Streaking

In all my years as an avid runner, I have never gone through a prolonged phase of running every single day. I will regularly run 10 or more days in a row, but only a couple times have I ever run more than 15 consecutive days. At least one day off for every seven to 10 days of running has always felt ‘right’ to me. It occurred to me recently, though, that I have never really tried to run everyday for any extended period of time. In an attempt to better understand how my body works, what the draw to running everyday is, and how I might be able to more finely tune my relationship with running, I decided to finish out 2014 and start 2015 with the plan of running every single day, no matter what.

‘Streak running’ is of course a quite common thing. If you are around the sport long enough you will no doubt hear of someone or several people who have run every day for a month, year, decade, or beyond. I believe there is even a somewhat unofficial designation that running one full mile is the minimum to count as a run (?). Streakers please weigh in and correct me here if I’m wrong. I would hate to think I went running when I actually didn’t.

Ever since learning of the idea of streak running I’ve thought it to be a fairly bizarre thing, but then again I also think that regularly knowing exactly how far, how long, or how fast you have run is also a bizarre thing. I understand I am very much at the other end of the spectrum (as compared to the typical streak runner) when it comes to the structure and statistics of running. I sometimes keep track of my mileage, mostly as a tool to be sure I am not running too much, but this only means so much since I never actually measure my runs. When I say I ran a 50-mile week it might be that I actually ran 42 (or 58). Running every single day as a strict rule has always felt too inflexible. I know I can’t be the only avid runner who has the occasional day in which I forget running even exists until it’s 8:00 p.m. and I’m falling asleep as I read my kid bedtime stories. This isn’t to say that I never force myself to get out the door for a run, but the thought of doing it every single day, no matter my situation, has always felt too contrived, forceful, and in all honesty, kind of dreadful.

Recently, though, it occurred to me just how narrow minded this opinion was. Specifically in light of the fact that I had never run more than 15 or 20 consecutive days. I began to think more about this idea of running every single day for a prolonged stretch. There is admittedly something very simple and liberating about choosing to run each day. No more wondering if today is the day I should take a day off, or if instead I should wait until tomorrow when it’s supposed to be raining and windy? No more deliberating as to whether to get up out of bed at 9 p.m. after the kid falls asleep to go run a few miles? The answer is simply always, “yes.” If no is never an option then choosing yes becomes a very easy choice. If I can convince myself that I will run every day then I might never again need to play any of these ‘should I go for a run’ games in my mind.

Beyond the psychological aspects of streak running, I began to also wonder about the potential for physiological benefit. I’ve always been a bit of a feast or famine runner. I run long and hard when my body feels good, the weather is good, and/or I have enough free time to do so. When these things don’t fall into place, then I get some rest and get ready for the next time that they do. I have always much preferred to get my miles in large chunks with ample rest days mixed in as opposed to running fairly consistent mileage day in and day out. Play hard and rest hard has always been my approach, but I began to wonder if more day-to-day consistency might actually be better for my body? In trying to continue my steady, albeit very slow, recovery from a now 30-to-45-month-old chronic fatigue or overtraining-type syndrome, I realized that one thing I had not tried was to run more regularly, but with a shorter average distance per run. If it’s possible that more consistency might be a good thing, shouldn’t it stand to reason that the ultimate consistency of running every single day might likely be an even-better thing?

By late December all of these thoughts became so appealing to me that I decided not only are these streak runners potentially on to something, but that I was going to find out by becoming one of them. I gave myself the loose rule of not running more than 40 miles a week for the first few weeks (my average volume for most of the past eight months), and on December 28th I went for a run and resolved to run every day from that day forward.

For the first several days this all felt like the perfect approach. I just ran. Period. And it felt so simple and so liberating. If I was unusually tired I would just do two or three miles. If I still felt worn out I could do that a few days in a row, or more if needed. I cruised through the first 10 days without even noticing the fact that this was almost certainly the first time in three-plus years that I had run 10 consecutive days.

By day 15 I was a bit worn out, but after a total of only eight miles in the next three days my body bounced back and felt decent again. Everything was playing out just as planned. I was stoked to get out each day, my body was holding up, and I was approaching the longest running streak of my life.

Around day 20, though, I began to feel notably tired again, but why shouldn’t I? I had now run more consecutive days than ever before, certainly my body was going to take longer than 20 days to adapt to this new approach. I did some short days and charged on. Then I got sick. A minor head cold. No big deal. I took solace in knowing that I could, if needed, just go out and shuffle a mile around my neighborhood to keep the steak alive. No matter how silly this prospect sounded, I was resolved to make this happen.

I made it to 25 days. I was still feeling like shit, but confident that after a few more mellow days and my continued recovery from the illness that I would be feeling great again in no time. Suddenly, though, out of nowhere, I didn’t go running one day. Honestly I don’t even know what day it was. By that time I had become bored with keeping track. Probably day 28 or 29. Who knows, maybe I even made it to 30. What I do remember, though, is how nice it felt to not run that day. Perhaps I was still a little sick, and my legs were getting heavier and heavier with each day (even when I only ran a mile or two), and I had several other things going on that seemed a lot more appealing than going out for a run. I didn’t specifically choose not to run that day, I simply didn’t go running because there was never a brief moment in which it felt like it made any sense to do so. In attempting to find simplicity and liberation through the practice of just saying yes, no matter what, it became the day when I didn’t even consider saying yes that was the most simple and liberating.

I know this narrative probably makes me sound like I have weak resolve. I couldn’t even make it one month in my plan to run every day. Not even sure if this is long enough to count as an ‘official streak.’ I guess since I stopped keeping track and don’t even know how many days it was then it is probably even less likely to be considered streak worthy. This ‘failure,’ combined with my DNF at my first-ever beer mile this past fall makes me wonder if I can even call myself a runner? What I do know, though, is that I did go running the day after that day off. This run I remember very well because it was the best I had felt in at least two weeks. I’m not sure if it was the rest day, or if it was the fact that I was simply going for a run because I wanted to go for a run, and not to keep a streak alive, but whatever the reason, I felt a nice spring in my step that day. In the couple weeks since then I have run nearly every day, but certainly not every last one.

I know that this is one very small sample, and that what works for me certainly doesn’t work for everyone, but this was enough of an experiment to feel confident in my innate sense that my body does a lot better with the feast or famine approach than it does with the consistent, every-single-day approach. And so for now I go back to my long-proven habit of running when it feels right to run and resting when it feels right to rest. This is where I find the most simplicity and the most liberation. I now know this more than ever.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Are you ‘streaking’ your running right now? How long have you gone without taking a rest day? What does the act of streaking your running mean to you?
  • Have you ‘streaked’ your running in the past? If so, can you describe your streak? Why don’t you streak anymore?
  • How have you found a balance between running too much and too little? If so, where is that balance for you?

There are 17 comments

  1. jvoclv

    Great article Geoff, I can relate on many fronts. A few years ago, I was inspired by something Joe Grant wrote on the topic (or maybe it was something we discussed in person, I forget now), so figured it might do me good to run every day, no matter what, even if it is just a flat mile or two from the house or from work at lunch. This lasted all of a few days, I just could not be bothered to suit up for some ploddy jog around the neighborhood and since I can't make it to Boulder for a summit every day, I just gave up. Like many, I have to fit my running in when I can around other life priorities (wife, kids, job, house, etc…) and this is a constant ebb/flow. Some weeks I am fortunate enough to run 6 or 7 days, the next might be only 4, or if I am injured, maybe none. Streaking is definitely not for me, but I do respect those who do, it seems to work for some on various levels.

    Jeff (Valliere)

  2. seanv2

    Great article, Geoff. Seems like run streaks are really a growing trend. Anyone interested in the world of run streaks might want to check out the United States Run Streak Association's website at http://www.runeveryday.com/ They maintain a list of people who have run everyday for at least a year. The current leader is John Sutherland who has run everyday for the last 45 years.

    Another great place to follow this growing trend in running is USRSA's facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/95577453452/

    I myself am an on again off again"streaker". I don't run through injury, but I do find that the discipline of getting out the door everyday, even if its only for a short run, really helps with my training.

  3. @SpaffordHealth

    Interesting perspective for sure!

    As a streaker and running coach, I know that running streaks definitely aren’t for everyone. If they are done properly though they can be done safely, enjoyed and not be a negative thing. A short and easy jog day (or two or several) can give you the same type of recovery as a rest day. One of the problems I see with many runners, and not just streakers, is that they aren’t willing to let the pace/effort be as easy on some days as it should or could be. Whether this is due to ‘Strava Syndrome’ and not wanting people to see how slow you’re running I’m not sure.

    I started my streak over 25 years ago as a way to build consistency and hopefully improve my times for the shorter road races I was competing in at the time. Since then, for me it’s been more about getting out on the trails each day and enjoying nature. It’s entirely possible for me that if I’d been forced to run in uninspiring surroundings (city and treadmill), my running streak might not still be going. Again though, I almost always return from a run feeling in a better place, am a better person and glad that I went though, so feel for me it’s a very good thing.

    Sure, there are injuries (broken bones), illnesses (pneumonia) and time constraints (airport runs) that are sometimes a hassle at the time, but it is fun to look back in your training log years later and remember what you’ve been able to run through and take great mental strength from it. I would say that ultra runners need to be particularly careful though with streaks as I’ve always found the day after finishing a 100 miler to be some of the most painful runs that I've done.

    Again, streaks might not be for everyone and while there are some things I agree with Geoff about in his article, I’m glad to see that he has abandoned his streak, as given his well documented past battles with chronic fatigue, I’m not convinced that he necessarily makes a good streak candidate.

    1. E_C_C

      Yes, I'm being silly. I really appreciate your thoughts on this subject, Geoff. I've tended to train by feel, with an emphasis on big days interspersed with rest. And I've always wondered if some more day-to-day consistence would be good for me or not. After a few days to recover from the Sourdough Snowshoe (missed ya this year!), the unseasonably warm weather here on the front range has me training with way more volume and consistency than I normally would dream of this time of year. And so far it feels great. It'll be interesting to see where this leads.

  4. Hillrunner50

    I'll agree with SpaffordHealth in that someone who is not healthy shouldn't consider streaking. However quite honestly in my limited experience every single person I've known who is or has been a streaker has suffered from chronic nagging injuries and is honestly not healthy. I want to be 60 years old and running and feeling good, not shuffling along with achy knees and a stooped gait, saying 'yeah I've run for X number of years in a row.' What good is it if you're supposedly fit but not healthy? Why not have both? Yeah there are folks like Spafford who can do it healthfully because they are mindful of pace and volume and so on, but I'd say that's the exception rather than the norm.

  5. jasmindunnell

    I have never given streak running any thought. I always value my days off. But I'm like you and don't care much for keeping track. I run when I feel like it because I enjoy it.

  6. DogrunnerDavid

    I missed 5 days in 2014 (travel and taper days) and currently on a streak of 108 days. There's something about getting out and engaging your passion every single day; getting your body in that rhythm and flow that is hard to describe but inherently enjoyable and rejuvenating. But now instead of an intentional streak, I'm just going to go out for a run every day that I want to and just see how long that goes (btw, running with dogs is really helpful and keeps away the monotony). But having said all that, streaking really doesn't seem to be for everybody.

  7. Bryon of iRunFar

    I've only engaged in one multi-month running streak in my many years of running. That was, I think, two or three years ago and it had it's up and downs. Somewhere around five months in, I decided continually feeling flat wasn't worth the inertia to keep training through all of my travel.

    That said, I've often committed myself to running continuously for three, four, or five weeks at the start of a training cycle. No, it's not "streaking" in the sense that some folks do it, but running everyday–good or bad–before there's been momentum or fitness has really worked for me in the past. Eventually, I figure out that I've got enough momentum that I can take off days when I need them and still have the inertia to get back to it a day or two later. The routine is reestablished.

  8. jdcheesman

    Please, if you're ever in the UK don't go round telling people how you like streaking! (See wikipedia article on Streaking for the "why"….)

  9. JeremyYCD

    Different strokes I suppose. I started my own experiment this past September, and have never felt more invigorated. Like you noted, I did start to feel flat around 2 weeks in, but that eventually went away. Rather than feeling burdened "oh man, I have to run today", I have surprisingly found the consistency and fitness have only driven my desire to continue.

    I have considered taking a day off soon, only as to avoid the suspicion of loved ones that this moves from "healthy way to build consistency" to "unhealthy obsession". To me its not about a brag about a number of days in a row, it is about building consistency and fitness. If I am sick, injured, I will take a day off. If I feel I need or want a day, I will take one. But so far after 5 months, all I can say is I regret not trying it sooner.

    It also seems to me that the response of an individual runner is probably more mental than physical. For example, when I did my usual training of say 30 hours over 2 weeks, and then taking a day off, I don't suspect I felt any more recovered than if I did 30 hours over 2 weeks, and then did an easy 30 minute jog the next day (as opposed to a day off completely). For any serious ultra runner, *assuming they are uninjured* I have trouble believing that a day off contributes any more recovery than an easy 30 min jog. In fact, I have been finding those easy short days seems to aid recovery rather than hinder it!

  10. wMichaelOwen

    I once ran for 456 straight days without taking a day off – this was the "prime" for me and some of the most memorable experiences in my running career! During the streak I was finishing my last year of college cross country and just dabbling into ultras. I set PR's in 8k, 5k, 50miles, 50k, :) I even rattled off an insane 32 weeks of 100+ miles in one year during the streak. I had to end the streak due to an achilles injury.

    Since then, days off has been much more frequent. Lately it hasn't even been more than a couple weeks at a time. The great thing is, I am still growing and improving as a runner with more time off! My life is different now, running isn't THE ONLY thing on my mind and I have family and obligations. I think streak running is great, and even people with family and jobs can do it, but it comes down to your goals and motivation. Like Geoff said, it just simply feels better to not run some days. Just like during streaking, it always felt better to run on THAT day.

  11. dugatoandrea

    i don't take count of how many days i consequently run or not, i run whenever i feel it's good and most important thing, whenever i can.
    With family, a few thing can be planned for your own activity like running!
    Anyway, in the winter i like to take sunday off, in the summer, everyday it's good for me! http://andreadugato.blogspot.it/

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