Tuesday, July 21, 2020

4/4/48 & Finish Lines

It took about 5 days after completing the 4/4/48 challenge for my head to clear from that fog that settles in after an event in which you completely empty your tank. I still obviously gave myself the full week to continue eating whatever I wanted because that is one of the best post-race rewards, but the fog is something I never knew I'd miss so much.

Don't get me wrong, the fog is hugely inconvenient and certainly not a sign of healthy brain function. It isn't conducive to focusing, remembering what you walked into a room for, multi-tasking, or even single-tasking. But the fog is also my little reminder that I plowed straight through an old limit.

Our training allows us to put our output into autopilot for a given intensity (i.e. race-specific speed or power). When we get into this mode, our bodies will be able to do what they've done before- what we've trained them to do. So we can only get to new limits when we're focused and intentional about pushing past the old ones. We have to be continuously taking in the feedback from our bodies, calculating how much we have left in the tank at a given intensity, and consciously applying that output. It is physically and mentally exhausting.

About a month before the challenge, there was a day when Ironman cancelled a bunch of events scheduled for the fall, and for some reason that was the trigger that made me realize I was going to have to find a way to manufacture the intensity of a race on my own.

Ryan blasting through the water-gun aid station

For most of us, 2020 has been an anxiety-inducing year. The disruption from our distractions and upheaval from our relentless numbing has been important, but hard. When we feel anxious, our focus is in our heads, not in our bodies. The quickest way to get back into our bodies and shed the anxiety is through movement. Movement allows us to feel more settled in our thoughts so that we can deal with life more simply and not feel overwhelmed by the chaos. For me, when the movement is at it's maximum intensity, and the simplicity of my thoughts regresses to "get oxygen," "run faster," and "try not to die," it feels nothing short of transcendent. 

David Goggins (Navy Seal, Ultra-runner, & Author) came up with the 4/4/48 challenge: running 4 miles every 4 hours for 48 hours. We did a modified version (5/4/24) back in May, and I realized that "just finishing" is not nearly enough for me. I need more out of myself.

Screen shot from our video footage of the event
So it was settled that I was going to "race" 4/4/48. I had absolutely no idea how to go about that: how to pace it, how to manage energy, and if/when I was going to run out of gas and have to crawl my way across my made-up finish line. What I did know was that the only way to guarantee that I emptied my tank was to go out hard and expect to fall off at the end.

Through the 1st day I was holding a sub 7:30 pace, which didn't feel too bad at the time. I thought I needed a little bit of a cushion for my sub 8:00 pace goal and this seemed like a modest buffer. I continued to run sub 7:30's through the 4am and 8am runs on Sunday, so naturally I started to get ahead of myself, thinking I could continue to hold that pace and not use the cushion.

Then came the noon run on Sunday. At that point we were already 32 miles in, it was pushing 100 degrees, and for some reason Ryan and I decided to run on the completely exposed dirt trail by our house. I came in at 7:45 pace, but not easily. When I got back inside, I was a little dizzy, too nauseas to eat anything, and I spent the whole break period going back and forth between laying on my bathroom floor to shivering under the covers in my bed. It was obviously not a good sign, but unfortunately for me, I'm way too stupid to give up. I just thought I might have to walk the last 12 miles, which I was not happy about.

Then somehow around 3:30pm, right before we were supposed to head up to do the 4pm run with friends, I felt ok enough to get out of bed and head back towards the start line. I had figured out that I could cruise the last 12 miles at 9:00 pace and still finish with a 7:50 average, so I felt good about that.

I ran the first 1/2 mile or so of that next lap nice and easy, and then the race mode switch flipped back on and I couldn't let myself phone it in. I finished that lap right at my 7:30 average.

The last 2 runs at 8pm and midnight were brutal. I had never run anything close to the distance I was at, and I had certainly not maintained any kind of speed for that long. But I had gone through the tough stretch and I could see the finish line. My 7:30 pace goal, although completely arbitrary, was the closest thing I had had all year to a real meaningful competition, and I wanted to win. For the last run, I came in at 7:43 average, which was the exact number I needed to hold to make my overall average 7:30 on the dot. I could not have run any faster. I stopped my watch after those last 4 miles, then turned onto my street to walk home, down the finisher shoot,

In the dark,

By myself.

I closed my eyes, pictured the shoot, held out my hands to collect high fives from the make-believe crowd, and sobbed my eyes out.

Sure, it was a little dramatic, but your level of commitment is directly proportional to your level of vulnerability. That's why people have such a hard time setting goals that they can't guarantee. It's emotionally risky.

Right before the last 4 mile segment, I reached out to my team of athletes who were still running with me, and I wrote them a little note about finish lines. Really though, I wrote this for myself:

"It's difficult to explain what it's like if you've never experienced it. Yes, it's the culmination of your hard work and dedication to your training, and the sacrifices you made along the way. But it's also sort of a graduation to a new state of being. You become a different type of person when you make it there, and it always gives you what you need most. If there's a part of you that ever thought, "I can't do this," or "I'm not smart enough, strong enough, resilient enough, experienced enough," in any part of your life, the finish line proves that you are and you can. That's why we fight for it."

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