What I learned from running every day for two months
In the middle of October I decided to up my running game. I had been running on average three to four times a week for the previous year, putting in between about 9 and 15 miles. In previous years I had tried to become a better runner and though I would find short-term success by running more soon enough I would find myself injured and sidelined, and then getting back into a rut of running a few times a week just in order not to give up completely.
For reasons unknown I hit a threshold in October and gave myself the challenge to run every day for a month.
What happened is this:
1. My weekly mileage went from 9.7 miles the week before I began to 26.6 miles the first week of the challenge, then 41.2, 42.7, and 46.2 (thanks to my Garmin app. I have an accurate record).
2. I’ve kept up the daily running routine, with the exception of Christmas day, since October 16, so that’s actually more than two months.
3. My mileage averages between about 30 and 45 miles a week, with some seven day periods (not necessarily Monday to Sunday) exceeding 50 miles.
At the start I wasn’t sure I would really keep it up, but again, for reasons unknown, I had a stronger than usual motivation. I think I was just done with the mediocrity of what I had been doing with my running. It wasn’t how I wanted to see myself. So what began as a relatively modest challenge is starting to become a lifestyle habit. I get up in the mornings thinking about my upcoming run.
Along the way I have learned a few things:
1. It’s surprisingly easy to dramatically increase mileage, even for older runners.
2. To avoid injury and heal small niggles that could turn into serious injuries while dramatically increasing mileage it was essential for me to do only aerobic base training—absolutely no speed work. I am saving intervals and other speed training for the spring and summer when I assume my musculoskeletal system will be better adapted to the stress of daily running.
3. When the possibility of an injury emerges (achilles ache, sharp hamstring pain, etc.) I run even slower and pull back on the mileage until the pain is gone.
4. There’s not much difference between a day off to recover and a day of running two or three miles, so why not do the latter? You maintain momentum and keep your energy up, and reap the psychological benefits of keeping to the discipline.
5. I am getting to know my body much, much better. For instance, I discovered that even a little alcohol the night before will increase my heart rate by a 5 or more beats per minute the next morning on the run, at the same pace. Alcohol is not compatible with training for me. I’ve learned about how certain foods affect me, how sleep quality and quantity affects me—in short, running every day can become a very informative feedback mechanism.
6. As a result, I am healthier all around because I now eat to run well, and severely limit alcohol consumption. I have better sleep habits despite getting up earlier to get the run in.
7. Starting small can lead to big ambitions. I began with a 30 day challenge. Soon I was training for a half marathon in the spring. That turning into training for a 54km ultramarathon in the summer. Though I haven’t proven to myself that I can run 54 kilometers yet, I now have a reasonable basis for thinking I can. That was absolutely unimaginable to me just a few months ago.
8. Minimalist running really is better. A few weeks ago I switched from regular running shoes to Vibram Five Fingers, which is pretty close to barefoot. Immediately my running economy improved, I run more than a half minute per mile faster with the same heart rate, and my cadence increased closer to the 180 strides per minute ideal (I went from a plodding 152-156 to between 165-172).
9. I now think in terms of months and years in regards to what I can accomplish in my running, and I have gained a lot of new knowledge by reading books, articles, and watching YouTube videos. I am far more interested in the technicalities of running. I read constantly. I respect the rate at which the body can adapt and plan accordingly. I know it will take years for me to develop as an ultramarathoner—now my ultimate aim—so I approach my training purposefully but without haste. No more 30 day challenges.
10. Like any discipline, running every day spreads its benefits into other parts of life. I am generally more purposeful, increasingly better organized, more energetic, and more focused.
The initial 30 day challenge turned out to be a great way to kickstart something bigger that has now become the more central part of my life that I’d always envisioned for my running. My mileage is the highest of my life and I feel my body gradually transforming.
I’ve complemented the running with a near daily calisthenics routine so I am also putting on muscle while losing body fat, getting stronger and more flexible. I can easily foresee increasing my weekly mileage to 60-70 miles by summer but am also prepared to wait or even cut down on my mileage if my body shows signs of vulnerability.
In the past I would have been inclined to persist with pushing myself until I was injured, and then give up my ambition, eventually returning to a mediocre grind of a few runs a week with no purpose other than to stay in minimal aerobic condition.
One of the things I like best is to be on a journey in an area of my life I care a lot about but hadn’t been able to develop. It’s a path, a long-term path, and I have started to enjoy every step along it. It’s energizing to see what my body is capable of and to watch my mind get stronger to support this effort.
Two and a half months isn’t a long time and I haven’t had any profound insights yet, much less big accomplishments. But it’s long enough to constitute a start, and and to allow for joy and enthusiasm in the process.