At a time when resolutions are being crafted a pair of Okotoks runners crossed the finish line on 12 months of perseverance.
Larry Swanson is bringing a streak of just under 400 consecutive days running into 2022 while fellow Big Rock Running Club member Steve Morris achieved his goal of accumulating over 2,000 km of running over the calendar year.
Last December, the 63-year-old Swanson took on the Strides Running Streak — an initiative started by the Calgary-based running store to get people motivated through the twelfth month of the year —after a couple unsuccessful attempts in recent years due to injury.
“Last year I said to my wife ‘I’m going to try it’ and we got partway into it and said ‘I think I’m going to try and run for a full year and see what happens,’” said Swanson, a member of the running club since the mid 1980s. “In the back of my mind because of the injuries throughout my running career I kind of figured that I would probably would end up with an injury and not end up accomplishing my goal.
“But I still wanted to see if I could do it and I did.”
The Nov. 30 date marked 365 days of consecutive running, a total that is at the 396-day mark as of Dec. 31 with the goal of continuing to push the streak into the 2022 calendar year.
On a four-day per week running cycle for the past half-decade, Swanson was careful to begin the streak with the base of having shorter distances during the week and longer weekend jaunts.
The distance evolved to a minimum of six kilometres per day since February, with cycles of three to four weeks of higher mileage offset by one week at lower distances.
“It gives the body a little bit of a reprieve,” he said. “That was one of the things I found the first few months of running when I was doing those back-to-backs was I was getting pretty tired, my legs were pretty tired and now I hardly notice at all.”
Impressively, Swanson has tackled the daily routine exclusively with outdoor running save for one day in which temperatures hovered around the –38 degrees mark.
“I had one day where I ran on the treadmill,” he said. “It’s a challenge, in the winter I’m definitely slower than I am in the summer because of the clothes, because your body has to work a lot harder to generate heat and also to get the blood flowing for what I’m doing.
“But I want to put a kudos into the Town because they have been phenomenal with cleaning the pathways. It will snow and then I will be sitting at the breakfast table just before thinking of going for a run and you’ll see them out there at 7 o’clock in the morning cleaning the pathways.”
Swanson, who described himself as a goal-oriented individual, said he only had one day during the extended stretch wherein he woke up and thought about missing a run.
“That was one of those days where it was in the afternoon and I was waiting for it to get warmer,” he said. “It’s important to set a goal and my saying is ‘It’s a lot easier to fall out of the rocking chair than it is to get in the rocking chair.’ It’s a lot easier to quit something than it is to keep going.”
For Morris, the year-long pursuit was about having an achievable goal and attacking it pragmatically.
Last December, he authored the idea of a 2,000 km year in running.
“It just seemed like a nice number,” he said with a laugh. “I ran quite a bit the year before, but I thought ‘I can make 2,000, I think I can do this.’ It was just a nice round number of a goal.
“It was a stretch for me, I didn’t know if I could do it, but it was possible and let’s give it a try.”
Morris mapped it out per week with a rough breakdown of 40km per seven days over 50 weeks leaving a couple weeks in place in case of injury other hurdles thrown at him.
“For the last four months I’ve been running four days per week,” he said. “I do anywhere from a 5K, 10K, Saturday’s I do a long-run where it’s anywhere from 20 to even 30 K.”
The weekend runs are often done in a group setting with the Big Rock Runners, which for Morris added a social and support dynamic to what was at the end of the day an individual pursuit.
“Even though running is a solitary sport a lot of the time, running together with someone else and with friends is hugely motivating to me,” he said. “And it’s just fun to get together from a social perspective.
“That group has been together for (almost) 40 years and just the camaraderie and running with different ages and speeds, there’s some gazelles in that group that I will never ever keep up with and I don’t care and there’s folks that don’t mind plotting along like I do. And it’s fun that we can all run together.”
Much like Swanson, Morris takes advantage of Okotoks’ pathway systems on his predominately morning runs and is able to zig-zag all over town on his routes.
“I’m a guy that doesn’t run with any music at all,” he said. “I really enjoy the quiet headspace. For me, I’ve found running to be one of the best mental health things I can do, or any exercise, so I didn’t want music to get in the way of that, I don’t want another voice in my head, I just want my own.”
Both runners stressed the importance of routine and its impact on overall health, particularly during the stresses of the pandemic.
“I think I would be going crazy,” Swanson said. “I’m retired now and with the pandemic, that’s the one thing that’s got me through being very healthy with this is the fact I know I’m going to get out. Sure, I’m not going to see people, but I’m going to get out and be able to run.
“I’ve run for 35 years and through a lot of my career I solved a lot of my work problems while I was out running. To me, it’s a way to refresh yourself, to clean the white board and come up with new ideas.
“Running, it’s a love for me.”
Morris echoed the sentiment.
“I’m not sure how I would have coped without doing something on a regular basis, like running,” he added. “It’s a way to cope with the stresses and just the ups and downs of COVID.
“I have friends that play tennis and all of those activities have been interrupted all the way through COVID, but I can always go out on a run.”
Sticking to the plan and getting out on days in which running is not exactly enticing, Morris attributed his perseverance to a combination of ‘Scottish stubbornness’ and the impact of routine.
“I just knew that ‘OK, this is something I do’ and I knew from a mental health perspective that it was a good thing to do and probably wouldn’t be feeling right unless I did it,” he said. “And then that goal sat in the back of my mind too, where I could say every kilometre I do today is one less kilometre I have to do at the end of the year.
“So let’s just keep going so that maybe the end of the year won’t be such a rush and a push.”
Slowing down his pace was important, noting he had to be smart about rest and recovery with the big picture goal in mind.
“I stopped caring about how fast and just caring about enjoying the time out there,” he said. “For me, it was ‘Why am I in such a hurry?’ just sit back and enjoy this.”
For those looking at goals and resolutions for the coming year, Morris stressed the importance of building a routine which can be as simple as adding to an already existing one.
“If you already get up early in the morning, if you can get up just a little bit earlier and do something,” he said. “The second thing was, I wasn’t worried about being Dave Proctor. I love Dave, he’s an awesome guy, but I’m not sure I’m built to be an ultra-runner so why don’t I do what I can do and build from that.
“Those are the things that kept me going and if that can help somebody else too, that would be awesome.”
Looking ahead to another year, Morris said he’s toying with the idea of increasing the goal over the next 12 months to 2,400 kilometres.
“I would have to up it a bit and make sure there was a little more mileage every week,” he said. “But it would be nice one day to say ‘I ran 10,000 kilometres in a lifetime.”