Ron Marinucci: Streaking
by Ron Marinucci, Oct. 31, 2011
1977, almost 35 years ago. Jimmy Carter, for better or worse, was inaugurated as the 39th President. The mini-series Roots made its debut on television, setting ratings records, and Star Wars opened at movie theaters. Elvis Presley died and Gary Gilmore faced a firing squad in Utah. Apple was incorporated and the Commodore PET was introduced as the world’s first personal computer. Supersonic passenger travel became a reality, with regular Concorde flights between London and New York. And streaking was in its American heyday, especially for Bill Benton.
No, not that kind of streaking. Benton’s streaking involves running on consecutive days—and he keeps on his clothes.
Yep, Bill Benton has been streaking since 1977, running on more than 12,600 consecutive days. The 61-year old Farmington Hills resident is currently 19th on the United States Running Streak Association Active Running Streak List (www.runeveryday.com).
The USRSA has standards for running streaks. Its “official definition” of streaking “is to run at least one continuous mile within each calendar day under one’s own body power (without the utilization of any type of health or mechanical aid other than prosthetic devices).” Running can be done on the roads, track, trails, or treadmill, but not in pools. To be listed, a streak must reach “at least one year in duration.”
Benton began his streak on April 23, 1977—his second streak. He had an earlier one that started on March 9, 1970 while he was a member of the University of Detroit cross country team. It lasted for 2005 days, just about five and a half years. That streak is 51st on the USRSA “Retired List.”
Benton recalled, “Back in the ‘60s, a teammate of mine saw a book I had on Joe DiMaggio. My friend said, ‘I’m going to run 56 days in a row’” in honor of and inspired by the Yankee Clipper’s 56-game hitting streak. Benton thought this was “silly…[but] on a lark, I was starting one.” Benton was also inspired by then British running ace Ron Hill, “a favorite of mine and I had admired his daily dedication to running.”
Plantar fasciitis and a left heel injury ended the first streak. He ran occasionally for the next year and a half, mostly to see if he was ready to begin training again. That April 1977 day, “I returned to training and racing.”
Obsessive? Benton doesn’t think so. “It’s not something I think about every day,” he related. “I don’t need it to motivate me to get out and run, but it’s nice to have it there.” He added, “I’ve always valued steadiness and continuity in work [a retired accountant] and daily life. So, a streak is a perfect fit.”
Benton ran in high school and, as noted, at U of D. He continued to run after graduation. And he raced and raced well. He’s run the Boston Marathon nine times. “My first marathon in Boston I wanted to break three hours,” he reminisced. “I did 3:00:19. Then I broke 2:30 four times.”
“I don’t race anymore. I just run for fitness now.” When he trained for racing, he found he became injured. “It all came back again; so I stopped. Since I don’t race anymore, the streak is my only connection to my running past. So it’s nice to keep it going.”
Meeting USRSA standards, Benton runs “a minimum of a mile or two every day. My official limit is one mile, but I’ve only used that the day before a big race. Two miles has been my minimum while injured or sick.” Most days, he runs “four to five miles.”
He admitted that there is “one person who doubts the veracity of the streak. However,” he noted, “most people are just surprised and amazed at it. Then, when I tell them that it is only 19th on the [USRSA] list, they are even more surprised.”
For the record, currently the longest streak is held by Mark Covert, a teacher and coach in California. His streak has reached over 15,800 days. Even had Benton not been forced to stop his first streak and continued through that down time, he’d more than a year behind Covert. Still….
Benton usually runs early in the morning, around 5:00. “I just don’t feel right if I don’t start [my day] with a run.” He quipped, “Some people who are stuck in the snow with their cars are surprised to see someone show up to help push them out at that hour.” He told another story. “A woman had driven into a three-foot snow drift. She put her window down and asked me, ‘Why are you out running in this?’ I replied, ‘Why are you out driving in this?’”
“I’m a sky buff; so the early morning runs provide plenty of great sunrises, planet sightings, and shooting stars, as well as the occasional space station sightings.” And, he added, “the early morning calm is a great time for prayer and quiet reflection.”
Two factors, at least, could have brought a halt to the streak—weather and injuries. He admits the weather has chased him indoors, if only very occasionally. “But then I do outdoor runs, too. I wouldn’t feel as happy with a treadmill.” He explained it all very simply. “I like to see what it’s like [running in extremes]. I might never get a chance to experience that again.”
“At worst,” he said, “the weather has been an inconvenience.” He recalled a five-day string in January 1994 that brought “sub-zero lows including -21 degrees.” He was out there. At the other extreme, “While in Phoenix on vacation, I went out in midday temperatures of about 120 degrees, just to see what it was like. I took a water bottle, but didn’t really need it.”
An injury in November 2007 almost ended things. Ironically, it didn’t come from running, but “while biking to work at Total Runner.” He was hit by a car whose driver hadn’t seen him. Down he went. After a hospital visit and return home, he pondered the probable end of the streak. “Oddly enough, I was ready for that possibility.” But after watching the Lions football game on television that afternoon, “I decided to give it [running] a try. What the heck!”
He grabbed a rolling walker, just in case, and headed out. “Of course, my wife, Debbie, thought I was nuts!” Really? He thought he’d try a 1.1 mile circuit in his neighborhood. “If I couldn’t do it, I could hobble back with the walker.” He soon realized he didn’t need it. “I was pushing it like a shopping cart.” He “ditched” the walker and went out for more. Debbie “didn’t know what to make of the abandoned walker and was happy to see her crazy husband home again.” The injury restricted him to two miles a day. There was no pain, just a collapsing knee if he would make a turn too sharply. “Down I’d go,” he said. But he was soon back to five miles a day.
Another time, he remembered, “I had compound stress fractures of both knees, but I kept running.” Actually, he was unaware of the fractures. They only showed up later, after they had healed. Had he known, he admitted he might have stopped the streak.
Obsessive? Perhaps not. Running is still fun for Benton; it’s not a chore. He still finds challenges, with time for other pursuits like working with Alzheimers/dementia persons.
“The streak is fun,” he mused,” but in the overall scheme of things, it’s not really important.”
“I equate my effort to the voyage of the little Voyager spacecraft, which, after its useful exploration of the outer planets, just keeps transmitting as it leaves the solar system. How long will it go on? How long will I go on?”