12 Monthly Running Challenges for Your Strongest Year of Running Ever

Woman jogging down an outdoor trail

This post is written by Doug Hay, from Rock Creek Runner and NMA Radio.

What if I told you that by this time next year, you could be a completely different runner?

You’d either assume I’m some sort evil internet scammer, or want me as your best friend. Well I’m not a scammer…

But it’s true: this time next year, you could in fact be a completely different runner. Over the course of the next 12 months, you can get stronger and faster, build a massive endurance base, and become a smarter, more well-rounded runner.

That sounds pretty good if you ask me.

As a coach, I’m regularly approached by discouraged runners. They’re frustrated from lack of progress and the constant battle against injuries, even after months (or years!) of hard training. What I’ve discovered is that for the most part, all their frustrations stem from the same problem.

It isn’t lack of discipline or motivation — they wouldn’t bother contacting me if they didn’t have at least some motivation. Instead it’s that we runners get so caught up in a grand big picture goal, that we lose sight of the fundamentals. The smaller, daily challenges that craft a strong foundation for improvement and growth.

But that’s where the real progress takes place. And that’s exactly how I want you to focus your next 12 months.

Now here’s the thing … it ain’t easy. If you want quick-fix guarantees or magic pills, you’ve come to the wrong place. You have to do the work, log the miles, and push new boundaries.

But if you want to truly make 2016 the year you really step things up, then stick with me. It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be an adventure. And — hopefully — you’re going to challenge yourself in new ways each month.

So, ready to find out what this is all about?

12 Months, 12 Challenges

Running is a complex sport.

On the surface, it looks simple … we’ve run since we were children, and even as adults it requires little more than a pair of shoes (if that). But if you’ve been training for very long, you know there’s a lot more to running well than simply lacing up. Speed requires one skill set, endurance another. A well-balanced runner builds on their foundation through well-balanced training, and regularly challenges herself through variety.

Your route to becoming a well-balanced, stronger runner? 12 months, 12 challenges, 12 unique ways of pushing yourself.

Below I’ve outlined the monthly challenges, which, all put together, can make this your best year of running yet.

Here’s how it works:

  • Each challenge builds on the last, so start with the first.
  • For the most part, each challenge can be completed within a one month period. If you’d like to slow it down, feel free, but I encourage you to push yourself to stick within the schedule.
  • Most challenges are adaptable. If the challenge feels too easy, make it harder. If there’s no way you can complete the challenge, adjust it in your favor. But let me be clear, they should be difficult. These are challenges, after all.
  • You don’t have to start in January, but what a great time to do it!

Some of these challenges are inspirational in their own right; others will seem more like work toward something bigger. Each is a tiny piece that when put together, form the massive goal of making you a stronger runner.

Alright, enough chatter, let’s get to the good stuff:

Challenge 1: 30-Day Run Streak

Let’s kick things off with one of the best techniques I know for establishing a consistent habit, building a solid mileage base, and quickly setting the tone for an inspirational year: the run streak.

The idea behind a run streak is simple, just run every single day. Back in 2012, Matt inspired me to start my own, which lasted 442 days leading up to my wedding. That experience laid the framework for who I am as a runner today, which is what you can achieve through a shorter streak at the beginning of this 12-month challenge.

Objective: Solidify a running habit and base by running every single day.

Rules: Run at least 1 mile or 10 minutes every single day, rain or shine, hot or cold. The run doesn’t have to be fast or pretty, but it needs to get logged. To make things more challenging, increase the minimum each week.

Run Streak Advice:

Challenge 2: Add Strength Work 3 Times Per Week

After consistency, strength work is probably your best armor against running injuries. Exercises strengthen muscles neglected by running, and make you faster, stronger, and an all around better athlete. The problem is, most of us hate doing them.

So this month, we’re taking back the strength work, and establishing a regular habit of post-run strength work.

Objective: Build core and leg strength, and establish a strength training habit through regular post-run strength exercise. 

Rules: At least 3 times per week, add a 10-20 minute strength workout after a run. If you’re already completing strength work, tack on additional days.

Sample Routines:

Challenge 3: Complete 6 New Workouts

This month, we’re introducing variety through speed. If you want to be a faster runner, you need to log fast miles. To keep things interesting, and to continue with the theme of variety, your challenge is to incorporate 6 new workouts into your training.

Objective: Introduce new speed workouts that build strength, quick leg turnover, and explosive speed.

Rules: Run 6 new-to-you (or at least workouts you wouldn’t normally run) throughout the course of the month. 1-2 per week, surrounded by easy days.

Workout Suggestions:

  1. Fartlek Run
  2. Progression Run
  3. Hill Repeats
  4. Ladder Run
  5. Interval Training
  6. Fast Finish Long Run

And here’s a quick reference guide to many of those workouts.

Challenge 4: Set a New Mile Personal Best

Last month was all about speed workouts. This month, we put those new workouts into action by chasing a new mile PR.

To do this, keep your focus on weekly speed work by pushing yourself with half mile repeats, ladder runs, and interval training. After two months of regular speed work, you should really start to see improvements.

The challenge here is a new mile personal record, and this is the first that will look very different depending on your pace and abilities. If you’re running a 10-minute mile now, it’s reasonable to think you can improve your speed by 20 seconds or more. If you’re running a 6 minute mile, that amount of improvement will be much more difficult.

Objective: Continue building speed and set a new mile PR.

Rules: At the beginning of the month, establish your current mile split. Start with a 15-minute light warmup, then run a mile as fast as you can. Never forget to cool down after. Once the split is established, train with regular speed work throughout the month. On the final week, run the mile again, aiming for a PR.

Mile Training Tips and Workouts

Challenge 5: Run At Least 5 Times Per Week

During the first challenge, you ran a 30-day run streak. Awesome work. That was the perfect way to kick things off and solidify your running habit. But for most people, extended run streaks aren’t sustainable, either because of their schedule or because of the risk of over training.

I believe that the optimal running schedule includes 5 days of running per week, with one complete rest day and another active recovery or cross training day. It’s a schedule that allows for some flexibility and rest, while maintaining enough consistency and mileage to continue building strength and endurance.

This month, the challenge is to establish that consistent 5 runs per week schedule, and make it into a routine that lasts well beyond 30 days.

Objective: Establish a consistent running schedule of at least 5 times per week.

Rules: Run at least 5 times per week every week this month. The runs should include a variety of easy miles, long runs, and workouts.

Tips for Establishing Running Consistency:

Challenge 6: Design Your Race and Training Schedule

Welcome to the 6th challenge. After this month, you’ll be halfway through your year. This time, we’re going to do something a little different, and instead of focusing on immediate running, I want you to plan out the rest of your year of racing and training.

Coming into a race season with a plan gives your running structure and focus. It keeps you motivated, and provides greater meaning to all the hard work and miles.

Objective: Plan your race and training schedule for the remainder of the year.

Rules: Create a spreadsheet with races, and write out a rough plan on how to prepare. This may require working with a coach, or researching training plans designed for your race goals. Don’t rush this challenge, but instead spend time each week envisioning which goals will be the most inspirational, and exactly what it will take to get you there.

Heads up, you may want to look ahead to Challenge 11 while you’re planning your schedule.

How to Design Your Schedule:

Challenge 7: Run 50% of Your Miles on Trail

That’s right, we’re getting dirty, with lots and lots of trail miles.

Trail running is not only fun and constant adventure, but it also prevents injuries and makes you a more well balanced runner. Even if all your race goals are on the road, trail running will help you reach them.

This challenge might be tougher logistically than some of the others, so get creative, and do what you can.

Objective: Dive head first into trail running to build strength and endurance, introduce variety in the terrain, and challenge yourself with something new.

Rules: Run at least 50% of this month’s miles on trails. They can range from smooth crushed gravel paths to rugged hiking trails. All that matters is that you get off the pavement and onto the dirt.

Trail Running Tips and Advice:

Challenge 8: Increase Your Long Run by 5 Miles

We’ve focused a lot on speed over the past few months, so now we’re transitioning to endurance by building up your long run. The long run is an integral part of any training plan, and tends to be the weekly run which causes the most anxiety … “You want me to run how far?!?”

This month we’re gradually increasing the long run by 1-2 miles per week. By the end of the month, your long run should be 5 miles longer than the average long run you’re running right now. This doesn’t mean you have to make that distance your new average, but it should show you what you’re capable of, and hopefully, reduce some of that dreaded distance anxiety.

Objective: Build endurance and confidence in the long run by increasing your long run mileage by 5 miles.

Rules: Increase your long run by 1 mile for the first 3 weeks. On the 4th week, increase by 2 miles so your long run is 5 miles longer than it was before this month.

Tips for the Long Run:

Challenge 9: Negative Split 3 Long Runs

To negative split means to run the second half of your run faster than the first half. This is the goal during most races, and every marathoner’s dream. It means that even as you’re getting more tired, you’re able to muster the strength to increase pace and finish strong.

In order to do this during a race, it’s important to train yourself for that strong finish.

Objective: Train your body to push harder during the later miles and slightly increase pace.

Rules: During at least 3 long runs this month, negative split the second half of the run. We’re not talking about major speed increases, just a second half that is faster than the first. To make this challenge harder, increase the number of negative splits from 3 to 4, or aim to negative split the run by at least a 5% improvement.

How to Negative Split Your Run:

Challenge 10: Hit 100 Push-Ups in One Sitting

Arms are usually the last thing runners think about strengthening when trying to improve, but it turns out we run with our arms and not just our legs. Upper body fatigue results in poor running form and increased risk of injuries. By strengthening our upper body, our arms will help power us forward, and withstand the long miles of endurance running.

This month the challenge is to strengthen our upper body through an outrageous push-up challenge: 100 push-ups in one sitting (through multiple sets, if you need some rest).

There are a handful of runners out there where this will be no problem. If that’s you, then increase the challenge to 150, 200, or more. But for most of us, 100 push-ups sounds nearly impossible.

Objective: Build upper body strength and endurance through a massive push-ups challenge.

Rules: Start doing push ups every single day, increasing gradually until you hit the 100 push-up goal. Aim to complete the 100 push-ups in one sitting, but it’s alright to take short breaks and divide the 100 push-ups into multiple sets.

How to Increase Your Push-ups

Note: The One Hundred Pushups program takes longer than 4 weeks, but prepares you to do all 100 in one set.

Challenge 11: Set a 5K PR

If you’ve followed the past 10 months of challenges, you should already be reaping the benefits of faster, stronger running. This month, we’re going to put all that to the test by chasing a new 5K personal record.

Find a local 5K in your area and focus the month on finalizing your training. Keep up with regular speed work and negative split long runs to prepare for a fast, well executed race.

Objective: Set a new 5K personal record, demonstrating your new speed and endurance.

Rules: Run fast, run smart, and prove to yourself what you’re made of.

How to Race a Fast 5K:

Challenge 12: Establish a New, Massive Goal

Congratulations, you’ve reached the final monthly challenge. If you’ve made it this far, there’s a lot to celebrate.

But before we get too distracted with parties and happy hours, now’s the time to take action and put all your hard work and effort to good use.

This month, I want you to establish a new, massively inspirational and exciting goal that will keep you moving forward for the next several months. This might sound like an easy way to finish out your year of mini-goals or challenges, but trust me, it isn’t. Establishing your big goal is no easy task, but it’s just the thing you’ve been working towards this whole time.

Objective: Establish a massive goal that pushes and inspires you for the next several months.

Rules: Think big, really big. Maybe marathon or ultramarathon big. Whatever the goal is, make sure it’s inspiring enough that you can’t let it go.

Goal Setting Tips:

Print This Out. Tell Your Friends. Get Started.

This is a lot, I know.

12 challenges, each with their own set of difficulties, feels overwhelming just reading it. But by breaking them into mini monthly challenges, you’re creating a sustainable plan that makes each one achievable.

And if you stick with me through the next 12 month, you will be a better runner because of it. You will find strength you didn’t know you had, and you will come out with a new idea of what’s possible.

So print this out. Hang it on the wall or write it into your calendar. Begin spreading the word and building accountability.

And most importantly, get started. Your next run could be the first of your streak, and the launching point for your best year of running yet.

About the Author: There are runners, and there are smart runners. Doug’s mission is to make every runner a smart runner. Learn how you can start running stronger and smarter on trails through his brand new free mini-course.

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Comments

  1. I love this challenge and it sounds like just what I need, but I have to say that speed work in March in Minnesota is rather more treacherous than in North Carolina. Is the order of these monthly challenges important, or can I swap around the monthly goals so that I’m not trying to run fast uphill on icy pathways?

    • I’d like to change Jan with June. Am resting now as my thigh is not ok, planning the year seems great in Jan (already signed up for three Halfs in spring but need to find a Marathon in fall, then I want to run a few 10k and women’s runs during summer) while it does not make sense to me to aim for a running streak while I have to run in the dark instead of in June when the days are the longest.

    • Rashelle,
      I live in Colorado where the winters are icy and snowy. Microspikes (purchase at REI or elsewhere) are perfect for less than optimal conditions. Give them a try!

    • Michael K says:

      Hey Rashelle,

      I was thinking about mixing it up too. As a Canadian, it would be stupid for me to try to set a 5K PR in November when it is below freezing and snowy. Also, since I already run as many miles as I want and have a rough work schedule I just can’t do the 30 day challenge.

      My plan it to do as many challenges as I can in an order that works for me. For me I want to start with the push-up challenge. I need to get these lanky spaghetti arms turned into some solid beef 🙂

      I say you adjust these challenges to meet your needs, make a plan now and then stick to it.

      Good luck and have your fastest year ever!

      MK

  2. Sandra, Italy says:

    Hey Doug, love this post!! Printing it as of now! Wishing you, Matt & families the best for 2016 🙂

  3. Sounds awesome! But I don’t know if I like run streaks very much. I did the Runner’s World holiday streak the past two years, but decided not to do it this time because it always just felt like kind of a drag to have to get out there every day. That happens when temperatures are at or below zero…

    Also, I found that knowing I only had to do one mile meant that I only ever did one mile, so my total mileage would actually decrease. I wonder if I would feel the same way if I were to do a streak in the summer. But I definitely could use these challenges to get myself back in gear. I think I’ll basically follow them, but postpone the streak until sometime in the summer. I’ll think a bit more about it, and either set a mileage goal or a goal to run a certain number of days each week for this month.

  4. Thanks for this 2016. It’s just what I needed to kick my running back into a higher gear than it was last year. I kicked it off by running 4 miles in cold Chicago. Will be happy to finish the streak at home in Arizona :). Hope lots of other runners join the 12-month challenge.

  5. Emily,
    I’m going to keep my regular run plan in place and add the one-mile days on all the others. I think it will be fabulous.

  6. I LOVE this! It really gives structure to a running year – especially for some of us trying to get back into the swing of things. I’m doing it!

  7. Great plan, I’m loving January challenge:)

  8. Lots of great ideas in this plan. Will definitely be a challenge for me. But as a 48 year old, injury prone runner, I’ve read a lot of comvincing advice to NOT attempt a run streak or even 5 days a week running.NreSt days are so importNt for avoiding injury prover training. How would you recommend adapting those two training challenges?

  9. In month two, what do you suggest for the running part? Should the streak continue?

  10. This is such great advice. Strength training is so important for runners! Off to a great year already. 😊

  11. Love this! 100 pushups for me WILL be a bodacious goal that will take several months, even on my knees. But these are great mini-challenges to keep me motivated.

  12. This was excellent, Doug. Looking at the steps I can take, instead of the Big Picture, always make it more doable. Thanks for the tips.

    I continue to love listening to your podcasts. You two crack me up, but seriously, you also keep me motivated in my plant based life style. Thanks for the support.

    Sincerely, DiAne

  13. What a great plan for mixing things up this year! Cheers tk new challenges. MM

  14. This is awesome. It really gives a good structure to running. There are so many good ideas, and what great advice!

  15. kristen taylor says:

    I DID IT! 30 day running streak complete and I feel so much stronger than I did a month ago. Bring on February and strength work!

  16. Truly inspiring. I admit that any physical training program is incomplete without including running/jogging as a part of your everyday routine. Your advice is an eye-opener for guys like me who finds the silliest of excuses to not keep in shape. I’m happy to say that I’ll consider taking up your 12-month running challenge to improve my health.

Trackbacks

  1. […] between races and throughout my training.  Here is another challenge I stumbled across the Twelve Monthly Challenges over at No Meat […]

  2. […] To get  back into a REGULAR work and exercise routine. I fell off a lot as my end of year work schedule became hectic and unpredictable (I have to learn how to cope with that). I’m focusing on the 12 Monthly Running Challenges for Your Strongest Year of Running Ever […]

  3. Link Love - says:

    […] running on your new year’s resolution list? Check out these 12 monthly running challenges to keep you motivated all year […]

  4. […] 12 Monthly Running Challenges for the Your Strongest Year of Running Ever // Ready to start running? Try this series of challenges to keep you motivated all year long. […]

  5. […] 12 Monthly Running Challenges for Your Strongest Year of Running Ever: From one of my favorite blogs, No Meat Athlete, this year-long challenge is broken down into small, manageable monthly tasks that help you get back to fundamentals and work toward a bigger picture goal. Things like a 30-day run streak of at least 10 minutes or one mile minimum and adding strength training three times per week are important for us as runners because they are part of our base and necessary for increasing mileage and speed. We don’t always make time to get back to the basics, so focusing on one challenge per month is a great way to get on track. […]

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