Are You Up for The 12-Hour Walk Challenge?

There’s a saying that a man/woman doesn’t know him/herself until he or she has completed a marathon. The same truth applies (on a smaller scale) to the 12-Hour Walk Challenge which inspired a bestseller of the same name by ultra-athlete Colin O’Brady

O’Brady’s book is the story of how he turned his life around by embarking on a series of extreme challenges, including becoming the first person to walk across Antarctica solo. (Applause here).  He says that by walking alone, unplugging, listening to the voice within, and meditating on the limiting beliefs you’ve accepted, you may be able to break free of patterns holding you back and cultivate an empowered way of thinking that unlocks limitless possibilities. The author found his inner superman by doing other things like climbing Mt. Everest. During the lockdown, he decided to walk for 12 hours straight just to challenge himself. His book is largely the story of his jaw-dropping adventures, with some self-help and pep talks thrown in.

Sounds seductive, even to those of us who are far from “extreme” athletes. And it should.  Walking in any amount is weight-bearing exercise that increases cardiovascular and pulmonary fitness, reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke, makes for stronger bones and balance, and improves endurance.

Are there any pros and cons when it comes to pushing yourself? It could be a little intimidating to those of us who consider three miles a pretty good walk.  But with a little foresight and planning, almost anyone can find 12 hours in a day to lace up and walk alone in silence without music, news, or podcasts to distract. I

n this challenge, there aren’t even a number of miles to conquer or steps to count. And there’s no penalty for a slow pace, taking a break to sit down or have a snack. Slow walking, in fact, can be a form of meditation and centering, or a form of cardio. Surprisingly, walking slowly at 2 miles per hour burns more calories than fast walking.  Why? When you walk slowly, you lose the efficiency of already being in motion towards your next step. This makes muscles work a little harder with each step, says the American Heart Association.

Do it fast or slow, as long as you stay on the path. And where will you be at the end of the 12 hours? Ah, that’s the question. Like meditation, there are no promises about where you’ll wind up. Maybe refreshed and reenergized, maybe tired and sore, maybe proud of completing a challenge you never thought yourself capable of. Maybe it will put you on the road to a marathon, motivate you to write that novel, or to quit that dreary unchallenging job.  Don’t you want to know what carrot is at the end of the stick?

Indeed, the largest obstacle we humans seem to face is the one the mind sets up, trapping some of us in a life of wanting and dreaming, rather than going for broke, O’Brady suggests. Growing and changing is hard and disruptive; it appears easier not to make waves.

A 12-Hour Walk means disconnecting from the outside world, which includes social media. The walk interrupts our attachments– if only for 12 hours– and leaves us alone with our inner world. No ads, no commercials, no texts, no notifications.  What have you got to lose?  The 12-Hour Walk is an outward journey that takes you inward.

But, wait, why 12 hours? What’s wrong with 10 or 8?  Twelve hours sounds more like a whole waking day, but if you don’t trust your hips, ankles, or lower back to carry you there and back, by all means, consider a modified challenge.


  • Train! That 45-minute walk you’ve been doing doesn’t give you the endurance you’ll need to keep walking for 12 hours. Start a month before and gradually increase your time on the walk until one or two hours seems rejuvenating, not exhausting,
  • Pick a moderate weather day. Don’t make yourself miserable walking in the pouring rain or under the blazing sun. You will be too distracted by discomfort to find any inner peace,
  • If you’re a senior and/or have any health issues and/or have never done a walk of more than 2 or 3 miles, check with your family doctor before starting out.
  • Dress appropriately. Wear good socks and comfortable shoes made for hiking. Get some advice from a sporting goods store. Don’t put on shoes you’ve never worn before. Bring an extra pair of sox. Bandages, maybe foot cream, long or short comfortable pants that ideally) wick moisture.
  • Plan your route. Keep it simple. Keep it safe. Avoid highways, and urban hustle and bustle. No unfamiliar neighborhoods. You can walk in a straight line and just turn around at the three-hour mark and walk back or walk in a big circle like a labyrinth and repeat it many times. Or you can plot something a little more adventurous that has hills and valleys to add to the challenge. Even better, maybe you have a nature preserve or national park or open space nearby that gives you an interesting and peaceful terrain to move through.
  • Pick a time. Try to avoid walking in the AM or PM darkness. Depending on where you live, a 6 am to 6 pm route might be ideal.
  • Bring a small lightweight backpack with water, cash in case you need to stop for food, any meds you’ll need to take during the day, sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm, and a journal if you’d like to make notes.
  • Check the weather forecast and dress for the conditions bearing in mind you will be getting warmer as you move along. Best to bring a jacket you can shed if needed.
  • Leave the dog at home, put your phone in airplane mode, and bring no fellow walkers.
  • Make sure your family and friends know what you’re up to and why so they don’t send out a search party at sundown.
  • Try to walk on grass, sand, or soft earth as much as possible rather than asphalt or concrete. Your ankles and shins will thank you later on/
  • Set an intention and (maybe) shoot a short video at the start of your journey. And shoot a post-walk video to sum up your feelings about the experience.
  • Set up a foot bath for your return. You’ll want to soak your feet in Epsom salts and apply some good moisturizing cream to the tootsies. Give them a massage. Follow with a long hot shower or tub soak.

-Frances Goulart

Photo: Unsplash

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