The fabled marathon is no longer the Holy Grail of running it once was and these days most of us have had a crack at 26.2 miles. Even ultras are fast becoming a staple on the runner’s table, with many seasoned marathoners setting their sights on longer distances. But as the quest for adventure continues, one challenge is quietly escalating in the running community; the elusive run streak.
For the uninitiated, you’ll be pleased to hear it has nothing to do with taking your clothes off. The run streak simply means running on consecutive days, for a set period of time, without fail. The rules are simple: you set your intended timeframe, and then all you have to do is run (most runners opt for a minimum of one mile) every single day. Your run streak can be for weeks, months, or for the exceptionally committed runner, forever.
Going for a trot round the park every day may sound easy enough, until you consider the implications running daily could have on your social life, your body and your health. Rest days are an integral aspect of running and unless you’re an athlete, running on successive days can be pretty tough going.
The health implications of hard training on consecutive days leaves the field divided. Infamous NZ athletics coach Arthur Lydiard would certainly have been an advocate. ‘If you have a day off every week, that’s fifty-two days a year,’ Arthur was noted for saying on various occasions. ‘That’s a month and a half. How are you going to beat someone who’s trained for a month and a half more than you have?’
For amateur runners, one of the key aspects of starting a run streak is the incentive it provides to keep on running. We’ve all had off days when we skip our intended run in favour of a quiet night on the sofa. But if you’re committed to your run streak, you’re much less likely to quit.
"Mentally, it's given me a good challenge to put my mind to." says Abi Williams, 20, from South West England, who has been on a run streak for 148 days (and counting). "There have been some days when I'm not 100 per cent up for running, but I'm fairly competitive so I push myself to do it, otherwise I'll think I'm failing!"
The great thing about committing to a run streak is there are no rules, so you can set your own parameters. "It's actually quite fun trying to beat your previous times, so you can make it as challenging or relaxing as you like!" says Abi. "It also gives you time to yourself where you don't have to really worry about anything and can just have the freedom to run."
Amy Lawrenson, Beauty and Fitness Editor at Women's Health, finished a 500-day run streak in 2014.
"My initial plan was to run for a year, but when day 365 came around I didn’t feel ready to stop and thought ‘well, 500 is a round number’. Now I have stopped I can really see that the benefit of running every day is huge. I burned on average 100-120 calories every day and I felt like my metabolism was working more efficiently, as I didn’t need to worry so much about what I ate. Mentally it gave me 10 minutes every day to just zone out or work through anything that was on my mind."
Amy experimented with different running styles for motivation. "Sometimes, if I was just doing a mile I would go fast or play with the incline or do some fartlek. Usually I would do a few one-milers per week and a couple of longer runs. In the end jogging that mile around my block became so easy that it was like a rest day. It just became a habitual part of my day, like brushing my teeth."
For Sarah Nash, 30, from Berkshire, run streak had the reverse affect. "My aim was to try and motivate myself to get out there every day, come rain or shine no matter what mood I was in," says Sarah. ‘It is all too easy to sack off a run using the excuse of tiredness when in fact you’re just being a bit lazy. I decided to put a little pressure on myself it’d make me run."
Sarah managed two weeks. "As soon as I put the pressure on myself to run every darn day, I instantly felt like I didn’t want to. I felt incredibly pressured to do something, almost like I couldn’t let myself down, and I instantly found myself moaning about running."
Lynne Cantwell, Clinical Director at Six Physio, advocates mixing up your running styles to maintain motivation. "While it’s fine to train every day, recovery is key and it’s important to make sure you don’t put too much pressure on any one body part," she says. "Running continually loads the joints and bones in the same way every day, without giving them any respite."
"There is also the psychological impact" Lynne added. "The same activity every day could become boring! If your exercise programme becomes a chore, then you are less likely to stick to it. Also, different forms of exercise suits different body shapes and types, so it is important to find something that suits you."
John Bullard, 48, from Chichester, is on day728 of his run streak and uses it to compliment other fitness activities."The benefits are I run faster and get injured less," says John. "My 10K pace has improved by six minutes since doing run streak and I have won a few age group triathlons because the streak has given me a boost. On rest days I do a streak saver, which is a safe one mile run close to home. If you want a day off, run a mile in the morning, and run the next mile in the evening of the next day.’
Pam Kavanagh, 40, from Essex, who recently completed a 293 day streak, agrees. "I feel my running improves when I run daily, it’s when I stop that I encounter problems. The majority of my runs were at an easy pace so I was not knocking myself out."
Mike Wells, 39, from Nottingham, has been on a run streak for over 1025 days. "I get to see amazing new places, meet inspiring people, and I know that every day, at least once a day, I'll get to do something I love and spend time with some of my closest friends and family," he says. "And as I love food, running a lot is a great excuse to eat more than I otherwise could or should."
Mike averages eight miles a day, but takes it easy if he’s overtired or injured. "Generally I try to avoid injury by always trying to run lightly and smoothly and not push too hard, too much of the time. One of the benefits of running every day is that you don't feel like you have to beast yourself on every run."
"I sometimes feel shattered after a very long run or several days of hard training, so I'll just do an easy 5K that day and if I'm still tired, I'll do the same the next day, by which time I'm usually OK."
Lynne Cantwell suggests supplementing your run streak with strength and conditioning work to avoid injury. "Running small amounts, such as a mile a day, can be good for general health, but it is important to keep your runs varied as much as you can and make sure you’re supporting the running aspect with strength and conditioning work, to avoid injury."
Inspired by Ron Hill, who hasn't missed a day's running since 1964, Paul Smith AKA Lord Smythe from Durham City has been on a run streak since 1 January 2007.
"There have been good days, bad days, easy days and tough days; days when the body has been screaming out for a rest day. When I do require recovery days I call upon my imposed run streak rule of a minimum of 15 minutes, although these minimum running days are few and far between."
Paul uses lots of tricks to maintain his streak. "If I know of a busy working day schedule ahead I have been known to bring into play my run either side of midnight tactic, which can also be beneficial in giving me a long period of recovery before my next run the following day."
Paul takes on personal challenges and raises money for charity to stay focused. "Keeping it fun and enjoyable is the key, the last thing one needs is for it to become a chore. Inspiration, perspiration, determination, self-motivation and sheer bloody mindedness will keep me going; only death will end the streak."
Thinking of starting a run streak? Lynne Cantwell from Six Physio offers these tips:-
- Continue to loosen out muscles with a foam roller. You should be looking to use this to stretch out calves, glutes and ITVs (the muscles which rundown the side of the legs) at least three times a week.
- Get a running assessment to make sure the style of your run is efficient.
- Introduce strength based activity to build muscle in the legs and hips. This can include squats, lunges and bridges.
- Plan a massage once or twice a week to flush out legs.