Pounding the Pavement

Two running challenges. 148 miles.

I’ve written before about how I’ve really picked up my running routine throughout Covid, in particular, my post about my self-created marathon throughout New York City last summer. 

Nearly a year has passed since that marathon, and with most official races still canceled for the first half of 2021, it’s been the year of “challenges” in the fitness and endurance community (not that I’m really a part of either). 

I’ve now completed two pretty tough (for me) running challenges that I was extra annoying about on Instagram, but never really wrote about my experience here on the blog, so may as well fill you in on what was really going on in my head.

Challenge 1: The Goggins Challenge

When: March 5 - March 7, 2021

What: Run 4 miles every 4 hours for 48 hours straight. Created by the motivational monster and ex-Navy SEAL, David Goggins (Google him)

Experience: while I hadn’t ever run 48 miles in 48 hours prior to this challenge, I was reasonably confident I could accomplish the task. Popping out for 4 miles is usually a ~30 minute activity so I figured I could always muster the energy even 12 times in a row.  Unfortunately, this was by far the coldest weekend of the spring in New York with temperatures hovering around freezing most of the weekend. That made the running a little annoying (I’d much rather run in warm weather) but also made me throw on tights and a toque and gloves for most of the runs which is uncomfortable and a little time consuming. 

What I learned very quickly with this challenge was that time and preparation were the deciding variables. While it sounds like you run every four hours (I left at 11, 3, 7 on the clock), the run, cool down, and shower will take at least one hour in total. You also (especially with many layers in cold weather) need to start dressing and stretching for your next run at least 15 minutes early. That leaves only 2 hours and 45 minutes between runs if you’re well prepared. You also probably want to eat something, and if you’re coming home from a 3am run, you’ll want to try and catch some shut-eye. 

All is to say, the biggest difficulty with this challenge was sleep. Waking up at 2:45am to throw on clothes and go run through Times Square in the middle of the night is tough yet exhilarating, but getting home at 3:35, showering, then trying to sleep before your 6:41 alarm goes off is much tougher. Anyone who’s tried to sleep after a late night workout knows how hard it is to fall asleep quickly.

Anyway, with a lot of help from Lynn - she made almost all the meals, biked alongside me for a couple runs earning the alias #citibikelynn, and even ran the water to warm up my shower before I came home from each run - and tons of support from friends and family over social media, I was able to conquer the challenge and raised nearly $5k for the Children’s Hospital of Manitoba. Thanks to everyone who donated!

Results:

Challenge: Health Week 2021

When: June 20 - 26

What: Run 100 miles in 7 days

What started as a fun challenge with some people from work, turned into absolute hell. The idea was to go from Sunday to Saturday and give people the option of creating their own “stretch goal” - something related to health that they wanted to become more consistent at. I provided suggestions like walking 10,000 steps per day, sleeping 8 hours per night, cooking meals each evening, meditating every day, etc. 

After listening to a ton of endurance podcasts (Rich Roll, Triathlon Taren, etc.) I heard how common it was for professional or semi-professional endurance runners or triathletes to complete 100-mile training weeks. Granted they usually don’t have full-time jobs and can take naps in between their runs, but I still wanted to know what this really felt like. 

So, armed with the fact that some of my friends from work signed up for their own challenges and we were going to encourage each other throughout the week, I crafted a plan and began on Sunday, June 20. We intentionally ran the challenge from Sunday through Saturday so that if you wanted to stack your weekend effort, it would be broken up. 

Sunday was beautiful. Coming off a weekend of restaurant tours with some friends in town, it felt good to get out in the sun and crush 17 miles. For the route, I headed up the Hudson and over the George Washington Bridge into New Jersey then back to the Upper West Side. The GW always provides a tasty view of NYC on a sunny day. 

For those Arnold Tutoring fanatics doing the math at home, I’m sure you’ve realized that 100 miles over 7 days works out to just over 14 miles per day. Given this, and the fact I had to work every day, I made the plan to run 2-a-days each weekday, aiming for a daily 13-14 miles then make up the balance on Saturday with a long one. 

The week was going swimmingly. I was in a nice groove of 6 or 7 miles in the morning before work, not really worrying about time, and then a nice 6 or 7 mile run in the evening. 

Surprisingly, I didn’t really sleep that well all week, and that’s what eventually caught up to me. Friday morning was rough but I got through 6.5 miles thanks to starting a new audiobook, Michael Lewis’ “The Undoing Project”. Friday after work was even worse, but again punched out 6.5 miles knowing I had to get back for a fun Zoom call with Dan and Steve.

Saturday I woke up and had to stare an 18-mile run square in the face to complete the challenge. I did sleep in later on Saturday, which my body clearly needed. The downside of this was that the heat had already crept up to nearly 30C by the time I left around 11:30am. 

I don’t know if it was the heat or the couple glasses of celebratory wine at a nice dinner the previous evening, but I knew I was in trouble about 3.5 miles in. I stopped for water in Hudson River Park as I was making my way down the west side of Manhattan, stretched a little, and realized the accumulation of the week was hitting me. 

I passed Chelsea Piers and hit the 6 mile mark - only 1/3 into the run - and was dripping sweat, moving slowly, and essentially running on empty. I considered turning back and breaking the 18 miles into two runs, but instead I made a new rule. The west side highway has a running path along the Hudson river that stretches the length of Manhattan and they have an abundant number of water fountains. Dominic (from the New Hampshire and Myrtle Beach blogs) would famously tell me to not touch an NYC water fountain with a 10-foot pole, but I was in desperation mode, and felt I could lean on Moderna for protection.

The new rule: I could stop for water and a stretch anytime I saw a water fountain, as long as I had run a mile since the last fountain. This got me through the turnaround point just past the Staten Island Ferry port at Battery Park. I stopped for a quick Instagram video near the Statue of Liberty and then faced the long trek back.

The good thing about an “out-and-back” run route is that you don’t really have a choice but to run home. So that’s what I did. It was an absolute struggle the entire way, even the last mile - it requires a big uphill climb from the water up to the street level and I was basically seeing stars after the climb. Thank god I had a tasty bagel and vegan cream cheese waiting for me upon arrival, plus a towel ready to soak up the pile of sweat I was producing (see picture below). I haven’t felt like that after a run for quite some time. No will to move, almost sick to my stomach, it was wild. Clearly the compound effects of the challenge taught me a valuable lesson.

In the 24+ hours since the challenge finished, I’ve been thinking about what got me through that run when I was feeling pains and strains and nausea that I hadn’t ever experienced. It’s always going to be different for each individual, but when things get dark for me, I try to channel two people. The first is the aforementioned David Goggins who says that when most people think about quitting, they’re likely only 40% of the way to their full capacity/effort. Meaning they still have 60% left in the tank. Even though I’m super familiar with this quote, I still take a moment to re-read it and think: Hmm, where in my life have I thought about giving up or quitting, but I didn’t actually come anywhere close to the limit of my efforts?

The second is Mr. Terry Fox. Like many Canadians, I consider him an idol of mine, even though he died 5 years before I was born. My favourite quote from him is when a reporter, asking Terry how he pushed on for a marathon per day on one leg, said “how could you manage such a feat?” and Terry responded something to the effect of “I just kept trying to run to the next telephone pole”. Basically anytime I’m tired on a run or in life, I try and think about Terry and know that I can dig deeper.

Results:

Anyways, that’s what I’ve been up to on the running front. Still working from home. Still loving New York City and running all over it. Now I’ll aim to stretch and sleep for a couple weeks to recover. I hope everyone is having a great start to their summer!

Thanks for reading,

Mike