Ken Hoeksema doesn’t like to think about the miles he’s put on his walking shoes. Nor can he remember the last day he didn’t log any.
A Placitas resident, Hoeksema takes a step-by-step approach to his preferred fitness regimen of the last 32 years: walking. Suffice it to say there are lots of steps involved.
Hoeksema recently celebrated his 72nd birthday by walking 100,000 steps in a 24-hour period. Taking his stride length into account, the 6-foot-1 Hoeksema covered slightly more than 50 miles while accomplishing his lengthy trek.
Accompanied most of the way by his 66-year-old neighbor, Horace Winchester, Hoeksema drew some odd looks as he plodded repeatedly around a pre-selected circuit in Placitas.
“We dubbed ourselves ‘The Village Idiots,'” Hoeksema said with a chuckle. “People kept seeing us walking by from morning to night and I’m sure they were thinking, ‘These guys are a little bit off.'”
Imagine what members of the Placitas peanut gallery might have concluded had they witnessed the first 13,000 steps of Hoeksema’s birthday journey. Those were logged under cover of darkness between midnight and 1 a.m.
“I’d been building up to try 100,000 steps for a while,” Hoeksema said, “and I wanted to get a head start. I did 13,000 by myself then went home and slept for a while. I got back up at about 4:45 (a.m), met up with Horace and got started again.”
Racking up thousands of daily steps is relatively common these days thanks to fitness technology. Numerous portable devices and cell phone applications are available to track the steps and/or distances users cover during the course of a workout or just a work day. Some also plot categories such as heart rates and calories burned.
Hoeksema, who normally averages around 15,000 steps (7.5 miles) a day, takes a relatively low-tech approach.
“Good shoes, my Apple phone and a water bottle,” he said. “That’s it.”
Hoeksema doesn’t track heart rate or calories, and he doesn’t add up weekly, monthly or annual distances. He’s keenly aware of daily step totals, however.
“These (step-trackers) can be insidious things,” Hoeksema said. “You see an odd number for the day and think, ‘I have to keep going.’ You get caught up in it.”
Hoeksema started feeding his walking addiction long before portable step-trackers became popular. He was a high school track and cross-country runner in his native Grand Rapids, Michigan, and continued to compete in 5K and 10K events until age 40.
“I started getting various injuries and it just wasn’t worth it anymore,” he said. “My wife and I were raising kids and I was glad to give up running. I started walking instead and enjoyed that a lot more.”
Hoeksema has a long streak of walking days intact, one that dates back through years he spent in Japan and South Korea while working for Amway International. After retiring, he spent several years living in Las Cruces before moving to Placitas with his wife, Winnie, five years ago.
“I honestly can’t remember the last day I missed,” he said. “In Michigan, you battle snow and ice and I slipped and ended up on my butt quite a few times. In Seoul I had to walk indoors because the pollution’s so bad, but New Mexico’s a great place to walk year-round. Even if I have a bad cold or something, I feel like sitting around just makes it worse.”
Even though he doesn’t miss running, Hoeksma still craves a competitive challenge. He’s completed walking marathons and more recently began tackling daily step milestones. Last year he completed 75,000 steps on his 71st birthday and immediately started thinking ahead.
Hoeksema began training, building up his step totals and consulting with a personal trainer prior to attempting 100,000 steps in a day. Winchester, who began walking with Hoeksema in 2019, opted to try for 75,000 steps on their challenge day.
After walking for 3 straight hours around sunrise, the duo took 10-minute breaks each hour for most of the day. They made a longer stop for dinner and finally accomplished their respective goals around 8:30 p.m.
“I was very tired,” Hoeksema said. “My feet, legs and back were sore and I had no desire to go any further, but it wasn’t really as bad as I expected. One big benefit was I could have ice cream, chocolate milk, anything I wanted on that day.”
Hoeksema and Winchester had also planned to take the following day off. They didn’t.
“We weren’t really too sore,” Hoeksema said, “so we decided to go out for a much shorter walk.”
Completing 100,000 steps in a day has become something of a trendy fitness challenge. Posts of successes and failures are common online and on social media sites with some walkers reporting daily calorie burns between 5,000 and 7,500 during their attempts. Activity tracker Fitbit awards badges to users who complete 100,000 steps in a day.
Hoeksema and Winchester have also become more nutrition-conscious over the past year and have lost weight, which Hoeksma says makes walking that much easier. Having achieved 75,000 steps this year, Winchester plans to go for 100,000 at some point and Hoeksema expects to join him.
“It’s not easy and once a year is definitely enough,” Hoeksema said. “But in these days of social distancing, I think (100,000 steps) is a challenge a lot of people, even older people, can try. Fifty miles sounds pretty daunting but just think about the steps, not the miles. I’m 72 and I made it, so it can be done.”
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