Ups and downs of the running streak

IMG_2875I have long been fascinated by streaks (you can read an article I wrote about the topic here). There are habits, and then there are extreme habits. How do people manage to stick with something daily for years? Or decades?

I have now tracked time daily for almost 2 years. So far so good. Then on Christmas Eve, I decided to add a new streak to the mix: running at least a mile daily. Actually, I don’t think I decided on Christmas Eve. I think I ran for several days straight over the holidays and then decided to keep going. Midway through March, I can see several benefits and drawbacks to setting this expectation for myself.

Upsides: I am running much more frequently than I was! Looking over past time logs, it was generally 4-5 times per week, but there were definitely some off weeks with 2-3 workouts. Maintaining the streak changes the workout question from “if” to “when.” In my self-employed, work-from-home, I-own-a-treadmill life, pretty much any day can accommodate a run. The streak reminds me that I can run even if I don’t feel like it, even if I don’t have childcare, even if I don’t have much time, etc. Lowering the expectation to one mile means I don’t have much resistance to the idea. I can get it done in 10 minutes. Even the slowest-possible-ever run wouldn’t take more than 15 minutes, but as any runner knows, the first mile is generally the toughest. Most days I want to keep going and I get a decent run in on a day that without the streak I would not have run.

Downsides: The streak taps a part of my personality I am not entirely comfortable with. I know the streak will end on some day (I have a day of very long travel coming up that will likely preclude it) and I do not want to feel like a failure if I don’t run some day because in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter if you run 100 days in a row and skip the 101st. Then there are more practical physical matters. A streak works now because I am not training for anything intense. If I were trying to get a half-marathon PR, I’d need to figure out rest days, and if nothing else the day before and after the race would need to be spent not running. I am not following any particular running plan right now and so I make my decision on how much to run on any given day based on how I feel about it. It’s quite possible I’m running fewer miles on days when I could run longer because I know I’ll be running again the next day. That said, it’s always hard to know on this. In past years I have tried running fewer days and longer each time, but sometimes I can’t run longer for various reasons, and then I just wind up running fewer miles over all than if I were running daily.

So I guess at the moment I am sticking with it because it keeps me running during winter, when I am not as motivated to continue. Sometimes deciding to not “break the chain” provides a good nudge. But likely by spring, when I do want to run longer, and outside, I will let it go. Have you ever decided to break the chain on a streak?

Photo: Footprints in the snow – but not to run. Yesterday was definitely a treadmill day.

4 thoughts on “Ups and downs of the running streak

  1. I’m totally a questioner and “Why?” is my first thought to any kind of streak! So I’d have no problem breaking a streak, the trouble is convincing myself its worthwhile to ever do it. Could you modify your streak to X miles/week? That could better accommodate travel, training, illness and push you to run further each day so you can have a day off (that would actually work better for me!)

    1. @Ana- you’re right that the four tendencies come into play here. Upholders are good at streaks, but we are also prone to “tightening” on goals, to the point where the habit is the master, not us. That’s not really a good thing, and probably misses the point too. I have in mind to modify in Q2 to running the equivalent of a 5k/day which is 21.7 miles/week. That will have the effect of allowing for travel and training and also nudging me toward some long runs too.

  2. I’m an upholder, as well. I’ve finally made a personal rule never, ever to do streaks, because the tightening you mention is so detrimental for me. It’s still hard to see a blank in the middle of several days of something, but I’m working on retraining my brain to focus on the total days I did something (yoga, write, wake up early) rather than the days in a row or the days I missed.

  3. I love this idea… maybe if you break your running streak you can keep it an ‘exercise’ streak with some basic workouts you could do anywhere. This is something I would like to try and implement- but Im an obliger… or a questioner, or a questioning obliger ; P

    One thing Gretchen Rubin has mentioned before was that with habits its easier to do something everyday rather than just some days, I actually have applied that thought to some household chores and now they really don’t bother me as much, -I may not do them everyday but I view them as something that should be done everyday, as opposed to doing them when they ‘need’ to be done, and pushing off the chore for several days which makes it way worse of a chore to do than if I did it daily.

    Also, one of Rubin’s ‘Secrets of Adulthood’ is ‘What we do everyday matters more than what we do once in a while’. This makes me think of the story I tell myself about the person I am (healthy eater, active, kind, etc.). Do my daily actions reflect the story I tell myself? Often no, but I think about this frequently and it has lead me to make some changes, especially when I consider the person my children see me as being.

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