I’ve never been able to call myself an athlete. I tried track in ninth grade but was bullied relentlessly by an older student. That ended high school sports for me. After that I’d run occasionally, but always did it begrudgingly.
Then in 2019, I read an article in Runner’s World about streaking. (No, not that kind of streaking!) The writer proposed a challenge: Run any amount of time or distance, every day, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The writer went on to explain that healthy habits can form after 66 days, while exercise habits might take up to 91 days. I thought I’d try it, since any amount of time or distance seemed like an easy challenge.
So I started running on May 6, 2019. Some days it was three miles. Some days just one. Two weeks became four weeks. One month became two months. The longer I ran, the more motivated I became. Somehow, I am now continuing a streak that passed four years in May.
Probably more than my four-year college degree, my four-year running streak has taught me some valuable lessons.
1. It’s easier to run every day. I found that when I’d previously run occasionally, it seemed like such an effort to put on the clothes and hit the road. But now it is so normal. Another thing I’m constantly surprised by is how good I feel during a run. My mind clears up, I do not feel inadequate or like an imposter (something I struggle with), I get song ideas that I sing into my iPhone, and I get time to listen to amazing podcasts.
2. It’s easy to trick the brain. Sometimes I put on my shorts, shirt, socks and running shoes when I tell myself I am going to only run one mile at an easy pace. But then I start running and sure enough, the brain says, “Heck, as long as we’re out here, let’s go a bit longer and maybe a little faster!” I’m always surprised by this but almost always heed the suggestion.
3. If you start easy (notice I didn’t say slow), you might find you enjoy running. And your pace will hijack you, leading to faster times without any thought of speeding up. I listen to Coach Bennett on the free Nike running app, who basically became my trainer once I was well into my streak. I decided to follow his advice while training for a marathon (more on that later).
In short, your pace should always start out “easy.” This was a monumental epiphany for me. I now always start “easy,” and as Coach says, your body naturally speeds up as you run. I’m super skeptical of these kinds of statements. But after checking my splits on Strava, the data confirmed Coach’s point. And starting “easy” made running much more enjoyable.
4. Creating a habit is not that hard. And once you create a healthy habit, you might find it difficult to break. I run every day and it’s become as routine as eating for me. I don’t forget a meal and don’t seem to forget a run. The habit of running also leads to better food choices and learning about optimal physical health. If you eat the same, chances are that you won’t lose weight by running. But when you spend time working out, you’ll start to make better intake choices.
5. Wear reflective clothing. The second day of my running streak could have been the last day of my life. I was running in the early, dark morning and encountered a car making a quick turn. I did not hear it coming, as I had headphones on. As the front of the car barely missed me, I tried to stop but tripped, and my head was inches from the rear tire flying by. The car stopped a few hundred yards ahead, but the driver took off after they saw me get up.
With people texting, speeding, and drinking coffee, you can’t over prepare for the dangers on the road. Fortunately, most of my runs are now on a local greenway. Now I always wear reflective clothing in the dark, and do not use headphones on the road. I don’t have air bags to protect me.
6. A good podcast can make runs effortless. While listening to the podcast Serial, I was always disappointed when my run ended midway through an episode. There are so many riveting podcasts to choose from. Recently I’ve listened to Bone Valley and Sold a Story. Currently I’m listening to Ten Percent Happier, Murdaugh Murders, and Huberman Lab.
7. “Unless you fell on your treadmill, no one wants to hear about your workout.” This quote from a fridge magnet always gives me pause. Should I share my workouts, or humbly work out on my own with no sharing? The part of running that is often overlooked by loners like me is the community building. And this starts with sharing your challenges, struggles, victories, and the mundane.
Sharing your streak with friends provides encouragement, but also inspires others. I’ve had lots of people tell me that my streak is inspiring, that running “just a mile” is now okay with them. Apps like Strava and MapMyRun also give you a chance to champion other runners. And that little bit of pressure sometimes makes me run a little longer or faster.
An old college friend saw I was still running and offered me a slot in the 2021 Chicago Marathon. I had never run that far, but thought, “Why not?” The next thing I knew, I was training. I had run a few half marathons, and the thing I learned is that a marathon is more than twice as hard! It was exciting, a terrific goal, but something I probably won’t do again.
8. Races can be expensive but are worth every penny. There’s something motivating about a flock mentality, which ties in with the previously mentioned sense of community. But it also gives you a goal to improve either your distance or time. I’ve found 5Ks to be inclusive and they almost always support a great local organization. You see friends you never knew were runners. You will make connections with people you didn’t know you had any connection with. You see parts of your community you might never experience.
9. Local running stores are important, so support them. I had a relative ask about some pain he had in his knees while running. I asked where he got his running shoes, and he said online. I encouraged him to go to his local running store and sure enough, he’s now running pain free. The experts at these stores are passionate about all things running. They observe your gait, ask you questions about your habits, look at your old shoes, and make suitable recommendations. Jus’ Running and Foot Rx Running, based in Asheville, are two stores I’ve used. I leave feeling like I am getting the best gear for perhaps the most important part of my body while running.
Vince Floriani, Jr. is an Asheville City Schools elementary school teacher. He won the USA Today All Star Teacher Team award, a Parents’ Choice award for his children’s music, and leads the Vince Junior Band, an original funky blues band, at local venues.
Photo courtesy of Vince Floriani