Monday May 29, 2017 was a fine day. Memorial Day, to be exact!
I was up early, in order to meet up with the Craig Ranch Running Club and knock out a 7-miler from McKinney to Plano’s veterans memorial. It was also the first day of the Runner’s World Run Streak, where the publication encourages participants to run everyday between Memorial and Independence Days (37 total days).
July 4th came and went with the streak’s final run. I ran again the next day, and the one after that. Next thing you know, I am the proud owner of a year-long running streak (365 total days). This blog entry is a chronicle of my experience.
Why a Run Streak?
That’s the nice flip side of an alternate question, “What’s wrong with you?”
Only a few people ever asked why I was interested in a run streak, and nearly all of them thought it was an insane prospect. And my initial motivations evolved over time.
Since the birth of my first child in 2009, my dedication to running has been severely tested. Like any parent, there are many opportunities to reassess one’s priorities, and often running served second fiddle to other more-significant ones like sleep. And sleep. And sleep. I tried to keep my head above water, but everyone around seemed to be getting faster & stronger, while I grew older & slower.
For me, a run streak was about achieving a significant/memorable accomplishment that might elude others. It was my form of elitism. I’ll never run Boston and likely never run a full marathon again, but executing a year’s worth of non-stop running was a rare feat totally within my facilities.
During my streak, the now-defunct podcast “Human Race” — dedicated to telling stories about the intersection of life and running — began to touch me. One specific episode was dedicated to significant run streaks and what compels their participants. One subjects leveraged their run streak to assert control over a chaotic world — everything around them could be a hot mess, but their ability to thwart the universe by running was the centering rock they needed. My streak became similar: within a mess of family, work, and volunteer obligations, it did help having some consistency.
In terms of physical and mental benefits, I remember thinking a run streak would be a good way to improve my mileage, which had suffered in the immediately preceding months. And I desperately wanted to rekindle a love for running, as my persistent inability to train consistently discouraged me from signing up for distant-future races, which in turn impacted my motivation to focus on said training. Setting a goal an entire year away and remaining focused on it did help motivate me in the all the right ways (initially)!
Planning and Execution
The consensus definition of a run streak is a unbroken string of consecutive days with at least 1 mile of running on each. Runs can occur anywhere (indoors or outdoors, treadmills or trails).
While streaking, I was also maintaining a typical training schedule for fall races, as I was committed to being a pacer for the Plano Balloon Festival Half-Marathon. A normal routine for such a race includes 5 days of dedicated miles topped with a weekend long run, with the remaining 2 days devoted to rest.
In my case, the rest days became “rest days”, where I ran the streak’s minimum requirement of 1 mile. Because I wanted to keep mileage up, my personal minimum streak mileage started at 2 miles, and running a lone mile was considered the exception.
Starting a run streak at the beginning of the Texas summer is prime contender for “Dumbass of the Millennium award”. By this point, the humidity becomes brutal as it routinely tops 80%.
“No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.” — Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
Run streaks eat plans and calendars for lunch. It took a month before I hit a good rhythm on schedule (when to wake up, go to bed, timing breakfast, ensuring I made it to work on time, etc.). Looking ahead more than 1 week at a time was critical.
Within a week,
crazytypical Texas weather schooled me to look ahead more frequently, as it forced me to run at odd hours. And within a week after that, I was already cramming just-in-the-nick-of-time runs at 10pm.
While I believe that “there’s never a better time than the present” applies to everything, it didn’t help that I was adjusting my schedule just as my children were doing the same as their school years ended. My son immediately turned around to attend a week-long Cub Scouting day camp where I served as chaperone each evening, forcing some runs to occur waaaaay too close to midnight.
Eventually I figured out the secret sauce, when to retire at night, when to wake up & run, timing my morning showers just right to get the kids to school, etc.
How Hard Could It Be?
“Life is what happens when you make other plans.” — John Lennon
Running everyday was exciting…at first. Eventually, it morphed into a chore without me even noticing!
My first clue came from analyzing weekly mileage totals. In the first 37 days (the original streak length), I covered 98 miles. But just weeks after that, my running log revealed that total weekly mileage was actually going down from pre-streak heights. In retrospect, three things contributed:
- More often than not, my minimum daily mileage was closer to 1 vs. 2, so I wasn’t getting the mileage boost I’d originally programmed.
- On longer runs between minimum days, I was not pushing myself because I was lacking either rest for my lags or running a sleep deficit.
- Then once my fall races were complete, I was running without any goal outside of maintaining the streak. By that point, my average mileage dropped from ~25/week to just ~10.
In addition to the above-documented entropy, several specific events (either unexpected or predictable yet under-planned) conspired to test my resolve during the streak:
- Food poisoning: in July two months in, I ate something that angered my belly, leading to dehydration and cramping. I was past my original run streak commitment of 37 days and just barely into the longer 365 day commitment. I almost decided to quit and perhaps try streaking at a later date. But instead of giving up, I fought through it as a matter of pride — I wasn’t going to let my doubting mind or churning bowels win this day! Little victories like this are beyond important in a run streak
- Vacation: last August, we embarked on our semi-annual Destin vacation. Taking a multi-state road trip required great forethought, such as when (and where!) to run after hours of driving and managing the logistics of unfamiliar lodgings. I also had to motivate myself to actually run once settled in paradise, as the thought of sitting lazily on the beach instead of running sounded reaaaaally nice!
- Family Emergency: I was working out-of-state in October, attending a company training session. My son was home sick from school, but otherwise things were routine. I skipped running in the morning and instead day-dreamed about the lovely post-class run awaiting me at a nearby Minnesota lake. Then I got word that my wife was also ill, and she so sick herself that it required an ER visit and basically disabled her as a parent, as she couldn’t transport our children back-and-forth between school without the intervention of a family friend. So that post-work run turned into an epic scramble to catch a red-eye back to Texas, help reset the house, and take care of my family. I did run that day, but it was barely before midnight and quite painful after a full day of work and interstate travel.
- Personal Illness: several months later in February, I began feeling worn out. At first I thought it was allergies. It escalated, so I thought it was a cold. When I ended up sleeping all-day and experiencing body aches, I finally got a clue. Don’t tell my wife, but there was one day I slept 22 hours, and for one of the hours I was awake I knocked out a quick mile + shower before collapsing back in bed. In the end, I was sick for nearly a week and missed several days of work, and maintaining my streak assuredly impacted my recovery timeline. However, my streak was very important to me, and abandoning just three months before completion was never an option. I generally think running while ill can be a good thing: even if one has the crud, running generates comfortable heat that helps clear the sinuses, and getting some fresh air & sun exposure is important.
- Job loss: immediately after recovering from my illness, God threw me the ultimate test as I was caught up in the latest down-sizing at work. As the lone bread-winner in our family, suddenly becoming unemployed was without doubt the most-stressful thing I’ve ever experienced. At the time, I was mid-way through therapy to address already-crippling anxiety — and losing my job was the equivalent of throwing gasoline on my brain’s bonfire. I wish I could say that running was the perfect escape during my 2 month layoff, but that wasn’t the case. I found it hard to concentrate on anything during my layoff, as my mood, confidence, and motivation wildly wavered back-and-forth. I also did a lot of stress-eating during that time, which added weight and interfered with maintaining healthy workout habits.
- Lack of sleep: you’d think that after a year of running daily, one would be all-around healthier. But so much activity came at a cost. Time is a finite resource, so something had to give to make room for all the extra miles (and showers). I couldn’t pull back at work, I refused to spend less time with family, and my volunteer obligations weren’t able to budge. So that left sleep, which I shaved from a 7 hours daily average down to 6. Lack of sleep in combination with stress-eating (see above) contributed to the weight gain I am still addressing.
Yet despite these challenges, these two mantras sustained me:
“Do your best” — excerpted from the Cub Scouting Oath
“You can’t control what happens to you. But you can control how you respond.” — my old running sensei Patton
Did you think this business analyst would let you get away without seeing numbers?
- Consecutive running days: 365
- Total mileage during that streak: 830.5
- Highest monthly mileage: 110.5 in September 2017
- Lowest full-month’s mileage: 42.7 in April 2018
- States run: 4. Texas, Minnesota, Louisiana, Florida
- Podcast appearances: 1, a cameo in the now-defunct “Human Race” podcast!
- Shoe pairs used: 1. To this day, I remain horrible at rotating my footwear!
- Professional jobs: 2
And during my streak, I participated in the following races:
- Plano Pacers Remembrance Run 5K
- CRRC & McKinney Turkey Trot Prediction Run
- Plano Pacers Dog Days of Summer 3x3K Relay
- Plano Balloon Festival 5K
- Plano Balloon Festival Half-Marathon (as a pacer!)
Beyond races, I had some favorite or unique runs that stand out:
- Craig Ranch Running Club’s annual Christmas Cookie Run. Each year, the runners bundle up, carry empty bags, and run point-to-point burning up the calories necessary to counteract all the cookies we gather from one another’s houses.
- Several runs to local stores. Fetching medicine for the kids or that one thing we missed at the grocery store. Jogging strollers are great for these, as you can pack in a ton of purchases in place of, you know, children!
- My epic Disney World run. Where I ran through Epcot in the middle of the night to get my son that one toy he desired above all else, which was available at no other store. I had to arrive before the park and store closed, and it had to happen that one night because our schedule afforded no opportunity to revisit the park. There’s irony running through “The World of Tomorrow” and getting your daily run completed before tomorrow arrives (mind blown!).
If you are stupidIf you are also interested in knocking out your own run streak, here’s my advice for maintain both motivation and habits:
- Find your tribe. It’s hard to get up and go, if the only person motivating you to do so is yourself. Make sure to connect with your local running group, whether it’s posses as awesome as the Craig Ranch Running Club or Plano Pacers, or something as simple as a friend. You’d be surprised how many like-minded accountability partners you can find on Instagram just by searching the hashtag #runstreak.
- Always knock your run out early. Sure, never sleeping in again sucks. But having your day get away from you & finding yourself forced into 10pm runs sucks even more. I’ll never forget the one day I decided to sleep in, then found myself having to run after 10pm — I decided to stay up until 11:45pm and knocked out 1 mile in the nick of time, then waited at a street corner until midnight before running back. While I got two days worth of runs knocked out in less than 30 minutes, I paid a steep physical price the following day, and I had to work hard to get back into a morning run routine.
- Plan ahead. More often than usual, I had to stay highly-attuned to the weather forecast, as a morning lightning storm might require me to shift my run to the gym or another part of the day. Any deviation from routine/schedule puts your streak at risk, so every night before bed I’d check the weather and adjust my alarm clock as necessary, sometimes getting up even earlier to beat the rain.
- Stock up on your wardrobe. In the beginning, I was always scrambling to wash my gear, because my inventory reflected someone who ran 4 or 5 days a week, not seven. I eventually caught up and now have double of almost every article of clothing!
- Bake in some variety. While I preach keeping the same schedule, where you can keep things fresh is where you run. Keep several running routes up your compression sleeves, as running the same trails over-and-over puts a harsh on the enthusiasm required to keep up your run streak. When pressed, you’ll find tons of different options for running the same distance.
All good things come to an end. In addition, run streaks come to an end. The prime reason why may surprise you.
Why Did I Stop?
Ultimately, I was lonely.
In my world of over-commitment, adding a daily run to the mix required carving out tons of time that didn’t interfere with personal priorities I refused to alter. Not many people are around at 5am each day, even members of my tribe. And because I was always scrambling to keep life on-track, I never had time to arrange social runs in advance.
Besides actual solitude, I was also isolated locally. I was the only one I personally knew doing this streak thing. Everyone else was doing their own things (training for local events, traveling to destination races, etc.), so I had little shared experience. I was becoming a prisoner in my own mind.
I told myself every day that once my streak hit a full year, I’ll immediately quit, so I could just as quickly turn around to focus on training. I have an unspecified fall race in mind. In other words, it’s time to get back to normal.
So as intended, my streak is over after exactly 365 days. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in ages, as there was nothing more to gain by continuing (besides weight).
Interestingly, I spent the following day in an unexplained funk. In retrospect, I think I was mourning the loss of my streak. But that quickly faded after another day passed and I attended my weekly Wednesday group run with CRRC (“frunners” make everything better). I’m looking forward to seeing people more-often and once again sharing mutual experiences.
And I’m still interested in tackling a future run streak, but more along the lines of 37 days!