Running challenges

By David Kuneš
Běžecké výzvy

You’ve probably noticed it, too: influencers have been competing on social media to see who can create the most original (running) challenge. I recently came across a post by a budding middle-aged athlete who set a goal to run a half marathon daily for a month. Yet he only recently started running. And people like this show up in our psychology offices after a few months of incredible effort.

So what's the problem?

I certainly don’t want to question the importance of goals and challenges in sports. Almost all athletes need goals, and setting them properly can help a runner a lot in the overall development of their sporting skills. The problem lies elsewhere:

First, sports influencers tend to spend a lot of hours actively. Often, they have long sports career history. They make any challenge look like a piece of cake. But you won’t see how much effort it took to get them to their current form. The budding athlete wants to match them and feels they must reach the same level.

What’s more, his surroundings also reinforce him. By sharing his efforts on social media, he receives “rewards” in the form of attention from other users, whether through likes or complimentary comments. And so he often increases his efforts disproportionately. But especially in endurance sports, progress is slow. If you engage in such a challenge after the first three months of running, you’re guaranteed to cause yourself a problem.

Physical injury is the least of it, thanks to expert medical care, and after a few months of rest, all wounds will eventually heal. It’s worse with the psyche. The psychological problems it triggers can last for years. By trying to achieve unrealistic goals, athletes become frustrated, cranky, and in a bad mood. Over time, it might grow into poor self-esteem. Athletes begin to doubt themself and become convinced that they are worse off than others. And it can lead directly to the development of anxiety or even depressive states.

How to get out of this?

  • First, avoid random social media calls. Set your challenges and goals, considering your age, sporting history, and strengths and weaknesses.
  • Do sport regularly. Instead of working out superhumanly for a few days or weeks, train several times a week on smaller loads.
  • Consult your progress with a certified coach or more experienced colleagues in running groups near your home. If you don’t know anyone like that, sign up for a local running race, and you’re sure to get connected to the local running community reasonably soon.
  • Remember to stop after a partial success, take a breather and rest for a while before taking on the next challenge.
  • And, of course, a sports psychologist can help you, but athletes often turn to us only when their psychological problems have fully developed. And that’s often unnecessary.

Remember that social media challenges should complement and add variety to your training, not dictate it.

👉 Do you want to take your sport to the next level? Try it with a sports psychologist.