Josh about to pass his grandpa

Josh about to pass his grandpa
Here, at age three, Josh regularly runs a mile or two with me--and I have to work hard to keep up!

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Running Streak for the Ages

Long-distance runners are a dogged breed, probably tracing to our genetic heritage as persistence hunters.  For some, that doggedness is manifested by the gritty way we run races (e.g., pushing through the glycogen-deprivation “wall” of a marathon, or late-hour delirium of an ultra), and for others it’s manifested by the obsessive way we get out for a run every day no matter what.

Among the latter, there’s that small population of runners who call themselves “streakers,” not because they run naked in public (though, who knows, maybe some have done that too), but because they have run every day undaunted by illness, injury, hail, or or anything else, and have counted how many consecutive days they’ve done this so far.  There’s even an organization, the United States Running Streak Association, Inc., which lists the names of runners who have exceptionally long streaks.

The official definition of a running streak, as adopted by the USRSA, is “to run at least one consecutive mile within each calendar day under one’s own power….”  And to be officially listed as a streaker on the USRSA Web site, you have to have kept your streak going for at least a year.  Some people have done it for 10, 20, or even 30 years, which makes my head hurt to even imagine.  Last summer, I read with fascination about a guy who happens to live in the next town from me, Mark Covert, who had just ended his streak at a record 45 years.

What motivates a streaker?  The Web site of USRSA recently published an article by Herb Fred, who had run about 120,000 miles until one day in 1987 he collided with a car that had run a red light, and smashed its windshield with his head.  When he was released from the hospital 11 days later, he decided to resume his running on a treadmill, where neither rain nor hail nor errant automobiles could stop him.  Since then, as of January, 2014, Fred—now 84 years old—had never missed a day. 

I could never do what Fred has done—nor would I even dream of trying.  Fred notes that in his outdoor days, there was more risk of injuries, and that he’d had “just about all of them, from blisters to tendonitis to muscle tears to bloody urine, as well as numerous basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas of the skin.” And, he wrote, “I’ve also suffered from penile frostbite that resulted from a long run against a strong wind in sub-breezing temperature.”

I will consider myself very fortunate if I can still be running (or even alive!) at Herb Fred’s current age (I’m still a youthful 72), but there’s no way I’d give up the pleasures of mountain trails, fresh breezes off the Pacific, or a warm September sun on my bare skin, in order to achieve that.  And as far as streaks go, by the USRSA definition, I could never be listed at all, since I’m sure I have never gone a year without a few days off—whether due to injury, family emergency, travel (although I have done a few runs back and forth through airports, as an alternative to vegetating on a plastic chair), or just plain fatigue. 

I have, however, achieved another sort of streak—instead of running one or more miles every day, competing in one or more long-distance races every year.  In November, 2012, I completed the JFK 50 Mile (America’s largest ultra), bringing my streak of consecutive years of racing to 56.  After a few days off, I began training for #57, but as fate would have it, several circumstances prevented me from entering another race in 2013.  I suppose I could have limped through a 5K, but my streak was never an objective.

And so, after a year of personal travail, perhaps a new streak will now begin.  I’m slower now, but still hoping to run another ultra in the coming year.  The legs and lungs aren’t what they used to be, but the mountains and ocean breezes are still calling—as they have been since my prehistoric ancestors (and yours) began running a thousand centuries ago.  As individuals, we come and go.  But the way our species has continued to run, across the millennia—whether to hunt, carry messages, run races, beat Mark Covert’s record, or just feel the exhilaration of quick feet on a mountain trail—has been truly a streak for the ages.


Jason Mosiman said...

Great read, thanks for sharing

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