Dion Despaigne, The RUNegades first Ultra Walker!
Dion Despaigne’s primary mode of transportation has always been his own feet. He walks to work, to the store, across Norristown to his sister’s house. Then Hopeworx, a local nonprofit he's affiliated with, took on our Fall Challenge. Dion added even more mileage and became the RUNegades first ultra-walker.
We recently caught up with Dion over Zoom to discuss his journey. He shared what goes through his mind as he walks, how the seasonal challenges have changed his perspective, and how he’s persevered through injury.
How did you first hear about and get involved with the RUNegades?
Ameika (from Hopeworx) got us all into the challenge last year (in the fall of 2020). I do a lot of walking normally, so I decided to shoot for the stars and do the 500 miles. I didn’t quite get there. I got to 300-something miles.
I remember, we all went for a walk last year in the Norristown Farm Park. And I thought it was going to be this casual stroll but you were out there leading all of us, really into it.
I was in my zone that day. Found one of my favorite songs and started walking to it.
What happens in your mind while you’re walking? You said you got into your zone that day. What does that mean?
Normally it’s just a “get from point A to point B” scenario. But when I have my music on, it’s like, “let me see how many times I can hear this song on repeat before I get bored of it.” If I listen to it six times and it’s roughly 4 minutes long, I know I’ve been walking for 24 minutes now.
So, it’s like math games in your head?
Pretty much. Honestly, just walking is kind of boring and tiresome, if all you’re doing it just to get from point A to point B. So, I started using music to manage my time. If I have to be somewhere in 30 minutes, I can listen to this song five times and I know I’ll get there.
What’s your record? How many times have you listened to the same song on a walk?
When High Hopes came out. I listened to it 8 times on a walk. Oh wait, Eagle Heart by Stradivarius. When I first downloaded that song, I listened to it for like an hour straight.
Have you incorporated any running into it or are you mainly focused on walking?
I personally am not a big fan of running because I feel slower. I feel like I’m getting nowhere fast.
Well, your walking pace is damn-near running.
What is the mind-set between “I’m going to do this today rather than, I’m going to sit on the couch to watch TV?”
Honestly, I get really bored by TV. But when I have to go somewhere I think, I want to do this. I don’t drive, so I have to get places by foot, or rely on other people, which I don’t really like doing that often.
How did the challenge change your relationship to walking?
I’m used to walking, so I knew I could knock out a few miles every day. But the challenge made me think, I have to get FIVE HUNDRED! So that boosted how much more walking I did. Even sometimes I was like, instead of getting a ride to work, I’ll just walk. It’s definitely changed my perspective. I feel like I get more things accomplished that way.
'Cause 500 miles is no joke. You know, we only put that level in the fall challenge because of bikers?
Oh, I didn’t know that. I didn’t realize that was biker-mileage.
That’s pretty cool.
We created these seasonal challenges in the hope that it would motivate people. What’s the biggest motivation you take with you into the challenges?
I got into an accident last year, since that first fall challenge, and it has hindered me a bit. So, one of the reasons I wanted to do this fall challenge was to prove that I could still do it.
Did you prove it?
Even now I’m stuck in a boot in my leg. I finished the fall challenge—125 miles this time--and I’m definitely signing up for the winter challenge.
You’re doing challenge miles in a boot?
Yes. The doctor says that the injury won’t get worse. Clocking my mileage will just slow the healing process, but I’ve got to walk! I mean, I can’t levitate. So, my thought was, it’s not going to hurt me, it’s just going to slow me down.
What’s the environment like at Hopeworx around the challenges?
A number of us do group walks and runs and we go to the events that come up during the challenges. We also do our own ranking thing. I’m third. One person has fifty more miles than me and the other has hundreds more, but he’s using a bike.
Is there anything you’d like to add about your walking journey?
I don’t plan on stopping. I hope that one day it stops being a walking journey and starts being a running journey. I want to do that one.