ROCHESTER -- In February, there was every reason to believe that “The Streak” was over.

Steve DeBoer, after all, was lying in a hospital bed just outside of Seattle, diagnosed with double pneumonia and Influenza B.

No way was he going to stretch his 49 consecutive years of daily runs -- all but the first of those years going at least a mile each time -- another day.

It’s not the first time the streak was threatened. Some folks thought it would be over back in 2007 when he stepped into a gopher hole during a road race and fractured his ankle. But no. DeBoer wrapped that left ankle up just right and headed out running the very next day. And the next and the next.

The streak lived on, another close call averted.

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"I've probably had 20 things that could have stopped me over the years," said the 65-year-old Rochester man, who retired Friday, July 17, after 33 years as a Mayo Clinic dietician.

But DeBoer, whose 49-year daily running streak is the third-longest in the nation, never experienced anything quite like what he was dealing with in February. It was serious enough that doctors had DeBoer hospitalized in isolation, his condition so nasty and contagious.

Even DeBoer thought that a streak he'd begun while attending Murray High School in St. Paul (now Como Park) had come to an end. It left him saddened. Same with his wife, Gail, and their two kids, who've been a constant support in a routine that sees DeBoer rise from bed at 4:30 every morning, do 100 pushups, then head out the door and run 7-8 miles per day and more on weekends.

Steve DeBoer, of Rochester, runs Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Rochester. On July 20, DeBoer will have run every day for 50 years. DeBoer said he uses his daily run as a time to pray and plan for the day. "I enjoy it," he said. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Steve DeBoer, of Rochester, runs Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in Rochester. On July 20, DeBoer will have run every day for 50 years. DeBoer said he uses his daily run as a time to pray and plan for the day. "I enjoy it," he said. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

A mile around the bed

DeBoer lay there in that Seattle-area hospital. He did it while stuck on one thought. He didn’t want to be denied. He rose from his bed that first day there, nobody around and tested himself. A few steps later he was flush with excitement. He’d walked, and lived! Maybe “The Streak” didn’t have to end.

He quickly considered how long it took him to run a mile in his worst condition, such as after that ankle fracture. About 15 minutes. Then he looked around his hospital room, searching a path for a 1-mile run.

He found it. DeBoer walked from one side of his bed to the other, in a little semi-circle.

Then, well, he ran from one side of the bed to the other, and back again. He did it over and over again, hoping nobody would walk in on him. He did this until 20 minutes had passed. This went on for three straight days, uninterrupted, until finally he confessed it to his doctor. Fine, the doctor said, as long as it didn’t make him feel worse.

For seven straight days, until finally released from the hospital, DeBoer might have become the first person to ever run a mile around a bed, and done it for a full week. “The Streak” lived.

“We all do weird things,” said DeBoer, who has run 875 races, including 67 marathons. “I just want to see if I can keep that streak going. If I can’t at some point, I’ll feel sad about it. But if I can’t, I can’t.”

Presuming nothing stops him in the next few days, Monday, July 20, will mark his 50th straight year of having done daily runs, never having missed one. It’s what’s made DeBoer globally famous, at least among “streaking” runners. DeBoer’s fellow Mayo dieticians considered a 1-mile run or walk to celebrate his retirement and streaking milestone, but social distancing due to COVID-19 ended that.

No matter. When it comes to “The Streak,” DeBoer will have already gotten in his 7-8 miles of running that morning. His incredible mark will have lived on.

'Streaking' facts

  • John Sutherland of Pearson, Calif., holds the country’s longest daily running streak, at 51 years. Jim Pearson of West Hills, Wash., is second at 50 years, followed by Rochester’s Steve DeBoer (49 years).
  • DeBoer is from a family of runners, many with their own running streaks. That includes his brother, Dave, who had a six-year streak of daily runs, and his father Wendell, who also owned a six-year streak.
  • Minnesota leads the country in “streak” runners with 205. California is second with 203, followed by Texas with 191.