What I learned from 878 days

This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.

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Oops, not that kind of streaking!

Recently, I was out on a planned 10 mile run when, about 3.5 miles in, the driver of a truck decided to play chicken with me. With no shoulder and no safe place to go off the pavement, I got as close to the edge of the pavement as I could and hoped the driver wouldn’t be homicidal. Fortunately, he wasn’t.

About a half mile later, while running downhill, I felt something in my ankle. Just one step, like I stepped wrong, so I kept going. Shortly after, it came back and was there for every step. I stopped at 4.13 miles.

In the prior 877 days, I had run at least 5 miles every day. Now, I was left 4 miles from home having run 4.13 miles but unable to run at all without a limp. Fortunately, a fellow runner was driving by and offered me a ride home. I then took 2 days off to ensure the ankle was healed before running again, ending my running streak at 878 days.

So what did I learn from this streak? I thought I’d share a few lessons.

You can streak and race at a high level

I didn’t take a day off for almost 2.5 years. During that time, I had my share of bad race days but I also had my share of good race days. If you keep your easy days easy enough, streaking doesn’t have to destroy your racing capabilities.

Takeaway for non-streakers: Easy days matter. There are times when, even if you aren’t taking a day off, your body still needs a good dose of recovery. It’s not a sin, in fact it can even be helpful, to go short and very easy sometimes.

You can’t streak and race your absolute best

While I raced very well at times, there were other times when I was racing with too much fatigue. Also, there are times when the fatigue added up to the point where I couldn’t maximize my training. I had accepted those facts as a part of where I am in my running life at this time. However, I can’t deny that I gave up some level of performance during the streak.

Takeaway for non-streakers: While easy days matter, so does the occasional off day. Whether you schedule them into your plan or you take them when your body demands, don’t be afraid to take a day off sometimes. If you’re not trying to build a streak, then take a day off when your body demands one.

You don’t have to take a day off based on a calendar

A long time ago, I would religiously take a day off every two weeks. If I didn’t, I would find that I would burn out by 3-4 weeks and my running would backslide.

Now, this was at a different point in my running life. I was young, aggressive, and trying to be the best I could possibly be. I was pushing my body’s limits. As mentioned above, I surely did need days off. However, was taking a day off every other week really necessary or would a 5 mile run at a truly easy pace have worked just as well, at least some of those times?

If I would have truly run adequately short and easy at the time is a fair question. However, physiologically, that truly easy 5 mile run probably would have given me the kind of recovery I needed.

Streaks aren’t my thing

A personal lesson to end. I’ve never considered myself a streaker, even as I was compiling this streak. I always told myself that, if my body says it needs a day off, I’d take it. In the end, I proved that I was not lying to myself. However, I have to admit that I was thinking about 1,000 days at points during this summer. I wanted to see if I could do it. At the same time, I didn’t like the feeling of the pressure I was placing on myself to try to get there. I’m kind of glad in a way I stopped before I got to 1,000 days.

I’m a racer, not a streaker. I suspect that, in the future, I won’t come anywhere close to 878 days. And I’m good with that. 878 days is something I don’t regret but it’s something I don’t have any interest in repeating.

That said, I hope the lessons from my streak can be of benefit, whether you’re a streaker or not.

Photo credit: Streaker! by taylor grimaldi, on Flickr

4 Replies to “What I learned from 878 days”

  1. Cool, I am a non-serious streaker like you. I am on day 140 or so right now, this is my second go around, but if I get sick or will seriously inconvenience someone such as my wife I will take the day off. I am not racing so for me it helps keep me consistent. If I get bad weather I can take days off that can turn into weeks if I am not careful. I feel really healthy with lots of easy days, but I guess you are more fitness focused then health focused? Did you feel better in anyway or any other positive benefits? I fully understand keeping a streak is a little bit of a pain especially if you don’t really care that much.

    1. Alex, it’s interesting you mention the idea that days off can turn into weeks off. I personally am not like that but definitely know some people. In fact, one of the people I coach who I’m sure will see this is always concerned about that happening so getting him to take days off can be challenging.

      Personally, I did feel better after a couple days off. Not that I need frequent days off but, after 878 days, there is only so much an easy day can do for you. I’m a big fan of keeping your easy days truly easy and think doing so can lessen, if not eliminate, the need for frequent days off. However, on occasion, a day of complete rest can do a lot of good. For most people, of course, this isn’t an issue.

      1. Yeah, I think most serious runners have your mindset that allows you to stay on target. I am a very casual runner and would love to increase performance but am more interested in the health aspects at this time. I run really low heart rate most of the time. My max HR is about 180 and I frequently have days I run at 120, so it does not feel much harder than walking and a lot of days I only run a mile. So if you build in as much rest as I do, you don’t really need days off but also I am not a performance runner so that is a big difference.

        1. Absolutely. We all have different goals and different things that keep us going. I think that, if you’re a competitive runner or in any way pushing your body close to its limit, days off become more important. If you are taking a more casual approach, then they become less important.

          Back when I was truly pushing my body’s limits, I would religiously take a day off every two weeks. Given how hard I was pushing myself, as I mentioned in the post, that was probably necessary. Maybe a day of 30 minutes running at the kind of easy pace I find myself doing a few times a week right now would have accomplished the same thing but I just wasn’t wired that way at the time.

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