There is no reason for anyone to remember this but me: Last March I participated in a “challenge” that David Googins (look him up–it’s worth it) offered the world as something to do while Covid-19 was shutting down many athletic events for the past couple years. He calls it the 4x4x48 Challenge: Run (or an equivalent time of any exercise) 4 miles, at the beginning of every 4 hours, for 48 hours (www.gogginschallenge.com). Working through the math, if you only run, you hit 48 miles in 48 hours. And, the entry fee is just a donation to your favorite charity (over 3 million dollars raised last year). Sounds simple enough.
It isn’t. Goggins launched the event on Friday evening, for participants literally throughout the world, at 8:00 p.m., pacific time. He is in Los Angeles. For me, that is 9:00 pm; for someone in Japan, it is 1:00 am–the next day. So, starting at 8:00, you run, say 40 minutes, get home close to 9:00, shower and otherwise clean up until 9:30, eat something until 10:00, wind down enough to get to sleep at 10:30, sleep until 11:30, get up, get ready, get to wherever you’re running, and start again at 12:00 a.m. Repeat at 4:00 a.m., and every four hours, day and night, for two full days. So, under optimal conditions, while doing something physically demanding for about 40ish minutes every four hours, you’re getting maybe an hour of sleep every four hours–and conditions are NEVER optimal.
Even as an avid runner, my experience with it last year was hard enough that I hadn’t forgotten it, so I was planning to skip it this year–until a few weeks ago when my wife started telling everyone we were doing it again (she ended up doing it with me, unofficially, last year). “We?” I must have missed the discussion when that was decided. I am not joking that my reluctance to do it again was real. But, if she was in, so was I.
One of life’s lessons, which continues to surprise me, is how different the SAME experience can be. Maybe it is more accurate to say that no two experiences are ever really the same. I, of course, expected an experience similar to last years, but that is not what happened. This year the Goggins Challenge launched the evening of Friday, March 4th, 2022, and ended the evening of March 6th. As I write this the next day (Monday), I am aware that I feel perfectly fine—no extra muscle soreness; no extra fatigue. This was NOT true last year, under nearly identical conditions, including my own training and fitness level. Yes, I still had those midnight and early morning experiences when getting out of bed seemed impossible—and I had to get to my feet before thinking too much. But, I felt much less tired overall than last year. The only noticeable difference is that this year, I went into the event with soreness in my left knee (patella), and did run with pain throughout this event. That variable should have made the experience hardier, not easier. But, it seems likely that one of the motivators for these challenging activities is the lure of the unexpected. So, that is the Goggins Challenge, and we finished it.
Anyone with experience taking on the voluntary suffering associated with training for and participating in challenging physical tasks will be asked “why?” It is always a difficult question to answer, because even the participants are often unclear on our motivation. Our answers begin with equivocal phrases like, “I think that . . .,” or, “It might be that . . .,” clearly signaling that we are not sure. I have given enough effort to answer this question for myself to have some strong suspicions about why I, and at least some others, participate in endurance activities. I think that the following reasons are common, but the ranking of importance varies significantly between participants:
- Wanting to get into shape–
It is really alright to be motivated just by wanting to look better in a swimsuit; even if no one else cares (I’m 56–no one is looking)
- Enjoying social interaction with other participants–
In addition to my regular running friends, I have enjoyed a years-worth of interaction with other Goggins Challenge participants from last year. There were thousands of participants from all over the world. A few thousand of us found our way to an unofficial Facebook page, where I see participant comments and photos from places as diverse as Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Costa Rica (jealous of those), and all over the United States. I posted photos of my runs in sun and 60 degree weather, while others posted snowy paths and frozen lakes.
- Wanting to do something that no one else is telling us we should or must–
Much of our time is spent doing what other people put on our task list: Work demands, family obligations, community involvement, school work, etc. No one makes me run; truly. No one cares if I do or do not get out the door for exercise, or run my next marathon. It is my own, subtle, rebellion.
- A desire to do something that requires our entire focus, not the distractions we usually experience–
This is a big one for me, so more on it later.
- As a way to burn stress out of our system–
If you start an long run with stress, anxiety, anxiousness, agitation, etc., there will be no room for it after a few miles. I am not saying it will be gone forever, but it helps. I have heard others explain that such activities helped them pull out of even worse mental states.
- As a personal “brand” or identity; to have something we’re known for–
We all have a self-image, we do care about it, and we do care what others think. As a lawyer, no one really wants to talk to me about my everyday job. But, I have some entertaining conversations about running. I admit enjoying the common introductions that start with, “And he is our marathon runner . . .”
- Replacement of unhealthy addictions with a more positive one–
Challenging athletic events do draw some “all or nothing” personalities. That wiring sometimes gets people into trouble when applied the wrong direction–either in substance use disorders or other addictive behaviors. Focusing that energy into such activities has helped thousands get on a better path.
- A reason to get outside–
The proven health benefits of outdoor activity are mounting. But, in our modern world, we sometimes have no reason to be outdoors. Think how contrary that is to our genetic ancestry? Most exercise activities, especially long ones, can be done outdoors.
- A way to get away from the kids, just for a bit–
We raised five of them. Enough said.
- A reason to get away from work, just for a bit–
We have jobs. Enough said.
- To train ourselves to overcome hard things, and apply that ability elsewhere–
We are regularly faced with challenges that feel too big for us. It may seem trite, but I honestly tap into my endurance activity training (and many other life experiences) to remind myself that I have faced other impossible-sounding challenges and met them. I still remember my first one mile run around a block in my neighborhood, in my late 30s. I had to take walk breaks. When I trained for my first full marathon at age 47, my first training run was 4 miles, and it wasn’t easy. But I ran 26.2 miles several months later, and have now done so 23 times. So, when facing a daunting task, I just focus on the next step, just like marathon training.
To experience the unexpected, the mystery. What will it really be like?–
There is no question that we need much of our life to become routine, comfortable, predictable, and to know generally what we’re doing. But, it can get pretty boring if it is ALL rote. Physically challenging events like this put us in unknown territory. That is satisfying in a different way.
- As a way to compete, against ourselves and others–
I truly think I am on the low side on competitive drive. But, it is still there. Wanting to beat my own times drove me to push harder for several years (Um; not so much recently). And, even in my last marathon, which was a slow one, I was still looking over my shoulder, making sure I finished in front of certain friends! The Goggins Challenge is really a competition against your own psyche, which is the one that really matters.
- As a way to participate, rather than spectate–
We, as a society, spend hours watching other people pretend to be other people, pretending to do things (many of them impossible) on a screen. Or, maybe, we are watching other actual people, actually doing something, on a screen. Let’s not forget to actually DO something once in a while! One of the coolest things about many endurance events is that the amateurs get to do the same course as the pros. The last runner to finish the New York City Marathon ran the same course, as the elite runners. David Goggins ran at the same time as his participants. Where else can you experience that?
I know I am missing more motivators than I’ve named, but I think there is a bit of each of these going on in our “Why.” I clearly favor some over others, and different reasons take the lead at various times and events. For the Goggins Challenge, one really stood out for me–doing something that requires my entire focus. Modern conveniences and technology are fantastic, and I would not want to go back to life without them. But, I think many of us recognize the constant barrage of distractions that accompany this constant connectivity. It is hard to get even a short break from it, and any extended separation is likely to require intentional planning. But, I feel that separation when I am on a long run–even if I’m listening to something. My mindset is different; what I’m doing at that moment is all-consuming–I’m running, a long way, until I’m really tired. I am not answering emails, checking social media, taking calls, writing, working client matters, watching unlimited entertainment options, etc. Just running. Full marathons may provide this singular focus for 31/2 to 4 hours, which is a pretty good block of time. But the Googins Challenge is an even better “focus” opportunity, for a number of reasons. First, it is longer. The event covers 48 hours, and the further into it you get, the less you are able to do anything else. You certainly stop caring about much else. The physical fatigue and sleep deprivation eventually puts you in survival mode. And, that is the second benefit of this format. Trying to just survive sounds dreadful, right? We do everything we can to stay far away from that line. But, adventure seekers and distance athletes know that there is something tremendously satisfying about that mindset. I speculate that our ancestors experienced most of life in survival mode and that modern humans miss it–or at least miss having some of it. I noticed that it didn’t take long before my whole being was dedicated to running a segment, recovering, eating, sleeping and going again. Except for the Instagram launches by Goggins, and sending some photos to our kids, I was never in front of a screen–for two days. How often does that happen? That experience fills something in us that we miss.
We are learning that, while enjoying the benefits of modern life, we must recognize that our bodies and minds are still built to move, eat naturally, be outdoors, and be in the presence of other people, more than our modern lives demand. Now, instead of those wellness needs happening naturally, we have to seek them out–plan them into our lives. I find events like the Goggins Challenge and similar athletic events help satisfy these mental and physical cravings for me and many others. These are some of the possible “Why’s” that keep thousands of participants coming back for more.