Taking up running for the first time can be difficult, but it can also be very rewarding. That's why many beginners start their training with a running streak — otherwise known as setting a goal to run every day for a set period of time.
In a streak, runners typically pledge to run at least a mile (or maybe a half hour) every day for several weeks, months or even years. This type of accountability can set new runners up for success, but streaks may also lead to unforeseen risks.
Why Start With a Running Streak?
"Once you start running every day, it can become addictive and rewarding," explains Thomas Watson, a United Endurance Sports Coaching Academy-certified running coach, long-distance trainer and founder at Marathon Handbook. A streak helps you set a goal and — as a result — stay your course, even on days when you aren't feeling motivated to exercise.
According to Watson, positive effects of a running streak may include:
- Increased calorie burn, which may lead to weight loss
- Improved muscle strength
- Increased stamina
- Healthier heart
- Increased ability to form good habits
- Higher self-esteem
- Lower stress levels
- Better sleep
"Going running every day — even for short distances — has myriad benefits. It introduces daily cardiovascular exercise into your routine and can promote weight loss, improve your mood and help balance your sleep cycle," Watson tells LIVESTRONG.com. "A running streak can also improve your mindset. You can make running a habit, and then begin to build other tasks and habits around it."
The Pitfalls of Streaking
Whether you're an absolute beginner or a running veteran, there can be some downfalls to committing to a streak right off the bat — including overtraining. Your history of past weekly distances and injury can be great predictors of what's to come, according to an August 2014 review in Sports Medicine.
"The three rules of overtraining and injury are: Too much, too soon, too fast," says Kristi Weber, an exercise physiologist and certified health coach at Miraval Arizona. Potential overtraining injuries resulting from a run streak may include:
- Runner's knee
- IT band issues
- Plantar fasciitis
- Shin splints
"For anyone enjoying a running streak and not suffering any issues, my advice would be to go for it, but remember that distance isn't important," she says. "If you are running every day, then shorter runs are actually preferable so you don't develop an overtraining injury."
Read more: Can Running Every Day Make You Fit?
Start with a slow, achievable goal, she suggests. "You can always increase your distance, time or duration of your streak once you know what kind of a runner you are and what your body is currently capable of."
Minimize Risk to Maximize Results
"The best advice I give new runners is that they need to listen to their bodies," explains Jonathan Kaplan, MD, a foot and ankle specialist with Hoag Orthopedic Institute. Having some mild pain as you're getting used to the new activity is normal, but you should never ignore it, he advises.
If something feels off, you may need to make minor adjustments to your running plan — whether it's how long and far you run, the frequency of your run, the terrain or even your footwear. If your endurance is an issue, Dr. Kaplan advises cross-training to improve your cardiovascular stamina while minimizing repetitive force on the body.
Read more: 12 Essential Tips for New Runners
Varying your routine can also help reduce the risk of injury. Before committing to a running streak, try planning a lighter or shorter run a few days a week or an "exercise streak" that includes a variety of workouts to build up your endurance. Watson recommends alternating running with yoga, resistance training and swimming. "This way, you maintain the positive effects of a streak, while developing several complementary areas of fitness and minimizing the risk of overtraining injuries."
For many, the positives outweigh the negatives. "Runners who have done long run streaks have noted that most injuries occur when they start skipping days," says Anthony Kouri, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Toledo Medical Center. "And many runners have noted the positive effects a running streak has had on their quality of life."
A Running Streak Is Not for Everyone
Check with your doctor before beginning a running streak or any rigorous exercise plan. Amateurs training for an upcoming race should also consider an alternate training method to avoid risk of injury, Dr. Kouri says.
Read more: 20 Essential Checks to Make You Run Faster
"Most injuries can be prevented as a new runner by taking the time to build up your mileage," suggests Mark Leininger, a certified personal trainer and two-time Olympic Trials marathon qualifier. "If you start off easy and slowly build up you will allow your body to create adaptations and strengthen those minor muscles you do not normally use when not running."
To avoid other injuries like shin splints, plantar fasciitis and muscle strains, Leininger recommends running on softer surfaces and ensuring your footwear is appropriate for your foot type and for the surface you are running on.
As with any exercise, pay attention to what your body is telling you, and discontinue your streak if your running plan is taking a toll on your body beyond normal exercise soreness. "Some of the red flags for something being 'wrong' include persistent or worsening pain, onset of pain earlier in the activity, symptoms at rest or with minimal activities (such as simply walking around day to day) and difficulty weight-bearing," Dr. Kaplan warns.
Ways to Stay Motivated
Journaling, calendars, spreadsheets and activity tracking apps are great tools to help keep you on task and review your progress, Weber suggests. Keeping a record of your activity — including total time, distance, surface, time of day and how you felt — can help you stick with the streak and improve your running. On the app front, there are many available to help you track your efforts, including Nike+ Run Club, Strava, Polar Beat, Training Peaks and LIVESTRONG.com's MyPlate. Scroll around until you find the one that suits your needs best.
In addition to tracking daily progress, Watson also suggests testing yourself every six weeks to track your performance. Start off with a benchmark workout, like completing a single mile. (You can also do a starting run based on a specific amount of time, rather than distance.) Write down how you feel, how the effort went and your timing. Then, six weeks later, do it again.
Remember: When you're on a streak, it's important to note that a setback one day doesn't mean failure. The weather, what you ate or did the previous day, your mood or any number of other factors may have a negative effect on your performance. But if you just keep running, you'll find your stride.