I have a friend who is an ultramarathoner (she runs 70km+ days over mountains, you know… like a normal person), and previously she had told me about a podcast she heard with an ultra-athlete named David Goggins.
She raved about how inspirational he and his story was, so I catalogued it in my mind to check out at some point in the future. After a few recent long-ish rides on my bike, I remembered his name and added the Joe Rogan podcast featuring him to my Spotify queue.
Yesterday, I completed my first road cycle ride over 150km. This was a huge accomplishment for me, since my previous best distance was around 130km, and 150 obviously was a round psychological point in my mind. I live at high altitude, in the Rocky Mountains, so there was a ton of hard climbing involved and some tough weather to deal with. The whole ordeal took me around 7 hours.
I kicked off my ride at 10am by listening to the above mentioned podcast, and what I heard absolutely blew my mind. It also pushed me to strive like I never had before.
(Note, most of the information below is paraphrased from my memory; excuse me if there are any glaring mistakes.)
David Goggins grew up in the rural United States, to a relatively poor family. He faced racial discrimination in school, as well as abuse at the hands of his father at home. All through his life he struggled with body image and self-esteem issues.
Eventually, he applied to join the US Air Force Pararescue unit, failing his entry training twice before being accepted. Around this time, he was diagnosed with Sickle Cell trait (not the disease though). He used this as a reason to leave the military, when really he was afraid of the heavy water element of the unit operations and training. Goggins spent his next years working as an exterminator, drinking milkshakes and gaining weight. Around this time he ballooned up to nearly 300lbs.
After trying 3 times (and losing over 100 pounds in 3 months), Goggins became a Navy SEAL in 2001. During each of his tries, he had to go through their BUDS training and the infamous SEAL “hell week”. Along with his fellow recruits, Goggins was subjected to 130+ hours without sleep, plunges into frigid waters, days of boat hauls, crawls, runs and more. One of his fellow trainees eventually died following the training, even.
Pretty hardcore stuff. But this was just the beginning for him.
Fast forward a few years, and Goggins had now served in the Middle East as a SEAL. Mostly focusing on bodybuilding, he was still a heavier, bigger guy, at 6’1″ and around 280lbs. In 2005, he and some military friends of his decided to run in the first Las Vegas marathon to take place down the Vegas Strip – until their tragic loss in a helicopter accident in Afghanistan.
Because of this, David Goggins decided to raise funds for the now-broken families of the fallen soldiers. He went online and searched the “10 hardest things to do in the world.” That’s where he found the Badwater 135 – a legendary 135 mile ultramarathon through Death Valley. He called up the organizer to ask how it worked – was it in stages, a few miles a day over several days?
No. It was all in one go. Plus – the organizer told him – you had to be invited to run it. This was no race for just anybody. At this point, the most Goggins had every ran in one day was 20 miles, tops.
The race director, Chris Kostman, liked his attitude however, and thought he was doing it for the right causes. He told Goggins about a 24-hour ultramarathon race in San Diego in a few days. If Goggins could do 100 miles there, maybe he could come to Badwater. At this point, the most Goggins had ever ran in one day was 20 miles, tops.
Goggins showed up to the San Diego race after having lifted heavy weights with a friend only just the night before. With no training, and having never ran even a marathon (26.2 mi), he set out. His girlfriend at the time, a nurse, was there with some carbohydrate drink and Ritz crackers for nutrition. Thats it.
David ran a stunning 70 miles in his first 11 hours, before his body began to shut down. At this point, he urinated blood, and even shat himself. He could barely move. But his willpower made him keep pushing on, keep going. He would run another 31 miles, to total 101 miles, in under 18 hours that day. With fractures in his legs and possible kidney failure, he returned home to recuperate.
Ten days later, David went to Vegas with family to attend the planned marathon down the strip there. He initially intended not to run but just walk along instead, having still a long way to go recovering from his injuries. Despite this, when he began to walk the route, he was overcome with drive. He knew this was a race he should be running.
He would go on to finish the Las Vegas Marathon, his first, with a time of 3:08 – good enough to qualify for the renowned Boston Marathon.
Next, he entered the HURT 100, considered one of the hardest endurance races in the world. He would finish in ninth place. Note, this is within 2 months of his first 100+ mile run!
This proved to be enough for race organizer Chris Kostman. In July 2006, David Goggins finally ran the Badwater 135 along with 84 other ultramarathoners. He had lost 50 pounds by this point. Goggins would finish this race, possibly the toughest in the world, in a stunning fifth place. Wow.
He has since raised over $2 Million USD for charities through his athleticism.
This is a bit of a bonus, but in 2013 he broke the world record for pull-ups in 24 hours (after 2 failed attempts, including having the muscle ripped from his arm and 3rd degree hand burns). He completed 4030 pull-ups to get the record – plus over 6000 in his failed attempts. What an animal!
One of David Goggins’ main motivations is to be uncommon among uncommon people. For him, being a Navy SEAL made him uncommon. But once he was one of many SEALs, wasn’t he just as common once again? This is why he changed units throughout the military a few times, and is always striving for a new way to push himself. Starting from the bottom makes you humble and have to build yourself up all over again.
In the podcast, he says there are a lot of people out there claiming to be warriors. Most aren’t though, and I agree. He says 100 men might go to war; 10 plain shouldn’t be there. 80 are just targets. 9 do most of the work. Only 1 will be a true warrior though. That’s what he’s striving for.
David Goggins never listens to music while he runs (even when running for 39 hours…). Most people (myself included) use intense music to hype themselves up when lifting or attempting something crazy. Goggins won’t do it, because he knows he needs to search deep within himself to find the drive he needs, and that when the chips are down and you really need it – your music won’t be there for you. What are you supposed to do then?
To quote Goggins himself, “There is no finish line.” You have to earn it every day.
Even though I just beat my personal best on my 150km ride, its nothing compared to what I could be leaving on the table – that is, what else I have inside me.
Goggins discussed what it would be like when he goes to heaven (or wherever), and meeting God. Would you rather go up there, being the person you could have become (for him, an overweight exterminator). Or would you rather go as the absolute best person you could be, who got the most out of their life?
You can check out David Goggins’ personal site here, or follow him on social media to get updates on what he’s doing. More recently, he’s been fighting wildfires – digging trenches for miles, with no trophies or cameras watching – just for the challenge. Sounds like something he’d do.