Streaking as a Training Tool

Coach Alex Nichols on using a running streak as a training tool.

By on December 1, 2020 | Comments

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

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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.