Man’s running streak ranks third longest in the U.S.
Steve DeBoer (left) and his good friend Brad Kautz, of Rochester. DeBoer started running at least a mile a day more than 44 years ago. Photo by Thom Woo
Steve DeBoer, of Rochester, started running a lot leading up to his ninth-grade year at the now-defunct St. Paul Murray High School. He was trying to make the B-squad basketball team. Despite being as fit as anyone, he didn’t make the team. The following year, as a sophomore, he made the team but spent most of the season on the bench.
Despite his shortcomings on the basketball court, DeBoer stumbled upon something that gave him much more satisfaction than shooting a basketball. He found his passion for running. And that passion turned into a way of life.
DeBoer, now at age 61, has been running at least one mile every day since June 7, 1971. That’s more than 44 years, giving him the third-longest daily running streak in the country, according to the United States Running Streak Association (USRSA).
“I was not an exceptional athlete,” admitted DeBoer, who finished second to last in the 50-yard dash in sixth-grade, and last in the only two varsity cross-country races he participated in during high school. “But that didn’t stop me from being consistent doing something I like.”
DeBoer is 5 feet 9 1/2 inches and weighs about 140 pounds. There is no question that this guy is an athlete. He has run a marathon in 2:42. But, to a degree, runners are made, not born, and DeBoer is a living example of this maxim. Yes, he did run varsity cross-country in high school, but his most competitive time came in the first race of the season because he trained during the summer and was in better shape than most of the other runners.
Even now, DeBoer is not possessed with the natural gift of speed. He ran a 3:39 marathon this fall at age 60 after running only 22 seconds in the 100 meter dash during the summer. What he lacks in speed, he has made up with remarkable efficiency and endurance.
In the run streak, DeBoer ranks only behind two people in the country, Jon Sutherland, 65, of West Hills, Calif., and Jim Pearson, 71, of Marysville, Wash. There are only 65 people in the country who have run at least one mile a day for more than 30 years. To check the active list of runners, visit www.runeveryday.com, a certified site updated regularly by the United States Running Streak Association (USRSA). There are currenlty 582 people listed on the USRSA list at over one year of running (one mile per day or more). Many people who are active on this list are in the medical profession, but there are folks of all walks of life on the list, and anyone can join. It’s mostly based on the honor system although many of the top streakers live in urban areas, and it’s easy to know whether they have stopped running or not.
Each of the top streak runners have an interesting story. Take Dr. Herb Fred, who at 85 is still a practicing physician and has had several running streaks during his lifetime. Even today, Fred still runs 6-10 miles almost daily on a treadmill.
Or Steve Gathje, 60, of south Minneapolis, who is the second-ranked streak runner in the state (behind DeBoer) with more than 43 years of running under his belt. Gathje knows DeBoer and respects not only his streak, but also DeBoer as a person.
Steve DeBoer (second from left) with his son, Nate; wife Gail; and daughter, Becca. Photo by Thom Woo
“Most of who we are is not about running. If someone has a life beyond running (family, friends, job…) and still has a streak, that is ‘news.’ DeBoer has a great streak. And he is also a husband, a son, a brother and a friend. While I totally admire his running, what I really admire is the way he treats other people. He is someone who brings a passion not only to his own running but also to supporting the running of others, no matter what their talent level or accomplishments may be. He is an awesome, positive cheerleader for anyone who calls himself or herself a runner.”
Those who run a lot can better appreciate the streak. Staying motivated and healthy are two big keys to running that many days, months and years in a row.
DeBoer has a warm up, stretching, and exercise program older than his running streak. He also has a cool down streak. Not every runner goes through these steps. And some can get away with it in their younger years. But as runners age, stretching more is critical. In addition to the stretching, DeBoer’s warmup also includes 100 consecutive pushups.
Because of his elaborate warm up, he does not feel that he needs a lot of clothing. Stories abound in Rochester that he runs all winter without a T-shirt or long pants. Some say he uses bear grease on his chest. These are just stories, but it is true that he can wear less than many people because of his great warm-up routine.
“You warm up as you run,” said DeBoer.
Steve DeBoer runs without a t-shirt until it gets below freezing. Photo by Thom Woo
He generally runs without a t-shirt until it gets below freezing. If it gets colder he dresses in layers, including an athletic supporter with extra cloth for extra protection to a vulnerable area. Then he applies Vaseline in the areas that cannot be covered on his face.
DeBoer bikes to work and back during warm weather. During colder weather he runs to work and back. As a dietitian, he knows the importance of spreading out food nutrients, especially protein throughout the day. He consumes about five meals or snacks per day, often preparing the next day’s breakfast and lunch the previous evening.
Another trick… “Rotate your running shoes. I have 15 pair that I currently wear, some I have used for several years. Using a different pair each day helps my feet (and what is connected to them) stay healthy. Remember that I also do foot and ankle exercise to warm up. Runners usually find that many of their injuries are below the knee; toe problems, plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, achilles tendonitis, shin splints, and sprained ankles,” he explained.
Running has been a huge part of his life, but DeBoer understands that running every day is not for everyone.
“It is important to find a type of exercise you enjoy and can do consistently, reducing sedentary, couch time. I have a friend who has exercised every day for over 25 years, but he alternates running, biking, swimming and (in the winter) cross-country skiing.” said DeBoer.
Steve’s father, Dr. Wendell DeBoer, also had several running streaks, including one he started at age 84 but had to end after one year becaue of a back ailment.
Steve DeBoer is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) with a master’s degree in public health nutrition from the University of North Carolina. Most of the patients he works with are overweight, and many of the problems they have could have been prevented by a lifestyle that included regular exercise.
“It is true that swimming, biking, treadmills, walking, and gravity-friendly exercise machines do not have as great of an injury potential. They also do not promote bone density in the body as much as running does. Running is not for everyone, although aerobic exercise is something we all need and can do within personal limits,” he said. “The research shows that people who are overweight and exercise regularly have fewer health problems than normal weight folk who do not exercise. Research shows that regular exercisers have fewer knee injuries than nonexercisers, but you should not try to exercise through worsening injuries.”
Injury is one of the reasons many people are unable to continue their streak. Has DeBoer been able to stay injury free for more than 44 years? No. In fact, he did suffer an avulsion fracture to his left ankle a few years ago, and yet continued to run. The first thing he did was go to the doctor. He works at the Mayo Clinic and belongs to the Rochester Track Club. Steve’s doctor told him weight bearing was allowed with his avulsion fracture. So, he taped the ankle and was able to run with minimal discomfort for a mile and continue the streak. He had to modify his morning exercises, including cutting back his 100-pushup routine (he had to put one leg over the other). But he found that after a few days he could continue to add distance to his runs. They were not very fast, but he did them.
John “The Penquin” Bingham wrote in The Courage to Start, “As a child I loved to run. Looking back, I think I ran almost all the time. I loved the feeling of moving from where I was to where I wanted to be. When there was no reason to run, I ran anyway. I liked games in which you had to run. I ran when I should have, and I ran when I shouldn’t have. I ran into things, and over things, and around things.”
Those considering attempting a running streak should check in with the USRSA. Those considering running as a daily exercise should consult their family physician.
While running a streak is viewed as more difficult in colder climates, Minnesota actually ranks second only to California by the USRSA in the number of officially listed run streakers. Other Minnesotans on the list who have a running streak longer than five years include Thomas Welch, 59, of Victoria (18 years); Dave Emmans, 57, of Minnetonka (13.6 years); Paul Weichmann, 34, of Minneapolis (8.8 years); David Haase, 36, of Kensington (6.8 years); Roger Carlson, 72, of Stillwater (6.5 years); Paul Case, 58, of Richfiled (6.2 years); Debra Dilling, 57, of Rochester (5.8 years); Matt Flynn, 25, of Burnsville (5.7 years); and Chad Shilson, 45, of Maple Grove (5.1 years).