It’s 5:45 a.m., a time when most people are still fast asleep, deep in REM.
Not Sadie-jo Kobussen. She’s lacing up her running shoes. Her dog Perry, a slender Gordon setter, is whining by the door. He knows this routine: Collar on, leash around Sadie-jo’s waist, and they’re off.
It’s early summer in the upper Midwest. The geese are nesting along the lakes. Mist rises off the water. There’s the sound of early-morning birdcall, the smell of grass and new flowers.
On May 25, 2013, Sadie-jo took the Runner’s World streak challenge, to run from Memorial Day to Labor Day. She had to run a minimum of one mile per day, with no more than 24 hours between each run. It sounded like a manageable challenge. She had been running for a few years, and liked the social aspect, and getting up early.
She finished the challenge and kept going. Past Labor Day there was Christmas, and then she was close to a year — why stop then?
“It just kept going,” she said. “Little tiny goals at first.”
Six years later, and Sadie-jo hasn’t missed a day. That (as of writing this article) is 2,205 days of running, without a break. And there are no plans to stop.
“Each day, before I go to bed I evaluate: what does tomorrow look like? Is it too cold out? Can I go after work? Where does it have to fit in my day? I’m trying to manipulate my schedule to make sure it fits in. Ninety percent of the time, I get up and do it first thing — I’m done before my kids get out of bed.”
What makes Sadie-jo’s goal especially admirable is that she doesn’t live in Southern California. She lives in Minnesota, land of extreme winters. She also doesn’t own a treadmill or a gym membership.
“I don’t like treadmill running. Three hundred and sixty days a year, I’m running outside,” she said. She likes to watch the seasons change, likes to see the wildlife, the deer and raccoons and coyote that stalk the lakeside.
But running outside means working through the logistics. It means dark, bitter-cold mornings, layers of clothing and a face mask, headlamps, even a coat for the dog. This past winter was especially tough. When the weather dipped to dangerous levels, Sadie-jo ran on an indoor track. When the indoor track closed because of extreme cold, she ran on a friend’s treadmill.
Travel is the most challenging. She’s run at truck stops while her kids ate sandwiches in the car. On a mission trip to inner-city Detroit, she ran, eight laps to a mile, inside of a fenced parking lot.
The hardest was a mission trip to Cuba in 2018. Going in, she didn’t know what the situation would look like. Would it be safe?
“My mom, my husband, both told me, ‘You have to be willing to let this go if it’s not safe.’”
The morning of her international flight, she got up at 2 a.m. and ran. The temperature was negative 11. “I thought, even I have to quit tomorrow, I’m not quitting today.”
Cuba ended up being gorgeous, and plenty safe for her runs around the hotel. The running streak continued.
Sadie-jo concedes that she’s been lucky. “Almost no injuries, rarely sick.” On most days she runs about 3 miles. But there have been some memorable runs when, brought down by the stomach flu, she’s lapped the house just to have easy access to a bathroom.
“Even when I’m sick, I can run a mile in less than 10 minutes. There’s no good excuse for me not to do this,” she said.
But why run every day? What’s the point? This is a question she gets often, so she’s quick with an answer.
“I’m never going to win a race. I’m never going to be young and fast enough. This is something I can own for myself.” As a mom of three boys, Sadie-jo finds power in doing something that isn’t about her status as a mother.
And why not quit? Partly, there is the fear that if she takes off the running shoes, she’ll never put them on again. Besides, the ability to do the everyday run is motivation enough.
“My dad has been gone 15 years this week,” she said. “He would have given anything to run a mile. Part of that is really motivating. As I age, I know that someday I won’t be able to do this. I will be limited. Today is not going to be the day. Today I can get out and do it.”
Her kids aren’t runners, and she’s OK with that.Comment on this story
“When I was their age, I wouldn’t have dreamt of it. There are a couple high school gym teachers who would be shocked to see me today. They couldn’t get me to change my clothes, much less run 10 laps. It had to be for myself.”
For several years, I ran alongside Sadie-jo for those early morning runs. We used to joke that we solved all the world’s problems before 6 a.m. Now that I live across the country in Oregon, I watch her from afar and marvel at her dedication.
“I am going to run until the day I can’t,” she tells me. “I’m not looking for a day I can quit.”