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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 16 October, 2019
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Why I went an entire month using only my body as transport

Can imagine going 31 days without using cars, trains or any type of vehicle? Well, we certainly can.

A pedometer showing distance walked.
A pedometer showing distance walked.
Image: Paul Fennessy

Updated at 10.11am

“ARE YOU SURE you want to do this for a whole month?” Maybe a week would be more manageable?” A member of TheScore.ie team, who undoubtedly had my best interests at heart, recently politely inquired.

And as much as I’d like to say that the decision to go the entire month without using any form of transport save for my arms, legs and any other part of the human body that facilitates movement was one I didn’t take lightly… Well, it was in fact one I took extremely lightly.

The only bit of real preparation I attempted was to watch the movie The Walker, in the hope of gaining some sort of inspiration, or at least insight, into the discipline. But to my dismay, I quickly discovered that this film had little to do with walking per se, and in fact concerned a middle-aged gay man who escorts other mens’ wives to social events so that they don’t have to.

The concept of temporarily giving up transport was one of those ideas that people think of when they’re bored, or have had one or two pints too many, both of which may well have been the case when the thought originally entered into my head. It’s also probably the laziest way possible to attempt to improve your fitness, which is surely one of the reasons why — in hindsight — the challenge appealed so much to me.

Shortly after coming up with this masterplan, while still not really thinking about the consequences, I blurted out my ill-advised idea out to the sports editor. There was no going back from there.

Some were unsure whether it was possible in this day and age to go a whole 31 days without resorting to any kind of assistance from a bus, car or DART. I wasn’t even allowed go on one of those tricycle taxis routinely spotted late at night going up and down Grafton Street to the delight of several tired, drunken revellers.

So suddenly panicking amid the realisation of the enormity of challenge facing this self-professed ‘lazy sod,’ I added the stipulation that transport could be used in cases of emergency. It was of course open to interpretation whether an ‘emergency’ constituted unexpectedly needing to drive a screaming, violence-threatening pregnant lady on the verge of giving birth to hospital, or simply needing to go to McDonalds as a result of suddenly becoming hunger-stricken late at night — you know that feeling when the thought of cooking something yourself seems less desirable than just giving up and starving to death? No?

Rob Heffernan Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

(Irish athlete Rob Heffernan is one of the few people who could give us a run — or walk — for our money)

I also wish there was some grand reason for doing the challenge. I’m not happy about the problems which over-dependency on transport tends to cause — it’s undoubtedly partially to blame for Ireland’s increasing obesity levels, damage to the environment and worst of all, people being late for work. Yet to be honest, as much as I empathise with these issues and hope for them to be discussed in greater detail in future, the main reason for undertaking this challenge was not exactly inspired by an altruistic conceit — put simply, I needed an idea for an article and it seemed like a fun challenge to attempt. I also had no idea another article about constant walking was on the verge of inevitably overshadowing anything I was going to write.

Yet just over 31 days on and I’m still alive to tell my story. In truth, it wasn’t easy but it wasn’t that difficult either. In a near-miraculous stroke of good fortune, well after this article was planned, I happened to move to a new place. The journey time to and from work was cut in half, so instead of just over two hours, it was just under one, meaning I would have spent the majority of time on foot even if this article had never seen the light of publication.

There were, of course, occasionally deeply inconvenient moments – that time I had to walk over two hours just to sort out a UPC bill, that time I basically spent my entire day walking, that afternoon in the lashing rain where I traipsed from interview to ceaseless interview, that time where I basically sprinted the entire way into town to be there before the shops closed rather than taking a bus like a sane person, that time I couldn’t go with my girlfriend to visit her mum in Wexford for her birthday “because of an article I was writing”…

Yet 55.829km, 2002.4kcalories and 74,439 steps later* and I feel fitter, happier and marginally more productive, even if I am now constantly pining for the reassuring sound of a late-night taxi driver gratefully welcoming me into his vehicle, after a deceptively small kebab has temporarily rendered my legs irrelevant.

So for those wondering if they can do the same, keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t go out drinking. The lure of the taxi man with his seductive flashy lights and persuasive prices will defeat you quicker than you can say ‘see yiz in Coppers’.
  • Make sure you have an iPod or risk being driven insane by that evil voice inside your head constantly pointing out that the new Porsche your friend is offering a one-time-only chance to drive ‘won’t do you any harm’ if you just relent and give it a quick spin.
  • Make sure you haven’t booked any holidays in locations that aren’t within walkable distance during the month in question. This instruction is less obvious than it seems.
  • If you cheat, always admit to it. Otherwise, someone in the comments section will somehow find out and call your bluff.

Oh, and one other minor thing — reader, I cheated. But 30 out of 31 days still isn’t bad, right? To sum up my dilemma, there was a very important function that I had long ago committed to attending. I wasn’t allowed leave work until 7.30pm. Had I walked the required distance, the event would almost definitely have been finished by my arrival time. In short, I caved with the month so close to being over.

Yet this moment also served to remind me why I wasn’t quite ready to leave the life of transport behind indefinitely to become the country’s most dedicated walker since Rob Heffernan. More or less as soon as I guiltily stepped into the taxi, some unexpected news was announced.

“Have you heard the big story?” the taxi man in question inquired. “Madonna’s been stabbed with a knife in New York while out with her actress friend.”

Shocked, I tried to comprehend how I’d spent the entire day within very close proximity of a newsroom and had yet to hear even a rumour about this happening.

“She was with that actress. What’s her name again?” he asked “Reese something? She was in the Johnny Cash film.”

“Witherspoon?” my friend responded. “NO!” he thundered back. “WITH A KNIFE!!!” he exclaimed, before repeatedly cackling upon our realisation that we had been well and truly had.

Yes, so-bad-it’s-good taxi driver banter was bound to keep me off the streets for the foreseeable future.

*I carried a pedometer with me at all times

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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