Advertisements for The Conqueror Challenge program show off brightly colored medals with moving pieces such as a twirling windmill. (Photo: The Conqueror Virtual Challenges)

Though social media has a knack for its targeted ads, sometimes they miss the mark. My Instagram algorithm somehow got the idea that I was into running, and for months filled my feed with advertisements for The Conqueror Virtual Challenges, a program that rewards users for running with a real medal. Curiosity got the best of me, and I did some research. After looking at what vague information I could find and reading some mixed reviews, I decided to test it out for myself and see if The Conqueror is a scam.

The concept of the program is simple: Users pay to register for a challenge that requires a set number of miles to be completed. The miles are logged on a paired app that keeps track of progress. Once the number of miles logged matches the challenge’s requirement, a medal is shipped to the user’s home as a tangible reward. This idea is apparently popular in the fitness app industry, as I was promptly bombarded with ads for similar programs after registering for my challenge. I looked into another program, Pacer Virtual Challenges, and didn’t see much difference outside of the medal designs.

Speaking of medals, I noticed that a lot of the reviews on both programs’ pages mentioned the high quality of the medals they “won”. Judging by the photos attached to the reviews, I would say most of the consumer base for The Conqueror is middle-aged, with a good percentage having previously completed other challenges from the website. The matching app has an average rating of 4.45 stars between the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store but is not available through Amazon’s app store. While some users reported issues with shipping and poor app functionality, most reviews seemed pleased with the program. Beyond niche fitness communities and blogs, however, there wasn’t much information about The Conqueror to be found.

When I first looked at The Conqueror’s website, I was impressed by the variety of challenge options. There were 38 to choose from, not to mention a separate page to suggest and vote for new challenges. Each challenge is themed after a location, and ranges in distance from the 20 mile Angkor Wat Challenge to the 2,485 mile Pacific Crest Trail Challenge. I chose the Flower Route Challenge because that was the one I had seen the most in the ads. I paid $29.95 to register for the challenge, which got me a virtual race bib, discount referral links and an access code to open an account on The Conqueror app. I was also charged $4.95 of shipping fees to get the medal to my house. After accessing the app, I answered some questions about my current activity level and inputted some information about my height and weight. I also chose between planting a tree or stopping ten plastic bottles from entering the ocean after every completed fifth of my challenge. According to The Conqueror’s website, around 4.9 million trees have been planted and nearly 860,000 plastic bottles have been stopped from entering the ocean through the program.

I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of features in the app. My challenge included a map of the path I was “running” in the Netherlands, accompanied by Google Street View that allowed me to see the cities I was progressing towards. I could also see the progress of other participants of the Flower Route Challenge. Each milestone was associated with a city in the Netherlands, and throughout the challenge I received four virtual postcards and an extremely detailed history of each location. There were many different types of activities I could log my miles under, from running to elliptical to even using a wheelchair. The Conqueror didn’t hesitate to send me a dozen emails informing me of my achievements. While these features were interesting, the app itself was clunky and made simple actions like scrolling difficult. These issues often frustrate new users, myself included, and make the program look inconvenient.

In the interest of time (and in the bigger interest of not running 41 miles), I ended my go with The Conqueror early, only completing about 30%. I went ahead and entered the number of miles I needed to complete the challenge so I could ensure my medal arrived on time, and awaited the answer to my question: is The Conqueror, and similar programs, a scam? During the shipping process, I noticed the same issues as with the app’s functionality. The entire system is unpolished and a bit confusing. The Conqueror’s website has virtually no information about the company’s origins or location. I used the tracking number I received to trace my package back to Pontiac, Michigan, which was the only clue I could find. It took three days for my order to arrive in a slightly shredded bag, and I finally got my answer. No! The medal was real, intact and gorgeous! It looked exactly as it did in the advertisements, and had the same functions too – a spinning windmill that changed the back side image from night to day. On the front was a small inscription of the challenge and the 41 miles I (did not) run.

So, no, The Conqueror Virtual Challenges is not a scam, but the program is plagued with small issues that make it seem unreliable and hard to use. It will need to make some major changes to the app and be a lot more transparent before it will be taken seriously as a legitimate fitness app. I personally would not recommend this program, even though it’s legitimate, simply because it’s unnecessary. The price isn’t worth it, even if the medal is nice. If you’re looking for motivation to exercise, run a race, get a workout buddy or find a fitness activity you love.  The Conqueror might not be a scam, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth it!

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