The Extra Mile

Californian's Daily Run Is Far From Routine

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Sometime today, Mark Covert will lace up his shoes and go out for a run. When he finishes, Covert will be running's answer to Cal Ripken Jr. -- he'll own the record for the longest consecutive-day running streak as recognized by the U.S. Running Streak Association Inc.

Covert, 55, has run at least one mile every day since July 23, 1968.

"It's not a mark of intelligence," said Covert, the track and cross-country coach at Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, Calif., north of Los Angeles. "I think I first noticed when I had 100 days in a row and I thought I'd try to keep it going. Then one year turned into two. After that, I had to have a pretty good reason to miss. And now here I am."

In the decades since he started the streak, Covert has covered more than 136,000 miles. At his competitive peak, he ran more than 150 miles a week and was one of the top road racers in the country, finishing seventh in the 1972 Olympic trials marathon. He still averages eight miles a day.

The streak "is part of my life but it doesn't consume me," he said.

That said, Covert has gone to some lengths to keep it going. The need for a pre-dawn or late-night effort on busy days is part and parcel of any multiyear streak effort. But two years ago, Covert had arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus; as he left his doctor's office, he simply said, "See you tomorrow."

Covert abandoned his crutches early the next morning and hobbled through a painful one-mile run. "That was not pleasant," he said. It could have been worse; he didn't need to avail himself of a contingency plan, which entailed numbing the knee with ice to make a second attempt later that day.

"I've trained through illness and injury, run plenty of times when I shouldn't have. I ran on the days my parents passed away and I've run when every one of my four kids was born. I still look forward to running every day, although the trees go by more slowly now.

"Not a lot of people get to have a time like that to themselves every day, a time to think about their plans, their job, their family. That's important."

Bob Ray, 69, of Baltimore, ended his 38-year 5-day streak -- the former U.S. record -- on his birthday last December. "I hit my finish line," said Ray, who still exercises most days. As for losing the record to Covert, Ray said, "It's fine, more power to him."

Covert has no plans to end his streak intentionally: "It's neat to think about it in context, in terms of history. It started before Armstrong walked on the moon, before Nixon. I think of all the people who've passed through it, people I've trained with, raced with. I'll admit, it's pretty amazing."

ยท A CONTACT SPORT : University of Maryland senior Nick Fernandez, 22, survived a collision with a deer nearly halfway into Riley's Rumble, a half marathon in Montgomery County last Sunday. Fernandez fractured his skull and spent two nights in the hospital but is expected to make a full recovery.

-- Jim Hage

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