Sunday, August 28, 2011


Ray Stevens once referred to streaking as "the fastest thing on two feet." While Stevens, of course, was speaking of an entirely different connotation of streaking, it brings up an interesting comparison with the objective of running multiple days in a row. As far as being the fastest thing on two feet, is streaking the way to go? I can't imagine anyone could honestly answer this question yes. I know many people who take great pride in their streaks and none of them are as fast as people who either schedule days off into their training or take days off when needed in spite of what the schedule says.

 I have a rather personal relationship with this subject as instinctively, I have the desire to maintain a streak. I have never had the same preoccupation with simply getting out the door every day as I see others do. My definition of a streak has always entailed having a decent training effect. If someone who is a decent runner, stumbles out the door when sick or injured for a couple miles at ten minutes per mile or slower, I don't consider that having run that day. I don't know how or why anyone would. In college, I decided that my streaks would mandate at least sixty minutes of running at an eight minute mile effort or better. I say effort because I had many runs that started straight up hill and a seven mile run often took about an hour with the same effort that would have gotten me nine miles on the flats.

 I remember quite clearly my first real commitment to getting over 100 days under this format. It was kind of tough getting used to but I made the first 100 days without too much of a problem. Right about the 100 day mark, I was helping out at a camp in Mammoth that my high school coach was putting on. He happened to be giving a lecture on streaks. He pointed out that streaks were not an ends in and of themselves, but rather a means to the ultimate goal... running faster. He also pointed out that streaks should not be calculated merely on getting some random running in, but on getting in the training prescribed. This made lots of sense in that it took out that three mile stumble for the sake of saying you "ran" that day. If you had a long run scheduled, or an interval workout, then anything except that broke the training streak. The point to this concept was not to get people to kill themselves following the letter of their schedule, but to make it easier to accept the "streak" was broken and just taking the day off. He went even further with this concept. Bill scheduled six  running days a week in his training plans. The seventh day of training was a recovery day... an off day. At this point in his lecture, he looked at me and asked me how many days a week I ran in high school. I told him most weeks were seven days and he turned to the group and said I never kept a streak of more than six days back then. It was a great point. The schedule was six days. When I deviated from the schedule. I broke the streak. Every seventh day that I ran, I lost my streak.

Now I am not 100% convinced that runners need a day off every week but the underlying principle that  recovery is crucial when training for performance is the principle behind that idea. weight lifters get it. The serious ones only lift one body group per week. They lift hard and heavy when they do lift, but only one body group per week. The rest of the week those muscles get to recover. Any runner focused on his streak is not focusing on his performance. This might be the time to point out how my streak that year ended. I got somewhere around 190 days of at least sixty minutes per day at a legitimate effort and the streak ended with mono. Before I got mono I was running the best in my life but that meant little when I struggled to finish 10th at my conference meet when I favored to win, when I had to sit out of the regional meet, when  I finished 60 something at nationals while the guys I had been racing in front of earlier in the season were top ten. I had not heeded Bill's advice at the time. For awhile, I learned. I readjusted the way I trained, ran a 30:16 10k after with days off on my schedule, a 1:06:39 half marathon with days off in my schedule, had scores of great races while running 25-28 days a month. I even adjusted my streak to include days of cross training with great results.

Last spring I decided to resume my 60 minutes a day running streak in a quest to reach a level of running I had not reached recently. It started out well, going from fairly unfit to to a 32:51 10k in a couple months. I couldn't wait to see what another couple months would bring. After suffering what seemed to be a minor injury, I kept the streak alive. Any runner I coached would have been benched with cross training and rehab. Of course I kept the streak alive with both days running and quality workouts. My 100th day of the streak was a race in which I could barely tolerate the pain. It was a mediocre race and I limped the entire warm down. I probably ran about three weeks on a stress fracture that stemmed from the tight, injured soleus pulling on my fragile tibia. So much for that season.

With this in mind, I looked at my 33 day streak of 60+ minutes on Friday morning. No injuries or illness but my Thursday workout was garbage. I was simply not responding to the training the way I should have been. I looked at old diaries. I looked at how many of my athletes had run great times, at how many times I had made great progression, while taking days off not only when scheduled, but when I felt they were needed. I took Friday off. Doesn't seem that dramatic until you really get inside the head of an obsessive compulsive. I had to keep reminding myself of the purpose of my training. to race well. Not to accumulate larger numbers. Ironically, it's smaller numbers, my racing times, that I seek.

So the fastest thing on two feet does not belong to the streakers. It belongs to those who can answer Parsifal's question, "whom does the grail serve." The streak serves the purpose, it is not the purpose in and of itself. The purpose is to race fast and more importantly to race fast on the right day. Far fewer people know who has run 365 days in the last year than who know who just won the World Championship 10,000 meters. As a coach, I insist on days off for my athletes. I don't know why I can't coach myself that way. Interesting contrast. I go back to what my high school coach said. the scheduled day off is keeping the streak. That's the trick to better times. If you can't run the way you should be running, don't bother running that day. Recover, don't destroy even more. Streaking is much more effective the Ray Stevens way.

No comments:

Post a Comment