Jasper’s running streak is impressive
BY RICH PALZEWIC
When someone calls you crazy it probably doesn’t make you feel all that good, but for Menominee, Michigan’s, Mark Jasper, it’s par for the course.
The 40-year-old 1996 Stephenson (Michigan) High School graduate is what you call a “streak runner.” For those of you that do it yourself, you can understand the desire to continue at all costs – through sickness, injury and whatever Mother Nature throws at you.
Jasper has pretty much seen it all during his 3,100-plus consecutive days of running at least 1 mile.
“When someone calls me crazy I take it as a compliment,” laughed Jasper, who recently finished 963rd overall in his second Boston Marathon with a time of 2:54:31. “The people that usually call me that aren’t runners themselves. People that run/exercise daily know how special it is.”
Jasper’s Boston Marathon wasn’t his best overall performance there, but his time was good enough to qualify for the New York City Marathon Nov. 4, something that he will take part in for the first time.
“My goal with Boston was to crack the top thousand and I did that,” said Jasper, who is a real-estate investor. “I won’t ever do that race again, though … there were 5,062 people that made their qualifying times but yet didn’t get to run the race. Since I’ve done the race twice – the experience was unbelievable – I’ll give up my one spot to someone who qualified but didn’t get to run. It’s everyone’s dream to do this race.”
As a high-school athlete, the 5-foot-10, 145-pound Jasper played football, baseball, ran cross country and took part in track and field. He finished third in the U.P. Finals in the mile his senior year with a time of 4:34 and still holds the school record in the high jump with a leap of 6-04.50.
“I was a pretty good runner in high school, but for 22 years now my high-jump record has stood,” Jasper said. “It’s probably the one thing most people don’t realize about me from my younger days. I could still probably do a 4:45 mile if I really stretched it out. I had some great coaching there. I think I’m probably in better shape now than I was back then.”
The story behind how Jasper began his streak is pretty funny in itself.
“I took 13 years off after high school,” he said. “I didn’t come back to competitive running until I was 31 … and the only reason I did that was because my daughter Makennah was 6 at the time and had started to take an interest in running. The first time I went with her we went 1.5 miles and I thought I was going to die. That night I called my former high-school coach (Greg Dausey) and asked him to train me. For one year he trained me and told me he could get me back to 100 percent.”
Jasper ran off-and-on for the next few months until he started the program, which had him running every day. He questioned that somewhat to himself, but as he said, “I came to Coach Dausey for advice, so I figured I shouldn’t question him about it.”
The date of Jasper’s first official run in his streak was Oct. 24, 2009. The organization that recognizes such accomplishments is called the “United States Running Streak Association (runeveryday.com).” Participants must run – not walk – at least 1 mile every day, which can be on a treadmill or outside. Runners must also keep log books and can have those audited at any time.
“After a few hundred days of consecutive running, I knew that this streak was something that I wouldn’t give up easily,” Jasper said. “I am currently 232nd on the active list in the United States.”
The current leader is 67-year-old Jon Sutherland from California who has run a mind-boggling 17,866 straight days as of this writing … that’s almost 49 years!
Jasper has run over 34,000 miles in his almost-nine-year streak. That averages out to almost 11 miles per day, but he currently runs about 14 miles per day. He routinely puts in 4,000 mile years.
“I started out with a lot lower miles, maybe 4 to 5 miles,” he said. “I’ve obviously built up to what I do now, but it’s kind of fluctuated over the years based on an injury I might have had or some other unforeseen event. I hear people say all the time that they don’t have time to exercise, but I beg to differ. Yes, there are some days it’s not easy to do it, but I’ve never used ‘not enough time’ as an excuse.”
Jasper knows that someday the streak will come to an end, but in almost all of the situations, it ends because of things outside of the runner’s control, not because they just want to stop. A few instances stand out for him over the years where it was a real challenge to get in his miles.
“I’ve always known that somehow I would try my best to get through it,” he said. “I’ve had pneumonia and shot a roofing nail through my knee cap. I also played semi-pro football for two years and was only supposed to be the punter/kicker, but I ended up being the starting running back (laughing). Of course I can’t say no and we were low on numbers. I had a pretty bad knee injury (meniscus) and groin pull where I really thought my streak was in jeopardy. I ran 1 mile a day for a few months and went through some physical therapy, and slowly the injuries healed. It probably took about six months. I tried to keep my miles up, but reality set in quickly.”
The other trying time came last December just days before he was to run a marathon in Arizona, but came down with an appendix attack.
“I wasn’t feeling good in the evening and told my daughter I needed to get to the hospital because something wasn’t right,” he said. “I ended up having emergency surgery at 10:00 that night to remove my appendix. They told me I’d have to stay in the hospital the whole next day and I told them there was no way I could … I needed to fly out to Arizona. I was worried about how I’d be able to do the marathon, but then it quickly changed to ‘how am I going to keep my streak alive?’”
Jasper said he ended up getting out of the hospital at 8:00 the next morning, ran 2 miles, jumped on a plane and completed his marathon two days later. Even the 2 miles he ran 10 hours after surgery wasn’t as bad as you’d think, as the anesthesia hadn’t worn off yet, so he wasn’t in any real pain.
“It was the first race in my life where I was just glad to finish and be done,” he said. “As the anesthesia wore off after surgery, the real pain set in. I basically ran the whole marathon gripping my side. The doctor had assured me that as long as I could handle the pain, I’d be okay to run. That’s all I needed to hear.”
Having never run any of his streak miles on a treadmill, Jasper knows all about bad weather living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He gets up at 4:00 in the morning, is running by 4:30 and completed by 6:30 or 7:00.
“If I only ran when I felt 100 percent all the time, I’d probably never run,” he quipped. “I just don’t make excuses. I’d love to stay in bed, but nothing worthwhile is easy. I can say that the bad weather I run in absolutely helped me in Boston. There were many elite athletes from Kenya and all over that didn’t finish because they couldn’t take the 25-mph headwinds, rain and 35-degree temperatures. I was mentally strong – 4,000 people that started the race didn’t finish. The Michigan weather prepared me.”
Jasper, who has run the same 2-mile route the entire length of his streak, is never more than a half-mile away from his house. He doesn’t plan on decreasing his miles at this point, but knows his top-end speed has already decreased.
“I know that my best time in a 5k (15:31) is not attainable anymore, so I’m more into the ultra distances,” he said. “I’ve done the Fall 50 (Door County) twice and won it last year. My support team helps tremendously, so you want to do well for them.”
He completed the event in 6 hours, 33 minutes (7:40 pace), which put him 27 minutes ahead of his nearest competitor … all at the age of 40.
The most miles he’s completed in one day is 95, which occurred at an ultra-marathon event in Green Bay where participants had to run as many miles as possible in 15.5 hours. He set the course record that day by 9.5 miles.
“That’s probably the worst I’ve ever felt after a run – I really pushed myself,” said Jasper, who doesn’t experience any knee or hip pain at all. “I still did my 4 to 5 miles the next day, though.”
With his high-mileage running, his diet is one of high fat, low protein and moderate carbohydrates. The reason behind that is the fact that he wants to train his body to burn fat on a run.
“You’ll see most ultra-marathoners are on a similar diet,” Jasper said. “I’d say I have enough carbs in my body for 15-20 miles, so I rely on fat burning to fuel me. I probably eat a pound of bacon a day … it’s nothing for me to eat five pounds of bacon a week! I’ve basically trained my body to run off of fat.”
When asked what’s the best bacon out there, Jasper laughed and said, “Whatever is the cheapest.”
Jasper also noted that if you put your mind to it, pretty much anyone can run at least a mile every day. It obviously gets easier as people drop weight and get into better shape, but the mental part is more difficult than the physical portion.
As his streak continues to lengthen and he moves up the USRSA list, you can bet that he does everything in his power to keep going.
“Even the longest streaks will come to an end,” he said. “It’s sad to think about it ending some day, but I just cherish each day I’m able to continue – people know me as a runner … it defines me. As long as I can physically run, I’ll be out there.”