Wednesday, September 23, 2015

5 things I’ve learned from 1400 days of running every day.

I’ve been putting off writing a blog post for a while now – largely because I’ve felt daunted by how long it’s been since my previous entry, so it’s seemed like a “catch up” post, would take longer than I could possibly warrant spending writing it. 

It’s not as though nothing has happened this year, running-wise, in fact it’s really the opposite – there’s been so much good / happy / exciting stuff going on this year, that it’s never felt like the right time to take a break from running as much as I can, and instead to spend a bit of time writing as much as I can instead.This year so far I’ve set PBs at every distance from 1 mile, through 5K, 5 miles, 10K, Half Marathon and all the way up to 100km. I’ve also managed my first race victory, at Dukeries Ultra 30 in May, and broken the 3 hour marathon barrier for the first time, at Manchester in April. 
With Alex C, Philip K and Steve T, at the finish of Manchester Marathon. 4 happy runners with 4 big PBs

Around half way at Manchester Marathon. Happily skipping to 1st sub 3. Tutu flowing, wand in hand :)

I could probably write for hours about each of those events / PBs, especially achieving my sub 3 goal at Manchester Marathon, as that was culmination of 4 months of fairly focussed training (a first for me), and about Dukeries too, as I really, honestly never thought I’d win an ultra!
As a lot of people seem to be inspired by / intrigued by the concept of running every day, I’ve decided instead to spend a bit of time writing about what I think I’ve learned in nearly 4 years (and over 12,000 miles) of runstreaking. 

1) The longer my streak continues, the more I enjoy it.

I love running every day, it appeals to my obsessive nature and I’m convinced that I’ve only achieved most of the results I have since I started running through runstreaking (and by results, I mean improvements to my general wellbeing and happiness, as well as running PBs and race results).

Every day I run, every week that goes by, I feel as though my enjoyment of running increases and I personally see the physical benefits running every day has for me, and more importantly, the positive impact that running has on some of the closest people to me.

If I didn’t streak, I’m pretty sure I’d be less happy than I am now, and I’d feel like I was missing out on something which has been an almost entirely positive experience for me, every day for nearly 4 years. I also don’t think I’d maintain a healthy weight or the same fitness level if I stopped runstreaking – I’m pretty sure I’d quickly lapse into irregular running, get frustrated by my decrease in enjoyment and performance, and either start streaking again, or stop running completely. 

For me, for now at least, running every day I can, for as long as it remains fun to do so, is my ultimate goal. I hope when the time comes for my streak to end, I’ll remember that I’ve promised myself (and others) that I’d stop when it stops being fun (unless injury takes that away from me). However…

2) Runstreaking is definitely not for everyone. 

In my first few months of runstreaking, probably well into my second or even my third year of running every day, I used to encourage as many fellow runners as I could to join the #runstreak clan. Now however, I’m a bit more reticent with my encouragement of others to start running every day, as although I know streaking works brilliantly for me, and many of my closest running friends are either current or former runstreakers, I’m more aware than ever that it isn’t for everyone.

Whilst runstreaking has suited me perfectly, it’s not a running panacea: If you’re prone to getting injured every time you increase mileage, it’s unlikely runstreaking will be a good idea, at least not until you’ve got beyond the weekly mileage that normally causes your body to break down. 

Equally, if you’re a keen runner, looking to improve as much as you can at a particular running distance / event, and you have the discipline to follow a detailed training plan or listen to a coach’s advice, then there’s probably no point in deciding you want to runstreak. I’ve never seen any popular training plan or respected coach suggest that the best way to improve at any running event, is to run every day, certainly not indefinitely. In fact, most coaches / training plans suggest that every serious runner should have at least one day a week of rest / cross training, with no running at all. 

I have no reason to suspect that every book / website / coach is wrong, so if you’re serious about reaching your optimum running performance level, and that's more important to you than the benefits you might get from running every day, don’t choose to runstreak.

3) My streak is constantly evolving, as are my running habits and opinions. 

As runners, we all have our “favourites” – the shoes we like best, the routes we enjoy running most and for serious runners, there are favourite (and most dreaded) training sessions. 

Over the past year or so, I’ve learned that for me, running every day allows me to continually develop and adapt – if you asked me a year ago what my favourite pair of shoes was, or my all-time favourite racing experience, my answer would have been different to what it would be now.

I’m sure it’s not just runstreaking that allows me to feel like I’m continually learning and developing as a runner, but being able to run every day means I have lots of opportunities to try new things – whether that’s different shoes, different routes, different training ideas, or anything else that I might feel restricted from testing out, were I following the rules the way a more “normal” person / runner would. 

I’ve definitely learned that the best answer to most running-related questions is: “everyone is different…”. If someone asks me which shoes / rucksack / book / training programme / GPS watch /  whatever is “best”, I hope I’d be able to offer them a steer towards something useful for them, however I hope I’d also remember to caveat it with “however that’s just what I think – everyone is different”. 

I hope I’ve also learned to accept that what might be “best” for me now, or might have been the most suitable choice in the past, might not be what’s best for me in the future. It’s very easy to get stuck in our ways and to think that just because something (whether that’s running shoes, training sessions, energy sources, recovery foods, or anything else) was the best choice for us last year, we should stick with that choice for as long as we can.

I’m not suggesting that we should all constantly change our ways and choose to buy (or not buy) different products for the sake of it, or that we should avoid doing our favourite training sessions or competing in races that we’ve enjoyed in the past. It’s just that as well as being aware that the maxim “everyone is different” is absolutely true in my view, it’s equally true that someone who’s been running regularly for many months or years, is going to have different needs and preferences now than when they started running, and embracing those changes will make it easier to continue to improve and widen our experiences. 

4) We are all inspired by different people, and everyone faces different challenges, so don’t be inspired by me, but by those who manage to overcome much bigger hurdles than I have.

I get a lot of positive comments (in person and online) from people who are kind enough to take the time to tell me that my runstreak provides them with inspiration to run more / further / faster or with a less serious attitude to running (the last one pleases me most). 

I also get a lot of comments, often from the same people, telling me how “lucky” I am to be able to run as much as I do, and how they couldn’t possibly run every day, as their work / family / coach / husband / wife / kids / legs / knees / ankles makes it “impossible” for them to even contemplate starting a runstreak, let alone think about running as much as I do. 

I find it very hard to disagree with anyone who suggests I’m lucky: I know I am incredibly fortunate and I appreciate that my work, family, kids, partner, friends and nearly every other aspect of my life makes it easier for me to run a lot, than it is for most other (at least other non-professional) runners.

However, I also know that there are many people who don’t have it as easy as I do, and yet who still make the time to run every day. I often mention my good friend Giacomo Squintani at this point in any running / streaking conversation when someone suggests they “can’t”, as Gia has gone to extraordinary lengths (such as running two 40 mile training runs, through the night, finishing at dawn, on consecutive nights earlier this year), to ensure that running doesn’t excessively impact on the time he needs to spend working, or wants to spend with his young family. 

I talk about my runstreak mentor @mrafletch too, as his ingenuity (such as running at airports and round the perimeter of foreign hotels), as well his ability to continually make runstreaking seem fun and interesting, have inspired me from the inception of my streak. Then there’s Johnny, aka @dunsrunner, who’s currently running every day with his arm in a cast after tearing bicep tendons whilst throwing dead rabbits (seriously).

There are countless other examples, not just the legendary Dr. Ron Hill (who’s now clocked up over 50 years of running every day), and @lordsmythe (rapidly approaching 8 years), but also those who’ve been streaking a few days, weeks, or months (many of whom had previously said “no way could I do that”) and who are proving every day, that if you want to do something badly enough, you’ll make the time to do it. For me, my runch runstreak colleagues Alex and Chris give me the regular first-hand boost of seeing others enjoying their own runstreaks, which while similar to mine (the three of us run together a lot), are also subtly different and have to fit around differing work and family commitments to mine. 

There are many reasons why someone might not want to run every day, but those who say "I don’t have time to do lots of running like you do”, are very often those who have chosen to watch their favourite TV shows religiously, or who spend large chunks of their free time doing activities other than running (such as reading blogs like this about running!) :). That’s fine: if someone wants to spend their time gardening, knitting, ironing, playing Xbox/Playstation, reading, watching TV, or anything else that takes their fancy, that’s their choice and if it makes them happier than running more would, then nobody can argue it’s a poor way to choose to spend their time – it’s *their* time and their life after all. 

But… running every day doesn’t have to take a lot of time and significantly impact on other parts of your life if you don’t want it to. You can choose to run just one mile a day in your work clothes, jeans or pyjamas if you'd like to. You can choose to run at silly o’clock in the morning like Gia does, or to run to work, or in your lunch break. That decision, whether to run or not run on any particular day is nearly always that – it’s a decision, a choice that you have made and that for most people (probably including you, as you’re reading my running-related blog), it’s almost always possible to make the time to run if we really want to. 

As Gia wrote in his blog on his 1000th day of streaking:

…tell me you don’t want to run, that you can’t stand it (as I used to say)… but don’t tell me you don’t have time to run. Because there’s always time. Trust me on that one."

If you’ve made it this far through this blog post, it’s almost certain you’ve already spent more time reading my waffling about running, than it would have taken you to get your shoes (or in Johnny's case your sandals) on and run a mile. If you’d really rather read this blog than going for a run then I’m very flattered, but next time you think: “I’d like to run today, but I don’t have time”, maybe you’ll remember this post, and think: “actually, I can make time to run today if I if I… “ and make a decision to not do something else you’d normally do – or to get up earlier, to take a lunch break for once, or whatever else you could choose to do, to make that run you say you want to do, actually happen. 

5) It’s still the people I’m lucky enough to run with, and whom I've met through running, who inspire me to run every day. While I'm able to keep running with those people, I'll keep streaking. 

Although a lot may have changed over the past 12,000+ miles of running (as of today, day 1401, the total stands at 12,471 miles), what remains constant, is the inspiration I gain from the people I’m lucky enough to run with. They are the reason I love running so much, and why running every day remains fun. 

I’m now lucky enough to have running friends (and family) in most of the places I regularly spend time, so usually wherever I am, there’s likely to be someone I can hook up with to go for a run at some point during the day. It’s the continual variety that running with other people provides – the chance to have conversations and share experiences with them that motivates me to run so much. 

I often get asked why I could possibly want to run 2, 3 or sometimes even 4 times a day – and the answer is almost always the same. That second, third or fourth run happened because there were people who were happy to run with me – and rather than missing out on a chance to run with @AndyNextDoor, or my mum, or my running club friends, or one of my fellow runstreakers – if I can, I’ll structure my day to run with as many people as I can. 

If I’ve already planned to run to work and back with Chris, if Alex is only free at runchtime and then Andy asks if I can run in the evening, then I’ll almost always say “yes” if I can. This inability to turn down a run if I can fit it in, almost certainly doesn’t help my fitness. It definitely means I’m often behind with chores and other “admin”, but it also means that I get to share even more running experiences with some of the most interesting and inspiring people I know. For now, that choice I’m lucky enough to frequently have: to run more, with more people, in more places is one I’ll always make if I can. I’m sure there will be times in the future when I feel compelled to make different choices, when my life is busier or more complicated, or my legs won’t allow me to run 3 or 4 times a day. When that time comes, I’m confident I’ll look back and be happy with the choices I’ve made now, certain that they are part of the reason I'm happier than I’ve ever been.

I've always said (including in point 1 above) that my runstreak would end when it stopped being fun (unless injury ends it first), and I now know for sure that the "fun" will stop when I'm not able to regularly run with friends / family / colleagues. I just hope that day doesn't come any time soon!
Some of the fantastic group of running friends & family who surprised me on my 40th birthday
by turning up at parkrun in tutus! One of the biggest surprises and happiest moments, ever!
As always, I’ve ended up writing massively more than I intended to, so thanks for reading all this, and happy running!


  1. Congratulations on your 1400th day mate. It was a pleasure to run with you as always. I must admit I only had chance to skim read the post a few days ago but thought i'd pop back to read it in full (as well as a good number of your other posts.) Love the descriptions and passion as well as how truly grateful you are (as I am to run with you) - overall an insightful and fun read. You need to update the blog more often though :) blogging.

  2. Really enjoyed reading this Mike. I've just read it for the second time. Really good, balanced outlook, promoting the up side of running daily whilst acknowledging it's not for everyone.
    Reading this also reminded me that I haven't written anything for ages..... and like you, I've ended up writing a longer one than I meant to!