August 15 marks the ten-year anniversary of my daily running streak, or, as some of my fellow members of the U.S. Running Streak Association call it, my “streakaversary.”
And when the president of the U.S. Running Streak Association emailed me yesterday to ask me if I’d submit an update for the quarterly newsletter, my first thought was to confess that the past year has been more difficult to complete than the nine years that preceded it.
Like most runners, I’d had a variety of aches and pains over the last few years. Sciatica came and went for short time periods. Bunions threatened to form. Knee pain would exist for a day or two. But this year brought something that wouldn’t subside. When a friend commented at a Labor Day weekend party on the limp that I had been pretending not to notice, I finally Googled the painful symptoms I was only retrospectively willing to acknowledge I’d had all summer, and self-diagnosed posterior tibial tendinitis.
My husband isn’t a runner, but he is, at times, the voice of reason, and he gave me a solution. “Don’t stop running. You don’t have to break your streak,” he said. “Just take it down to a mile a day until you feel better.”
I didn’t want to cut back to a mile a day, but I didn’t want to break my streak either. So I did something I occasionally do as a last resort: took my husband’s advice. And over the next couple of weeks, logging just a mile a day, I started to feel a little bit better. I saw a physical therapist, who confirmed my self-diagnosis of posterior tibial tendinitis – “post tib,” she called it, as if referring to an old friend – and told me to stop running. Like most streak runners, I ignored that advice, but I still got better, over the months that followed, and by Thanksgiving I was back up to two or three miles a day.
Yet I couldn’t seem to do more than that. My ability to endure longer distances – the five- to ten-mile weekend runs I had enjoyed over the past several years – seemed out of the question. It wasn’t anything orthopedic; it was something that felt somehow more intrinsic. It was as if the inner drive impelling me to run more than two or three miles at a stretch had just evaporated.
But then sometime in the spring, I noticed something else. Ever since the tendinitis had disappeared in late winter, I hadn’t had a single ache or pain. Not one. Not in my feet or ankles or knees. None of the sciatica that had recurred in occasional stints over the previous couple of years. No incipient bunion pain.
I couldn’t ignore the obvious. I was no longer running more than three miles a day, usually closer to two. My weekly average mileage was about fifteen or sixteen miles a week, whereas previously it had been about twenty-five. I couldn’t imagine ever signing up for another half-marathon or 10k. But I felt great. I was consistently pain-free in a way I hadn’t been in years.
And my pain-free status lasted until Memorial Day weekend, when, while running along a quiet country road near home with my dog, I glanced sideways to see if I recognized anyone in a group of neighbors standing in a driveway, failed to see that my dog had also stopped – broadside in front of me – to check out the same group of neighbors, and found myself airborne, sailing over my immobile dog.
Tally for that misstep: one broken rib and one sprained big toe. Both hurt a lot, but both, like all the other injuries, could be run through. If I didn’t push myself too hard.
And so here I am at my ten-year anniversary of streak running, with no particular reason or desire to stop. Actually, when I started drafting this essay, it was only August 14th, and I’d completed only nine years and 364 days of running. There was a time when I would have been far too superstitious to write about reaching my ten-year anniversary one day early. I wouldn’t have wanted to utter a word about it until my August 15th run had come and gone – which I’m happy to say that now as I post this blog, it has indeed.
But superstition isn’t really an issue for me anymore – not because I believe if I follow enough superstitions I’ll never break my streak, but because now I know someday I will. Maybe it will be in my eleventh year of daily running, which starts today; maybe not until another decade of running has come and gone. Maybe from another bout of tendinitis; maybe another broken rib, though in fact that experience did convince me to stop running with the dog. (She gets a nice long walk every day once I get home from my run.)
Nothing lasts forever; it’s as simple as that. The streak will end when its time has come. But ten years are behind me, and my hope is that there are another ten years ahead. For now, there’s only today’s run. And after that, tomorrow’s run. Because, of course, that’s how any streak happens. It’s how any relationship happens. For that matter, it’s how any lifetime happens. One day at a time. For as many days as it lasts.