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Capable and committed: Conquering a running streak

Sheila Miller (left), Kari Whitlock and Jessica Waytashek pose together Thanksgiving Day after completing a run celebrating their one-year run streak. Submitted photo1 / 3
Jessica Waytashek (center) poses with a group of runners on Thanksgiving Day. The run kicked off another year of a run streak for some and a year of running at least 1 mile each day for others. Also pictured are Kari Whitlock (back left) and Sheila Miller (second from left). Submitted photo2 / 3
Sheila Miller (left), Kari Whitlock and Jessica Waytashek pause for a photo together this summer during a run. The trio successfully completed one year of running at least 1 mile a day. Submitted photo3 / 3

Anyone who happened to be in the northern Minnesota city of Effie for the North Star Stampede this summer might have spotted a woman on her daily run—wearing flip-flops.

While many would have allowed forgotten running shoes to derail their goals, Jessica Waytashek is not the average goal-setter. The local personal trainer and weight loss counselor powered through this obstacle and numerous others in the past year—including a nearly debilitating injury—to run at least 1 mile every day for 365 days.

And she didn't do it alone—two others who agreed to take on a running streak challenge last Thanksgiving also recently celebrated a whole year of maintaining an impressive commitment.

Waytashek, Sheila Miller and Kari Whitlock initially participated in the worldwide run streak event organized by Runner's World magazine, a 40-day challenge intended to keep people moving during the holidays. But when Jan. 1 arrived, they weren't quite ready to give up the habit.

"When we finished ... it was, 'Hey, let's see if we can make 50 days,'" Miller said. "And somebody posted a Facebook comment, 'Oh, maybe you should try 100, or 150, or 180 or maybe even a year. And then the thought starts creeping in like, 'Oh, I don't think that will ever happen.' ... So I just started setting those next steps, and then you make that step, and you go for another from there."

Since the start, the three women have logged more than 5,000 miles of pounding the pavement between them, and the streak remains unbroken. This impressive mileage tally is helped in part by Waytashek and Whitlock's even more grueling pledge—each signed up for Run The Year 2017, a fitness challenge just like it sounds. The goal is to run or walk 2,017 miles throughout the year. This equates to an average of 5.5 miles per day, which Waytashek said sounds reasonable on its face. But add life into the mix, and things get complicated quickly.

"If you miss one of those days, then you're going negative," Waytashek said.

At the advice of her doctor while injured this summer, Waytashek still managed a mile a day for almost two weeks. By the end of her "rest" period, however, she had a lot of ground to make up to stay on track for Run The Year.

"Times like that makes you kind of want to throw in the towel," she said.

But as 2017 draws to a close, Waytashek was on pace to achieve 2,017 miles, as was Whitlock.

Secret to smashing goals

Are these women different from other people? What characteristics made them able to stay committed to their goals—goals so many others will make with a new year on the horizon?

Above everything else, the trio attributed their success to the social support network they created among themselves to maintain accountability.

"I think that was vital for us," Waytashek said. "Get a support team in place, whether that's in person with friends or online. ... If you don't have a lot of fitness-related friends, you can find those groups that are out there—public groups, local groups. ... If you're looking, you can find that support system. It's easy to say, 'I can't run a mile, or, 'My family wouldn't care,' or something like that. But if you're looking, you can find that support out there. It's there."

It's never too late to begin a fitness journey, as Miller in particular would attest to. She didn't start running until she was 39 years old, inspired by a friend who looked fabulous in the wake of giving birth.

"She said, 'I run 3 miles every day.' And I thought, 'My gosh, I can't even run three blocks. My ankles are stiff, I can't breathe," Miller said. "So I walked a lot. I started just slowly, run for one song. And I'd get through one song and then I'd walk. And then, 'Oh nope, I'm running for two songs now.' Pretty soon I was running miles at a time."

Nine years later, Miller and Whitlock together completed the Twin Cities Marathon this summer. Waytashek crossed the finish line of Surf the Murph, a 50-mile trail run near Savage. Ultimately for these women, however, it's not as much about the physical fitness as it is the emotional benefits.

"For me, it's a huge stress reliever," Miller said. "I find it helps me emotionally, keep(s) me in balance. Moreso than probably anything else. It's like my happy hour. Some people hang out with friends at a bar, whatever, a restaurant. My happy hour is doing social runs with friends."

"I second that," Waytashek said. "It's just kind of a good way to set the tone for the day. Even if you're not doing it first thing in the morning, it's something to look forward to, it's something you prioritize and you can kind of mentally check off your list. That little bit of organization and focus around being true to your health and wellness, I think it impacts other choices that you make throughout the day because you are thinking about what you have coming up tomorrow."

Waytashek said she also appreciates the benefits it has for her children—setting an example for them on fitness and discipline.

"Whether my kids realize it or not, they do ask me if I've done my mileage today, or what I have planned for the weekend," she said. "They may not look excited about it but they are watching, they are seeing that commitment, so I have to think that that's a positive influence on them."

The possibilities are endless with setting a streak-type goal. It can be anything, Waytashek noted, from committing to taking a different fitness class each week to completing some type of exercise each day, no matter what it is. Or it could be as simple as trying something new each day—no matter what it is.

"Sticking to this challenge and seeing it out, it kind of shows you what you're capable of," she said.

Key to success: Tracking goals

How many times does one begin a New Year's resolution with gusto, only for the motivation to peter out within a few weeks or months? The answer is likely often.

Psychologist Jeremy Dean reported in his book, "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don't, and How to Make Any Change Stick," on a study that found it takes an average of 66 days for a habit to become automatic in one's life. But depending on the habit, there's a lot of variation within that number, Dean said—some habits might take as little as 20 days to form, while others could take nearly a year.

One way to fight against falling off from one's goals is to keep track of whether it's being successfully completed on a regular basis, whether daily or a certain number of times a week. Whether this is done on paper, by checking in with friends or another support network or using any number of smartphone apps, tracking can be a powerful form of motivation to maintain—or cast aside—a habit.

Find the method that works best for tracking goals:

• A calendar. Simply marking off on a calendar whether the goal's been completed for the day provides a visual affirmation of one's commitment.

• Bullet journaling. A practice becoming increasingly popular, bullet journaling is the concept of having all aspects of one's life in one physical planner—to do lists, daily schedules, goals, reading lists, information on pets, budgets ... the list goes on and on.

The idea is to rapidly log one's daily tasks and commitments using bullet points on a daily or weekly calendar, although the concept has evolved through bullet journal enthusiasts to include a variety of personalized trackers. Habit trackers are among these, from habits like flossing daily to reading 30 minutes a day to intensive exercise goals.

If interested in learning more about bullet journaling, Instagram is filled with users posting photos of their spreads for others' inspiration. A Facebook group called "Bullet Journal Junkies" has more than 135,000 members. A search of "habit tracker" results in a seemingly endless number of posts.

• Smartphone apps. Dozens of apps exist for tracking one's habits. Googling "habit tracking app" reveals not only individual apps but a number of compiled lists of apps for both Android and iOS. One list compiled by BuzzFeed last year claims, "These Apps Will Actually Change Your Life." It includes the apps HabitBull (iOS and Android, free); Productive (iOS, free); Strides (web and iOS, free); Streaks (iOS, $4); Habitica (iOS, Android and web, free); Coach.me (iOS, Android and web, free); Momentum (iOS and Mac, free); and Habit Streak (Android, free).

The app Exist takes activity from a number of services on a smartphone and brings it into one place, allowing one to recognize correlations in activity. For example, the app can develop the hypothesis that one's weight is higher after checking into a certain Mexican restaurant, based on smartphone activity. Dozens of apps are available to be analyzed. Available for iOS, Android and the web, the service costs $6/month or $57/year.

• Accountability groups. Whether in person or online, sharing one's successes with others is a way to stay accountable. This concept can be found in a number of organizations, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight Watchers. Searching Facebook, terms like "goal motivation" and "running goals," for example, revealed a number of public groups anyone can join. Finding a local support network of those with similar goals offers opportunities for get-togethers or ongoing text conversations, for example.

Chelsey Perkins

Chelsey Perkins grew up in Crosslake and is a graduate of Pequot Lakes High School. She earned her Bachelor's degree in professional journalism from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. Perkins has interned at the Lake Country Echo and the Rochester and Austin Post-Bulletins and also worked for the student-run Minnesota Daily newspaper as a copy editor and columnist during college. She went on to intern at Utne Reader magazine, where she was later hired as the research editor. Before joining the Brainerd Dispatch, Perkins worked as a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal.

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