What it Feels Like to Challenge Yourself

Challenge yourself

Eight weeks ago I completed my first five kilometer (3.1 miles) timed run in 33 minutes and two seconds (33:02).

Before that I’d been only been running once a week for 18 months but had finally managed to complete a solo seven kilometer in just under an hour.

With my non-sporty, exercise-shy background I thought that meant I was super fit and not bad at running at all.

But being invited to join a parkrun 5 km timed running event changed that.

After my first parkrun I was emailed my results which I thought were good, but I also saw results for every runner at my local event including their age, gender and running time. There were some incredibly fit people way older than me and some young men who ran 5 km in under 20 minutes.

I knew I could never catch up with people like that, but I also knew I could run 5 km faster than 33 minutes if I tried. Then the parkrun newsletter came including a story about parkrun 60-65 year old female record holder Rosemary Roediger who runs 5 km in 20 minutes. What incredible inspiration! Rosemary suddenly made my running efforts seem rather pathetic.

“Well if Rosemary can run 5 km in 20 minutes at aged 60+ I should be able to at 47,” I thought, and immediately set myself a goal of running 5 km in 20 minutes.

That shows how little I knew about running.

With no running experience apart from that weekly jog I had no idea how hard it is to run 5 km in 20 minutes, or how long it would take to attain that goal. I was blissfully ignorant but determined to give it a go.

I was inspired and ready for a challenge.

So I googled “How to run faster” and started training myself, running three times a week and learning about things I’d never heard of before like strides (alternating slow and fast running), fartlek (similar to strides) and pace.

I devised a training program which included hill runs and sprinting. I soon pulled a hamstring but committed to the Saturday morning parkruns and improving my running time anyway.

Progress was slow and running hurt. On week three of my running program, when I ran 5 km in a painful 28 minutes 58 seconds, I reset my goal to 5 km in 25 minutes. Even that seemed unattainable.

Why it’s Good to Challenge Yourself

Now I’m up to week eight in my crazy speed running plan. I haven’t achieved my goal of running 5 km in 25 minutes yet and I don’t know if I ever will but I haven’t given up either.

Now I want to share my progress with you regardless of the outcome because, whether I reach that goal or not, there’s not doubt that by taking on this challenge I’m radically fitter now than I was eight weeks ago when I ran that first 5 km parkrun.

Here’s a break down of my progress over the last seven weeks showing my time for running 5 km as recorded by parkrun:

  • Week 1. 33:02
  • Week 2. 30:25 (-37 seconds)
  • Week 3. 28:58 (-27 seconds)
  • Week 4. 28:13 (-45 seconds)
  • Week 5. 29:07 (no progress – that hurt too)
  • Week 6. 27:34 (-37 seconds)
  • Week 7. 27:16 (-18 seconds)
  • Week 8. 27:9 (-7 seconds)

What I’ve Learnt About How to Challenge Yourself

1. Challenging yourself is hard

Every single week I have to challenge myself to improve my running. The pain levels are comparable to natural childbirth although thankfully the agony doesn’t last as long.

2. It’s a psychological battle

The whole time I’m running my mind is telling me “I hate this”, “I want to stop”, “I can’t do this anymore.” Overcoming that negative voice in my head is the greatest challenge.

3. Getting out of your comfort zone takes time

Even after eight events I’ve only ever run all the way once on week six. Every other parkrun I’ve walked part of the way or multiple times. Even on my current personal best I walked three times. I love walking!

4. You need encouragement to challenge yourself

People are very kind. I’ve had so much encouragement and help from other parkrun participants who’ve paced me and run with me. People who’ve already taken on challenges are generous in sharing their hard won knowledge. I’ve never met such a giving group of people before as I have at parkrun.

5. There’s only so much you can do alone

After week five, when my time went backwards, I joined a running group called the Lazy Runners. I’m the only lazy one there. We train three times a week at 6am, running anywhere from 5-12km with drills like hill training, sprint training and more.

Being part of that group has helped me keep challenging myself when I’d naturally have stopped and called my progress good enough.

6. Physical challenges aren’t just about fitness

Speed, technique, breathing, what you eat and even what you wear are all factors that affect running times. I’m playing with listening to different types of music and learning how to breathe to give my body the oxygen it needs.

Any worthy challenge you take on will challenge you body, mind and soul.

7. Challenging yourself takes courage

It takes guts to challange yourself and run outside your comfort zone because you look like terrible, all sweaty and red-faced, and you’re out there in public.

I set myself this challenge to improve my fitness, running speed and endurance or strength, all of which would make me healthier and stronger. I’ve worked harder, trained more intensely and extended myself physically, more than ever before. I’m physically fitter and stronger now with more energy for all areas of my life.

This challenge fueled my passion for health, for being outdoors and for personal growth. But the greatest reward isn’t completing a 5 km run in 25 minutes but feeling the sense of achievement that comes when you challenge yourself.

Challenge yourself does hurt, as you push your way through limits, but you also learn what you’re capable of.

You learn to be patient, persevere and respect your body. You learn that growth always involves pain. You learn not to just chase the goal but to enjoy the challenge.

parkrun update!

parkrun week 9 – June 30 2015: I set a new personal best at the Kawana parkrun of 26 minutes and 39 seconds so I’m still getting fitter and faster. It’s still a challenge though!

Many many thanks to all the support and encouragement from other parkrun runners, to Tim who writes the parkrun  newsletter and to the amazing parkrun community. I couldn’t have taken on and stuck to this challenge without you. Happy running to you all!

Are you a parkrun runner? Share your story below in the comments – we’d love to hear from you. 

One Healthy Move Weekly Challenge

Are you ready for a challenge? Set yourself a healthy or fitness goal and achieve it using my tips above.

You could pick a walking or running challenge, climb a mountain, try a new form exercise (see 52 exercises if you need ideas) or pick any challenge of your choice.

It doesn’t need to be climbing Mount Everest or running crazy fast. Pick something that will challenge YOU and commit to it, whether it’s a one off experience like trying cardio tennis or something that you’ll need to train for like a 5km fun run or an obstacle race.

Get More Free Stories and Inspiration!

This story is part of the One Healthy Move series to help you stay healthy in midlife and beyond so you’re ever ready for adventure.

Subscribe now by email so you don’t miss out. It’s free, you can opt out anytime and your details will be kept private and never sold. You have my word for it.


World challenge image from Shutterstock

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!


  1. Katie June 2, 2015 at 9:43 pm - Reply

    Keep going, as you said a lot of it is physiological. Each time you push through a barrier your time will come down.

  2. Karen June 2, 2015 at 11:08 pm - Reply

    I run 8 times a week and have been running for 18 YEARS. Have done lots of marathons.

    My goal is to break 24 minutes at parkun. I have done lots of 24 minute runs. I do two speed sessions a week. It is hard work for me to break 25 minutes even.

    • Annabel Candy June 3, 2015 at 9:13 am - Reply

      Hi Karen,

      You’re amazing. What incredible perseverance and amazing fitness. It gets so hard to take time off as you get faster. I think i’t amazing you’ve even manage to break 25 minutes. Just keep training. I’m sure you can hit your 24 minutes goal in time :)

  3. Aileen Davidson June 3, 2015 at 7:05 am - Reply

    Looks you are making great progress! A 6 minute improvement in 8 weeks is a great achievement. Once you are able to run the full distance (and you will get there) that 25 minutes is definitely achievable. Stay positive and keep working hard :-)

    • Annabel Candy June 3, 2015 at 9:14 am - Reply

      Hi Aileen,

      Thank you for your lovely words of encouragement. I’ll keep you posted :)

  4. Ray June 3, 2015 at 7:47 am - Reply

    I found that including long (one and a half hour) slow relaxed runs in my program have done wonders to increase my speed.

    • Annabel Candy June 3, 2015 at 9:17 am - Reply

      Hi Ray,

      Great to see you here. You are so right.

      I’ve been googling running tips non stop and one tip I read said if you want to run 5km fast you need to run 12km slow once a week. I’ve been doing that and it’s helping. I run 13km in 90 mins once a week!! Very slow but much more relaxing and that endurance practice does help you pick up speed in the shorter runs.

      Have you got any more running tips?!

  5. heather jones June 3, 2015 at 8:37 am - Reply

    Thank you for writing this article is resonates with me trying for PB every week at Parkrun. I have only started my running journey September last year & its my insirpation to be even running along slide the “fast” runners for at least the 1st 100meters. Keep up the good work #YouHaveGotThis

    • Annabel Candy June 3, 2015 at 9:19 am - Reply

      Hi Heather,

      It is so hard going for a new personal best every week but you and I are not alone. So many parkrun runners are doing that so it’s inspiring company. You keep up the good work too – I can see you running at the front of the pack and love that hashtag :)

  6. Patti June 3, 2015 at 10:05 am - Reply

    I am 73 and have had five parkruns. My first time was 46:32 and my last run was 39 .08. Our course where I live is very challenging, it is a trail run with a small steep hill to start with! I completed a five k road run last week in Warwick in 36.42.

    I feel very inspired by your results and also your challenges so I am eager to try different running paces to see if I can manage another PB this weekend in Hobart.

    I am sure you will be successful in your next challenge of coming in under 25, well done, you sound qute amazing.

    • Annabel Candy June 3, 2015 at 12:12 pm - Reply

      Hi Patti,

      I think you’re amazing! I wonder where your local course is – it sounds like a tough one. Go strong in Hobart – that will be a great place to run.

      • Patti June 12, 2015 at 7:18 pm

        Hi Annabel, our home course is at Tamborine Mountain, in the hinterland of the Gold Coast. It is a trail run. You should come and visit sometime. I could not do the park run in Hobart last week but will do so tomorrow. my husband, also aged 73 had a PB though, he came in at 31:15. Shall see how we go tomorrow.

        Cheers, Patti

  7. Naomi June 3, 2015 at 12:02 pm - Reply

    Hi, great post. Will pass this post on to mum, who is the about mentioned Rosemary Roediger. She will be quite amazed that she is inspiring other runners!

    • Annabel Candy June 3, 2015 at 12:10 pm - Reply

      Hi Naomi,

      Wow! That’s amazing. Your mum is incredible and a true inspiration. I’ve been telling everyone about her since I read about her and she’s certainly the one to blame for my newly fledged running obsession :)

      Do you manage to keep up with her?!

  8. Jeffrey Hansen June 3, 2015 at 8:22 pm - Reply

    Awesome effort.
    I assume that the week 9 PB is 26, not 36 minutes :)

    You’ve come a long way in a short time.
    I celebrated my 50th birthday this week with a 21:45 PB.
    I’d like to think that I might crack the 20 minute barrier one day, but there’s a lot of miles to run between now and then.

    • Annabel Candy June 4, 2015 at 9:13 am - Reply

      Hi Jeffrey,

      Ooops! Thanks so much I’ve corrected that. Definitely 26 mins 29 secs :)

      What a way to celebrate your birthday. I’d love to know how long it will take you to achieve that goal :)

  9. sunny June 3, 2015 at 11:48 pm - Reply

    Great story!

  10. Megan June 5, 2015 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    Wow I loved reading this!!!!

    I can so much relate to this – just the constant striving to do better and get fitter and faster. My first parkrun was in 38 minutes. My current PB is 28:15, but I would love to get it sub 25 – that’s my ultimate goal.

    This has given me so much motivation. I love the honesty in your post – it really does hurt – a lot. And I forget that. I look at other runners doing so much better than me and I think they have something I don’t. And maybe they do, but all I can do is strive to improve myself and my times. And it’s going to take a lot of dedication, hard work and pain. But as you’ve shown – it can be done!

  11. Megan June 5, 2015 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    PS Would you mind sharing your training plan with us?

  12. Monique@The Urban Mum June 17, 2015 at 8:27 am - Reply

    I love hearing about physical challenges, because really they are about mental effort (as you have pointed out)…A long time ago I set myself a challenge to run the Sydney Olympic course in a full Marathon…a bit of a last minute decision made only two months out from the event…prior to that I had completed short triathlons and a couple of very slow 1/2 Marathons. I trained diligently and ate lots (since then I have learnt that going into a race with extra kilos does make the run harder…hmm) – the day of the race I was a bundle of nerves, exhausted by the time I reached the 10km mark, literally shuffling by the time I got to 42 km (only just making the cutoff time). But the rush of endorphins lasted years, the sense of I did it…time for a new challenge, I have been talking about ocean swimming for too long. I need to commit to doing it! Congratulations on your efforts…x

  13. Shaun Conway October 13, 2015 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    Parkrun is the best!
    I run in Cleveland an inspiration to me is John hes 84 and done over 100 runs, Ive only a meager amount of 87. At the start of each month we have pacer week so I aim to keep with my dedicated pacer,(30 mins) he/she keeps getting away but im getting closer.
    It gives me a real buzz and a great start to the weekend??
    Evryone look up your local Park run and git it a go

Leave A Comment