In June of 2020, I decided to run a mile. One mile. I felt trapped by the pandemic and overwhelmed by working and parenting full time from home. I needed to get outside and do something for myself. I set a goal of running one mile every day until my birthday, which was one week later. Day seven turned to day 10, then a month became three months, which is when you don’t dare go from 90 days to zero days, especially when you’re so close to hitting day 100. Then, 100 days became 200 days and now I’ve been running a mile every day for over a year.
When I started, I hoped I’d become a runner. My husband is a runner. He enjoys the action of running, talking about running routes, personal records (PRs), and his newest running shoes. I don’t enjoy any of those things. I tried timing myself to run a little faster and realized it took away from my enjoyment and made me feel stressed. My goal was a mile, regardless of speed. The streak is my daily PR. I’ve run the same route 90% of the time and haven’t yet bought a new pair of running shoes. After 365 plus miles, I can honestly say that I don’t enjoy running. What I do enjoy is the feeling after a run and the feeling of not letting myself make excuses. No excuses and an unwillingness to break the streak have propelled me forward.
When streaking, you run regardless of the weather or the circumstances of the day. I ran in conditions I never would have imagined. I wore a headlamp and ran after putting my kids to bed, I ran in a 45-mile an hour windstorm where I hurdled over downed tree limbs, I ran (the next day) when we had no power, I even ran in a blizzard, saying to myself, “run like a penguin, run like a penguin.” I’ve run in tank tops, hoodies, raincoats, and parkas. I ran through returning to in-person work, my youngest’s first day of kindergarten, Halloween, New Year’s Eve, and on both vaccination days. And, most importantly, I ran on the day that I quit the streak.
Before anyone in my family was vaccinated, both of my kids were put in quarantine after an exposure to the coronavirus at before-school care. One week later, my youngest tested positive for Covid-19 and the rest of us tested negative. With that horrible phone call from the doctor, fear set in for my five-year-old and the possibility of the rest of us getting sick. We wore masks and isolated and felt trapped and fearful in our own home. Best case scenario, my daughter would continue having minor symptoms, the rest of us would stay negative, and we’d be housebound for 20 days; 10 for her isolation and 10 for the rest of our quarantine. Or, one by one we could get sick from the virus with an unknown outcome.
I was scared and overwhelmed and it was all too much. I focused on my daughter and decided nothing mattered except getting my family through this. With little in my control, I decided that what I could control was my choice to stop the streak.
Throughout the day, I gave myself permission to be okay with this decision. I tried to avoid thinking about running and moved my sneakers away from the front door. Getting ready for bed, my older daughter asked if I’d start the streak again someday. I said that I didn’t know. To be honest, I could barely think past that day. After 200 plus days of running, could I start again at zero? It was then that I realized I still had a choice. I didn’t know if I’d be too sick to run in a day or a week, but that day I felt healthy.
I moved toys and furniture and made myself a running route to do laps inside my house. I set the oven timer for 12 minutes. With my mask on and Alexa playing Bruce Springsteen, I ran.
My five-year-old must have heard my sneakers pounding on the wood floor because she emerged from her bedroom and sat masked on the top step watching and clapped every time I ran by. Step-by-step, and lap-by-lap, she moved down the stairs as her clapping continued. My other daughter followed her lead and went to the kitchen and banged a spoon on a pot each time I passed. My husband held our dog so she wouldn’t try to chase me. I took photos from my phone as I ran because I wanted to remember who our family became at that moment. Even when we were overwhelmed and scared, we were strong and supportive. We were in this together, in the pandemic, the streak, everything.
I continued my house-bound laps throughout the isolation and quarantine. Each time, my family cheered me on and it became the event of our monotonous days at home. After three rounds of tests and 20 long masked days, my husband, older daughter, and I remained negative for Covid-19.
While the original goal of running was to do something for me, I didn’t realize how much of a family undertaking the streak had become. My kids counted the days of the streak and prepared for my one-year celebration. My husband, who’s been a distance runner for years, was my biggest fan. When I ran in a snowstorm, he pointed out that he’d never done that. When my alarm would go off at 5:30 a.m. because the only time I could run that day was before work, he wouldn’t groan at the beeping alarm — he’d say he was proud of me and roll over and go back to sleep. He also introduced me to podcasts as a distraction while running. Little by little, I’ve listened to over 100 hours, with my favorites being The Moth and Dolly Parton’s America.
Over the year, I’ve felt my legs get stronger and my endurance grow. But, more than anything my confidence and sense of self has changed. I set a goal and I did it. While I may not have bought new running shoes, I did buy hiking boots. The miles I’ve run have translated into finding new joy in pushing myself physically, and a realization that exercise is far more mental than physical. Next month, I’ll try to hike the 5,269-foot Katahdin, the highest point in Maine and the end of the Appalachian Trail. By all accounts, I’ll be so sore that day and the next day (and probably many more after that) that my streak will come to end.
The goal was not about how long I ran, but instead the goal was to set a goal. In my 40s, with kids, a full-time job, and the busyness of life, I realized who I could be when I eliminated excuses, dug deep within myself, and embraced possibility.
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