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'Just spectacular': This virtual fitness app brings the views to its participants

John Cayley-Hall has completed 18 challenges since he joined The Conqueror community — now, he's on his 19th.

When John Cayley-Hall came across an ad for The Conqueror, a virtual fitness challenge, he couldn’t help being curious because he’d never seen anything like it before.

The Surrey man has been doing these challenges for about three years.

The Conqueror is an app that offers distance-based challenges with a wide range of destination routes around the world; routes like the original marathon in Athens, Greece, or the Cabot Trail, a 297-kilometre route along the Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia.

“You pay upfront for your challenge. You register your time and distance of how long you want to take to complete it. So, you set your own goals,” says Cayley-Hall.

“Then you track it through the app, you see where you are along the map. And then once you've completed your challenge, you'll get a completion certificate in your email, and then they'll send you the medal.”

In addition to the interactive map, participants can also explore their avatar’s surroundings through the Street View feature in the app. They also receive virtual postcards from their route.

“We believe the biggest issue in creating healthy habits is not starting but keeping the promise people make to themselves to stick at it. The Conqueror was created to help reverse this trend and motivate people to live healthier, happier lives through gaining healthy habits,” said Adam El-Agez, CEO of The Conqueror Virtual Challenges in an email statement.

The challenges also incorporate an environmental incentive, where the company plants a tree or recovers 10 plastic bottles from the ocean throughout the challenge route.

A community-based fitness challenge

Although Cayley-Hall was intrigued by the unique, tailor-made medals, he says The Conqueror is different from other apps because of its community-building feature.

The Conqueror offers a Facebook group for participants to post about their experiences, share how far they’ve made it into their routes, and celebrate their successes together. In B.C., there are 1, 221 users in the community.

“When I started, we might have had a couple 1,000, maybe at the most 10,000 [members]. And now we're up to almost 200,000 people. They keep it super positive. They keep it focused on goals and achievements,” says Cayley-Hall.

Some participants also treat the challenges as real travel experiences.

“I've talked with people who when they finished their exercise for the day, they tell the community about where they are, and they pick a restaurant for dinner, like they're making a whole travel experience.”

Fitness challenges that anyone can do

Part of why Cayley-Hall thinks this app has been successful for so many people is because of the pandemic lockdowns.

“So having that as travelling without having to leave your house, without having to leave your community, made sense for a lot of people. It was really cool to see in real time where I was on app.”

Cayley-Hall has completed 18 challenges since he started his journey with The Conqueror. Now, he’s on his 19th.

“Once you start, you get addicted,” he says. His favourite destination routes have been the Great Ocean Trail in Australia, or Cote d’Azur in the south of France.

"The views are just spectacular," he says.

But Cayley-Hall is not the only one participating in these challenges and enjoying them.

“My spouse is doing the challenges. I have a couple of friends from Facebook that have joined these challenges. It’s almost like a self-competitive nature. For them, it motivates them to do more. It motivates you to get out and exercise more,” he says.

This gamified exercise challenge has one downside. It costs $37.88 to participate in a challenge and receive a medal.

“For some Canadians, it might be pricey,” says Cayley-Hall. “But then I would ask yourself, what’s more important? Should you really put a price tag on your health?”

Although Cayley-Hall has completed many challenges over the years, he emphasizes that anyone can do it.

“I'm not one of those people that gets up at five in the morning. I do walk after dinner, walk throughout the day. It just pushes me to add more steps into my day. So, sitting at the desk too long, I can go for a walk, instead of sitting on a couch for my break at work. I go for a short walk, even if it’s half a block.”

June 1 marks Global Running Day.