How to Find the Right Level of Challenge at Any Running Ability

Run Strong, Stay Hungry by Jonathan Beverly RSSH

Run Strong, Stay Hungry reveals the 9 keys to running strong and staying fast. Jonathan Beverly taps 50 lifetime runners—from America’s elite to consistent local competitors—to reveal the 9 keys to run strong and stay fast. Run Strong, Stay Hungry features priceless guidance from Bill Rodgers, Deena Kastor, Pete Magill, Joan Benoit Samuelson, Roger Robinson, Colleen De Reuck, Dave Dunham, Kathrine Switzer, and dozens more.

Enjoy this selection from the book!

When you first start running, you quickly find that running is hard, especially if you expect to go fast. Lowering your expectations from the beginning helps, but you still need work to build enough skill to the point that running becomes interesting. In the psychological field called “flow theory”, low skill meeting low challenge results in apathy, even if they match each other.

Run Strong, Stay Hungry by Jonathan Beverly

Before you can challenge yourself with running, you initially must discipline yourself to put in the consistent work, concentrating patiently with hope that you will get better. Once you start to get better, then the joy starts. As we’ve seen, you don’t have to be empirically “good at running” to enjoy the benefits.

“Olympians do not have an exclusive gift in finding enjoyment in pushing performance beyond existing boundaries,” Csikszentmihalyi wrote in his ground-breaking book Flow. “Every person, no matter how unfit he or she is, can rise a little higher, go a little faster, and grow a little stronger. The joy of surpassing the limits of the body is open to all.”

Run Strong, Stay Hungry by Jonathan Beverly RSSH

Once enough skill is reached to run comfortably, the key is then scaling the challenge to match that skill. Sometimes people don’t set the bar high enough and slip into boredom. Others push too hard and are always slightly overwhelmed and looking forward to when they can stop.

It sounds like it should be easy to match our running with our skill level, but we have many forces pushing us to exceed expectations, from our own ego to comparisons with others, our overall sense of hurry, and a need to get done quickly. And eventually, we’re pushed beyond our skill by what we’ve learned and come to expect we “should” be able to do but no longer can as we age.

Run Strong, Stay Hungry offers many strategies you can use to keep your running fun and challenging. Here are a few the book suggests:

  1. Craft your running story, just like Joan Benoit Samuelson shares in this excerpt.
  2. Find a rival, perhaps someone in your age group or someone about the same speed (or slightly faster) in a younger or older age group.
  3. Consider track. Some masters find tremendous motivation and satisfaction on the track, where age groups are separated into different heats so the field that you are racing is clearly defined (and inevitably well prepared).
  4. Go cross-country. Others have found cross-country, with its nonstandard distances, challenging terrain, and team aspect, to be the perfect masters sport. Kelly Kruell now focuses her season around cross-country. Although she can’t help comparing her road or track times to previous marks, crosscountry is about place. “Cross-country is all about running as hard as you can and beating as many people you can. That’s satisfying,” she said. Not to mention the joy of getting dirty. “It is the greatest thing ever, out running in the mud,” she said. “It is so much fun.” Cross-country adds the pleasure and satisfaction of competing with a team as well. “There is honor in being the fifth runner on any team,” Kruell said. Time on the clock aside, she loves it most of all because, she said, “I get to run with my tribe.”
  5. Age the clock. Age groups, rivals, or team competitions provide satisfying, non-time-based goals for some masters as they adapt to changing realities. But what if you aren’t motivated by social affirmation or head-to-head competition? For some, one of the attractions of running has always been that it isn’t about beating someone else but rather about you versus you, measured by the clock. What happens when the clock starts showing that rather than getting faster, you’re getting worse while working harder? Many lifetime competitors find motivation in having the clock age too—by applying age grading to times. Age grading is a method of adjusting times relative to age using formulas calculated by the World Masters Athletics association.
  6. Qualify for Boston. Boston qualifying times are scaled to age, as are the standards to earn All-American status through USA Track and Field.
  7. Make a list. Some lifetime competitors reach a point when they find more meaning adopting goals that reward longevity. One example is trying to join the list of people who have run sub-3:00 marathons in five decades.
  8. Start a streak or a collection. Former Olympic runner Benji Durden got hooked on collecting runs. He and his wife have now done a marathon in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and are on their second time around. Durden ran under 4:00 in all of them. They brag about running 17 marathons in one calendar year, and Durden’s total is now over 125 marathons.

Run Strong, Stay Hungry offers up dozens more ideas for ensuring that you enjoy your running with fresh, fun challenges.


Run Strong, Stay Hungry explores 9 ways any runner can enjoy a lifelong, healthy running career as well as boost enjoyment of running and improve race performance.