Kelly Houston & Ray Wallace - 5x50
5x50 is a fun and supportive platform that challenges people from all walks of life to get out there and commit to being active for 50 consecutive days.
We spoke to 5x50's founders Kelly Houston and Ray Wallace about how it works.
We spoke to Kelly and Ray in April 2017
rb: Kelly and Ray, you're the founders of 5x50. Can one of you take responsibility for the original idea?
Ray: No, I don't think so, it was more a joint effort I think. It just sort of happened and took us amazingly by surprise.
Kelly: I think if you're looking for a starting point then it was Ray's suggestion five years ago for a few of us to get together and do a Marcothon and run every day in December. December passed by and we decided we'd do it in January instead. So that was really when the very original seed was planted with Ray seeing how many of us would join him in the crazy new year Scottish weather.
Ray: Not the best time of year.
rb: You sometimes feel like you've achieved more in harsher conditions.
Kelly: We live in Scotland. I don't think we have much choice but to do it in harsh conditions!
Ray: Definitely. The days of the hailstones hitting our faces were great fun.
rb: Did you have an idea of how things would develop in those early days?
Ray: No, not at all. As Kelly was saying it started among a few friends. We just wanted to get ourselves fitter and healthier and do it for that month.
Then about half way through we noticed a massive difference in our own fitness so it became an everyday thing in our lives. Kelly said let's do it for a bit longer and that became 50 days.
rb: Why 50 days?
Kelly: I think at the time there was absolutely no science or rationale behind it other than that it's got a nice ring to it. We've been doing 5k, we'll do it for 50 days.
Then the research we've since looked at suggests it takes about 21-23 days for a habit to form, we thought if we can get somebody out there for 50 days, that it will have begun to become habitual for them and they'll continue. Even if it's getting out two or three times a week rather than every day.
rb: And five of those 50s fit quite well into a year?
Ray: Well, for the last five years it has only been one challenge a year but the format's changed a lot recently. We have four challenges running this year and it's actually the last day of the first one today [23rd April 2017]. So right now there's a lot of very happy people out there who have been amazing for the last 50 days.
We're gonna run five a year from 2018 onwards. That gives people a chance for them to choose when they want to take part and some people may take part in more than one a year.
rb: So are you guys kept up to date with what all the challengers are doing?
“We've got a really strong active group of challengers who support each other from the get go”
Kelly: Yes, they keep in touch with us via a number of platforms. We have our own "challenger wall" within our site where there's lots of motivation going on between team members and so on.
We've also got a fairly heavy social media presence. So there's lots of updates and news that comes through there and we just make sure that the core team keeps engaged with all the challengers and keeps encouraging them.
When there are bad days, which there are bound to be during a fifty-day stretch, we keep them motivated. The rest of the community do too. We've got a really strong active group of challengers who support each other from the get go.
rb: What if somebody's having a tough time and misses a day?
Ray: If it's an unavoidable thing and somebody's feeling the strain then it's not a problem. If they miss a day they can catch up later. Say for example they're aiming for 5k a day and miss one day, they can always go and add a kilometre a day for five days after that if they still want to meet their distance goals.
We're not trying to push people too hard. We really just want them to get out there and make fitness and being healthy a part of everyday life. That's really what the challenge is all about.
When we started off we were doing 5k a day and then we shifted to trying to do 30 minutes of exercise, but over the last few years we've made such a transition and we want to offer something that's achievable by anybody.
So you'll see on the site we have five different options now. They range from people that are doing 5k or more a day down to people who are just starting out or rehabilitating and beginning with 5 minutes a day. And maybe their goal is to get up to 50 minutes a day by the end of the challenge.
So it really is very inclusive and we've tried to focus on that from day one.
rb: What are the different options?
Kelly: So there are five that all run for 50 days. You can do 5k a day of swimming, cycling, walking or whatever you fancy, and there's also a similar 30-minutes a day option.
There's a 50/50 split where you share the 5k-a-day load with a friend, there's "Five Alive", where a group of five cover 1k a day, and then there's "Daily Progress" where an individual will build from doing 5 minutes of activity a day to 50 minutes of activity a day.
rb: Can you walk us through how somebody would get involved with the challenge?
Ray: We've always kept it very simple from day one. If somebody wants to sign up and take part we ask for a minimum £5 donation which basically covers our running costs, which include things such as working with website developers, integrating apps and so on.
After that it's all free and challengers are at liberty to raise money for the charity of their choice. And there have been some amazing success stories from people doing that.
Once they've done that they can sign up and choose one of our options, then carry on for the fifty days and we'll give them as much support as we can throughout the whole of that time.
rb: Do a lot of people raise money for charities then?
Ray: Yes! Before we started this year there had been over £320,000 raised for various charities. And we've had in excess of 25,000 people taking part in these challenges, which is amazing because on year one of the challenge we were all sat around a table in a coffee shop in Glasgow and we said we'd be delighted if we got about 200 people involved.
A very good friend developed the website and with the power of social media the first challenge started in September of 2012 with 5,111 people taking part. And that was across 43 countries.
rb: So this is a worldwide thing?
Ray: Yes, that took us by surprise. It's just the power of social media. We sell t-shirts for the challenges and we found we were posting them out to places like America, Australia and New Zealand. Our main user base is in the UK, but there are loads of people getting involved all over the world.
We have some amazing supporters as well. When you have all four British chief medical officers endorsing what you're doing, that's a pretty huge thing.
rb: What's the growth been like?
Kelly: The first challenge was the biggest then we had a little bit of a dip. This year we anticipate that we'll have in excess of 5,000 over the course of the year. Each individual challenge will have fewer taking part than previously because of having five challenges throughout the year instead of just the one.
It'll be really interesting to see if people can progress and move up through the different types of challenges this year. That's something we hope will happen.
And of course we have aspirations for more growth in 2018.
rb: Is it a full time job for you guys?
Ray: No, there's seven part-time jobs! They feel full-time sometimes. I'd say it's an enjoyable second full-time job.
Kelly: I'll second that.
“That's the salary that we get. The feel good factor from the challengers' stories”
Ray: It's so enjoyable to be part of. We remember people who were involved in the first couple of challenges and some of those guys are running the London marathon today and were running the Loch Ness marathon last year. To see how much they've progressed over five years is mind-blowing.
Kelly: That's the salary that we get. The feel good factor from the challengers' stories. Every week there are new stories coming in from people who have achieved things they never thought they could and it's largely due to that commitment to doing something daily.
5x50 isn't special in that sense. There are lots of challenges out there that allow people to do that, but when they're part of our community and our family it just feels so good to share that journey with them.
rb: Are there any inspirational or memorable stories that spring to mind?
Ray: There are so many. One example is this chap from Nairn who lost a whole load of weight after his son made a comment and told him he should go out running with him one day.
After about 50 metres he couldn't run any more and said, "I've got to do something about this." So he went and lost a huge amount of weight and a year and a half after that he ran the Loch Ness Marathon. And actually he's had a huge PB this morning in the Etape Loch Ness bike race.
There are a huge number of stories like that. As Kelly was saying that's our payment. We love hearing all these different stories and achievements.
rb: Do you get people doing things more extreme than the official challenges?
Kelly: We've had a few people that have gone for a 365 day streak.
Ray: We had one guy, a challenger from Perth, who kept going and he went for 1,000 days.
Kelly: Of course, running every day isn't for everybody. That's why we started extending the options we had available so it wasn't just running. People can cross train or train for a different event. It doesn't have to be a run. It can be a swim, a cycle, the gym, a yoga class.
We're very very mindful that we didn't want people to push themselves beyond what they found to be a challenge. And who are we to dictate what a challenge is for somebody else?
rb: So anything goes? Do you get people adding other sports. Like golf for fifty days?
Kelly: Yes, we do. We've had equestrians that have ridden every day. One of our supporters is a canoeist and she was canoeing every day.
It's opened right up and pretty much anything goes. In its purest form it's covering the 5k by self-propelled means every day for 50 days.
But we have so many different options that are inclusive and help people get off their sofas and go and do something instead of sitting there and watching Eastenders.
Ray: And speaking about inclusivity, we have people like Karen Darke, the amazing paralympic cyclist. Karen's challenge when she took part was five pull ups a day.
rb: Do you get many people with disabilities getting involved?
Ray: Yes, two years ago we had a wheelchair basketball team from Sheffield involved, and they managed to raise a huge amount of funds for their organisation.
“The impact on people's emotional wellbeing has been phenomenal”
Kelly: And down here we have a gentleman called Jay Semple who had a progressive degenerative eye disease. Jay was one of our initial challengers and used to run guided by us on a Wednesday lunchtime. He's gone on and completed the majority of the challenges, and I think this year he's doing four marathons in four different areas of the country with guiding runners.
As another example, we've got another girl from Edinburgh with MS. She was in a job she absolutely hated, got involved with the challenge through her partner signing up for it, and as a result her partner left her job and became a fitness instructor. Her company's called Frightened of Fitness and it's for people who are struggling emotionally and physically to get involved in physical activity. She has good days and bad days so they did the 50/50 split challenge.
We've got people with very visible disabilities, but we've also got lots of people with hidden disabilities and so many people comment on the impact it has on their mental wellbeing. I think that's something that is at the forefront of our minds. It started out as a physical challenge, but the impact on people's emotional wellbeing has been phenomenal.
Ray: Definitely. We've seen huge support from organisations such as Mind getting people to join up and take part in our challenge and feel the difference that it does make to you.
Some people we've seen have depression and it's amazing how they've come out of their shell a bit. They're running every day and they're a lot happier and healthier.
rb: It sounds like you want to be as inclusive as possible.
Kelly: Definitely, and one of the things we'd like to do is get in touch with schools and youth groups and get the 5x50 message out there. That's where we'd really like to see the challenge go, to impact the next generation.
rb: So there'll be no minimum age?
Kelly: Not now with the new options. In the past we were aware that it was a lot that we were asking people to undertake and we were very aware of putting too much stress on young developing bodies.
But now that we've got other options for shorter distances and time options it allows young people to get involved with low risk to their physical wellbeing.
Ray: We have had schools take part for periods. We had a high school take part. Not just one or two people but the whole school, teachers as well. That was the idea of just three boys who did it as part of their Duke of Edinburgh award.
rb: It seems you adapt the model as needed, which is great. Have there been any particular struggles along the way?
Ray: I think a big challenge is making the website as user-friendly and simple as possible. But people like to see something visual as well. they like to see their stats and that they're improving.
The integration of apps and trackers is a huge thing for us because challengers don't want to have to go in and enter their own details every time, they want it to be automatic. At the moment you can connect your fitbit and the plan is to add more.
We listen to what our challengers say to us. It is a work in progress for us, and we will get there eventually.
Kelly: I suppose the biggest challenge we've had is managing expectations. I'd like to think that we're putting out a relatively slick and professional platform that people want to engage with but it's the age old dilemma: we're volunteers and our cash flow is limited so there's only so much that we can do. So, managing expectations and not under-delivering is a challenge.
rb: Speaking of the website, what's with the crocheted hat in the shop? Is that a Scottish thing.
Kelly: Actually, it's Kelly's daughter that makes those hats. They're very nice.
rb: They look toasty. And who's this Mascot?
Kelly: Nifty? We saw him in a pound shop and adopted him. He's meant to be a cheetah. I think the idea was to send him around the world at one point. He's well-loved by the core team, but I think he's out of circulation now.
rb: That's a shame, I quite fancy one. Last question then that we ask everybody. And this is just to Kelly and Ray, not to Nifty. If you could race against any athlete from any era in any race. Who, when, where, what would it be?
Kelly: I'll say exactly what comes into my head. I'll like to run alongside Paula Radcliffe and find out how she's dealt with the aftermath of the "wee" incident. How did she deal with the backlash from that? How did it affect her? Did it set her back? So many questions.
rb: So a bit of a chat then?
Kelly: Well, a lot of women I've spoken to are worried about things like that. Or even just how they look and they'll get a comment and it's enough to put them off it and to stop doing it. And that for me is really really worrying that something like that might stop somebody doing something that they love. So it'd be a conversation to ask how it affected her and how she ignored gossip and didn't let it impact on her confidence and her passion.
Ray: For me we'll go back to when I'm fairly young. I remember watching the greats like Coe, Ovett and Cram and those guys. To be a part of that would have been amazing.
rb: So how about a race with all three of them? There's the famous shot of them all in the 1984 LA Olympics where Ovett dropped out, Coe won and Cram got the silver.
Ray: I think I'd be dropping out with Ovett.
rb: It's a fantasy!
Ray: OK, I'll let Coe win and take second. Split him and Cram.
We'll make it happen. Thank you both for speaking to us. I think it's such a wonderful thing you're doing and I've really enjoyed our chat. I'm signed up for the next challenge and promise to keep you up to date with my progress.