I remember quite clearly, that moment when I saw a post on Facebook about the Runner's World Run Streak while I was contemplating the icy cold morning I was about to launch myself into in order to get to the gym for my 6am personal training session. 'That looks interesting', I thought, as I yanked on my leggings, mumbled something about early morning training sessions, and joined the Facebook group thinking I'd check it out later that day.
Little did I know, that decision I made on an icy cold morning in November 2017 was about to challenge me in more ways than I was ever expecting in the coming 40 days!
What's this Run Streak all about?
The Runner's World Run Streak happens twice a year - I picked up on the Thanksgiving to New Year's Day one - which involves committing to running at least 1 mile, every day, for 40 days. Anybody who decides to join simply adds themselves to the Facebook community, and gets running. Each day, runners from all over the world report in with photos, commentaries and anecdotes from their daily run.
Thanks to over two years of basic strength and conditioning training and some wonderful trainers, I am in a position where I can actually contemplate running a mile. Well, I say run, it's more of a 'joghobble' (my new favourite word) as my joints won't cope with any kind of high impact exercise. But still, one foot goes in front of the other, and eventually I manage a mile, and sometimes more.
Make a commitment and find a supportive community if you want to change or start a new habit
The most important thing I learned from this experience is that making a commitment, even to a group of people from all over the world many of whom I will never meet, meant that it became my primary focus and I had others to inspire me and keep me on track.
Whatever I was doing, wherever I was in the world, I made it a practice to allow myself 15 minutes for running my mile.
People were getting their mile done with their baby strollers, running around hospital car parks in their scrubs during their lunch break, trudging through thick snow up and down the road outside their house ... the least I could do was go for a joghobble around the block or blast out a mile on the treadmill before a workout!
Keep your inspirations alive
Keeping my inspirations alive is one of my core mantras. If I allow my flames of inspiration to go out, you can be sure that I won't follow through on the new habits or behaviours I am trying to adopt!
Each day I would see the often mundane stuff on my Facebook feed replaced with inspirational photos from all over the world, people sharing their challenges, spurring each other on when there was a down day, and that in turn spurred me on.
I felt as much a part of other people's conditions as they were a part of mine. If they were making the effort, I would too! If they weren't giving up, nor would I! If they asked for help when they were struggling, so could I .... and I did, several times, only to be bowled over with positivity, encouragement, ideas and friendship.
A mile is actually not that far!
Initially the thought of running a mile every day was a bit overwhelming ... could I actually do it? Would my body hold up? You won't know unless you try!
When it comes down to it, actually it's around 15-20 minutes of activity (for me - others may be faster or slower) and although the first week or two were pretty hard going, I quickly became used to it and found that actually it wasn't as far as I had kept telling myself. I just needed to put on a good audiobook, get my head down, and get it done. 1 and done. That was all I needed to do! And, I did! I am shocked to say, I actually started to look forward to my daily plod and the necessary stretching that followed afterwards.
Of course, if you have not done any kind of training before, you will probably want to start out with a programme such as Couch to 5K or similar (and the usual caveat of always seeking your doctor's advice, etc).
I knew that I had to be very strict with myself - I was doing 1 mile per day and no more. Not a single day of longer runs until the streak ended. While I was pretty sure I could cope with a mile a day, much more without rest days and active recovery days would, I feared, be taking me into the danger zone for injury and flare ups (see, I did actually pay attention during my Sport Science & Physiotherapy degree courses!).
I am physically quite well at the moment, but it is all too easy to quickly slide back down into the realms of pushing my body too far, and landing right back where I was a few years ago (mostly needing a wheelchair due to fatigue and recurrent dislocations).
This was something I had to monitor extremely carefully every day of the streak, and thankfully I managed to make it through, mostly unscathed!
Make your commitment part of your daily productivity process
When it came down to it, this was a challenge I felt I could take on. I made it an important part of my day, and it even got a spread in my Bullet Journal so that it formed a part of my daily/weekly/monthly GTD review process.
Below is a photo of the spread I used for any BuJo fans - adapted from one shared in the Runner's World Run Streak Facebook group!
The satisfaction of filling out each line, adding the number in the mileage log, and knowing that I was that little bit closer to completing my goal is what kept me going some days!
You have to listen to your body
Part way through the streak, I suddenly had pretty sharp pain under my foot (see day 20!) when I was coming to the end of one of my runs.
Due to my Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, I have completely collapsed arches and have custom orthotics from the hospital as well as bilateral ankle braces (Aircast A60's if anybody is interested, which allow full range of normal movement but block the movements that my ligaments don't restrict due to faulty collagen!), so problems with my feet are always something I have to take very seriously.
By the next morning I had what I knew was the early warning sign of plantar fasciitis ... every runner's worst nightmare. My orthotist had replaced my year-old insoles around a month prior, and the combination of the increased arch support height and my increase in running volume was too much for my feet to cope with and they were sending out the smoke signals. I had to listen.
Be prepared to come to terms
What to do? Stop the streak? I was half way done at this point, and I really didn't want to duck out early. Then again, I also didn't want to cause a potentially serious injury either!
I had to come to terms with my ever-evolving body in a way that any person living with a disability will no doubt be familiar .... The never-ending dance between pushing your boundaries and respecting your body when it pushes back.
We would see if I could run in some way that would not cause the repetitive trauma to my foot while it recovered, and I meanwhile sought physio advice on how to proceed. Big thumbs up to AHP Suffolk and their self-referral MSK Physiotherapy service on this point, I was triaged and saw a very helpful, encouraging senior physio within a few days who set me on the right track to a rapid recovery!
It turned out, running on an elliptical trainer without using the arms was a fairly similar movement to running and caused me no pain at all. This was my 'peace offering' to my foot, and it seemed to accept it. While the letter of the rules for the streak state that you must physically run each day, this was an acceptable workaround for my purposes to ensure I avoided injury (I would have been physically running if it weren't for the injury), and I faithfully slogged out my mile each day on the elliptical trainers!
A week and a half of icing, stretching and cursing at the elliptical trainer machines (who knew how hard work it was without using the arms!) and my foot was starting to recover enough to get back to running outside with my old insoles. Just in time for the Christmas break!
Your friends and family may not quite understand!
This is one I did expect, but all the same a word of warning. Getting up early over Christmas so you can 'go run my mile before the day starts' caused many of my family to raise the odd eyebrow and ask me if I was feeling OK! Since reading and following the Miracle Morning book/process, I've found that mornings are by far and away the most effective time of the day for me to exercise - get it done and out of the way and there's no chance of missing it!
I did find quite a relief at having the opportunity to exercise each day when usually I would just lay about over-enjoying the festivities. As a result, I maintained my weight over Christmas AND New Year!
Forward planning is key!
Every New Year I head up to the Trossachs to attend the Women's Winter retreat at Dhanakosa, a beautiful Buddhist retreat centre on the banks of Loch Voil near Balquhidder. The forecast was the typical Scottish winter ... snow, more snow, rain, more snow, sleet, snow ..... and at this point I still had just under a week of the streak left to go!
The Facebook group was a great way to pick the collective brains of several thousand people, many of whom run regularly in snow and icy conditions. A quick search and I found an overwhelming number of recommendations for YaxTrax Run - I can honestly say if I hadn't thought to plan ahead and pick up a pair of these with my Christmas money, my streak would have been scuppered!
The first day we arrived, I literally drove up a tiny track which had around 10cm of snow freshly laid and it was still falling. For five out of the seven days, I had to use these to complete my run without bambi-style skating on ice impressions!
Am I well enough to run?
One of the delights that comes from spending time with friends and family at Christmas is the inevitable lurgies that follow.
Sadly I came down with the lurgies while I was away in Scotland, and with 5 days remaining I had to ask myself that question ... am I well enough to run today?
I had a running nose and a sore throat, but otherwise was fine. A runner friend advised me, if the cold is in your neck and up you'll be fine, just take it easy and use a mask over your face to keep the air warm and drink lots of fluids. If it's in your chest, think seriously before you run.
Let's give it a go and see how we find it, I thought .... and that's how I managed to complete the streak, complete with tissues, a lot of throat sweets, gallons of ice-cold Scottish mountain water (which is, I have to say, no substitute for dairy free ice cream!) and a lot of patience.
Plus a lot of cheering each day from my fellow retreatants (many sipping hot cups of tea waving at me cheerfully from inside!) as I plodded out for my 20 minute adventure into the icy realms each day!
No matter how slow, you're still getting out there and doing it!
My last few runs were MUCH slower than I would expect even without taking into account the icy surfaces, but I was still getting out there and doing it.
I was keeping up my commitment to see the streak through, to run every day as best I could under the circumstances.
Knowing when you need to stop
I have absolutely LOVED doing the running streak, I have enjoyed the consistency and the community, and I've loved watching myself get fitter, more confident, and generally enjoying being active every single day. Learning that yes, I am indeed a 'RUNNER'!
I also know that I am a very driven person, and sometimes I have to take a reality check. Today, on day 40+4 I've had to bow out of my daily running to allow myself to recover from the persistent cold that has apparently done the rounds of the entire family, as I learned on returning from the Highlands to find everybody on antibiotics!
It's a question you'll have to ask at some point of a daily running practice and only you can know the answer. Saying no, I'm not well enough to run today, is not a weakness, or a failure. It's honouring your body, giving yourself an opportunity to start afresh the very next day you head out running with a day 1 of .... who knows how many?
So, what are you waiting for? If I can do it, so can you!
I'd like to say a huge thanks to a few people: Sam from Dilly's PT and Tyler from Tyler Thornhill Fitness for getting me to this point physically and mentally, believing in me, and giving me the confidence that I can, indeed, run. If you're Suffolk-based and need a helping hand with your health, fitness and nutrition, get in touch with them.
England Peakers, Laura and the Peaker Red Shirts, and My Peak Challenge generally for being my daily cheerleaders in my ongoing challenge of working with a body that doesn't usually like to co-operate! MPC2018 is about to launch #soon - watch this space!
My partner John for not giving in to my whimpering and making sure I got my backside out of the door on the evenings where I didn't get up early enough, and was tempted to give up.