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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Though Mark Mueller said he hasn’t missed a daily workout in 27 years, he doesn’t consider himself to be an unusual person — he just takes things one day at a time.
“We all have it in us. It’s just what you decide to do,” Mueller said.
Counting back to Feb. 21, 1994, one day at a time has added up to over 10,000 consecutive days, according to his stack of notebooks with meticulous details on each day’s workout.
The first of those notebooks — before Mueller says his consecutive streak began — goes back to the 1970s, when he was still in high school. Scraps of paper before that are still sitting around, recording pushup contest results with his brother as a kid.
“Days take themselves off, you don’t need to take days off,” Mueller said. “The things you’ve got planned for the day (sometimes) don’t get done because unexpected things arise in the day. It’s why I work out every morning, in case something does come up.”
He’s followed that mantra ever since he stayed out too late one night and felt guilty after missing the next day’s exercise. Now, after every morning workout, even if nothing else happens that day, he has accomplished something.
“I consider a workout an accomplishment. Even a bad workout beats the heck out of no workout,” he said. “I don’t want to have regrets … because I don’t get today back.”
And unlike watching TV, working out is something he never regrets.
Thanks to the routine the Trinity Lutheran School principal has devised, he doesn’t need to take a day off from working out — something he considers a bit more intense than routine or recreational exercise. Working out twice each day, Mueller alternates routines; either running in the morning and biking in the evening or swimming in the morning and lifting weights in the afternoon. Each routine works out different parts of the body, giving the rest of the body time to recuperate.
“It just doesn’t feel right if I’m not working out,” he said. “Something’s missing.”
Walking pneumonia, a knee injury and even COVID-19 earlier this year was never an excuse for Mueller to stop — it was just a chance to switch up his routine.
Short of death, the 65-year-old said nothing will stop him from continuing.
His son Taylor Mueller said it started with the motivation of never wanting to see his gut when he looked down.
“Once he starts something, he wants to see it through,” Taylor Mueller said. “He doesn’t want to break the streak.”
But after 27 years, his intestinal fortitude is self-evident. Now, it’s such a natural part of his day that it feels unnatural to pause, even for a day.
The son of a minor league baseball pitcher, fitness and exercise has been running in the family since day one.
“When (my father) would come home and say ‘Do you guys want to play?’ it wasn’t really ‘Do you want to,’ it was ‘We’re going to,’” Mueller said. “It was always a baseball workout.”
After playing baseball his freshman and sophomore year of high school, a back injury kept him from being able to swing a bat. Instead, he came back swinging with track and cross-country.
In his senior year at Jefferson High School, he ran 9:22.8 in the 3200-meter run, a record for the school at that time, according to Mueller.
“A lot of that was plain hard work,” he said.
Mueller didn’t start with the goal of hitting 10,000 days. Early on in his streak, he simply wanted to hit the next thousand. Some days, it was the streak that kept him going. Now his goal is simply to get to 11,000 on April 4, 2024.
While a lot of his motivation was originally preparing for road races, the color-coded stacks of handwritten records are proof that even in his 60s, he hasn’t lost much ground.
“I’ve proven to myself I actually did this,” he said. “That I’m capable of more than what I give myself credit for. Too often I’ve sold myself short.”
In his workout notebooks, he includes details down to the temperature and weather conditions of each day — green ink represents growth, black represents what he actually did, red usually represents injuries and blue gives general information. Each page notes his cumulative day number and how far he has run up to that point in the year.
Even for the non-athletic, there’s a lesson to be learned: you’re capable of more than you realize and you have at least one gift or strength you can develop.
Mueller said his gift isn’t working out or being athletic, it’s being driven and self-disciplined, something he says God uses as an opportunity to connect him with others. For the basketball players he coaches at Trinity Lutheran, it gives credibility by showing the kids that he puts the work in himself, too.
But more than pride in an accomplishment, he said he’s simply grateful to have been able to do this for so long.
“I’m just grateful I can still be doing what I’m doing,” Mueller said.
Mark Mueller’s tips for going the distance
1. The key to longevity is taking it one day at a time.
2. Don’t burn yourself out with exercise at the beginning. “You want to finish wanting to do more, so that you’re hungry the next day to do it,” Mueller said.
3. Don’t let how you feel mentally determine whether or not you work out. There may always be an excuse to not exercise.
4. Do your own work and stay in your own lane. Don’t get caught up in what someone else is doing.
5. Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by what others are doing.
6. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” — Eleanor Roosevelt.
7. Don’t sell yourself short. “We’re all capable of more than we realize,” Mueller said.
8. “I’ve never regretted working out, but I have regretted spending a half-hour in front of the TV,” Mueller said.
9. Good routines help you get stuff done.
10. Get comfortable being uncomfortable, but listen to your body. There’s a difference between workout pain and injury pain.
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