Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mark Covert '68 Runs Every Day!

And just when you think you’ve heard it all, there’s BHS Alumni, Mark Covert from the class of 1968, who has run at least one mile every day since July 23, 1968, which is over 40 years without missing a day and averaging almost nine miles a day. WOW!

COMMENTARY: Compared to Mark Covert, we're all wusses.

For The Patriot Ledger, Brockton, MA
Posted Dec 20, 2009 @ 10:17 AM
Last update Dec 21, 2009 @ 12:26 PM

I’ve always found myself drawn to grinders.

No – not the long deli sandwiches. Growing up, my favorite athletes were never those who hit the most home-runs or scored the most touchdowns or even sold the most T-shirts. I always gravitated to those who were not necessarily the most talented, but always got the most of their abilities. Those who never quit. Those who stayed in the game despite knowing they didn’t have their best stuff. The athletes who putt out instead of pick up, despite the fact that they’ve just knocked four straight 5-irons into the Pacific. Those who crawl across the finish line.

The hockey world often refers to these players as “muckers and grinders”, but every sport has them.

Larry Bird excelled with nominal natural athletic ability – probably more so than anyone who ever played the game. He simply worked harder than anyone. He was an Ultimate Grinder. Steve Grogan’s heart far outweighed his talent. He was another. No athlete was ever more of a grinder than 5’7” former Bruins fireplug Stan Jonathan and Dustin Pedroia is a current-day example. Believe it or not, I think Jack Nicklaus (at times) was a grinder as well. You just can’t win that many tournaments without some of those wins coming without you’re “A” Game. With grinders it’s not always pretty, but more often than not, it’s pretty effective.

Cal Ripken is a great example. He holds the MLB record for consecutive games played – 2,632. Ripken is a Baseball Hall-of-Famer who spent his entire career stationed on the left side of the Baltimore Oriole infield. He came to the park every day. Never took a day off. And his streak quantifies the type of athlete I’ve always admired most.

Over the course of my life, I’ve had a few streaks that I’m proud of. Never missed a day of High School. Not one absence in four years. Even got a small recognition award at our senior banquet. I’m proud of this.

Since I started working in 1988, I have called in sick only once. A single day over 21 years – and that was because a pencil-point tick climbed up my sleeve during a lunchtime run right at the peak of lyme season three summers ago. The morning after I removed the tick from the back of my arm, I couldn’t move my legs. That has been my only sick day in over two decades.

I have run at least 1,000 miles a year, every year for the past 20 years. During a morning run last week it occurred to me that I recently passed the twentieth anniversary of my running career. Over 35,000 miles total. This is, perhaps, the individual accomplishment that is most rewarding to me.

Now I do not think that any of my own little personal streaks is likely to qualify me for any sort of ironman hall of fame or anything like that. (And Cal Ripken’s record was surely never in jeopardy.) Nevertheless, I am quite proud of these small personal achievements. Here’s the thing. Compared to Mark Covert of Lancaster California, I’m a big wuss.

As a Burbank High School senior on July 23, 1968, Mark woke up, brushed his teeth, stretched a bit, pushed open his screen door and went for a run. Nothing particularly singular or extraordinary about that. Except for the fact that he did it again the next day. Up. Brush. Stretch. Run. And then the next. And the next. And so on and so on and so on. For the last 41 years.

That’s right. Mr. Covert has pretty much faithfully (ok…obsessively) followed this same routine for the past 41 years without missing a day. Mark has been running every single day since the tail end of the Lyndon Johnson administration. Neil Armstrong hadn’t even stepped foot onto the moon yet and Mark’s streak was already…well...up and runnin’.

Mark is the cross-country and track coach at Antelope Valley College, just off Avenue K, in Lancaster, California - situated about 50 miles from the westernmost tip of the Mojave Desert. And he is far from an average runner. At his racing peak in 1970, he was the NCAA Division II National Cross Country Champion and he is a five time All-American. He finished seventh at the 1972 US Olympic Marathon trials, a race in which he earned the immortal distinction of becoming the very first person ever to cross a finish line wearing a pair of Nike shoes.

But even with all this pedigree, his lasting legacy will likely be The Streak.

“I keep doing this because it is something I look forward to each day. I feel better when I run and I’ll keep doing it until it's something I can't do or don't want to do”, Mr. Covert explained to me. “I look at it like this – it’s not something I have to do. It is something I get to do.”

According to the United States Running Streak Association (USRSA), a running streak is defined as “…running at least one continuous mile within each calendar day under one's own body power.” And Mark Covert has done this longer than anyone in this country ever has. By Christmas, Mark will have run over 15,100 consecutive days. And it sure doesn’t sound like he has any plans to stop.

“Looking at the whole body of my running career, overall I would say that I am most proud of the fact that I can still get out each day and do something that’s good for me and do something that I love to do. I am very lucky in this sense - I have run on many days when others might not have…not because I had to, but because I wanted to. To still be able to do something that I started over 40 years ago, even if the trees go by more slowly now, is something very, very few can say."

OK, you might think. A mile a day even for an entire year is less than 400 miles a year, right? That’s conceivable. Not my thing, maybe - but it’s not so hard to wrap your head around the fact that there are some people out there, like Mark, willing and able (if so inclined) to start a streak given such practical parameters.

Except this type of assessment would not be doing Mr. Covert justice. During the course of his 41 year Fun Run, Mark has averaged over 10 miles a day - an astounding total of more than 151,000 miles. Sheesh. At least Cal Ripken had a couple of days off each summer to rest (not to mention an entire off-season to recover). And he still fell, oh, about 34 years short of Mark’s current streak.

Clearly there is a lot of coordination that needs to happen in order to maintain such a streak - given the inevitable annual load of birthdays and anniversaries and weddings and funerals. And Mark has done just that.

“Most of my runs are done before we start anything in the morning”, Mark told me. “I will always get it in before most of my family is even out of bed. Running at 4 AM is not that big a deal to me if that is what I need to do. My wife and kids are my biggest fans and they have never known me not to run, so it has never been an issue for us. Of course some days, like funerals, are tougher than others. But I am also sure that my run has helped me get through these times.”

As a runner, I find it amazing he has been able to stay injury free given the enormous pounding his body has unquestionably absorbed through the years. So, what about injuries, Mark?

“Well, I had a broken bone in my foot once, that’s all. A couple other small things but there was never a thought of not trying to get the run in for the day.”

A broken foot? That’s all, huh? In order to continue running with this “small thing”, Mark had to custom modify a pair of construction boots in order to immobilize the break, and hobbled around the local junior high track for the next four weeks. He did, however, reluctantly concede to reduce his daily mileage from 10 down to about 4.

Pfffft. The guy is clearly a cream puff.

And here’s the really absurd thing. Mark is not alone. The USRSA is currently tracking eleven runners with running streaks more than 35 years. A mind-boggling 71 runners have streaks exceeding 25 years! Look, I run 3 or 4 days a week and, on most mornings, I find climbing down a flight of stairs so daunting a task that I have frequently entertained the idea of installing a two-story slide to get me down to the shower each morning. All I can say is that I certainly hope each one of these 71 Silver Streakers live in single-story bungalows.

But through all the inevitable aches and pains, Mark and his fellow Road Warriors continue to run every single day. So, if you are ever driving through Antelope Valley, and you observe a runner cruising along Avenue K, there’s a strong likelihood you will have bumped into Mark Covert - for the simple reason that you absolutely, positively know he is out there somewhere. Grinding away.

John Reilly is a graduate of Stonehill College and Notre Dame. A frequent contributor to Wicked Local Sharon, he lives in Sharon with his wife, daughter and son.


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