Running streak of 16,438 days will set American record

Jon Sutherland, the cross-country coach at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, has run at least one mile every day since May 26, 1969.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Wearing a white baseball cap, a neon green shirt, black shorts and gray running shoes, Jon Sutherland runs alongside his 6-year-old dog, Puck, a brown Labrador mix, circling Sherman Oaks Park along with dozens of early morning joggers and walkers.

Rain or shine, healthy or sick, strong or weak, Sutherland has stayed with a similar routine — he has run — every day for 45 consecutive years, covering more than 190,000 miles.




May 26, 8:37 a.m.: An article in the May 26 Sports section about Jon Sutherland setting a record for running every day for 45 consecutive years incorrectly said the terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Center took place Sept. 11, 2011. The attack occurred Sept. 11, 2001.


The anniversary is Monday. Sutherland’s streak began on May 26, 1969, about two months before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. And each run has been documented in a daily diary contained in 46 binders he keeps at his West Hills condominium.

On Tuesday, Sutherland, 63, will set the American record for consecutive days running at least one mile, according to the United States Streak Assn.

The man he will pass is Mark Covert, an old teammate of Sutherland’s when both ran for the Los Angeles Valley College track team. Covert’s streak ended last year at 16,437 days.

Coincidentally, Covert played a role in Sutherland’s starting a streak of his own.

“Mark told me he had run every day for a year,” Sutherland said. “I go, ‘I’m going to try that.’ It meant nothing. I did it, I got my year in, no big deal.

“Pretty soon it’s five, 10, 15 years. Now it’s 45 years.”

Sutherland’s discipline and passion for running have enabled him to extend his streak through 10 broken bones, including two stress fractures, a fractured hip and arthroscopic surgeries to both knees.

The most serious setback was the hip. In February 1988, he was injured when he slipped on ice while running a half-marathon. It took him nine months to completely heal.

“I had a hard time putting my foot on the ground,” he said. “That was the hardest injury.”

His knee surgeries were scheduled at 7 a.m., so he ran before the surgeries and was able to wobble through the pain the next day. “It was hard, but I did it,” he said.

As the cross-country coach at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High for eight years, Sutherland has shared his love of running with teenage athletes, joining them for runs at Balboa Park and Sherman Oaks Park. But it’s amid the dusty trails of El Escorpion Park in West Hills, less than 100 yards from his home, where he does most of his running these days.

He has averaged a little more than 11 miles a day during his streak. He once ran about 120 miles a week, when he was competing for Valley College and Cal State Northridge, but he’s now running 45 to 50 miles a week.

“I keep running because I like it,” he said. “The first thing I think about when I get up every morning is, ‘Where are me and Puck going to go? Where are we going to run today?’”

Sutherland was a music journalist for more than 20 years, attending dozens of concerts. He has some 3,000 CDs of heavy metal songs lined up against two walls on the bottom floor of his two-bedroom condo. He calls it his “Wall of Doom.” Thin Lizzy was his favorite rock band. Yet, when he runs, he never listens to music.

“When I run, I like to think,” he said.

He was a pitcher for the baseball team at Granada Hills High, then discovered running at Valley College in 1968, when his coach, Laszlo Tabori, a former Olympian from Hungary, made a lasting impression.

“I ran 21/2 miles and 15 100-meter sprints,” Sutherland said. “I thought that was great. What I didn’t know was there were 10 more miles to come. That’s the day I met Laszlo Tabori. He gets things out of you that you never thought you had.”

Sutherland’s diary starts with handwritten entries, then he switched to writing on a computer in the mid-1980s. He can open any of his binders and tell what he was doing on any day over the last 45 years.

On Feb. 9, 1971, he was in his college dorm room when the 6.6 Sylmar earthquake struck. “Woken up by earthquake at 5:55 a.m,” his journal says. “Chaotic situation. Room was a mess. …Ran four miles on campus grass.”

On Sept. 11, 2001, he wrote, “I wake up and the World Trade Towers is on fire. This turned out to be the worst day in American history. It’s an unthinkable tragedy. … I run five miles.”

Among hundreds of entries through the years, none was more difficult than what he wrote on Oct. 19, 2010, the day Conor Lynch, one of Sutherland’s cross-country runners at Notre Dame, was killed in a hit-and-run accident down the street from the school.

“We needed to tell the kids, which I did, and I lost my composure,” he wrote.

“That was the saddest day of my life,” he said.

Through good days and bad days, Sutherland has always turned to running. It gives him vitality, and at 6 feet 4 and a slender 158 pounds, he’s in great shape.

He and Puck travel through dust and dirt along trails and canyons, enjoying the serenity of the outdoors.

“As long as I’m healthy, I’m going to keep going,” Sutherland said. “I’m addicted to running. It’s all I do.”