Why I walk

It’s not about distance—it’s about time

Jonathon Colman
Sep 27, 2017 · 5 min read

Wa(l)king up in the morning

My 2017 total steps through September 13. That’s 4.6M steps for an average of ~18K/day — still a little under my goal of 20K steps/day, but I’m catching up. Via the Fitline app for iOS.

It’s 4:39am in Seattle.

My wife’s asleep in our bed, safe and warm. Curled up next to her is Prim, our nine year old rottweiler/lab mix. Her paws twitch as she dreams.

I often wonder what my old dog dreams about. In dog years, she’s on the darker side of her 60s while in human years, I’m in my early 40s. Our muzzles are the same color of grey now. What does she chase after in her dreams? I want to chase it with her.

But I’m not dreaming with my dog. I’m not curled around my wife like a punctuation mark. I’m not even in bed.

I’m walking.

Here’s how I start each day. I sleep with a Fitbit attached to the crook of my v-neck. It has a silent alarm that I’ve set to wake me up at 4:00am. When it goes off, it vibrates intensely enough to make my whole chest buzz.

Yawn. Stretch. Siiiiiiiiiiigh. Wipe my eyes, scratch my ass. Coffee, I need coffee. I stumble downstairs and french press a liter of it. Yawn some more. I change clothes, slap on my favorite pair of shoes, and throw the Fitbit into a pocket.

Then I start walking. On a good day, I’ll get in about 10,000 steps before I go to work; on a great day, it’s over 20,000. I usually end up with 120–160K steps per week. I’ve passed 200K/week a few times, but my real dream is to do 100K steps in a single, wondrous day.

You know the part I like best? It’s the actual sound of walking. The mathematical pattern of

step step step step step

step step step step step step step step step step

step step step step step step step step step step step step step step step step step step step step

It hypnotizes me, clarifies me. It tunes me. Especially when I’m upset or spinning about, the sound and constant motion of walking make me right again. It’s like my feet are a metronome set to allegro, each step punctuating the present, marking off the moment. And then the next. And then the next.

There’s not much more to it, really. That’s what my early morning “productivity routine” looks like. If you came here looking for a 17-part plan with some flashy stock photography, then I’m sorry to disappoint you. Because all I really do is shuffle my feet around for a few hours until the clock tells me it’s time to shuffle off.

Don’t get me wrong, getting up that early just to walk isn’t for everyone. Especially if you want to be a lively, non-yawning person after 7pm. It may not work for you, and that’s okay — it doesn’t need to.

Because it works for me. Here’s why.

The Curious Case of Distance v. Time

My 2017 step totals by day. You can see I started the year out strong, but I’ve slowed down since then. Via the Fitline app for iOS.

Here’s my secret: when I walk those 20,000 steps (on a great day, mind you), I don’t make it down the block. I don’t make it out the door. Hell, I don’t even make it down the steps.

That’s because I walk on a treadmill desk.

Yeah, a fucking treadmill desk. Oh I know, I know. The real joke here is that when I walk in the morning, I’m not actually going anywhere. Some metaphor that turned out to be.

I set the treadmill to 2.1 miles per hour, which is just fast enough to be challenging for 3–4 hours, but also just slow enough to allow me to read, work on personal projects, or even write (if that’s what you call this) while I walk.

But what I really do is think. I wonder. I engage curiosities that I didn’t know I was curious about. I move between them, each one leading to the next. And the next. And the next. It’s a wakeful dream of sorts.

But for all those thousands of steps, I never leave the room. That’s why, for me, walking in the morning isn’t really about the distance — it doesn’t matter if I go 1 mile or 10 miles or more. The distance isn’t what motivates me. It’s the time.


They say that time flies, but I don’t believe that. Time walks. It walks away from you when you’re not looking.

If it flew away, you’d surely notice. You’d slam down your phone and pay some fucking attention to what’s going on for chrissake. But time’s tricky; it knows how to fool you. That’s why time doesn’t fly away, breaking the sound barrier and punching a hole in the sky. It’s too smart for that.

Instead, time walks. It doesn’t walk fast, but it walks just fast enough to get ahead of you. Just fast enough to escape your notice. And, eventually, just fast enough to leave you behind. You and everyone you’ve ever known and loved.

I often feel like time’s walked away from me and I want to catch up. Time’s steps have greyed my face and added to my weight and dulled my ambitions and killed some of my friends and family. Time has fertilized my fear, giving it deep roots and jagged thorns.

Time’s walked away from me. I want to chase after it.

The story I tell myself

Every time I open a new web browser tab, I see my age down to 9 significant digits. Via the Motivation extension for Chrome.

And that’s why I walk. Or, at least, that’s the story I tell myself about why I walk.

I’m walking while I type these words, telling that same story. I see them appear on the screen in front of me. And right now I’m staring at a blinking cursor on that screen, counting my steps as it blinks. It turns out that I take about a step and a half per blink. I wish the words came that fast, but they don’t, they don’t.

Except sometimes they do. And surely that is the best time. The time when you don’t even realize you’re writing. The time when you don’t even realize you’re walking. But you are, you are.

You’re making progress, you’re being productive, and so am I. For me, walking isn’t an escape from things, it’s an approach. It’s not about getting lost, it’s about getting found. I’m not walking away from things, I’m walking to them.

Even when I don’t go anywhere.

step step step step step

Walking. Right now. As the cursor blinks. In the present moment. The moment when time stops flying and we stop aging and no one’s left behind and my dog lives forever and I tell myself these stories and the words come so easy so fast so right.

And I chase after time. And I catch up.

Originally published on The Human in the Machine

Jonathon Colman

Written by

Working on the web since 1994, grumpy it’s not done yet. Senior Design Manager at Intercom. Keynote speaker.

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