Cal Ripken of running to end record 45-year streak

Dylan Stableford
Yahoo! NewsJuly 23, 2013
Mark Covert
Covert competes during the 1970 NCAA Division II cross country championships. (Photo courtesy Mark Covert)

On Tuesday, Mark Covert plans to do something he hasn't done in 45 years: not run.

Covert, a 62-year-old track coach at Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, Calif., has not missed a day of running since July 23, 1968 — a streak of 16,437 days, the longest active streak in the United States, according to the United States Running Streak Association (yes, there is such a thing).

But because of a nagging foot injury, Covert has decided to end his streak, the second longest in the world, on Tuesday, the 45th anniversary of when it started.

Covert has averaged nine miles a day during the streak, covering more than 151,000 miles.

"I've always said that it's not something that I have to do, but something I get to do," Covert told Competitor.com. "As much as it is about going out the door every day, there's a whole lot of luck involved, too. You can't step in a hole or get so sick you can't get out the door, but I've been very fortunate with my health in general."

He's had several injuries through the years, including a torn meniscus that required surgery. Last October, Covert ran a mile-and-a-half despite having a horrendous bout with the flu. "For all of us who have these streaks, we're not giving in," Covert said at the time. "We're not like everybody else when they get sick and take a day off. We put our stuff on and we go outside, and that's what makes us different."

Covert said he's run in extreme temperatures (as high as 100 degrees and as low as -12), during snowstorms, earthquakes and even on the days his four children were born. "No matter where or when, I have found a way to get out the door," he wrote on his website. "Most important, I’ve have helped others do the same."

But the "mid-foot collapse" has caused him to slow down. "I could have ended it a few months ago," Covert said. Instead, "I hobble my few miles every day."

Covert's decision to end his streak is reminiscent of Cal Ripken Jr., the former Baltimore Orioles shortstop who in 1998 voluntarily ended his record 17-year run of playing in 2,632 consecutive games.

According to Streak Runners International, Ron Hill, a former British Olympic marathoner and one-time world record-holder, owns the world's longest active streak at 48 years. With the end of Covert's streak, Jon Sutherland, a 62-year-old writer from West Hills, Calif., and Covert's former track teammate at Los Angeles Valley Community College, will hold the longest active U.S. streak — a measly 16,130 consecutive days.

"I have mixed emotions about it," Sutherland told the Los Angeles Daily News. "We've been close friends for a long time. It's bittersweet for me. I'm happy for him that he can make this decision and be at peace with it. He seems really relaxed about it."

Covert, who finished seventh in the Olympic Trials Marathon in 1972, has another claim to runners' fame: He was the first person ever to cross a finish line in a pair of Nikes. (In 2012, Nike paid tribute to Covert on day 16,076.)

"At five years it was a monster," Covert told the newspaper of the streak. "I don't know what you'd call it now ... I just wanted to put my shoes on every morning and go out and run. It's something I've always looked forward to. Getting to 45 years was significant to me, so that's why I'm carrying on to this point. But I'm not retiring, I'm not dying. Now I'm just going to get on my bike and ride every day."

Covert said he still plans to run, though perhaps not every day. "I’ll keep running after the streak ends," he said in a recent interview. "I really like putting my shoes on and getting out there, even if I’m out hobbling for 3 miles. It’s just part of what I do."

He's also working on a book about the streak. The title: "Never Miss."