Saturday, December 6, 2008

Do you keep streaks?

The New York Times has an interesting article about a "30-year running streaker." Dr. Harvey Simon, a 66-year old internal medicine physician in Boston, MA, has been running for 30 years consecutively, each and every day. Apparently, Dr. Simon is one one of 30 other streakers, according to the US Running Streak Association. (yes, this is an actual organization!)

In this
Wall Street Journal article written by Dr. Simon's journalist daughter, she says:

The streak is too much a part of him. I worry about that sometimes. He's proud of his streak, and I think his running longevity -- the fact that he's prevailed against injury, weather and all the rest -- has strengthened his spirit. He's a born optimist, but the streak has made him even more confident, even more resilient. What will happen when it ends?

On one level, I know that's a ridiculous question. The streak does not define my dad. He still practices and teaches medicine; he still writes and edits. He and my mom take art history courses, study music, volunteer, travel. But still, I worry.

In running -- in streaking, in particular -- my dad has found an outlet to express personality traits that might otherwise stay submerged. He's a humble and reserved man, but his streak is such a goofy accomplishment that he's given himself license to celebrate it.

I think the majority of us would say this man's (and the 30 others in the running streak association) running is based on obsession and lunacy. Yes, they all run for different reasons--communing with God, placing order in their life, problem solving, etc. That is all good and well. However, they also run through wretched and medically unsafe conditions, like in thunderstorms and blizzards, running while holding a catheter!, running through chest pain which turned out to be a heart attack, running with broken toes and other various compromising injuries. The sole reason: to keep the streak alive.

One thing I find incredibly ironic in this article is that this physician has written several books on health and fitness, expressing the importance of moderate exercise. I guess this becomes a "do as I say, not as I do example."

Eight or ten years ago, I would have thought this was an amazing thing. There is no doubt that my relationship with exercise is skewed, and I admit, I still think ultrarunning would be a cool thing to do one day. However, I do understand the mechanisms of the body physically and take rest days. Two is about my maximum before I go completely crazy, but still, I rest anyway. The guilt remains, sometimes denial is added in there too, but it is a step I continue to do, reminding myself it is a good thing.


It's interesting when I think about this whole concept of keeping a streak alive in whatever avenue of life. Most of the time, the idea of a "streak" is about winning. And in many cases, it is certainly seen this way. For instance, for some people an incentive to abstain in self-destructive behaviors like purging and/or drinking, is to hold onto their streak. It provides not only a sense of accomplishment but a purpose of some sorts. Therefore, there is a feeling of winning over the battle of an eating disorder and/or alcoholism.

However, on the flip token, people can also use streaks in self-destructive ways, like in the continuance to starve or exercise obsessively. That, we all know, can lead to many health problems and possible eventual death.

The thing is streaks eventually end whether by personal choice or another occurrence, and then we have to decide what to do or become after those streaks. For some, holding onto those streaks means a lot, and it is difficult to let go of them. For others, it's not as big of a deal, and it's easy to start over or do something completely different. Then, there are those who may break a streak, and have difficulty in deciding what next?

So my question is: do you keep streaks in certain aspects of your life? Do they matter? Do you find them helpful, harmful, or just another added expectation?


Kim said...

For me, a "streak" would be just another obsessive ed-related thing. Even if it's a streak like "How many days can I go flossing twice a day?", it still feels very "anorexic" to me. Streaks imply rules. Rules are not good...for me. I go to the extreme with them. I'm a total rule-abuser. It's better for me to look at life as having ebbs and flows. I don't exercise at all now, and I try to be ok with that. If I'm really anxious, I go for a little walk. I don't need something to feel guilty about, like skipping a "work out" day. I'm much happier without the obligation :)

Lisa said...

Kim, I love walking when I'm anxious, too. It takes a few minutes, but eventually I chill out. I get out of my head and into my surroundings.

As for streaks, I agree that for some people, such as myself, it becomes an obsessive issue.

Sarah said...

I could write a whole lot on the 'streak' ideal being part of my ed for sure in so many ways. Added that I have OCD does not help at all. I believe though that my ed would change the rules of what streaks I needed to do/how to do them/# of times), and the more 'rules' I had the harder to do everything else in my life.

Tiptoe said...

So far the consensus is no streaks!

I agree, I think it can be just another form of obsession. It's interesting how other people view it, ie more glorify it, but I guess that happens with just about anything these days.

Kim and Lisa, yes, walks are a great way to deal with anxiety. Once I was upset with my roommate and went for a walk--well it was a walk/run but more on the side of walking, and I got completely lost and had to call my roommate to come get me. My upset was gone from my roommate replaced with the anxiety of where the hell was I?

Sarah, I do agree with you having OCD, the whole streak thing would cause more havoc. The ED I'm sure would dictate more and more. Right now, you need to make everything in your life as easy as possible, not that it is, but you get my drift.

Sarah said...

I agree, yes. They both seemed to fuel each other. I have also been making things as easy as possible, more in I'm not taking everything so seriously and being hard on myself. I've really noticed this in the past week. I can't remember being this happy in such a long time=)

ramona said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ramona said...

Yup. A streak is binary - either it's on or it's off. Even when used in a positive way, like tallying-up "good days", streaks are ultimately too rigid to be healthy for anyone with obsessive tendencies... Your blog is so wonderful, by the way. Very glad to have found it.

Kara said...

I'm new to this blog - but I agree with everyone else: streaks are a bad idea. Streaks cause me so much stress because I obsess over not breaking it. Even if it the streak is a good thing, like not purging, I get caught up in trying to be perfect. Striving for perfection = insanity.

Tiptoe said...

Ramona and Kara, welcome to my blog! Thanks for your comments.

Yes, I think the consensus is that streaks for people who already have obsessive/perfectionistic tendencies are just a bad idea. Letting go of the rules and rigidity is just too difficult!