Here’s How To Survive The 4x4x48 Challenge

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!

how to survive a 4x4x48 challenge

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.

Alright, ready?

Here are my tips and strategies for getting through a 4x4x48!

Training For a 4x4x48 Challenge

how to survive 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.

how to survive a 4x4x48 challenge

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

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

4x4x48 challenge

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…

how to survive a 4x4x48 challenge

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…

how to survive a 4x4x48 challenge

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.

Why?

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!

Here's How To Survive The 4x4x48 Challenge 1

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.

Here's How To Survive The 4x4x48 Challenge 2

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!

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and good beer. More at his bio.

28 thoughts on “Here’s How To Survive The 4x4x48 Challenge”

  1. Hi, I did it a week earlier (aka this past weekend). Started at 10pm Friday night. Started off at just under 8:00/mi pace for first 3 legs with 2 hour sleeps during the night legs then fueled before my 10am run and then got quicker as the challenge progressed.

    I kept doing normal stuff so still went shopping carried on decorating and even put together a spin bike on the Sunday. Found getting head down before my 2nd night for a couple of hours then in between the next two helped with getting final few done.

    Ended up running my last one fastest with two sub 7 minute miles to finish my challenge sign average pace of 7:33/mi over the 48 miles. Did same undulating out and back route.

    Oh and it wasn’t planned. I did a normal training week then so it at 9:30pm Friday night and laced up and did it. Crazy hard but super fun. I documented all my runs over on social media and strava

    Reply
    • Hey Richard,
      Thanks for sharing!
      Cool to hear you got faster, and managed to sneak in a spin session 😀
      Great to hear your experiences, if you could share a link to your Strava / social media posts I’d love to check out your challenge!
      Cheers
      Thomas

      Reply
    • That’s awesome Richard I started early also due to my work. I’m on my last leg. I start at 830pm. This is a wicked challenge but I had a lot fun! I ran the first 4 legs then been doing walking and running to save the legs. I’ve posted on instagram for my friends to see.

      Reply
  2. I completed the 4x4x48 challenge on my 48th birthday. My brother in law and I completed it together. Our support crew was awesome and was the reason we completed it. We had help with food. We had our family and friends running some of the legs with us. We had trained for a marathon but the total mileage still was challenging. Sleeping in between legs was harder than I thought it would be. So I agree, any chance to sleep take it. But the biggest advice I would give: have people run the legs with you. Keeps it interesting. Gives you others to talk to about the challenge and how it is going. More people involved makes the challenge more worth it.

    Good luck!

    Reply
    • Chris,
      Awesome stuff – thanks for the pointers and for sharing your experiences.
      Definitely would help in keeping it interesting !
      How was your mental game towards the end?

      Thomas

      Reply
    • That’s awesome. I did it last weekend on my 47th birthday. Started out with a 9 minute per mile pace, but ended up averaging closer to 10 min per mile. Best advice I have for anyone is to keep moving your legs between runs and stretch before going to sleep. Also prep your food. I ate a ton of bananas because they are easy and fast energy.

      Reply
    • I was a soldier, punishment sometimes was to be put on 4 on/4 off. So, never enough time to get sleep. Just that schedule alone made you into a walking zombie after a week. Because I had developed a rare, incurable, degenerative joint disease, my officers decided to punish me in the only way they could, given my condition…

      So, I’d get it for a month at a time. No fun.

      Reply
  3. Im looking forward to Running it this weekend, (5th-7th march)
    little bit nervous also, Ive recently decided to start a blog, and this will kick start it,

    Ill be logging my experience throughout, last leg will be a local 10k (virtual)

    Couple of family members have said they will do a couple of legs with me

    Reply
    • Great to hear Andy – thanks for sharing the blog, I’ll be keeping an eye out over the weekend!

      Good luck 🙂

      Reply
  4. Great tips, thank you!! I’m running it this weekend as well. Nerves are kicking in but it’s these challenges that help to add the spice to life.

    Thanks again.

    Reply
    • Hello I’m in midst of the challenge! Been enjoying it a lot so far, maybe except for the lack of sleep, but it’s that type two fun. I’ve gone live with a fellow challenger that I met online that’s doing it also. That has been a fun aspect of it as I don’t know anyone local running it.
      My online friend raised a good question, does the run end at 4 pm Sunday or 8 pm Sunday. 8 pm makes sense to me as it’s a more full 48 hours, rather than shorter than 48 hours. And having followed David Goggins for a little while, I don’t think he would support going short. So in the spirit of staying hard, I’ll be doing a 13th run at 8. What do you think?

      Reply
      • Hey Aaron,
        To me, you’ve got 48hrs to finish the challenge.
        Your final running window starts at the 44hr mark and you have 4 hours to complete the last 4 miles if you need it.
        If it takes you 30 mins to do those 4 miles, then you finish the challenge in 44hrs and 30 mins!
        That’s it!
        Feel free to go for a 13th run but it’s not necessary 🙂
        Good luck and hope you finish strong
        Thomas

  5. Just finished it at 3 am – great mental challenge! Unusual cold and wind made it harder. Listened to an incredibly inspirational book, which made was a good distraction from boredom and nagging physical “owies” that are going to naturally creep in with this distance. Tattoos on the Heart by Greg Boyle. Don’t forget to eat healthy carbs throughout! Good luck and have fun! Relentless forward progress!

    Reply
  6. Great advice! It’s currently 8:00 AM CST and I have three more rounds to go. I certainly underestimated how difficult this challenge would be, and I keep asking myself why I’m even doing it, but in the end, I can assure you that it is well worth it. These are the things you’ll remember, pushing your physical and mental limits is incredibly fulfilling. Don’t run it for the admiration of others, run it to prove something to yourself. By all means, reserve your energy when you can, but don’t quit because you want to, it’s easy to surrender to the overwhelming desire to give your body more rest than it needs, but just go into it knowing you will be uncomfortable and that you will likely regret taking it too easy when it’s all over. Thus far, the hardest part has been just starting each run, but I promise once you get into it you will find a rhythm and that sense of dread will be replaced with determination. I would highly recommend to anyone running this to switch up their route. Rather than running the same road over and over again, switching things up helps a lot mentally and keeps things from getting too repetitive. You can do it!

    Reply
    • Eat real foods, early and often!

      Your appetite could well peel off in the latter stages, as sleep deprivation tends to do that.

      I’d also recommend taking an energy gel before each 4-mile stage – at the start it may not be necessary, but once you’re say 16hrs+ in to the challenge they might help you round. Just avoid gels with added caffeine as they might keep you awake when you’re trying to sleep 🙂

      Reply
  7. My husband and I (68 and 63 yrs young) did the challenge that started March 5, 2021 which was our 40th wedding anniversary. Last minute decision and so glad we made it. Had to start 10:00pm central time so not much sleep before we started. But as we’ve gotten older it seems we just don’t get as much anymore. My husband was nice enough to run by my side the whole time even tho he would have finished much sooner than me. We had 10 legs under 49 minutes and 2 legs in the 50’s. We had a total of 48 miles in 9 hours, 7 minutes and 2 seconds. We followed several of your suggestions (food, pad with runs listed and he exercises his legs/back religiously unlike me) and had friends and family out to cheer and run with us. It was an anniversary we will never forget and our daughter made us a great video from our documented before and after entries. Never too old to run!!

    Reply
    • Hey Susie,
      That is awesome work – congrats! What a way to celebrate your 40th wedding anniversary, what an inspiration!

      Thanks for sharing your story 🙂

      Thomas

      Reply
  8. Can I please ask everyone that has taken part for some guidance on the type of food you fuelled with on the days prior to starting the challenge and during the challenge, between legs? And also how much water is adviseable as im very conscious of the detrimental effects of drinking too much or too little water, can have on running as long as this challenge entails. Thanks

    Reply
  9. Just finished the challenge at 1am this morning. It was fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I am used to running long and on tired legs so knew that the running wouldn’t be an issue. Managing the down time between runs was really important. I managed to get some sleep before the midnight run and also the 4am and just kept the rest of the day very low key. Eating fairly normally but usually quite early after finishing a run to allow time to settle. Definitely having a good support crew and people to run with you will keep you focused when you get to the sharp end of the challenge.
    I raised money for Alzheimer Society during the run and was really overwhelmed by the level of support that I received.
    Fabulous challenge – go for it

    Reply

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.