Stories of Strangers

Significant Mileage: My Mom’s 18-year Running Streak

BY ALLYSON MORIN

At 4:44 a.m., my mom Beth’s alarm goes off for school.  Before she begins the 45-minute commute to her fifth grade classroom to work as a math teacher, she goes through her routine like clockwork.  She lets out the dogs, eats oatmeal, talks to her father on the phone, watches the news with a coffee, and finally hops on the treadmill for her daily 5 mile run.  She does this every day without fail.

She has missed only three runs since May 1, 1998.  That’s 6,692 days of running.

On May 1, 1998, now 45-year-old Beth began her running streak.  At that point she already had a two-year streak having taken zero days off since my birth.  Before then, she had run every day since 1994. After taking a day off to give birth to my younger sister Alexa, born on April 29, 1998, she was back in her running shoes two days later.

A running streak is defined as running at least one mile every day—no days off.  The longest female running streak on record is held by 79-year-old Lois Bastien who began her streak on April 18, 1980.  Her streak lasted 13,280 days or just over 36 years.

Beth runs between four and six miles on her treadmill in the exercise room of her two-story house.  Every morning for upwards of an hour the house shakes while she pounds out her daily mileage.  It keeps her lean, fast, and slightly neurotic.

“Why do you do it?” I ask.

In April 1988 when my mother was 18-years old, she jumped off a cliff on impulse.  She had a crush on a boy who had run and jumped off into the water just before.

“Everyone always says I’m impulsively doing stupid things.  I thought about that as I was running towards the edge.  I hesitated, and didn’t have the momentum to make it past the solid rocks at the bottom.  I missed the water and hit the rocks,” she said.  She didn’t realize right away the severity of the injury due to shock.

It shattered both her feet.  She spent several months and completed her graduation walk confined to plaster casts.

“I had an epiphany as I was running this morning,” said Beth.  As usual she’s sweaty and has just finished a six mile run. “After I shattered my feet I realized I was so lucky to be able to walk that I might as well be running.  I wanted to see if I could do it.”

“I don’t run that far, because I want to be able to wake up and do it again tomorrow,” she says.

Beth has had her fair share of long runs.  As a college student, she routinely ran for hours—when she wasn’t hung over.  In those days she had no problem taking days off when life got hectic.  Once, when my sister and I were still in a jogging stroller, Beth ran over 20 miles on the Hadley bike trail.

“I passed out on the kitchen floor from dehydration when I got home.  I thought I was going to die.  It wasn’t smart but I wanted to see if I could do it,” Beth said.

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In March 2014, when I ran my first half marathon (I finished in an hour and 25 minutes), Beth ran a half marathon on her treadmill.

“I wanted to see if I could do it,” she said.  She finished in 1:38:23.

My mom has a lifetime warranty on her treadmills, which she abuses.  She runs them to the ground.  Her first three machines capped out at 9,999 miles before needing to be replaced.  Her fourth one she broke at 10,380 miles.  The mileage counter on the treadmills only shows four digits.

“I wanted to see what would happen if I took it over that edge,” she said.  She stopped at 10,380 because it is divisible by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 10.  It’s a significant number.

Her current treadmill, as of August 26, 2016 is at 4,676.

“It’s at 4,676 miles! You got that? Write it down!” she yelled from upstairs.  It isn’t a significant number, it’s only divisible by 2 and 4.  I’m always being texted photos of significant numbers, whether it’s the car mileage or treadmill mileage.

“It’s hard to explain what makes a number significant.  I like when numbers are divisible by other numbers.  Sometimes I run extra miles to make treadmill mileage divisible by 2 or 4 or 6.  Same with the car odometer,” she says.

Beth and I both have synesthesia, which is “the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body” according to Wikipedia.

For us, color and temperature are tied closely to numbers.  For example, the number 2 is always red, 3 is pink, and 8 is green.  It’s weird and hard to explain, but it’s satisfying to see numbers that relate closely together.

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I interrupt her, “Hang on a minute, you’re wearing my running socks.  You’re always stealing my goddamn socks!”  I work in a running specialty store and often come home with really sweet socks.

“Define *your*.  I’m the reason you run in the first place so…” she says.

It’s true, I must admit.  My whole life I’ve busted my ass to keep up with my mom.  At one point I could run an 18-minute 5K, a 5:11 mile, and an 11-minute 2 mile… setting high school records but with the knowledge that if my mom were running with me I’d be blown into the dust.

She tells me that when I run, she’s always just behind me and slightly to the left, just like she was in the early days when we ran together when I was a kid.

Her running streak isn’t a true streak, she admits, but I’m not so sure that matters.  In the last 18+ years she has taken three days off.  One day for the “worst flu of her life”, another when she pulled her Achilles jumping on a trampoline while on vacation in Maine, and finally for the day she spent painting the house.  It had taken her from early morning to past midnight.  There physically weren’t enough minutes left in the day to sneak a run in.  It bothers her to talk about her off days.

“How long do you hope to keep this up?” I asked several weeks ago as we ran around the neighborhood together.

“Until I die,” she answered.

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Beth has been running her whole life.  In sixth grade she started the Cheshire Running Club with neighborhood kids.  This got her younger sister Amy into running, which she continues to this day.

“I always made her run farther than me.  I’d yell at her like a coach,” my mom said.

My mother keeps scrapbooks painstakingly pieced together of her running career.  Hand drawn awards in her mother’s spidery handwriting congratulate her for completing 19 miles.  The club’s emblem is a “C” with lightning bolts coming out the sides.

In middle school and high school she competed in the 100 yard dash, 100 yard hurdles, and 4×100 yard relay.  Later on, the measurements changed to meters.  In 8th grade she set the record in the 4×100 relay.  In her scrapbooks she keeps newspaper clippings, bib numbers, even the safety pins from that time.  She was also a half-back on the soccer team from 7th grade to 12th grade.

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“Can you find and bring down some of your old running stuff?” I ask.  Her story feels important to me, and this piece of her history isn’t something she talks about often.  To see the physical evidence of such a consistent career somehow will make it more real for me.

“If you give me 10 seconds I could find it right now.  Actually—don’t start counting—I’m only walking to get it.”

My mom has spent my entire life running.  I’ve never known her any other way, just like I have never known her without her thick circles of dark brown eyeliner.  I’m not certain of many things, but I do know for sure that she will never stop running.

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