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For an endurance athlete, David Goggins is downright huge. A 6-foot-2-inch Navy SEAL who weighs 290 pounds and can bench press 435, Goggins decided one day that he would like to find the toughest race in the world and raise money for SOWF, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which helps support the families of Navy SEALs who have lost their lives.
He determined that Badwater, a 135-mile run across Death Valley, just might fit the bill. To qualify, he had to run 100 miles in less than 24 hours.
Goggins found an event near his home that featured a one-mile road loop and, using only Ritz crackers and Myoplex for fuel, he entered his first running event. Yep, his first race would be a 100-miler.
The first 50 miles seemed to fly by. The next 50? Not so much. “I was a fool and very ignorant,” says Goggins. From mile 51 until mile 70 it was gut-check time. During the final 30 miles he was walking and barely moving. “That’s when I had to take my SIU pills,” he says.
“My ‘suck it up’ pills,” he says. “I realized early on that the mind can help you overcome anything. I had a very hard childhood and realized that to become a man, I’d have to do things each day that really suck.”
He ran 100 miles that day in 17 hours and qualified for Badwater, but his kidneys shut down and he broke most of the bones in his feet. He actually ran 50 miles per week on casts to train for Badwater, where he ended up finishing fifth.
Guess what triathlon he targeted for his first multisport experience? That’s right, Ultraman.
He flew to the Big Island of Hawaii for an event that starts with a 10K swim and a 90-mile bike ride on day one, a 171-mile bike ride on day two and a double marathon from Hawi to downtown Kailua-Kona on day three. A screw went through the wheel of his rental bike 100 miles into the 171-mile ride, and he lost half an hour. He gained a lot of that back during day three and finished second overall.
“I like to test myself with something I hate doing,” he says. “I get no enjoyment, no light feeling from running. My legs hurt like hell and I hate every minute. My satisfaction comes from the fact that I’m helping fellow SEALs.”
In 2008 he and a fellow SEAL parachuted into Kailua Bay for the start of the Ironman World Championship. He finished the race in 11:24.
Then, two years ago during a bike race in Alabama, Goggins realized something was wrong. An echocardiogram showed he had a hole in his heart the size of a poker chip. He had two surgeries to repair his heart, and it has taken him two years to feel anywhere close to healed.
Goggins decided to put running, cycling and swimming on the back burner and look for another “fun” way to abuse himself. He decided that he would break the world record for pull-ups in a 24-hour period, which stood at 4,020.
He used a portable pull-up bar, did his first 2,000 in six hours live on national TV, but stopped because of a bad wrist and finished with 2,588.
In his second attempt, he did 3,207 in 12 hours. He pulled the plug because of an injury to his right palm. But in his third attempt, on Jan. 20, 2013, Goggins broke the record in Brentwood, Tenn., completing 4,025 pull-ups in 17 hours.
“I train and compete at a level that makes me uncomfortable,” he says. “In my mind, that’s when you find out who you really are.”
Bob Babbitt (@bob_babbitt) is the co-founder of Competitor magazine, the co-founder of the Challenged Athletes Foundation, the host of Competitor Radio and an inductee into the Ironman Triathlon Hall of Fame and USA Triathlon Hall of Fame. To hear his interviews with more than 500 endurance legends, visit Competitorradio.com.
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