As the world gets weirder, it seems so do our running events – and the 4x4x48 challenge is one of a few crazy running challenges currently getting people off their butts and into ‘crazy runner person’ mode.
Inspired by ex-Navy Seal and ultrarunning nutbag David Goggins, the 4x4x48 challenge is one of a few ‘David Goggins Challenges’ that are gaining in popularity.
So what is the 4x4x48 Challenge, exactly?
The 4x4x48 challenge involves running 4 miles, every 4 hours, for 48 hours.
That’s 4 miles, 12 times. Over a 48 hour period.
So 48 miles in total (or 77 kilometers).
In other words, we’re well into ultramarathon territory.
But – this is ultra-running with a twist.
Instead of doing all those miles in one run, the challenge is broken into 12 4-hour chunks.
This means that you’re never running for too long without stopping, so your legs won’t get fatigued in the usual way they do during an ultra.
But it also means that you never really get a proper break – a chance to get some real sleep or let your body recover.
So what does all this do to the body, and what’s the best way to survive a 4x4x48 challenge – perhaps the most gnarly David Goggins Challenge around?
Let’s jump in!
Hard Truths Of Doing a 4x4x48 Challenge
First off, some warning shots across the bow for anyone who thinks they can squeeze one of these in without too much suffering – the 4x4x48 challenge will test your limits, whether physically, mentally, or both.
Before we get into our tips for running a 4x4x48 challenge, here are my main thoughts:
- the mental fatigue is what’s going to really get to you and potentially mess you up. For that, having systems and a good support crew in place is essential (we’ll get into that shortly).
- Going slow is actually a good strategy – I explain why below. And there is nothing wrong with walking – in fact, accepting early on that walking is inevitable will make you prepared for when you need to walk, instead of trying to keep running.
- During the in-between time when you’re at home, I recommend doing normal life things (whether it’s doing the dishes, writing emails, talk with friends, whatever). Why? It’ll take your mind off the 4x4x48 challenge and keep you in the real world.
- Nap whenever you feel you can. This isn’t a sleep deprivation challenge. Sleep is fuel for a 4x4x48 challenge.
Here are my tips and strategies for getting through a 4x4x48!
Training For a 4x4x48 Challenge
Physical training for a 4x4x48 challenge is a pretty unexplored subject, just because the challenge is so unusual. Using the standard tools like periodization training arguably have little to offer.
But here are my top two approaches:
i) Strength Train – Especially The Legs
Doing some strength training is probably the best form of non-running activity any ultrarunner can do, and when you come to things like 4x4x48 challenges, it’s even more important. Why?
Those leg muscles are going to go through an extreme amount of on/off stress. Building them up beforehand is probably the best thing you can do.
I recommend squats and deadlifts every 4-7 days – preferably with free weights like an Olympic bar rather than on a rack machine.
ii) Run On Tired Legs
One thing that is inevitable during a 4x4x48 challenge is that you will be running on tired legs as the challenge progresses. Luckily, we can train for this.
You want to go for a run the day after a hard run or a heavy leg strength training session, when your legs are tired and heavy.
This fatigue training is designed to make your legs perform better when tired, and keep going for longer.
How To Survive a 4x4x48 Challenge
1. Proceed Conservatively: Go Slow
4 miles is not a terribly long distance, in that the difference between a fast 4 miles and a slow 4 miles is probably around 10-15 minutes.
In other words, there’s little to be gained from going fast.
In the grand scheme of things, you’ve got 4 hours to complete each 4 mile chunk – so going quickly to get back and get some more rest in might seem tempting, but in the long run doesn’t have much affect.
Running fast brings with it some issues – you’re stressing your system more, both your muscles and your cardiovascular system. This might not seem like a big deal on your first few rounds, but once you’re well into day 2 you’ll definitely notice if you’ve been pushing hard on those early rounds.
So adopt a very conservative running approach:
- Sit at a solid 2 out of 10 in terms of your perceived effort (think of it as a speed at which you could easily hold a normal conversation with someone).
- Focus on shorter strides to minimally engage those legs.
Both of these tactics will help preserve your legs, paying off dividends as you get into the back end of the 4x4x48 challenge.
2. Draw Up A Plan
It’s amazing how ultrarunning can turn your brain into fuzzy mush…suddenly you forget if you’ve run 40 miles or 60 . . .
Same goes for the 4x4x48 challenge. While you’ll easily be able to mentally track your progress over the first handful of rounds, as you progress you’ll almost certainly lose all ability to remember where you are in the challenge, and even what day it is. Running loads plus sleep deprivation tends to do that.
That’s why it’s essential to have a system, and stick to it.
Have a plan like my one above so you can manually track your progress (the less complicated and more ‘tick-boxey’, the better).
Doing maths is next-to-impossible after the 30 mile mark, in my experience.
You should also consider systemitizing your food, hydration, and sleep. Knowing what you’re going to eat, and when, means you can switch your brain to autopilot and just focus on getting through the task in hand.
It’s easy to get mixed up in those latter stages, and – believe it or not – forget to eat, or eat at the wrong time, or drink too much water…
3. It’s All About The Support Crew
As much as this is your challenge, given that 4x4x48 challenges are a sort of virtual race, your support crew is essential.
Assuming you’re using your family as a support crew, remember that they’re not just helping you out – they’re giving up their weekends (or whenever, free time) AND probably keeping things ticking over at the house, all while you do something pretty nuts.
Get your support crew on-side and onboard early. Explain to them all your strategies and systems, and that way they’ll know how to support you best – especially once those wheels begin to shake under you…
4. Start In The Morning
What time should you start the 4x4x48 challenge?
I recommend starting in the morning, and either 4am or 8am are good options.
Starting in the morning means you’re kicking off the challenge after a night’s sleep, so on full battery.
I also generally recommend trying to sleep during the night-time – for those midnight and 4am rounds, consider them sleep interruptions) – and nap excessively.
Any time you feel you can catch 40 winks, go for it.
This is a running challenge, not a ‘go without sleep’ challenge.
Sleep keeps you sane!
5. Keep Moving Between Rounds
That is, when you’re not trying to sleep.
When you’re at home between rounds, keep yourself moving a little – by which I mean walk very gingerly around your house. Don’t sit down and watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy between sets of miles, then.
Gentle, occasional movement keeps the blood flowing in your legs, which flushing our lactic acid and promotes recovery.
6. Have Your 4 Mile Loops Planned In Advance
The 4x4x48 challenge is to run exactly 4 miles every 4 hours…so you don’t want to unintentionally go running extra miles, especially early on.
In the days and weeks leading up to your challenge, go and map out at least a couple of 4-mile circuits you can do that start and end at your front door.
- Try and choose flat routes where at all possible; and remember that it’s totally fine to walk hills.
- Choose routes that you can safely and confidently run at all weird times of day and night.
- Try and choose a route that you’re not going to get bored of after running it 12 times (if that’s possible).
Gearing up for a 4x4x48 challenge?
Sound off below – share any questions or other tips you’ve got!