One afternoon, my wife Krista came into the room with a big smile and said, “Hey, I just heard about this really cool challenge inspired by David Goggins, where people are running 4 miles every 4 hours, for 48 hours.” We chatted about it for a few minutes, and quickly came up with our own variation that included a 100-mile twist. We would run 4 miles every 4 hours, until we hit 100 miles. Giving ourselves no time to overthink this insane idea, we set the starting time for the very next day at noon. Having two extremely spontaneous partners in a marriage can sometimes be dangerous, but it also has its benefits.
Normally, our preparation for an ultra is intense and takes up a lot of time. This was strangely different. We plotted out a simple route where we would walk out of our driveway, turn right and run 2 miles out and then turn around and come back. No hydration packs, no bathroom breaks in the woods, no problem. This 100-mile race included an aid station every four miles, and at this aid station, we would be able to rest for over 3 hours. But it got even better. We could sleep, shower, watch TV, get fresh clothes, eat real meals and hang with the kids. What could possibly go wrong?
Our first loop brought ideal weather with sunny skies and temps in the mid-40s. We chatted, laughed and 43 minutes later, arrived back at the house. Loop two was even better, as we headed out in shorts at 4 p.m. This was the perfect blend of ultrarunning and normal life.
After loop two, I scarfed down salmon, couscous, corn and salad. I was feeling energized, so after dinner, I grabbed my chainsaw and cut up a big limb that had fallen into the yard. As I finished picking up the last of the branches, it was getting dark and I hustled back to the house. Fifteen minutes later at 8 p.m., we headed out for loop three with our headlamps, excited about our first night run.
The first mile and a half of our route is a gradual climb along a river, with an elevation gain of about 175 feet. At midnight, we headed up the hill on loop four. We turned off our headlamps for a few minutes, and the scene was incredible–millions of stars popped out of a clear sky, with views of a bright crescent moon.
We slept for a couple hours after our midnight loop, and then the alarm went off at 3:45 a.m. This was when I experienced my first moment of regret. The adrenaline had worn off, and Krista and I weren’t quite so perky as we headed out on loop five. I brushed off this feeling and laced up my shoes as we began our familiar route. I was also feeling the effects of my first critical error: the large salmon dinner I had inhaled that evening. As we turned around at mile two of the loop, the negative thoughts came pouring in and an all too familiar question came into my head, “Why am I doing this?”
We reached the 48-mile mark after our 8 a.m. loop on day three. I was beginning to feel like the tin man from the Wizard of Oz. That night, for dinner between loops, our 15-year-old son drove me down to our local pizza place, where we got takeout. However, my enjoyment of the pepperoni and mushrooms was slightly tainted by the gloomy weather forecast. Rain was coming in overnight, and it looked like our last 32 hours of this challenge would be wet.
The wind picked up during our third night as we worked to keep each other motivated. During our midnight run, we played music to lift our spirits. At 1 a.m., after the loop, we burrowed into our blankets and as I drifted off to sleep, I could hear the rain beginning to fall. Loop 17 was a doozy. We headed out into the night with our rain gear on and the rain and fog made visibility very low, even with our headlamps.
After our lunch run, we had 19 loops finished with six more to go. For the last couple of days, we kept convincing ourselves that we would just get to 48 miles and that would be enough. Then we pushed the target out to 60, and then 70. It’s kind of like a typical 100-mile race where you go through low moments and just tell yourself, “I’m just going to get to the next aid station, and then I’ll stop.” Then you get there, and you just keep going.
Maybe we spoke too soon, because the 8 p.m. loop on our last night gave us a new obstacle: thunder and lightning. It was hard to relax and not flinch every time to sky lit up with lightning strikes. As we shuffled through the storm over miles 80-84, I kept reassuring myself that the probability of us getting hit by lightning had to be very low. We picked up our pace, running faster than we had in days and returned soaking wet.
On Monday at noon, we embarked on our final 4-mile loop. It was strangely anticlimactic, but also wonderfully satisfying at the same time. The physical challenge was there, but nowhere near a typical 100-mile race. The mental game, however, was off the charts. First there was sleep deprivation, which reminded me of a time when our sons were first born and being up every two hours. Then there was the monotony of the same 2-mile out-and-back. This challenge also levels the playing field, whether you run a 6-minute mile or a 12-minute mile. The 100 hours is the same for everyone. You can’t rush it—you just have to wait.
There is so much to worry about right now–the health of our country with this ugly, impending curve, the selfless healthcare folks who put themselves in harm’s way, small businesses struggling to stay afloat and our senior population who is the most vulnerable of all. But, as was the case with our challenge, time keeps ticking by. It reminds me of that hopeless feeling I sometimes get in an ultra when I’m 20 miles in with 80 miles to go. At that moment, it’s hard to imagine finishing the race. But I know in my heart that we will get through this together.