04 June 2012

The Streak

Relative to what others have accomplished, what I’ve done is piddling at best. According to the website www.runeveryday.com, there’s a guy in California who’s run every day for nearly forty-four years, since 1968. Their criteria is a mere mile per day minimum, whereas mine is three, and I’ll bet he’s had far better weather on average, but really, who cares? It’s the fact that you get out and do something, anything at all, and reap the benefit. What he’s done is, and apparently continues to do, is truly remarkable. What I’ve done really isn’t, but it certainly has been good for me on the whole, and has given me a large smile to boot – both for the immediate effects as well as the memories.

While running the Buffalo Marathon two Sundays back, I hit the three-mile-per-day minimum and tied one of the few remaining records from my First Lap younger days, at least one of the few that isn’t tied directly to raw youthful speed. I’d equaled The Streak of my youth, three hundred and seventy five days straight, running at least three miles per day. The next morning, on a recovery jog through the flat streets of Horseheads, New York, accompanied by my niece, who can justly curse at me for nudging her into this running thing – to the extent that she’s now gearing up for her first full marathon this fall (the venerated Maine Corps one – nice choice!) – the record fell, Day Three Hundred and Seventy Six.

What I’ve done is to effectively sneer at the concept of aging. That’s really how I see it. Topping at age forty-nine what you busted your butt to achieve at age seventeen. And frankly, it’s tougher at age forty-nine. Not only does life get in the way a lot more, but the body needs a little more attention and maintenance. Mention “streak” and you’ll hear plenty of warnings about injuries, burn-out, and the like. These aren’t idle threats. The streak continues only at the convenience of the avoidance of major injuries, and the inevitable minor ones must be managed. I use the “VDO”, or Virtual Day Off, the easy three-mile jog, just enough to maintain but barely enough to break a sweat, liberally as needed. I use racing and odd adventures, like running distant locales, to avoid the burn-out.

Aside from that, the practical benefits of a streak are pretty obvious, starting with motivation to get out there every day, no matter what. Trust that there were more than a few days when it would have been really easy to stay in the warmth and comfort of indoors, or get that extra hour of sleep rather than rise to sneak in a quickie before going on the road for meetings.

But getting out every day, no matter what, forces you to a higher level of training consistency, a level I haven’t enjoyed since, well, since that first streak back in 1979-1980. Training consistency pays off in fitness level and race performance. In those days of yore, the consistency of streak training led me to my three best races of that era with times I’ll almost certainly never match at my ripe old age: a sub-sixteen-minute 5K, my best “mile” – more accurately that odd sixteen-hundred-meter distance we started running when they converted our track midway through high-school, and a 15K at close to five and a half minutes per mile. This time, it’s led to (modern-day, Second Lap) PRs at almost every distance from the mile to the marathon. You can’t argue with that.

This streak, like the last big one thirty-two years ago, started entirely by accident, not unlike almost any other streaking runner. A couple of days before finishing up last year’s “run every street in Marlborough” challenge, I just forgot to not run for a while. It took a few weeks to notice. When it stretched past two months and became the longest since that legendary streak of youth, I pulled out my log book from those days and recalled some amusing tidbits.

In my First Lap high school days, I was extremely lucky to have an extremely talented runner a mere four doors up the street, four years my senior but willing to hang out with a youngster. I don’t recall exactly how Cliff and I linked up, though it probably had to do with him dating the daughter of close friends from our church. Matters not, we did, and the result was many years of terrific runs and a friendship that, while left unattended for many years, was easily revived and lasts to this day.

Through the years we shared plenty of adventures that I don’t need my log to remember. The summer he worked second shift, a small gang of regulars would form a late-night coffee klatch in his driveway awaiting his arrival, and we’d head out around one in the morning. On our weekly twelve-milers, I’d hit the sheets around three in the morning, and joke that my mother never worried about me since she knew I was just out roaming the streets all night. And the trip to New York City for the New Year’s Eve midnight race in Central Park probably deserves a post all its own.

What I had forgotten, and was reminded of only when I perused those old pages, was that the streak started the first day I ever ran with him. Schoolboy meets mentor, schoolboy gets motivated, schoolboy transforms from middling schoolboy runner to something at least a notch or two higher. More importantly, schoolboy registers in his brain that this is something bigger than high school, and though he lets it lapse for twenty-some years, the spark is planted to re-ignite decades later.

A year into that streak I found myself getting itchy, feeling that the streak had run its course, done its job, and needed an excuse to end. The excuse was obvious, as Mentor Cliff’s wedding day approached, and as his lovely wife was of a family so connected to ours, it was a big enough event to give license for calling it a day. The log reads “Cliff and Margo forever” and I’m happy to say that thirty-two years later, they still are.

Cliff, when you read this, know it is my way of saying thanks for your help, motivation, and friendship through all those years, miles, and adventures. Breaking that streak record last week brought back a lot of great memories. Then, get over all the emotional crap, go pop in a few miles, and enjoy a cold one – wish I could join you for it.

Now, only forty-three years to go to catch that guy in California, assuming he actually quits sometime.

Trivia Note: The conversion to metric happened midway through my high school years, and I recall them digging up the steel rail to shrink our 440 yard cinder track down to 400 meters. Before the conversion, an annual event was the “Metric Meet”, an invitational where once a season we ran those exotic international distances. My log reminds me that after the conversion, we actually did the reverse, for old time’s sake, and ran an invitational “Anti-Metric Meet” with traditional length events. Seeing today’s movement to bring back the mile, I’d have to say we were unknowing visionaries.

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