Streaking as a Training Tool

My toes and fingers felt like they were being sandwiched between ice blocks. The wind was blasting from the south at over 70 miles per hour, lowering the wind-chill factor to well below zero degrees Fahrenheit. It was the kind of wind that sucks the oxygen out of your lungs faster than you can gulp it down. I fumbled in my pack for some sort of face covering and found my only option–a disposable, blue face mask. What could be more 2020 than using a face mask to avoid frostbite, I thought to myself.

I was just about 1,000 vertical feet short of the 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak with my friend Brandon Stapanowich. We were both getting cold and the conditions were far more severe than we had expected up here. It was decision-making time. I looped the mask around my ears and we started running uphill toward the summit through knee-deep drifts of snow.

A little over three years ago, I made a pact with myself to make the roundtrip trek to the top of Pikes Peak and back at least once a month for a calendar year. One year turned into two, and two has now turned into three. It has been a rewarding project and has given me some of my best running memories from the last few years. The goal of at least one summit per month has created a consistent backbone for my training. It has been extremely beneficial to know that I need to be healthy enough to get to the summit and back each month, and also be fit enough to make the roughly 8,000-feet-of-climb trek from the mountain’s neighboring town, Manitou Springs. The mountain has given me a sort of baseline that I need to maintain each month in order to continue to complete these treks.

Creating running streaks like my monthly Pikes Peak summit is nothing new for runners. Given the fact that consistency is a key to long-distance running improvement, it is no surprise that many runners create their own streaks at one time or another–and some for years on end–in their running careers. Earlier this year, Bryon Powell wrote about his experiences with a three-plus-year running streak. He explained that committing to running daily has helped him stay accountable during work trips, helped him build his overall fitness, and increased his confidence and psychological fortitude.

Back in 2015, Geoff Roes wrote an interesting case study of his own experience with a running streak. I was surprised to read that Geoff had hardly ever run for more than 15 consecutive days at the time he wrote the article. His approach to running seemed to be quite contrary to Bryon’s, with days off depending on weather conditions or general fatigue. When he decided to start his own streak as a personal experiment, he found the first two weeks to be beneficial, but then he ended up sick around day 20. He ended his streak before reaching day 30. Obviously, Geoff’s experience is unique to himself and would have been influenced by his previous running experiences, perhaps including his battle with overtraining syndrome, but it still provides some valuable data about a runner trying a daily running streak for the first time.

These two diverse experiences, as well as my own Pikes Peak summits, leave me wondering what we can take away from streaking. At the very core of any streak is increased consistency, which is undoubtedly a good thing. More consistency in training can increase total training volume, as Bryon explained. However, Geoff’s experience with getting sick and the subsequent decrease in training quality must also be acknowledged. As I have mentioned before in this column, I am a firm believer that every run should have a purpose in the larger training plan. Day-to-day consistency is less important than weekly, or even monthly consistency. By pushing through illness, as Geoff did, his weekly consistency suffered in order to maintain his daily streak. The psychological benefits of a running streak are also significant, as Bryon wrote about. I also consider my monthly summits to be a psychological benefit to my training over the last few years. They have kept me accountable during months that I have felt less motivated, which is a great benefit of any kind of streak.

As Brandon and I trudged up the final stretch of Pikes Peak, my face mask making each breath above treeline even more strained, I couldn’t help but think that what I was doing was unnecessary. Why did I care about making it to the top of this mound of rock each month? Was it really worth the risk of losing feeling in my pinky toes? I like those toes! But when we dropped down the east side of the mountain, after crossing over the summit, the wind subsided and a fresh layer of snow made the Barr Trail feel like a trampoline. It was a moment of pure euphoria and accomplishment.

All this said, I know that there will eventually be a month when it just doesn’t make sense for me to attempt a summit. When that time arrives, I will do my best to keep the big picture in mind and consider the purpose of each run. I don’t believe keeping a streak alive for the sole purpose of the streak is worthwhile, but if implemented with a critical mind, streaks can be a useful tool to add to your training toolbox.

[Author’s Note: I used the name “Pikes Peak” in this article, but the mountain was originally named “Tava” by the Tabegauche Band of the Ute People.]

Call for Comments

  • Have you ever done a running streak? How long did it last?
  • For those who successfully use running streaks, how do they help with your training?
  • And, if running streaks don’t work for you, can you share some thoughts on why not?

Brandon Stapanowich on Pikes Peak in cold and windy November conditions. Photo: Alex Nichols

Alex Nichols

coaches at Colorado College as well as at Trails and Tarmac. He has a Master of Arts in Sport Coaching and a USATF Level 2 Endurance coaching certification. On the trails, Alex has finished second at the Western States 100 Mile and won the Pikes Peak Marathon, Mont Blanc 80km, and Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile. He's supported by SCOTT Running.

There are 5 comments

  1. caper

    Never did agree with streaks as I watch people do silly things to continue the streak. Eg. running around an airport terminal, or back and forth in parking lots to say the streak continues. I don’t personally consider those runs, but to each their own. That said this guy in Ontario is one of the kings of run streaks. https://www.sportiva.com/derrick-spafford At current count its 11,300 days.

  2. OLGA KING

    I vowed for 5 Pike’s peaks for this year and 20 of Inclines. Well, with the mid-summer Incline being closed, I ended up with every Wednesday since September and haven’t stopped even as I passed 20. With that, you give me something to ponder…See you on the way to the top of our beloved 14-er, Alex!

  3. Richard Westbrook

    FEBRUARY 21, 2021 (SUNDAY)

    STREAKING…FULLY CLOTHED

    I saw my first “streaker” at the Florida Relays in the early or mid-70’s. I had a track team competing in the high school, middle school, and elementary school events. As I sat in the bleachers waiting for an open distance race to start, a blonde woman came running down the front straitaway wearing nothing but runnng shoes. The crowd starting cheering upon seeing her running toward the first curve. Meet officials were caught off guard and were hesitant getting into action to stop her. She took advantage of the situation and picked up speed once in the curve. She left the track on the backside running through an open gate and onto a road that led to dormitories. We never knew if she was caught or ran to safety, but we were hoping for safety.
    But, that is not the gist of this article about streaking. This is about running streaks…and, I’m pretty sure the runners involved in this streaking are clothed. Here, a running streak is consecutive days running at least 1-mile per day…not quite as glamorous, but steady and solid.
    Believe it or not, there are various organizations whose sole focus is run streaking. The United States Running Streak Association (USRSA) established a national streak group for runners in 2000 and maintains a registry of active and retired streaks. According to them, a run streak is defined as running “at least one mile (1.61 kilometers) within each calendar day.”
    Maintaining a regular running schedule can seem like a daunting task. Most average runners hit the roads between three and five days per week. If you’re not familiar with the popular “run streak” trend, running every day may sound like something reserved for elite athletes and dedicated professionals. But thousands of amateur runners have joined the movement, logging miles every day to keep their streak alive.
    From losing weight to setting a new PR, there are a variety of different reasons that drive runners to start a run streak. Making a commitment to run every day requires dedication and drive, not to mention time management skills. For some runners, logging miles every day is a way to replace the excitement of races that were cancelled due to the pandemic.
    Committing to a run streak can help you stay motivated and force you to get off the couch. No matter what your motivation is, running a streak is a fun and rewarding way to challenge yourself. Checking the days off on the calendar can provide you with that exciting feeling of achieving something awesome.
    My running streak started on December 29, 1973 on a bet with a friend and rival cross-country and track & field coach with the new year, 1974, fast approaching. We both ran and traveled to some races togther. On one trip, we were discussing various aspects of distance running, and the conversation turned to running streaks. Now, this running streak thing was his idea, and that was for both of us to start a running streak on January 1, 1974 to see who could run the longest streak. I actually started a few days earlier to warm up for the streaking.
    Well, my friend and rival, Don and family, drove to Minnesota to his in-laws’ home for the Christmas holidays that lasted through New Year’s day. Of course, there was a lot of snow that piled up into large drifts because it was Minnesota after all. That forced Don into the basement to run a ridiculous amount of laps around the furnace to get a mile completed. Those short laps with constant turning resulted in an inflammed hip that prevented him from running at all for the rest of January.
    While Don was trashing himself in a basement, I was at home in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida with no snow to force basement running, and then, spent the holidays in Trion, Georgia…again, with no snow. So, my streak was anchored in December…a few days before the New Year. Don had nothing else to do with streak running. Me? I’m still streaking (clothed).
    Everything is better in moderation, and this saying rings true for running as well. Running too much can have adverse effects on the body. Too much stress on your muscles and joints can cause fatigue and injury, and the mental energy required to run every day can be overwhelming. So, how does a run streak affect your body? The answer isn’t as simple as you may think.
    Recovery is a crucial part of any training regimen. In order to get stronger and faster, your body needs rest after the stress of a hard workout. If you’re running every day, it might seem like there’s no room in your schedule for rest. But it is possible to participate in a run streak while allowing your body to recover. “Active rest is a real thing. You can go for a short run at an even easier pace than most runs, which allows you to have the benefits of endorphins and keep the rhythm of your previous runs going,” explains Nick Stump, owner and run coach at Fleet Feet Delray Beach.
    According to a 2018 article published in Frontiers in Physiology by Dr. Oliver Dupuy, active recovery is shown to decrease the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Going for a one to two mile run at an easy pace the day after a tough workout can help get blood flowing to your muscles, reducing soreness and inflammation. As long as you break up your hard sessions with some easy runs, you can still recover adequately while run streaking. Foam rolling, stretching and massage will also help to ensure a thorough recovery.
    I’ve had a few problems while pursuing my streak. The most daunting one was being hospitalized for a day-and-a-half a few years ago. I had to scout out the hallways and stairways in the hospital so I could have an escape route to the outside. Once there, I could run (actually jog very slowly) in the parking lot and knock out a mile and keep the streak alive.
    I found an exit door, but it had an alarm that would sound when opened after a certain time…and, that time frame included my escape time. So, I dressed in my clothes with the hosptial gown underneath and calmly walked out through the lobby and returned when the run was over. No problem! Well, one little problem was jogging with that gown bunched up under my clothes, but I survived. The next day I was dismissed, so that problem was conquered.
    Since then, there have been very few problems since I usually run first thing in the morning before any interference comes up. Minor injuries and such just reduced my runs to one mile to keep the streak alive. Weather presented its own kind of problems, but I just had to run into it and get it done. That has included blistering heat, energy draining humidity (those sound like Vol State), hurricane winds, lightning, flood waters, and other stuff.
    I’ve had the aforementioned DOMS condition several times after marathons and ultras. That convinced me to run less in the next couple of days. But, the key there was that I did run at least one mile. Actually, I found that running 4 to 6 miles helped more with recovery than slogging through just 1 or 2 miles.
    Lately, I’ve read a few articles concerning streaking and declaring that it isn’t a good thing for smart runners to do, that a well-placed off day should be interspersed. Streak runners tend to run despite other priorities. They tend to run when not feeling well which may enhance an oncoming illness. They tend to run in the lead-up before a race when an off day or two before the race could result in better racing. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
    Well, I also remember reading in high school that running a lot of distance would shorten one’s life span. In college, I read that distance running would enhance one’s life span. So, whaddya do? The present evidence seems to agree with the latter, and I agree with the present evidence.
    So, I’ll just keep on going every day. I’ll probably read later that streaking is a pretty good thing to do mentally, physically, emotionally, imaginatively, and spiritually.
    But, I know that already.

    ********************************************************
    “Running is that big question mark that’s there each and every day. It asks, ‘Are you going to be a wimp or are you going to be strong today?’”

    Peter Maher: Olympic marathoner
    *********************************************************

    (Richard Westbrook)
    (westbrookrunning.com)
    (Italicized section by Caroline Bell, writing for the Fleet Feet Journal)

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