Runner: 16,075 consecutive days — and counting
Mark Covert is something of a celebrity in the running world.
Every year around this time, his phone starts to ring off the hook as he passes another milestone in his “running streak” — the number of consecutive days he’s logged at least a mile.
This week he hit 44 years, or 16,075 days in a row. It’s the longest active streak ever recorded by the United States Running Streak Association. His closest competitor is Jon Sutherland, who’s logged 15,768 days.
Covert, now 61, started his streak on July 23, 1968, as a high school senior. In 1970 he was named the NCAA individual cross country champion, and he helped his California State University, Fullerton cross country team grab a NCAA Division II title the year after. In 1972, Covert placed seventh at the U.S. Olympic marathon trials.
Covert, now a coach and teacher at Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, California, still logs between 35 and 45 miles a week. We caught up with him to ask for his “streaking” tips. The following is an edited version of that interview:
Why did you start running every day?
I had no idea this was going to happen. The summer after I graduated, early in my freshman year of college, I realized I was in 100 days without missing one. I wondered if I could get a year in without missing. That became a little bit of a goal. That year turned to two, to three. At four or five years, I thought, this is a big deal.
I truly look forward to putting my shoes on every day. … It’s something that makes me feel better, something that in a lot of ways is therapeutic — not only physically but mentally. It’s something I enjoy.
What’s your running routine like?
I run in the morning. There’s no real set time, just earlier in the morning. I usually run between 50 to 60 minutes. Some days I go shorter, some days I run 80 minutes.
I’m sure I don’t run as fast as I used to. I tell people the trees pass me by real slow now, but that’s OK. I’m still getting something out of it.
How do you fuel your run?
I eat nothing before I go run. I’m up for maybe half an hour, then go out the door. When I come back, I eat a regular breakfast — oatmeal one day, toast with peanut butter and jelly another day. As I’ve gotten older, you try to eat a little bit better and little bit wiser.
Lunch, usually an apple and some almonds. Dinner is chicken, fish, a salad, vegetables. One of the things I struggle with is my weight. As I’ve gotten older … my weight has kind of crept up. That’s a never-ending battle.
Do you struggle to drag yourself out of bed in the morning?
I don’t have any problem getting out of bed in the morning. I have a sleep disorder, so I wake up early — four o’clock.
Getting out the door and running for me has never been a problem. When I was younger, when I was in college, I was training for races and things like that and it was something I was committed to being the best I can be. As I’ve gotten older, it’s something that’s just ingrained.
Was there any day that you thought, ‘I’m just not going to be able to run today’?
The two most recent ones — seven years ago I had surgery on my knee. The day after that was a challenge, but I was able to get out and get a mile in.
Fifteen months ago, I hurt my back. That was really a challenge because it was hard to walk, hard to bend over. I hurt it running and when I got back I went to the doctor and he was able to give me a little bit of relief. But the three or four days after that were really uncomfortable and painful.
I’m assuming your doctor told you not to run.
(Laughs) I’ve surrounded myself with great doctors over the years that have kind of bought into this craziness. They understand if they told me ‘No’ I’d go out and try to do it anyway.
They’d never say, ‘Go out and try this’ if it was going to cause real damage. They’ve been really tremendously supportive.
How do you push through aches and pains?
I slow things down a whole lot — stay within things that are manageable. I try not to do things that are going to make it a lot worse. People that have these running streaks like this, our pain threshold is a little bit higher than most. Most of the time I find after 10 or 15 minutes I tend to warm up a little bit and find I can move along a little bit better.
How do you get through that last mile?
You’re trying to finish your run up pretty strong, whether it be a mile, half mile or 10 minutes from your house. It’s a matter of bearing down and concentrating on what you want to get out of that workout at the time.
I’ve always thought that you have to become somewhat comfortable with being uncomfortable. When you’re working out, we all feel a little bit uncomfortable. And this might sound ridiculous, but I kind of like feeling uncomfortable — I think there’s great benefit from that, physically and psychologically.
That’s something, I think, in that last mile finishing up, you just have to wrap yourself up in that uncomfortable feeling and kind of go with it.