Words: Clint Cherepa
You lay in bed staring at the ceiling once again. ‘Should I run today?’ Excuses not to run go head to head with the reasons you need to get out there. ‘I will double my miles tomorrow,’ you tell yourself. What if there was no option?
Most training plans allow for days off during the week. This is not the case with a run streak training plan.
In the world of running, streaking is quite common. There is even the United States Running Streak Association (runeveryday.com). Their active streak list boasts over 269 runners, with some that have streaked over 40 years. They range in age from teenagers to eighty-years old. The official definition of a running streak, as adopted by the USRSA Inc., is "to run at least one continuous mile within each calendar day under one's own body power."
The legendary Ron Hill has run at least one mile for the last 48 years.
As one of the greatest run streakers, Hill has inspired many to start a streak of their own. This was the case with Wil Valovin. Wil, a runner from West Yorkshire, has been running the last two and a half years without a day missed.
Valovin says: “Exercise is nature’s Prozac. Running releases endorphins, reduces stress, reduces anxiety, makes you feel happy. This transfers through to your family and everybody benefits. Why not run every day?”
If you want a fresh approach to your running and are up for a challenge, consider the pros and cons of running streaks.
What could possibly prompt a runner to commit to running every day, through rain, snow, sleet or even the flu or other illness?
Alastair Russell, from Edinburgh, started his run streak on a run with a pal on January 1, 2009. One of the interesting benefits that he has found to run streaking is, “once I've made the decision to run, there is no need to go through the daily debate. I don't have to consider how I feel, what the weather's like and a million other things I would use as an excuse to sit on the sofa eating popcorn.”
Having the goal to run every day helps a runner to realize that there are no excuses, but it can also help physically. Valovin noted that he saw improved endurance even though his overall mileage had not increased that much.
Dr Steve Gangemi, a.k.a Sock Doc, is an experienced runner and triathlete with over 20 Ironman races to his name. Dr Gangemi says: “The positives would be, if training is primarily aerobic during the longer runs (several miles), one would build a superior aerobic base and increase their mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cells, and improve fat-burning capacity. Also, humans should be moving every day and a running streak is a great way to get out and be active.”
The President of the USRSA, Mark Washburne, has been running every day since December 31, 1989. During his twenty-three years of running he feels his streak running has kept him competitive for racing.
“I love to race and last year I ran 56 races,” he says. “I also seem to be improving with age. I had never won my age group until I was fifty-one”
Dr Mark Cucuzzella, a family physician and an elite runner, who, in his early 40s, can still reel off sub 2:40s at the Boston Marathon,has an interesting take on one positive of streak running. “They motivate the individual to get out the door and keep moving. Disuse is often a worse syndrome than overuse. One just needs to be highly aware of the signs of overuse,” he explains.
Those in the midst of a run streak have a hard time coming up with negatives. Still, they find there are day to day challenges.
Valovin has been challenged by colds, illness, and the odd hangover during his streak. He even ran four miles the day after his vasectomy.
“Psychologically I find at times the one mile run can be the most challenging. Long days at work and having small children at home can sometimes push the daily run on until late at night. Tired, uninspired and stressed, it can take every ounce of will power to get out the door,” he says.
Besides the psychological and mental hurdles there are also physical negatives.
Dr Gangemi explains: “You can over train aerobically, especially as duration is increased. In other words, you may not have a problem if you are running ten, twenty, or even thirty minutes every day, but once you get closer to the hour mark and above that, you are increasing your risk of injury, illness and hormonal problems.”
Dr. Cucuzzella adds: “Running through injury and illness is not a wise thing. The body needs rest and recovery, and running should not supersede other life and family commitments.
“Multiple types of activity, especially as one gets older are also beneficial. Running is specific to running, but as we age we need to think about strength and doing activities where we move in other directions. Make physical activity part of your day, but you do not need to run every day. Mix it up, play, move in all directions, use all the muscles and systems, and recover.”
A Safe and Successful Streak
It’s interesting to note, although the run streak can prove tough and formidable, many streakers agree with Valovin: “I don’t really find any downsides. I’m fortunate that I rarely get injuries, but I think this more due to the fact that I listen to my body and ease off before it gets too far.”
Before starting a streak counting the costs will prove valuable. For one, jumping into a streak with no running history could be quick way to get injured. Streaking is not for everybody.
On the USRSA website there is an article published by the association’s founder John Strumsky on the dangers of running streaks. The article highlights that, “mainly through insufficient training and inadequate conditioning that most runners are injured.” The article candidly points out, “Those in the general running community who protest against the streak running philosophy make a valid argument, and they base it solely on overuse concerns. The body does need rest to recuperate and avoid injuries, just as the soul needs time to regenerate its spirit. However, with enough background and experience, streak runners can build in ongoing rest breaks into their running schedule without giving up their streaks. They can do this by running a slower pace or shorter distance at least once or twice each week.”
Alastair has never been injured during his streak, but he has been a little stiff and sore. In his opinion, a runner will soon stop their run streak if they are not cut out for it. He also says, “I would recommend that you've been training consistently for a few years before you give it a go.”
One good way to find out if your cut out for a run streak is setting small streak goals. For example, start with a week or two, and see how you feel.
Dr Gangemi defines a successful streak as one that improves health and fitness. He feels that if the miles are kept high day after day, eventually the body will not adapt properly and break down. He says, “if you want to keep the streak going, then use those one mile days as recovery days and even have weeks where you only do one mile runs with some strength added. You have to mix up the intensity and the duration and pay attention to how you feel.”
As individuals we all react differently to different running programs. Some thrive with long slow mileage; others seem to be built for short speedy sessions. The trick is finding what works for you mentally and physically, and never forgetting to love the run. The act of running itself is the goal and reward.
So, is a running streak for you? There is only one way to find out.