White Coat, Black Art

1,000 km and up: 'Something I could control,' says Toronto woman of daily walks during pandemic

Catherine Harris of Toronto has been walking daily since November to cope with the pandemic and is now on a mission to inspire others to take a step towards better physical and mental health.

'It's a sense of accomplishment that makes the rest of the day approachable,' says Catherine Harris

Catherine Harris has been walking daily since November to cope with the pandemic. She's now on a mission to inspire others to take a step towards better physical and mental health. (Submitted by Catherine Harris)

This is a story from White Coat, Black Art's series called Prescription for Resilience: Coping with COVID on the many challenges people are facing during the pandemic, and what they're doing to find resilience.

Sometimes, it's a few thousand steps around the corner for milk and eggs, but on her more ambitious outings, Catherine Harris might clock 20 kilometres on her daily walk.

The Toronto woman has been walking daily since November, and those steps have added up to more than 1,000 kilometres in just a few months — but they've also paid off in building not just stronger legs and stomach muscles, she's also built resilience. 

"It's a sense of accomplishment that makes the rest of the day approachable," said Harris, who like many people, is working from home during the pandemic.

"The conditions we're living in right now are beyond our control. And so acceptance has become a really powerful thing for me. And I found that deciding to walk ... achieving a goal was something I could control."

The mother of two says her school-age kids have also seen the difference the daily outings have made. 

Mental health benefits

"One day early on, my 15-year-old turned to me and said, 'You know, mom, I think this walking stuff is good for your mental health.' And I discovered that I was feeling better in ways I didn't expect. So I kept going." 

To track her progress, Harris. 49, started mapping her walks using a free app and posted them to her Instagram account devoted to walking.

'I realized the power of the alone time ... getting out in our city that I love so much,' said Harris. (Submitted by Catherine Harris)

By December, she had "reached a milestone of having walked a cumulative 500 kilometres."

She then set a goal to hit the 1,000 kilometre mark by March 13, which she counted as the one-year anniversary of the pandemic. 

She reached that goal in early February —  something that astounded her. 

"I also hesitate even to focus too much on those milestones, because I really am motivated so much by how many people have discovered that it's easy to do, and that they can do it too, even if they're not ambitious athletes, because I certainly wasn't." 

While sometimes her family tags along, she often uses the time to catch up with friends by phone, listen to podcasts, and just take in the city she loves. 

Connecting with others

"I realized the power of the alone time, whether it was for quiet reflection, getting away from the screen, getting into nature, getting out in our city that I love so much."

Inspiring others is now part of the goal for Harris, an admitted evangelist for the benefits of daily walking. She's been connecting with others through her social media posts and has set her sites on creating a virtual community of like-minded walkers. 

"I think there is something bigger here.... who knows, we might walk this over the circumference of the Earth over the course of our lifetime! It's really exciting to see that we can achieve these things, and it's been fun to create a community to do it together."


Written and produced by Dawna Dingwall.

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