While you were slouching back to work Tuesday morning, maybe a little hung over or sunburned or sluggish after one too many cheeseburgers during the long holiday weekend, Jon Sutherland was out in suburban Los Angeles, quite literally reaching a milestone beyond the dreams of the rest of us mortals.
Sutherland's little three-miler marked his 16,438th consecutive day of running at least one mile, a new U.S. record. That's 45 years and two days, or 190,715 miles of putting one foot in front of another, an average of 11.2 miles per day for the 63-year-old music journalist, record producer and metal-head from Sherman Oaks, Calif.
Sutherland has run despite 10 broken bones, two knee surgeries and more late-night metal concerts than he could possibly count. "I would do everything except go to the party," he told me when I reached him by phone Tuesday afternoon. "Because I like to get up and run."
The worst setback was a hip injury when, he said, a tendon tore away part of the bone. He didn't need surgery and kept up his running, partly, he admitted, to preserve the streak. He believes he re-injured himself twice while recuperating over nine months. The small distances he was able to cover were as psychologically painful as the ache in his hip. "I just limped," he said. "And then you're hating yourself."
He arranged to run right before his knee surgeries and then, without consulting his doctor, on the days right after them.
It all started in 1969, a couple of months before Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, when Mark Covert, Sutherland's teammate on the Los Angeles Valley College track team, told him that he had run every day for the past year. Sutherland, a 6'4" baseball pitcher, said he was in way over his head on the track team, but he decided to train like Covert, who was setting junior college records at the time.
"I'm too big for the sport, too heavy when I started. But I was a really hard worker. I tried my hardest every time I showed up. People hated it when they saw me."
One year became two, then five, then 20, then 40. Along the way, Sutherland ran a 10-kilometer best of 28:51 and a 5K best of 13:51. He has won 325 of the 615 races he has entered, mostly local contests, he said.
On Tuesday he passed Covert, who retired a year ago after exactly 45 years and one day of consecutive running, finally giving in to a congenital foot problem and taking up cycling. They remain close friends, Sutherland said. Covert has encouraged him to keep going.
Sutherland weighs 158 pounds and said he has a resting heart rate under 40 beats per minute when he wakes in the morning. At an insurance company physical at the age of 50, he was told he was in the best shape of anyone the physicians had ever tested. He coaches for Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks and likes to run on trails or in the woods, often with his dog. He's devoted to Nike shoes and gear. The company has sponsored him in the past.
Sutherland's streak now tops the charts kept by the U.S. Running Streak Association. Yes, it's all on the honor system, said Mark Washburne, who heads the association that keeps the list, but Washburne tries to check out anyone who submits a claim of a lengthy active streak.
Behind Sutherland are Jim Pearson of Marysville, Wash., at 44.28 years, but he's already 70 years old. Next comes Stephen W. DeBoer, a dietitian from Rochester, Minn., who has run every day for nearly 43 years and, at just 59 years old, could threaten Sutherland's record one day.
Sutherland told me he needed to get out for his afternoon run, so I asked him one more thing: When might the streak stop?
He quoted the answer Metallica's James Hetfield gave to the same question: "'I don't see any f---ing stop sign.' That's the way I feel about it."