How to Complete a "Running Streak"—Safely
Experts explain how to make this winter weight-loss strategy a healthy—not harmful—habit
Winter is an easy time to stay inside and watch holiday movies with a plate of warm pie. But more and more people are turning toward a "running streak" to stay motivated, running at least one mile every single day, from Thanksgiving until the New Year-and beyond. "When the weather is crummy or I'm in a funk, the streak is enough to motivate me to get back out there," says Chad Silker, who has been "streaking" for five years and three months.
Running streaks are growing in popularity. The founders of the United States Running Streak Association first logged 51 confirmed "streakers" in 1994. Today, 463 registered runners have active stints lasting longer than one year, and the group's Facebook page has more than 1,700 members, which only includes runners who opt to certify their streaks. Many more do it on their own, like Silker and his friend Mike Orrico, who started streaking on December 31 as a New Year's resolution and hasn't stopped since.
Thousands of others complete shorter streaks every year, especially around the holidays. "Winter is often a tough time of year to stay motivated," says Andrew Person, an All-American triathlete and general manager at Big River Running Company in St. Louis. "Schedules are busy, holiday parties are plentiful, and weather often makes for unpleasant running conditions." Some runners use a streak to offset holiday weight gain, burning approximately 100 calories per mile. (That three-mile run can negate that slice of pumpkin pie you ate!)
But streaking isn't for everyone, and many experts don't recommend it at all. "Running every single day usually isn't advisable since your body needs rest days to recover," says Person. "However, setting a goal like running at least a mile every day for a certain period of time can be an excellent source of motivation. If a running streak helps get you out the door, and you are happy and healthy, go for it!" (Need an extra nudge? Use these 2-second motivation boosters!)
Running every day can also be beneficial in some ways, says Jason Fitzgerald, a USA Track & Field certified coach and the founder of Strength Training. "Running more often than what you're used to helps boost your endurance, increase running efficiency, and reduce your chance of injuries once your body adjusts."
Silker-who ran in high school and returned to the sport in 2005-is a case in point. "I think it's made me a better runner," he says. "I've improved all my personal records since I started the streak." His 1:18 half-marathon this year puts him in the top 5 percent of all runners nationally. If you do decide to run everyday-whether for a month or longer-these five expert tips will help you approach it wisely.
Make Sure You're Ready
Silker had been running five to six days a week when he started streaking. That's ideally where you should be too. "If you decide to start running every day, you should be at a moderately high volume already, and willing to run short, very easy runs one to two days per week to help with recovery," says Fitzgerald, whose longest running streak lasted four months. "Even Paula Radcliffe, the women's world record holder in the marathon, took one day off every two weeks, and she is the best marathoner in history!" (Ready to tackle 26.2? Here's your 12-week marathon training plan!)
"Think small at first," says Orrico, who serves on the Board of Directors for the St. Louis Track Club. "Don't think, I'm going to run everyday for a year. Start with a month." If you were running five days a week before, run just one mile on days six and seven. "Increasing mileage too quickly can raise your chance of injury," says Person. "The best thing to do before beginning a streak would be to slowly build up your mileage base. Then when you are ready to begin running every day, it won't be such a shock to your system." And running every day doesn't mean you have to add mileage. You can run the same number of weekly miles spread over seven days instead of five to help your body adjust.
Go to the next page for three more important tips on adding mileage safely.
Take "Rest" Days
Rest helps your body repair. "If you are trying to be a ‘streaker,' recovery becomes very important as you'll be using and stressing the same muscles, joints, and bones each and every day," says Person, whose longest streak was 45 days. Those "rest" days should be the bare minimum of one mile. And remember to make those short one-mile runs slow and easy. "Just because you're only running a mile doesn't mean you can run it fast. It's a recovery day, after all," says Fitzgerald. Also, consider spacing your runs strategically. Run Monday morning and Tuesday evening, for example. "That gives your body almost two days in between runs," Person says.
"Injury prevention is an after-thought for most runners, which is a big mistake," Fitzgerald says. "It should be built into the training itself, specifically strength exercises, getting enough sleep, and using a foam roller for any tight or sore muscles." Try these 8 moves to foam roll your entire body.
If you're streaking temporarily mainly for the calorie-burning benefits, be sure to pump some iron, too. "Folks who are running to lose or keep weight off should also be strength training to maintain lean muscle mass," says Fitzgerald, who recommends the Tomahawk Medicine Ball Workout for that purpose. (Also try these 6 strength exercises every runner should be doing.)
Listen to Your Body
"After all, your health and wellness should be the most important goal above and beyond your streak," Person says. If illness strikes, runners can continue through above-the-chest symptoms like a headache, sinus congestion or a runny nose. "If there's a fever, flu, or other more severe sickness then it's best to focus on recovery and rest for a few days," says Fitzgerald.
And, please, stop if you're injured. "If rest is the only way it's going to heal, you need to take the rest," says Silker, whose initial eight-month running streak ended with Achilles tendonitis. "It was hard to end the streak, but it was right for me." Now he's been running injury-free for over five years. "The key is to differentiate the normal pain from the bad pain that can lead to injury," Person says. "Find a doctor who treats runners. They can be a sounding board and advisor." Above all, make sure the streak enhances your well-being. "Don't let the streak control your health, mental sanity, or the rest of your life," Silker says. "It becomes important, but it shouldn't get in the way of all the other things."