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Alpena runner nears end of 3,200-mile running streak

News Photo by Julie Riddle At the Alpena APlex on Monday, Alpena runner Joe Gentry displays a record of the first month of a two-year running streak he hopes to complete on Friday.

ALPENA — Run every day, the magazine cover read.

Looking for a challenge as the COVID-19 pandemic was setting its hooks into Northeast Michigan, Alpena resident Joe Gentry took to heart a challenge offered in the spring 2020 issue of Runner’s World to run at least a mile a day every day for 41 days.

With Alpena’s annual Fourth of July race going virtual that year, July 1 seemed a logical time for the runner and race organizer to start something new.

Already a seasoned runner with 40-some years of wearing out shoes behind him, Gentry leaned into the magazine’s challenge, marking off his daily runs on a calendar with a big red X.

Two years later, he’s still running.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Runner Joe Gentry on Monday leaves the Alpena APlex near the end of a two-year running streak.

On Friday, Gentry, 71, will mark the second anniversary of the start of his running streak having clocked 30,000 running minutes and 3,200 miles.

Streaks aren’t just for runners, though, Gentry said.

Setting a goal, making a commitment, and sticking with the plan helps people become better versions of themselves, Gentry said shortly before setting off on his daily run earlier this week.

“Find what you like to do and commit to it,” Gentry said. “Just commit to it.”

A dedicated runner who wears out five or six pairs of running shoes a year, Gentry couldn’t run even half a mile when he first took up the hobby to get into shape in his mid-20s.

Though the going was rough, he ran for a month, slogging around a neighborhood loop in his Converse high-tops. By the end of 30 days, he could finish the mile-plus route with ease.

He’d also stopped smoking, his diet had changed, and his clothes had become too big for him.

“And I thought, ‘Boy, that felt good,'” Gentry remembered.

Now, he runs multiple miles easily, often spending an hour at a shot trotting along local trails in the middle of the day.

Some decades ago, Gentry helped found the Dork Brothers, a group of Alpena-area runners who marathoned together and sponsored races for other local runners, such as the annual Fourth of July 5K, to be held in Alpena on Saturday.

The Dork Brothers name spawned when a son of a friend spied Gentry and his running companions, in search of a group name to use in a team marathon, running with the bills of their hats flipped up.

“He yelled, ‘You guys look like a bunch of dorks!'” Gentry said. “And Randy said, ‘There’s our name.'”

In recent years, Gentry has scaled back on running races, but X’s on his calendar bear witness to years of nearly daily runs that have made him a regular sight on Alpena sidewalks.

Still, he’d never before committed to running every single day, and the magazine’s challenge invigorated him.

“I got to the end of July, and that’s the best I’ve felt in a long time,” Gentry said.

He decided to keep the streak going a little longer, at least until his birthday.

Reaching that goal, he decided to run until he reached 100 days. And then until Christmas.

Through winter blizzards and summer heat, Gentry never skipped a run, resorting to his indoor treadmill only once during a nasty ice storm.

Running gives him time to think, to work out his problems with the stress of the day temporarily set aside, Gentry said.

But committing to a running streak taught him something new, he said.

Whether kayaking or yoga, pickleball or jigsaw puzzles, any activity can be fodder for a streak — and streaks make you stronger, Gentry said.

“Make a contract to do it every day,” he said.

Before Gentry started his current running venture, “I thought streaks were stupid,” he admitted.

But the daily tracking of his activity, the striving toward a goal, gave his runs purpose, he said.

“You start concentrating on what you’re pushing for,” he said. “And, all of sudden, you start to feel good.”

Gentry wants to log 100,000 miles in his running history. So far, he’s run more than 90,000 — including the 62 miles he ran on his 62nd birthday — and hopes to hit his goal by 2024.

After he reaches the two-year mark, he’ll take a day off, Gentry said.

Maybe.

Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or jriddle@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jriddleX.

If you’ve gotta run

WHAT: 44th Dork Brothers Independence Day Weekend 5K Run/Walk and 1 Mile

WHEN: One-mile starts at 8:30 a.m.; 5K at 9 a.m.

WHERE: The APlex, 701 Woodward Ave.

HOW MUCH: $25 adults, $15 students. Race day registration of $30 adults or $20 students does not include a t-shirt.

INFO: Pre-registration is encouraged. Sign up at runsignup.com/Race/MI/Alpena/DorkBrothers5K or find the Dork Brothers on Facebook. Race day registration will be held from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., when race packets and numbers can also be picked up.

Contact race director Joe Gentry with questions at joseph.gentry51@gmail.com.

Gentry expects about 200 runners to participate in this year’s race.

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