May 25th I went for a run. I’ve run at least a mile every day since. A couple days I ran 13.1 miles. Many days at least three. But every day at least one.
It’s called a running streak. You can start your own on Thursday as part of Runner’s World’s “37 days of awesome”. Run a mile a day from Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Day.
And I admit. It’s pretty amazing that I’ve had good enough weather and healthy enough legs, stomach, and lungs to keep moving. But I have the luxury of safe streets, strong legs, a flexible schedule, and a supportive family.
I may be a little like Will Wade. He’s a college basketball coach who has been on a running streak since January. According to a New York Times article, “Wade said: ‘I ask my team to be disciplined. I’ve got to be disciplined as well.’”
We all have the possibility of streaks, of consecutive days of choosing to do as much as we can, of choosing to discipline ourselves. It can be in running or in reading or in exercising patience with annoying customers. The training is challenging, but it teaches us that we can be focused, that we can do more than we thought.
Paul wrote to friends in Corinth, people familiar with the training that athletes endured. He said,
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
I’m with Paul. I’m with Will. We can’t ask what we won’t do.
As simple as a #runstreaks
I keep having conversations that include, “I know I need to change, but I’m not sure where to start.”
It could be about Bible reading or about being a gracious person. It could be about praying or about practicing hospitality. It could be about being compassionate about an annoying but genuinely needy coworker, or about drawing lines with an exploitive acquaintance. (I’m fine with my coworkers and acquaintances, by the way. All of you.) It could be about becoming a writer or about becoming less distracted or about stopping.
We have a desire. We keep falling short.
One simple suggestion I have is to set a low standard of performance and consistently reach it.
Before you worry that I’m suggesting mediocrity, I’m pointing to the opposite. As Jim Collins says, “The signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change. The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency (138).” And I’m encouraging consistency.
I’m involved in a running streak that started Memorial Day. To be part of the streak, you simply have to run at least a mile a day. That’s it. That’s the one simple rule. You can be fast or slow. You can run on the street or a treadmill. You can rule alone or with people, listening to music or to 37 the podcast.
A mile isn’t hard for me most days. A typical week for me is between 15 and 20 miles. But all that I need to do to keep the streak is alive is one mile.
You can build your capacity for graciousness by smiling at one person a day, by thanking one person a day, by biting your tongue once a day. You can build your capacity for drawing lines by saying no to someone each day.
I’m not saying that one smile a day is the finish line. One mile a day doesn’t train for marathons. But one mile, one smile, one offering of the Lord’s prayer a day is better than none. And after 100 days, is better than chronic inconsistency.
Almost losing the streak.
I went for a run on April 7. It was the 322 day in a row that I had gone for a run. I was trying something new, a running strategy called run/walk/run. In this approach popularized by Jeff Galloway, a person runs for a prescribed interval, then walks, then runs. For example, you may run for a minute, walk for 30 seconds, run for a minute, walk for thirty seconds, and so on. For as many miles as your training calls for.
I did it that day for 1.5 miles. I did it the next day for __. While I running the next day, I realized that I may have
Immediately I began to worry. Immediately I began to look for ways to cover it up. I could change the phrasing on my streak. I could
I spent 24 hours worrying. I sat in church trying to sort it out.
Finally, I looked up the contact information for the Run Streak association. I explained my situation. I explained my concern.
I heard back with a couple of hours from the president. The guidelines only say a mile a day, they don’t say consecutive. I vaguely remember an interview where he explained that people had wondered whether stopping at a stoplight, or stopping to tie a shoelace would break the streak. So the rule makes it clear. The measure is running in a day, not consecutiveness in a day.
And the rule is more about personal commitment anyway.
I went back to my consecutive days of running with my streak intact.
But I worried about a different idea now. Why had I been so quick to rationalize? Why was I so willing to cover up the truth rather than come clean? In fact, even after I receive my absolution, I didn’t write about it. Until now.
Running has a remarkable way to keep you honest.
I wasn’t even thinking.
Listening isn’t enough
Sometime after I started working on my doctorate, I got a book called How to Complete and Survive a Doctoral Dissertation. I read it regularly, almost like a devotional book. It talked about the emotional side of doctoral work as much as the practical side. In retrospect, I’m not sure how much I read it after I actually started writing. At some point, I stopped reading about writing and started doing it.
A year ago, I was reading running books and articles. At one point, I had five books on running plans, eating plans, and strength-training plans on the floor of my office. Since I started my running streak in May, I haven’t been reading much. I’m spending that 20 minutes or more every day out running.
I’ve got books about quests (The Happiness of Pursuit) and calling (The Art of Work) and quick entrepreneurship (The $100 Startup) that read like devotionals. They have short stories of people who succeeded or failed or both. Just reading them makes you feel inspired. But just reading them leaves you in a chair.
The people who first heard Jesus speaking felt inspired that way, too. People who could not get a break in the system loved the way he challenged the religious leaders. They were happy when he made the self-righteous uncomfortable.
But he wasn’t writing devotionals. He wasn’t giving little talks that people would hear or read and then feel better.
At the end of one popular seminar, he always said, “If all you do is listen to what I say, and you never get around to doing it, you are like the fool who builds a big house on the sand down by the Jordan in the middle of the dry season.”
They shook their heads. “Who would ever do that?” they thought.
I need a trainer.
Here’s what I would tell the person.
I’m scheduled to run a marathon in 18 weeks (and 4 days). I need a plan that will include exact stretches and a running schedule and probably some strength training and hydration and nutrition menus.
But I need to tell you some things about me.
I just hit the one-year mark in my running streak. So I have the capacity to show up every day and run. I’ve averaged 2.44 miles per day for the streak. But a bunch were just 1.2 mile runs, my fall-back. I fall-back a lot.
I should stretch, but I procrastinate my run until there’s not much time to do it right. It’s hard to work one plan. So I just do about 5 minutes includes 40 crunches.
I’ve lost ten pounds in the last couple months. But I eat a limited range of foods. I’m a “discerning ” eater. I avoid most vegetables, embrace a banana a day and blueberries. I’m pretty sure there must be a marathon plan that doesn’t require cauliflower. Or beets, kale, broccoli, green beans, peas, asparagus, or brussels sprouts. Or a blender. Or spending money on supplements.
I sleep 6 hours at the most.
My hip hurts.
I am bad at self-discipline, other than making sure I avoid vegetables and making sure I do check facebook.
Can you give me the directions that would get me ready to run my best in October within all those constraints? In a 30 minute appointment. For free?
The trainer would say, “I’ll do that for you if you’ll tell me everything I can do to train for a spiritual marathon in October. In 30 minutes.”
I would say, “That’s crazy. If you aren’t willing to do the things that would give you endurance and health and relationship with God, how can you imagine getting stronger?”
Why I quit running.
I was doing great. As of July 22, I had run at least a mile every day for 425 days. In a row. On July 23, I didn’t run.
I wasn’t injured. I didn’t forget. I made a choice. I switched my focus from running every day to training for a marathon.
I asked a friend about coaching me for the marathon, which is just 10 weeks away. I showed him my running history and my current approach. I told him about what works for me with motivation and what doesn’t. I outlined everything I could think of about my physical and mental attitudes and behaviors around running.
And in our first conversation over dinner, my new training coach said, “you are going to have to think about a day off.”
I smiled. I immediately started thinking about all the people I’ve read about who have maintained running streaks through all levels of marathon training, including people who have run marathons every day.
The next morning while running, I realized that I needed to release the streak. Not because of the rest day, though that is important. Not because of the struggle I have with maintaining two training goals at the same time, though that is real, too. It’s because I have to learn to trust a coach more than I trust myself.
He’s run three dozen marathons. He’s coached young runners for years. I asked for help because I understood that the low standard of running every day wasn’t getting me ready for running 26.2 miles in one day. I couldn’t self-coach. I needed to start training.
And to argue with the first thing he suggested would mean that I would question everything he suggested.
So I quit running. For four days. Now I’m training.
And I’m guessing that this isn’t just about running.