A Few Thoughts on Streaks

ronhill_2

(Statement on Ron Hill’s twitter feed, announcing the end of his streak on January 29th, 2017)


 

“I thought I might I die but just made it to 1 mile in 16 minutes and 34 seconds. There was no other option but to stop. I owed that to my wife, family and friends plus myself.”
– Ron Hill, 78 (in a statement announcing the end of his famous running streak)

“[The streak] doesn’t drive me that much… I was more driven by competition when I was younger. I do it because I enjoy it. I try not to think about it.”
– Jon Sutherland, 66 (longest current recognized running streak at 47 years, 9 months)

“It is an internal thing to run every day, no matter who is ahead of or behind me.”
– Stephen De Boer, 62 (third longest current recognized running streak at 45 years, 8 months)


Three weeks ago, marathon great Ron Hill announced in a statement that he had ended his streak of running at least a mile every day for the last 52+ years. Most of us don’t need to announce a reason when we take a day off, but as the world’s pre-eminent streaker, Hill is different, of course, and so he had to tell us that he felt if he ran he might die, and so he was choosing to not go down that road any further.

I find running streaks very strange. They always begin as concrete and objective records of putting on your running shoes and heading out the door. There’s no ambiguity, and the data is all there in the running log or on the Garmin — time, distance, route travelled…

On the other hand, if you streak long enough, you begin to confront a variety of oddly legalistic questions — What is a run? How far must it be, and how fast? What is a day, and if I travel to another time zone, is a day defined as a 24-four hour period or a local calendar day? If I start a run at 11:55 p.m., does it count for the day it starts, the day it ends, both, or neither?

Does any of this really matter?

It seems to me that running every day is as much a ritual as an athletic feat. My own extremely modest experience with a year-long streak taught me that the difficulty isn’t in the difficulty, it’s in overcoming the suspicion that the ritual is stupid and pointless, after all. Or, to put it another way, the greatest challenge is to find meaning in the streak, per se, rather than in the pure enjoyment of running.

I definitely learned a lot by running every day for a year. But I wonder if one keeps learning, or whether eventually ritual becomes mere habit, and inspiration becomes stubbornness. I’ll never know because I ended my puny streak long before that point. “A streak aged one has hardly begun,” as the poet might say.

I neither admire streakers nor admonish them. It seems to me that someone’s decision to run every day is a private thing, and no business of mine. Like praying every day, a streak that thinks too much of itself is probably not a good thing. But if someone freely chooses to ignore the many, many sensible reasons to rest that broken bone, hole up inside when the hurricane blows, or stay off the roads after the ice storm, I’ll neither criticize nor canonize them for it.

Actually, when I first read that Ron Hill had ended his streak, I thought to myself, “That’s 52 years and 40 days of making a conscious and thoughtful decision about whether it was worth it. That’s not failure, that’s just life.”

 

About Jon Waldron

Running and Racing have been important parts of my life for as long as I can remember. I ran Track and Cross Country at Amherst HS, back in the day, and am proud to have been training and competing with the Cambridge Sports Union (CSU) for more than thirty years. If my bones hold out, I hope to continue for another thirty. Sixteen years ago, I began coaching, first as an Asst. Coach at Newton North HS in Newton, MA, and for the past ten years, as Head Track and Cross Country Coach at Concord Academy in Concord, Massachusetts. I've been writing about running for almost as long as I've been running, dating back to high school, when I would write meet summaries for the Amherst Record for about $0.33 per column inch. I've been blogging about running since 2005, and began blogging at "the runner eclectic" in 2014. Until recently I also had a day job, working full-time as a Technical Product Manager for Nuance Communications, based in Burlington, MA. But I am now on what might turn out to be a permanent sabbatical. Thank you for reading my blog, and please consider leaving a comment.
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2 Responses to A Few Thoughts on Streaks

  1. Neil Martin says:

    I fully agree with your conclusions here. Streaks are what they are and like unhappy families, are all unhappy in their own way. I particularly like your legalistic questions about what constitutes a true streak. For me, a streak mostly poses *fewer* not more questions and I don’t have to check in to see if I’m running. It’s just something I do. Now, there are days where it feels gratuitous and it’s just something to be squeezed in but sometimes those runs are the most satisfying.

  2. I have been intrigued by the motivations of the two run streakers I’ve known. One seemed driven in a healthy way and when he had to stop after 11 years due to surgery accepted it with grace. Another ran himself into the ground and over 33 years went from being a top age-class runner to a near invalid. To me, that was unhealthy and for him not satisfying. I think there’s a more balanced way to look at streaking — expanding what counts — so that any kind of aerobic activity checks the box. From week to week we can’t be sure what our bodies will allow. While there will be exceptions (hospitalization or surgical recovery for example,) generally there is something that can be done. In my case, water running and StairMaster are my favorite alternatives to running. And I find by limiting running to five days a week, I enjoy it more and have more umph when I do it. And have the best chance of running competitively into my 80s. So my chosen streak is aerobic activity, something that raises the heart rate level to at least 70% of max heart rate, at least 30 minutes each day. I’ve never gone a straight year, but in five of the past six years, I’ve topped 360 days. It takes as much discipline, maybe even more since you generally have to go someplace to do non-running exercise. I can’t do it in 2017, but maybe a 365-day year would be a viable goal in 2018! In a world where over 50% of people don’t engage in regular physical activity, it makes a statement if we commit to a daily regimen, whatever that may be.

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