Running has played a significant role in my life for more than twenty years. When I was in kindergarten, my parents signed me up for a track team affiliated with a local church. That local team happened to be the best in the county, which meant it attracted some incredibly talented runners. At 5 years old, I quickly got used to being one of the slowest girls on the team.
As I got older, I transitioned to other sports, where running became a necessary evil and a punishment. Late to practice? Run a lap around the field. Whispering while the coach was talking? Run a lap around the field. I dreaded each and every one of those laps because I was always one of the last to finish. Being slow when you’re 5 years old is fine. Being slow when you’re 15 and obsessed with what everyone else thinks of you is torture. Running for me had become synonymous with humiliation.
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After the end of high school and team sports (hallelujah), I started running on my own. I wish I had some admirable reason for getting back out there, but in reality I was looking for a way to control my weight. For the next ten years, this would be my main motivation to run; not surprisingly, I never became a consistent runner. I would give it my all for a few months, maybe sign up for a few races, and then peter out. Throughout this time, I never stopped to think about how running made me feel; my entire focus was on how running made me look.
I didn’t stop viewing running as a painful method of moulding my body until I started working at Rodale, the company that publishes Runner’s World. Suddenly I was surrounded by people who actually enjoyed running. And I thought they were crazy. Once, I called a Runner’s World coworker on a particularly stressful day to see how she was faring, only to get her voicemail. When she called me back, she said she missed my call because the staff had gone for a run together. What kind of people choose running over a bag of chips or bottle of wine to cope with stress?!
My feelings towards running slowly improved thanks to my endlessly enthusiastic coworkers, but I still struggled to find the motivation—until I heard of the RW Run Streak. The streak happens twice each year, and is designed to encourage people to run at least one mile every day in the summer between Memorial Day and July 4th, and in the fall/winter between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. I mentioned that I was considering doing it to a few friends, which was enough to make me feel obligated to give it a go; at the very least, I figured, it’d allow me to eat more during the holidays.
I started my run streak on November 24, 2016 and, as of August 3, 2017, I haven’t stopped. That’s 253 continuous days of running. At some point during the official streak, the 39 days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, something in me changed. I couldn’t articulate what it was at the time, I just knew I felt better when I was running so I kept going. Now that more time has passed, though, I’ve figured out why I haven’t stopped.
Running helps me manage my anxiety.
I do almost all of my runs in the morning before work. At first, this was my way of getting what I considered a chore done and out of the way. After a few night runs in a row, though, it became painfully clear just how much of an impact an early run has on the rest of my day. I stay calmer during my crowded commute on the subway. I don’t get as agitated during annoying meetings. And I require less caffeine to get moving (notice I said less, not none—running isn’t a miracle worker). It took many miles, but I finally understand how running can be a coping mechanism.
I feel healthier than ever.
One of the first things people ask me when they find out about my streak is, “haven’t you been sick at all?” The answer: not really. I’ve had a few colds and one exceptionally short stomach bug, but I haven’t taken a single sick day since I started the streak. Running regularly has made me more active and, consequently, more conscious of how I treat my body. I turn off Netflix earlier and get more sleep because I have a run in the morning. I skip that extra glass of wine at dinner because I have a run in the morning. In the past, I only thought of my body in terms of how much I weighed or what I looked like in certain clothes; now, I focus on how incredible it is that my body can run day after day, mile after mile. And if you’re wondering if my weight has changed with all this additional running, I’m sorry to tell you that I don’t know. I haven’t weighed myself or had any desire to in months.
My confidence has soared.
It’s been almost 15 years, but if I close my eyes I can still remember what it felt like to be the very last person on my lacrosse team to finish a group run. My teammates were super supportive and often ran back so I wouldn’t have to finish alone while they all watched, but it only made me feel worse. Most of my runs back then ended in tears. In my mind, being slow spiralled into being weak and terrible—not just at lacrosse, but at everything.
So the irony of this run streak giving me a major confidence boost is not lost on me. To be clear, I’m still slow and, thanks to Strava, I’m more aware of it than ever before. I have friends at Runner’s World who can literally run twice as fast as I can. Twice! But it doesn’t bother me. My goal is to run at least a mile every day, and I’ve done that. In the last 253 days I’ve run in the snow, I’ve run on vacation in Europe, I’ve run at 5 a.m., I’ve run on the treadmill at midnight, I’ve run races, I’ve run with friends, I’ve run on Christmas—I’ve run so many times when I didn’t think I could. And I’m starting to think I can do other things I didn’t think I could, which is why I’m blaming this run streak for giving me the courage to quit my job and go back to school. Am I scared? Absolutely. But I was also scared last Thanksgiving when I had 39 days of running ahead of me and we know how that turned out.
To an outsider, there’s nothing particularly special about my run streak. I’m not doing something cool like wearing a different pair of shoes for each run like Runner’s World Shoe & Gear Editor, Jeff Dengate. It’s far from the longest. But the RW Run Streak has been one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done. Even if I stopped running today, I believe this experience would continue to affect my life for years to come—but I’ll test that theory later. For now, run 254 is calling my name.
This article originally appeared on Runner's World.