10 Running Challenges to Keep You Motivated

Runners racing in a 10k
John Kieffer/Photolibrary/Getty Images

If you've been bored with your usual running routine, you may be struggling to get out the door as often as you need to. Have you fallen off track with training? Are you struggling to reach your mileage or pace goals? You may just need a fun running challenge to re-ignite your love of running.

Running Challenge

A fun running challenge can reboot your motivation and spur your competitive spirit. You don't necessarily have to compete with others. Sometimes competing against yourself offers the greatest reward. There are different types of running challenges to choose from. These include personal challenges and group challenges as well as short-term and long-term challenges.

Personal vs. Group Challenges

When choosing the best challenge for you, keep your running goal in mind. If you need to increase your pace to meet a race time goal, challenging yourself against others at a similar (or slightly higher) fitness level may give you the biggest bang for your buck. You're likely to reach deeper and run faster when there is another runner right behind you or right in front of you.

Likewise, if your goal is to increase mileage, the friendly support and camaraderie offered by a running group can be helpful. Not only will chatting with others make the miles roll by faster, but it's hard to throw in the towel when you see others reaching their goal.

But if consistency is your goal, you may gain greater benefits choosing a challenge against yourself. A solo challenge allows you to make adjustments to your workout schedule and running route as needed. You are also more likely to use sports psychology tools (such as affirmations and other forms of positive self-talk) when you are alone.

Keep your running goals in mind when choosing the right challenge for you. Some people are best motivated by others. While others prefer personal challenges to keep their running plan on track.

Short vs. Long Term Challenges

There are also short-term challenges and long-term challenges for runners. Short-term challenges are helpful on days when your energy is lagging but your overall training plan is rolling along smoothly. They'll give you a quick burst of enthusiasm.

Long-term challenges are better when your dedication to the sport of running is waning. Reaching step-by-step milestones on the way to a longer-term goal can help you to remember why you love the sport.

Combine short and long-term challenges for best results. Commit to one long-term challenge, then use short term challenges as stepping stones to help you reach that goal.

Running Challenges to Try

There are no right or wrong rules when choosing a challenge. Here are several short- and long-term challenges that are sure to help you get your running mojo back. Try one or try them all to get your program back on track.

  • Suburban sprints
  • Runcaytion playlist
  • Total body blitz
  • Reverse runs
  • Run naked (without headphones)
  • Monthly 5K challenge
  • Run every day for a month
  • One month race challenge
  • Run a race in every state
  • Create a race bucket list

Short-Term Running Challenges

Any of these challenges can be tackled on your own. But they might be more fun with a friend.

Suburban Sprints

If you run in a suburban neighborhood and you're limited to a small handful of running routes, make the run more challenging by doing random sprints.

Pick a unique marker, such as mailboxes, open garage doors, or a certain car color and sprint whenever you see that marker. You can either sprint until you see the next marker or sprint for a designated amount of time (like 30 seconds).

Runcation Playlist

Going on vacay? If you fear that you'll lose motivation when your schedule relaxes, make a new playlist before you leave. Don't listen to it before you arrive at your destination. Then only allow yourself to listen when you run.

As an added incentive, have a friend or family member make a playlist for you. Your curiosity will help to motivate you to get out the door. But if you're running in an unfamiliar area, take extra precautions to stay safe on your run and make sure the music is not too loud. Use just one ear bud (leave one earbud out) or use bone-conducting head phones so you can hear any dangers that might be around you.

Total Body Blitz

If you spend less time than you'd like in the weight room, break up your run with some bodyweight exercises along your running route. This challenge is especially helpful on days when you are running hills or stairs.

At the top of each hill, do a set of push-ups, lunges, and planks to target the whole body. At the bottom of each hill do a set of squats, triceps dips, and side planks.

Reverse Runs

This is the perfect challenge for runners who run the exact same route every day. On every other run, reverse directions. When you usually go right, go left. If you usually run on the north side of the street, run on the south side. You'll be surprised how your route looks different when you see it from another angle.

Run Naked

Definitely keep your clothes on for this challenge. But consider running without headphones for a day or two. Or challenge yourself to run without headphones for a full week. This challenge is especially gratifying if you run in an area near water, birds, or other nature sounds.

But even if the noise you hear is traffic—or better yet, the sound of your breathing and your feet hitting the pavement—you're likely to reconnect with the inner part of yourself that loves the way your body feels when you run.

Long-Term Running Challenges

Most of these longer-term challenges can be taken on solo or you can engage a friend or family member to take on the challenge together. Even if your running buddy is out of town, you can compete virtually using apps like Strava or Fitbit.

Monthly 5K Challenge

This challenge may seem a bit daunting (especially if you live in a cold-weather climate), but it's very doable. Set a goal to run a 5K race every month.

The 5K is the perfect distance to race once a month because you have plenty of time to recover. Local 5K races are fairly easy to find, so you shouldn't have to travel too far to find some.

Increase the challenge by running a half marathon or marathon every month. You'll have to travel a lot more than you would for 5Ks, but you’ll get some great trips out of it.

Just keep in mind that a monthly half or full marathon challenge is for experienced runners only. And you shouldn't be "racing" long distances like that every month—some of the races should be done at your easy training pace.

Run Every Day for a Month

Start your own running streak by challenging yourself to run every day for a month. The runs don’t have to be long. In fact, the United States Running Streak Association defines a running streak as "running at least one continuous mile within each calendar day under one's own body power (without the utilization of any type of health or mechanical aid other than prosthetic devices)."

The runs in a streak can occur on roads, tracks, trails, or treadmills. A running streak is a fun way to stay motivated to run, but streakers need to be careful. Running every day can lead to injuries since rest days are important for recovery.

If you want to start a running streak, make sure that at least one of your runs every week is very short (you only need to run a mile, after all) and easy to give your body a chance to rest and recover. Also, be careful that you don't push yourself through an injury or illness just to keep your streak alive. You could end up making your injury or illness worse or causing new injuries.

Another fun idea involving running streaks is to run every day between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, which can help you stay motivated to keep running during that busy (and high-calorie) time of year.

Increase the challenge by streaking for a year! If you run at least a mile every day for a full year, you can get be listed on the USRSA's Official USA Active Running Streak List.

One Month Race Challenge

This advanced runner challenge involves running four races in a month of increasing distances. Serious runners can make the marathon their ending race. However, planning for this type of challenge can be as tough as the execution because it may be hard to line up all the races four weekends in a row.

Start with the marathon you want to run and then work back from there. But, remember, you won’t be “racing” all of the distances, as your body can’t handle all that back-to-back racing.

You might also want to consider the Dopey Challenge (at Walt Disney World’s Marathon Weekend in January) has you doing all four races in one long weekend! Other half or full marathon organizers are adding shorter races to their race weekends, so these types of progressive race weekends are getting easier to find.

Run a Race in Every State

Running local races is cheap and convenient, but it’s fun to run in different parts of the country. Try branching out to neighboring states and then others in your time zone.

If you're traveling to another state for work or pleasure, see if there’s a race—any distance—that coincides with your travel dates. That’s an easy way to add another race without making a special trip.

You can also run a race in every state in a designated period of time. This challenge could take many years to accomplish but you can set a goal to inspire you to make a plan. Each time you register in another state, you’ll feel like you’re making progress and working toward an incredible goal. Some runners really take it up a notch by attempting to run a half or full marathon in every state.

Create a Race Bucket List

Do you have a list of races in your head that you’ve been dreaming about running? Write them all down and start working on a plan to run them all by a certain date, whether it be a year or two from now, a milestone birthday, or the anniversary of your first big race. Take a look at these bucket list marathons if you need some ideas.

A Word From Verywell

Every runner goes through ups and downs in their running program. Injuries aren't the only setback. Motivation is likely to derail your program at some point.

When you feel like your running plan is losing steam, inject some new life with a few solo or group challenges. You'll be surprised by how well these fun and simple techniques can reboot your body and mind.

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.