The Fitness Challenge Handbook

Running The Challenge

The most difficult part of any fitness competition is collecting and validating participant data

Running The Challenge

The challenge start date has arrived and it’s time for the fun to begin. You’ve got the word out through email, newsletters, flyers and word-of-mouth and your participation rate looks good so now what? At this point, it’s all about numbers: collecting, recording and crunching.

Data Collection

Data entry will vary depending on the type of challenge and the person responsible for data submission. If you are running a weight loss challenge, you will probably have weigh-ins at regular intervals and the admin will collect the data during these events. If you are running a pedometer challenge or timed-activity challenge, participants will be responsible for collecting the data.

Data Validation

As in all information systems, the data coming into your fitness challenge should be validated before it is stored in the spreadsheet or database. If the administrator is entering the data, he or she can easily see if a number looks off; e.g. 100,000 steps for a given date. If the system is automated, it should in the very least generate a report of data outliers which can be reviewed for reasonableness. Isolating outlying data can also be accomplished using conditional formatting with statistical analysis when storing challenge data in Excel. Do not assume the data is wrong; simply follow-up with the participant to see if it was keyed in incorrectly or if an unusual event occurred such as running a marathon.
Another validation method to consider is setting daily limits on data entry values. In the example above, 100,000 steps is approximately 50 miles. While not impossible, ultra marathons are rare and you may not want to take steps in excess of 20,000 per day to keep the challenge competitive. Lower boundaries may not be necessary but would be reasonable when collecting data on weight or BMI for example. The purpose of limits is to identify erroneously entered data and / or keep the competition close; however, they should not discourage participants from maximal effort. Therefore, if you use upper, and possibly lower, limits they should be somewhat extreme themselves and well documented in the Challenge Definition Document.

Data Entry

Just as data collection will vary depending on the challenge, so will data entry. If the admin collects the data, he or she will generally want to enter it immediately to reduce the number of steps and chance of an error. If participants are simply collecting data, they will need to submit it at regular intervals to the admin who will subsequently enter it into the system.
Regular intervals can mean anything from daily to weekly data submissions. You just do not want to receive massive amounts of data on the last day of the challenge. Likewise, you may want to set strict cutoff times for data submission more than a few days old. This will prevent someone from submitting 100 hours of activity on the last day of the challenge and ruining the challenge for everyone. This issue can also be mitigated by setting daily limits on values entered into the system as described above.
The administrator will almost certainly not want to enter daily participant data for a large scale challenge. While this would allow the admin to validate user data, the overhead would turn it into a full-time job. Using a tracking system for automatic data entry and reporting may be your best hope for running a successful challenge.

Tracking System

The system used to collate and generate reports from participant data can be as simple as a shared spreadsheet or as robust as an online challenge tracking system. At we make admin and participant data entry as simple as possible. The home page for each user contains a box to enter data and a calendar to switch dates. We have even created a system that will allow participants to text in their challenge data from their mobile phones.
The point is that data should be collected, entered and validated in a timely manner. This helps ensure the integrity of the challenge and allows for the timely generation of feedback to the participants.
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