Why #31DaysOfRunning #31DOR changed my life

July 31st, 2020. Finished #31DaysOfRunning at the East River track.

Yeah, that’s a bold title. But as I was posting about my excitement for the next round of #31DOR on Twitter this morning, I realized just how big an impact it had made on me last year. So… I figured I’d share some thoughts on my experience with my first ever running streak.

The backstory

This might be important context for some of y’all who come from a different background: I never exercised consistently in my life. I’ve never participated in any competitive sports. In part because that’s just how I grew up (see also my post on “Is it okay to just be okay?“), and in part because competitive sports aren’t as big a deal in German schools and colleges as they are in the US. I only got into running casually in college, and only started taking it more seriously (i.e. tracking my times) in early 2020 when I embarked on my “52 weeks, 52 albums” running project.

I also used to get absolutely debilitating exercise-induced migraines ever since was a kid, in particular triggered by exercise in hot conditions, which made it impossible for me to run through summer even when I was in fairly decent shape. It took me until my late 20s to figure out that I had to supplement massively with electrolytes (big fan of nuun!) to make up for all the sweating, and ever since then I’ve been able to live a fairly normal life with the occasional advil thrown in.

By July 2020, I’d spent the first few months of the pandemic doing not much else and felt like I’d be physically able to do a run streak. Enter: #31DaysOfRunning.

What’s #31DaysOfRunning?

Real simple: #31DaysOfRunning is a running “challenge” where you commit to running a certain mileage every day of the month, for 31 days. Specifically, the version I know, is committing to running a minimum of 3.1 miles (5K) every day in July, one of the hottest months of the year in the northern hemisphere. And yeah, the weather is kind of the point.

Honestly, I can’t quite recall how I came across this hashtag on Instagram, but someone in the NYC running community posted about #31DOR and I decided to commit! According to MapMyRun, it was actually started by NYC folks a few years back… which doesn’t surprise me, given how hard people go in this city. We truly have no chill šŸ™‚ Resident Runners, the NYC running crew lead by Ray who originally started the streak, keep a website up where you can sign up to “officially” participate in #31DOR and may be in the run for some Under Armour gear. According to their Instagram page it looks like it’s happening again this year!

Why is #31DaysOfRunning such a game changer?

Habits! Y’all love habits!

First of all, this is the most obvious one: You do something every day for 31 days in a row, it will likely turn into a habit. Meaning, it’ll be easier to do it and it’ll come naturally to you without having to think about it much.

For me, not having to think about whether I’d run but only figure out some of the logistics (when, where, how long, do I have anything left to wear!?) took a lot of the procrastination and “I’ll do it tomorrow” out of my running and made me… JUST DO IT. It’s almost a relief to not have to play the eternal mind game of “will I, won’t I?”.

The other thing it made me good at was the actual logistics. I was able to significantly cut down the time it took me to get ready for a run, then shower afterwards and get ready for work or other activities, which still helps me today when I want to squeeze in a run but don’t have a ton of time.

Resilience, mental and physical

If there’s one thing you’ll get from running every single day during one of the hottest months of the year (at least in the northern hemisphere), it’s mental strength. Being able to deal with The Suck, aka the feeling of discomfort that’s clearly different from actual pain and non-threatening but it still sucks and you want it to stop. Especially during the first 10 days or so, I could definitely feel the physical strain on my body, but I also knew that my mileage had been high enough and my running consistent enough that I’d be able to handle it. I was just sore and felt, well, The Suck. I just kept going and after a couple of weeks, I had a mental shift that enabled me to run an easy 5K at pretty much any time without really noticing.

And after a while, there’s also some physical resilience happening. I wasn’t sore anymore after my 3 milers. It just felt… normal. Keep in mind, I didn’t have a pace goal whatsoever and kept a lot of these runs super easy.

Daily wins. Like, DAILY. WINS.

Every single time you put on your sneakers, get out of the house, and do even the tiniest little baby run, you will feel like you’re absolutely CRUSHING your goals. And you get that 31 days in a row. Pretty awesome.

I still remember coming back home from a bike packing trip (50 miles through rolling hills with an old bike and panniers full of camping gear), dropping off my gear, and going for a run at the East River track. My brain went “wtf are you DOING“, but I felt like I’d finally accomplished… something.

What stuck with me?

After finishing the run streak, I took a day off running, believe it or not. And then went right back at it the day after, because I felt like it. Sadly, I’d been dealing with a light injury which had been caused by a toe injury the year before, so at some point in September 2020 I had to put my running on hold to get some rest.

It did take me a while to get back into a running habit in early 2021 (also in part because I was worried about the injury returning…), but I never lost the ease with which I’d put on my sneakers and run. Going for a run isn’t a big deal anymore or takes much thought, it’s just part of what I do several days a week, even when I’m not necessarily feeling it. I know I’ll get into it once I’m running, and if not, I know I have the mental strength to push through The Suck… or I can just run back home.

And in that way, #31DOR did in fact change my life. I’m very much not the same person I was before that. I’ve developed a habit, something that I just “do” without thinking about it. I know I can do hard shit, like, really hard shit, much more than I thought I could.

How do you do #31DaysOfRunning?

It’s pretty simple. You kinda just… run? The post on the MapMyRun blog has some really good insights, but here are some of my thoughts:

  1. Pick a minimum distance/duration to commit to. Classic #31DOR would be 3.1 miles/5K, but I’d say if you’re not running on the regular, this might be physically overwhelming. Pick whatever feels like a challenge, but where you know you’re not going to overwork your body. Commit to walking if you’re not a regular runner, but I would say if you do feel like running 31 days is physically possible, go for running. Even the lightest jog requires a different mindset from walking. And keep in mind, it’s a minimum, you can always do more. I probably ended up doing more miles about 50% of the time.
  2. Find a good regular time, or just be ready to run whenever. That might mean early morning, midday heat, or 11pm at night. Make sure you have the right equipment (see below) and have some routes planned out that are suitable for different times – shady or breezy during the day, safe, well lit, and with plenty of people at night. You might end up circling your block 10 times… that’s life.
  3. Have the right equipment and have it ready. That means: Sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, water if you’re going for a longer run, watch or phone, headlamp and reflective stuff if you’re running at night, something to hold your stuff. ELECTROLYTES (y’all know I’m obsessed with nuun).
  4. Track every run (or walk) as a separate workout using your favorite app (Strava, MapMyRun, Nike Run, Garmin, etc.). This is about being intentional. “I happened to walk a lot today” doesn’t count, the point is to get into the habit of putting on your shoes and getting out the door.
  5. Workout clothes logistics: You’ll be going through an insane amount of clothes because SWEAT. I usually take my outfit (shorts and bra) into the shower with me and rinse it in soapy water, then hang it up to dry. That way I’ll get 1-2 more runs out of it before it needs a proper wash. Yes, your bathroom will likely be covered in drying/wet workout clothes. That’s part of the fun.
  6. Sign up with Resident Runners if you want to commit to the daily 3 miles and share your runs via MapMyRun! Apparently there may be some Under Armour gear happening…
  7. And finally, share the fun! I’ll be posting daily updates with the #31DaysOfRunning #31DOR hashtags on Twitter with the day and my mileage and maybe a fun lil snap. Feel free to share and tag me (@spbail) too and I will be HYPING YOU UP.

But also: This is a challenge for yourself. Make it your own thing, whatever feels good. My mileage isn’t as high as it was last year and I’m still coming back from an injury, so I’m only committing to a 1 mile minimum (but I’ll likely do more if I feel it’s safe). I’ll be posting daily updates on Twitter with the hashtag! Let’s goooo!