The running streak goes against every grain of common sense. Anyone who has taken sport even moderately seriously will have had the importance of rest days drummed into them. Your body needs time to recover. You can’t improve performance without rest. And yet as we get older and running becomes less competitive, those things don’t seem to matter quite so much. The concept of habit over motivation has started to creep into our collective psyche. And suddenly you start to wonder. If running was a habit rather than a chore, would it be easier to persuade yourself to lace up your trainers and get out there? A running streak is no longer reserved for serious athletes. In fact, it’s a challenge most of us could rise to. And believe it or not, it might just change your life.
What is a running streak?
The thing about running streaks is that they mean different things to different people. In essence though, you commit to running everyday. Many people start off with RED January. RED stands for run every day. Completing RED January is a 31 day running streak.
Most people set themselves a minimum distance to run each day. Generally the streak is accepted as running at least one mile every day. For some, the streak lasts for a fixed period of time like RED January. The aim may be to run every day for a week, month, year or decade. They are all valid run streaks. Other people, including me, start a run streak with no fixed end point in mind.
How to start a run streak
How to start a running streak may seem obvious but there’s quite a lot to consider. Most importantly, are you read to run every day? If you’ve never run before or don’t do much running then starting out with the aim of going every day probably isn’t a great idea. Unless you have a reasonable level of fitness to start with, running every day could cause injury.
So, the answer is to start when you feel ready. Run regularly, a few times a week and make sure you have no niggling injuries. Cross train with other sports to build up fitness. Then set yourself a plan. You may want to set a mile as a minimum, but when you start out you should probably have a maximum distance in mind as well. Long run days should be followed by ‘rest days’ where you run short and slow.
Cross training remains important when you take on a run streak. Sports such as swimming or gym workouts will train different muscles. This can reduce injuries and will ultimately result in better all around fitness. So, it’s important to be able to fit running in around any other exercise you already do, rather than instead of it.
What about rest days? Will I get injured if I run every day?
Rest days are a matter for some debate. Many athletes and coaches still insist that they are the most important part of your training schedule. The trick of the run streak though, is to have ‘rest days’ where you still run. If your minimum distance is a mile then run a slow mile on your rest days. Once you’re into the swing of a run streak, rest day distances can be increased if you want to.
Another way of getting a rest day without breaking a run streak is to run at different times of the day. For example, if you run at 6am on Monday, then wait until 6pm to run on Tuesday then that’s 36 hours between runs.
It is also important to consider the psychological benefit of rest days. Running every day can get a little dull. So, those shorter runs are important. Allow yourself to spend just a few minutes running. Vary the pace or distance, get it out of the way first thing in the morning or run with a friend. Running does become a habit during a run streak but that doesn’t totally distract from the boredom.
The benefits of running every day
I have written in the past about why I run every day. But don’t take my word for it. According to the NHS, running regularly can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. It can also help with weight loss and improve your mood. For World Mental Health Day a few years ago, the BBC reported on how running has helped people with their mental health.
Going one step further, an article in the Guardian says that any amount of running reduces your risk of early death. They say that this applies however many miles you run per week and that pace isn’t important. They quote the World Health Organisation, who estimate that 3.2 million deaths every year are due to insufficient physical activity.
Aside from the benefits of running itself, why do it every day? For me, it’s all about motivation. I have never been particularly motivated to run. Sometimes I’d get into the habit of it and I’d run regularly for a while. Then I’d get lazy and sometimes wouldn’t run for months. A running streak makes running a habit and takes the motivation out of it. These days, it’s just what I do. As a dog owner, I take the dog with me so running has replaced our daily dog walks. She’s fitter, happier and calmer for getting more exercise and running a few miles is a lot quicker than walking a few miles, so I actually find I have more time rather than less.
Problems with running every day
The main reasons cited for avoiding running every day are around injury prevention. I’ve trawled the internet and the best reason I can come up with for avoiding running every day is that it’s not for everyone. Even then though, it is widely accepted that easy days or running rest days where you only run a short, slow distance are generally sufficient.
Runner’s World have a good post about whether running every day does more harm than good. They go into the signs that you may need a rest day or a running break. Even then though, a lot of the article is focussed on more serious runners who put pressure on themselves to achieve throughout a running streak. For those of us happy to revel in the benefits of a daily plod with the occasional even slower plod, there are few downsides.
Tips for sticking to a running streak
Everyone has their own set of challenges and motivations so sticking to a running streak really will be a matter of finding out what works for you. These are simply a few things that have worked well for me.
- Vary your route. Doing the same route every day can become incredibly tedious. I tend to find a route I love and do it for most of my runs for a few weeks. Then something about it starts to annoy me, so I find a new main route. Around this, I tend to have a longer run and a shorter run once a week.
- Run with a friend. It’s not generally practical to run together every day, but a sociable run once a week can be a great motivator.
- Look for inspiration. I loved the book Running with Raven by Laura Lee Huttenbach. It is about a man who has been running eight miles a day along Miami South Beach since 1975.
- Find other people who are doing a run streak. There is a Runner’s World Run Streak group on Facebook. I’ve only just asked to join so I don’t know what it’s like but I’m sure it will be a good way to find like minded runners.
- Vary when you run. Running in the morning gets it out of the way and when I started to run, I felt like I needed it done first thing. But as time went on, it became easier to run whenever it worked for me. Usually after the school run, sometimes when the children are out during the afternoon. Occasionally if I’ve had no time to myself all day, I’ll cook dinner then run while everyone else is eating. Those are the days when I feel like I need a run the most.
- Know when to stop. If you are injured, it is time to stop. If you’re not sure whether your running form is causing the injuries, it’s worth getting some advice from a coach before starting again.
How a running streak can benefit other areas of your life
I have been recording my running streak now for 407 days. In reality, I started a couple of weeks before that but started to record it at the beginning of 2020. In that time I’ve trained for a postponed marathon and managed to keep going through three lockdowns. We have been lucky enough not to have to self isolate with Covid. So in the circumstances, running was the one thing I could carry on with. It brought an element of routine to my life when all other routines went out of the window. When I had to go without the usual benefits of open water swimming, running kept me going.
Better still, I have learned about the benefits of habit over motivation. Having never really stuck to anything since I stopped competitive swimming as a child, I relearned commitment. Seeing the ease of fitting daily running into my life opened up other possibilities. If a small habit like this could have such an impact, what else could I do?
For me, running daily didn’t automatically lead to weight loss. But it made me realise that changing my eating habits wasn’t as difficult as I thought. Last autumn I started 16:8 intermittent fasting 5 days a week. I stuck to it rigidly and easily lost weight. That, like daily running, is now a part of my life that is unlikely to change any time soon.
Outside of health and fitness goals, I decided to put habits in place to combat my poor time management. I made time to read every evening without fail. I started listening to an audio book or podcast when I running as well. Suddenly I felt like I had more time to do the things I wanted to do. My latest habit has been to start a daily to-do list diary. Running is on the list of course, along with a few other easy wins. Every single day I work my way through the list, giving me the structure I had been lacking as a freelancer.
Other things you need to know about run streaks
- What is the longest running streak? On Sunday 29 January 2017, Ron Hill ended his run streak. At 52 years and 39 days, it had become the longest ever run streak. He ran at least a mile every day during that time.
- How do you record a run streak? I record my run streak on Strava. On a few occasions it hasn’t recorded properly but you can add a run manually if there is an issue. I don’t use Strava for anything else so it is easy to see the number of miles I’ve done per day, month and year.
- How far should you run? It’s not sensible to suddenly up your distance per week. So, if you intend to start running on consecutive days, that may mean running less mileage on some days. It is widely agreed that the minimum distance is a mile. Personally my minimum is generally two miles but I allow myself the thought that if I’m really not up for it, I’ll just do a mile. Since starting I’ve done at least 100 miles every month and easily completed the 1000 mile running challenge within 10 months.
- How long should a running streak last for? That’s up to you. If you’re not sure then just start running for the first time and see how long you can keep your streak going for. If you’re better with a challenge then think about your schedules. Could you fit in a run every day for the next week, month or even year? Some people do a run streak to raise money for charity. I would advise starting quietly at first though, get a few weeks under your belt to see whether it’s for you before broadcasting your goal.