Back in December, I completed the 8th year of my run streak. At that time, I was asked to write an article for “The Vulcan Runner” (the monthly newsletter distributed by the Birmingham Track Club). It was an interesting request since I have had a somewhat tumultuous relationship with the club over the last several years. I originally decline the request because I do not think others care enough about my run streak to want to read about. I was then asked if I would consider writing an article about what I have learned during the streak. I thought that would be a more interesting topic, so I agreed. As I am closing in on Streak Day #3000 in a couple of weeks, I though I would share this in my blog. The following is what was published in the January issue of the newsletter…
When I finished a run on 23 December in Liverpool, New York, my run streak hit its 8th year. I was asked if I would share what I have learned about running during this time. It is an interesting assignment for me because I do not consider myself an authority on running — I just think of myself as an average runner who is simply more consistent (and slightly more obsessive) than most others. Regardless, I will attempt to share some thoughts, and I hope someone else may find this helpful.
- The first steps are the hardest. I was 41 years old when I started Run University’s Running 101 (Couch to 5K) program in May 2008. I was much heavier and had no idea that it would be so hard. I went home after the very first session (during which we just completed one mile by walking an eighth of a mile and “slogging” an eighth of a mile until we covered the whole mile). My wife, Caroline, asked how it went, and I told her it was too hard and I did not think I could do it. There was no way I would ever run a 5K. She encouraged me to stick with it until at least the target 5K, Race to the Courthouse. Since she was not offering the needed level of sympathy for my situation, I decided I would quit after finishing the 5K. Eventually, the shin splints stopped hurting, and the running got a little easier so I stuck it out. I think we forget that it can be, and often is, hard for many new runners. If you will just stick with it, it will be well worth it.
- Run for you. I believe that you ultimately have to run because you want to do it. Running for a cause or running because someone else wants you to run will only keep you motivated for a little while. If you do not have the desire within you, it will become easy to stop. If you can set personal goals and reasons to keep going, it can become a part of who you are and becomes a lifestyle choice.
- Run for others too. This might sound contradictory based on my previous point, but I can explain. Running is a great way to give something back. There are so many great charitable organizations that benefit from running events. We all know about the charity groups at large races like the New York City Marathon or Boston Marathon. However, there are numerous smaller charities that benefit from local races as well. We have lots of options in Birmingham alone. The Bell Center and Mitchell’s Place have benefited from charity runners at the Mercedes Marathon weekend. Open Hands Overflowing Hearts is the beneficiary of a fun 5K/10K in Helena as well. Even if you do not fundraise, you help these charities be participating in these events. I do not want this point to be only about running for charities, however. I enjoy running with other runners too. I get as much joy and satisfaction from helping another runner complete a race or hit a time goal as I do when I race for myself. We can build a stronger running community by helping one another.
- Cherish the relationships. My best friends these days are the people I run with or have run with in the past. I suspect this one does not need to be mentioned here, but it is one of my favorite things about running. The bonds that are developed through the miles on the road together run deep. You know the relationships are strong when you can have deep philosophical discussions or highly personal conversations with your running group. When you develop close relationships, you truly want the best for your friends. And that is what they become, your best friends. Also, what is said on the road stays on the road.
- Push your boundaries on occasion. Running is unique because it is a sport that can be whatever you want it to be. If you want to become a 5K specialist, you can. If you want to run a 100-mile race, you can (you are borderline insane, but you can choose to do that). If you want to run a marathon or half marathon in all fifty states, there is nothing stopping you except maybe your budget. I do believe that you need to push yourself on a regular basis. Whether that is pushing pace or distance or something else, I do not want to get comfortable with my running. P.T. Barnum once said, “Comfort is the enemy of progress” and I believe that. If you can find your limit today, you may be amazed how much further you have to go to find it again in a year. I have only been running for a little over eleven years and I hope I have not found my potential’s boundary yet. However, I do not think you can physically push your limits every day. If you do, I think you are asking for an injury. The great thing is that there are multiple ways to push yourself, and I believe that should a regular part of your running plan.
- Learn from tough runs. Not every run will be magical. Some days, it is just hard. Maybe you have tired legs or you did not fuel properly. You can expect to have some tough runs. Rather than lament those runs, look for the lessons. You may have started too fast and ran out of fuel. It may have been a hot summer day, and you did not adjust for the heat and humidity. It does not matter the reason the run was difficult, there can be a lesson to learn. Personally, I do not believe in bad runs. I think they all have merit and can teach us something; I just have to identify the lesson.
- Celebrate every accomplishment. No matter what you accomplish, you should celebrate it. Every accomplishment is the result of dedication and effort. Success is rarely an accident, especially in longer distance events. I am amazed at what Micah Morgan has accomplished in the world of 100- mile races and 24-hour races. To be honest, I am in awe. Those results did not just happen. They reflect the hours and miles of training she puts in daily. However, Micah is so humble, that I also appreciate her husband, Cary, touting her results. I love seeing others doing well. It does not have to be on the level of Micah either. I am amazed when I see Beau Talley or Suman Silwal complete yet another 100-miler or hear Robert Kracke or Allen Jones talk about running their first marathon. I hope we all can be as happy seeing someone else accomplish his or her goal as we are when we do the same.
- Never downplay an achievement. One of my pet peeves is hearing someone make excuses for his or her achievement. The most common example of this that I hear is when you ask someone about a race, and they reply with, “I just ran the half” (as if 13.1 miles is nothing to be proud of). That is malarkey! If you look at any race, only a very small percentage of the population will even participate. There may be 55,000 runners in the New York City Marathon but that is a minuscule percentage of the population of New York City. Even with about 60,000 runners in the Peachtree Road Race, that is a very small percentage of Atlanta’s population. In addition, I would expect over half the participants in both races are not even residents of those cities. According to a USA Today article in 2015, “marathoners and half-marathoners still make up less than one percent of the American population”. I do not know the percentage of the population that has run a 5K, but I would expect it to also be a small number. Whatever you achieve, own it, and do not downplay what you have done.
- Never take it for granted. Those of us who can run should never take this running gift for granted. Enjoy every time you have the opportunity to run. I have not missed a day in over eight years, and I am thankful for that. I just read an article about Coach Rich Wright of Baldwin High School in Pittsburgh. On Christmas Eve, he ended his run streak a few months short of 30 years because he needs back surgery. On the other hand, Robert “Raven” Kraft of Miami Beach is about to complete 45 years of his run streak at the end of December. He says he has slowed down over the years, but he still runs the same 8-mile route every day. I hope to go to Miami to run with him one day. There is also Ernie Andrus, a WWII veteran who is running across the United States for the second time — at 90+ years young. It will take him about three years to complete this cross-country run, but he appreciates each day (you can follow his progress on Facebook). An injury or illness can end a streak at the drop of a hat. I try to be thankful for each run.
- Consider every run a great run. I have already mentioned that I do not believe in bad runs. The flip side of that is that I think every run I am able to do is a great run. Every opportunity to run solo or with friends is a gift. I never want to forget that.
There are many, many other things I have learned, mainly by making mistakes — And while I am sure I still have more to learn, I am looking forward to each and every run. If I could close with one thought, it would be this: