Some are born to go on a running streak

 

NOEL CARROLL always said the day you’re too busy to go for a run is the day you’re too busy. Or, may I add, too lazy. In any case, Noel practised what he preached from the heart. He was indeed a busy man, famous, amongst many other things, for helping start up the Dublin marathon. But he was rarely too busy to miss his daily run, until his sudden death 11 years ago. Sadly, yet fittingly, he’d just finished a run.

Anyone fortunate enough to have met Noel, under any circumstances, will tell you he had this uncanny knack of making you feeling guilty if you hadn’t run that day. He didn’t want to hear excuses. You either ran today, or you didn’t. That was his standard, and somehow it always stuck with me. Usually, at the start of every week, I vow to myself there won’t be a day when I’m too busy to go for a run. Inevitably, before the week is out, the day arrives. And it’s not always about being too busy, or too lazy – but simply too cold or too tired or too late.

Truth is the pursuit of a daily run is too idealistic for most. That’s not saying it can’t be done. Around this time every year I’m reminded of Ron Hill, the former European marathon champion, who boasts the incredible daily running streak, which, believe it or not, stretches back to December 1964. December 20th, to be exact – which means he’s coming up on 45 years. Assuming he goes for a run today from his home in Cheshire, then by my calculations, Ron Hill has now run the last 16,415 days in succession. That’s not a misprint. 16,415 consecutive days, almost 45 years – and not one day too busy or too lazy or too late. Ron Hill was clearly born to run, or else led the most contrary life imaginable. To the best of anyone’s knowledge this is the greatest daily running streak in the history of mankind – with the possible exception of some particularly eager hunter-gatherer. But if you’ve ever read his autobiography The Long Hard Road – which comes in two parts – you’ll know Hill was the hardiest of souls, and by all accounts, he still is. He turned 71 in September, yet still competes in races of various distances all around the world. In fact last year he reached his target of racing in 100 different countries, a similarly unrivalled feat of staggering proportions.

What makes Hill’s streak even more impressive is that most of those miles were run at an exceptional pace, particularly in the early years. The man trained very hard. He actually started logging his daily training mileage as far back as September 1956, and two years ago, calculated that he’d run his 150,000th mile – which is the equivalent to running six times around the world. And he’s no intention of stopping: “If you enjoy eating a nice steak, you don’t stop just because you’re getting old,” he once said.

All of which begs the question: What actually qualifies as a daily run? Plus, who’s to say Ron Hill didn’t stay in bed one day and still write a five-mile run into his diary? Obviously there is no strict standard, nor any method of ratification. It’s generally accepted that a daily run is at least one mile of continuous running. But running streaks are purely an achievement of faith. Your word is your only proof – and even though that opens the thing up to abuse, no one has ever suggested Ron Hill is not legit.

Some people, such as the United States Running Streak Association, do try to regulate the business. They define a running streak as “at least one continuous mile within each calendar day under one’s own body power, on either the roads, a track, over hill and dale, or on a treadmill, and without the use of canes, crutches or banisters, or reliance on pools or aquatic devices to create artificial buoyancy.” There is no exception for genuine excuses like being sick, injured or laid up in hospital.

They have 220 runners on record, their leader being Mark Covert, a 58-year-old teacher from California, who claims to have run every day since July 23rd, 1968. (You can read more about him and others at www.runeveryday.com \ ) Unfortunately, there is no Irish Running Streak Association, but in my quest to establish our leader in this crazed pursuit, I tracked down Denis McCarthy in Ballynoe in east Cork, who claims – and no one has ever suggested he’s not legit – to have run every day since June 5th, 1985. That’s over 24 years, or by my calculations, now 8,949 days and counting.

McCarthy, like Ron Hill, didn’t just start running one day, and never stopped. At age 47 he’s still a regular in track and cross country races in the colours of East Cork AC, and has been for years. In 1983, he only missed eight days’ training. In 1984, he only missed two days.

“When it came to June 1985, I was out running one day, and suddenly realised I hadn’t missed a day in the past year,” he told me. “I just kept going after that. Run the cross country season, take a few weeks easy, get ready for the track season, and after another few easy weeks, get ready for the cross country season again. And God willing, and with good health, I’d keep going for another year. It just became an obsession then. I couldn’t stop. The way some people can’t stop lighting up another cigarette.”

McCarthy admits to two near misses: “A few years back I had a minor operation. I went running that morning, and actually got out of the hospital that evening. It involved getting a few stitches but I was still able to run the next day. Another time I had a very bad dose of the flu. I was in bed all day, with my mother looking after me. She went out to the shops for a short while, and I seized the opportunity. I was really knocked out, but said I’d go for it, and skipped out for a run.”

It may be that someone else out there can claim a better running streak than McCarthy, but either way we can only take their word for it. “I certainly haven’t heard of anyone,” says McCarthy,

It’s a simple thing really; you either ran today, or you didn’t. Some of us will always find an excuse.