183 Days of Running (In a Row)

By Matt Tibbits on April 30, 2024

Recently, I completed my 183rd day of running. In a row! That is half a year of running a minimum of 5km every single day. Why would I do such a thing? This chronicle outlines the motivating factors behind this challenge.

When I last put pen to paper, or rather, fingers to keyboard, I was fresh off the Capes 100 90km ultra. I struggled greatly in training and the race itself with injuries and foot pain. Following the race, I discovered that said foot pain was due to a stress fracture in the third metatarsal of my left foot.

What a time that was. See, although Capes was my goal race for 2023, the highlight of the year was the opportunity to pace at the Divide 200 in Crow’s Nest Pass, Alberta in September. There was just one little problem … that being a broken foot.

Being plagued with injuries wasn’t something new. I’ve struggled with chronic pain and injury for most of my adult life. My neck and shoulders. My back. My calves. My feet. My hips. Even when not sidelined with injury, running 3-4 days per week would have me hobbling around like a geriatric on a bad day.

However, things have changed over the last couple of years. I’ve developed strength and mobility routines to rehab weak and underused muscles, along with ways of promoting healing and recovery in overused muscles. Here is where things start to get weird. In addition to very specific strength and mobility routines, last summer I started incorporating the Wim Hof method into my daily routine.

Wim Hof is the guy credited with starting the whole cold shower / cold plunge phenomenon. There is much more to it than that, of course. If done properly, it includes breathwork and intention. My reasons for starting this were to help me learn how to re-regulate my nervous system. Why it is dysregulated in the first place is another story, for another time. An additional benefit is having an increased immune response, which helps with healing and recovery. 

Back to my foot. In the 4 weeks between Capes and pacing at The Divide, I locked in on this approach. I immersed myself in cold water daily and did 2-3 sessions of breathwork per day. I also held the intention that when the time came, I would be well enough to hike or run approximately 90 km through the Rocky Mountains. I believed and trusted in myself and that my foot would be healed, even though I could barely walk from one room to another. Additionally, I was very disciplined with my rehab routine with help from both my physio and chiropractor. There was a lightbulb moment one day when after receiving some needling treatment on my calves, I realized that my fibularis longus and FDL muscles were very tight and restricted. It was immediately obvious that when my calf wasn’t locked up my foot could actually move better, and when my foot moved better, there was less pain. I added soft tissue work using compression bands and various instruments of torture, including my grid roller and lacrosse balls, to my routine.

Four days before I was supposed to get on an airplane I tried a short 8km run. It … did not go well. I was back to hobbling around and in a lot of pain. It was somewhat discouraging, but I decided I wouldn’t give in to the negativity. I was going to proceed as planned, and worst case scenario it would just be another extremely painful 90km. I would deal with the aftermath after the fact.

I landed in Calgary, and as I walked through the airport I realized that for the first time in weeks, my foot wasn’t hurting! This was encouraging! There wasn’t much time to think about it either. After a short night’s rest, I had to get myself to Crow’s Nest Pass to meet up with Nick P for the final 90km of his race.

After meeting up with Nick P’s crew, and finally Nick P himself, we set out on the trail around 3:15am. I remember those first few steps in the cold darkness of the Rocky Mountain night. Goddamn it hurt! I thought, “Fuck me sideways, this is going to be rough!” Then I pushed the negative thoughts out of my head and focused on the task at hand. Hours later, as dawn broke over the mountain peaks below us, I realized “Holy shit! I haven’t thought about my foot for a while, and it isn’t even hurting!” And that was that. No more pain for the remainder of the 30 hours we were out on the course.

I could write an entire story just about this experience alone. Nick P had already covered over 200km, when I started pacing him. I don’t even have words to describe what I witnessed while participating in just a small portion of this race. The grit and determination that Nick P and the other racers demonstrated was awe inspiring. I never heard him complain or even mention not completing the race. Even in the darkness of our SECOND night, when our pace dropped to about 1km per hour. All these months later and I STILL carry that inspiration with me when I feel tired or sore or like skipping a run.

When I returned from Alberta at the end of September, it was a significant letdown. Experiencing the mountains and that scenery on a daily basis was so special, and something that is pretty hard to match on the East Coast. 

Coming back to reality after the highs of that trip was difficult. Everything felt humdrum and mundane. The fall is ALWAYS difficult. In fact, I fucking hate late fall, and every miserable second of winter. The cooling temperatures and loss of daylight. The gloom. The stark greyness. Death and decay everywhere. It depresses the living fuck out of me. How could I change my mentality and find something positive through the bleakness of the North Atlantic winter?

In years past, when faced with the same depression, I had done what I affectionately called “The Spite Streak.” This was where I would run every day through the month of November, or at least as many days as I could. I decided to do the same again. The goal being to get outside every day. To challenge myself physically and mentally. To try to find joy and beauty each day, IN SPITE of it being my least favourite season. My initial goal: to run everyday from Halloween until Christmas Eve, which would be 55 days.

The Rules

The rules of this streak are simple: cover a minimum of 5km per day on foot. That’s it. Not that hard, right? Also, walking is okay! I would run as much as possible, but obviously there would be days where I need a break. On those days I would walk to allow my body to rest and recover, while still covering 5 continuous kilometers on foot.

My other rule is that 99% of my runs have to be in Zone 2. What is Zone 2? I’m so glad you asked. Zone 2 is where you keep your heart rate below a specific number of beats per minute during training. One way this number, your max heart rate (HR), is determined is by subtracting your age from 180. This is generally the HR where you move from an aerobic effort into an anerobic one. The idea is that by training the aerobic system, you train your body to burn fat for fuel instead of sugars and glycogen. This leads to much better metabolic efficiency, meaning that over time you will run faster and faster at the same perceived effort. This method also improves the immune system and reduces stress on the body, thus reducing inflammation and risk of injury.

In my opinion, this is the optimal training method, especially when considering longevity and consistency. I am no longer training to “run fast,” or for a specific race in the near future. I am training to run all day long if I want, and to still be doing that when I am one hundred.

I digress. This is not a dissertation on Zone 2 training. If you’rr interested in learning more, then I recommend exploring Dr. Phil Maffetone’s work.

In November, I had been doing Zone 2 for a year already, with noticeable improvement in my aerobic capacity and pace, and running every day in Zone 2 for 55 days seemed like a great way to continue improving. 

The Fall

Back then, I had no idea that I would still be running 6 months later. I was just getting outside each day. Running. Walking. Staying in Zone 2. I wasn’t even pushing for a specific distance per week. I was still dealing with foot pain if I didn’t stay on top of my rehab routine almost daily. I also had a lot of soreness and pain in my left adductors. I had been ignoring this since the summer and I didn’t want to aggravate anything.

These days when running, I rarely listen to music anymore. There is a symphony orchestra playing in nature, and don’t get me started on the safety factor of running narrow, shared trails when you can’t freakin’ hear anything! I don’t want to zone out. I want to zone in. To listen to my body. My breath. To be AWARE of all my senses. To be alone with all my thoughts and then to practice NOT thinking. To just be. To be present. 

Some days, however, I do listen to books. My days are often so busy that I don’t have time to read anything from the ever present stack of “Books To Read.” I also have a rule that if I do listen to a book, it can’t be fiction. Again, not trying to escape, but to be present.

Maybe it is just me, but it sometimes happens that you obtain a book and you just aren’t ready for it. For some reason it doesn’t resonate. Then one day, years later, you pick it up again and it is magical. The same book that didn’t really make sense, or even hold your attention, is now life changing.

For me, one such book is The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. Over the years, I tried to read this book several times, and could not get through it, much less understand it. One day I decided to give it another go. Throughout November and into December, I listened to this book and I couldn’t get enough! It was magical, and it finally made sense.

One idea that stood out to me was the idea that there “are no ordinary moments.” Each day, each moment, is special. It’s like when you are on vacation. Even if it is a Tuesday, that day is special. Out of the ordinary. However, when we are mired in our routine we say “fer fuck sakes, another boring goddamn Tuesday.” This is just a state of mind. What if EVERY day was special? What if each MOMENT was special?

Another concept from the book that resonated is when Socrates keeps asking young Dan the questions: Where are you and what time is it? This is encouraging him to be in the present moment. The answers to these questions being: “here” and “now.” 

Socrates goes on to explain, “You can’t change the past, and the future will never come as you expect. Fear, anger, ADDICTIONS, cravings live only in the past or the future.”

There are no ordinary moments.

– Dan Millman, Way of the Peaceful Warrior

This is me to a fault. Always so worried and full of fear. Afraid to even be myself. Always trying to get somewhere. Thinking if I reach some arbitrary point then I will be good enough to finally love and accept myself. I’m starting to realize that I don’t need to get anywhere, I just need to BE. To exist in this moment. That’s all there is, really. 

And so I ran. Most days I even ran the same route. The same path, beside the same bubbling brook. Between the same two lakes. As I did, I started to ask myself, “where are you?” Here. “What time is it?” Now. That path is NEVER the same. In each moment, of each day, it is different. And that moment is special. If I am in it.

As Christmas approached, I was out for my run one day, when the thought came to me: this “Spite Streak” has been really good for me. What if I did this for a year? Could I? How might my life change? How might I change? And that is the moment when I decided to keep going.

You are good at what you practice. This isn’t about running every day anymore. Running has become part of my daily practice. It is a form of meditation. A way to practice mindfulness, intention and being present. So, I will just keep going. For a while.

The Winter

As the new year dawned, I was feeling good. I was putting in 60-80km per week. My training had ramped up to include 4 strength and mobility sessions per week, martial arts twice a week, daily breathwork and running, and 4-5 sessions of cold exposure per week.

I never felt tired, but of course I didn’t. My training wasn’t the only thing that had ramped up. My caffeine intake was at a record high level. I was also working 7 days a week with very little in the way of a break or rest. Yes, dear friends, I had gone “Full Goggins.”

On Jan 20th, I ran 41km at The Toboggan Run. My goal was to run easy for 5 or 6 hours to see how I felt. I now have to integrate larger training runs into the streak, and this was a good opportunity to experiment with both the lead up and recovery.

The run felt good, really good. However, as the day wore on, I developed a weird, cramp-like pain around my rib cage and into my lower abdomen. I thought maybe it was just because I swilled coffee all day instead of water. My legs, and more importantly my energy, were excellent! I did 7 loops of approx. 45 minutes each. I barely ate anything, and when I stopped it was mostly out of caution to not overdo it. After all, I had to run again the next day!

A few days later I was in significant pain. It radiated around my hip and into my lower abdomen. I also still had a very achy left adductor and that was also inflamed. These were the first indications that something was wrong.

As I reduced my mileage and tried to figure out what was going on, the pain seemed to get worse. It was now radiating into my “nether regions.” Guys, if you have ever had muscle spasms in your cremaster muscles, you know what I’m talking about. A kick in the nuts would have been preferable because at least I would have known the cause of the pain.

Let’s move on.

It seemed I was dealing with multiple issues on my left side. My adductors were so tight you could have launched a flurry of arrows with them. My illiacus muscle was strained. My hip flexors hurt. My glute medius hurt. My pirformis was strained and tight. Psoas? Check. The pelvis is a complex piece of machinery that was now experiencing a malfunction. 

Through all of this, I was able to still get out for my 5km every day. Some days I could run. I let the pain dictate the pace and the distance. It occurred to me, in listening to my body, that my body might just need some rest. I needed to learn how to rest and recover, while still running every day.

As I thought about rest, I knew I hadn’t been sleeping well. This was weird because I usually sleep like a baby. My sleep data was telling me otherwise. Oh yeah, coffee. Record levels. Damn it, I don’t want to, cannot give up coffee. I’m too busy and I don’t have time to feel tired. Why hello there, addiction, you old demon you. Am I really choosing to consume something that gives me comfort but yet is bad for my health? In my experience, addiction isn’t about the substance, but the behaviour. I’m still working on this one, but a reduction in intake has improved my sleep. That’s a start. 

As I analyzed my workout data, I realized that I had also gotten away from both my morning yoga routine and my nightly mobility routine. I had been so focused on my foot issue that I was neglecting a lot of other areas. I tried to do a “couch” stretch and couldn’t even come close to getting into that position. This made sense. My hips and pelvis were completely locked up. Yes, I had some minor injuries, but a big part of it was that I hadn’t stayed consistent with strength and especially mobility in these areas.

Apparently you can’t just breath and cold dip your way out of everything. (eye roll)

Next, came the winter weather. We get off pretty easy here in Halifax, but there are always a couple of big storms. On several occasions, we had major snowfall. The first couple of days of wading through hip-deep snow are fun, and then by day 5 when the goddamn sidewalks STILL aren’t cleared, it really starts to suck. It seems a couple of motivated people with soup spoons could have removed snow faster than the city crews did this past winter. Finding a place to run all while slipping and sliding and dodging cars who don’t give a damn added a level of difficulty to the daily runs.

After that, much like the 10th biblical plague, came illness. Kind of. Another change I have noticed is that I don’t really get sick anymore. I have never escaped winter unscathed without at least two major colds and at least one sinus infection requiring antibiotics. I would also be down for the count for 7-10 days. This winter I didn’t have any of that. This is 100% from doing daily Wim Hof breathing. Then throw in a couple of cold plunges per week. It works miracles on the body and the immune system. As Wim himself says, “It’s all there for you.”  I did warn that this was going to get weird! 

It’s all there for you!

– Wim Hof

I was infected with sickness on multiple occasions. Now, though, I can feel when my body starts to fight it, and when I do, I start doing breathwork every 2-4 hours, the intensity depending on the severity of my symptoms. Within half a day all symptoms are gone. The only thing I can’t get rid of is the fatigue. My body definitely needs rest when fighting a bug. So, during these periods I walked a little and ran a little. I didn’t do much more than the bare minimum. It wasn’t ideal, and it added another level of difficultly, but still, the streak lived on.

The Spring

As the days lengthened, I continued to run. I was able to resolve most of my pain. I developed a rehab routine with focus on the pelvic muscles. I have been able to start increasing my distance again. My Zone 2 pace continues to steadily get faster and faster.

In the midst of all this pain, there was a moment while meditating that it occurred to me that maybe this is just my body’s way of getting my attention. I’m not injured, I’m just in pain. And the pain is always different. Some days my hips, some days my abdomen, sometimes my lower back. It is showing me where I hold tension and stress. I have become aware that I am constantly bracing for impact, all the way from my foot, up through my hips, and into my back. That awareness has allowed me to start changing how I hold my body and how I move, and that is helping me to release that stress, tension, and trauma.

Once you’ve become aware of dysfunctional patterns, there is still the matter of fact that you’ve been practicing otherwise for 40+ years. That it is an unconscious program, created in childhood, and practiced year in and year out. And we are good at what we practice. Changing that program requires a new practice. Only with awareness and mindfulness can we consciously write a new sub-conscious program. One that allows you to just be. To be at home in your body, in this present moment.

And here we are, 183 days. A year ago I could have never imagined I would be here. “How might my life change,” I asked? I would say that my life has already changed. I think the combination of breathwork, cold exposure, intention and daily Zone 2 running is a wicked combination. I have never as an adult felt this strong, and I think I’m just getting started. Sure there have been a couple of moments where I thought “that’s enough already” and wanted to quit, but then I hear a quiet voice that says “keep fucking going! This is the way”.

Do I still have moments of anger? Yes, a lot. Am I filled with worry, doubt and anxiety? Often. But it is always less than it was, and even when I am overwhelmed with negative emotion, I am not pulled adrift by it. I can always come back to centre, back home with my breath. And through all of this, each day has become truly unordinary.

Where am I? Here. What time is it? Now.