Day-by-day: A lifetime on the run

Mark Covert was 17 when he began a daily running streak that would last 45 years

Updated: July 20, 2013, 4:58 PM ET
By Brian Metzler | Competitor.com

Mark CovertCourtesy of Mark CovertA foot injury will bring an end to 62-year-old Mark Covert's daily running streak on July 23.

Cal Ripken Jr. has nothing on Mark Covert.

Sure, Ripken amazingly played 2,632 consecutive games over 16 seasons as a shortstop (and later as a third baseman) for the Baltimore Orioles. But Covert's ongoing streak of running every single day started when Ripken was a 7-year-old just starting to cut his teeth on the diamond.

Believe it or not, the last time Covert took a day off from running Lyndon Johnson was president, The Doors had just released the soon-to-be-No. 1 hit "Hello, I Love You" and Mickey Mantle was struggling through his final summer with the New York Yankees.

The 62-year-old community college teacher and coach from Lancaster, Calif., has run at least a mile every single day since July 23, 1968.

Think about that for a moment -- every single day for almost 45 years.

In the summer of '68, the U.S. was deeply entrenched in the Vietnam War, The Beatles were back in the studio working on the record that would become known as "The White Album" and Neil Armstrong was a year away from becoming the first man to set foot on the moon.

And Covert has been lacing up his shoes every single day since then, never once missing a day because of injury, bad weather, travel plans, fatigue or a lack of interest.

"I've always said that it's not something that I have to do, but something I get to do," said Covert, who has run more than 151,000 miles during his streak. "As much as it is about going out the door every day, there's a whole lot of luck involved, too. You can't step in a hole or get so sick you can't get out the door, but I've been very fortunate with my health in general."

Covert's running streak, which reached 16,417 consecutive days on July 3, is the world's second-longest, according to the United States Running Streak Association and Streak Runners International.

But, in part due to a nagging right foot injury, Covert plans to end the streak voluntarily after a run on July 23, the 45th anniversary of the streak's inception.

"I could have ended this years ago, and recently I could have ended it a few months ago," Covert said. "I can't really run hard and train anymore because of my foot, so that's why I'm OK with ending it. At some level, what's the difference if it's 16,420 or 16,430 days? It makes no difference, but getting to 45 years was significant to me, so that's what I'm going to do."

Covert was 17 when the streak started, freshly graduated from Burbank High School in Southern California. He was a good prep runner and continued his competitive career at Fullerton State College, where he would run a 4:09 mile and win the 1970 NCAA Division II cross country championships.

He had no idea at the time, but his streak would ultimately transcend virtually every aspect of modern running.

•  As the streak began, American Jim Ryun was the world record-holder in the mile (3:51.1) but still two months away from earning the silver medal in the 1,500-meter run at the Mexico City Olympics.

•  A skinny and still-unheralded 17-year-old kid named Steve Prefontaine -- who would become an American running legend in the early 1970s -- was preparing for his senior year at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay, Ore.

•  At the time, the Boston Marathon was still a small race for fast runners, with only 1,152 participants in 1969. The New York City Marathon started in 1970 with 127 runners.

•  Covert placed seventh in the 1972 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in Eugene, Ore., a race that launched Frank Shorter on a path to winning the 1972 Olympic Marathon in Munich and becoming one of the progenitors of the worldwide recreational running boom.

•  In the trials race, Covert ran a personal-best 2:23:34 and became the very first person to cross a finish line wearing a pair of Nike shoes. The running shoe business, in its infancy when the streak began, has grown to become a $2.5 billion industry.

•  The streak began five years before Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie, perhaps the greatest distance runner of all time, was even born.

[+] EnlargeMark Covert
Courtesy of Mark CovertCovert's running streak began in 1968, two years before he went on to win the NCAA Division II cross country championships at Fullerton State College.

Covert continued road racing recreationally into his late 30s and kept training into his 50s. In recent years, he's spent more time riding a bike because he's still able to push hard with less stress on his foot. But he still gets out for his daily run.

He's run through illness and several injuries, including a torn meniscus 10 years ago and occasional bouts of plantar fasciitis. Although he has averaged close to nine miles per day over the streak, lately he's been reduced to a slow jog of three to five miles.

"I hobble my few miles every day," Covert said.

Two-time British Olympic marathoner and former marathon world record-holder Ron Hill, 74, is credited with the world's longest streak, which dates back to December 1964. However, his span includes workouts on crutches after a car crash, and bunion surgery in the 1990s that limited his normal running routine.

"If he got out there and did it, then it counts for me," Covert said.

The next longest streak among U.S. runners belongs to Jon Sutherland, a 62-year-old writer from West Hills, Calif., who has logged at least a mile every day since May 26, 1969. Six other American runners have run every day for at least 40 years and 80 have streaks of 25 years or longer.

The top woman on the current U.S. streak list is Barb Latta, 71, a retired librarian from Raleigh, N.C., who has logged 10,804 straight days over the past 29 years. She took over the top spot last year after Minnesota's Julie Maxwell slipped on ice and broke an ankle, ending a streak of 12,212 consecutive days dating back to 1978.

"It's obviously been a lot of fun and I still enjoy it, otherwise I wouldn't have done it or kept with it," Covert said. "I'll keep running after the streak ends. I really like putting my shoes on and getting out there, even if I'm out hobbling for three miles. It's just part of what I do."

Follow the final days of Covert's streak at www.markcovertnevermiss.com.

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