Culture

TRAIL STOKE: What A 5K A Day For One Month Will Do For Your Running … And Stoke

“Discipline is choosing between what you want now and what you want most.” —Abraham Lincoln.

Our 16th President was a man of character, but I don’t think he was an ultrarunner. But my buddy Mitch Dullek is, and he lured me into a fun little challenge of running at least 5K every day from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. And I think Honest Abe would be proud.

On the face of it, it’s not that big of a deal. As runners, it’s just about the least we can do. We always find time for a daily run, and it’s usually longer than 3.1 miles or 25 to 30 minutes of putzing around town or out on a local trail. Well, we almost always find time for it. Sometimes we need a rest day. And sometimes life gets in the way. That’s reality, right?

Sure, but there’s something pretty immersive and tenacious about making sure you run 5K without a single day off. If I took a poll of people reading this right now, my guess is that most haven’t run every single day for a month this year, even during a year when running has been a lifeline for many of us amid the stress of Covid-19, racial unrest, political tension, wildfires, a broken economy and more.

And that includes me. Running has definitely been my therapy this year, but I’ve taken plenty of days off, too. I’ve run 300 days this year (and a few times twice during those days) but I haven’t run more than 10 days without a day off or a day of cross-training, swimming, cycling or hiking. Until now.

Running every day for a month can be a tall order but also very purposeful. Give it a try and you’ll see what I mean.

Days off can be helpful and healthy, but they can also interrupt focus and consistency. Running every day for a month can be a tall order but also very purposeful. Give it a try and you’ll see what I mean. While I appreciate the absurdity on monotony of long-term run streaks and even those who try to run every day for a single year — which I have tried and failed at many, many times — the goal of running 37 days in a row has quickly become more than just a simple streak.

Not only has it been a lot of fun so far — easy running with a variety of friends is always fun — it’s perhaps the perfect way to bid farewell to the ridiculous year of 2020 and start looking forward to 2021. With little more than two weeks into this little idea conjured up by Dullek, I realize it can have a big payoff if I stick to it. I’m not any more fit than I was when I started, but slowly and surely, it’s building discipline and a habitual focus on next year.

And that’s building excitement, which is a novel and refreshing feeling after the sucky year of 2020 took out all of my races and travel plans. (And yes, some people had some really, really bad years related to unemployment, illness and even death of loved ones due to Covid-19, so with grace and respect, here’s a heartfelt hug with the notion that the rest of us having our race, travel and adventure plans put on hold just doesn’t compare.)

Everyone in our 5K challenge group has a different objective for 2021, but we’ve all started building a foundation to get there. My goal is to run the Silverton Ultra Dirty 100K next August. For Mitch, it’s running the Leadville 100. For Andra Alvarez, it’s running the Greenland 50K. For Lisa Justice, it’s running Rim to Rim to Rim across the Grand Canyon and back. For Jack Byrne, it’s running his first 14er. For Corey Dillon, it’s Ironman Canada.

Those races and adventures are months and months away, but the time to start training is now. That doesn’t mean high-volume weeks of running just get, but it does mean getting your mind and body ready to tackle the high-mileage, big vert and fatigue-generating back-to-back weekend days that we’ll all be deep into come springtime. For now, running 5K every day is like adding bricks one at a time to the substructure of your finish line fortress.

For now, running 5K every day is like adding bricks one at a time to the substructure of your finish line fortress.

The intent of running every day now is that it keeps you honest and accountable to your training goals and those things will help galvanize those goals in authenticity, months in advance of your race or multi-day adventure you might be planning. And doing it with a minimum of just 5K of running allows you to lean into it and appreciate it without biting off more than you can chew or get too emotionally invested too soon. Running 5K every day allows you to keep it simple — and can help you rekindle time-management skills and a sense of daily structure — but it also builds a rhythm that will eventually evolve into your battle cry.

 Running 5K every day allows you to keep it simple — and can help you rekindle time-management skills and a sense of daily structure — but it also builds a rhythm that will eventually evolve into your battle cry.

Truth be told, I’ve grumbled through a few slow 5Ks over the past couple of weeks, especially when it’s been cold or rainy. But I’ve also been inspired to do a few “doubles” with a trail run/swim or trail run/skate ski combo. Plus, I’ve upped my mileage just a bit, throwing in a 10K loop once or twice and a 10-miler once. Most importantly, I’ve develop consistency in an instant. Just three weeks ago, I felt broken down and beat up from a ragged year of running and the outfall of all of the tension and craziness of 2020. But I’m already starting to feel the determined buzz of what’s coming.

Thanks to my buddy Mitch and a hat-tip to Honest Abe, I’m fired up for 2021 and all that will unfold out on the trails.

Brian Metzler was the founding editor of Trail Runner magazine and now serves as a contributing editor.