Mark Dowdle: Matching His Run Mileage To The Date Of The Month... For A Year


, by Micah Ling

Photography courtesy of: Mark Dowdle

Mark Dowdle Just Completed a Year of Running His Mileage According to the Day of the Month. On the first day of each month he only ran one mile, but by the end of the month, he was running upwards of 5 ultra marathons in a row. 

Last year, on May 1, Mark Dowdle, 27, ran one mile. The next day, on May 2, he ran two miles, and on May 3, you guessed it, he ran three miles. Dowdle then continued this pattern for an entire year. A couple easier weeks, followed by much, much harder weeks. Starting with the 18th of each month, Dowdle would enter what he called the “dark hole” days. The 18th through the end of the month was always a grind. And while he knew what to expect after doing it so many times, even by the end of the project those days never got easier.

Because Dowdle’s challenge was on a leap year, the official total mileage of the project was expected to be 5,767 miles / 9,281km. But Dowdle added a few extra challenges to the overall project, including doubling his mileage in February. Which means his total on the year, from May 1, 2023 to April 30, 2024, ended up right around 6,400 miles / 10,300km.

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Dowdle completed the vast majority of his miles on the roads around his home in St. Paul, Minnesota. He encountered all kinds of lows, from injuries to extreme weather, but those struggles were more than balanced out by the highs. Days when the miles came easy or he shared them with his girlfriend, Lucy, biking by his side. And even though he said this was a selfish endeavor, one of the huge things that he gained from the project was community.

You Do it For You

“A lot of people asked me along the way why I was doing this. If it was for a charity, or some cause. And my answer inevitably became, ‘because I can,’” Dowdle said. “It’s kind of like anything in life. We’re presented with hard tasks, and tough situations, and we have to figure out how to work through it. I hope that my doing this challenge will help other people have perspective, and that they can take on their own hard things in life.”

Dowdle got a lot of questions, and plenty of criticism, but also a lot of support. The comments sections on his social media were often full of people wondering what he ate, what shoes he wore, how he avoided injury and illness, and how he maintained a job with so many hours of running each month. And he addressed those things specifically from time to time, but usually ended up saying something like, “You just have to figure it out.”

A lot of people asked me along the way why I was doing this. If it was for a charity, or some cause. And my answer inevitably became, ‘because I can'.

“I think people like to hear that I’m doing everything in my power to optimize my success,” Dowdle said. “But I’ve discovered that when you set these big goals for yourself, one of the most important things is to be okay with knowing that it’s not going to be perfect. Some days your fuel is going to be pizza and beer, or Pop-Tarts and Uncrustables. It’s just about doing the work and getting it done no matter what. And I think that terrifies people because it kind of limits the excuses or makes it clear that there really is no secret to it.”

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The Lows Were Low

Even though the “dark hole days” never got easier, Dowdle did start to get a little bored with the project once he was about eight months in. He had joked around on social media that he would never do any miles on a treadmill, and that no matter how cold and miserable it got during the Minnesota winter, he’d always log miles outside, adding that anyone who ran on a treadmill was weak. Which of course ruffled some feathers. Some of his fans and anti-fans fired back that treadmill running is just as hard if not harder than running outdoors. 

Photography courtesy of: Mark Dowdle

So in February he doubled down. Literally. Dowdle decided to do his normal 1-29 outdoor miles, and also 1-29 indoor miles, on a treadmill. So each day of February he ran his normal outdoor mileage according to the day, and then went to Planet Fitness and did the same number of indoor miles. No big deal for the first couple weeks of the month, but by the end, those normal “dark hole days” became way, way deeper. By the last day of the month, when he ran 29 miles outside, and 29 miles on the treadmill, it almost broke him. 

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“The worst day was definitely the last day of February,” Dowdle said. “By the end of that month I’d wake up so exhausted. Sometimes I’d be pushing into the morning hours of the next day. Finishing my treadmill run at two in the morning, then waking up at nine thinking, ‘Oh god, I have 12 hours of running to start.’ 

“I remember being at Planet Fitness and the night crew had kind of caught wind of what I was doing because they’re like, ‘Who’s this guy staying here for seven hours on the treadmill?’ And they were super supportive. But I just remember that final four miles was like an hour and a half. I still look at it as the hardest day of my life when it comes to running.”

The Highs Were High

Dowdle was super excited to pass the 6,000 mile mark in April. “That was just a really cool accomplishment,” Dowdle said. “But an even bigger accomplishment was creating a community on Strava.” For the last month of the challenge, Dowdle invited others to do the month with him. And if they didn’t feel like they could do the mileage according to the day, he encouraged them to figure out their own challenge and try to collectively reach 15,000 miles in the month.

The group exceeded 15,000 miles in just two weeks. “The Strava group that I created has 436 people,” Dowdle said. “I was talking on the phone with a buddy of mine who just ran Boston, and we were going back and forth on how cool it is to look at how people have utilized it as a group chat. People will post saying something like, ‘I turned a 5K run into a five-mile run,’ and others will engage, congratulating them.” Dowdle has loved seeing how others have turned his challenge into their own.

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Never Alone

In reflecting on the year, Dowdle said that one of his biggest takeaways was that he was never alone in the goal. “My girlfriend Lucy has been with me on the most difficult days. Dropping off a meal and giving me a hug at Planet Fitness at midnight, and just so many moments when people have shown up on a random Tuesday to keep me company. I want to say thank you to those people. This is not a solo endeavor. It definitely is an endeavor that I could not have done alone and would not do alone. So I’m very appreciative of all the support.”

This is not a solo endeavor. It definitely is an endeavor that I could not have done alone and would not do alone.

And following that final 30-mile run on Tuesday, April 30, Dowdle will almost immediately head into his next goal, a “last-person-standing” event in Wisconsin just a couple of days later. 

But after that, Dowdle is taking some downtime. He wants to be sure that he’s acknowledging that, as he puts it, “I’m Mark first, and then I’m an ultrarunner.” It’s easy to get tied up in social media, and epic feats. But it’s also important to recover, and enjoy all that life is. As they say, “It doesn’t count if it’s not on Strava,” but also, you’re more than just your numbers. And you’re bigger than just one challenge. 

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