Run streaks and marathon training

I was sad to read this week that legendary runner Ron Hill’s running streak had finally come to an end. Most people might have missed the story, buried as it was beneath the Trump and Brexit headlines that have become the focal point of the media for much of the last year. I myself had only come to hear of Ron, and running streaks in general, in December when I discovered my sister had embarked on a streak of her own.

For the uninitiated a running streak isn’t about taking your clothes off and going for a jog (something I’ve had to explain to half a dozen people already). It’s about seeing how many consecutive days you can run a minimum distance for (generally at least one mile). It really is a *thing* there’s even a streak association you can join to officially record the length of your running streak. People might streak for 50 days, 100 days, a year; there are people on streaks lasting a decade or more. There’s even a designated running streak period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s day (ironically a trend exemplified by a British runner has become very popular across the pond).

Of course, when I found out my sister was doing it I decided to have a go too. After all, I’m training for a marathon. My schedule has me running up to five times a week. What’s a couple of miles on top of that?

My streak started on December 28th, just three days after my sister had introduced me to the idea. If I have any advice to people considering embarking on a run streak while preparing for a marathon it’s simple. Don’t do it!

Early in my streak I felt very quick benefits to my fitness. My pace leapt up on longer runs which I attributed to daily activity. I also discovered what I thought was a clever system of taking midnight runs of exactly one mile on the way home from the pub to give myself a full rest day and spare myself having to run on a hangover the next morning. Then, after about three weeks of streaking my marathon schedule started ramping up the mileage. My calves tightened. So did my hamstring. My ankles were permanently sore. My knees started hurting. On any given day any given part of my legs or feet might be in some sort of pain with the exception of my toes.

I started to think that perhaps rest days were necessary (they are) but nonetheless I carried on. Earlier this week, just as Ron was hanging up his running shoes, I went down with a fever and spent most of a day in bed during which it actually felt like my calves were on fire. But I still got my mile in so the streak continues.

When I started my streak I wanted to set a target related to the Bhopal cause. So I set a target of 38 days because that’s roughly how long it took Bhopal survivors to walk over 500 miles from Bhopal to Delhi, in 2008, the third such ‘Padyatra’ protest march to have taken place.

The marches themselves are reminiscent of the hunger marches that took place in the UK in the depression. They involve great personal sacrifice to walk 500 miles in hot weather suffering from one of the many conditions inflicted by the disaster. They also elicit public sympathy but, like the hunger marches, they have continued to fall on deaf ears.

In the summer of 1989 a group of seventy-five gas-affected women, thirty children, and twelve men undertook the gruelling trek to Delhi to lay before the Prime Minister the broken promises made to them by the State Government and to ask for his help. In 2006, a second padyatra group marched to Delhi demanding that clean water be supplied to the communities known to have been using water contaminated with union Carbide’s poisonous chemicals. The padyatris asked the Prime Minister for a National Commission on Bhopal to provide safe drinking water and to make Dow Chemical, who by this time owned union Carbide, clean the abandoned factory site.

In Delhi, the protests were ignored, the survivors beaten and elderly ladies were hospitalised while a group of the protesters maintained a long hunger strike camped on the pavements around the Jantar Mantar monument. Eventually, almost two months after leaving Bhopal the survivors were called to a meeting with the PM who agreed to four of their six demands.

By 2008 the survivors were left with little option but to march again. The PM had not kept a single promise and the government seemed to be siding with Dow Chemical. But, the 2008 padyatra can now be seen as the defining action, forcing the Bhopal Municipal Authority to provide a safe water supply to communities facing the water contamination crisis. Sadly, since that time, it has become apparent that many other communities are affected by the contamination crisis and the struggle for safe water goes on.

I’ve now passed 37 days so in theory I could call it a day. But my sister managed 69 days. And if I ever reached that I could start thinking of 100 days. Even a whole year! That’s the problem with a run streak. The longer it goes on the harder it is to stop. Just ask Ron Hill. His streak lasted 19,034 days, or over 52 years. During his streak he managed a mile on crutches after a car accident and only stopped, aged 78, because of fears that it might be becoming too much for his heart. That, and the sacrifices of Bhopal’s protest marchers, puts my sore calves in perspective.

Read more on the Padyatra marches here: The Bhopal Marathon 1989 pages 52-55; 2006 pages 148-155; 2008 pages 156-157

I’m running the London Marathon for the Bhopal Medical Appeal – sponsor me here