Joyce Lee is a passionate runner from Fremont, California and has been running every day for 2556 consecutive days, since January 2013! Joyce has been a vegetarian for 23 years and for the past 5 years has focused on being vegan. Jasper Wilkins interviewed her to find out more about this fascinating record-setting woman.
Jasper: What is your background: Where are you from, what you do, and what are your passions?
Joyce: I’m from Fremont, California. My weekdays are spent at Yelp, Inc. in San Francisco doing advertisement sales, helping local business owners grow their business using our company’s platform. My passions outside of endurance sports (swimming, cycling, and running of course!) include yoga and art. I specifically enjoy acrylic painting and making crafts to give as gifts. Lately, these crafts have been handmade trophies for friends who have achieved something incredible in running. I can’t decide which is my favorite – the Run Across America medal for Sandra Villines who recently set the new women’s world record, or the Tahoe 200 trophy for Peter Chan for the completion of his first 200 mile endurance run. There are also the trophies I made for the overall male and female winners of my 5k fun run.
Jasper: You have been running every day since January 2013. What made you want to start running and what motivates you not to stop?
Joyce: I had learned that habits good or bad will inevitably manifest itself into all aspects of our life, so I decided I wanted to work on my consistency. I don’t know what compelled me to choose running, but I decided I wanted to do something every single day of the year for a full year. So, I started my “running streak” on January 1,2013. The intention was to do it for a year only. It was something I could easily do, and just as easily not do. I had already been averaging 5 miles per run, so setting the daily minimum at 1 mile made this challenge very feasible.
I also decided I would take a photo a day as a record and also to challenge my creativity, which are posted to instagram @fly.joyce. I had set out on this journey for myself, to strengthen my dedication and to better my consistency in life. As this journey continued, I started to learn that friends were influenced by my daily runs and admitted they dragged themselves off to a workout because they knew I would be running that day. It didn’t even occur to me that this could happen, but it sure kept me going. In 2013, travelled to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan, Philippines, Taiwan, Canada, Hawaii, Texas, Kansas, and Utah for work, weddings and Usana Health Science events. It was tricky keeping the streak with travel and the many time zone changes.
Once I gathered some momentum with my running streak, I knew there was a small following on social media which played a role in keeping me accountable. At the same time, I was primarily committed to this goal because of all the days that preceded the current day. Currently (as of January 18, 2018), I have been running for 1844 days in a row. Ending my streak now would be such a shame knowing I had taken 1844 days to build it and I do not have any reason to stop. Since I have dialed in my nutrition and sleep, I have not gotten sick in over a decade, not even with all the trans-pacific flights I did with my job. So, to answer the questions, “What do you do when you’re as sick as a dog and can’t run?”, the answer is, “I just don’t have time to get sick so I can keep running!”. As for other showstoppers, I have only experienced minor running-related injuries, so I have been fortunate to be able to keep going. It’s amazing what a balanced diet, foam rolling, yoga and massage can do for the body!
Jasper: How long have you been vegan for, why did you go plant based and how has it changed your life? What sort of foods do you eat for energy?
Joyce: I have been vegetarian for 23 years and for the last 5 years, I have greatly reduced my animal byproduct intake down close to 0. I need to admit I do have the occasional waffle, croissant or macaron but it’s pretty rare these days. The creation of coconut milk and nut milk ice cream and yogurts have indeed made this transition much easier! I’m still open for recommendations for a bakery that offers vegan croissants however!
I had initially eliminated red meats from my diet for a summer on the suggestion of a swim coach when I was 13. The idea was to be “healthier.” The original intention was for this to be a summer project, so it didn’t feel like much of a sacrifice because it was meant to be temporary. I had started with just red meat but soon decided to eliminate animal protein altogether. Before I knew it, the summer was up and I was looking forward to getting barbecue with my family. What I did not expect was that in the three short months of being vegetarian, I lost my appetite for meat. We went to a barbecue restaurant where I eager to enjoy some smoked ribs slathered in barbecue sauce, or at least that’s what I thought. Something felt very wrong the minute I took that first bite. I felt a sick feeling in my stomach making its way up my chest, this overwhelming sensation of doom mixed with guilt. I wasn’t sure what it was so I tried to ignore it and go for a second bite. After all, I had waited all summer for this but for some reason, I couldn’t even choke down the second bite! The rest of my dinner sat on my plate as I picked off all the French fries and decided I couldn’t eat meat anymore. I began to finally see cows, pigs, and other livestock animals in the same light as bunnies, puppies and kittens. Over the years, I also started to learn about the ecological and societal benefits to eating a plant-based diet. It’s really tough to turn back knowing that a plant-based diet has a lower environmental impact on our planet, health benefits aside.
It took a few years for me to really get my nutrition dialed in. As a teen, I ate mostly pastas and some veggies. It didn’t serve me all that well and I quickly learned that I had to balance my diet out with more greens and proteins. My current staples include tofu, natto (Japanese fermented soy beans), occasional mock meats, salad with homemade vinaigrettes, avocado toast, quinoa & brown rice, lots of fruit and nuts. In the colder months, I enjoy making a big pot of chili. It’s easy to portion out and I like to freeze some for later too. My go-to snacks are either apples + almond butter or a veggie + hummus. Eating simply not only is healthy, it saves time and makes food preparation quite easy, making it a sustainable habit once you figure out what you like. I have to add that I do have a few guilty pleasures which I try to buy only on occasion. My favorites include vegan cheddar puffs, macaroni & cheese, chocolate truffles, donuts and pizza!
Jasper: You have now been running for 5 years. What have you learned through running every day?
Joyce: I’d like to say that I learned the most from my run streak in the first year. There’s the saying that goes, “It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger” and I found this very much to be true during this running journey. There are just as many days I dread running as I am excited to run. Sometimes I’m tired from work or the weather isn’t favorable at all and I’m less eager to get out to run. After much feet-dragging, I’ll get out to run and before long, everything feels enjoyable again. Regardless of how many times I encounter this, it never seems to get easier, but I do manage to get myself going just a little bit sooner. I learned that running while traveling can lead me to meet new running friends, many of these friendships have lasted across oceans and over these past few years. One friend, whom I met on Day 49 in Sydney will actually be traveling to the US with her husband later this year to participate in Hardrock 100. It will be exciting to meet with them on their first trip to the US.
Fitness can be a difficult habit to maintain. I learned the longer I keep up this running streak, the more people begin to catch on. I think that goes very much for anything in life, that if you strive to make yourself a real life example (as opposed to “perfect”), sharing your good days with the tough days, it won’t be long before someone catches your spark and sees the possibility within themselves too! Since I’ve started my running streak, there have been many friends who have decided to take on a running streak of their own. Some for 365 days and there are others who are still going! Additionally, I have met other runners from around the world who have been doing the same and have formed a nice support network. This is incredibly inspiring to me because I’ve found a similar trend in living a plant-based lifestyle too!
The last point, which came to me as a surprise, is the compounding effect that resulted from my daily runs. At the start of 2013, my marathon time was still around 4:30 but later that summer it wiggled under the 4 hour mark. In the fall of 2014, I ran my first Boston Qualifier of 3:31. Boston Marathon was not on my radar at all at the time because it just seemed so out of reach, so these results came to me as a huge surprise. It was then that I realized improvements, although gradual, can compound greatly over time, even for someone whose focus was simply to keep running fun and to do it daily. While this light-hearted approach might not be for everyone, I do feel it has been the key to my progress because it’s easier to upkeep something that is fun.
Jasper: Please tell us a bit about your annual running party!
Joyce: Our annual running party, Joyce’s 36 5k, was an idea born while out running, just two weeks before my 365th day. I had wanted to invite a few friends to run with me at Central Park, and some international friends to run on the same day from where they were so that we could all run together. Before I knew it, that idea took on a life of its own and became a race-themed running party complete with customized bib numbers, large finisher medals and high quality tech T’s that people would want to wear. I was hoping maybe 20 people would join, but it ended up being more than triple that number! I was overwhelmed with the support! There was a modest registration fee (less than a typical 5k race) to cover my party materials. As I began paying off the various expenses, I realized there was actually going to be a sizeable amount of change so I decided to donate it to Children’s Hunger Fund. Altogether, my friends, family and I were able to donate $1700 to purchase roughly 2,700 pounds worth of food in Food Packs that first year! My party was not originally intended to be a fundraiser, but through pure serendipity I was able to discover that we could accomplish something so purposeful together whilst celebrating a completely separate milestone. I felt like there was such an immense amount of love and support from my friends that it spilled over and spread out to others. While my initial goal was to run 365 days consecutively, I couldn’t bear to stop after experiencing something like this. Five years later, my race has grown to see over 250 participants locally and virtually; and I have chosen two more amazing organizations to contribute to: Cancer Research Institute and Paws for Veterans.
Jasper: What are your plans for the future?
Joyce: In regards to my running streak, I plan to continue this for as long as I am healthy and that it is safe to do so. It has been such a simple yet rewarding goal that never ages or gets easier, so I’d like to keep it going for as long as I am able. For 2018, I have many amazing events to look forward to. With crewing for Hawaii’s HURT 100 already behind me, I still have Badwater Cape Fear, The Speed Project 4.0 (a 6 person, 340-mile relay from Los Angeles to Las Vegas), the Boston to Big Sur Challenge, The San Francisco Marathon, Javelina Jundred and (hopefully) The New York Marathon! My race calendar is not 100% decided as the abundance of beautiful trail races I have yet to explore around the US and overseas make very difficult to choose. Regardless of where I will be, I know I will be having fun, challenging myself and making new friends along the way!
Article by redbull: https://www.redbull.com/int-en/7-amazing-strava-records
Jasper Wilkins: http://instagram.com/jasperwilkins