COLUMBIA — When Darrin Young competed in his first Boston Marathon in April, he had his eyes set on finishing the race in less than three hours.
The marathon's Web site provided a five-kilometer update throughout the race for each runner, and his wife, Melanie Young, who was there as a spectator, said she was on the phone with everyone she knew to get the latest on her husband's progress.
"When I saw him coming down the last straightaway I was near the finish line, and I just knew he was going to do it," she said. "It was just waterworks. I came unglued — it was very emotional."
Young finished the race in 2:59:43. He credits his success to his ability to set goals and push himself to meet them. He likes to set lofty goals, too.
Almost two years ago, Young started running to get back in shape for his 40th birthday. Since then, he hasn't stopped.
Young is the only runner in Columbia who is a member of the United States Running Streak Association. According to the association's Web site, runeveryday.com, a running streak is defined as "running at least one continuous mile within each calendar day under one's own body power." When a runner maintains a streak for the duration of one year, the USRSA will list the streak in its registry.
Young started his active running streak on June 24, 2006. Since starting his streak, he has run more than 4,000 miles, averaging more than 40 miles per week. Since 1983 his total weekly miles record was 101, but he broke it by running 103.1 miles last week.
He says the streak has helped him reach the best shape of his life at 41 years old, even counting when he ran track and cross country in high school and his 20½ years in the military, where he often served as a physical training officer.
"Patience and consistency were two things I never had in my teenage years, and I wonder what I could have done knowing what I know now and with the consistency I have now," Young says.
His commitment to consistency coupled with his desire to improve as a runner led him to start a sub-streak. As of Jan. 1, 2007, Young increased his daily minimum to three miles.
When he is not running, Young, a pharmaceutical sales representative, is reading about the sport. He hopes to become a coach someday to share his knowledge and experience with others. He has already started by challenging others to challenge themselves by maintaining their own running streaks.
When Mikel Burlingame of Lee's Summit decided to take a proactive approach to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, he turned to his longtime friend for help. The two originally met in Sedalia, where they went to high school together. Young shared his experience with the running streak and suggested he try running a mile a day.
Burlingame admits to being skeptical at first about his ability to do it, but he proved himself wrong.
"The next day I got on a treadmill, and I was actually able to do it — very slow. From that point I just plodded away for a few days," Burlingame says. "Once I got to a certain point, I didn't want to quit. And then it just grew from there. It's become something that I just know I have to get in every day."
Burlingame, who was never active in running prior to this and says he does not particularly enjoy running, started a streak of his own because it forces him to exercise.
"I'm not a runner, but the best thing is that it takes me to the gym," he says. "And while I'm at the gym, I might as well do other cardio things as well as lifting weights. It keeps me in some sort of physical activity."
After maintaining an active running streak of 119 days, Burlingame came to Columbia to participate in the ninth annual Jeff Shikles Memorial 8K Run/Walk Sunday with Young. The race was Burlingame's first. The two ran the race together, with Young running at Burlingame's pace to support him through it.
"He had such a positive experience, and that's going to drive him," Young says of his friend. "I've influenced him to live healthier, and that feels wonderful. What a great day. What a great experience for him and for me to share that with him.
"Mike may never love running, but he can still be consistent and reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle."
Young admits the idea of his running streak was a tough sales pitch to make to his wife because of the inconvenience it causes at times, but he is thankful she is so understanding and supportive of his goals.
Melanie Young, who is an accomplished runner herself, says her husband's streak of running every day took some getting used to at the beginning, but now it has become a part of their daily routine.
"It's just assumed that it's going to fit into the day somehow," she says. "If it's 11 o'clock at night and he hasn't ran yet, I know he's going to put on his shoes and go run."
And because of the self-improvement she has seen in her husband, Melanie Young has learned to embrace his streak, noting that his commitment to running every day has helped him improve in other areas besides running.
"He has a very clear-cut, defined goal, and he lets that guide him with everything in life," she says. "He's always wanting to not only be a better runner, but a better man and a better husband… I am so proud of him for where he's at with his streak and his dedication."
Next in store for the Youngs will be the Chicago Marathon in October. And to work toward their goal of running a marathon on every continent, they have already signed up for the 2010 Antarctica Marathon.
Young hopes to continue his streak as long as possible, and he hopes others will challenge themselves to be healthier through exercise.
"Don't discount your ability because of your age because I never thought I'd be in my 40s setting personal records," he says. "But here I am doing just that."