Last year, I listened to the book Living with a SEAL on Audible, where Jessie Itzler trained with David Goggins - the eponymous Navy SEAL - for a month, listing the workouts as they go. Whilst the book inspired me to work out harder and for longer, I never did any of the workouts. This weekend, David Goggins challenged his followers to complete one of the workouts mentioned in the book.
If you haven’t read Living with a SEAL or don’t know who David Goggins is, watch some of Itzler’s stories about their month together. None of those stories come close to the insane feats that Goggins has achieved, but that’s besides the point.
According to Itzler, the hardest challenge mentioned in the book was when Goggins wanted them both to run 48 miles in 48 hours, by running four miles every four hours. He called this challenge the 4x4x48. To train for this, they were both going to run 4.25 miles every 6 hours for 24 hours (aka 4.25 miles every 6 hours for a whole day).
As far as I could tell from the book, Itzler didn’t finish his 4x4x48, though not for lack of trying - they achieved good times on very hilly terrain until he encountered problems. Jessie sprained his groin after the fourth run, meaning he only ran 16.1 miles. They substituted the remaining runs with pushups, and ended up doing 700. This is still a heroic effort, but it has to be said that he didn’t achieve what they had set out to do.
Goggins is one of my idols, so when he challenged his followers to do the 4x4x48, I knew I had to do it.
Now, for the week leading up to Goggins’ challenge, I had been enjoying a series of lumps swelling in the space where the leg joins the torso. It felt like I had a cluster of hot marbles stuck in my leg, and it was painful to the touch. I didn’t plan to take Goggins up on his challenge, naturally.
The morning of the challenge, I went to see a doctor about the lumps and she told me that it was probably just my lymphatic system swelling for some reason, and that it would go away with time. It was probably just my body fighting off an infection. Naturally I worried that it might be Coronavirus, and I asked if I would be okay to do cardio.
She said that it’d be okay.
Well, that’s it then, I realised. The challenge is on.
Ironically, I believe that the area where I was experiencing the swelling is still referred to as my groin, so both Jessie and I had groinal issues whilst doing the 4x4x48.
Now, 48 hours is a long time, and 48 miles (77.25km) is a pretty far distance. It makes sense to prepare for it.
Running 4 miles burns an estimated 600-700 calories for my body, according to my fitness apps. 48 miles therefore requires between 7200 and 8400 calories. Let’s call that 3900 per day. Taking into account my basal metabolic rate, which is somewhere around 2100 calories per day, I estimated that I needed to eat somewhere around 6000 calories for each 24 hours of the challenge, or 1000 calories between each run, if I was looking to maintain my current weight. I don’t mind being slightly under that threshold, as losing fat is still something I’m working towards, but being drastically under the threshold could cause problems. I could fail to complete the challenge, or perhaps even cause medical complications. It’s important to feed the machine.
Eating wouldn’t be a huge problem during daylight hours - especially if I ate a big lunch before starting the challenge - as there are plenty of places to eat within a short walk of my hotel. It was the nights that I figured would be a problem. I’m not exactly a picky eater but I often find it hard to find somewhere that I’d be willing to eat, and the places I frequent all close at 10PM.
I decided to stock up instead; buy a couple of boxes of cereals to eat; pick up a couple of portions of tofu tacos; and maybe some fruit and potato chips too. This meant that after the night runs - and perhaps at times when I felt too exhausted to go out - I’d be able to eat at my hotel.
As for hydration, I wasn’t too concerned. Whilst yes, I’m in Malaysia where even a short walk can make you sweat, I’d make sure to always bring a litre bottle with me. I guessed that I’d spend all of my daytime runs in the KLCC park, where there are chilled, filtered drinking water stations for if I got too thirsty. The remaining 4 runs would be at night when the park was closed, but it would also hopefully be a lot cooler meaning I’d sweat a whole lot less.
As for electrolytes, there’s a 24 hour 7/11 on the ground floor of my building, so I’d be able to easily buy sports drinks after each run. It just so happened that this challenge had good timing, as they were running a promotion on the brand I usually drink.
I also thought briefly about my clothing situation. Whilst I used to have 4 pairs of everything, I only have 4 t-shirts, 3 pairs of running shorts, 2 pairs of underwear, and 3 pairs of socks now. The difference is because I’ve worn out much of my clothing recently and haven’t yet gone to replace them.
After 4 miles, I’d definitely be wet from sweat, and would need to rinse and clean the clothes I had worn. My clothes are made of a fast drying material, and from experience I knew it took somewhere around 8 hours or so for them to dry out to a satisfactory level.
I decided to reserve a pair of shorts and a tshirt for wearing between runs, as I didn’t want to risk having to wear damp clothes in my downtime. This left the situation looking pretty bleak, as by the time one piece has be drying for about 7 hours it’d be time to start wearing it again. I’d almost certainly be wearing damp clothes at some point during the event…
If I thought of this sooner I’d have bought replacement clothes, but I didn’t, so that was that. Preparation over, I guess.
Friday 6th March 2020, 16:00
At 4PM on Friday 6th March, I got dressed and laced up my running shoes, ready to begin the ordeal ahead. I was starting earlier than David Goggins by 20 hours, mostly because of a 16 hour time zone difference, though I had done the time zone conversion wrong at the time and thought I was starting just 12 hours ahead.
I wouldn’t usually consider running at 4PM in Malaysia. The few times I did that, I regretted it because I overheated rapidly and experienced sunburn on my neck. Thankfully for this first 4PM run, the sky was heavy with dark clouds and looked like it might rain.
For the past month, I’ve been restricting myself to zone 2 heartrate (as measured by my Polar OH1), so it felt pretty good to run at a pace faster for once. A few enjoyable loops of the very hilly KLCC park later and I was clocking in at 4 miles in just over 40 minutes. Strava helpfully chirped up with a message saying that this run ‘was harder than [my] usual effort’. You’re damned right! I felt great.
I asked a stranger to take a photo of me. Whilst walking back to my hotel, it started raining almost right on cue to cool me down. I showered, taking the time to wring the sweat and rainwater out of my clothes, lather them in soap, rinse them, and wring them out again once more. This will be the first and last time I discuss showering. It’s boring and there aren’t many ways to write about it. Know that I showered after every run, and know that wringing my clothes out really ripped apart the skin of my hands by the end of the challenge.
I did stretches in my down time whilst I waited to begin the next run.
Friday 6th March 2020, 20:00
By the 8PM run it was already dark. There seems to be a peak time between 6PM and 8PM in the evening when a hundred or so other people walk and run in the park. Come at any time before or after that during an evening, and you’ll feel like you’re running alone.
As before, it felt good to run at a harder pace than usual, but I began to feel a sharp pain just below my hip (I think the top of my IT band?) towards the end of the run. This has been a common occurrence since I arrived in Kuala Lumpur, and I can’t really explain it, though it might be something to do with the running surface in the park. A few times, the pain has left me struggling to walk properly the next day, so I’ve been substituting runs for the elliptical and stationary bike in an attempt to give myself time to heal between runs. I’m not going to be doing any substitutions this time, so I just have to suck it up. The show must go on, and I finish strong again in just over 41 minutes..
Again, I showered and rinsed my clothes, before going to pick up tacos from Mad Mex in KLCC Suria, as I had planned. I ate a portion and brought two portions home. I go there often enough that the staff know my order, so they were surprised when I ordered so much. Even if they didn’t know me, I think that they’d be surprised by such a big order. I explained what I was doing with the whole running event. They could hardly believe it, and they had to keep asking me questions to make sure they hadn’t misunderstood because of the language barrier. They wished me luck and told me they’d fill my tacos with extra vegetables and tofu rancheros free of charge. I picked up some pineapple chunks and some potato chips from the supermarket downstairs.
I called my girlfriend and helped her practice English for her upcoming IELTS test. Despite usually staying up later than this, I already felt very tired. I think it might have been some kind of ‘sympathy exhaustion’, with my mind feeling tired when it thought about the version of me at the end of the race. I was trying not to think about it, but my mind knew what was coming.
Run 3, Midnight
Saturday 7th March 2020, 00:00
Midnight is accompanied with the closing of KLCC Park, so I wasn’t able to run there for this leg of the challenge. Instead, I left my hotel, picked a direction, and ran. When I reached approximately 2 miles, I turned back. It’s a simple system! Unintentionally, I ended up passing by Jalan Alor, a famous (and generally crowded) street food… uh.. street. I’ve been avoiding it on this trip to KL because of the Coronavirus, not that I’ve ever eaten there. It still seemed pretty busy, which worried me.
This lap was just a little slower than the pace of my previous two runs at 43:10. I don’t think I was running any slower, I think it was just that there were some delays whilst I had to wait for traffic lights when I needed to cross the roads.
I didn’t know if it was okay to take naps as part of this challenge or not, so stayed awake. I’ve almost run a half marathon now, and it’s 1AM, so I’m tired. My eyes really didn’t want to stay open, though I was terrified that I might accidentally fall asleep and miss part of the challenge.
I tried to stimulate my brain by practising languages on Duolingo. I’m currently learning German, Indonesian, and Spanish. I’m not really any good at any of those, but I enjoy it a lot, and hopefully one day I will be. Whilst using that app, I inadvertently ate all of the potato chips and pineapple chunks that I had bought. I hadn’t been paying attention, and I didn’t get any “you’re getting full” warning from my body, presumably because I was still hungry from running. Eating those chips would turn out to be a huge mistake, as you’ll soon see.
Saturday 7th March 2020, 04:00
Again, I laced up and headed out without a plan for where to go. The hip pain that I had felt at the end of the second run was already coming back to haunt me, and it caused me trouble from the very first step. I ignored it, and the pain quickly went away when my body realised I didn’t care.
Whilst running, I saw several big trucks spraying water everywhere. I think that they were spraying things that people frequently interact with like bus stops, traffic crossings, and trash cans. They were using powerful pressure hoses, and I couldn’t help but wonder if it was related to the coronavirus, or if it was just part of the regular city maintenance. I had seen one truck spraying water at midnight too, but didn’t make any connection at that time.
Around the mid-point of my run, I ended up running through a very lively area. Every street I had run through was dead up until this point, so I guess I hit KL’s pulsing nightlife artery. I’m not one to enjoy a city’s nightlife, and was shocked by how busy it still was at ~4:20AM. I saw lots of what I could only assume were prostitutes. They were ushering me towards them and trying to grab on to me. I have to wonder what they think the big runner guy that’s bounding down the road drenched in sweat would want with their services, but alas.
The third and fourth miles were really tough. I simply felt like I had no energy. My stomach was churning and I kept burping and farting. I realised that this was probably the 1000kcals of fat-loaded potato chips I had pigged out with earlier, and that my body was protesting that I gave it junk food at a time it needed high grade energy. I felt shame and regret.
By the time I had finished this lap (in 44:33), Goggins had uploaded a now-deleted post to Instagram where he gave some tips to his followers for how to prepare for the race and how to get through it. He was due to start in 8 hours, and had some useful advice. He recommended that you only think about the next 4 miles and not the whole 48 mile. Just take them as they come, don’t worry about the future. That’s pretty good life advice!
We suffer more often in apprehension than reality.
– Seneca the Younger
Goggins recommended eating and drinking a lot, and that you should catch 1 hour to 30 minute naps where possible. I decided to take that advice, and cracked open the tacos that I had bought 8 or more hours earlier. By now, the soft corn shells had become hard at the edges, and had split completely down the middle. It was like holding a sandwich. There was a mildly funky smell to them, the filling had congealed, and the lettuce was not looking fresh. Oh well, it’s completely plant-based. What’s the worse that can happen?
I slept for an hour and a half.
Saturday 7th March 2020, 08:00
I felt dread before starting this run. Whilst moving between my bedroom and the bathroom, my legs felt completely shot and I was limping. None of my socks had dried, so I had the fun experience of trying to put on damp socks.
By now, I’d already matched the furthest distance I had ever run in 1 day, so was now moving through new territory. I felt bloated from the chips and the tacos, and all around had a bad mentality going in.
Unsurprisingly, the run ended up being quite a slog. The park was open by now, which is nice because I don’t have to worry about traffic. It’s also a curse because the park is VERY hilly. I ended up feeling pretty terrible the whole way around; my chest felt tight, my heart felt like it was going crazy despite only being zone 2/3, and I kept burping and farting because my stomach was so unhappy with the potato chips.
If that all sounds terrible, and you’re thinking that I should have stopped, then yeah, it was terrible, and not stopping was exactly the point of the exercise for me. This experience is meant to suck. There’s no other reason to do it. It’s not a good way of training physically. It’s a good way of training mentally. It’s about making sure you keep going, even if you’re in a bad spot.
Despite how I was feeling, I soldiered on. The run ended up being 8 minutes slower than my first run, coming in at 48:48. This was partially because I ended up taking four 1-minute walking breaks to let my heart relax somewhat.
The free breakfast at my hotel was lacklustre again, and the only thing I could eat was watermelon and toast. I ate what I would guess was almost a third of a watermelon. That probably wasn’t enough calories, so I tucked in to my second portion of tacos. The normally soft shells had a consistency like jerky, and the tofu/vegetable mix were even smellier than the last time. This wasn’t going to make my stomach feel any better. I definitely regretted eating those potato chips earlier. I should had eaten these instead.
Lesson learned, don’t be weak. Don’t buy potato chips!
I tried to sleep again but failed; my stomach was not doing well.
Saturday 7th March 2020, 12:00
By now, Goggins was starting the event, so I briefly watched his livestream before setting off. This afternoon was hot. Very, very hot. Worse still, it was bright. There were no storm to shelter me from the sun this time.
It was so hot, that by the time I reached the park, my arm looked like this because of all of the sweat:
Worse was the fact that after I wiped the sweat away, it’d come back within 10 seconds. Every. Single. Time.
I compensated for this scorching heat by taking many breaks along the way to try to keep cool. Initially, this just meant dropping my place for a minute or two, but later I also resorting to walking for a few stretches.
The heat made the run feel unpleasant at the time, but I felt amazing once I was finished. Despite all the heat and breaks, I was faster than the previous run by 2 and a half minutes, coming in at 46:22, which goes to show how badly all that bloating can affect you.
I slept for 2 hours.
Saturday 7th March 2020, 16:00
If that last run was hot, this run was like going through Death Valley. Well, not really. Some incredible athletes actually run 135 miles through Death Valley during the peak of summer. David Goggins specifically got into ultrarunning just so that he could run that race. I’m not going to pretend my experience was anything like that, but it was still hot for me and I was far outside my comfort zone.
The sun was so bright that I found myself running between patches of shade on the edges of the path. I’d veer from side to side, just to be in the shade for a few seconds longer. Drenched in sweat, and generally feeling fatigued, I passed the “Marathon” mark at just over half way through the leg. I’ve never ran a Marathon before, so this goes some way to showing me that I could do it.
Towards the end of the run, I remembered that the park’s water fountains were chilled, and thought that they’d be the perfect thing to pour over myself. It took a long time to fill my water bottle up, but it felt so refreshing once the liquid hit my face. It washed the sweat from my brow down across my face, and my eyes started stinging from the salts.
All told, if the heat had slowed me down, it didn’t slow me any more than the self-inflicted bloating had slowed my 5th run. I finished in 48:38.
I ate lunch at the mall and had a 30 minute cat nap.
Saturday 7th March 2020, 20:00
When I woke up again in preparation to run this leg, I felt like I was trapped in a loop. My life felt like it had become a cycle of getting up and running that wasn’t going to end. I felt like David Goggins was torturing me, and me in particular. It’s easy to have hyperbole like that in a story like this, but it actually, genuinely felt like that. Some combination of factors from this experience came together to make it so that I honestly believed that David Goggins was punishing me, and me in particular, like some kind of weird lucid not-quite-hallucination.
I was also limping again, but badly this time. I was struggling to bend my right knee. Luckily, I had woken up with plenty of time to stretch, which helped greatly, but my knee still hurt with every step of the first mile before eventually fading to a light twinge. The bloat was back with a vengeance, and I was burping and farting repeatedly. It wasn’t too hot, so the heat wasn’t slowing me down, but it sill wasn’t a good run. The pain and exhaustion slowed me, coming in at 47:10.
As it was night time again, I had intended to call my girlfriend to help her practice English for her upcoming test, but I was too exhausted. Sorry, BRO!
I slept again, but I’m not sure for how long.
Sunday 8th March 2020, 00:00
Funnily enough, my girlfriend thought I had already finished the exercise when I told her I was awake at 23:35. When I told her I still needed to run, she thought that this had to be my last one. I wish, I still have to run 16 miles…
As before, the park is closed at midnight. I decided to copy my route from last night, as it was simple and fun.
I’m not sure if I need to keep saying this - it should be obvious by now - but this was a horrible run, and I felt terrible. That’s the point of this exercise though, so I guess it was going really well; I haven’t given up yet! Despite being cool outside, I was still overheating a lot, and I started to feel like I wanted to vomit, but not in such a way that I believed I actually would. I took a few ‘slow jog’ breaks and one ‘walk break’ to get through it. 49:50.
A highlight of the run would be when a big seed - or perhaps a small apple - fell from a tree and hit me in the head. Fun!
Rested and stretched, but I wasn’t able to get to sleep.
Sunday 8th March 2020, 04:00
This was the worst run of the event, by a large margin! I decided to head north after leaving my hotel, which meant I would be passing through areas that I had only seen a few times.
That made for a very nice sightseeing tour, but it didn’t do anything to help the fatigue. Well, that’s not exactly true, as it was generally quite flat. I felt light-headed and very weak for much of the last two miles, and I had to walk for minutes at a time just to get through things. I tried to continue jogging where I was able. I might feel terrible, but I’m not going to quit. 56:45.
I spent most of the night eating cereal and chatting to my relatives. I figured that part of the reason I struggled so much during this leg might be electrolytes, so made sure to drink a whole litre of sports drink.
At 6AM I realised that I had to run again in 2 hours, and was filled with dread.
Trapped in a loop!
Sunday 8th March 2020, 08:00
8 AM meant I was back in KLCC park. That should have be nice, but I was not looking forward to those hills.
The run ended up being extremely difficult. One of the only things that got me through it was an internal mantra that went something like “Come on Jet, it’ll end. And after this, you have just 4 more miles. That’s nothing! Come on!!”. My spirit was definitely there, but my body was struggling to keep up. On the many hills, my heart felt like it was going to burst out of my chest. My heartrate monitor was still only observing Zone 2 (~130bpm). This run finished at 58:55, the slowest time of the event.
My hotel was serving breakfast by the time I finished, so I ate a big heaped bowl of baked beans and a dozen or more slices of watermelon. I drank 500ml of electrolyte drink, and felt refreshed, and for once, not bloated.
It’s hard to overstate how exhausted I was by this point. The day was actually my anniversary with my girlfriend. We’re not often in the same physical location, so I wished her a happy anniversary by video message in the morning. I watched those videos back whilst editing this post, and was struck by the fact that it looked like I didn’t know how to speak English. Lots of long pauses at odd intervals and sentences that went nowhere. I looked exhausted. Exhausted!
I rested for an hour and a half, but didn’t manage to sleep for some reason. That’s definitely a pattern for this challenge for me.
Sunday 8th March 2020, 12:00
Finally, the last run! It was noon again, so obviously it was going to be incredibly hot. I knew that going in, so made sure to drink a litre before heading out.
Knowing that this would be the last run gave me a small second wind, and I found myself able to power through and finish strong. Well, not exactly strong, but I felt much stronger than the few more recent runs. I finished in just under 52 minutes. This last leg was 7 minutes faster than the slowest run, and 11.5 minutes slower than the fastest (which was also the first run).
I was pretty chuffed to be finished.
All in all, this was a very fun challenge and something I’d love to do again. Ideally at long but specific intervals, let’s say every six months to a year or so. I’d love to use it to track the change in my fitness and conditioning. Ideally, next time I’d love to be able to do the whole thing without slowing my pace or walking. I’d also love to see if I can get through it without bloating just by eating smarter.
The nice thing about the challenge is that it breaks a huge distance into small, manageable chunks. That’s often a suggestion that successful people make to achieving anything in life; if you need to do something, what’s the smallest chunk you can do now? Enough chunks, and eventually the task will be completed.
If I tried to run 48 miles in two days naturally, perhaps 24 on one day, and another 24 on the next, I’d probably (definitely?) fail, but by splitting it like this, I was able to keep going because I only had to focus on a 4 mile chunk at a time.
But yes, before this challenge, the furthest that I had run in one go is the 15 miles (24.2km) that I ran for Run Till You Drop. Whilst not consecutive, I now know that I am capable of running up to 48 miles!
Here’s some stats to round things off:
- 48 miles ran (77.25km)
- 48 hours elapsed
- 12 showers taken
- 7.5 hours (+/- 1 hour) of sleep
- 8 blisters developed
- 6 Foot Blisters
- 2 Hand Blisters (from wringing water out of clothes)