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Life takes time. There are no shortcuts. Turns out, the same is true with running. But in either case, it’s usually never as complicated as we sometimes make it out to be—especially if viewed in small bits on a daily basis.
Last fall, after a disappointing year of running because of marginal fitness and a lack of motivation, I was inspired to make radical changes to my training. What did I do? I just started running. Every single day.
Seems pretty basic, I know, but that’s exactly the point. After a gazillion things got in the way of consistent training last year—work, weather, travel, life stress, injuries, fatigue—I simplified things and made a commitment to run at least 30 minutes every day, no matter what it took, no matter what real or perceived obstacles got in the way.
I’ve been running regularly since I was in the sixth grade and have since logged more than 80,000 miles in my life. That includes running middle-distance track races, big city marathons, 100-mile trail runs, wacky pack burro races, and adventurous jaunts up and down 14,000-foot peaks. But last year a tweaky left knee, a lack of big race goals, and more time on my bike relegated me to the role of a hobby jogger.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with hobby jogging, but training without a specific plan and purpose typically leads me to being moderately fit and mostly unfocused. Although I ran a few races and bagged a few peaks last summer, by December I was doughy, out of shape, and largely unmotivated about running into the new year.
How did I snap out of it? I decided to keep it simple, take a Forrest Gump approach, and just go for a run. It wasn’t like I was getting out of a rocking chair on my porch, but “that day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a run.” It wasn’t about going big into any elaborate training plan, chasing gimmicks, hiring a coach, or making a huge life-changing commitment to an ultra-distance event. It was about simply getting out for an easy run every day.
Truth be told, I was inspired after chatting with Candice Burt when she was on the front end of what has become an unfathomable running streak of running 50K (or 32 miles) every single day for months on end. She was only three weeks into her streak when I first checked in with her and, no, I never envisioned a streak of that magnitude, but the concept of a streak made sense, like some cartoony light bulb appeared over my head.
With some very simple tactics spelled out below, I ran every day for the next three months—actually it was much longer than that, but for the point of this story, logging 30 days straight was the turning point—and wound up with a solid base of aerobic fitness, a leaner, more agile physique, and motivation to chase new goals into spring, summer, and fall. It’s been a good reminder of how simple running and daily exercise can be for everyone with the tiniest amount of effort.
1) Make Time: Running doesn’t take much time out of your day, unless you’re not making time for it and instead just manically trying to cram it in. I reverted back to the sage advice of Scott Douglas, author of numerous running books, including The Little Red Book of Running, who reminded me that we all make time for what’s important to us. After going out for a slow jog with Kelly Joy, a Boulder running friend with no judgment for my inconsistent training, I decided to make time for running the next day. And the next day. And the next day. After seven days, I had built a streak with considerable momentum.
2) Keep it Simple: My only rule during my streak was to not have any rules, paces, or preconceived workouts that would dictate how I needed to run. My only goal was to run 30-ish minutes at whatever pace I felt like running. Sometimes that led to 45 minutes or an hour of running, and sometimes I was back inside kicking off my shoes after 27 minutes. Just keep showing up. Just get it done, even if that means dusting off my treadmill.. Turns out consistency really is the most important thing.
3) Keep Going: At some point, with very little effort, the streak was suddenly easier to keep going than it was to break. Knowing how easy it was to lace up my shoes and run 30 minutes, it not only became easy to go for a run at 8 P.M., if that’s what it took, but it also became easier to plan early morning runs to make sure I wasn’t going out for a run at 8 P.M. Each day’s run inspired the next day’s run, even if my running was decidedly slow and mostly uninspiring.
4) Ignore the Data: Although I love what my Suunto 9 Peak Pro can tell me about a long trail run, I’ve never been a Strava guy and made it a point during my streak not to sweat the data or the details from my watch. When I was a high school and college runner, I logged every mile I ran and various bits of minutiae of every workout, right down to the shoes I wore. But once trail running became my primary focus, I backed away from those habits and found no reason to dig deep into the details during my streak.
5) Do a Little More: Once I gained a bit of fitness, I added a simple core strength routine to my daily regimen and, like running, I’ve found a little goes a long way. Keeping up with a consistent weight lifting routine can be tough, but 15 minutes of crunches, planks, sit-ups, and push-ups can be transformational. These simple bouts of effort led to better eating, better sleeping, and reduced stress.
6) Avoid Comparisons: During my streak, I enjoyed running trails with a few buddies, but I didn’t get caught up with workouts of other runners, although it’s hard to avoid while you’re swiping through Instagram. To that point, I actually unfollowed several look-at-me influencers to tune out the white noise of their stories blathering about how amazing their running is or how great their abs look. As Laura Green keeps reminding us, “No one cares!”
7) Look Forward: Developing a small base of fitness has allowed me to plan ahead and get inspired for a few races later this year. I plan to redeem myself at the 42K MCC race in Chamonix, in August, run the Chicago Marathon in October, and, if there’s time, make another Rim to Rim to Rim journey across the Grand Canyon and back in November. But more importantly, I just plan to enjoy the run I have planned tomorrow.
I never intended my streak to be as grandiose as that of Burt (who, as of April 2, is at 149 days and counting with 4,804 miles, miles logged!) or even that of Hoka-sponsored Instagrammer Hellah Sidibe, who has been running every day for nearly six years with boundless joy. During a recent conversation with Boston Marathon course director Dave McGillivray, I found out he just passed the two-year mark of a run streak after a friend challenged him to see if he could complete a full year back in 2021.
Believe it or not, according to the U.S. Running Streak Association, there are nearly 500 American runners who have run every day for the past 10 years and more than 100 who surpassed 20 years. And then there’s the unfathomably long streak of all-time leader Jon Sutherland, who has been running every single day since May 26, 1969—a span of 19,670 days or nearly 54 years without a single day off.
Those kinds of streaks are commendable, but also a bit insane. I never wanted to keep running without a break, just for the sake of continuing a streak, which is why I finally took a day off. For me, the streak served the simple purpose to reboot my fitness, reframe my mind, and simplify my approach. Mission accomplished.
Running, like life, takes time. There are no shortcuts. But running, as with life, is as simple as we want to make it on a daily basis.