“I don’t much like being told what to do. I feel like much of my time is spent doing what I must do, should do, or am expected to do. By contrast, no one gives a damn whether I run or not, do marathons or not, do 4x4x48 challenges or not! That may be the main reason I do them.”
Over the last few years, the “thought leader” whose Podcast and guests have had the most significant influence on my life is Rich Roll (Rich Roll Podcast, his book, Finding Ultra). I was first introduced to his work by some running friends in 2013. Since then, he and his guests have been a major part of my continuing with marathon running and other events, my nutrition choices, and a lot of other sound life habits. So, it is not surprising, that my most recent health and fitness adventure, and maybe my craziest so far, was put on my radar by Rich Roll.
Recently, Candice (my wife, and also a runner) was listening to Rich Roll Podcast episode in which Roll and his friend, Adam Skolnick (predominantly a writer and author – not athlete) were discussing an upcoming challenge sponsored by fitness and personal discipline inspiration David Goggins. David Goggins has worked into his personal training something he calls a 4x4x48. Last year, as he and others were looking for organized endurance events we could do without getting close to each other (Coronavirus), he invited the world to participate with him in a 4x4x48, as a fundraising event. It was so well-received that he brought it back this year, and hosted it March 5th through 7th.
The “challenge” consists of running 4 miles (or the exercise equivalent), every 4 hours, for 48 hours. Do the math. If a person is running all of it, they will finish 48 miles in those 2 days. But, that format also means you are not getting much sleep, because you really only have about 3 hours between runs, to do, well, everything else. He wanted to have as many participants as possible start at the same time (8:00 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, on Friday, March 5), to build the comradery and the social experience, as well as making reporting back to him easier. So, for example, I started at 9:00 p.m. on Friday, but for the runners starting in Japan, it was already 1:00 p.m. on Saturday. Then, each new “segment” starts every four hours. Goggins turned this into a very open-ended fund raising event by asking participants to use this event as a reason to donate to, and raise money for, any charity they wanted to support, and simply report back to him how much money was raised and for whom.
Candice heard this podcast only a couple weeks ago, within a few days of my having just finished my first Ultra trail running event–a 50‑kilometer trail race at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, near Phoenix. She knows that I get anxious after a major event to find another one, out of fear that, even after years of running now, I will get lazy and stop if I do not have something for which I am training (high likelihood). So, she mentioned it to me, and I looked it up. It took a week of having it settle in my brain before I decided to try it. Candice was experiencing an injury, so she decided to just do what she could (which, it turns out, was a lot!).
So, I was in. I was uncertain how I should train for it, given that I was supposed to still be recovering from my last event, not training for a new one. I started throwing in some easy miles, and hoped that my recent training would carry me through the event. Even though a 4‑mile run is not that far for most experienced runners, most participants would be unfamiliar with how the cumulative miles would feel. And, of course, how would the short or non-existent periods of sleep affect all this over 2 days? No real good way to train for that part.
I also needed to decide how I was handling the charity fund raising. Frankly, I am uncomfortable asking for people to donate to my favorite charities, as such requests come regularly, and can get a bit annoying. So, I decided just to donate on my own to a charity I support, the Animal Legal Defense Fund. I also purchased one of David Goggins’ shirts for the event, knowing that he was pledging the proceeds from those shirt sales to charities he supports (and I wanted the cool t-shirt). But, there were other participants who were really in this for the fund raising – particularly those who were already involved in those efforts, and just added this as another platform. I am in it mostly for the challenge.
I am also not a detail-oriented planner. Even by the start of the event, I still only had a vague notion of where I might run, what time I would get up before each run (if I was able to even go to sleep), when, what, and how much I would eat, when I would have to wash all my running clothes, etc., were all pretty vague. Even after sketching out some ideas, during the event itself I was really winging most of it.
Fortunately, Candace is more of a planner, and she had decided she was going to participate the best she could. She ended up actually doing the whole thing, but walked for about 40 minutes, instead of running four miles. But, she got up and went out for each “turn,” which was a huge support for me, of course. This also meant that, for most of my runs, I just started where she was starting, I’d even walk a while with her, and then ran ahead. Afterward, while I was showering and cleaning up from my run, she typed up something about our experience during that segment. So, looking back on those notes, and the pictures and video I took, here are some of my observations about each of the 12 segments of this crazy event. So, here I go.
David Goggins was officially launching this 4 x 4 x 48 at 8:00 p.m. Pacific time, which his 9:00 in Arizona. I tuned in for his Instagram launch just before that time, and Candice and I then headed out the door. We are early risers, so we also tend to go to bed early. by 9:00, we are usually in bed, but much of the rest of the world is not. So, even though it seemed late to us, there was still a lot of traffic and a lot of people out. We stayed close to home, taking our usual running path, near our neighborhood. By Arizona standards, it was a bit on the cool side, so I wore a long-sleeve running shirt. I took off running, while Candice walked. I quickly found myself thinking about how fun it was to connect with so many people throughout the world who were doing this event at the same time, and remembered that some of them, according to their posts, were running in 7 degree weather! I knew I needed to take it really easy because the hard part would be on the back end of this challenge, especially during Day 2, so I settled into an easy stride, and got lost in my thoughts and my music. When I got back to the house I showered, ate a little, and tried to fall asleep—which was not easy. I finally did, and was not surprised (I’d imagined it) how quickly the alarm went off, so I could prepare for, and then start, run number 2—at 1:00 a.m.
That second run was one I knew was going to be very strange. Getting up at 12:30 p.m., to be out the door by 1:00 a.m., to run in the dark and quiet for 4 miles. After Candice and I parted, the only people I saw on the run were a couple of teenage girls taking pictures of each other in the middle of a three lane (each direction) road that is normally super busy with traffic. Once I got going, I felt great. I just settled in, and it seemed like the run was over before I knew it. I got back, showered, ate a little food, and went to bed. I had trouble going to sleep again, and it seems like the 5:00 run was upon me before I knew it. My saying I had trouble going to sleep between each run is a little misleading. I assume it is hard for everyone, but I am not very good at sleep in the first place, so I knew this would be a challenging part. Sleep deprivation issue was going to be a major part of the challenge, and it was. Goggins, with his military (SEAL, etc.) background intends it to be. For that second run, like the first, we stayed close to home, and took just a slightly different route.
The third run was at 5:00 am, Saturday morning. For years, I have joined up with my East Valley Runners Club friends for an early Saturday run, often at 5:00. Our club’s most common Saturday route is either north or south on a well developed running/walking path along one of our many canals. Right now, the official EVR start is not until 6:30, but, as I suspected, a couple of my friends were there when I showed up at 5. My “turnaround” point was only a couple miles out, so I was alone again after two miles, when they kept going, and I ran back to the parking lot.
Number four was 9:00 am Saturday. For whatever reason, getting up for this one was one of the hardest of the whole challenge, which scared me, because I didn’t think it would be that hard until the second day. Since it was light again, I thought it would be nice to run in and around the Riparian Preserve near our home. I ran through it (Candice walked), enjoying the gravel paths, the ponds, and, of course, the birds. Not far down another canal-based running path along the Preserve is an animal rescue shelter I’ve visited a number of times. It is a modified horse property, with both temporary and permanent animal residents. The charity I donated to as part of this challenge was the Animal Legal Defense Fund, so it seemed appropriate to run somewhere I could photograph animals. On my way there, I came upon a group of volunteers taking 8 to 10 llamas and alpacas out on a walk near the Preserve. I’d never seen that before, so I took it all in (and took some video) for a while before running on.
I was actually looking forward to “segment” 5. David Goggins was explicit that the participants did not have to run all the segments, or any of them for that matter. Participant were free to substitute in whatever they could do, for about 45 minutes, at the beginning of each period. So, I had decided to substitute 45 minutes swimming laps for the 1:00 p.m. activity both Saturday and Sunday. After trying to get a little sleep, I headed to my gym and did laps. It was a great way to give my leg muscles some relief, and engage my upper body instead. By now, I was realizing that I could only get about 30 minutes of sleep between runs.
Even for Arizona, we experienced a bit of a warm front this weekend. By the time the 5:00 p.m. run came around, it was 87 degrees. I can and have run in those temperatures before, even at distance, but I still had another day of running and sleep deprivation ahead of me. So, I headed back to the gym, where I ran on a treadmill while watching an uncharacteristically bad UNC basketball team beat up on an even more uncharacteristically bad Duke basketball team (My oldest is a Duke Law grad, and was there the last time they won the national championship). What is happening to our world lately! This was the 6th run, so I was half way.
The seventh was, again, 9:00 p.m., which was the starting time the day before. I took a slightly different route near our neighborhood. Getting started was, of course, very different from the day before. But, once I got going, it felt surprisingly similar. The lack of sleep was making starting harder, but my legs were not yet feeling the fatigue. I did, however, start feeling very hungry, in spite of my efforts to stay ahead on nutrition by eating between each run. I decided that the problem was that my food choices had been too healthy, so after I got back this time, I had a bowl of ice cream. Right move!
Run 8 was tough, and I knew it would be. I felt like by head had barely hit the pillow when the alarm went off at 12:30 a.m., to get out the door for a 1:00 a.m. run. But, I had the pleasant surprise of the run itself treating me like the others—once I got going and settled into my thoughts (and music), the cool, dark, abandoned night made for a beautiful four mile run.
Run 9 came with the arrival of something I suspected would likely hit at some point: unmistakable muscle fatigue. The sleep deprivation was a killer on getting out the door, but muscle fatigue now made the run itself less pleasant. But, this is where years of training and events does help; I knew what this was and that I could push through it. The other surprise was that there was LESS traffic and fewer people out on Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. than there had been on Sunday morning at 1:00 a.m.!
Run 10 would have been at 9:00 Sunday morning, but we were still hoping to make our 10:00 church meeting, so we started at 8:30 instead. I was now fatigued enough that it didn’t really matter that it cut my sleep to almost nothing at this point. With the aid of an “energy” drink, I didn’t even fall asleep in church! Afterward, my daughter and son-in-law who live in Tempe came over to spend the afternoon and evening with us—at least between our times out running. I’m sure I was great company.
Run 11 was not a run, but my second 1:00 p.m. swim. Loved it! But, by now I was pretty spent and just pushing to the end. When I was pretty confident I had been swimming close to the 45 minutes I needed, I looked at my watch and found I was only at 30 minutes! Getting the last 15 minutes felt way longer.
And, finally, run 12–the last! But, it was 5:00 p.m. again, and 88 degrees! Yep. I bailed and went to the treadmill. I don’t mind treadmill running as much as some do. I’m still glad I was able to do most of the runs outside. I know many participants, in much colder climates, were doing the whole challenge indoors! After a nap, we had a nice meal with our daughter and son-in-law, visited for a bit, and went to bed early. One of the attractions of events like this is that, by sacrificing some of our comforts, even for a short time, you learn to appreciate things you normally don’t even notice. I cannot describe the pleasure I felt NOT having to get up three times that night to go running.
So, how was Monday, right? What does a normal day feel like after two completely draining ones? I did get some work done, but I can’t claim I was terribly productive. I just felt foggy, which was likely from the combined muscle fatigue and lack of sleep. Also, it was hard not to keep checking social media to hear from other participants, from all over, about their experiences, to share my own, and to congratulate each other. I have been fascinated by the stories, photos, and experiences. Such events are surprisingly “tribal,” connecting thousands of people throughout the entire world, sharing this common experience, a the same time, and largely in similar ways. I have also been checking social media to see what the final numbers were on participants and fund raising. Those STILL are not in, but it looks like they are impressive. Goggins had asked that no one report until AFTER the event, but even before the launch, over 30,000 participants had reported they were about to do it, and almost a million dollars had already been raised. So, if most people followed his instruction to not report early, the numbers will be huge.
I am often asked the question, “why,” about this strange endurance event hobby. Every person has a different reason for doing something as challenging, and unnecessary, as the 4x4x48, or any other endurance event. What are mine? I don’t think I’m fighting serious emotional demons, addictions, or disease, like some. I’m not recovering from a broken relationship or hard childhood experiences. I also don’t have any hope of making a living as an endurance athlete, or celebrity. So, frankly, it is hard for me to really know why I’m drawn to it all. Some of the attraction is just wanting something on my calendar to keep me training, so I don’t get middle-age “soft” (again). A big dose of it is also curiosity. Like, “I wonder what it does feel like to run 40+ miles and swim a couple hours in a 48-hour period? I wonder how I will react to that little sleep? Will I drag myself out of bed for those 1:00 a.m. runs, and again at 5:00? Or will I roll over in the covers and quit?” But, why does answering such questions even matter to me? I don’t know. Another draw for me is the social aspect; the “tribe.” The endurance sport community draws some fascinating people—a counter-culture in the most positive sense. I like interacting with them; I like being one of them. When I am doing activities that people I admire are doing, it makes me feel an extra sense of worth. Like many humans, I actually need that boost of confidence. Finally, and this is clearly a “two-edged” part of my personality, I don’t much like being told what to do. I feel like much of my time is spent doing what I must do, should do, or am expected to do. By contrast, no one gives a damn whether I run or not, do marathons or not, do 4x4x48 challenges or not! That may be the main reason I do them.