In December 2002, Roy Vasher's early morning flight out of Atlanta International Airport was delayed. Vasher had planned to complete his daily run at home in Lexington, but his new arrival time was now midnight. Most people would just cancel their run. Not Vasher.
"I put on my running clothes and went down to where the trams run back and forth," Vasher said. "I ran from one end to the other. Of course the security people were looking at me like 'Who's this guy?' but no one ever challenged or stopped me."
And why did Vasher go through this ordeal? He wanted to keep a running streak alive that started in 1993. For the past 19 years, Vasher, 68, has run daily at least 15 to 20 minutes, or about two miles.
"I started running in my early 40s," Vasher said. "I was concerned with my health, and I didn't have any other form of exercise."
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Back then, he would run three or four days a week, but that made each run a struggle, he said. So he was intrigued when an acquaintance made a New Year's resolution to run every day of the year.
"I thought I'd try it," Vasher said. "And after a year, I thought, 'I'll see how long I can go.'"
And now, approximately 30,000 miles and 60 pairs of running shoes later, Vasher, a retired Toyota manager who now owns a consulting firm, is still running every day.
In some ways, knowing he has to run every day is easier because it forces him to fit a run into his daily schedule, he said. Vasher had to plan ahead to keep the streak alive before undergoing surgery to remove his wisdom teeth in 2004.
"I ran early before the surgery," Vasher said. "And then the next day, because of the stitches, I didn't want to bleed to death, so I waited until late at night to run."
Some might think running the day after surgery is crazy, but Vasher said running each day makes him feel better.
"Most of the time I am running early in the morning," Vasher said. "It gets the cobwebs out. You actually feel better even if you are sick."
He has experienced plantar fasciitis (an injury to the tissue that supports the arch of the foot) and pulled hamstrings, and he has run through them with the help of Advil, he said.
Vasher's daughter Jody Wedding said her father's running has benefited her. "Watching my dad running all these years has been so inspirational," Wedding said. "I would watch him run marathons and just be in awe. I wondered how people accomplished running that distance."
Wedding decided to start running because of her dad, and she has completed two marathons with him.
"Running the marathon was such an incredible personal accomplishment, but being able to share that experience with my dad, the one who inspired me, made it even sweeter," Wedding said.
George Smith has run with Vasher five days a week for the past 12 years. He said Vasher's streak is incredible.
"Everyone, or almost everyone considering Roy's streak, has an injury or illness that keeps them from being able to run, no matter the desire to get out and go," Smith said. "One thing that gets me out the door at 5 a.m. to run is knowing that I will have a buddy expecting me to show up. Hot, cold, rain or snow, I can always count on Roy."
Vasher's wife of 41 years, Audrey, said his running streak has had positive ramifications for the family, including Wedding and their younger daughter, Neely. They have traveled more to watch Vasher compete in marathons. He has completed 16 full marathons, including New York, Chicago, Memphis, Boston and Nashville. He will run the ING Miami Marathon on Sunday.
"My long-range goal is to run a marathon at age 100," Vasher said.
Even after the 26.2-mile marathon races, Vasher doesn't take a day off.
"I just do the minimum," he said. "I am usually sore, so I run slower, but I'm still out there moving."
Vasher doesn't recommend his routine for new runners or those who'd like to start running. He recommends they start with a 20-minute run/walk and build up to running two miles a day, five times a week.
Smith witnessed Vasher's dedication to the streak in October during The Bourbon Chase, a 200-mile relay race. Vasher was the 12th runner on their team and was set to begin his first of three legs about 11:30 p.m. Friday night.
"As a consequence of the anticipated 11:30 p.m. start, Roy did not run earlier in the day," Smith said. "About 11 p.m., it became apparent that his first leg would not begin until sometime after midnight, which would put him into Saturday. Concerned about keeping his streak alive, Roy took off for a run during our stop in Lebanon late in the night."
Despite his extraordinary efforts to fit in his daily runs, Vasher said his streak is not perfect.
"I actually did miss one day," Vasher admitted, jokingly adding, "Don't tell my running buddies."
How did it happen?
"When I don't run in the morning, I make a note to run in the evening," he explained. "I missed my alarm one morning, and that night went to dinner. The next morning I woke up and thought, 'Oh no, I didn't run yesterday.'"
Still, 6,962 out of 6,963 days is quite a streak.
"Now it's kind of the challenge to see how long I can go."