Millions of people around the world start their day by pounding the pavement—running mile after mile until their bones are aching and their playlist has hit the final note. For some, it’s a light jog around the neighborhood, and for others, it’s a 5 a.m. wake-up call to hit the treadmill for marathon training. No matter your level or your method, running has surpassed the label of simply “exercise” to be in a league of its own—one that encompasses both psychological and physical benefits. After all, a healthy lifestyle is more than just the physical reward. It’s also about the mental and emotional payoff.

The starting line

As the saying goes, you have to start somewhere. Most runners don’t wake up one day and decide
to run 26.2 miles the next. Start by consulting your doctor before beginning any running routine, including asking about the type of stretching that is right for your workout. Then keep in mind that building up to the necessary level of endurance and strength takes commitment. If this healthy activity is to become your new hobby, it’s crucial to form daily habits. One training method is to start with ten- or twenty-minute runs—stopping to walk when you have to—three to five times a week.

It’s equally important to get proper running shoes, which involves a fitting and consulting with an expert. Depending on your level and your foot shape, there are different types to try out that will make for an optimal running experience. Soon, the day will come when lacing up your shoes becomes second nature. A 5K is a great first event to kick off your running journey. Most 5Ks can also be walked, so if the 3.1-mile event is too much, you can always take breathers. One such event, the Color Run, is a race that spans across thirty-five countries and has made over six million people smile as they crossed the finish line.

This colorful 5K has a simple mission: “To bring people together and make the world a happier, healthier place.” It lives up to this mission by splashing runners with colors at each kilometer throughout the event and by being untimed because the organizers want it to be more about fun and less about speed. Individuality and happiness are the focus, making it ideal for beginners (or for those who want something less intense between marathons). This 5K certainly lives up to its tagline, “The Happiest 5K on the Planet.” There are other ways to start your endorphin-powered journey besides getting splashed with color (although that certainly helps). Develop a plan to achieve your fitness goals. No matter what your endgame, creating a plan will give you focus and drive.

Pick up the pace

You’re now ready to move away from recreational running into more challenging territory. Whatever the goal, it’s time to switch it up and try something different; after all, running should be anything but mundane. This could mean doing half marathons, marathons, or mud runs, or pushing yourself to try tougher cross-country terrains.

Test your skills and your grit with a mud run. Tough Mudder is one such event aimed at pushing runners out of their comfort zone. There are other different types of this run, depending on how much of a challenge you want to get yourself into, but one thing’s for sure: you’ll be in need of one hot shower by the end of it. When doing events like this, it’s important to be in tune with your physical and mental health. Know your limits, and feel comfortable skipping courses that could cause potential injury. Also, be prepared when it comes to your footwear and outfit choice. Some people think it makes sense to wear their oldest, most torn-up pair of sneaks for this event, but that’s not the case, and doing so could actually put you at a greater risk of injury. Wear shoes and breathable fabrics that you’re comfortable running in, mud or no mud. Remember to keep water with you to stay hydrated throughout the day as well.

Maneuvering your way through muddy obstacles isn’t the only way to improve your running game. If you’re ready to set the bar higher, try increasing mileage each week. Your body will adjust as you continue adding on miles, so, over time, it will feel more and more natural to go for longer runs. Running longer distances is the biggest element of marathon training. According to Runner’s World, you should build up to the 26.2-mile race and then taper off three weeks before the big day—so when it’s time to race, you’re eager to get to the starting line.

Sprint to the finish

There are some runners who consider the marathon to be the be-all and end-all, and for good reason. It’s no small feat, even for those who are in their best shape and have trained for months. But for others, 26.2 miles just doesn’t cut it. The challenge needs to be greater, the hills need to be steeper, and the distance needs to be longer. Luckily for runners who want to fulfill that need, ultramarathons exist. Grand to Grand Ultra takes place each spring in the tough desert terrain that runs through Utah and Arizona. It’s a 170-mile, seven-day, six-stage challenge that tests all facets of endurance and determination. You’ll tap into strength you didn’t even know you had, all while running through one of the most awe-inspiring locations in the world: the Grand Canyon. Sand dunes, buttes, cacti, and wildlife await you at this ultramarathon, along with countless other geological wonders. The views are spectacular and the friendships formed last for a lifetime, but the challenge is not to be underestimated. Read up on its rules and regulations, and train properly to ensure that you are adequately prepared for this feat.

Get ready, get set, run!

Nothing feels better than accomplishing a goal, big or small. We all wake up every day with the intention of getting one step closer to crossing something off a list—literally or figuratively. And running is a sport that is all about achieving goals. Maybe it involves going for longer distances, improving your time, or simply running a mile without walking. Whatever you choose, lace up your sneakers, fill your water bottle, and fuel your mind and body by starting (or ending) your day with a run.

*Be sure to consult with a physician before starting a new exercise regimen. For more information, visit thecolorrun.com, toughmudder.com, or g2gultra.com. Photos courtesy of The Color Run, Stephen Hight, and Grand to Grand Ultra.