Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Getting Out More Often

(This is 50th anniversary of my first article in Runner’s World magazine. All year I post excerpts from my book, This Runner’s World.)

June 2001 (retitled in the magazine). Have you run today, or will you run before day’s end? I can say with certainty that Bob Ray will put another day in his logbook, and so will Mark Covert.

They are what’s known in our trade as “streakers.” This isn’t the 1970s fad of running unclad in public but the largely private practice of running day after week after month after year without a miss.

Ray and Covert are America’s champion streakers. Ray, a retired postal worker from Maryland, has run longest without any break, reaching 34 years straight as of April. Covert’s streak is a year shorter than that, but the college coach from California has run more and faster miles – enough to place him seventh in an Olympic Trials Marathon early in his streak.

George Hancock, a streaker himself who keep records on fellow never-miss runners, can name more than 30 Americans who haven’t skipped one day since 1980. As a reformer streaker whose longest run of years ended just short of five, I can’t recommend taking the habit this far.

There are days when resting serves us better than running, but that’s the subject of another month’s column. I still find much to admire in the attitude and approach of runners who can tolerate the everydayness of a streak. They runners show up for work each day, no matter what forces conspire to stop them.

These are the Cal Ripkens of running. Ripken didn’t miss a single baseball game with the Baltimore Orioles for more than 15 seasons.

Admirable as his feat is, Ripken didn’t have to play games year-round or even have them scheduled daily during the season. Streaking runners get no off-season, no rain-outs and no travel days to rest. (But they also have no big-league curveballs to hit, no sellout crowds to please and no seven-figure salary to earn.)

The truest mark of pros in any specialty isn’t how much money they make, if any, but how well they continue to do the job on their less-than-perfect days. Anyone can do well when blessed with good health, high spirits and unpressured time. But only a pro keeps showing up when conditions aren’t ideal, which they usually aren’t and which too often keep the amateurs inactive.

Spring has sprung in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Mornings again burst with light and life.

Eugene isn’t just a run capital but also a rain capital. Back in the dark, soggy season as 2000 became 2001, I met few other runner in the course of a seven A.M. run. Now that the rains have tailed off and dawn breaks earlier, I see 10 times more runners at that same hour.

Anyone can run on a day when the sky is blue, the temperature mild and the air still. Anyone can run after a good night’s sleep, feeling no fatigue or pain, a fine course at his or her feet, and no need to hurry back.

Not just anyone will get up and go out when all the conditions shout “forget it!” These are days when the other duties shove the run into the dark hours... when the course choice is dictated by convenience, not beauty... when the temperature leaves the comfort zone, the sky drops rain or snow, or the wind howls... when sleep-deprived or hung over... when tight or sore legs beg for a respite.

On these days the streakers, the blue-collar workers, the pros of running go to work as always. They go out when they feel like staying home, knowing they’re likely to feel better afterward than before, knowing they can do their good work even on the bad days.

Semi-streakers plan days of rest but don’t miss their scheduled days of running. They never ask themselves, “Will I...?” They never say, “Not this morning; I have a headache,” or, “The day’s too nasty; I’ll wait till tomorrow.” They run as planned.

What runners do, or don’t do, on those days defines them as either devotee or dabbler. Anyone who waits to run until the day is just right will never be more than a part-time, fair-weather runner.

Have you run today? Will you?

2018 Update. The long streaks of Bob Ray, Mark Covert and George Hancock eventually had to be retired. Truth be told, I don’t run much anymore myself – but at least put in miles every day at a good-paced walk. The day’s weather isn’t a go/no-go consideration.

[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in two different formats: in print and as ebooks from The titles: Going Far, Home Runs, Joe’s Team, Learning to Walk, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Miles to Go, Pacesetters, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log, See How We Run, Starting Lines, and This Runner’s World, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe.]

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