On 31st January 2017, Ron Hill did not run. Now, in the preceding months, we’d had the Brexit vote and its aftermath, Trump’s election and Leicester City winning the Premiership title, but Hill’s inactivity was by far the biggest news in my world.
You see, Ron Hill, European marathon champion in 1969 and Commonwealth marathon champion in 1970, had run every day from 20th December 1964 to 30th January 2017 – a world record. Actually, that’s not strictly true – he’d run twice a day (and once on Sundays) for the first 26.2 years of that streak.
Naturally, the need to keep this up saw him do some strange things – like running round an airport lounge, like running a championship marathon in the morning and then going out again in the afternoon when his race was not scheduled for a Sunday, like “running” with crutches after bunion surgery, like running more than twice a day when he crossed the international date line.
There was also the story that, after one knee operation, his doctor told him not to walk on it for two weeks. Hill ran (“he didn’t say anything about not running on it.”)
Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
On 7th September 2013, I decided that, if I wanted to keep remotely fit, I would have to go to the gym at least twice a week.
So far I have managed to do just that.
My partner’s mother died in February. We got the call early in the morning and dashed up to Norfolk to see her. We spent the rest of the week making the necessary arrangements.
But I had only gone to the gym once that week.
Problem. Big problem.
Then I had a brilliant idea!
We called in at the local leisure centre, said we were moving to the area, and asked to look round the gym. We signed the forms and, once in the gym, I wandered around, picked up one dumbbell and put it down again.
For the next three months, I was plagued with text messages inviting me to join the gym at their specially reduced rate that would only last until midnight today!
But it was a small price to pay for getting in that second gym “session.”
Now, you’re absolutely right: what earthly value was there in picking up one dumbbell and putting it down again? What possible benefit did Ron Hill gain from doing a mile on crutches?
Do we own the streak? Or does the streak own us?
Are we, as some streakers have it, simply too weak to stop?
The way I look at it is this: if I had not done that second “session” that week, it would have been all the easier not to do one when things got difficult another week. A streak is like a bargain with the devil: if I promise to keep you (the streak) going – to run every day whatever the circumstances, to go to the gym twice a week however inconvenient – then you (the streak) will provide me with the motivation to maintain it when enthusiasm rather than opportunity or time is what is lacking.
It’s artificial, yes, but it offers mere mortals like me a framework to hang onto, a way to keep things going, a means by which to never give up.
Never give up! Derek Turnbull taught me that. Twice we have stayed on his farm near Invercargill on New Zealand’s South Island, and I have shared runs with the man who ran a 2:41 marathon at 65, and who won gold medals at 800, 1,500, 5,000, 10,000, marathon and cross-country at many World Masters Games. I got him to autograph my training diary once, and the only other thing he wrote apart from his name were those three words. Never give up!
And streaks are an important, an extreme manifestation of never giving up – because they are binary – either you ran today or you didn’t, either you went to the gym twice this week or you failed. Streaks take the decision out of your hands.
But it’s got to be the RIGHT streak.
A little while ago, I decided to start my days by performing 75 press-ups, then taking the dog for a walk or run, and then drinking apple cider vinegar.
It got to be too much. I would lie in bed dreading the moment I would have to get up and do the press-ups, and then drink the wretched shudder-inducing ACV. It was self-defeating. So I gave up the press-ups and vinegar. (The dog wouldn’t let me give up the other bit.)
So I’ve got a few streaks going at the moment – the aforementioned gym visits, running at 5am before my networking breakfast, covering more than 40 miles each week, running certain races every year. So far, they are good streaks, not bad streaks, but if they turn bad, I hope I’ll have the strength to stop.