I’m a big fan of Strava and anyone using the sports social network will recognize the maps I post in the running posts on this blog as having their origin there. It’s a great tool for keeping track of my runs, my walks, my cycling, and even the odd hike, too. The social aspect of the site which is so important to others is, admittedly, less important to me, but the small group of people I follow on Strava and who follow me do make for a friendly virtual support crew.

One of the features of the site that is especially motivating are the monthly challenges. As each month rolls around Strava encourages users to sign up for a number of challenges, namely:

  • a distance challenge – how far can you run this month?
  • a 10K challenge – how fast can you run a 10K this month?
  • a half marathon challenge – how fast can you run a half marathon this month?

There are also seasonal marathon challenges in the Fall and Spring, as well as the odd climbing challenge – achieve 1500m or 2000m of vertical gain in a month, or similar – throughout the year.

You don’t actually win anything tangible if you complete the challenge. Indeed,  your reward is a digital ‘badge’ and pretty limited bragging rights. Few people are interested in how you ran a half marathon over the weekend, let alone a half marathon you ran as a training run to win a virtual reward.

Still, who needs a reward to be motivated? Isn’t completing the challenge enough?

For me, it is.

This month I had signed up for three challenges: the 10K challenge, the half marathon challenge, and the distance challenge.

To complete the 10K challenge, I simply had to run a 10K sometime during the course of January – and I did. In fact, to this point I have run 13 of them and my best pace (4:34 on yesterday’s 13km run) has been good enough for 11,400th place out of 150,000 participants.

To complete the distance challenge you need to run 200km during the month. I had been on track to run nearly 400km when the injury struck but, even with the forced time off my feet, I still managed to complete this challenge with yesterday’s effort.

This left only the half marathon challenge. The rules are simple: complete a run that is equal to or longer than 21.1km and you’ll earn the badge. Usually I would run multiple training runs of this distance – for example, in December I ran the half marathon distance or longer five times – but losing two weekends and four longer runs to injury this month meant I am going in to this final weekend of January without a half marathon under my belt.

About half the participants who signed on for the challenge are in the same boat, as only about 30,000 of the 75,000 have completed their half marathon before this weekend. I have a feeling that a few people will be joining me out on the road or trail today and tomorrow to win that digital badge in the dying hours of January…before signing up for the February challenge and doing it all over again then.

With their monthly challenges Strava has offered a way for the monthly training grind to be a little more fun, and deliver a little more encouragement to runners who might otherwise be running alone day-in and day-out. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy using the app, and another reason why I happy to be a Premium subscriber to their service.

Image by Benedicto de Jesus.

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