The Sparta Challenge

I suppose I’ve always been known for having some crazy ideas. This, though, is probably pretty high up on the list of craziest things I’ve done.

Over 30 calendar days, I just ran 300 miles. I didn’t run 300 miles in 30 days — I actually did it in just 26 days. But we’ll get to that.

I’m not really sure where this idea came from. Last month, I was in Baghdad for a 10 day visit, and while there I ran about 66 miles on 5 runs. That seemed like a lot of running to me — my shortest run was 10 miles, but my longest was 18. I had been able to get off of the airplane, after flying half way around the world, and I’d needed only a short stop at the chow hall before I’d knocked out a 10 mile run. In Baghdad, in the summer.

When I got back, I was feeling strong. I was feeling fit. I was realizing that I was a stronger runner than I thought.

Which, by the way, is a very odd realization to make.

When I got back to the office, after the 4th of July weekend, I was talking with one of my sections about the trip and the holiday weekend. 5 runs in Baghdad, for 66 miles. And the long 4 day weekend? I’d done three runs for a hair over 40 miles. I bet, I said, I could sustain 10 miles per day.

Now, I won’t tell you exactly what they said — Soldiers can sometimes use, um, colorful language — but suffice it to say, this section (hereafter referred to as The Zombies) disagreed. Nope, you can’t do it, they said.

Fine, I said. I’ll prove you wrong. In fact, I bet I can do it for a month.

Wait, one better — I bet I can average 10 miles per day, for a month.

Oh, wait — better still. I’ll race you to 300 miles. I’ll do it in 30 days, and I bet you I can do the 300 miles faster than you can.

Did I mention that The Zombies number about 15? Yeah — big section of Soldiers. Me, vs. more than a dozen Soldiers, running to see if:

1. I could average 10 miles per day for 30 days;
2. I could run 300 miles in 30 days;
3. I could run 300 miles before all of them, combined.

300 miles. Sparta!

Yeah. Not really sure what I was thinking. On the surface, that seems like an insanely dumb challenge to issue. I hope it’s no surprise that they agreed. They eagerly agreed. Of course, I had also run 10+ miles that morning, meaning that in the first 5 days of July, I’d run 50+ miles. One Zombie had run about 10 miles over the weekend (their so-called ringer).

I was winning.

So, how does one run 300 miles over 30 days? Well, carefully and with a lot of planning. I’m quite sure my wife thought I’d gone mad when i told her I was doing this. Not that I was trying, but that I was going to actually do it. I run at a pace that is often between 9 and 10 minutes per mile — that’s 100 minutes of running per day. Do you have an extra 100 minutes every day for running, and extra time for a very good shower and a change of clothes? I didn’t. Certainly not every day.

I had to make it in the morning. On weekdays, my units meets at 0630 for accountability. Most days, we then exercise for an hour, but I often do not have to be in the office until 0900. Done right, I could run for some time before the 0630 formation, and then I could run for maybe 90 minutes more before I’d need to be rushing into the shower and on to the office.

On Schofield Barracks, I put together a few runs of the right lengths. A 3 mile run up a hill. A 6 mile loop. An 8 mile loop. A 9.25 mile loop. I found that, if I was parked and suited up, I could start running at 0530 for the 6 mile loop, and would finish in time for my 0630 formation. If I was parked and suited up, I could start running at 0500 for the 8.25 mile loop, and be finished in time for the 0530 formation. I could do another 6 or 8 miles (or even 9.25 if I pushed it) and still make it to the office.

But being parked and suited up at 0530 means leaving the house by 0500, or maybe 0510 by the latest. Which means getting up at 0430, to finalize my gear (which I’d pack the night before), have a bowl of Cheerio’s, and to use the facilities (a very serious part of the day).

Ugh. 0430. That’s early. To get 7 and a half hours of sleep, that means being asleep at 2100 / 9 pm. Not in bed, but asleep.

How important is running to you? Would you be asleep at 9 pm most every night, just to be able to have a lot of rally great runs?

And yes, that hour got earlier and earlier, based on just how early I was trying to get up. I had days when I started running at 0500, which meant I was up at 0400. The earliest was this morning; I was up at 0330, running at 0430, and had done almost a half marathon before I even said hello to the Army or my Soldiers at 0630.

Oh, and yes — Cheerios. Every morning, if I can, I have a big bowl of Cheerios. Not big, like Seinfeld, but a good sized bowl of Cheerios, preferably with 1% milk. I have no special eating plan, no special diet. I start my day with Cheerios because I like them and because they seem to work well with running.

Those who known me best also know that while I am not a serious runner, I am very serious about my running. It’s a big, big part of my life. But not something that dominates my life.

I don’t live on Alaskan salmon and brown rice grown on the eastern slopes of the Andes. I don’t eat mega-protein bars, or take special gels. I haven’t sworn off ice cream or alcohol — I mean really, doing that would ruin everything.

No, I try to eat right, but I also eat whatever the hell I want, or whatever the hell my body tells me it needs. Swedish fish? Yeah, sometimes. Peanut M&M’s? There are those days. Sticky rice and mixed vegetables? Sometimes that’s what just seems right. I don’t load up on things, to prepare me for running, and I don’t act differently after runs, to recover / grow muscle / lose weight / etc. I eat, I run, I sleep some.

Have I lost weight? Not really. I had lost some, more for sure, in the prior year. Mid 2009, I weighed maybe 212 lbs. By this summer, I was down at or below 200. Sometimes below, sometimes above. I didn’t / don’t care. But I certainly do feel fit these days.

And my weight certainly does wiggle some. In a week, I could go from as low as 195 to as high as 207. A lot of that is water and food and everything else. It all tends to even out around 200, but it does wiggle. Weird, huh?

Anyway, that’s sleep and food. Now, about those miles.

As you can see, it’s a slow and steady climb to get to 300. Nothing big, nothing brash, nothing fancy. A lot of run. 26 out of 30 days.

But look at that pie chart. Now, I’ve known for a long time at the 10 mile to half-marathon distance was my sweet spot, the length of run with which I am happiest. 5 out of the 26 runs were less than 10 miles, with the shortest being just 3 miles. But that 3 mile day came right after I had a 21.75 mile day, one of just 3 days when I ran 15 or more miles. I wonder how many times one of the Zombies ran 3 miles.

But look at that big wedge — 18 of the 26 runs were 10 or more miles, and less than 15 miles. While I averaged 10 miles per day for the 30 days of this challenge, I actually averaged 11.54 miles per run, for the 26 days I did run during this 30 day period.

That just seems like a lot. A lot in that range, and a lot to average.

But, I did have 4 days when I did not run. One was the 4th of July, and as I mentioned, I had done 40+ miles during the 1-3 July window. There were two days when I had duty, and was unable to run in the morning. And one day I had a meeting at 0600, and could not run. I knew there’d be those days, and I did my best to plan for them and to adjust for them. Obviously, with some success.

I’d like to add, though, that this wasn’t some mad dash for mileage. On the weekends, especially, I’d often take to the hills to continue my adventures in running and seeing Oahu. Some of those runs turned out to be less than 10 miles, sure, but they were insanely beautiful, and included some places that have long been on my list of places to go run.

And it’s been anything but flat. My 6 mile loop goes from about 950 feet of elevation, up to about 1150 feet of elevation. The 9.25 mile loop goes further, up to about 1250 feet. But I did runs that went from the beach to a mountain pass at 1150 feet, and even from the beach up the side of a mountain, to about 2300 feet of elevation. I’d run where I wanted to run, not where I’d easily be able to get my miles. I’d have preferred to have not made the 300 mile mark, than to have missed those runs.

Three more things, and then I’ll wrap this up.

1. It’s hard to run these kinds of miles while in the Army, and not draw attention. Showing up to the first formation of the day literally dripping with sweat after 6 or 8 or more miles, well, it kind of sticks out. Showing up wearing a Camelbak, too, is a bit out of place. Towards the end, I’ve had people asking me how far I’d run that day, how I was doing on reaching 300 etc. It’s been an unusual project, even by Army standards.

2. My shoes are near death. They are a pair of Nike Pegasus, one of two pairs I bought this year back when I had maybe 600 or 700 miles on my last pair (which were ultimately good for 1000+ miles of running). This pair, though, started to split on the sides after 300 or 400 miles. I’ve been hoping they’d last through this adventure, and they barely have. I’ll do one more victory run on them in the morning, before I hide them in the yard next door (they really, really stink, too — happy birthday, Chandra!).

3. Somewhere in the middle of all this, I tried out for the 10-Miler team for my Division. I actually made it as an alternate, not because I’d fast, but because I don’t quit. While running the race, and at other times, people would ask me why I run so much (especially for an old guy). I tell them I train as I fight — this is my zombie plan. When the going gets tough, I’m going to grab my shoes and my camelbak and I’m going to outrun the zombies.

Which, by the way, I did. I did my 300 mile before The Zombies did. I won.

5 thoughts on “The Sparta Challenge

  1. Besides being mad, I get the impression you run because you can. It’s your personnal challenge, and you meet it eye-to-eye.

    Lisa is just finishing a ride across Iowa with Helgren and 10,000 cyclists, 440 miles, and has completed in her first tri.

    Can’t wait to learn your next challenge!

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