepare for Change
Fundraising is of course for change- to “Crush Breast Cancer” as Avon39 puts it. But, on a personal level, change occurred in other forms.
We had to train for the event, which meant that we had to get into a regular habit of going on long walks. Even if we walked regularly, walking 39 miles was a whole other story.
The hardest part was training for the 26-mile walk on the first day, which we estimated to take around 8.5 hours. To make sure that we were duly prepared, we decided to go on a long walk once a week for a few weeks prior to the event.
For a good many months while I was sick I couldn’t exercise at all. I felt my body get weaker, and it is no surprise. Underuse of muscles causes degeneration and loss of muscle mass.
But, regular exercise reverses it. Regular activity causes muscles to become larger, stronger, and more efficient. Exercise increases blood supply, nutrients, and oxygen delivered to the muscles, and removes toxins. This improves the efficiency of metabolism, which makes muscles stronger and fatigue resistant (Marieb & Hoehn, 2013).
And I knew I couldn’t do it all at once. I first started walking 30 minutes a day. The next week I increased it to one hour. The week after that, I increased it to two hours. As my muscles got stronger, I was able to increase the duration of my walks. I added one hour every week, and eventually made it walking seven hours at least once a week. Although I did not include an 8-hour walk in my training, I felt that the 7-hour walk left me sufficiently prepared.
Of course our muscles got stronger, but the walk also changed us on a deeper level. Knowing that we could push ourselves to achieve the walk, made us realized that we could do more than we thought we were capable of. There were times when the pain, swelling, and blisters made us want to stop, but when we saw other participants who were limping, who were walking for lost loved ones, who had recently undergone chemotherapy or radiation, or who for whatever reason were clearly struggling more than we were, we knew we had to continue. If they were suffering more than we were and they could do it, then we could also do it.
There is something about walking such a long distance, and doing it for a good cause that made us believe that we can do anything. It gave us renewed motivation and inspiration on life. We did something, not just for ourselves, but also for others. We made a difference and created an impact.
We are grateful to have had the chance to participate in the event, and we are grateful for all of those who supported us.
On a personal level, the event made me feel strong, and showed me that I had beaten my illnesses. It was a hard and challenging experience, but something I would encourage others to do. If you were to participate in an event such as this, heed these lessons. Get the right team, the right support, and brace for change.
Marieb, E.T., & Hoehn, K. (2013). Human Anatomy & Physiology (9th ed.). Glenview, IL: Pearson Education.