LANCASTER — What had often been described as a solitary streak was anything but lonely at the end for Burbank High alumnus Mark Covert.
The one-time Glendale Community College track and field coach capped a historic 45-year run, in which the former Cal State Fullerton star ran at least one mile each day without pause since 1968, on Tuesday morning at Antelope Valley College with one final mile lap through the campus.
Covert, who owns the longest national streak ever, according to the United States Running Streak Assn, trailed only Great Britain’s Ron Hill, who began his running in December of 1964.
While most of the 16,436 consecutive days or 149, 651 miles Covert had run since beginning his journey on July 23, 1968 were done alone, on Tuesday the current Antelope Valley College coach was joined by a group of nearly 70 runners who had known Covert from his various stops at Burbank High, Glendale college, Cal State Fullerton, Antelope Valley College, Los Angeles Valley College and places in between.
“We had over-unders [on the number of people present] and I went way under,” Covert quipped. “I was very surprised when people starting contacting me – high school friends, college buddies, roommates – that said they were going to make the trip out here. Then I started getting kids that ran for me that flew in from across the country. It’s very humbling to say the least.
“To think what this streak has done, what it means to different people is quite amazing to me and it’s fun.”
Many present at Covert’s final run received an initial email from the 62-year-old Lancaster resident on May 23 declaring his intent to end the streak that began while the Vietnam War was raging due to a foot injury.
“I have a mid-foot collapse and my foot is completely twisted to the outside. I really can’t lift or push off anymore; I just kind of drag it around,” Covert said. “I’ve taken a couple of headers when I’ve been out on the road.
“This is the right time to do this. To keep doing this just to do it, to keep the streak alive isn’t worth it. I’m not getting any benefit.”
Covert confirmed he is having surgery on his foot soon and will be sidelined from running for a while. To fill the void, Covert has turned to cycling, which allows him to train significantly harder.
What was evident during Tuesday’s run, which began at 7:03 a.m. with favorable 72-degree weather, was Covert’s struggle to complete his mile as the former U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials runner hobbled and finished his race in just over 13 minutes.
Covert’s grit proved an inspiration to many, including 34-year-old Matthew Fisher, an engineer who traveled from Austin.
“I’ve never meet Mark before, but I had to be here for his last run,” said Fisher, who owns a four-plus-year streak of his own. “What he’s done for the running community across this country is great. It’s my honor to be here.”
Crescenta Valley High alumnus Bill Read didn’t run with Covert in high school, but always remembered a cross-county camp that Covert hosted in the summers of 1973 and 1974 at Yosemite Valley that the then 16- and 17-year-old Read was involved.
“This is the first time I’ve seen Mark since then and seeing him reminded me about his intense training and passion for the sport,” said Read, 56, a La Cañada Flintridge resident. “He helped put me on the path toward running and I wanted to thank him.”
Also in attendance was Sherman Oaks Notre Dame cross-country Coach Jon Sutherland, who was a teammate of Covert at L.A. Valley College from 1968 to 1970, where Covert won two individual national championships.
“When I heard he was stopping I couldn’t believe it. Mark never stops, he never quits, he’s one of the toughest guys I know,” said Sutherland, who is close behind with a 44-year streak that began on May 26, 1969. “I had to be here for this great guy.”
A trio of Burbank teammates made the trek to Lancaster as Richard Aspey (Diamond Bar), John Sargenti (Escondido) and Larry Ehrlich (Costa Mesa), all of the class of 1969, wanted to deliver personal well-wishes.
“Honestly, I haven’t seen Mark or these guys for a long, long time,” Ehrlich said. “This was something special. Something that started while Mark was at Burbank High and I had to be here. I was there when it started and when it ended.”