How to Walk 100,000 Steps in One Day

At 66 years old, I challenged myself to reach a big fitness goal. That meant creating the right mindset as well as increasing my physical endurance.

Arthur and I on #optoutfriday. All photos courtesy of the author.

Step-Aware to Intrigued by a Goal

I wasn’t obsessed with my daily step count. Yes, I had a Fitbit. Yes, I had the step reader on my iPhone. But I wasn’t obsessed with it like my younger brother was. If he didn’t get his 10,000 steps in a day, after dinner he would walk around his neighborhood in Maine until he did.

But when I closed in on 65, I filed forms for Social Security and Medicare. And I did not want to start that long glide to the inevitable by bitching and complaining about “old age.”

I have seen it happen again and again. The weight of fear and potential illness topples people before their time. As they focus their energies on fearing old age, they become old through their own dreadful prophecy.

There are many exceptions, some of them solid contemporary role models. The happy billionaire Warren Buffett, 88, treks the planet in what seems like enthusiastic engagement with the world around him. Actor Dick Van Dyke is still kicking it up at 93. This year, he’s on the big screen yet again, most notably in Mary Poppins Returns.

Dick Van Dyke, 93, in Mary Poppins Returns

When I look at these role models, I admire how they appear to be unaffected by such a thing as old age. There is only life. And then — it’s lights out.

Then I read about a 38-year-old man who took 100,000 steps as part of a one-day Fitbit challenge. The 100,000 steps-in-one-day had become a “thing,” with lots of people getting into it. It was trending.

It intrigued me. And while I was almost 30 years older than the man who wrote the story, I sensed that the challenge he had overcome was accomplishable for me.

This is the story of how I did it, with a combination of mindset and physical training—and how you can do it too.

How far is 100,000 steps, and how long does it take to walk them? Details of my experience are below, but in summary, it took me almost 20 hours and carried me over 40 miles (over 66 km). My length of stride averaged over that entire time was about 2.2 feet (67 cm), and my speed (breaks included) was an average of just over 2 miles (3.4 km) per hour.

But it wasn’t about speed or “my time.” I wanted to enjoy the natural world around me. The 38-year-old guy on Fitbit took an overall time of 15 hours to complete his 100,000-step day. He was in “Nike Just Do It” mode. And that is fine too. I am in a different phase of my life. I simply wanted to finish well in a 24-hour period.


Where I Started From

I’m not an athlete by any means. I get my steps in every day, more than 5,000 and fewer than 10,000. I like a shot of vodka after dinner. I wish it was red wine, which is healthier, but it is not.

Sometimes, I will binge on Pringles or some other terrible processed carbohydrate. Hey, I grew up on Howdy Doody. Some habits die hard. And I should not forget about pie. Blueberry pie. No matter what I do, I always seem to carry an extra 10 pounds.

However, I am healthy and strong. There are seven essential ingredients in the recipe of my life:

  • Daily meditation
  • Intentional dreaming
  • 80% plant-based diet
  • Staying physically active (I live on a farm)
  • Getting eight hours of sleep a day
  • Having a sense of purpose
  • Being mindful of the company I keep

To give credit where it is due , a lot of these ingredients come from the thinking and research found in Blue Zones, a study of five places around the world where people have remarkable longevity. If you want to read an inspiring article about a Blue Zone in Greece, read this New York Times piece, which has to be one of the best headlines ever, “The Island Where People Forget to Die. It’s all about healthy longevity.

Most of the ingredients in my recipe for life are elements of Blue Zones lifestyles. “Intentional dreaming” is not, but it was a key factor in my pursuit of my 100,000-step goal, so I’ll share how I do that as well as how I trained and then ultimately achieved my goal.

This was my plan when I started in mid August: I would dream about it. I would practice. I would get my steps up significantly. The day after Thanksgiving, on Black Friday, while everyone hit the malls, I would hit the countryside and go for my 100,000-step day.


Intentional Dreaming

“When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are.” —Leigh Harline and Ned Washington
Walt Disney supervising the storyboards for the “Wish Upon a Star” sequence from the movie Pinocchio

When I was a boy, my dad taught me this adage: “As a man thinketh, so the world is formed.”

Over the years, I have found an adage even truer: “As a man dreameth, so the world is formed.”

While growing up in a small Ohio town, I was a strange kid. While my brothers were hitting home runs, I was shooting 8 mm film. My dad called me a “dreamer.” It seemed like a slur. But despite the worries of my father and my baseball-hitting friends at school, I was not that afraid of listening to the call unique to me and marching to the music of a different drummer.

I lay in my bed at 10, 11, and 12 years old and imagined how I would work for Mister Walt Disney, and how together we would make lots and lots of movies. Before I fell asleep, I constructed an arrow that would send me toward my future.

I built the arrow not with my mind, but with something even bigger — the imagination. Every night I pulled the bow, following that arrow with all my conscious will into my dreamscape. I intentionally set out to influence my dreams. As Mister Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” I took him literally.

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” —Walt Disney

When I heard that Mister Walt Disney was sick, I made a little backyard movie for him to give him a chuckle. I was 11 and without guile. That silly movie somehow touched him. His secretary, Peggy, called me. He wrote me a sweet letter encouraging me to make more movies and to come to his new college. He died of lung cancer three weeks later.

At 18, I left Ohio and traveled to that college. The Disney Foundation paid for my entire education. At 35, I was named President of Production of Walt Disney Studios. When I walked into my new office at the studio, it was furnished with Mister Disney’s original animation desk. When I was told the history of the desk and touched the wooden shelves that had once held his sketches, I wept.

I made this habit of intentional dreaming part of who I am. I have countless stories of movies made because first I dreamed about them. Today, I speak all over the world about intentional dreaming. I always open with Mister Disney’s quote.

The Praxis of Intentional Dreaming

There’s a lot of consciousness around each of us. Through intentional dreaming, you do three things:

  1. By acknowledging that dreams have power, you take mastery of your dreams.
  2. You align your subconscious with your unconscious into one synchronized force of being: the whole person.
  3. By dreaming your reality, you affect it.

As much as we humans know, we know little about consciousness. It is made up of many aspects of being, including thoughts, dreams, senses, intuitions, and perhaps even DNA memory. In today’s world, much is made of “mindfulness.” But consciousness is bigger than the mind.

“There is nothing like a dream to create the future.” —Victor Hugo

Intentional dreaming is simple:

  1. Lie in your bed and be comfortable.
  2. Put the distractions away. Turn off the iPad, the TV — anything with blue light or noise.
  3. Imagine your dream. Don’t just “think” about it with your mind. Feel it emotionally. Experience it with your senses. And don’t get all serious. Stay playful with it. There is peace in play. Let the fancy you now have become bigger than your hands, your body, your bed, your home, your town, your city.
  4. Go to sleep.

To prepare for the 100,000-step challenge, before I went to sleep, I imagined myself accomplishing it. I imagined my body as strong and healthy and capable of the challenge.


My Four-Phase Training Program

It’s great to dream, and that carries force. But in your waking life, you have to give your dreams legs. Don’t get too “airy-fairy” on yourself.

My consciousness might be all tuned up in preparation for my 100,000 steps, but I had to get my body there as well. I was concerned about three things:

  1. Building body stamina to sustain 100,000 steps
  2. Avoiding a protracted, painful recovery
  3. The unknowingness of such a long walk

Fear is a great deterrent to anything. Long ago, I learned to look at worries as challenges.

In response to my three concerns, I practiced.

I used the Health app built into my iPhone to keep track of my activity and a Fitbit to track my steps. If you have an iPhone, I highly recommend the Health app, as it can keep track of your meals, sleep, and activity, and even your downtime for mindfulness. You simply keep the phone in your pocket. This is what the app looks like:

I would eat the elephant one bite at a time by building up my steps incrementally over the 10 weeks until #optoutfriday, the date for my 100,000-step challenge. (#optoutfriday was created by outdoors enthusiasts. In response to the indoor shopping mania of Black Friday, why not, they asked, instead spend the day outside, hiking, boating, climbing, etc.?)

I trained in four phases, with a milestone for each phase:

  1. 20,000 steps
  2. 40,000 steps
  3. 70,000 steps
  4. 100,000 steps

Training Toward the Goal

Milestone 1: 20,000 Steps

There was a nice dam and reservoir area not far from home, so I used that as my first track in mid-August, taking my corgi, Arthur, with me.

The terrain is flat, and it was a fairly easy stretch to get to 20,000 steps, especially on a nice sunny day. No sweat. Well, maybe just a little sweat.

Arthur at the reservoir for the 20,000-step practice

It’s important to me to also enjoy the setting around me. The first essay that Emerson ever wrote, “Nature,” and the first one his protégé, Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Walking,” have always been a great source of inspiration for me. Because of those essays, I moved to the country following my big-city life in Los Angeles.

Milestone 2: 40,000 Steps

I set my milestone of 40,000 steps for mid-September. To prepare for that second hurdle, I made a point to walk 10,000 steps every day. So by the time that Saturday in September arrived, I believed I was ready.

Phase two would involve two different settings:

  1. The Brimfield Fair. This massive antique event covering 400 acres fell on the Saturday of my walk. I thought I would check out the sights and get some serious walking in.
  2. A state park with some major hills and mountains. I would bring Arthur, as there would be plenty for him to see: foxes, deer, geese, and squirrels.

I read up on hydration. I carried a backpack with two bottles of water and some energy pods. I researched the pods on the Internet.

The energy pods I bought were called “Gu.” There are many other products on the market, but the reviews of this product were thoughtful and positive.

For a multiflavored pack of 24, the cost was about $36. Walking such a long distance, you become depleted, and this product, which is only 100 calories per serving, is crafted with electrolytes and amino acids to keep your stamina up. It also has about 20 carbs to keep your energy from flagging.

The recommendation is to consume an energy pod every 30 to 45 minutes to keep moving at a steady pace. They’re easy to carry. If you don’t use a backpack, you can cram them into your pockets. The flavors are endless.

Gu

I stopped by the Brimfield Fair. I even did a little shopping. I don’t know what got into me, but I was taking my time and feeling cocky. I ran up about 15,000 steps at the fair. And no, I did not buy this mirror.

Taking my time by checking myself out

As you can see in the photo above, I am not wearing running shoes but hiking boots. I am walking rough terrain. In my backpack, I am also carrying several pairs of extra socks. If your socks get soaked, change them. Wet socks cause painful blisters. Keep your feet dry.

It became clear that doing the hills and mountains later in the day was a mistake. I knew how to handle inclines from my training on the treadmill. But to walk physical hills was a different matter. There were potholes, brambles, and rock slips. There was more strain on my calf muscles than I expected.

I also lost my way. For about an hour, I had no idea how I would get back to the car. Drama had entered the scene. On top of all that, I was walking with a corgi.

Arthur always had a lot of energy on these walks. He had just turned three, and I could not even conceive of him growing tired. But he was a corgi. If you know that breed, you know they have really short legs. It didn’t occur to me that when I was on my 30,000th step, he was probably well north of 100,000.

At 35,000 steps for me, Arthur needed constant rest periods and water. A dog’s tongue hanging out of his or her mouth is a sign of dehydration. His tongue was flapping. Every few hundred feet, we stopped for a water break.

I finally found the dirt path that led back to the car, but Arthur could not move. He was exhausted. At 3:30 in the afternoon, the sun was already setting. I tried to rig my backpack to haul him on my shoulders, but I didn’t have the necessary harness equipment.

Instead, I carried him in my arms: 30 pounds of corgi for 3,000 steps. We made it back to the car, but I too was exhausted. On the drive home, Arthur got his second wind and rocked out to the Beatles on the radio.

I thought 40,000 steps would be a cinch. But between the inclines and carrying the corgi, my body had been punched flat. My back and calves were aching.I spent an entire Sunday in bed to recover.

Don’t get cocky, and stay focused on the challenge

I would not throw in the towel. The great thing about intentional dreaming is that you develop a rock-solid confidence that is hard to shake.

I blame it on my pride (“It’s a cinch!”) and on not taking the challenge seriously. I had not considered inclines. I got lost. I was inconsiderate of my dog.

If I had to do it over again, I would recommend not only staying on flatter ground but also keeping focused on the challenge.

Milestone 3: 70,000 Steps

I set my next milestone of 70,000 miles for the first week of November. I traveled most of October, and it was not practical or timely to take such a major walk on a busy schedule. I did manage to get in 10,000 steps a day while I traveled. There are paths and roads whether in London or Singapore. That is the beauty of steps.

Also, stepping adds to overall health. Other than completing my 10,000 steps a day, I ate healthy and made sure I got eight hours of sleep. I did no other physical training, but, as always, I kept to my habit of nightly intentional dreaming.

On the day of my 70,000 steps, I got an early start. I packed water and Gu in my backpack. I also steamed a plate of pasta the night before that could be served cold. I placed it in a plastic container for lunch. I hardly ever carbo-load because there is diabetes in my family, but it made sense on this day. I packed extra socks and two changes of T-shirts and briefs. I was not sure if I would sweat through my first T-shirt and briefs, but I was prepared if I did.

I chose three separate walking places all within a 20-minute drive of one another. I elected not to bring Arthur because of the length of the walk.

I rebooted my focus. This was a true challenge. It was about endurance and pacing.

That painful recovery after the last walk had been a wakeup call. Now, I walked on flat ground. My drive time between locales was short. I was prepared. And did I ever sweat! I went through three pairs of socks and two sets of underwear. I changed into dry sets in the restroom facilities at each of the three locales.

The walk was without incident. The only challenge was walking in the dark. As you can see from the above counter, I finished at 8:30 p.m. I had started at sunrise, but the days were much shorter now that it was November.

I walked almost four hours with a flashlight. It was a little scary. For my 100,000 steps, I did not want to end my last leg in a mall or on a lit track at the high school.

I was surprised that the next day I had no recovery issues.


My 100,000-Step Day

For Thanksgiving dinner, I ate light. I ate no pie. And there was pie—blueberry pie. It would not have been a good idea to binge on all the food. I excused myself from the table at 4 p.m. so I could get up in eight hours to start my day.

The solution of not finishing in the dark was to start early. I planned to get up at midnight and begin on the treadmill in the basement of the house. At first light, I would continue my walk outdoors.

I’ve always loved the morning. All my life, I have been up by 4 a.m. My energy is at its peak then. I am not a night person; my energy flags after sunset. Besides, if it took my 38-year-old role model 15 hours to walk 100,000 steps, it might take me 20 hours, or even more. I needed those extra hours at night as a buffer.

I knew that my role model had a breakdown at 75,000 steps. He sat down on the track. He wept. He called it his “Die Hard” hour. He thought then of giving up. But he rebooted and pressed onward.

Yes, I lived within the spell of my dream, and I would walk it in success, but I was still adding my feet onto the aspiration. To start my day at midnight was no big deal.

My niece, Molli, was home for the long holiday weekend. Molli agreed to be my wrangler. She would spot me, help me with Arthur (picking him up when he got pooped and dropping him off at the finish line in the backyard), and document the day with photos.

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” — Henry David Thoreau

In this amazing information age, I found data instrumental in forming my plan. But this was a plan I believed could work for me, based on my habits, experiences, and that voice from within. If you ever plan to take this challenge, use this information as touch points only, and then listen to your own inner voice that speaks to you from your own vast consciousness and experience.

“There is no road. The road is made by walking.” —Antonio Machado

The First Hours: Treadmill Indoors

I woke a little before midnight. I was on the treadmill when my iCalendar switched to the next day. I began. I had terrific energy at that hour, but I knew it was important to remain steady.

I had also prepared for the six hours on the treadmill by loading up my iPad. I thought that for me, it was better to stay focused on one saga rather than falling down the rabbit hole with hours of visual snacking. So I chose season 1 of one of the great shows of recent years:

If you don’t know it, ping me with a private note and I’ll tell you :-).

Since the pace I set on the treadmill was that associated with a long walk, I never broke into an extreme run. But even with a measured stride, I was still sweating within my first hour, as you can see from my shirt:

1 a.m.

Over the next four hours, I sweated through two more T-shirts. Since I was at home, it was easy to change, refuel with water, or take a bio break. Since I had eaten the elephant over a long cycle of practice rounds, there was absolutely no strain.

Anyone who has ever binge-watched a series knows how fast time flies. Before I knew it, it was almost time for first light.

5 a.m.

Before the sun rose, I heated up some oatmeal, sliced some bananas, and sat down for breakfast at the kitchen table. I wanted to break the cycle that my body had been on for the last five hours. It did the trick. Pumped with carb-oats, a cup of coffee, and a half hour of rest time, I was ready for #optoutfriday.

Getting to Halfway and Beyond

I woke up my four-legged fur buddy, and we were off to face the dawn. I chose an area near my neighborhood with flat terrain to get started. By 9 a.m., I had clocked in 50,000 steps. I was halfway to the finish line with three hours of morning left.

10 a.m.

Molli, the wrangler, picked up Arthur, and I drove to a forest with flat pathways. I picked up my pace, and by noon, I had clocked my existing record of 70,000 steps. I could not have dreamed a more perfect day: blue skies and sunshine.

I found a restroom, changed my socks and underwear, and sat down on a rock for my cold pasta. While I was in constant hydration mode and keeping tabs on my Gu intake every 45 minutes, bland pasta never tasted so good.

I took a full hour break to get refreshed. While I was doing well, I did not get cocky. I stayed focused on getting it done.

Digging into the Challenge

At my next stop at a public reservoir, Molli met me with a lighter jacket. With the bright sun, the temperature had climbed from freezing to the mid-40s. I was grateful for the change from my bulky parka. For a few hours, I could stay in the lighter gear. But when the sun began to drop, it would be time to change back again.

Meanwhile, Arthur returned to the walk with puppy energy, pulling me across the bridge. Here I am with the pup, hamming it up, playing off Arthur’s newfound energy.

Arthur and I on the bridge
Arthur was going so fast that he helped push me forward

Unlike my 38-year-old role model, I did not have a “Die Hard” moment at 75,000 steps. But I could feel myself slowing down. As the sun sped downward, I changed back into my parka. By 4 p.m., I was at 85,000 steps. Here I am taking a break on the stoop of a newly built house.

4 p.m.

As it began to grow dark, and with 15,000 steps still to go, I could not risk keeping Arthur with me. It sounds ignoble of me, but I did not want to get stuck and have to carry his 30 pounds for the last leg.

He went back home with Molli, but not before Molli agreed that she would meet me with Arthur at the “finish line” at the house. Just before I reached it, she would run out with him, and we would “cross” together. It would be a virtual finish for Arthur, but I had made a promise to my buddy—not that he really knew that.

Final Steps

I knew I would make it to the finish line. It was within my grasp, and I had time to spare. My role model had taken 15 hours. At my slower pace, and with my hour and a half of major breaks, I calculated that I would clock in at 19.5 hours. I was right on target.

Walking in the dark was a drag, though. To mitigate the risk, I chose some familiar road and paths that would lead me back to the house.

Right before I hit the mark, Molli came running out with Arthur and a string of Christmas lights. With the corgi by my side, we walked across the lights. It was hard to get a picture without flash, so I wrapped the lights around my shoulders to get some additional illumination.

7:30 p.m.

This is what that 100,000 steps looks like on the iPhone:

I am 5 feet, 9 inches, so my stride is short. For me, the mileage count was 41.4 miles. For someone with a larger frame or longer legs, those 100,000 steps might amount to 45 miles or more.

I am also happy to report that with my walk I raised a nice chunk of change on Facebook for a really sweet 8-year-old Canadian kid, Andrei, to help him purchase a diabetic alert dog.

At seven, Andrei had already been busking on the streets of Vancouver, doing handstands for donations. He has since raised an amazing $20,000 for juvenile diabetes research, also proving that there is no such thing as age.

Recovery and Steps Beyond

That night, I got a good night’s sleep. Interestingly, I had no recovery issues and no aches or pains the next day.

And for breakfast, there was pie.

Over the next several weeks, I experienced neither soreness nor inflammation. I chalk that up to the gradual training ramp-up during the preceding months.

The 10,000 steps a day has now become an easy goal for me. Now that winter has set in with its deep snows, I jump on the treadmill when I don’t have the luxury of getting out into the great outdoors.


Creating Your Own Action Plan

Many people will say that if you put your mind to something, you can accomplish it.

Based on my experience, it takes more than thinking and more than the mind.

Julius Caesar famously said, “Veni, vidi, vici,” which translates as “I came, I saw, I conquered.” I discovered the truth to be somewhat different. First you see it, then you arrive, and then you succeed. I believe in intentional dreaming to help set the stage for successful achievement.

Here’s a summary of how I achieved my 100,000-step day, and how you might do it too:

  1. Decide on the target date for your goal. In mid-August, I set my goal date for late November. I could do 10,000 steps per day when I started but more reliably did 5,000.
  2. Practice intentional dreaming by visualizing and mentally experiencing your success and imagining yourself fully capable of your goal. Do this every night before you go to sleep.
  3. Set milestones for your goal, including the number of steps you will take and the day you will hit those milestones. I chose four milestones of 20,000, 40,000, 70,000, and finally 100,000 steps.
  4. Set your target for daily maintenance walking. I resolved to walk 10,000 steps every day as my maintenance in between my training milestones.
  5. Prepare to stay hydrated and energized on your walks. I carried bottles of water and energy gel in my pack starting with my 40,000-step day.
  6. On long walks, carry extra socks so you can change as soon as you become wet. Prepare changes of clothing so you can stay dry and comfortable.
  7. If you are walking new trails for your milestone days, plan your route carefully so you can avoid getting lost. Choose flat terrain for your milestone walks.
  8. Be mindful of those you are walking with — including your dog! — and their abilities and comfort.
  9. Don’t get cocky: take training days seriously. And keep your intentional dreaming practice going.
  10. Prep meals and plan for breaks on milestone days to give yourself a good reset.
  11. Consider the hours of daylight on milestone days and how you should plan them for your comfort and safety. Carry a headlamp if you might be out past dark.
  12. Get a loved one to be your “wrangler” and assist with your big day in any way that you like: bringing a pet for segments of your walk, meeting you at the finishing line, taking photos, or offering other support and check-ins.

It is easy to forget the way of humankind. For humans, every act in life is a creative act, no matter how menial or how large. Almost everything in our modern empire sprang from men and women creatively dreaming.

I like to remember the two brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright. They were not birds. They were human, and they dreamed of having wings. When they arrived at their destination, they were already in the air, for they had built their dream with some practical wings.

The Wright brothers’ glider