It was the few minutes before mile 44 of 48 that almost broke me. Sitting in my tent, listening to the sound of rain hammering the thin fabric all around me, I was immersed in total darkness. Shivers racked my body as I huddled deeper into my wet and sandy sleeping bag. My mind was foggy and delirious from the lack of sleep, and kept repeating the same question over and over again: “Why am I doing this?”
Let me back up. I recently completed a fitness challenge invented by David Goggins (arguable the hardest human being alive) in which participants attempt to run 4 miles every 4 hours for 48 hours. What that boils down to is running 48 miles over the course of two days, which is just shy of completing two marathons back-to-back.
The mileage was hard on my body, especially because I hadn’t run more than ten feet since my first half marathon I had completed back in November. I was coming off the bench with absolutely no preparation or training, jumping into the biggest running event of my life. The longest run I had completed before this was 13.5 miles, and the fact that I would surpass my distance PR just a few miles after completing the first quarter of this challenge, excited me.
Surprisingly though, it wasn’t the distance or the sleep deprivation that made this challenge so difficult. The hardest part was knowing that as soon as I finished a run, there was another 4 miles waiting for me. And that the next 4 miles would be more arduous and painful than any run I had ever been on.
I ran the challenge with three other brave souls. We averaged around 9 minute miles over the course of the weekend which meant we usually finished each run in 36-40 minutes. By the time we stretched out and walked back to our campsite, we had about 3 hours to recover and prepare for the next run. The first hour was used to rehydrate and eat as much food as we could stomach. Eating was easy and enjoyable at first, but as the weekend dragged on, we had to force ourselves to eat and switched primarily to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. On day one I ate two burritos throughout the course of the day, and paid for it on the 12AM run.
Each time the four-hour marker rolled around, we would groan and hobble our way to the main street and embark on another 4 miles of painful exploration. Some runs were easy and we talked the whole time. Others were miserable, requiring each of us to go deep into our minds looking for anything to keep us moving forward.
By day two, chaffing and blisters had become old friends and even the smallest of movements triggered severe discomfort. Vaseline became our drug of choice and was applied in unsustainable quantities. We were like rusty machinery that needed oil and lubrication to keep moving, and Vaseline was our only light in a very dark world.
As we entered the final stretch of 8 miles, I was starting to consider if the pain in my left leg was going to become permanent. I was walking with a pretty severe limp, and it took me about a mile for my leg to become numb enough to run normally. But we were close to the finish and I knew that giving up was not an option.
As the clock struck midnight and we took off on our second to last run, it began to lightly rain. My contacts had given up on me since I had slept with them in the night before, and now I was running with my glasses on. The light rain turned into a torrential downpour, and my glasses started fogging up. I could barely see as rain poured off the lenses and into my eyes. I stumbled blindly through the darkness, sloshing through puddles that sent water cascading into my shoes.
Soaked to the core, and with one more 4 mile run to go, we all crawled into our tents and attempted to fall asleep. It was daylight savings that night, which meant that instead of having 3 hours to recover we only had two. The clock would jump from 1:59 AM to 3 AM, and we would have to face our demons an hour ahead of schedule. Despite being wet, sandy, and sweaty, I managed to doze off.
My alarm was set for 3:50 AM but I was woken up early to what sounded like a wave crashing into my tent. I checked my phone: 3:45 AM. It was now raining so hard that I was worried my tent may fold in on itself. Those 15 minutes were some of the longest and hardest of my life and in the end it was an innocent rain storm, not the mileage, that almost broke me.
We all managed to drag our bodies out of our tents and complete the final 4 miles in the pouring rain. Delirious and soaking wet, we celebrated our sweet victory and took a picture of the four of us standing together arm-in-arm. We looked like wet zombies who had just completed a marathon, and you could see the pain behind our eyes. And yet we were ecstatic, grinning ear to ear with sweet victory. We felt invincible, and that anything was possible. We had pushed ourselves beyond the point of breaking and had returned victorious.
This challenge was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my whole life. It was also among the most fulfilling. I owe my participation in this challenge to a friend and mentor who inspires me because he understands the following:
Sometimes we need to push ourselves beyond our perceived limits to see what we are truly capable of. Only once we have crossed the threshold of what we previously thought was possible, will we begin to understand the limitless nature of what we can accomplish.