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How You Can Run 2,016 Miles in 2016 with a Virtual Running Community

If you’ve made any New Year’s resolutions last week, go ahead and break them today. Especially if one is something ridiculous like not eating ice cream in 2016 or something as unrealistic as trying to run at least 100 miles every single week all year long.

Creating resolutions, whether general and vague (getting in the best shape of your life) or fairly specific (running your fastest half marathon), typically don’t work if you don’t develop the structure to achieve those profound goals. Simply announcing our intentions to the world (or even just to yourself) on Jan. 1 isn’t enough. Even if well-intended, we often create tasks—like avoiding ice cream or running huge weekly mileage totals—that are too daunting, unrealistic or just plain improbable and, for those reasons, make them bound to fail.

You can—and should—still challenge yourself to accomplish big goals in 2016, but only with a realistically attainable system of goals and some kind of support system.

Adam Goucher and Tim Catalano, authors of the book “Running The Edge” found data that showed, not surprisingly, a majority of people who made fitness-related resolutions on Jan. 1 typically break them or forget about them within the first two weeks of the new year.

“The attrition rate is very high. By Feb. 1, most people are done.” Goucher says.

We’ve all been there, right? Life gets in the way. Sometimes it rains or snows. Injuries happen.

So what’s the alternative? Focusing on a few sensible, long-range goals with very specific targets and then develop a realistic structure of smaller, measurable tasks and stepping stones that will allow you to attain those goals. Consistency is the key and that means relentlessly doing your daily due diligence to reach those goals until it becomes a habit. But that can just be lip service that will get you into mid-February if you lose motivation.

As with the quest to achieve any big task, it takes a village or, in other words, an engaged community of people willing to support you. Joining a training group or hiring a personal coach are two good ways to give yourself a leg up, but even that can be limited to how you interact with your fellow runners and your coach.

RELATED: 3 Resources for Getting (and Staying) Motivated in 2016

Sensing that most people need a stoke of inspiration and a way to hold themselves accountable, Goucher and Catalano last year created Run The Year—a program that challenged runners to run 2,015 miles in 2015, either as an individual or as part of a team and provided built-in community support. The idea was an overwhelming success as more than 25,000 people took the challenge and more than 17,000 people remained active in its Facebook community through the end of the year.

Goucher and Catalano recently launched this year’s quest to Run The Year 2016—2,016 miles in 2016—and the response and enthusiasm has been almost overwhelming. They reached last year’s participant total in five days and it’s continued to grow into the new year.

It’s a simple concept: Commit to the challenge, log your miles as your normally would and earn rewards for every 100-mile benchmark and keep your stoke high from the support of the invigorating virtual community inside the Run The Year Facebook page and interactive website. Yes, it relies on the honor system, but you only need to be honest with yourself—and make sure you’re training authentically—to reap the benefits of virtual support, camaraderie and inspiration. (The stories, photos and videos participants submit are often amazing and sometimes tear-jerking.)

“We wanted to create something that could help people throughout the year to help them succeed in achieving a goal,” Goucher said. “How can we make people be accountable for the entire year and keep it fun and keep it motivating and bring a community aspect into it while encouraging as many people as possible to finish? We didn’t know where it would take us, but it took off immediately.”

This year’s program, which costs $25 for an individual membership, is also open to teams of two, three or four people, who can divvy up the workload in order to tackle the mileage goal. Along with access to a custom mileage tracker, the registration fee includes exclusive access to a first-of-its-kind online virtual race expo, which features several booths providing exclusive training, nutrition and injury prevention content from leading industry coaches and experts to help participants reach their goals.

Virtual running is all the rage nowadays. Several organizations have popped up to offer T-shirts, medals and various enticements to run a virtual race or a certain amount of miles—either for a charity or your own personal fitness. Virtual Race Series is an online company that is organizing more than a dozen virtual races this year. Its recent Resolution Run had 360 participants who ran or walked a 5K or 10K on Dec. 31-Jan. 1. Awards were given for the happiest photo, most scenic photo, most New Yearsy photo and the best group photo.

On Jan. 4, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg offered a challenge for people to join him in his quest run 365 miles in 2016 and follow along in a Facebook group. Even if you ignore that this is a leap year, that’s obviously a mile a day and although not very ambitious, it could be the answer for non-runners or taking their first steps to a healthier lifestyle. (In less than 24 hours, it attracted more than 340,000 “Likes” on Facebook.)

Before launching the Run The Year program last year, Goucher and Catalano were skeptical about the idea of virtual running. Why not just run a real race or log your training miles privately? But when they had more than 1,600 people sign up for its first two virtual races in 2014—they sent T-shirts for participants in their first race and T-shirts and finisher medals for the second one—and were able to raise $4,500 in charity donations for Guardian Angels Service Dogs and $6,500 for Girls on the Run, they realized there was something to it and a worthwhile reason to pursue it. In all, they donated nearly $11,000 to charities from their virtual runs last year.

“We realized, hey, there is something to this virtual running thing, but we wanted to make it unique and different and make it a year-round challenge and do it differently than anyone else does it,” Catalano said.

What surprised them with the first rendition of the Run The Year program was the community support that evolved and took on a life of its own.

“We have a huge range of participants, but everyone inside the community supports each other,” Catalano said. “We have people who have joined that have never run in their lives. They’re just starting off and many of them are walking their miles, and that’s great. And we have others who are training for half marathons and marathons and logging long runs on weekends.”

RELATED: New Year, New You? Only If You Make It Happen

The fact that they were once really fast runners themselves is irrelevant, but it’s their enthusiasm to get people running through motivational photos, inspirational words, silly humor, video blogs and, of course, virtual awards, T-shirts and finisher medals has been the impetus to the program’s success.

Then there are the special stories, like the woman who lost more than 100 pounds while logging her miles in 2015. She wound up logging more miles than Catalano, who, by the way, was a former collegiate distance runner like Goucher (who was also a 2000 Olympian).

“That’s the humbling piece. That woman did more than we did during the year,” Catalano says. “These people are doing our challenge and changing their lives.”