Sunday, December 29, 2013

“I don't even have to think about it, I just do it”: An interview with runner David Haase

My cousin David Haase has run at least one mile a day every day since February 8, 2009. This past spring he began farming corn, soybeans, and sugar beets near Willmar, Minnesota, after a nine-year career as a medical device sales representative in the Twin Cities and Eau Claire, Wisconsin. I often saw David run when I lived with him and his family in the summer of 2012, but we didn’t talk about it much at the time. Here he shares some thoughts about his running streak. 

What do you think about when you’re running?

It depends on what else is going on in my life at the time. When the weather's halfway decent, I run outside. Usually on these days it's on a five-mile route on mostly gravel roads outside my small town. I think about the weather, the crops coming in, and what we need to do next out on the farm. If it's an evening run it can get really pretty out there, and I'll see deer or pheasants, or a thunderstorm on the horizon. It's a peaceful time with a lot of reflection. I don't solve all the world’s problems, but I get a chance to chew some of them over pretty good.

In the winter, I run mainly on my treadmill, because I'm lazy. It's much, much easier to throw on a pair of shorts and just run, rather than suit up for the cold, though I think the dark gets to me more than the cold. Also, I prefer not to take the risk of twisting an ankle, if I can avoid it. So most of the time it's a treadmill run, accompanied by Netflix with subtitles. I get more entertainment, but less reflection.
David Haase, 2012

If you had to pick a different exercise besides running to do every day, what would it be?

If they were all equally feasible, I would probably pick swimming or road biking. I prefer individual activities, ones that have a decent intensity or are repetitive. I have never been a very consistent or strong swimmer, but I enjoy it whenever I do make it to the pool. I like that it's zero impact and a great workout. I think it's ironic that if you want to go faster, the worst thing you can do is work harder—you just thrash around. Instead, form matters so much, and your fastest swims are often also the easiest.

I also really like road biking. Eau Claire was a great place to bike—so many hills and great routes to explore. Here in west-central Minnesota it's a lot flatter. You have to go further to get to interesting features like the Minnesota River valley or the lake country. In July 2008 I did a long-distance bike trip with my friend Bill. We flew to Seattle and assembled our bikes within view of the Pacific. Then we headed east, for 10 days and 900 miles, through the Cascades and Rockies, and Glacier National Park. It was an amazing trip. If I had the chance, I could imagine myself just biking like that all over, every day.

Both swimming and biking have their attractions, but they are also limiting when you consider an every-day activity. If you're committed to never missing, ever, then you better pick a sport that you can do pretty much anywhere, any time. I am a member of the U.S. Running Streak Association (, and my nearly five-year streak is still pretty new compared to a lot of these people. Imagine running every single day for 40 years. I am friends with guys who have done it. They have run on 60 or 70 percent of the days they have been alive, overcoming so many obstacles to keep running. They have run through injuries, in airport terminals, through hurricanes and blizzards, in extreme temperatures, barefoot and shoed, at all hours, in all sorts of clothing. Most impressive to me are the guys who average 10 to 12 miles a day, for years. I don't think I could do that, both because I would probably injure myself, and because I can't imagine having that kind of time. I have enough of a challenge finding an hour a day. And I'll tell you right now, I could never do an every-day biking or swimming streak. It's just not logistically possible. So, in the absence of running, I guess I would have to walk every day or something dumb like that.  

What has surprised you about this pursuit?

Here is a list of things I have realized through running every day:

  • It's amazing how automatic and ingrained it becomes. It's actually so easy. I don't even have to think about it, I just do it.
  • I am just as dependent on my wife as I am on myself for my streak's continued success. She takes the kids, she lets me have the time, and I can never thank her enough.
  • Habits are so powerful. Make it every day, make it automatic, and you can accomplish just about anything. I think about the person I want to be. What would that person fill his time with? What would he choose to do? And then I try to build habits toward those things. You are what you do every day. (I think that's Aristotle.) I think what I love most about this running thing is this: like most people, I have a lot of goals, dreams, hopes, and aspirations. Most of them, I have come to realize, aren't going to happen. But here is one thing that I decided to do, and I have actually done it. Every day is an accomplishment, a victory. And that feels awesome.
  • I am surprised how robust my immune system is. My colds and illnesses are few and pretty low-intensity compared to many of the people around me.
  • Even though I run off 600-700 calories a day, it's still possible to eat that back and more. I can gain weight as easily as anyone, even though I run.
  • I am surprised at how I am never bored with running. There is always something to think about, something to work on, something to do.

What milestone do you look forward to the most?

There are many, many milestones to celebrate along the way. I'm about six weeks away from my five-year anniversary. I think the big ones for me will be 10 years, 20 years, and ultimately my 30-year “streakiversary,” as I call it. Also, mileage goals can be fun. I'm at about 8,800 miles so far. It will be fun when I reach 10,000. Some guys have 100,000, 140,000, and over 200,000 miles. I can't image reaching those levels. When and if I do, that will be pretty special.
Image source:

What can other people—those who would be able to try what you are doing and those who wouldn’t—learn from your experience?

The central lesson I keep coming back to is about the importance of habits in achieving your goals. Life is made up of a series of moments, a series of choices. So much of the time, we do things automatically, out of habit. An examined life—a life lived on purpose—is one where you choose your habits purposefully. And when you do that, you can achieve amazing things.

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