It's the New Year, so why not a post about a fitness challenge that ended up being something more?
Every runner who’s worn out at least one pair of shoes recognizes the siren song of more.
As in, “If 5K is good, then 10K is better. And if 10K is good, a half marathon is better.” And so on, until you one day find yourself daydreaming about ultramarathons that span mountain ranges.
In some ways, the descent into obsession is understandable. I don’t need to convince, let alone explain to, anyone reading here. You’re either a runner or you’re not.
If you run for long enough (let’s say you’ve worn out many pairs of shoes), you’re likely to encounter a particular subset of obsessives: the streaker.
For streakers, it’s not the distance so much as the doing that becomes the goal.
- At the entry level, one runs a kilometer a day every day for some period.
- At the advanced levels … well, let’s just say there is no limit.
What constitutes a proper running streak?
Simply put, it’s run every day or go do something else.
- It does not matter if you’re sick, tired, or have a race coming up. We don’t care if you just finished a grueling performance or are flying across the globe today.
- Your injury is irrelevant. The temperature outside is just a detail. Those hurricane-force winds don’t concern you.
You run that day or your streak ends.
Them’s the rules; I don’t make them.
My first experiment with streaking
I’d been running for about 15 years when I began my first proper streak.
I somehow got a phrase stuck in my head “5 for 555” and I couldn’t get it out again. My idea was to run at least 5 kilometers a day for 555 days.*
I was working 80-hour weeks at the time, and committed to running at least one marathon a year. (The latter was in pursuit of my separate quest to run the Zurich marathon 20 years in a row.)
I provide this context so you can decide for yourself how sensible it was for me to take on a daily running streak. I expect many of you will be nodding your heads, saying “Of course, makes perfect sense!”
My streak ended ignominiously, but I came away a winner
Here’s something I wasn’t expecting, but should have known: running every day without fail quickly becomes a habit.
And habits become self-reinforcing, which makes it easier to keep them going. That’s not to say my streak was easy:
- Many dark, cold, and rainy mornings (I was in Switzerland at the time) I would have preferred to sleep in.
- I traveled for business for about one week in four. Wake up even earlier to get my run in before a flight? Check. Stay up late on arrival to knock off a run as needed? Of course!
- I kept racing marathons and half marathons. Take a few days off before a race to rest the legs? Nope. Give yourself even a single day to recover after a hard effort? Not this time.
I made it eight months before missing a day. It was nothing serious that made me cease. I just stopped.
Although my end was unremarkable, what the streak brought me felt more profound.
Here’s some things I learned from my streak
- Every challenge we voluntarily set and then diligently work towards makes us stronger if we maintain a positive mindset.
- We learn about ourselves from our pursuits, win or fail. I learned that I can do hard things and that obstacles are as much in our minds as in the world.
- We learn about our bodies by pushing them, again for better or worse. I learned that regular, short distances helped me improve my VO2 max like nothing I’d done to that point.
- We are sometimes our own worst taskmaster. To run a streak, one must be a brutal taskmaster. This raises the sincere question, “Why?”
“Why, James, would anyone want to voluntarily enter such a bargain with hardship?”
I suspect there are as many answers to that question as there are runners. What I love about runners is that a surprising number of us keep coming up with great answers.
What’s your answer? Have you ever committed to a running streak?
* In the end, I ultimately averaged 12.4 kilometers a day for a total distance of 3,012 kilometers.
You’ll usually find me writing about how to thrive at work and what it means to live a good life. Fitness is a big part of it, but not the only part.