Challenge Runs are those that test young runners; that stimulate them to do more, to prove themselves. They go beyond the challenge of adding two more 400s to last week’s workout. Challenge Runs carry an invitation, even a dare to those who participate. In the end, there are no trophies awarded or medals earned. But that is okay. It is the pride of having met the challenge that counts. And yes, challenge runs are fun. They get kids excited because they can see the results, the finish line, the challenge met.
Here are five special challenge runs that will catch the imagination of young runners. They are challenges worthy of the effort, worthy of accomplishing. Like hiking up 86 floors of the Empire State Building without ever leaving the house.
For this, young runners challenge themselves to complete some type of special solo run (not with other runners). When they complete the run, they challenge their friends, teammates, or classmates to duplicate it. For young runners it could be as simple as running up and down the longest or steepest hill in town, say two or three times. The challenge can be issued through social media or maybe email or just by word of mouth.
Every runner that completes the challenge has earned the right to create their own challenge. Maybe something crazy, like 100 repetitions of some exercise, 5 to 10 at a time, while watching American Ninja Warrior on TV. Or a “Midnight Mile” in PJs (and running shoes of course). Parents are encouraged to take photos or video their runner completing the challenge and share it with friends and family.
Consider creating a Charity Challenge to support an organization serving those in need in your community. It starts with picking a measurable fitness goal, one the children will be willing to commit to, like simply climbing stairs at home. Nothing could be simpler. Now think of a trip by stairs to the 86th floor (the Observatory level) of the Empire State Building. 1,600 steps. That could be the goal, but not all in one day! For those children who have not been physically active, start gradually. As they get stronger, use maybe 50 steps four times a day for eight days.
Next, visit the charity you selected on Facebook. Many allow you to create a fundraiser, with a description and starting and ending dates. You can then share the fundraiser and invite friends and family to participate. With all donations going directly to the charity you do not have to handle any money!
If your climber gets grandma to donate just a penny a step, the charity gets $16. But do not stop there. Think of five sponsors at a penny a step, or 10, or even more.
Also, create on paper a “thermometer” like you see with many fundraising efforts. To keep it simple, for a 50-step, four-times-a-day goal, use a 12-inch thermometer with crosshatches every inch and a half. To fancy it up, add images off the Internet showing how tall the building is above the NY skyline. Encourage your climber to color in the spaces between hatch marks as they move up the building. The more color, the greater the motivation to reach the top. Finished, it goes in their Journal, becoming a lifetime reminder of their accomplishment.
EVERY SINGLE STREET (OR EVERY PARK) CHALLENGE
Rickey Gates, one of the great ultradistance runners on the world stage, had just finished a coast-to-coast run across America. He was looking for a new challenge; something different. Rickey had an idea. He called it EVERY SINGLE STREET. In his case, it was running every street in San Francisco, Rickey’s adopted hometown. All 1,300 miles. It took him 46 days.
The concept of checking off different streets and different neighborhoods each day or each week captured the interest of runners everywhere. And not just veteran distance runners, but new runners, and runners with no interest in racing, who simply wanted to demonstrate their fitness; to show friends and family they are an athlete. Best yet, there is no deadline, and no expectations other than those of the runner. A map, with streets completed identified with a color marker, shows what has been completed and what comes next.
For youth, let’s scale it back to running every street in their neighborhood, a few blocks each day. Or running in every park or at every school playground in the city. For youth, parks and playgrounds might be better than streets. It can be any size park, even running laps in parks as little as just a few acres. Miniparks, those too small for teens, could be perfect for little brothers and sisters who do not want to be left out.
EVERY SINGLE STREET gives young runners the opportunity to explore neighborhoods or parks they did not know were there; to run down streets they had seen only through a car window. This awareness makes each mile run a learning opportunity. For others, it may be a maturing experience; a new perspective gained by seeing differences from neighborhood to neighborhood.
Work with your young runner to identify maybe 10 to 15 special runs with the goal being to complete all the runs before a certain date. Print a list of the runs and place it on the refrigerator as a reminder. Check off each run as it is completed. Maybe a destination run -- ending somewhere special -- or a “map run” where the runner is given written directions or a map that they need to follow to get from point A to point B. Another is a simple five-minute run but repeated once every hour. Whatever number of runs they finish in succession becomes their PR to be challenged the next time.
Others can be workouts like running a loop around a park or school playground finishing with a trip across the horizontal ladder (monkey bars) and a sprint to the finish. Recover, and do it again, maybe four more times. Or, as a backup in case of rain on a weekend, alternating running and walking laps on an upper floor of an empty downtown parking garage. The ramps between floors can make it a hill workout. For this run, it is a good idea to have a parent along, watching and listening for the occasional vehicle entering the garage below.
TEAM TRAIL CHALLENGE
Start by creating a virtual Trail Challenge Team. A team where each runner sends their "team manager" how many miles they ran that day. The manager then adds the miles to those of other runners on a virtual run - from start to finish - of one of our great National Trails; the Appalachian Trail, the Natchez Trace Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, or one of a hundred more to choose from.
When choosing a trail, start with a simple calculation: the number of runners (10 in this example), multiplied by the miles estimated that each runner will complete each day (3), multiplied by the number of days they will run (20). With that example (10x3x20), a 600-mile trail is a doable goal for new runners. For a team of 10 seasoned high school runners, finishing a 2,000-mile trail in 30 days is a healthy challenge, but very doable. For schools with lots of runners, spread out the talent and create two or more teams.
This challenge is perfect for social media. Begin with posting photos of the trail (clipped from the Internet) and a trail map. Make daily notations updating the team’s progress. To add a learning perspective, post the story of the trail. Why it is significant.
Next, include photos of runners taken presumably while on the “trail” (sky or trees as background), and stories from the runners about their journey, like what it was like sleeping in a rainstorm deep in the woods or discovering raccoons had carried off their food supply in the night. Kids are into social media, so mugging for the camera and telling stories is what they do. Just remember to feature every runner with a picture or a story or both.
The Journal of Youth Running is supported by the
MICHIGAN RUNNING FOUNDATION