I’ve just got back from day three of my “Advent Challenge” having run 3km. I’d announced this on twitter to see if anyone wanted to join me. Some of the reaction to it got me thinking.

Firstly I wondered if my definition of challenge was correct. My view being that for something to be a challenge there had to be some likelihood of failure. If success were a certainty would it still be a challenge?

I’ve used challenges throughout my athletic life. Perhaps it really started in my fell running days with trying to run up as many Munros as possible in a day. I progressed through the Fisherfield Fells before a failed attempt at the Trantor Round (19 mountains over 3000 feet around Glen Nevis).

Starting Triathlon cycling was my weakness. I needed miles in my legs and used challenges to help achieve that. In 2007 I managed 100 rides of 100 miles in a year. A feat I’ve tried again but always failed. Similarly I had one year of riding at least 52 miles every week of the year and again I’ve not managed to repeat it.

On Epic Camp I was introduced to the 30 runs of 30 minutes in 30 days challenge. At the time that was a pretty easy challenge so I soon advanced to 40 runs of 40 minutes in 40 days. This I managed prompting me to give 60 of 60 in 60 a go. Less than two weeks in I realised it wasn’t serving any performance benefit, all it was doing was making me ever more tired so I stopped and failed.

This highlights the key thing in a challenge for me. It has to serve a purpose. This could be pure enjoyment, assist some training goal, perhaps to impress your peers or just to prove to yourself you can do it.

With this in mind I started the advent challenge. My running has been well below par for years now and my feeling is I’m just not running enough. It’s vicious circle as not being running fit makes it less enjoyable and therefore makes me less motivated to run. This challenge means through advent you have to run the day of the month in kilometres. So day 1 1km, day 2 2km etc… In the final seven days this requires running 158km. This would get me running regularly; give a progression to higher volume and with luck get me over that initial hump delivering me in to the new year enjoying running again. I would say I feel 50:50 about whether I can complete it.

Following my tweet about it I had loads of encouragement but I also had a few suggesting it was the road to injury. I found this very interesting for a variety of reasons.

Firstly it implied that the challenge would somehow cause the injury. This is a bit like blaming firemen for fire, umbrellas for rain or even cholesterol for heart disease. Injuries are not caused by the challenge but by continuing when you shouldn’t. By not recognising your body’s signals that you need to back off.

Secondly it seemed to imply that the only method of failure was through injury. If this were the case then either you always set challenges that were certain (hence no injury) but then they’re not a challenge. Or, alternatively you would give yourself ever-harder challenges until you found one that you failed at and hence got injured.

As we enter the New Year and start getting in to base miles, challenges can be great tool to get you going farther or faster but be sure to allow yourself to fail, don’t continue mindlessly in to an injury. Learn your body’s signals that you need to back off and heed them.

Should I achieve the advent challenge the next stage will be to do something similar for a whole month. For a 31 day month that would mean running 196km in the final seven days. After that it would have to be following this protocol for a whole year. I.e. running the day of the month in KMs every day of the year. It would give a reasonable recovery week at the start of each month but I’m pretty sure that this, for me, would be a step too far.

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