Right after breakfast on December 31st, I slipped on my shoes, bundled up, strapped the harness on our inexhaustible border collie, and headed out for my 366th straight day running. I ran every single day in 2016, and the folks at Fleet Feet Sports Fox Valley asked if I’d share what I learned from my one-year running streak. My total mileage for the year was 2,564, or just a hair over 210 miles per month. That means, if I'd started in NYC on January 1st and ran west, I'd be just outside Los Angeles right now (where, presumably, I’d need fewer layers).
Here are some things I took away from a year of daily runs:
(1) Dedication beats motivation every single time. There were lots of days I really, really didn't want to run, but committing to the streak totally changed my internal decision-making. There was no daily mental objection to overcome, no decision fatigue, no constant choice to weigh about whether I was motivated enough to lace up and get out the door. That decision was made on January 1st for the whole year. The only things I had to decide were what time, what direction, and what shoes.
(2) Consistency meant I wasn't always making up for taking two steps backwards in my training. It takes serious time and effort to build a base of miles and speed, but it’s slippery and easy to lose. Fortunately, it only takes regularly consistency to maintain. Running every day in 2016 didn’t mean constant improvement, but it did prevent backsliding. And that did give me pretty solid results in races. I set PRs at the 5K, 5-mile, 10K, 10-mile, half-marathon, and 50K distances, and even brought home a couple little awards from small events. Winning 2nd overall (with a 20-minute PR) at the Mosquito Hill 50K in August was absolutely one of the year's high points.
(3) My health didn't suffer - in fact, 2016 was the first year I've ever run without time off for at least one moderate injury. I knew any injury would scuttle the whole streak, so I was hypervigilant about aches and twinges. I was (obnoxiously) eagle-eyed about pain, and I iced, heated, stretched, did strength work, did gentle recovery runs on soft surfaces, and foam rolled like a maniac. Whatever it took to keep myself moving forward, injury-free. And it worked.
(4) A running streak isn't a foolproof weight-loss strategy. I'm about twelve pounds over what Matt Fitzgerald's book, Racing Weight, says is my optimum performance weight, and I thought for sure I'd lean out over the year. Even when I was hitting really high-mileage weeks in July and August, my weight stayed in the same 3-4lb window. I'm a subscriber to the calories-in/calories-out model of weight management, so the only explanation is that I was eating more to compensate for the miles I was putting in. Which means if I want to slim down, I'll have to be more serious about tracking calories. I guess I can't outrun my fork.
So, should you do it? If you’ve been running for a while and looking for a new challenge or a way to find some consistency, go for it. For a week, for a month, for a season, or for the whole year - I think committing to a running streak is empowering and positive. But it can be disruptive and obnoxious too, and my wife, Missy, deserves a ton of credit for putting up with this crazy idea.
Looking ahead, I've run every day in 2017 so far, because that seems like the right way to start a new year. Beyond that, we'll see. I'm satisfied with a 1-year streak and I have some other running goals in mind for 2017, but at the same time, 500 days sounds like a nice round number, doesn’t it? And that would only mean running until May. And by the time May rolls around, I’ve already run through the coldest, hardest months, so wouldn’t it be crazy not to keep going? Sorry, Missy.
[Jason Brozek is a long-time runner who lives in Appleton with his wife and two children. He teaches international politics at Lawrence University and writes Sweated & Vetted, a series that reviews ethically-produced running gear (http://well-spent.com/author/jason/).]