In programming, there are a few articles that have gone around where someone talks about “writing code every day for 100 days”. The most popular code sharing website, called Github, famously shows you how long your coding streak has gone on for. Looks like this:
In programming circles, this is not necessarily a good thing. Programmers (reasonably) object to being told they should code outside of work, in order to be good coders.
So although a coding streak is incredibly hard to do (much, much harder than a running streak, surprisingly) no one really is ever going to get that excited about it. Which is too bad, but that’s the way it is.
But running is different. Running is almost never a full-time job. When you run for many days in a row, people get really stoked.
There is an organization called the United States Streak Runners Association which has codified the idea of running every day into not just a quantifiable accomplishment but a way of life.
There are lists (both national and international) that contain the names of everyone who has run more than 365 days straight. The longest active streak is over 51 years. That person has run at least 1 mile every day since 1965. Through rain, snow, hospitalizations, funerals, weddings, you name it.
There is also a much sadder list. It is the retired streak list (USA / international). For example, Kenneth Young, from Petrolia, California, was on a 41.56 year streak, when the impossible happened. He didn’t go running on January 25th, 2012. Why?
There’s a newsletter. You’d think it would be boring, it’s just so intense.
“The worst thing I ever had to run through was the Shingles. They lacked about 2 inches of completely encircling my back. But, I ran a mile every day.”
I’ve had the shingles. I can tell you that lady is a machine. I think she’s on about 30 years now.
One guy talks about running with broken ribs. It took him three tries to get his mile in, and his entire family was rallying behind him. One guy gets hit by a drunk cyclist. The list goes on. The story of why Kenneth Young didn’t run that day in January is an intense read, I’m certain.
Anyway, I’m suddenly and severely injured. Yesterday during my long run my left shin started to hurt for some reason, quite early on. The pain got progressively worse (always a bad sign) but shin pain doesn’t concern me. This was my very last training run until Orcas, and I was feeling good. I wanted my 45 kilometres, and I wanted to finish my nice heatmap. Anyway, ignoring pain is my forte. Well, actually, complaining about pain is my forte, but ignoring it is my second-forte.
So I finished my map, even though my shin was pure agony. On the way home my left hip-flexor/quad started cramping, presumably from my pain-afflicted gait. Ok, I definitely had to get home. I was still running quickly but it had to be over soon. Walking made it worse, anyway.
That afternoon I almost couldn’t walk. It was swollen, bruised, very painful. I iced it a lot. I worried about my upcoming race.
Today my shin was still sore. A bit more stiff, a slight bit less painful (maybe?) but very, very painful. “Sore” is an understatement. It hurts a lot. Definitely injured. I spent the day doing not much. Icing. Bought some Voltaren gel. Played some PS4.
But all weekend I’ve been thinking about running. My last 100 mile week is ruined. I only have three weeks until Orcas. I missed my last big Grouse Grind session. And what about my streak?
My own streak. 202 days. I’ve run every day since July 13th, 2015. It’s generally been pretty easy. I got sick once at the very end of October and ran the minimum a couple of times. One mile per day. I didn’t really care about the streak, but I wasn’t gonna let a stupid cold ruin it for me. I said “I’ll quit when I want to quit, not because of some shitty flu.”
Fast forward to today. 87 days of running later. Sunday, January 31st, 2016. My left shin is half-broken. It’s 6 PM, and I have to make a decision. Do I save the streak? I know that running on my shin is going to hurt. In fact, walking is excruciating. Probably delay my recovery. And really, I don’t care about the streak. If it ends, no biggie. So I said forget it. I’ll ice and rest and be smart about it.
Except then I realized: of course the streak itself is meaningless. Of course I don’t care about the streak. It’s nothing. It has no value. It makes me a worse, slower, more injured runner. But what does has significance is the act of saving the streak when you are hurt, or sick, or tired, and absolutely do not (or should not!) run. It’s only those single streak-saver miles, the bare minimum miles, that are interesting at all. When the doctor (and your own brain) says “don’t run, rest” and you say “I can’t. I have to run”.
So I saved the streak. I put my shoes on (even that hurts) and I jogged, at around 8:10 min/km, up and down the block, for 1 mile. And as I slowly shuffled along, I imagined myself in a 100 miler, left leg half-broken, in the middle of the forest, freezing cold and raining. And I thought “I will never quit, because it is only when my body is failing that it become a real test.”
It’s like Ross said, perfectly, when my knee gave out at Fat Dog and I couldn’t even walk: “This is what you wanted. This is what we came here for.”