The Argument Against Running Streaks
A half-dozen years ago, I decided to try doing a run streak. They were a trendy thing back then, one of those running ideas that suddenly catches fire, such as obstacle and virtual races.
The summer months had just begun, and as the mother of a 2-year-old and a 6-year-old, I knew it would be easy to succumb to summertime immobility if I didn’t have something to motivate myself to run when the kids were underfoot.
I bargained with myself over the details—what would be the minimum number of miles to run in order to count the day (one), how would I keep myself accountable (checking in with my husband at the end of each day). I even signed up for a half-marathon at summer’s end to help motivate me, which was my first long race since my youngest was born.
I felt excited. I felt ready. I felt … a terrible pain in my knee.
I got injured.
It didn’t happen right away. I made it 26 days into my planned 40-day streak before the injury became unbearable and I bailed. I learned that summer that my body DOES NOT LIKE running every day.
Since that time, I’ve read a lot about running streaks. Partially I’m fascinated by the discipline it takes to engage in such a long-term commitment. I can barely manage to wash my favorite running shorts once a week, let alone get out on the pavement seven days a week, 365 days a year.
But partially I pay attention because running streaks worry me. I suspect they’re unhealthy. And I’ve seen firsthand evidence of that, not just from my injury but also from a friend who has a two-year running streak going and has run under all sorts of unfavorable conditions, from the unpleasant to the downright dangerous, hitting the roads at 3 a.m. by herself once to squeeze in a run before an early morning at work.
Here are the reasons I think running streaks are a bad idea.
They limit your workouts
By week two of my running streak, I could tell I was on the cusp of injury. I have never been an everyday runner, and at that time I used yoga and spinning classes as a way to vary my workout routine.
I ditched the stretching and biking for only running, and I could feel a difference almost immediately. My body stays injury-free thanks to lack of repetitive motion – in my classes, I worked different muscle groups than in running and used my legs in different ways.
But running every day meant my body was doing the same thing. It didn’t take long for it to rebel in the form of the knee injury.
People will argue that the body eventually gets used to these repetitive motions, and my tiny run streak wasn’t enough to prove anything. But I’d say back that our bodies thrive on change. Trainers at the gym vary their clients’ routines because they know how well they respond to alternate stressors. Even if you’re training for a race, going different distances and throwing in speed/hill work, your body’s still doing the same thing, day after day.
They encourage you to ignore injuries
It took me more than a week after my injury to finally take time off. That was 12 days of my knee feeling worse and worse before I admitted, OK, there’s a problem here.
Run streaks encourage this sort of compulsive behavior, which can make a small injury turn into something much worse. If you continue to run on a stress fracture, for instance, it can become an actual fracture. Even just a mile a day stressed the body and won’t allow you to heal.
I’ve read about streakers with five, 10-, 20-year strings going who have run through a broken leg or appendicitis. That’s not smart or commendable. That’s stupid, plain and simple. When the streak develops a mind of its own, it can get the body in big trouble.
They don’t allow for sick days
My run-streaking friend recently got the flu and, you guessed it, kept right on logging miles even though she couldn’t even make it into work. Was that the reason her illness lingered for two weeks while her son recovered in one? I’m no doctor but I’d be willing to wager it was.
Your immune defenses flag when you’re ill. That compromised immune system can become even weaker when you overburden yourself, opening you up to further illness and, in the case of my friend, longer healing time. Sometimes you just need time in bed with a book to get better.
They don’t let you get enough rest
You’ve probably read, just like I have, about how the body needs rest in order to repair the microtears in our muscles that occur when we run long distances. That’s why many running experts recommend taking off days from running following a big exertion – 26 days off following a marathon, for instance, or 13 days off following a half marathon.
Running streaks don’t allow for that rest and healing. The day after a marathon, when most mortals are trying to perfect our straight-legged gait down the stairs, these people are plodding around the track till they hit their 1-mile minimum.
They become a distraction
I may or may not have been on the verge of tears six years ago as we pulled up to our vacation rental at 11:30 p.m. (darn traffic), worried that I wasn’t going to get my run in following our 16-hour drive. We hustled the kids into the house, and then my husband sat outside our rental watching me run up and down the street at 11:52, willing my GPS watch to hit 1 mile before midnight and giving me my fastest mile time in forever.
The next day, I let my streak end. My knee hurt, obviously, but I also didn’t like the compulsion the streak had awakened within me. I couldn’t relax until I got that day’s run out of the way – and since I’m not a morning runner, I was often tense until 8 or 9 p.m. As my kids could tell you, that’s not a lot of fun to be around.
After I let go of the streak, it took me four weeks to heal up enough to return to running. I completed the half marathon, albeit with a bit of knee pain, but I also made another resolution – no more run streaks. It’s one I’ve actually been able to keep.