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?