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The Best Running Challenges To Stay Motivated

The start of a new year is often a time people lace up their running shoes for the first time in forever and set some new goals. New runners use the change of calendar to start new habits and get healthy. Dedicated runners mark the new year with a mileage goal for the year, or they target a specific race or commit to running in an exotic locale. If you’re here, chances are you love running just as much as we do! But let’s be honest – even with resolution season in full wing, we all have those periods where it’s just really hard to drag ourselves out of bed in the morning and hit the road.

You’re not alone if you’re going through one of those times! It’s tempting to snooze the alarm and stay in bed, or flop onto the sofa and not move when you get home from work. A day or two of demotivation is not a bad thing. Moods swing, and we all need rest days sometime. But if the couch is becoming your new habit and your new shoes aren’t even dirty yet, you might benefit from a running challenge. Challenges are good for two reasons: they structure your running in the long term, giving you purpose, and they can push your abilities past what you thought your limits were.

If you aren’t challenging yourself, you aren’t getting the most out of your running! Why not try some running challenges to stay motivated?

Why Try a Running Challenge?

One of the awesome things about running challenges is that you can choose what you want to do. This whole running thing is optional in the first place, and goals and accountability can keep you trying new things.

There’s no coach pushing you to do something you don’t want to. It never has to become a chore, because you can pick and choose exactly what you know will motivate you.

For some, there’s nothing like the feeling of reaching a goal or setting a new personal record. For others, the excitement lies in the reward at the end!

Just having something to work towards can spur you on to tie your shoes and get on the road when it feels a little tougher than usual.

Here are a few reasons you should try a running challenge.

Establish a Routine

The key to new habits is repetition. It’s easy to get out the door once. It’s easy to get out the door twice. But that third morning, the cold and rainy one, can be daunting. If you’ve set a challenge up for yourself, the end goal can be the motivation to get you out there even when you have reasons not to.

Simple, routine-based goals build habits in a low-stress way. Try “Run before work on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.” Soon enough, it’ll be a part of your routine you look forward to.

Or, Change Your Routine

Habits are key to new behaviors, but habits can also get boring. We all get tired of doing the same old stuff again and again. Whether it’s running, cycling, working out, watching TV, or listening to music, variety is important and necessary.

Doing a running challenge changes up your normal old routine and keeps you from getting complacent. It’s a great way to inject some excitement into your exercise when it may be getting a little boring.

Run a new route every day. Switch over to trail running for the month. Or do something like what marathoner Des Linden did: challenge herself (and her many Instagram followers) to run one mile further every day for a month. Easy for the first week, definitely harder from the 25th through the 31st.

Reach a Goal

If you’ve got a lofty running goal, it can be much easier to reach if you break it down into manageable chunks. A running challenge is a great way to do a little bit every day towards reaching your goal.

A big goal, like running a 10k without walking, or working your way up to running a marathon, can be intimidating when you look at it as a whole. But breaking it down into a small step every day for, say, a month, it suddenly doesn’t look so hard.

This takes away the pressure slightly. As long as you take a small step every day, you’re getting closer to your goal. Some runners challenge themselves to run every day for a month, or a year, or…some people have been doing it for years without breaking the streak. Some runners challenge themselves to run the year in kilometers (for example, 2021km in 2021). Or heck, why not miles if you have the time? Chris Ierley, a Philadelphia-based ultra runner, has run at least 100 miles per month for 65 consecutive months! Goals help build that consistency.

Goals don’t have to be distances, of course. Common goals such as qualifying for the Boston Marathon or Western States are time-based. Try to set a new PR in a shorter distance such as the mile. Other runners have the goal of running all 6 World Marathon Majors, or running a half marathon in every state. The possibilities are as unlimited as your creativity.

Ways To Do a Running Challenge

Running challenges are really easy to adjust to your preferences, schedule, and location.

You can do a running challenge:

By Yourself

If you’re the type of person who enjoys spending time alone, or you travel a lot and running with a partner doesn’t suit you, then doing a running challenge alone might work best for you.

It’s quite a freeing way of doing it. You don’t need to rely on anyone else or set a specific time for your running. You can get up and run whenever you feel like it, wherever you are, or whoever you’re around.

This could also be the best way to do a running challenge if you have a particular goal. It may be difficult to find a partner who has the same goal as you, and if you and your running buddy have different goals, it could be difficult to run together in harmony.

With a Friend or Running Partner

There are a number of reasons to have a running buddy. If you know someone who has a similar goal to you, doing a running challenge together could help motivate both of you!

It’s a great way to encourage someone, have someone else encourage you, and it’s fantastic for accountability. If you struggle a little with being disciplined when you run alone, a running partner could be helpful. It’s harder to disappoint someone else!

If you’re nervous about running alone from a safety point of view, then running with a partner could also be helpful. It’s difficult to focus on your form, your pace, and reaching your goals when you’re feeling unsafe and worried about being out on the road.

Part of a Group

For runners who enjoy socializing, doing a challenge with a running group could be the right thing! Running as part of a group is great for team building.

Whether it’s a group of colleagues, your family, or a bunch of friends, this kind of challenge could be fun for everyone involved.

If you’re working towards a serious goal, doing a running challenge as part of a group could be hard, especially if other members are doing it just for the fun.

Joining a runners’ club may be the way to go if you like the idea of doing challenges as a group, with like-minded people who are working towards similar goals. Or, sign up for a marathon or Ragnar relay with a team.

Join a Virtual Challenge

Social media has been a boon for runners looking to connect with each other. Fitness apps such as Strava and Connect offer endless choices of challenges you can join. Others across the world join the same challenges, and you become a community working to support each other toward a goal.

If there are no challenges that fit the bill for you, create on! Invite your other online friends to join in for a little healthy competition.

Groups such as the Sub-30 Club are based on Facebook, and members (generally) have the goal of completing a 5k in under 30 minutes. The support from the community can be a big motivating factor to keep going in a challenge.

Short or Long-Term Challenge?

If you’ve never done a running challenge before, we recommend starting off with a month-long challenge.

Anything shorter won’t really have much effect, and it’s also easier to give up on! A month-long challenge is the perfect length for both seeing results and building a habit.

If you enjoy the month-long running challenge, you can always do another one right after. Or, if you felt great and can commit to something more serious, go for a longer one!

Two months, six months, or even one-year challenges are all great ways to work towards a goal, improve your general fitness, and keep your running focused and fun at the same time.

Reward or Punishment?

For most of us, simply taking steps towards a goal can become a bit of a chore, especially if it’s a long timeframe!

The solution? A reward system! Or, a punishment system, if you respond better to that.

Reward

If you respond well to rewards, this could be the best way to spur you on! First, make sure you choose a reward that’s appropriate for the amount of work you’ll be doing.

For example, tell yourself that if you make it to the end of your month-long challenge without cheating or skipping a day, you can go out for a great meal at your favorite restaurant.

If you complete a two-month challenge without missing a beat, buy yourself that thing you’ve been wanting. Once you’ve nailed that year-long running challenge, book yourself a fancy vacation!

You may think this is obvious, but don’t reward yourself if you didn’t do the challenge properly!

Personal honesty plays a large role in the effectiveness of this system! There’s no point in still rewarding yourself if you haven’t done the work.

And make sure the reward doesn’t counteract your goal too much. Happy about hitting your goal to run three day this week? Reward yourself with a fancy chocolate bar you’ll nibble at for three days, or a nice bottle of wine you split with your roommate, rather than a bacon cheeseburger and fries.

If you need to, get someone else involved to hand out the reward at the end. Find a way to track your progress (it’s helpful to have a fitness tracker or smartwatch), so they can make sure you’re hitting your goals before they allow you your reward.

Punishment

If rewards don’t quite work for you, or you’re worried that you won’t stick to your challenge, the punishment method could work!

This one is exactly the opposite of rewarding yourself. In this case, if you don’t complete your challenge, or if you do half a job, you have to do something you don’t really want to do.

The punishment really depends on you and what’s motivating for you. You can try:

  • Canceling/blocking Netflix for a month.
  • Refraining from your favorite food or drink for some time.
  • Paying money to an organization you don’t really like!
  • NOT buying that thing you want.
  • Giving up coffee for a month.

Needless to say, this is harder than a reward system. Once again, this could work best if you have someone else helping you out. It can be super easy to scoff at it and buy takeout anyway, or have a sneaky cup of coffee or catch some Netflix while you’re supposed to be working.

Discipline is key. Otherwise, it’s entirely pointless!

Now, let’s have a look at some types of running challenges so you can find something to start your 2021 off with some fun!

Types of Running Challenges

Run Streak Challenges

We all know the saying “consistency is king!” There’s definitely some truth in it, though. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, you’ll never see results from doing a challenge if you don’t do it consistently.

If you’re new to running, starting off with a running streak challenge is the perfect way to build a habit!

Run Every Day for One Month

This is the best way to start. Commit to going for a run every day for a month – no excuses!

You need to be tough with yourself, though. Allowing it to slide because you just don’t feel like it or you’re a little tired isn’t good enough!

Beginners can alternate between running and walking. If you’re a little more tired on a particular day, walk instead of run. It’s that simple, and you’re still getting your exercise in and ticking the day off your challenge.

You don’t have to do this outside, either. If you have a treadmill, you can complete a challenge just as effectively!

If you’re not quite a beginner but you’re still new to running challenges, here are some different ways to do a running streak challenge.

Variations:

  • Choose a specific distance to run/walk every day.
  • Choose a distance range (eg. 1 to 3 miles, 4 to 6 miles, etc).
  • Increase your distance by a little every day.
  • Set a distance goal to achieve at the end of the month (eg. 50 miles, 100 miles, etc)
  • Start with a set time (eg. 15 minutes) and increase by a minute each day.

If These are Too Easy….

Want a great goal to work towards? Just a mile a day for a year will get your name on the USRSA’s Official USA Active Running Streak List!

Make sure you keep track of your distances using something like a smartwatch, though. They won’t just take your word for it!

Running Race Challenges

If you’re already a competitive runner, or you’re ready to take that step, race challenges could be something fun and practical for you.

Race Challenges

  • Enter a race every month.
  • Do a race in a different state every month.
  • Work towards a new PB in a certain race.
  • Aim to run a 5k/10k/half marathon/full marathon in 3 months/6months/a year.
  • Sign up for an ultra marathon!
  • Try a race you don’t usually do, e.g. a trail run, if you’re a roadrunner.
  • Join something like the Dopey Challenge.

“Run Every [fill in the blank]” Challenges

Your challenge can also help get you out the door to see new things. Take a month to run every street in your neighborhood. Take a year to run every street in your town. Run every mile of trails in a nearby state park. Go on a group run with every running club in your city (ok, not the best suggestion in these COVID days, but…one day. One day).

Supplemental Non-Running Challenges

Bodyweight Challenges

If you’re looking for something to supplement your running but don’t actually want to run more than you already are, why not do a bodyweight challenge?

You’ll be getting a workout, keeping those muscles strong, and improving your overall fitness, which in turn helps improve your running performance.

Try:

  • Doing a different bodyweight workout every day for one month (YouTube is great for finding workouts).
  • Doing a core workout every day for a month.
  • Starting a calisthenics program (and working on it every day for a month).
  • Doing a push-up challenge (increasing reps every day).
  • Doing a plank challenge (increasing time every day).

Multi-Sport Challenge

If you enjoy trying new things, why not try 2 or 3 different cross-training sessions a week? This is also a great idea if you’re looking for some kind of exercise to do with your running but aren’t sure what exactly you’d enjoy.

Some ideas to try include:

  • Cycling
  • Rowing
  • Going to the gym
  • Swimming
  • Jumping rope
  • Yoga
  • Rock climbing

You can aim for a few different ones per week so you don’t get bored, or choose one per week and do 3 or 4 sessions.

Early Morning Challenge

This is more about timing than about the exercise you do. Whether you’re running, gymming, bodyweight training, or even just taking a walk, challenge yourself to get up at 5am, or 6am, or 7am every day to do it.

You may be surprised at how much easier it is to stick to something for a period of time when you get it over and done with early in the morning!

You can tick it off your daily list right at the start and not think about it again for the rest of the day.

Nutrition Challenge

Of course, no matter what exercise you’re doing, if your nutrition is all over the place, you won’t see great results.

Many of us who are already doing consistent exercise fall into this trap. If you’re like me and you’re already doing the exercise but not paying attention to what you nourish your body with, why not try some of these challenges:

  • Choose one snack food or sugary drink to give up for a month.
  • Give up sugar for a month.
  • Stop drinking alcohol for a month.
  • Give up fast food.
  • Avoid processed foods.
  • Try intermittent fasting.
  • Drink more water.
  • Eat more veggies and fruits.
  • Go meat-free for a month.

App Challenges

Apps can be a great help, especially if you’re running alone and not with a running partner. If you need some motivation and accountability, download an app and follow some of their challenges!

Bad Habit Challenge

If you’re ready to put some of your bad habits behind you, pair up with a buddy for help and motivation and try this challenge.

It can work to help you:

  • Stop smoking
  • Watch less TV
  • Spend less time on social media
  • Get up earlier
  • Eat healthier

Working with a friend is necessary for accountability and motivation. It’s super hard to get rid of bad habits alone, especially if this is your first time trying!

Know that overcoming these things may be hard, but it’s worth it. Not only will you feel better, be healthier, improve your fitness, and possibly improve your relationships, but you’ll also most likely notice your running times improving!

The Wired Runner