My 5 Year Run Streak

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Today is officially my 5th year of running consecutively—that is, for 1,825 days in a row, I ran an average of ~5-6 miles/day. I ran through injuries, illnesses, and after endurance eventsnever allowing myself a full day off running. I won’t rehash my entire journey to-date (you can read more here and here), but with each passing year of upholding my streak, new insights emerge. I find the practice or reflection via my blog, part cathartic (selfishly) and part important (for those who also want to embark on their own run streak or are in the midst of one).

While most of my consecutive running posts have emphasized the positives of streak runninghow it’s brought many ongoing gifts to my life, I’ve neglected to emphasize the downsides and some of the sacrifices that I had to make to uphold this rigorous daily habit. Negatives, that I’d be remiss to call out. 

Streak Running & Identity

Up until my 4th year of running, I strongly identified with this self-contrived running persona that I made up in my mind. I was the gal with the streak. It was part of my identity. My run streak differentiated me in a way; in my mind, it exemplified my individuality. I was on a lifelong quest and no one was going to get in my way. By completing each day’s run, I was rewarded with meaning, fulfillment and purpose. I even created a 30 consecutive running challenge on my website coined #RUN30 to advocate for streak running—a challenge that hundreds of people have now completed. 

Streaks have been a key catalyst in helping me stick to the commitments I set for myself. The longer I go, the more I have to lose. Loss aversion motivates me to continue; to persevere. Missing a single day because “I don’t feel like it”,  just isn’t in the cards for me. I have a 5 year streak to lose. 5 years! This fear; this visceral fear of missing a day and starting from scratch has caused me to continue to run in stupid, and even dangerous circumstances. I continued running when I had pneumonia, inflicted food poisoning, through injuries where I could barely walk (not quite akin to Goggins running on broken legs, but still negligent nonetheless), and in areas while traveling that were sketch—putting myself in potential danger. Some may find this admirable, but as I get older, I see these situations with a new lens; that I’m risking my health and potential life (in an extreme case) to uphold a run streak. I have to ask myself: Is it worth it? What’s the end goal here?

On the plus, running every day has become so habitual and automatic that I never have to deal with an internal dialogue on whether I should run today or not. Onlookers who don’t run much or newer to running can’t fathom not taking a rest day. But let me tell you: it becomes just as automatic as brushing your teeth. The body is also crazy adaptable. In fact, all of the injuries I’ve inflicted over the last 5 years have been non-running related.

While of course I don’t feel like running every day and some days I struggle hard to get out the door and the miles feel like they’re crawling by, scheduling my run and doing it is just part of my daily routine. I don’t need to think about it much–I just do it. While of course, this is a healthy habit to uphold, it’s also caused me a lot of strife and anxiety. Streak running has made me overly rigid and while my family and friends have been supportive, I’ve definitely had to put them out because of this streak. As I called out in my 4 year reflection post, this makes me feel selfish to a degree.

The Double-Edged Sword of Rigidity 

Let me digress for a moment and discuss the concept of rigidity. Being rigid and uncompromising helped me lose fat for the first time and gain lean muscle by forcing myself to follow a rigid set of rules. A rigid daily writing routine of reading, researching and writing for 3 hours every morning helped me write and publish my first book. My 1.5 year sobriety streak has kept me, well, sober. Rigidity has been my friend–it’s worked for me. I’ve been able to accomplish big things from these uncompromising practices and set of routines.

Then why would I say it’s a double-edged sword? 

While rigidity enforces structure and can support a ritual that’s conducive to getting shit done, this has also caused a lot of fear, anxiety, and pain. I’ve missed out on some life experiences by turning down offers to go camping or doing a silent meditation retreat as I wouldn’t be able to run, or going out for dinner with friends because it didn’t fit my nutrition plan at the time. When it comes to streak running, there are too many days to name where I was obsessing about when and where I would run. I’ve had entire days ruined because I had to get up at truly ridiculous hours (3 or 4am) to leave my house to go on a trip or an early AM hike. I suffered dearly the rest of the day by being unable to even keep my eyes open, let alone hold a conversation. Of course I could run later in the day, but I know myself well and would be thinking…no, obsessing  over it all day long. I wouldn’t be able to be present in the moment. In one instance in particular (more recent), my ex and I were in Mexico where we planned a day excursion going to a beautiful secluded beach then to a small surf town to enjoy the sunset. She said we would hit up a gym before the beach so I could get my run in, but didn’t feel like it when we got there and wanted to just go with the flow–which was fair. I was so resentful and mad at her though. How dare she compromise my streak and not stick to her word. I was in a shity mood most of the day because of that and she ended up waiting in the car for me while I ran a 5k in a small, unfamiliar town. What should have been an amazing day filled with wonderful memories, all I can remember is how annoyed, frustrated, anxious and pissed off I was. It’s a real shame.

So it gets to a point where I’m like, okay…is it worth it? Anyone new I’m dating, I try to tell them right away about my rigid, ritualistic routines. I’m certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. While I’m not trying to be super negative here (we’ll get into more of the good soon), I think I’ve been a bit negligent in not sharing some of the more serious downsides of a streak and how it can negatively impact one’s life. 

The Comedown

Over the last year and a bit, I’ve meditated on the comedown; that is, the day I end my streak and the anticipatory emotions I’m going to feel. I don’t think the day will be a regular ol’ day; I love running too much for that. I think it will be in the midst of a big life experience like a multi-day hiking/camping trip or if I have a debilitating in injury or illness (hopefully not the latter). 5 years is a long time and an accomplishment in and of itself, but I can’t foresee myself living a life this rigid forever. I want to experience new things and not have this debilitating anxiety that by doing this or that, I’ll risk losing my streak. The truth is, I’ve gained so much over the last 5 years and have been beyond fortunate to have had my health intact. I’m grateful that my body has been able to withstand the daily pounding on the pavement for this long. I’ve journaled this over and over and feel like when the time comes, I hope that I will make the right decision in the moment. I hope that I opt for enjoying the multitude of experiences life has to offer vs. upholding this streak.

The Good

While this is the first of my streak reflection posts that has truly taken a  negative undertone, I want to call out; especially with those who are on their own streak (or want to formulate a regular running habit), that this streak has also been a gift—running every day makes me happy and grounded. I would never have upheld such a long regimen if I didn’t get anything out of running—if it felt forced and I loathed every second of it. Running makes me feel good and it’s great for my mental health; it gives me space to be creative, it makes me feel confident and calm. Especially now that I live in beautiful Vancouver, BC and have the opportunity to run alongside the ocean every day, the ability to run is truly a gift.

I think deep down I have this fear—this deep rooted insecurity that if I miss a day I will somehow forget how to run or become lazy and stop running as often. My self discipline will god down the tubes. Writing this out sounds so silly, but it’s true.

However, I have to remind myself that running was a habit that I formulated long before my streak begun. It has always been something that has brought me challenge, accomplishment, joy, and has been a backbone in my self-growth. It’s a daily practice that grounds and centers me. As I wrote about in my new book Find Your Stride, I’m intrinsically motivated by the activity which is a key determinant in sustainability and consistency over the long term.

Final Thoughts

My goal was to hit year 5 and I just did that. To be honest, it feels a bit anticlimactic. I’m still going to run every day because I simply love it. Running makes me feel good and brings about all the aforementioned benefits on the daily. I’ve shifted my perspective, however, and no longer feel fear of ending it. I’ve journaled about this over and over, and over, and over again and have come to accept that this streak is no longer part of my identity. I’ve diversified my interests so much that I no longer rely on my run streak to define me as a person. It’s a liberating and self-assuring feeling that took me many years to realize. This may very well be my last yearly reflection post, but maybe not. Either way, it’s been a hell of a journey and I’ll always be grateful for that.

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