Sunday, January 12, 2014

One Last Challenge from 2013: The Streak

In late November, when I was starting to think about my list of new things for 2014 Jon made a suggestion for a challenge that he had just read about in a running magazine – a streak.  Unlike the seventies-style run with no clothes, this streak is about running for an uninterrupted number of days: the Runner’s World article advocated running without missing a day from Thanksgiving through the New Year.  Since Thanksgiving had already passed when Jon made the suggestion that was out, but the idea of running every day for a whole month definitely appealed.  I was tossing around putting it on the New Things list when a high school friend, Brad, posted on Facebook that he was about to finish his own November running challenge, the drive for 75, wherein he ran a minimum of 75 miles in the month.  He noted that he was looking for a new challenge, and I suggested this one.  Then I posted on my own Facebook page that I wanted to do a streak – running a minimum of one mile every day without interruption in the month of December, and asked who was up to join. 

We started as six, but one member, Anna, who lives in Tacoma, Washington, had a few too many family responsibilities during the month to keep her running uninterrupted.  That left five of us, three Vermonters and two in the Pacific Northwest.  On the Vermont side, I represented Burlington, and there were two Montpelier-ites, Jon and my ice skating friend Liz. The westerners were both friends from my high school days in Twin Falls, Idaho.  Claudine lives in Seattle now, and Brad lives near Boise.
Claudine joined the streak in part to get back into running regularly.  Here she is with her mom, Linda, (my ninth grade French teacher) after doing the 2009 Danskin triathlon
Jon and me at the Burlington City Marathon (my first, his fourth) last May.
Brad has done the Hood to Coast relay run in Oregon for many years.  Here he is with his team, squatting under the Saloon sign.
Liz is an athlete on several fronts, including figure skating.  Here she is in her solo performance at a local ice show midway through our December streak. 
Turns out that Facebook is a fine way for runners separated by thousands of miles to hold each other accountable to a challenge like the streak. The rules were very simple: each participant had to run for at least a mile every day from December 1 to the 31 without missing a day.  And all five of us did that, and reported in each day via Facebook to the others in the group.

Certainly, some days were harder than others, and though most of us sprinkled some 8-12 mile long runs in the mix, all of us “used” our one-mile minimum days on multiple occasions.  But we all also discovered that running a mile or two is actually a very doable thing to squeeze into a particularly busy day, at say, 5 am or after dinner, when we don’t usually think about exercising.

Some runs were particularly memorable.  Jon and I began our streak running a 5K fun run in Burlington in Santa suits with our friend Lynn, and Claudine wrote about a lovely 2.8 mile loop around Green Lake at night on Day 14 during the Festival of Lights there, amid a musical performance, luminarias lighting the path, and many people out walking while she ran. Brad wrote about his last run of the streak – going into it expecting to have a minimal, half-hearted experience and pulling out a 4 mile interval speed workout instead. Liz was universally acclaimed by the group – twice actually – for doing one-milers in boots and her winter coat with her dog in freezing weather outside on two different days when she didn’t have her running clothes on hand.

All of us had days were we reported that, absent the streak, we would definitely not have made it out the door.  December is a particularly challenging month for consistent exercise, between holiday socializing, travel and bad weather. We ran through sleet and snow and ice storms, and made use of indoor treadmills, neoprene sleeves, pet dog running companions, and bike-riding children shouting encouragement. All of us did out-of-state travel during the streak, yet everyone got in their runs, even on travel days.  In fact, one of the most interesting things several of us noted was that, once the decision of whether to run was out of the equation, the mental energy that normally went into justifications for not running on a given day was converted into problem-solving for how to fit a run into the day’s activities and circumstances.

When the streak ended on December 31, none of us tried to extend it into January.  But all of us talked about the lessons we’d learned – about how easy it actually is to incorporate a daily good habit with a bit of imagination and flexibility, about our own capacities, and perhaps especially about what a potent combination commitment and mutual accountability can be.  Ironically, I am the only person in our five streak team who has personally met all the other team members, and our running and communication happened, at different points by different people, in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Vermont, Virginia and Florida.  But we made a promise to each other and we kept it, and all feel great about ending 2013 with this challenge.  To anyone looking for a great exercise challenge – that also happens to build both character and community along the way – I highly recommend putting together a streak team.   

Here are Jon and Lynn outside my place right before we headed down to join the throngs of other Santa's for the December 1 5K that started off the streak for Jon and me.

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