THE DANGERS OF STREAK RUNNING
By: John Strumsky
The United States Running Streak Association has suddenly become very popular. Our organization is in the throes of a growth spurt. We are reaping the benefits from the recent wave of favorable publicity surrounding healthier lifestyles obtainable through regular exercise and proper dieting. Of late, a surge in newspaper stories, magazine articles and TV news segments about better living choices have described the many benefits available through a general running program, and more particularly, through the maintenance of a running streak. Scores of new runners are taking up the challenge, and our numbers are spiking. Thus, this may be the perfect time to alert newbie runners to the dangers inherent in any sport or physical activity when one attempts to accomplish too much too soon.
Most runners or athletes who sustain injuries suffer them because they lack sufficient training or are not adequately conditioned or both. Of course, accidents will always happen, but it is mainly through insufficient training and inadequate conditioning that most runners are injured. These are the reasons why we have always cautioned new runners to ease into their streak running programs, and why we have designated those in the entry-level tier on the active running streak list as “neophytes.”
We believe and strongly urge that no one should attempt a daily running streak until they have been running on a regular basis for at least six months, with no more than three to five outings per week. As with any strenuous exercise program, the more one runs the better that person’s body and brain become adapted to it. It takes time to develop the experience to tell whether one is under-training or over-training. Of the two, over-training is always more dangerous. With under-training you will not get the full benefit of your training program, but with over-training come injuries connected with overuse and lack of rest. Trying to differentiate where you are in the training spectrum between these two extremes is never easy to gauge, but all the harder to figure out when one is new to an activity and has no personal guideposts against which to measure his or her progress.
Those in the general running community who protest against the streak running philosophy make a valid argument, and they base it solely on overuse concerns. The body does need rest to recuperate and avoid injuries, just as the soul needs time to regenerate its spirit. However, with enough background and experience, streak runners can build in ongoing rest breaks into their running schedule without giving up their streaks. They can do this by running a slower pace or shorter distance at least once or twice each week.
Although membership in the Association is not a requirement for listing one’s streak, if one is going to join the organization it is recommended that they do so prior to the time they start their streak so that they may glean the benefit of the running and streaking information published in The Streak Registry, the USRSA’s quarterly newsletter.
Ideally, a veteran streaker gets the maximum benefit from his or her running streak by stirring up the running mix on a constant basis. He or she will—at different times—run hard or race, run easy or jog, run long or run short to properly condition him or herself. A typical week’s running schedule might alternate one long run, two or three medium length runs and three or four shorter runs. As he or she progresses, a streak runner will throw in some occasional spurts and tempo runs. One may incorporate running hills for a change, or get out on a track and do repeats every so often. A veteran runner will keep experimenting with the mix, even looking for new routes and new training or racing partners. The secret here is to keep searching for ways to continually renew the running experience; to make it fresh for yourself so that you continue to look forward to your runs and not feel compelled to have to run.
Throughout my running career I have listened to many in the running community who disparaged running streaks for their inherent danger only to learn that the running programs most of these protestors followed were one-dimensional; that while they ran, they did little else. Yet, they felt morally compelled to weigh in on the issue of running every day without rest days. They raised their voices in putting down the efforts of streak runners based on their personal viewpoints—often misinformed or uninformed—as to what should constitute a proper running program. Most gave little true thought to the current realities of running. They did not consider the advances achieved in sports medicine or the constant improvements in running shoe technology. They simply parroted the old saw that “everyone knows you need to take days off.” So to those folks who felt, and still feel, the need to weigh in on the issue, let me say that yes, streak running can be dangerous. And yes, occasionally running can be dangerous. And yes again, even getting out of bed can be dangerous. In its broadest sense living is a dangerous activity.
Having acknowledged the risks, experienced runners, especially streak runners, will also come to include other forms of physical exercise into their training schedules so as not to neglect the upper body and other under-utilized muscle groups. Cross-training could include biking or swimming, yoga or weight workouts, or a variety of alternative forms of exercise, even stretching and walking. Sufficient sleep, good eating habits and proper hygiene will come to play roles in staving off the soreness and exhaustion that running brings to a physically demanding training regimen. Music, reading, a bit of TV, and good old-fashion nap breaks should help to sooth the soul and calm the beast within us. Even gender-opposite interrelations play an important role. An active lifestyle encompasses the entire life experience, not just one’s running schedule.
Some record keeping is also essential. Maintenance of a running log or training diary to record your activities will provide you with a record of where you’ve already been. It will also serve as a roadmap to where you are going. There is no way to build improvement into your program if you have no means of measuring your past efforts. You should be able to compare current efforts against those previous results to measure your personal progress. Always remember that—when most of the running community calls for rest days—you can have them by jogging an easy mile or two and still maintain your daily streak. Again, once you have gained at least six months of regular running experience and your joints and muscles have become acclimated to the stress of running, only then are you ready to take on a daily running streak. At that point, a few easy days per week should suffice for regular rest and recovery periods.
Consider also that if running every single day is so hazardous to your health, why is it that the rolls of the USRSA contain the names of so many streak runners in their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and even 70’s who haven’t missed a day of running in 10, 20 or even 30 or more years? Where are all those runners who are suffering debilitating injuries?
Most importantly, never lose track of the ideal that your running streak should complement and enhance the rest of your life, not become the sole focus of your existence. The goal is to improve the quality of your life, so be alert to the fact that more frequent participation in any one activity to the exclusion of numerous others ramps up greater opportunities for injury. Keep your running fresh. Be ever vigilant. Wear clothing visible from a distance. Run facing traffic. Cut a wide path around cars and trucks. Carry ID and a couple of bucks, and never trust strange dogs or the people who say they won’t bother you.
Finally, embrace and enjoy the spiritual opportunity that comes through running. Own your streak and your life on your own terms. You only have this one life to live. Be happy.