First-time Streaker

by Laura Owen

My year started with a broken toe, then I had two respiratory illnesses in the spring, and by May and June I had a bad case of runner’s knee. By July, I was going stir crazy. Several of my friends had made significant progress in their running, and here I was unable to keep up and losing motivation. I needed to get back on track, stay healthy, be consistent, and force myself to get those runs in. I turn into a running zombie in the heat and humidity, so it is important for me to run early most days in the summer.

July 2nd was the day I decided to start my first run streak. I hoped to reach 1,000 miles for the year, but on that day I was 160 miles behind schedule. You might be thinking, why not July 1st? I had to get started as soon as the idea popped into my head. Why wait for the perfect time or a certain date; I was ready that day. In the past, I’ve set too many unattainable goals at once. Guess, what happens? I wound up not reaching any of them because they became overwhelming. This time, I decided on a one week running streak and tried not to get hung up on mileage, races, or pace so much that they would overshadow my number one goal.

Getting started was rough. It was hot, humid, and I felt like a slug. I doubted whether I could even get through a week. I took many walk breaks. By the second and third weeks, it got a little easier. I was developing a habit of getting up earlier to beat the sun and getting outside began to feel effortless. Unfortunately, the feeling didn’t last. I signed up for the Mahomet Half Marathon three days before the race, and had only run up to 7.5 miles. I knew it would be hard, but the hardest part was not the race itself (although I really had to drag myself through the second half). I still had to run at least a mile in the days following to keep up the streak. Those were some of the hardest days. A few short painful miles proved to me that I could keep going. Keeping up the streak after Howl was an even bigger challenge. I signed up in the spring and was not trained at all. I decided to do it, allowing myself to walk whenever I felt like it. I also had an ache in my foot that I worried would be a stress fracture (it wasn’t). With the help of a friend who paced me for a few loops (thanks Michele!), I was able to complete 26.32 miles that day (or 8 loops of the course). Despite walking a lot, the next couple of days I could barely move. Normally, I take several days off after a hard race. This time, I didn’t have that option. I learned to appreciate shakeout runs. They seem impossible at first, but after the initial shock and warm up, they feel pretty good!

There were also busy days when I had to leave early and knew I had to run my mile at 9 or 10 pm. There were a couple of days when I was ready to give up, but by this point my family had become a part of it. My 12 year old daughter said one day, “Mom, it’s not a choice anymore. You have to do it!” I could tell they were proud of me, but they know how easily I can give in sometimes when I’m tired and stressed. I probably would have given up on several occasions without that little push out the door. As of October 9th, I have run 414 miles since I started the streak. My heart rate has decreased during hard workouts and my VO2 max has increased. I am stronger in areas where weakness has led to injury in the past. I learned to like speedwork again, because I started a half marathon training plan in August that uses specific paces based on my ability and goals, so I’m not going all out unless Kara Goucher says so.

One of the most enjoyable sessions was one mile each warmup and cool down with 8x800 meters a little faster than goal race pace. Instead of feeling exhausted, I felt energized because the pace wasn’t supposed to use up every ounce of my energy. I tried not to worry too much about not reaching 30 miles a week which was a secondary goal. I came close several times, but had to keep in mind that the streak is still the main goal and it was alright to reach 27 or 28 instead. Anything that followed was the icing on the cake, like reaching 1,000 miles for the year. Now, I’m only 21 miles behind, and I should have over 1,100 miles for the year. I will be celebrating my 100th consecutive day of running on October 10th! Thinking about starting your own run streak? It’s not has hard as it seems.

Here are a few tips:

1. Have a plan in advance and make sure it is one you can keep up with. Try to make only small adjustments when necessary. The more you stray from the plan, the farther you move away from your goal.

2. Get up early. Before July, I was great at making excuses not to get up in the morning to run. When I run first thing in the morning, I don’t have to worry about not having the time, missing dinner with my family, or come up with excuses not to run. I often run in the evening on short days of just a mile or two, because then I can still run longer distances the next morning without being too tired.

3. Set one attainable goal. Other secondary goals will likely follow. If you overwhelm yourself with goals, you may not reach any!

4. Mix it up. Streaking doesn’t mean running the same distance or pace every day. You still need a variety of runs to follow the stress, recovery, and adaptation cycle that makes your training count. Maintain a balance of short, long, fast, and slow runs to avoid feeling tired all the time or becoming injured.

5. Be flexible. There were days I was tired and cut out a few miles. That is alright and can be better than pushing yourself through a terrible (or extremely hot and humid) run. When I adjusted my plan, it was because I needed another easy short day. It only takes one mile per day to keep up the streak, and a mile or two off isn’t going to ruin your training.

6. Share your goal with anyone who will listen! You will find you have more supporters than you think. People I don’t know very well regularly offer encouragement and help hold me accountable. I listed every day of my streak in Strava labeled with the number of days I was at. Knowing that people will see if I miss a day keeps me from being lazy and skipping for no good reason.

7. Have fun and believe you can do it! We are capable of so much more than we think and you never know how you might surprise yourself.

This story originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2019 issue of In Passing.