Raise your hand if you know what streak running is. (No, it doesn’t include nudity.)
Streak running is when you decide to run for a certain period of time for a certain length of time. For instance, one mile every day for a month. Or, ten minutes every day for six months. You get my drift.
Runner’s World hosts streak runs two times a year – once in the spring, and once in the fall. The fall #RWRunStreak goes from Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Day. That’s 40 consecutive days, for those who can’t do quick calendar math (but who can?) and the idea is simple: It’s really freaking cold, there’s not a lot of daylight, comfort food is flowing, holiday stress is surging, winter pounds are packing. We all know this routine.
I was first introduced to streak running in 2006 or 2007 when Runner’s World ran their first feature on Raven. Yes, Raven. Robert ‘Raven’ Kraft of South Beach has been running 8 miles a day for over 40 years. 125,000 miles later, he has a cult following of people who flock to run with him and hear his story.
So flock we did.
When my sister first found his profile in Runner’s World, she cut it out and hung it above her desk. I was 19 or 20 – she was 28 – and I was both fascinated with her dedication to running and also Raven’s commitment. Before Kara and Shalane and Deena and Des and Paula — there was Shelley and Raven.
My sister and I have run with Raven twice – and there would have been a third time had we not have forgotten about the time change. He is at the 5th Street Lifeguard Station every day at 5:20pm waiting for you to arrive so you can start the run promptly at 5:30pm.
Here’s a summation of what I learned from Raven (and my sister, really): Celebrate running. It’s not about the destination, but the journey. The experience is everything. Surround yourself with people who also celebrate running because those people are fun. Running is fun.
If you finish the 8 miles with Raven, he gives you a nickname. He also remembers the nickname, years later, when you come back to run with him. “Why do you run?” He asked my sister. “For the ice cream,” she answered, obviously joking but also explaining that she pairs the joy of running with the reward of ice cream. My sister became ‘Ice Cream’.
I don’t remember how we got started talking about it, but Raven soon learned that I like to shop and spend money. ‘Big Spender’ was born. (My father loved this, and got a kick out of it every time he thought that a man who barely knew me was still able to give me this fitting nickname.) My mom, for her playfulness and love of all things Peter Pan, became her very own version of ‘Tinkerbell’.
I love running – and I loved running with Raven – but I remember thinking that streak running seemed a little obsessive. What about those days that you just didn’t want to run? Or when it snowed? Or when you were on vacation? I was maybe 21, after all, and my social life was the most important thing to me. I had only ever run 5k races, maybe an 8k or 10k at most, and even though I proclaimed ‘I’m a runner!’, it was still somewhat limited to thirty minutes before strength training.
As I got older, my relationship with running quickly changed. While finishing college, I ran the same route like a loyal churchgoer, planning my days around those three miles. When I moved to the beach, I would wake up early in the morning before it got too hot and run along the seawall, taking in the salt air and the harmony of waves and gulls. I learned how to run without music or a watch and simply for the act of moving. I signed up for races, still starting small and then working my way up, and made running a practice that I gravitated towards the same way that yogis take to their mats or artists take to their easels. Running in the mountains will always be my greatest spiritual practice, past herds of pronghorns and sagebrush while Stephen pedaled his mountain bike in front of me. I experienced hail, snow, wind, and the hottest sun I could remember all in one run, and had never been more grateful.
My relationship with running was fractured shortly after my father died. (More on that, here.) I felt like God had betrayed me. I was left on this earth with two legs, and for what? To run these silly miles? To boast my mobility? It seemed unfair. Little did I know running was the one thing that could heal me. I coped with each mile added to my treads, with every split and heartbeat and stride. It became my place of worship, my prayer mat, a safe haven for all that I was feeling. I felt foolish for ever treating running like anything else.
Someone once called me a “crazy zen runner” after I told them that I wasn’t concerned with mileage and splits. The truth is this: Of course I’m concerned with mileage and splits. I love hitting a PR. I love looking at my watch and feeling like I can fly. But is that what it’s all about? Heck no. My half-marathon PR took place on a day when I lined up for the race and gave myself a simple task: Think about what you can learn about yourself over the next 13.1 miles and remember that the next 13.1 miles aren’t what defines you. That’s the thing. The miles that you run don’t define you. But whatever you’re sorting through while you’re doing it? That’s what I’m doing it for.
So when I saw the #RWRunStreak, my initial thought was: That’s cool. Maybe I’ll do that. My second thought was: Daylight? Food? Holiday stress? Whatever. I still have to work through Grief.
My dad’s birthday is on November 3rd. He died on January 12th. It’s a weird time for me; He was diagnosed with cancer and died within three months, and in that time he celebrated his last birthday, last Thanksgiving, last Christmas, last New Year. I still think about these things. I think about how fast it all happened; How I wasn’t there for those three months (how he would have wanted it, probably), how I wish more than anything that we could get those three months back but simultaneously hate that he had to suffer for three long, slow months.
So, yes. Combined with the issues of daylight, food, holiday stress, and all of the other reasons why people might streak run – I’m also thinking about grief. How some days are still hard, how the holidays might always be hard, and what that means for moving forward. Balancing the idea of moving forward with a kind remembrance.
You see where this is going, right? I’m doing my own run streak.
I’ll be running for at least fifteen minutes every day from November 3rd until January 12th. I’ve already have had several questionable moments, like when it’s raining and I’m cold and sniffly. Or when I get home from work at 8pm and didn’t have a chance to run before work or during (#runch). Or when football is on the tv and the house smells like vanilla and all I want to do is curl up next to the doggo who is snuggled on my bed. (That last one is seriously hell.) But honestly? Running makes me a better person. I’ve known this since the beginning of time. Running has healed me in ways that I never could have expected. I shouldn’t just lean into running when things get tough. I should lean into running because I am tough.
Will I make it? God, I hope so. That’s sort of the catch when you put things on social media. Which brings me to my next point: Have you ever scrolled through Instagram or Facebook and seen something that prompted you to scoff and roll your eyes and mumble something mean under your breath? I used to do it when I saw photos of yogis doing a handstand on the beach in a skimpy bikini. I’ve since unfollowed those people because those photos and the ‘#namasteallday’ weren’t serving me. I really hope that you don’t look at my photos and see something that isn’t serving you. I’m not here to put your laziness on blast, but I am here to shine a light on what you might need right now. Do you need to go out for a five minute walk? A short run? A massage? A yoga class? I’m not asking you to do it every day. But here’s the thing: If I’m showing you that I can do hard things because I’ve been through harder things (Should that be my official slogan? Thinking out loud here…) then I really hope you take this as an opportunity to lean in to whatever you’re going through. Maybe it’s holiday stress. Great. Lean in to that discomfort. Hold space for yourself, be compassionate, kick some ass. (Another slogan? Hmm.) Promise yourself that you’re going to manage that stress and come up with a way to do it.
I don’t know if running through the next two months is going to be the perfect solution to grief, stress, eating, or winter blues. It’s probably going to be tough as hell.
But running has taught me that I am always tougher than I give myself credit for.