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Why does someone decide to start running one day and then decide to keep running continually without any days off… ever?
That question has a multitude of fascinating answers, because the act of run streaking (i.e., running every single day, with no breaks) is a uniquely personal challenge. The reasons why people begin a run streak are just as interesting as how they keep a streak going, and how they stay motivated to keep running for so many years without any days off.
There are as many insightful stories into the run streak as there are runners registered with Streak Runners International. That’s why I sought to dive into the run streak and uncover some patterns or similarities between these run streakers as my own personal challenge.
Stumbling Into a Streak
My interest in run streaking began in 2007 after I completed my first 26.2 at the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon. During my training, like most runners, I took days off, but built up to 60-to-70 miles per week and finished in 2:41:11. I felt horrible after and was unsure of whether I could even walk another mile let alone finish another race. I took two days off and then decided to do an easy shake-out run. The process of moving actually felt very good, which started my thinking that running every day may not be so bad. Little did I know what I would be literally running into.
Building up to the 2008 Boston Marathon, I had an intact run streak of a little over five-months. Unlike my previous marathon, I decided to not take any days off after the race either, and I invited my girlfriend (now wife) to join me in my shake-out run the next day. This 20-minute run would continue my odyssey into the run streak.
In October 2008, I quietly celebrated my first run streak anniversary, but I was still unaware of the prevalence of run streaking. The following year while training for the Vermont City Marathon, my friend and I were sharing our training plans and we both realized we were run streakers. The fact that someone else had a run streak was an exciting concept for me and even more so when he told me that he had my streak beat by two years! Even more impressive, I learned that one of the local running coaches had a streak of nearly 34 years going!
This was the first time I decided to test my running limits and make streaking as long as I could a goal. Unfortunately, my initial run streak came to an end after 2-years and 8-months in the summer of 2010 when I was sidelined with appendicitis.
The experience served as a great opportunity for reflection. Running every day had become something I very much looked forward to. It served as an anchor to my day — I knew I’d be waking up each morning to head out the door for at least a few miles.
Discovering an ‘Underground’ Community
During this first unplanned break, my thoughts turned to how long I could have kept the whole streak up had I not required an unpredictable surgery. My answer was: probably a very long time. Since the world is full of similarly determined and self-motivated individuals, I assumed there had to be many other people like me who were run streakers.
As an epidemiologist and researcher, I began to frame my own research questions about run streaks. I was certain that there had to be some incredible run streaking stories to be told. My personal challenge was to now uncover both the essence of the run streak as well as dive into some of the more scientific aspects of the run streak.
A questionnaire was a good way to capture first-hand accounts of an individual’s experiences. When COVID-19 hit, I had more time to really focus on moving this questionnaire forward. I sent inquiries to those I knew with active or retired run streaks and received positive feedback.
I was also introduced to Streakers Runners International. It turns out that run streaks are more common than many may think. In total, according to Run Streakers International, there are 3,144 active and 1,392 retired run streaks worldwide ranging from one year (365-days) to over 50-years on record.
The administrators of the Streak Runners International were receptive to gathering details about run streaks and posted my questionnaire on their Facebook page. The subject had immediate interest from the group, and I was left with some great preliminary data and many interesting stories.
The Run Streaker Profile
To define what constitutes a run streak, I looked at the registration process set forth by Streak Runners International for guidance. To officially register your streak, the streak must be at least 365 days old and you have to have run at least 1 mile (or 1.61 kilometers) on each of those days.
All the individuals I received feedback from agreed with Streak Runners International definition that an official run streaker needed to run every single day (every 24-hour period from midnight to midnight) for at least one year. It seems to be universally accepted that a run streak is official once it has reached the sacred 365-day mark.
Why people start streaking
Among the several reasons why an individual decides to start a run streak, I found two common patterns. The first type are long-time runners who realize they have a streak going. Once the streak is established, they want to keep going. This is where a determined and motivated mindset can lead to long-term results.
The second type are people who are converting from another sport or returning to running after a period of inactivity, and use the streak as a motivation to recommit to fitness. In this case, the individual decides to aim for intermediate goals, and once they reach the first month to six months of running, they realize they could begin a long-term streak. Having a goal-oriented mindset produces long-term results for these individuals.
For many, an entire year is simply too daunting to think about when first starting. Six months is an important intermediate milestone. By six months running has become a habit and helped build a person’s confidence. The chance of reaching a year appears to drastically increase once an individual has reached six months.
Why people keep streaking
Once the run streak is established, streakers report that a commitment to the sport and a healthy lifestyle is what keeps that run streak going. Running has a lot of beneficial effects on the mind and body. The daily run allows a person to decompress, exercise, and feel good about themselves.
But health benefits only account for a little of the motivation. For many run streakers, a daily run is an event that they look forward to and even gladly anticipate each day. The run is a daily routine that helps keep a person organized and allows them to stay better scheduled. These two commitment aspects help a person succeed in the run streak and can lead to positive impacts in other areas of the run streaker’s life beyond health and fitness.
Those who run streak often consciously or unconsciously use running to reduce unhealthy lifestyle habits. I found that many run streakers reported suffering from depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or addiction. In the case of depression and anxiety, run streaking often helps lift a person’s mood but can also lead an individual to join a running team or club and become more social. In the case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, running helped these run streakers better manage the condition and improve their quality of life. For those who faced addiction, running quite literally served as a replacement for cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs. The run streak helped to lead the person out of a life of addiction and into a healthier lifestyle.
Sometimes a foolish consistency
Keeping a run streak takes a strong commitment and has countless benefits, but there are also some liabilities that can arise from a long run streak. Over 75% of the individuals that responded to my survey had said they had been injured during their run streak yet continued to run. Some runners with injuries essentially end up ignoring many of the common aches and pains that any athlete faces, and they just keep running — sometimes at the cost of furthering their injury to the point of needing surgery.
A great number of people also reported running through illnesses such as the flu and pneumonia. Running any significant distance after such events can exacerbate health problems and is a delicate balancing act where the run streaker weighs the pros and cons of continuing a streak.
After all the research, I can only summarize the answers to my initial question: what makes a person decide to start a run streak and run every single day for years at a time? The real answers are as unique as the 4,500+ runners who have had a run streak.
What do they all have in common? Run streakers are a committed group of people that by default show strong determination and a focused mindset. They have found a commitment to themselves, a commitment to the sport of running, and a commitment to physical fitness. And in this commitment they find the satisfaction and motivation to keep lacing up, getting out and doing what they do: run.
For more on streaking mindsets, stories and lessons, see our Streak Hub.