Yesterday I hit another milestone by running everyday for 750 consecutive days (just over 2 years). What started as a 30-day challenge back in January, 2017 has now transcended into a goal of running for 1,000 consecutive days. 95% of these runs have been 5 miles/8 kilometres or more and 5% were 3.15- 4 miles (usually when I’m feeling sore, stiff, or tired). 1,000 days with no rest; no rest and no excuses. I run the day after a marathon or ultra marathon, when I’m hung over, when I’m sick, when I’m sore, when I’m tired and even when I just don’t feel like it (which is most days).
Running is an activity that I developed in my early 20s that has really stuck; it’s the one variable in my life that I have complete control over. I started running 12 years ago and like every beginner, I started very slow. I’d run outdoors or on the treadmill for 20 minutes, 2-3 times per week without ever knowing my mileage. The workout was short enough to keep me engaged and by incorporating intervals (changing the levels each minute on the treadmill), I found it more enjoyable. The habit slowly shifted to 4 days per week, then to 5 or 6 days a week, and now to 7 days a week for the past two years. Running is such a big part of my life that I can’t imagine going a day without it.
Over the past 750 days, I’ve learned a lot about myself and it’s completely changed my life in all aspects. Squeezing in time to run everyday is challenging, but I always make it my number one priority every single day. In all honesty, I’ve developed more of a rigid personality and my routines can be annoying for some of the people closest to me, but it’s the one thing in my day that I won’t compromise on.
This is the first post of a series to come on some of the major lessons I’ve learned while running for 750 consecutive days and we’ll start with the one that comes up most often:
For most people, the immediate thought that comes to mind when I share my goal of running for 1,000 consecutive days is the high risk of injury. I also regularly hear strong opinions surrounding rest days and how unhealthy it is to not give my body ample recovery time. That might be true, but I personally believe everyone has their own unique set of circumstances. Depending on your age, genetic make-up, fitness level, etc., you may very well need a rest day (or a few) and it’s crucial to be self aware; listening to your body and acknowledging your physical limitations.
Up until a few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to go injury-free during this challenge, despite putting significant strain on my body. The first goal I set for myself was to break a world record by running 21.1 kilometers/13.1 miles for 70 consecutive days (the #RUN70 Half Marathon Challenge). I also ran multiple marathons and a 50-mile (80 kilometre) ultra-marathon during this time.
However, everything changed when I experienced a pull in my groin after my third 20-kilometer training run just 5 days before the Toronto Marathon. I tried to expedite the healing by using my regular recovery techniques that have helped me in the past: foam rolling, stretching, and icing sore spots. I’d also run for shorter durations on the treadmill, refraining from pushing my body too hard. The day before the race, I went back and forth if I should run the marathon, trying to evaluate all the risks and rewards. My inner dialogue persistently argued both sides until I went to the bed the night before. The obvious and rational choice would have been to skip it and not risk further injuries, but I had committed by signing up, announcing that I was running on social media and felt this sense of accountability the I had to run it. In the end, I decided to go for it.
The day of the marathon, I woke up at 4:30 a.m to begin my pre-race routine. Shower, coffee, empty my bowels (LOL sorry for sharing), eat, drink more coffee, empty my bowels again, take my pre-workout drink (BCAAs + G2), then empty my bowels once more before leaving for the start line. I had so many negative recurring thoughts about not being able to finish and had no idea how this race would play out. However, I promised myself that I would listen to my body intently; not pushing too hard and sticking to a reasonable pace (between 4’10 – 5’00), praying that my injury wouldn’t worsen. The first 10 kilometers I felt pretty stiff, but after that, my legs started loosening up and the miles flew by. Before I knew it, I only had a few kilometers left and pushed a bit harder. I ended up finishing with a personal best of 3:09:40 (pace of 4’30’’) and couldn’t believe it. Not only did I get my best time, my legs also felt completely fine. I even walked the 2 kilometers home with no issues.
The next morning, I went on a very slow, outdoor recovery run and although my legs were a bit stiff, the groin injury seemed to have dissipated. Feeling overly confident, I ran 10 kilometers and then went to ball hockey in the evening. Huge mistake. About ¾ through the game, I felt severe pain in the groin/hip flexor region and struggled to run for the last bit of the game.
Tuesday was hell and when I got out of bed, I would be remiss to not acknowledge the severe and debilitating pain in my groin. I struggled to lift my leg out of bed, get into the shower, but worst and most discouraging, was the arduous effort in completing my routined 5-miler. As each day passed, the pain got significantly worse. Then, it happened. After Thursday’s run, I couldn’t walk properly and was limping; I couldn’t even walk 100m without doing some sort of awkward side step. Not only did I experience pain in the groin, but also shooting pains at the front of my quad, knee, and lower back. I was completely mortified. Combined feelings of anxiety, absolute terror and disappointment surfaced over the fact that I would have to break my consecutive streak and actually take time off to recover. The panic from the ominous pain in my leg caused me to frantically search for a physiotherapist near me. I was in my friend’s office, called the closest one, and they luckily were able to squeeze me in right away. I couldn’t walk, so I drove right to the front and hobbled into the entrance.
As expected, the physiotherapist advised strongly against any physical activity for 1-2 weeks. Definitely no running. He was confident that I had a third grade hip flexor strain; one that would require surgery if it got any worst. FUCK MY LIFE. After the anticipated lecture, he showed me some recovery exercises and sent me on my way. I acquiesced his concerns and advice.
The despondency I felt was overwhelming. I called my family and they also were in agreeance with the physiotherapist’s advice; stop running and let my injury recover on its own. Similar to the weekend prior, that same inner monologue resurfaced, questioning whether I should really halt my running. I decided that I would wait until the next day and make my decision then.
Of course, my stubbornness and stupidity took over any sliver of pragmatism my mind housed, and I decided that I would try to run on the treadmill. I ran 2 kilometers at the slowest pace of my life: 8’15/km. The pain was still excruciating, but at least I didn’t break my streak. Not just yet. I popped some Advil when I got home, iced the injury and repeated the exercises I got from the physio. As the day progressed, my leg felt shockingly better. I thought the Advil was the culprit, but when I walked to the grocery store, I noticed that the pain really subsided. I thought to myself that maybe I could even run on it. I decided to push my luck and ran another 3 kilometres outdoors later in the day. My leg felt stiff and slightly sore, but overall, my hip flexor felt a lot better. There were no post-run pains and I prayed that this wasn’t just a weird fluke and that my leg was actually on the mend.
I crawled out of bed on Saturday morning and for the first time since developing my injury, my hip felt significantly better. I jumped on the treadmill and ran 5 miles/8km with a decent pace of 37:25 (4’41/ km). On Sunday, I felt even better and ran my regular mileage in 36:33 (4’34 / km). As I write this, it’s been a few weeks since the injury, but it’s completely healed and I didn’t have to miss a single day.
Lucky? For sure. Stupid? For sure. But I also know how to listen intently to my body and even with the debilitating injury, I still managed to recover without taking an entire day off. I get a lot of questions from other runners that have suffered chronic injuries. The only advice I can offer is to use the proper recovery techniques post-run and to learn to listen to your body. The days that your body is telling you that it’s not having any of it, listen and go SLOW. Always work within your limitations and here’s to hoping that you’ll go injury-free as well! 🙂