On a running streak: 1,715 consecutive days

Margaret Sherrod - striding since 2000

Fitness

February 11, 2005|By Tom Dunkel | Tom Dunkel,SUN STAFF

It's just another boring, unspooled ribbon of suburban blacktop, but this stretch of Oakwood Road in Millersville holds special meaning for Margaret Sherrod: It's part of her old-faithful jogging route, the one she feels most comfortable covering through rain, sleet, snow and nausea-inducing bouts of flu.

Today, the only thing to deal with is eight miles' worth of cold weather.

"You know how some people like chocolate-chip cookies?" asks Sherrod, making small talk as cars whiz by filled with people who look like they need to get more regular exercise. "That's how I feel about pizza."

Pizza has her number. Pizza could easily take control of her life and her thighs.

But Sherrod, 49, of Millersville, won't yield to temptation. That's because she possesses an extra-large slice of self-discipline.

That's also how she has been able to muster enough energy to run at least one mile a day, every day, since June 2, 2000.

We'll do the math for you: Today, Feb. 11, marks 1,715 consecutive days. For the record, Cal "Iron Man" Ripken estimates his personal-best running streak lasted about one week.

Everybody who knows what Sherrod has been up to inevitably gets around to asking: "Why?"

The answer lies buried not so deep within a competitive, goal-driven persona. Her husband, Lowell, who enjoys the occasional gentlemanly jog, concedes, "I'm no way as intense as she is."

Work is a factor, too. Sherrod is a physical education teacher at Benjamin Stoddert Middle School in Waldorf.

She wants to set an example for children who spend too many consecutive days watching television. She does that by running circles around most of them in gym class, by leaving pre-teen boys and girls in her wake on stomach crunches.

"Three quarters of my students, their level of fitness is below mine," Sherrod says.

Her own younger days were active, but not manic. She played volleyball in high school and, briefly, at the University of Maryland, College Park.

She also ran track in high school, but without any particular passion. Her coach kept shuffling her between sprint and endurance events.

Youthful memories can cast unexpectedly long shadows, sometimes reaching all the way into middle age. Sherrod recalls the Prince George's all-county track meet her senior year. Her coach entered her in an 800-meter heat - the first time she'd ever competed at that distance: She missed qualifying for the state meet by 1/100th of a second.

That still bugs her.

After college, Sherrod joined the Baltimore-based Harbor City Striders running club. A subsequent back injury turned her into a spectator. Five years later, she gingerly started running again when her daughter, U'tonna, now 20, took up the sport.

They did some road races together, even winning a few mother-daughter team trophies. U'tonna then went off to college (she's a junior at the University of Maryland Balitmore County and runs cross-country) while Mom graduated to marathons.

A neighbor encouraged Sherrod to literally go the extra mile of making her training runs an everyday commitment. John Strumsky, a 64-year-old insurance agent, was selling an idea he'd already bought into himself: He's a founding member of the United States Running Streak Association and hasn't skipped a day's jog since May 1983.

Streakers, Strumsky insists, aren't obsessive compulsives. They don't need to get a life. They simply want to make the one they have better. And what works wonders for them is that daily purification ritual of throwing their legs in gear.

For Sherrod, streak running has wider implications. "If you can do this, there's so many other things you can do in life," she says. "I want to do this as long as I can. I'm an avid believer in not giving up."

She has entertained the notion, however: When she fractured a toe, and when she was so knee-buckling sick she stumbled one mile downhill with a little help from the Law of Gravity. Lowell met her at the bottom and drove her home to bed.

Last summer Sherrod bought her first pair of track spikes. That was at the urging of Remus Medley, a friend of U'tonna's who informally coaches amateur runners. Medley conducts tough-love practices.

He put Margaret through her paces for three months. He had her running flights of stairs at a downtown parking garage, cranking out as many as 20 100-meter sprints on the track. One steamy day, Medley prescribed three two-mile repeats, each done in 15 minutes. That's a lot to ask of 49-year-old legs.

"I was exhausted," says Sherrod, "but I got that sense of accomplishment."

One of her goals is to run a four-hour marathon. A few weeks ago, she came close, clocking 4:03 for a marathon in Houston.

If she can withstand another round of Remus Medley punishment this summer, those remaining minutes may melt off her target time. Sherrod just wishes Medley had been at her side 30-some years ago, when the wink of an eye cost her a trip to the state track meet.

"I'd love to have that day back," she says.

Sherrod's way

Margaret Sherrod watches what she eats (lots of fruit and dry Cheerios, skimp on the pizza) and does light weight work in her home gym. She does 200 abdominal crunches a day and as many pushups as it takes to fatigue her shoulders. At 49, she remains flexible enough to do a full split.

She runs day or night, whenever free time permits. She keeps a daily log that includes the temperature, number of miles run and course followed. Treadmill workouts count under the rules of streak running; Sherrod uses one about 10 times a year.

Just for the fun of it, she says, she also jumped rope (minimum 365 revolutions) every day in 2002. The longest she ever went without stopping was 1,990 jumps.

The United States Running Streak Association keeps the definitive list of active streaks, which are self-reported. It's available online at www.trizera.com/USRSA/AZ.htm. The reigning prince of perseverance is Baltimorean Bob Ray, who has been in a consecutive-day groove since April 4, 1967.

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