How to Start a Running Challenge (and Actually Succeed!)

Should You Try a Running Challenge?
Photo: Pond5

You’ve heard of fun runs, 10Ks and even (gulp) marathons. But the latest running challenges aren’t about one all-out effort on race day. They’re all about consistency — running a little bit every day for a month, season, or until the next holiday (Memorial Day, anyone?).

“Running streaks are meant to engage runners, keep them motivated, and just be fun,” says Bart Yasso, chief running officer for Runner’s World magazine, which holds running challenges, called “streaks,” several times per year. Readers across the world run at least one mile per day for a given period (usually between 30 and 45 days), and post their daily progress and pics as well as cheer on fellow streakers with the hashtag #RWRunStreak.

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“You are part of a team, a virtual running group,” Yasso says. After all, we don’t all have the ability to be part of a run club or run with our friends on a daily, or even weekly, basis. So even if you’re alone on the trail, these running streaks allow you to be part of an awesome running group.

Plus, these running challenges are great for helping you hit your fitness goals. For those who sign on for the United States Running Streak Association, your mission is to run one mile a day for the entire year. Can’t get your butt outdoors? Refinery 29 challenges you to hit the treadmill for 30 days.

“One of the biggest things that trips people up on their journey to fitness is staying consistent with their workouts,” says running coach Kourtney Thomas, C.S.C.S. “It doesn’t matter what you like to do, from CrossFit to yoga to running, there is always going to come a time in life when it’s tough to stay motivated. If you go through a challenge like this, it becomes a part of your routine, and that’s a huge value.”

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What About Rest?

Recovery is key to any fitness routine — and running streaks are no exception, Yasso says. That’s a big reason why most organizations, RW included, cap their streaks at about four to six weeks. “We don’t want people to overdo it,” he says. “We’re not trying to streak for 30 years here.” (That said, hundreds of members of the United States Running Streak Association lace up every day for a year or more. Definitely not advisable for 99 percent of runners out there.)

Still, no matter how long or short your running streak is, you can build in rest and recovery by running a shorter distance, or at a slower pace, or both, on designated “easy” days. “Make sure that you always have an easy day or two between any hard runs,” Thomas says.

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Maybe that means rotating between short, low-intensity runs, interval or speed runs, tempo runs and long runs. You could also consider a run/walk streak, or capping some of your runs under a mile, Thomas says. “Just think about getting a little time on your feet every day. Focus on consistency,” she says.

A lot of organized streaks say you need to run a mile or more each day, but it’s better to run to your ability than to push yourself too hard and risk injury, Yasso says. (And we won’t tell if you run a half-mile on some days or take walk breaks on others!)

Are You Running Challenge Ready?

Likewise, a big part of staying injury-free during a running streak is being relatively fit and active before starting a challenge.

“This isn’t how you start running,” Yasso says. “I’m big on beginners starting off slowly.” And running every day for a month or longer definitely doesn’t qualify as “starting off slowly.” However, if you’re currently running four days a week — and it doesn’t have to be a long distance every day — you can easily kick it up to seven days for a streak, Yasso says.

If you’re not quite there yet, try incrementally increasing your activity levels for the next several weeks, focusing on both running and resistance work to strengthen your stabilizer muscles and help prevent injury during the streak. Once you get up to comfortably running a mile or so four days per week, you can start thinking about starting that streak. Listening to your body is key.

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Go Streaking!

While we love large-group online running challenges, you don’t have to wait for one to come around for you to get your streak on. Consider coming up with your own hashtag or closed Facebook group for you and your running friends — whether they live near or far — to complete a challenge together. Or post in an existing running Facebook group to see if anyone would be interested in completing a streak with you. You can also complete them on your own, and you’ll still have non-runner friends and family members cheering you on. (And, FYI, runners post with the #RWRunStreak hashtag on social media all year long.)

However you decide to organize things, one thing’s for sure: By the time your streak is up, you’ll feel like a stronger, better runner than ever before.

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