Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How to do a running streak: Simplest advice

Through the vagaries of social media in general and Twitter in particular, I stumbled across a group of cyber-friends a week or two ago who were all planning to start a running streak on August 1st. “Welcome to the ranks,” I told them, and enjoyed reading their posts as they built up to the big Running Streak Day One.

My own running streak, following the guidelines stipulated by the U.S. Running Streak Association (USRSA), began on August 15th of 2007. So later this month, I’ll cross the four-year threshold, and since I’m at day 1452 right now, by the end of September I’ll reach Day 1500, another appealing milestone.

Whether this puts me in any position to give advice to the cadre who started their streak yesterday is up for debate. According to the categorization system of the U.S. Running Streak Association, I’m still a neophyte – and will be until I reach the five-year mark twelve months from now. After 1452 days, I can’t exactly say I feel like a neophyte, but of course, to the longest-term streakers on the registry, who have over forty years of daily running under their belts (or under their insoles), calling me a neophyte may even be putting it kindly.

Still, most people who know me and know of my streak do not know other streak runners who are up in the decades-long rather than years-long echelons, so it is to me that they turn with questions. Or one question, really: How do you do it? Maybe it makes sense for me to give advice and maybe not, but here are a few of my standard answers.

• Although most streak runners cover more than a mile a day – many are long-distance or even marathon runners, and my standard is 2 miles per weekday run and 4-6 miles each weekend day – a mere mile is all it takes to qualify for a streak according to the USRSA. And running one mile doesn’t take long. Even a slow runner like me can cover a mile in ten minutes. So even though I’ve never been a smoker, I sometimes liken it to a cigarette break – or, in more contemporary terms, the time some people take out of other activities to check their email and update their Facebook page. Ten minutes. Go out, come back, you’re done. Not that difficult to fit in at all.

• No matter how busy your day is, everyone has a first-thing-in-the-morning. No one stays up all through the night, every night. So no matter how busy the day ahead may be, you can always set your alarm ten or twenty or forty-five minutes earlier to fit in a run. I usually, though not always, run first thing in the morning – whether “first thing” means 7:30 on a Saturday, 6:00 on a weekday during the school year, or 4:45 on the occasional travel day when I’m heading off to the airport for a morning flight. Sometimes I run at the end of the day, but only when I’m unable to force myself out of bed early enough to go in the morning.

• As Yogi Berra purportedly said, it’s not over ‘til it’s over. The day, that is. I try to avoid delaying my run into the late evening, but when it happens, it happens. In my memoir about streak running, I described the latest run I did that year or in fact any time since: it was at 9:45 at night. I wasn’t happy about it, but I still fit it in. My streak-running mentor, who logged a 32-year streak before a heart attack sidelined him for six weeks (after which he began another streak), once began his daily run at 11:50 p.m. It was just a mile that day, and he fit it in before midnight.

• Shed the habit that non-daily runners have of deciding whether or not it’s a good day for a run. Once you’ve resolved that you’re going to do a streak, that question becomes irrelevant, and I found it quite liberating to stop thinking that way. You’ll actually save time as well as mental effort in your day once you no longer have to think about whether you’re going to fit in a run. You are. Case closed. No more time wasted vacillating over that question.

• Another motto I tell myself is this one: You can always run slower. (No one has ever accused me of having a talent for catchy mottos.) The USRSA stipulates how long a distance you have to run to qualify as a streaker, but not how fast you have to run it. As long as there is some fraction of a millisecond between every footstrike when both feet are off the ground, you’re running. Having a tough day of it, or don’t even feel like running at all? Run slowly. You’ll still finish that mile in less than fifteen minutes.

• Any kind of weather is bearable for a mile. Again, I don’t mean to imply that most streakers run only a mile a day. Most run longer, although one exception is Boston Globe sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy, whom I actually profiled in the first chapter of my book. He runs one mile and claims he has never once gone a single step farther. In any case, though most of us do more than a mile a day, no matter how cold or hot or icy or humid or rainy or snowy it is, there’s no kind of weather that’s too miserable for you to be out in it for ten minutes. Wear ten layers, or wear almost nothing at all. Do whatever the weather calls for. You’ll be back indoors before you know it.

• In my experience, it’s critical that you have a running route that is reliably safe. By safe, I mean both from traffic and from other dangers. My belief is that you can’t maintain a streak if running in the dark – whether that’s pre-dawn or post-dusk – is not an option. I’m lucky to live at the end of a half-mile-long cul-de-sac on which the only traffic is drivers going to and from the handful of houses on the road. On the days that it is most inconvenient to run, whether due to darkness or weather, I can simply run down our road and back and be done. Not everyone has this luxury, but remember, covering a mile or more doesn’t mean you have to run in a straight line. You can do laps around a high school track – or even a supermarket parking lot -- if you need to.

That’s probably enough advice from someone who has already admitted she may not be in any position to give advice. I don’t even think about the running streak anymore, except as an objective number that I post on Twitter and in my running log daily. But I don’t think about “Oh yeah, I need to do that daily run once again. Or not.”

Running is like brushing my teeth at this point: a new day has dawned, so it must be time to go for a run. That attitude has brought me to the brink of the four-year mark. I’m still a neophyte, but I hope eventually to be well into a decades-long streak.

Maybe if that happens, I’ll have still more insights. But I don’t think so. I think it’s really pretty simple. If you want to do a streak, go out today and run. And do it again tomorrow.

For a look at my streak-running memoir, just click on the image of the book at the top of this page. You can also find the e-book through Amazon.com.)

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