Run Panthera
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Run Panthera

I took part in the Escape Plan Strava challenge — here’s what happened

Strava is everyone’s best friend and greatest enemy rolled into one. Read any Strava-themed Twitter thread or the comments in any online discussions between runners and opinions vary from absolutely loving it to completely hating it.

Personally, I really like Strava and I think no matter what you read, if you’re contemplating whether to use it or not, you should definitely download it yourself to see if it’s the right thing for you. I love comparing my runs and workouts, checking my stats, where I stand on local leaderboards for certain ‘segments’ and I enjoy viewing my friends’ achievements; watching their marathon training runs and cheering them on when they shoot for a PB.

Most of all, however, I love the clubs and the way they bring runners together from every corner of the world.

Clubs are set up by well-known brands such as New Balance, Brooks and Saucony. Even race organisations have jumped on the bandwagon, with Simplyhealth, Berlin Marathon, UTMB and many more all engaging with their participants in order to encourage training. You might even find your local parkrun on there too.

Strava also have their own club and they regularly set challenges for their users to complete, including monthly cycling and running distance and elevation challenges. Sometimes they even create more specific challenges, pushing runners to go the distance and encouraging you to achieve just that little bit extra. So when I opened the app at the end of August and saw many of my friends signing up for their latest epic, I was very intrigued.

The challenge was called ‘The Escape Plan’ and the rules were pretty simple. “Break free from your everyday distractions and commit to being active 5 days a week for 4 weeks” read the description. “Run, ride, swim, strength train, kiteboard — all activity types count.” There was no monetary reward if you completed. Quite simply, if you took on the challenge and “won”, your reward was basically pride in knowing you’d potentially built “healthy new habits”. Oh and, as with all challenges, you’d get a virtual Escape Plan finisher’s badge in your trophy case.

Part of my virtual trophy case

Having just attempted a week long running streak, where extreme heat had scuppered my chances of running everyday for a week, I was more than up for this. All I had to do was be active at least 5 days a week for 4 weeks in September and knowing that we’d be entering that lovely stage of late summer/early autumn mornings and evenings, I wouldn’t have to worry about the weather ruining things for me.

So I signed up and didn’t think about it again until Monday 2nd September A.K.A Escape Plan: Day 1.

It’s worth noting here that the day before it was due to start, I’d registered for my first half marathon taking place in 2020, so this definitely helped with motivation to take part in the challenge.

Week 1

My first week was naturally, full of optimism and all the energy of a spring lamb. I felt positive, running felt effortless, and I couldn’t wait to get home from work and get back out the door for an evening blast. I laid down a solid 4 runs (totalling just shy of 15 miles) and rounded off the week swimming 50m lengths in the pool.

Week 2

Heading into week 2, I started out with some Vinyasa Yoga to give my body a bit of a break from pounding the pavements. I’ve learnt from doing too much running and not enough of anything else, that in order to become a stronger runner it’s best to mix things up a bit. A “rest” day is a break from running, but not necessarily a day of inactivity. Escape Plan reminded me on of this, getting me back into the pool and on the mat for some really fun activities away from the parks and pavements of my local area.

Just like the week before it week 2 saw me running 4 times, but I was craving something more than daily 5K’s. I wanted to up my mileage and so I decided to add in a minimum of one longer run each week. On Wednesday, after a busy day at the desk, I found myself pushing for a midweek 10K exploring parts of my neighbourhood I’d never even seen before.

The sun was low and the air was warm and people were sprawled out all over the pavements, soaking up that last bit of summer before the dark nights crept in.

Because of this, the last couple of miles were more about trying to not run into oblivious pedestrians and cyclists, and less about keeping an optimum pace, but nevertheless I succeeded and reached my front door with 6.57 miles behind me and enough sweat to shower in.

But that wasn’t enough for me and after a short recovery run the day after, I was back out on Saturday running around Tempelhofer Feld — a runner’s paradise and a must for anyone local to or visiting Berlin — in the midday sunshine. I rounded off the week with some more yoga (I was definitely too tired for a spurt in the pool), feeling confident that nothing could stop me from accomplishing this challenge.

And then the inevitable mid-challenge self-doubt hit me and I hit the dreaded wall.

Week 3. What a bitch.

A tiny little voice popped up on the first day of my third week and all of a sudden I didn’t even want to run 5K. “It’s okay,” I told myself. “Just take a rest day today and carry on tomorrow. You deserve the break.” “NO!” screamed another voice in my brain. “Don’t you dare! Get your shoes on, get out there and get that runner’s high you love so much.” It went on like this for the majority of the day, backwards and forwards with what I was going to do when I got home from work, until I voiced this to my boyfriend who almost marched me back out, down the stairs of our building and out onto the pavement, laces tied and Strava app at the ready.

I ran. I loved it. And I came home bounding around on the high that only a runner knows.

As ever, week 3 consisted of 4 runs, a bout of yoga and a morning of swimming lengths. I explored even more of my new neighbourhood (and country — having recently moved to Berlin) and discovered a perfect makeshift running track nearby, that I dragged my boyfriend along to to run laps around on the Saturday of that week.

Week 4

Finally, it was week 4. My final week. How had I got here? Where had the other 3 weeks gone? Would I be able to push through to make the last 5 days of activity required to achieve my virtual finisher’s badge?

I started the final week with a pretty slow 5K, due to having tight legs after my swim the previous day. If I’ve learnt one thing in doing this challenge, it’s that stretching and rolling are absolutely key to improving on your runs and to stop your muscles from tiring out day-to-day. My longer run was a 10K, running laps of the nearby track that I’d discovered the week before. It was during this run that I realised that Autumn really had arrived, as I found myself very quickly submerged in the grainy grey of dusk that now creeps in just before 7pm.

I saw out the challenge with a simple pre-breakfast 5K, ironically on the morning of the Berlin Marathon.

My fifth and final run of a week which saw me run 17.7 miles, and my last run of the Escape Plan challenge, felt monumental; not Berlin Marathon-like, but a huge achievement all the same.

My results after completing the Escape Plan challenge

So what did I learn (if anything) by doing a simple Strava challenge?

Actually, I learnt a lot and mainly about myself. I learnt that I can push myself further than I think when it comes to running and that I’m capable of far more than I think too. I also discovered an even greater love of running, this thing that I hated for so long, and in doing this challenge I’ve been inspired to reach for bigger goals and shinier (physical) medals. And I learnt that Strava is a great motivational tool, helping runners, cyclists and kiteboarders alike to strive to achieve more and celebrate in everything we do. No matter how small.

Haven’t tried Strava yet? Download the app now and discover your next challenge. Your virtual trophy case is waiting to be filled.

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