On February 1st, 2020 I reached my 1000th consecutive day of running. Since starting this unexpected journey back in 2017, I never thought my streak would continue for this long. I celebrated in the most predictable way possible: I ran…10K. BUT, I was joined by some friends and some other local Toronto runners who accompanied me on my run, with a few celebatory drinks mixed in after.
I’ve written about this many times so I won’t rehash the story in detail, but the consecutive running challenge started back in January 2017. During my outdoor runs, I try often to listen to non-fiction audiobooks as often as possible, which provides a breeding ground for new ideas to emerge. On no particularly special day, I was outside for a run and started to listen to the book The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau. Chris outlines many stories of people (including himself) who have designed and pursued unimaginable quests. I may not be doing the synopsis of his book justice, but it resonated with me during that time in my life – which I’m sure if something we can all relate to.
Well for me, this was what I needed. My life felt a bit monotonous – work was slow and stale, I didn’t have any races coming up until April and daily life just seemed blasé. It was the beginning of Canada’s frigid winter and I desperately needed a challenge or something else to focus on. Inspired by Chris’ book, I developed a mini quest of my own and devoted myself to running 10 kilometers every day for 31 days. To keep myself accountable, I decided to also share my daily experience on my blog and social media handles. The whole process and experience was powerful; it gave me a sense of purpose in my everyday life and initiated the craving to achieve my next (and more ostentatious) goal. I was researching world records for consecutive running and came across the world record for most consecutive half marathons run by a female (61). I decided to set a goal of running 70, making the challenge more meaningful by raising money for the Canadian Cancer Society. I won’t get into too much about #RUN70 here, but long story short, after I completed the challenge, I just kept running.
So now that you know the Cole’s Notes version of my backstory, I wanted to get into the meat of this article: some of the main lessons I’ve learned over the last 2.7 years from getting up and forcing myself to go for a run every.single.damn.day.
Over the 1000 days, I ran a total of 10,120.8 kilometers/ 6,288 miles which is the equivalent to running from Nicaragua to Northern Alaska.
Some days it’s been easy, others it’s felt nearly impossible to get in my daily mileage. The streak has been particularly difficult to keep after running marathons, and most recently, my 100 mile ultramarathon where I could barely walk for days. I’ve ran with a pneumonia, the flu, countless colds and other illnesses. I even ran with a hip flexor strain so bad that I couldn’t even walk a few feet without holding onto a wall. Some may say I’m batshit crazy, but I’d say I’m determined…with a little hint of crazy.
I wanted to share some of the main strategies I used to complete the challenge, along with some key takeaways:
It’s All Mental
My mind is always the biggest beast I need to deal with on a daily basis. Like most, I have a tendency of getting stuck in my own head; battling the incessant thoughts that try to keep me from progressing towards my goals. On the inverse, when my mind feels strong and mentally healthy, it is the catalyst to all my successes and achievements.
From repeated exposure to physical roadblocks through the half marathon challenge, full marathons or ultras and through building up my practice of meditation, I’ve been able to more easily quiet that inner dialogue in my mind. The voice that is constantly reminding me that I’m an amateur.
Despite all the mental resiliancy I’ve built up over the years, I still deal with my mind trying to sabotage my efforts and talk me out of my workouts. This is amplified when my family, friends, and complete strangers continue to remind me that what I’m doing is horrible for my body and that I won’t be able to make any real progress in my running without rest. I know it’s out of a place of love, but I make a conscious effort to seek support through my running community (more on this in the section below). Over the years, I’ve learned to appreciate everyone’s input (as long as it’s from a place of sincerity), but haven’t let it discourage my efforts.
Yet here I am – my body continuing to get stronger, pushing my limits in distance and achieving personal bests in my daily 5-mile runs and marathons year after year. Could I become a better runner physically if I incorporated a bit more rest into the mix? Probably. But running has consistently provided a much more important tool – it’s built self discipline, will power, and helped unleash my creativity which I bring to my work and passion projects. It’s given me an outlet to deal with the inevitable vicissitudes and stress life continues to dish out.
My daily runs are a time solely dedicated to me. A time that allows the attentional space I need for new, fresh ideas to develop. A time to work out solutions to difficult problems at work and in my relationships. I never had a precocious talent for running and am far from an elite athlete. Running taught me that with consistent work, even the most outlandish goals are possible to achieve.
I learned these life lessons by showing up to my workouts every day. I’ve learned to fall in love with the process and not the outcome. Achieving goals and riding the high is short lived before we want to move on to something new. As Eckhart Tolle says, the act of doing is more important than achieving our life goals.
Since I started running, I approach my work and daily tasks with more self-discipline. My goals continue to build on one another and I feel a sense of growth knowing that I can always improve my running; learning new ways to decrease pace, increase distance, and improve form. Running has brought me so much more than I could have ever imagined.
Managing Injuries and Illnesses
I won’t get into too much detail here as I wrote an entire blog post on how I managed injuries while running consecutively, but inevitably, there have been issues I’ve faced. I’ve been lucky that for the most part I’ve remained injury-free with only some muscle soreness and fatigue.
There have been, however, a few occasions where I have had quite the scare. Last winter, I made the terrible mistake of running exclusively indoors on the treadmill for 5+ months then jumped right into long outdoor runs when Spring finally arrived. After my second medium distance (21.1k) training run leading up to the Toronto Marathon in May, I pulled my groin and had difficulty walking. The marathon was only a week away and I oscillated between running it and dropping out…even up until the morning of. I decided I’d give running it a go and if the pain was too excruciating, I always had the option to drop out. Long story short, I finished the race with a shocking personal best and felt so overly confident that I ran a 10k recovery run the next day and played ball hockey in the evening.
The next day, I couldn’t walk and found myself hobbling around like a little gremlin. Horrified, I ran the slowest pace of my life on the treadmill. The next day, it got worse. I saw a physiotherapist that reaffirmed what I already knew – I needed to stop running, and not just for a couple days, I needed to take weeks off. Maybe even months. He was confident that I had a third-grade hip flexor strain. Devastated by the news, I went home and pulled out the foam roller, iced my groin and did all the exercises the physiotherapist told me to perform. Miraculously, the next day I felt slightly better and was able to manage an extremely slow (and still very painful) jog on the treadmill.
Then I felt my condition improve. Being cognizant to listen intently to my body and not pushing too hard on my daily runs I did the bare minimum of ~4k to keep the streak going at a painfully slow pace. In less than a week, I was back doing my regular 5-mile distance. Not my best times, but I was slowly increasing my distance again and decreasing pace. The way I tackle my runs when I’m sick, injured or sore is to not push too hard. I know that if I pushed my body too far past it’s limits, I would suffer an injury that I may not be able to recover from. Every runner is different, but my biggest piece of advice for others that want to pursue a consecutive running challenge is to learn to listen to your body. Our bodies are very vocal if we’re pushing them too hard – listen and adjust accordingly by going slower or shortening your distance. Take the time to recover post-run with stretching, icing your joints, and using the foam roller on sore muscles.
Building Unshakeable Habits
By far one of the best outcomes that came from running the 1,000 day challenge is developing a solid habit of exercising every day. Sure, I procrastinate just like every other human on this planet and my mind constantly tries to talk me out of my workouts, but for me, it’s not an option. I have to go. I’ve come too far to break my streak because I just “don’t feel like it”. My brain won’t be able to concoct a powerful enough excuse to make me skip out on the gym.
Over the years, I have discovered some tactics to help get my ass out the door faster. Having a solid pre-workout routine helps remove the roadblocks getting to the gym and gets me amped for my workouts. I’ve experimented with many strategies over the years and one of the worst ideas I can recall was sleeping in my gym clothes (my boobs hated me for causing them so much traumatic strain).
My Pre-Workout Routine
I like to mix up my morning routine on occasion, but when it came to my pre-workout ritual, it pretty much remained the same over the 1,000 days. My routine starts the night before. I lay out my gym clothes and get my coffee ready to go.
As soon as I wake-up, the kettle is doing its thing and my gym clothes are on. I do some meditation, reading and/or writing, and some work (depending on a weekday or weekend) – getting my brain mentally prepared for my workout. I need at least an hour before my workout to drink coffee and wake up. I’ve tried in the past to wake up and go immediately to the gym – and although this works for some, for me, it resulted in sluggish, foggy workouts that were always cut short.
Right before the gym, I will sip on my obnoxiously large water jug that’s full of BCAAs (tastes like delicious peach ring candy) which tells my brain I’m ready to workout. I put on whatever new music I’m in the mood for, brush my teeth while dancing like a moron, and I’m ready to go.
I would be remiss if I gazed over the bad days. Some weeks, the bad would far outweigh the good. There have been days where I can barely get through my workout, where I’m so stressed out about work that I anxiously cut my workout short so I can get back to my laptop. There have been times when I’m exhausted mentally and physically, and days where I’m so sore I can barely lift my legs.
I’ve learned to listen to my body and the key for sustaining that motivation is to have self-compassion. Sound strange? Let me explain. We have a tendency to put so much pressure on ourselves to improve at the gym each and every day. It’s discouraging to see the person you see at the gym everyday get stronger than you. “I’m putting in just as much work” you say, but are lacking in tangible results. Progress feels slow..painfully slow. So you give up altogether. What’s the point?
The recipe for performance improvement is consistency mixed with learning and experimentation. If you’re not getting the PB year over year, try something different. Mix up your pre-workout nutrition, incorporate new strength training exercises, throw in some dynamic movements. Do tempo workouts and HIIT training – building up those lactic acid thresholds.
I’ve quieted the pressure that I put on myself to improve every day. It just doesn’t happen. If I go to the gym every day thinking that I need to go above and beyond my previous workout, I’m going to get discouraged, feel shitty, and quit. The doing is what I love about my workouts and the high I feel the remainder of the day.
The key for me to achieve anything and the entire point of this blog post is consistency. Showing up each and every day for 1,000 days in a row. This showing up, despite my shit workouts and garbage moods, has built a lifelong habit of taking care of my body and learning to listen more intuitively to what’s going on inside.
The Power of Community
While habit and mental conditioning are paramount in achieving any sort of milestone that requires persistence, having a support system is just as crucial. While I was going through the #RUN70 journey, I shared my daily challenges and started building a bit of a following on Instagram; people who wanted to follow and support me to the finish line.
When I contracted a bad stomach bug towards the end of the challenge, some runs felt almost impossible to complete. The encouraging and supportive messages I received from friends, acquaintances, and new friends I met only through social media, got me through some of the toughest days.
Some people were even inspired to start their own consecutive running challenge while I was undergoing mine. This was an incredibly powerful side effect that I was not anticipating. It made the challenge that much more meaningful.
Sharing my goals publicly made me accountable. Although there are always keyboard villains who get off on being garbage humans, for the most part, people are wonderful. This is a strategy I’ve been using for years now to stick to the goals I set out for myself.
Running consecutively had such a profound impact that I developed the #RUN30 Challenge; where I provide some of the tools and advice based on my own experience to hopefully help others embark on a life changing experience of their own. Building a community of runners of all levels and being able to share my journey has been the most rewarding part of this entire challenge.
My Biggest Fear
I didn’t realize this until I was nearing the end of #RUN70 challenge, but I realized that my biggest fear was no longer am I going to be able to finish this? But rather, what am I going to do after I finish this? Running a half marathon every day brought so much meaning and purpose to my life. It took up hours of my day with not only the run, but the recovery, sharing on social media, and blogging about my daily experience. While I did end up running another 4 days past my 70 day goal, I did decide to stop the 21.1km distance after that. I did, however, continue to run. I tapered off and started doing 10km per day and then settled into an average of 5 miles/8k per day which I’ve pretty much stuck to ever since.
At the back of my mind, I’m terrified that I’ll have to end my streak. I’ll inflict some crazy illness or injure myself so bad that I can no longer run. If that does happen, however, I will stop this crazy journey of mine and take care of myself. But until then, there are just too many amazing things that come with running every day that I’m not willing to give up.