While making plans with Danny last April for a joint dayhike of Skyline-to-the-Sea, he told me about an oddball ultra-marathon—the 4MPH Challenge—where each “runner” maintains a pace of 4 miles-per-hour—essentially a brisk walk. If it takes you less than an hour-and-a-half to complete the 6-mile course, you wait until the hour-and-a-half is up before heading back for another 6 miles. And if it takes you longer, you’re out! It continues back and forth like this until there’s only one participant left. In that way, it’s fairly unique—a race won by distance, not time.
I found the constrained pace compelling. I typically estimate 3mph for dayhikes, but that includes snack breaks, photo-ops, etc. Subtract dallying and 4mph seemed doable. That said, I didn’t give it serious consideration through most of 2016—organized competitive racing isn’t my thing. But Danny must have mentioned it again, so in early December, I signed myself up “in the interest of trying new things”.
I officially started “training” at the beginning of February, walking 2.3 miles to (and sometimes from) work, whenever the weather was clear. I timed myself to get an accurate sense of my pace. For the most part—backsliding only after that jog down Mt. Diablo—I was able to reach my target: 4.25mph. But the question remained, would I be able to do so over 6 miles with 200 feet of elevation gain and loss, and then repeat that feat again and again and again…?
On Saturday last weekend, Danny and I hiked 13 miles from the Mitchell Canyon Visitor Center to the summit of Mount Diablo (previously), and then jogged all the way back down. My quadriceps complained all week. I did this (in part) because I’m “training” for a “race” on March 18th called the 4MPH Challenge, taking place just west of Redding. It’s a kind of ultramarathon, with no set distance, that you walk, briskly. The only requirement is that you complete each leg of the 6-mile course in 90 minutes or less. Hence 4MPH. The “winner” is the person who walks the farthest. Wish me luck.
We bought a Jeep. When I tell people this, I forget that I have to clarify. A Jeep Wrangler. The One True Jeep. We call her « La Jeep ». She was born in 2006 and traveled 93,000 miles to find us. She’s the last year of the TJ generation. Sport trim with a 6-speed manual transmission, midnight blue paint, and 30″ tires. We got her to go off-road.
With semi-spontaneous vacation opportunities somewhat limited by Stephanie’s school schedule, we set aside two weeks in early June (between her spring and summer semesters) almost a year in advance. Our plan amounted to little more than a list of Utah’s best known natural wonders—and an ill-fated attempt to rent a Jeep Wrangler in Cedar City, UT. The rental fell through, but the puddle jumper was already booked, so Cedar City it was—a blessing in disguise, as Cedar City is just over an hour from both Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. A great starting point. Everything else (including the route) we made up as we went along.
While hiking with my Dad on the Pacific Crest Trail two years ago, we averaged 18.75 miles-per-day over 8 days. It was difficult terrain, and we encountered snow daily, so it took several days before we reached our target pace. But as I got stronger and the terrain got somewhat flatter, we eventually made it over 20 miles-per-day, several days in a row. My brother Matthew hiked a section through Oregon with Dad, encountered altogether different obstacles, but he similarly managed to cover 160 miles over 8 and a half days.
It was our respective PCT experiences that led us to believe we could complete the 220-mile long John Muir Trail in 11 days. So we took a rough elevation profile of the trail, divided it into 20-mile segments, and discovered that if we followed it blindly, we’d be sleeping at the top of several high passes. A slight re-jiggering was in order, one that would also account for the fact that no matter how much we trained in advance, nothing quite prepared you for the real thing—besides the real thing. Thus we landed at what became our rough 11-day schedule: warming up with two “easy” 17-mile days, before ratcheting it up to 22, 21, 20, 16 (resupply), 24, 22, 22, 22, and 18 miles.