Every year, thousands of runners take part in “RED January”. RED stands for “Run Every Day”, with the original idea coming from a runner called Helen Beecham in 2016 (see https://redtogether.co.uk for more information) . NDRC’s Oliver Stokes took part in this in 2021 and 2022, but, as he explains in his own words below, his RED January became RED 2021 (and counting!).

Oliver Stokes on Day 24 of RED 2021 (unexpected snowfall!)

Without really knowing it, the seeds for this unplanned running challenge, to run every single day for a year, were sown at the start of 2019. Having been a runner since 2006, I consider myself lucky to have been relatively injury free until I unexpectedly broke my right knee cap while in Austria on a ski trip in January 2019. I had successful surgery before flying home and then spent the next two and a half months in a leg brace and on crutches and a long way off being able to run. 

By early March, I made my return to parkrun, opting for the pancake flat Isabel Trail course in Stafford, where I walked on my crutches. Over the coming weeks and months I started to run more and more as I continued my recovery. I decided to complete RED January at the start of 2020 due to the fact that I had been unable to run at all the previous January. 

At the start of 2021, I decided to undertake the RED challenge again. However, with Boris putting the country back into another lockdown, running became really important to me during the cold dark days. After 1 month of running, I kept going to reach 50 days, then 2 months, then 3 months, then 100 days and the idea of doing 365 days started to gain momentum. The prospect of staying injury, illness, isolation and Covid-free for an entire year was going to be a challenge in itself. 

The rules I set myself were that for the run to count, I had to run a minimum of 1 mile a day. This would often mean running around the block before playing post-work five-a-side football, or running to and from the swimming pool while I was training for the Wombourne sprint triathlon. I ran in the snow in January, while on a family holiday in Wales, very early in the morning before having a family day out or very late at night after visiting family in other parts of the country. 

I never followed a plan and would simply run as far and as fast as my body and mind felt like it wanted to on the day. I ended up running in all weathers, on my own, with family, friends and the running club. With parkrun and races being cancelled, the club-organised weekly social distancing runs were great motivation for me and I often ended up running these with my Dad, son Harry and daughter Fae around town every Saturday. I entered a few virtual races and towards the end of the year, some actual races. 

Each month, I was managing to cover around 100 miles and by the end of my challenge I had clocked up 1211 miles along with running my quickest times for several years at parkrun and over 10k, half marathon and sprint triathlon distance. An added bonus is that people ask if I have lost weight, which I have done – but this was never the intention of the challenge. 

2022 has started in the same way as 2021 did, by running RED January again. At the end of the month I will be a few days off a running streak of 400 days. I honestly don’t know what or if I will have a challenge this year, but I’ve come to realise that the saying of ‘you really don’t know what you can achieve until you put your mind to it’, is so true. Strava became a good way of recording what I had done and often while I ran I would be thinking of what the day’s run would be called and if I was going to take a photo on route to accompany it, as the saying goes “if it’s not on Strava it never happened”. 

Sometimes the hardest part of this challenge was the mental challenge of getting out of the door, especially after a long day at work and it was raining and dark outside, but the further I got into the challenge the prospect of breaking my streak and all that I had already done was motivation in itself.