Lou Reed’s song “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” from his 1972 Transformer album is one of my all-time favourites.
While the song is about individuals surviving on the fringes of society, for me, it’s also about knowing who we are and the choices we make, not just to get by, but to challenge ourselves to do something different, something exciting and participate in something bigger than us.
Next thing I know, I’m an ambassador for the WA event.
Yikes. It’s time to get serious and work out how to get fit enough to walk 20 km without injuring myself or causing irreparable harm to my knees (which have long been my Achilles heel – pardon the pun).
Secondly, I need a team. Who would be interested in joining me on this quest?
And thirdly – the fundraising. Each team member is expected to raise $500. Who can help me with this? Doorknocking isn’t my thing and I hate bothering people…
First things first.
1. Staying Safe
This was not a gentle stroll along the beach. No, my friends, this included some rock scrambling (think four-limbed crab-walking on my part) some gnarly limestone paths with lots of slippy shale, some beach walking and the occasional badly placed rock or tree root guaranteed to jump out and trip you up when you dared to take a moment to look out over the magnificent coastal environment or watch the humpback whales performing their aquatic floor show.
We were encouraged advised that training was essential.
I took them at their word, signed up for two sessions of gym work each week, and upped my daily walks to 1-1.5 hours a day. A bit of kayaking, some yoga, cycling and swimming pool plunging turned out to be quite time-consuming, (and knackering) but I was on a mission.
Having a goal made me do the work.
I had a job to do, and I wanted to do it well, not just try to survive.
And that is the only reason I was at the gym. Because I really don’t like gym work. As in, I really don’t like gym work.
The payoff? Miracle of miracles I started to feel fitter, more energetic and was running around like a 2-year-old.
O.K. I exaggerate. But I was definitely stronger, and faster.
Setting up the team early meant we could check in with each other to see how individual training schedules were going. Hearing what they were up to spurred me to do more.
Building up the distance walked over time was motivating, culminating in a 16.5 km walk in a local part of the National Forest with two of my teammates a couple of weeks before the event. Now we were confident we could make the distance.
Making progress in whatever your goal is, is a powerful motivator. Here taking the time to pause and acknowledge your progress is what counts. Look how far you’ve come or improved. Woo hoo!
Amabile and Kramer describe this in their book The Progress Principle : “The single most powerful positive event that influences how we feel, react and make sense of our environment is seeing the progress we make in meaningful work.”
Next up. The checklist.
Not just the map but advice on the most appropriate clothing, and shoes – gosh the shoes were SO important and other necessary equipment like water containers and snacks.
Checklists are a godsend for staying safe.
OK. So, I didn’t really check the checklist until about two days before. My bad!
Yes, checklists work really well, when actually used. As Atul Gawande in his book The Checklist Manifesto reminds us. You may have mentally gone through the checklist, but did you actually flick the switch to turn off the light?
Checklists save lives. Just ask my husband who is a pilot. He wouldn’t dream of going out flying without triple-checking his checklist before take-off. Every. Time.
Note to self: Next time, allow a little more time for last-minute purchases, like extra sunscreen and anti-inflammatory tablets.
The message about the shoes was the most important safety feature. My old comfy walking shoes had lost their tread. It was time for a new pair and to break them in in time, I wore them every day for the next six weeks during exercise and elsewhere.
Having the right equipment, that is up-to-date and road-worthy isn’t just keeping yourself safe, it’s about keeping others safe too.
If you’re operating machinery, driving a car or heading off into the wilderness for a walk, ensuring all your gear is functioning and intact matters.
Sure, it costs a bit, but what price: your health, your life, or your reputation?
As our friend G discovered on a ski holiday. He was kitted out, ready to hit the slopes and waiting to catch a bus to take him to the chairlift.
After sitting on the nice warm bus for 10 minutes, he hopped out at his destination, but as he walked away his ski boots started falling apart, trailing pieces of degraded plastic, he was left standing in just his socks.
His ancient boots having finally given up the ghost after being exposed to rapid changes in temperature. Oops.
2. Operating as a Team
Coastrek stipulates walking in teams of four.
This meant that you had the extra safety feature of others who knew you, and we could keep an eye out for each other. None of us got lost or left behind.
It meant we always had people to talk to, even during those sections where we had to travel nose-to-tail keeping up with the pace set by those out in front.
Some teams went all out with crazy coloured gaiters, bright tulle skirts and memorable team names. This made it easier to pick out your friends and to share your admiration of some of the more exotic outfits.
Teamwork keeps the momentum happening. If you’ve ever started a project and a little way in, you’re thinking,
“Goodness me this is far more work than I anticipated. Maybe I should take a break. Maybe I should give up?”
When you’re part of a team, you don’t.
You keep going, buoyed by your friends who whisper encouragement. “Don’t worry, it’s only another 15 km to go!” or noticing you’re sweating a bit, “ You’re doing so well – would you like some trail mix?”
When your toes are screaming “Enough, already!” this is where you need to hear “Only 1 more km to the finish line!” even if you know that’s not true.
Spending time together as a team in the preparation leading up to the event and doing the walk forged strong bonds of friendship. We all got on so well. We had fun and there was a lot of shared smiles and laughs.
And of course, we weren’t alone on the trek. Around 1100 women and a few men took part in either the 20 km or 35 km course.
Seeing the long snake of people walking in front of us, and behind us created a vivid image of a group coming together with a single purpose, to raise money for vital research. Feeling part of that group was empowering and inspired us all to keep on, keeping on.
3. Being Part of Something Bigger Than Yourself
Doing something for someone else, because you can see the need, you know you can contribute, and you want to is, immensely rewarding.
But the walk wasn’t just about us.
There were the event organisers, the volunteers, the bus drivers, the locals cheering us on.
There were the food vendors, the paramedics, a physiotherapist doing massages. Everyone was playing their part to ensure the success of the event.
The generosity of spirit was palpable.
We might have been sore at the end, but we were happy, proud of our achievement and so delighted to know that our collective efforts had raised over $560,000 for such a worthy cause.
We came together for a single purpose. There was a strong “can-do” vibe that was infectious. We were connected for that time in a shared mission while enjoying time out in our magnificent coastal environment, and we all knew, we were in the right place, doing something good to make the world a better place.
I am so extremely grateful to all the sponsors, friends, family, organisers and fellow Coastrekkers.
Thank you for being part of this amazing and memorable event. I’m still on a “high” a week later.
What I learned from our Walk on the Wild Side is that humans can flourish when we tick all the boxes for our wellbeing.
- Physical activity. Yes! We were all moving.
- It felt good to be inspired to take on something different and a stretch to achieve.
- Time in nature. Spending time in the great outdoors has been shown to be a great way to reduce stress and elevate mood.
- We all slept like babies after our big walk in the fresh air 😊
- Social connection. We enjoyed a strong sense of belonging and sense of purpose.
- Emotionally happy. It was a great day, and everyone appeared to be in a good mood.
Will I do it again?
Absolutely. The question is not if, but when!
Have you taken a walk on the wild side recently? If so, what did you learn from your experience?
Dr Jenny Brockis is a board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker, trainer, coach and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is available for purchase.
If psychological safety, burnout prevention and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.