A Mile Every Day: What a Running Streak Taught Me about Habits

I ran every day between Thanksgiving and New Years.  

For some runners, this is nothing to write home about (or, in this case, write blogs about). But it was a big commitment for me, moving from my usual 3-4 runs a week to 7 runs a week.

The idea came from the Runner's World Run Streak: run at least 1 mile, every day, from Thanksgiving to New Years. (The RWRunStreak includes a plan for varying mileage that I did not follow--I just stuck with the basic parameters.)

While the run streak was an interesting experiment in running (I didn't crave a rest day, for example, nearly as much as I'd expected to), what was most interesting about it was the lessons it taught me about habit-forming:

Non-negotiable Terms Make Excuses Difficult

When I commit to running 3-4 times a week, I am astoundingly creative in coming up with reasons that today is not the right day for this run: it is too cold, too hot, too windy. I am too tired, too busy, too hungry, too dehydrated. I don't have the right hat, the right socks, the right jacket.

When I committed to running 1 mile every single day, those excuses went out the window. Turns out, carving 15 minutes--and really, 15 minutes is all it takes for a mile-long run + cooldown--into my day was not hard when I don't allow myself to push the 15 minutes to the next day and the next. Turns out I can run without the perfect gear. Turns out I really like running in the rain and even in the cold. 

Turns out, like Kimmy Schmidt said, I can do anything for 10 seconds (or, in the case of a mile, 10 minutes).

Starting is the Hardest Part

And I don't just mean starting the streak -- though it's easy to set arbitrary parameters for this type of thing to delay starting (think of all the times you said you'd start that diet on the first of the month, or you'd start a new journal on the first of the year).

The hardest part of every run was putting my shoes on and walking out the door. Once I got started, actually completing the mile was the easy part (and in most instances, time allowing, my one mile became two or three or five or six).

Accountibilibuddies Really Do Make a Difference

A running friend of mine sent me this article about "accountabilibuddies" -- and while the article (and my running accountabilibuddies) really emphasize having a buddy system in place for workout accountability, I think this type of partnership can help maintain any habit. 

Case in point: some local friends and I all wanted to dedicate more time to writing in 2016, so we meet twice a month for several hours to sit around a table and write. That's time that, if spent at home, alone, I would likely pitter away on social media or work, but with the discipline of working with a group, I now dedicate solely to writing (and a bit of socializing).

While it's great to have in-person accountabilibuddies, online partners can serve the same purpose. Finding people with the same goals and working together to stick to a plan makes the whole process seem that much easier.

Anticipate the Unintended Consequences

In the case of the running streak, this was laundry. I essentially doubled the amount of laundry I was generating every week (and winter running means extra layers which means even more laundry). After two weeks, I started to account for laundry time in my days: I'd throw a load of laundry in before my morning run, then switch it to the dryer when I was finished showering and eating post-run. It became a mindless part of my routine, but one I hadn't accounted for pre-streak.

It Felt Even Better Than I'd Expected to Get it Done

There were days when it was really, really hard to get out and run that one mile. Days when I pushed myself to run as fast as possible just to get it done, and days when I ran so slowly that my one-mile time was a solid three minutes over my per-mile average for a half marathon distance. Days when I hated running and swore I'd never ever do it again ever (those were mostly the treadmill days; I detest the treadmill). 

But at the end of each run, I felt a little proud of myself for ticking one more day off in the streak. And on New Years Day, after 4 miles of hills in 20 degree temperatures and very gusty winds, it felt damn good to look back across December and the holidays and all of the madness that December and holidays can bring and acknowledge that I did what I'd set out to do. That feeling was worth every bad run (and every good one).


I'm curious: has anyone else tried something like this? NaNoWriMo, perhaps? Or another type of streak-based goal?

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