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What I Learned While Running For 31 Days Straight
Activity streaks can be fun but may not allow for much-needed rest. Should you try an activity streak to start the new year?
The day before Thanksgiving, I did my first run since I had broken my fibula over the summer. It was my first foray into trail running, and while my pace wasn’t the fastest, it felt great to be exploring a new discipline of running and getting back out there, though one might question the wisdom of going running on a wooded trail in the dark for my first run back from an injury.
The next morning, as I sat with my coffee, lazily scrolling through my newsfeed of fitness articles, I happened across an article about the Runner’s World running streak. The concept was simple: run at least one mile every day, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. That’s 39 days.
Basking in the glow of the previous day’s one-mile trail run, this seemed like a great idea. One mile a day didn’t seem like that much. What better way to get back into running after a layoff of several months?
Reviving my Running Confidence
My approach to the run streak was somewhat cautious, given that I had just started running again. Most days, I stuck to one mile, mixing in a few longer road runs and trail runs here and there. This was especially important in trying to balance the streak with other activities like cycling, strength training and walking.
The best thing about the run streak? It helped me gain more confidence about my ankle stability.
My wife joined the streak with me, and a couple of times, we brought our two boys with us. On day 18, as I was running with one of the boys, I heard a car coming down the road. As I looked up to spot the car and point it out, I took my eye off the road we were crossing. THUD!
I had stepped awkwardly into a pothole, and badly turned my previously-broken ankle. After a momentary shock, I realized my ankle was fine, aside from some minor soreness.
This might seem like a small thing, but to me, it was a major confidence builder. My newly healed-fibula and the surrounding ligaments had withstood their first major test. As I look back on the run streak, this remains my favorite moment.
As the run streak progressed, I realized I couldn’t classify short runs as “active rest.” It wasn’t in the same category as walking, yoga or stretching for me. Even the bare minimum of one mile a day required a bit of pavement pounding, and for about half the time during the streak, the run was my only physical activity that day.
By day 16 of the streak, I’d titled my run, “I need a massage” on Strava. My day 27 run title? “Meh.”
Days 29 and 30 brought the worst of the run streak, with the well-publicized “Arctic Blast” that swept across the United States. Though I kept the streak going, I was nearing my limit.
Side note: major kudos to the runners out there who get out in this weather on a yearly basis. As much as I’ve enjoyed some of the cities I’ve visited that are prone to winter weather (like Chicago and Minneapolis), it must take a great deal of mental fortitude to get outside and exercise during the winter months!
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On day 31, my legs also had enough. In trying to balance my normal exercise routine with the running streak, I’d done an indoor bike ride on Zwift earlier that day. In a moment of poor judgment, I decided to climb up the Innsbruck KOM, a replica of a 1,300 foot climb in Innsbruck, Austria. I posted a time 17 minutes slower than my previous time from May.
I had reached an inflection point. I’d gotten dressed, and ready to go for my run, despite the tired legs. We’ve all been there. That moment of, “do I go do this fitness activity that I don’t want to do, or do I listen to my brain (and my legs), and rest?”
In that moment, I realized something: the only thing motivating me to keep the streak alive was the number itself. I felt like I was doing this for my Strava feed. I wasn’t doing this because I was enjoying the streak, the way it made me feel or running day after day. It was purely extrinsic—or external—motivation.
In that moment, I chose to take my own advice, and rest.
Should You Try an Activity Streak in 2023?
While I only made it 31 days counting my run the day before the start of the streak, I felt great about the accomplishment. I could have done nine more days, but it wouldn’t have meant anything more to me than hitting a number. And sometimes it’s OK not to hit your goal numbers—it’s just not always possible (or advisable, if you’re feeling tired or injured).
That said, I can see the value of activity streaks if you’re trying to get active again or get into shape for the first time. This might particularly appeal to those of you making new year’s resolutions. You could challenge yourself to be active every day in January.
But I’d suggest you don’t focus on one activity, like running, which can cause strain based on repetitive motion. For example, my IT bands got incredibly tight during this run streak, and my wife had the same issue.
A better approach might be focusing on simply being active every day. One or two days a week, you could incorporate active rest into your streak, like taking a walk, going for a swim, stretching or doing yoga. Those low-impact activities, combined with other things like running, cycling or strength training, could make for a great activity streak, with less chances of muscle strain and joint pain.