I’m turning 50 this year and have decided to celebrate by walking 50 miles in one day with a friend of mine who’s also just turned 50. After much debating about location, we’ve settled on the streets/parks of NYC for a variety of reasons (easy access to facilities/resources of all kinds, no need to schedule pick-ups or drop-offs, friends can easily meet up with us for legs of the journey, we both moved here 25 years ago, we love it, etc). The one drawback is 50 miles of primarily pavement, but I figure it’s going to be hard regardless of the terrain so when weighing the pros and cons, this makes the most sense.  

Now I need to focus on training and am having a hard time figuring out the best approach. From a cardiovascular perspective, I’m not concerned based on my overall fitness level but I know from a 3-day walking trip I did in England last fall that I’ve got to toughen up my feet. I did about 17 miles a day for 3 consecutive days (over fairly rough terrain, but still) and pretty much wanted to cut my feet off for the last few miles every day. Obviously it’s about increasing my distance, so do I just follow an ultra-marathon training program but walk it instead? I realize this will be a huge time commitment of training (and I’m up for it--please let it stop snowing so much!), but looking at ultra-marathon training programs for running, it doesn’t seem like apples to apples with walking….?

Here’s the other idea I had. I’ve got a pair of Vibram 5-fingered running shoes (or whatever they’re called) from when I was going to be all minimalist after reading Born to Run.  Of course like an idiot, I didn’t ramp up appropriately and injured my Achilles and ultimately decided they weren’t for me (though I do now wear somewhat minimalist regular running shoes for running and I love them). But maybe if I wear them appropriately/gradually, they’ll be effective in toughening up my feet? Or is that a mistake? And while we’re on shoes, should I just wear my running shoes to do this? Or get athletic shoes made for walking? They’ve always seemed a little lame to me….?


50 miles in 1 day?! That’s amazing!! What a way to spend a monumental year.  There is lots to consider when attempting something like this so here is my advice on how to make your journey as enjoyable as possible:

Step number 1 is vary your training. The goal here is to get to your epic day without being injured, and that is bound to happen if you do not deviate away from the pavement. Yes you need to get used to pavement walking but do so in moderation. I would suggest as much as possible to get out and walk on softer trails or go for hikes. This will limit the impact on your joints as well as act as cross training and help you build muscle, both of which are key to staying injury free. And what would you rather breathe in? City air? Or fresh forest air? I’m assuming it would be the latter.

You also need to cross train. Why? Because when we do a lot of one thing repeatedly, muscles become imbalanced which leads to an entirely new set of problems. Combining pavement walking with trail walking can help to minimize that from happening. 

But that isn’t the only thing you need to do to cross train. When we walk, our hip flexors and our back extensors become really tight so doing something to counteract that is extremely important. Getting into a yoga class once or twice a week, or simply doing it in your own home will help keep your body and hips healthy and pain free. Focus on keeping your hips loose and your core strong.

You are also going to want to incorporate some strength training into your week, focusing both on strengthening your legs and your upper body. If all you do is walk, your upper body will be ignored and become weak. Perhaps spend 10 or so minutes at the end of a workout strengthening your upper body. Downloading the Nike Training Club app to your smart phone is a good tool to use for this and it can be used anywhere. Some of my favourite tools to use for outdoor workouts are park benches and playgrounds. 

I would also suggest you add poles into your walking program, especially when hiking outdoors. Adding your upper body is not only going to help improve your cardiovascular fitness but it will strengthen your upper body, activate your core and keep you in the correct posture, which will then help keep injuries at bay.  And if your body is feeling fatigued then get into a pool and water walk. Water walking is a great way to strengthen your muscles and cardiovascular system while placing zero impact onto your joints. A spin class can be fun to throw into the routine once and a while too. Both of these options are great workouts when the weather is not on your side.  

As for your footwear choice, you need to find what works for you and to do this you may need to try out more than one type of shoe. I would recommend that you opt for a minimal shoe, with a bit of medial support. When we walk, our gait is usually quite different from when we run and we tend to heel strike more.  Because of this you may require more support and you want to stay away from a shoe made for strictly running. That being said, walking shoes tend to be really heavy (and not the prettiest) so try out a shoe that will give you the best of both worlds and combine minimal cushion with maximum support. This is one of my favs. 

You should focus your training on weekly mileage, rather than daily mileage.  Instead of trying to walk really far 2 or 3 days a week, walk a medium distance 5 or 6 days a week. For example, an ultra-marathon program may have you doing one day in the week where your distance is astronomically higher than the other days in your program. Instead, divide the weekly mileage over more days, which will help lessen the stress on your body. You may need one day in your program where you come close to 50 miles but make sure you do that training day at least 4 weeks before the big day! You want to make sure that if you get an acute injury from the big mileage day you are going to have time to rehabilitate it.

Good luck! And happy 50th!

Attached - Reese Witherspoon heading to a yoga class today in Brentwood.