No, not like that.
Like running every day. Like working out at least once every 24 hours. Like racking up consecutive days of training by the weeks, months, and years.
<<Content warning: Compulsive exercise and eating disorders>>
My streak started freshman year in high school, with a challenge from my track coach: Complete 60 days of training in a row. The challenge asked for x miles of running or y minutes of cross-training (bike, swim, or similar) or a heated z-minute Bikram yoga class each day. We logged our workouts in three-ring binders or it didn’t count. There were rewards, but mostly the satisfaction of believing you’d bettered yourself every day.
Rozalynn Frazier wrote a story about run streaking in Health magazine’s October 2019 print issue, in which I’m quoted. Stories about run-streaking circulate around the interwebs (especially during the holidays and subsequent manic resolution rebound season). Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, those who’re privileged with health and safety but stuck at home may feel compelled by virtual exercise challenges, streaming workouts, getting outside—where permitted—to walk or run every day.
There are pros to streaking (a reason to move your body, time management, competition, etc.). But for obsessive, compulsive, or otherwise rigid gunner-types, streaks tap into potentially serious cons (inflexibility, anxiety, injury, etc.).
Streaks compelled me, at first by 60, then 90 days. Then I didn’t stop. As an athletic identity eclipsed the rest of me, I believed my worth vested in results. When I didn’t hit a big goal—breaking 10 minutes in the 3k race—I vowed to extend the streak to 1,001 consecutive days of training. To show I could, to prove my steadfast commitment, to punish myself for lacking finishing speed or confidence or whatever. What a reprimand! And what passion, running through an airport with a friend on a redeye trip to Europe to keep the streak alive!
Movement compulsion came easy. It’s about avoiding perceived consequences we’ll assume will hit us if we don’t work out. I didn’t know how to believe or trust or respect my body when, say, pain cropped up or when fever set in. Fatigue and pain were simply parts of running, of pushing, of trying to be the best, I thought.
The self-inflicted compulsion persisted into college, where it flourished under new pressures. It continued after my foot broke during a long tempo that ratcheted down in pace as pain in my foot shot up. When I heard (not for the first time) a formula for cross-training—a static number to multiply cross-training minutes by to get an erroneously termed equivalent workout as whatever your teammates were running—it dictated the hours I spent on the bike (including with a boot), in the pool, and on the elliptical. I railed against the clock and floundered about the gym mostly on my own but sometimes with other injured friends (their presence a gift).
I churned frenetically in the face of new unknowns: Division I cross country/track, Ivy League culture, New York City, my father’s freshly diagnosed cancer, boys that would say anything, unlimited buffets, bars that stayed open all night, discomfort in my skin, work-study jobs, pages and pages to read and words and words to write.
I kept spinning. Through a longer-than-anticipated bone recovery. Into a blur of half-dark memories. Into mono. At home in Oregon for the summer, a doctor told me to stop, to rest. She was a runner, and I trusted her. The streak topped out after 1,300-some days. (The final number rests somewhere in my training logs among jumbled scribbles in a box in the closet.)
I took 10ish days off: thwarted, relieved, hopeful. But madness stayed with me. Even as I released my grip on my running shoes and gym machines, and took a day totally off every 14 days, I continued a slip-slide into disordered eating. (It’s the deep end of a wade-in infinity pool, an insidious reservoir of diet culture we’re invited into one step at a time. Sure, you can dive in headfirst, but so often we check the temperature toe-first, leisurely, until suddenly you’re in up to your chin and you must tread, legs churning like an old-fashioned, hand-crank egg beater, just to keep your nose and mouth above the surface.)
Now I see thin and blurry lines between commitment, obligation, and compulsion. I see how I clung to the do not the do not, a mindset embraced by our workaholic culture, societal expectations of women, my family, any running coach trying to motivate adolescents to pay attention to the task at hand.
As an athlete, I eventually learned to hold back. It paid off. Recovery takes work, but it’s possible.
As a coach, I suggest my athletes avoid straining and over-commitment, and embrace recovery. It’s the dark side of the moon; the work, the light we see.