MagazineApril 2009Still Running After All These Years

Still Running After All These Years

Still Running After All These Years

Streakers Run Every Day for Decades

It’s just past midnight in February, and a winter storm is heading toward Maryland. To beat the incoming weather, 69-year-old John Strumsky heads out for a quick jog through his neighborhood in the suburbs outside of Baltimore. He wants to get his daily run finished before the snow and ice arrive, because missing a day is not an option.

Strumsky is a streaker—a label that has nothing to do with public nudity in the running world. It means running at least one mile everyday, and for Strumsky, the stint has continued uninterrupted for the past 25 years and eight months. It may seem like a strange obsession, but Strumsky insists it’s mostly about staying in shape.

“People have good intentions when it comes to running on a regular basis,” he explains. “But then missing a day or two becomes a week or two, and it eventually fades away. I’ve worked it into my schedule, so it’s second nature and I’m constantly fit.”

Strumsky is the president of the United States Running Streak Association (USRSA), a relatively small organiza-tion that has 189 active streakers. They range in age from 17 to 78, but the average streaker is in his or her mid-50s. The longest active streak is currently being held by Mark Covert of Lancaster, California, a 56-year-old who has run every day for over 40 years.

Even if streakers are basically focused on staying healthy, a certain commitment comes into play that is beyond ordinary. Keeping a running streak alive requires squeezing in at least a mile, even on days with special occasions like weddings or funerals. It also means running through dangerous weather, and even debilitating illness. Strumsky has run through badly swollen ankles, twisted knees, and nasty cases of the flu.

“I once had the flu so bad I was seeing spots when I was running,” he says.

Rich Wright’s streak is over 18 years and going strong. The 57-year-old track and cross-country coach from Pittsburgh has used the parking garage of a mall and the hallways of the high school where he works to run during Western Pennsylvania’s worst winter days. He was scolded by his doctor for running with pneumonia while he was training for a marathon. He also endured days of pounding the pavement while healing six broken ribs. His streak almost ended when he spent a full day in the hospital being treated for kidney stones. Unexpectedly, he was discharged around 8:30 p.m., so he went home and ran two miles.

Richard Wright has run one mile every day for the past 18 years.
Richard Wright has run one mile every day for the past 18 years.

“I’ve never been in so much pain,” Wright says. “But at this point I don’t want to waste all of those days.”

Of course there are always extreme circumstances that can end a streak. Jane Hefferan, 28, from Nashville, had to end her seven-year running streak when she was bitten by two brown recluse spiders last summer. Five surgeries and three blood transfusions have forced her to become sedentary, which has been tough for the recent law school grad who was at one time averaging 15 miles a day. She even ran through a stress fracture prior to getting the bites.

“I was always out the door every day by 4 a.m.,” she says. “It’s been difficult being forced to stay off my feet.”

Even though Wright has stayed relatively healthy throughout his streak, he admits the endeavor isn’t always in his best interest. He goes out of his way to advise the kids he coaches against attempting anything similar, especially because it could be detrimental to a young body that is still developing. But at this point it’s hard for him to let go.

“I guess it’s just become about the idea of doing something so long,” he says. “I’ll have to be physically not able to move for this streak to stop.”

Still, many fitness experts say that doing the same exercise everyday will cause overuse injuries. Repetitive exercise has been proven to cause gradual trauma to muscles, bone, and joints, which can especially affect the knees of runners.

To John Wolff of Spotsylvania, Va., though, running has just become a second-nature part of his daily routine. Wolff, whose streak will hit 20 years in September, has never let himself run less than three miles in a day since 1990, but like a lot of streakers, he downplays the feat as less of an accomplishment and more of a mundane ritual, as common as brushing his teeth.

“I’m a creature of habitat,” he says. “I’m not fanatical. It’s just a routine part of the day.”

Rich Wright has run one mile every day for the past 18 years.

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