This was supposed to be my year of rest. After 2 marathons, 6 50ks and several (like A LOT) of races the last two years, I was going to take a break. This was before Covid-19. Before the crazy came to us. Before homeschooling our kids and staying indoors and not being able to hug our friends. Before we needed to find ways to stay sane.
So running took on a new meaning in my house. Every day, after several exhausting hours trying to teach two elementary age kids math and writing and reading and all the things, I am always so frustrated and angry and out of patience that I need to find something to keep me from being an asshole to my family. My family, (being me, my husband, and our two spirited boys,) made the choice last summer to move into a big house with my parents. Though it’s perfectly lovely most of the time, being stuck inside with 5 other people has been really hard for me, especially since I’m not a “stay at home” kind of person while my kids are generally at school. Running has become my only release, and before I knew it, I had started running anywhere from 3-5 miles every day plus a half marathon or so every weekend. For the first time, I started signing up for virtual races. And then I decided I wanted to do one “thing,” just one big challenge during all this pandemic mess, that would be really memorable and maybe even kinda crazy. And that’s when I began to ponder the Goggins 4x4x48 Challenge.
Have you heard of the 4x4x48 Challenge? I hadn’t before a couple of months ago. David Goggins is a ultramarathoner (as well as an ultra-cyclist, triathlete, motivational speaker, retired Navy SEAL, and all around amazing bad ass) and he inspired this idea in his book Living with a Seal. The challenge, if you accept it, is to run 4 miles every 4 hours for 48 hours. That’s 12 runs totaling 48 miles in all. Crazy but somehow doable, right? I was intrigued by the idea of getting to do an ultradistance but spreading it out over two days, and getting the comforts of my own home during rest periods. It’s only 4 miles, right? Less than an hour on my feet at a time. I could do that in my sleep. And as it turns out, that’s what it felt like at some points.
What I hadn’t really anticipated, and what I never could have really grasped until I was in the thick of it, is that it’s a really a pretty big imposition to have to live your life in 4 hour segments, even if it’s only for 48 hours. I started to get confused about what day it was and I was in a constant state of anxiety because there was always another run coming, some sneaking up on me faster than others. And though I loved having the comforts of home, it was actually pretty hard to do something like this outside of a race environment. When you do a 2 day relay, for example, you are surrounded by bleary-eyed and stiff muscled runners going through the same stuff and it somehow makes you feel like you are part of a major warrior community. You get none of that with this challenge. It’s you against the world and life is not frozen in time like it is in a race.
In the end, it’s pretty awesome though. Once I got through leg 7 of this “one person relay on steroids” as a friend called it, I reached a state of runner’s euphoria that I’d never experienced in quite the same way before. It’s something I can’t quite explain, but I felt amazing and, for once, felt like nothing that life could throw at me would get in the way of this. This was an important lesson in the midst of a a Covid World, and I didn’t take that feeling for granted for a second. When all was said and done, I felt lucky to have endured it.
If you are considering doing a challenge like this, here are a few things I’ve learned along my journey.
- Change your clothes after every leg. I made the mistake of not changing my pants after my 2nd run and took off for the 3rd leg thinking I’d save on laundry. Big mistake, as chafing ensued on my upper thighs and butt cheeks. Not a fun experiment.
- With the above being said, make sure you have enough clothes to run 12 times. I was able to reuse a few sports bras by leaving them out to air dry. Other than that, I changed everything for each run after the above snafu. I did all of my laundry the day before the challenge so I’d have all my athletic wear available and I’d be able to complete a full load when I was done. And boy, did it stack up!
- Eat well and drink plenty of fluids. Everyone has different tolerances when it comes to their windows of when to eat and drink surrounded a run and I encourage you to find yours. If I ate an hour before my run, that worked well for me, and I generally had chocolate milk immediately upon my return and a high protein snack 20 minutes after I was done running. Also plenty of coffee (Four Sigmatic makes my favorite adaptogen coffee,) Liquid IV, and the electrolyte of your choice are handy and don’t skimp on real meals, because you will need real food! Just time it appropriately and realize you will get hungry! Leg #7 at 9AM felt awful but leg #8 at 1PM felt great because it was right after lunch.
- Find something to listen to that will motivate you. I went many years without running with music. When I started running every day, I discovered how necessary it was to listen to something to keep myself motivated. Do what works for you. For me, listening to the Peleton app on my phone helped immensely. I’d pick a 30 minute running workout, and generally the genre was rock because that’s what makes me move. I think it’s important to mention I didn’t actually follow the advice of the instructor on the workouts because doing speed intervals was not going to help me get through 48 miles. But I found the music kept me going and having the instructor throwing pep talks in my ear made me feel less alone. Since most of my runs lasted approximately 40 minutes, I’d have around 10 minutes left after the workout before I was done, so I enjoyed listening to an audio book on my library app for the finish. It was a nice cool down. Also I love my wireless Bluetooth Aftershokz. You could even have someone run “with you” if you want to arrange a phone call with a friend and listen through your headphones. Whatever propels you forward is extremely valuable.
- Body Glide is your friend. As mentioned before, I had some chafing issues. First because of my pants and later under my arms when I wore tank tops. Lube up with whatever works best for you and try to catch it early.
- Plan! I had clothes laid out for the night legs. That way I could set an alarm, wake up and change without thinking and get on the treadmill. I used a tread for the night runs only. Decide before you race what you will need for food and hydration and make sure they are easy to reach for and there’s not a lot of prep time. As everyone will tell you before a race, don’t let this experience be a time where you want to try something new. Eat and drink foods and drinks that you know don’t bother your stomach, and don’t use this as an opportunity to try a new bra or pair of shoes. Control what you can control and it will be so much easier.
- Shower, rest, run, repeat. I didn’t want to shower after every leg because that was just too much, but I hosed off in the shower and changed into the same comfy clothes during my rest times. Wear what you know will make you feel comfy and cozy. Rest as much as you can, stretch and relax. You’ve earned it.
- Don’t plan on getting much accomplished. This sounds naïve but I didn’t really get the full impact of how this would feel until I was in it. I thought about how I wasn’t going to sleep much and that I was going to have to run 48 miles in two days, but I hadn’t really considered what life was going to be like with having to stop life every 4 hours for 2 days. And since I started my internal timer when I started my runs, (and not when I finished,) a 40 minute run factored in plus shower time means the rest period only lasts 3 hours. It’s a lot. The first day was fine, but as I did more and got more sleep deprived, I started to feel a little loopy. If you’re a mom, think about what the first few months of having a newborn is like. If you’ve done a two day relay, it’s a bit like that too, though worse because you aren’t existing in a sleep-deprived world, as mentioned before. You’re in a dazed runner’s world where you will likely be surrounded by people who don’t really get what you’re going through. That being said, I was able to turn in my voter’s ballot and pick up Click Listed groceries, but it was during day #1 before I had my first night of no sleep. Plan accordingly, and realize your rest time should be for just that!!
- Document your results. It sounds silly, but you might actually forget what leg you are doing and/or what time you’re scheduled to run. I kept a spreadsheet where I documented the expected start time of each run, the actual start time for each, the actual miles, my pace, and the time it took to complete. This helped me immensely. I could track if I was getting better or worse and I could easily remember what was my next step and when.
- Have a support system in place. This is the most important rule, in my opinion. Without my running community, it would have felt like it never happened. If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, did it really fall? There was no race company to record results, no aide stations to check in with, and no other people in sight who would understand what I was doing. I have a running group on Facebook that I created 4 years ago, and a large majority of my running community have access to it. I started a post there before I started the 4x4x48 and announced I’d be putting updates there after every leg. I posted my thoughts and feelings as well as a photo with every post. It was so encouraging to come back and see everyone’s comments. I have the absolute BEST cheering squad! And runners GET IT. Some still thought it was crazy, but everyone was supportive through the whole thing. I felt like such a rockstar and it helped move me along during every single run. It reminded me of what it’s like to run a relay and to tell everyone in your van about your experiences after you climb in after every leg. I highly recommend you have at least one person that you check in with regularly. And if you have Facebook, there are even a few 4x4x48 pages dedicated to this very event.
Overall, I’m really glad I did the Goggins 4x4x48 Challenge. It was definitely the memorable experience I was after and it actually went really well. I kept my speed consistent and it only took about 24 hours to get over the soreness. I would do it again, though it would be super fun if there were a way to make this an actual even with other people. I don’t know what that would look like, but if anyone has any ideas, count me in!