Last Updated on March 9, 2021 by Heather Hart, ACSM EP, CSCS
I first heard of the Yeti 24 hour challenge last spring, when the world as we knew it ceased to exist, and every runner took to whatever insane virtual challenges they could find to help quell the anxiety of these unknown times. The premise of the Yeti Challenge is quite simple: run 5.2 miles at the top of every 4 hours, within a 24 hour period. So, six 5.2 mile runs in a day, which equals 31 miles (or, a 50k). A spin, I can only imagine, on David Goggin’s 4x4x48 challenge.
When this challenge first became popular I had absolutely zero desire to participate. My body was broken, I was mad at the world, and the thought of running left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Thank goodness I made it past that. (Fuck, 2020 was a long year. Sorry for the curse words, mom, but…fuck. It was a hard, hard year. )
Anyway, fast forward to March of 2021. Not much has changed in the way of uncertainty of the world. We’re still wearing masks everywhere, the kids are still doing middle school from our living room… but at least I’m running again. And running well, or so it feels.
While I’ve never been one to run birthday miles (no reason in particular, I just haven’t done it yet), my 39th birthday aligned perfectly with my longest – long run for my 48 hour race in April. So, even though the plan called for 40-50 miles (there’s wiggle room. I wrote the plan, so I approve.), I figured 39 would be enough. This isn’t my first rodeo, and I recognize that often times running a 50 miler towards the end of a big training block is often for mental and logistical reasons only. Physically, it often does more damage than good. 39 miles would be enough.
So, Geoff and I decided to book a campsite at a state park that has a wonderful and pretty extensive trail system. But, life had other plans, and very last minute we decided not to go. Birthday miles aside, I still needed a long-long run per my training plan, and the thought of running 39 miles through my neighborhood – or anywhere else in this town, to be quite honest – made me make a face similar to the one I make when Geoff tells me to try some super dark, coffee flavored beer. I know I’m not going to like it, and he even prefaces it with “you’re not going to like this”, but I always try a sip anyway.
And then I remembered the Yeti 24 hour Challenge.
A quick calculation made me realize that 6.5 miles every four hours for 24 hours would equal 39 miles. And 6.5 miles in intervals around the Grand Strand area sounded significantly more palatable than 39 miles all at once (sorry Myrtle Beach, it’s not you, it’s me…). And so, without much more thought, I wrote myself out a plan and a chart on a whiteboard that I never followed up with to actually fill out.
But I did run.
Yeti 24 Hour Challenge Recap
I decided to start my Yeti 24 Hour Challenge (with a twist) at 2:00 pm on a Friday. My rationale was that I had a chiropractor appointment that morning, and further, didn’t want to spend the ENTIRE weekend doing the challenge. This whole “owning your own business” thing has me working pretty much 24/7, and Sundays (after everyone has logged their weekend long runs) tends to be one of my busiest days. Even on weekends when I was supposed to be out of town. Starting Friday would let me sleep Saturday night, and still work/do weekend adult “stuff” (read: put away my laundry) on Sunday.
Friday 2:00 pm – miles 0-6.55: Waccamaw Wildlife Refuge
The trails at the Waccamaw Wildlife Refuge have become my new favorite trails in town. And by “town” I mean, the Myrtle Beach vicinity. Technically, I think this place is located in Conway, but if you ask the board of tourism, it’s all the same anyway.
I ran 6.5 absolutely delightful miles on every trail I could find that wasn’t flooded. The Waccamaw river, which runs through the refuge, was in flood stages due to the rain we received last week. I contemplated wading through some of the flood to be able to reach even more trails. But I also contemplated the picture of the giant cottonmouth snake found in the flood waters that the local police department posted the other day, and decided stage 1 of a 6 stage run was too soon to end up in the emergency room.
I guess there isn’t too much to say about this first 6.5 mile run. It was lovely. The sun was lovely, the trail was lovely, my legs weren’t tired yet…life was (is) good.
Friday 6:00 pm – miles 6.55-13.32: My Personal Protest at the Horry County Bike & Run Trail
After leaving Waccamaw Wildlife Refuge I headed home to grab my husband and a snack. This would be the first instance of “how the hell am I supposed to eat for this thing?” that I experienced during my Yeti 24 hour challenge. You see, 6.5 miles is seemingly too short for a gel or any sort of mid run endurance food. But 39 miles still requires significant fueling.
I decide to just snack instead.
We arrive at the Horry County Bike & Run park just before 6:00. Fondly known by locals as “The Hulk”, this trail used to be my daily stomping grounds when I lived on this side of town, and before the massive swarm of 2020 mountain bikes took over.
Let me be the first to say that if I ever sound bitter talking about this trail, it’s because I am.
Geoff and I put a solid 5 years of love and labor into that trail, helping make it safe, runnable, and ridable for runners and mountain bikers alike. We built and maintained trails, organized dozens of trail cleanups, and directed races – both official and unofficial. We made incredible friends on that trail, ran thousands of miles on that trail, hell, we even got married on that trail.
But within the two last years the “run portion” of the trail was slowly chipped away at. (Which for the record, the run and the bike portion used to be EXACTLY THE SAME TRAIL.) Take away a quarter mile here, because of “blind corners”. Take away another half mile here because “bikers are coming in too fast” (heaven forbid we ruin their Strava segments by forcing them to look out for pedestrians.) Let’s add more carpet and jumps here, and faster turns and berms there, and oh what’s that? This section is no longer safe for runners, better shortcut them somewhere else.
I tried and tried to make my voice heard, and even spent two years as the lone runner on the board of directors for the mountain bike group. Alas, every suggestion I ever gave was met with a “we’ll look into it” or “go out there and mark it, and we’ll see what we can do” comment to pacify me, but nothing ever happened. And so our 7 mile run trail is now 4-something miles, much of it carpeted berm and other non runner friendly features, and you literally cannot run without constant fear of being smacked head on by a mountain biker*.
So, I’ll sum up this 6.77 mile section by letting you know that as the sun set and no bikers were at the park, I ran through every single “do not enter” sign and section that I used to enjoy running on, that I’ve now been banned from. My very own version of “sticking it to the man”.
And it kind of broke my heart…because I realized how much I missed what this place used to be.
(*Because it needs to be said: I don’t hate mountain bikers. I AM a mountain biker. I hate that the public trail is advertised as multi use, but there has been a calculated push over the last two years to make this trail mountain bike only, and severely un-pedestrian friendly. We don’t have a lot of trail options in Myrtle Beach, so this was a huge blow to the trail running community that we fought so hard to build, that is once again practically non existent. I highly debated removing this entire rant from this blog post, because I hate to give it such a negative vibe. But I feel like you should speak up for things that mean a lot to you. That place meant a lot to me, and I’ll always be bummed about the way it all turned out. Thank you for listening to me vent.)
Friday 10:00 pm – miles 13.32-19.85: Old Lady Sleep Monsters
After the Hulk, we drove home, where I hoovered two homemade bean burritos right into my grocery hole, and followed that up with a hot shower. If you had asked me prior to the Yeti 24 hour challenge what segment would be the hardest, I would have guessed the 2:00 am shift. But nope, it was most definitely 10pm.
Eating, taking a hot shower, and then sitting down on the couch is 100% a recipe for telling my body “it’s time for bed now!”. Add into that a warm, fuzzy, 24 lb cat who decided to curl up in my lap, and my brain immediately switched into sleepy mode. My normal bedtime is 9:30 pm, and I could absolutely feel it.
But I got up, got my lights on, and got ready to run. The promise of a warm bed as soon as I knocked out those 6.5 miles was definitely motivation to get out the door.
Speaking of lights, in my long winded vent above about my disdain for the direction the Hulk took, I forgot to mention my massive technical difficulties. You see, for my birthday this year, Geoff bought me a Kogalla light. I had waned one for awhile now, but in classic husband behavior, Geoff assured me it was “too expensive”. Little did I know that was his cover for surprising me with one for my birthday.
Segment #2 was the first time I had tried it out. I started with it on the lower strap of my hydration pack. But my arms passed through the field of light and those shadows were ridiculously annoying. So I spent a solid three minutes moving it to the top strap of my hydration pack. From there, it tried to blind me. So I ran the rest of that run with it in my hands.
Now at home, I found myself an old SPI-belt, and strapped the Kogalla down. Just like a runner version of Goldilocks and the three bears (call me Heatherlcoks and the three Kogalla positions) this one was juuuuuuuuust right.
I also paired my Kogalla with my new Nox Gear vest. I haven’t mentioned it yet – I live in a retirement community. OK technically it’s not OFFICIALLY a retirement community, but 95% of the households here are retirees. And while everyone is lovely, I don’t necessarily trust their driving night vision. So I wanted to ensure I was lit up like a runway calling in approaching planes.
Anyway, let’s get to the run already. (Lord help me I need to write more race reports so I can get used to staying on topic again.) I WAS TIRED. My legs were fine, of course. But my eyes just kept wanting to close. I was actually really surprised at how damn hard this segment felt. I definitely just wanted to lay down and close my eyes, but I kept telling myself “6.5 miles is NOTHING, just get it over with and you can nap.” Which, of course, made me second guess running the upcoming Country Mile 48 hour with it’s 8 pm start time. I can push through physical pain, no problem. I can push through fatigue. Sleepiness? It’s my kryptonite.
But I’ve done it before, I can do it again, and in this moment all that mattered was finishing those 6.5 miles so I could go home and nap.
Which I did.
Saturday 2:00 am – miles 19.5 – 26.63: Caffeine & Chelsey
After finishing segment #3 I came home and almost IMMEDIATELY fell asleep. I expected to toss and turn and constantly stress over the alarm clock, as I often do before a race. But nope, it was instant, much needed sleep, just shy of 2 hours worth. When my alarm went off, I got up, got dressed, and took an SIS gel with 75 mg of caffeine.
This, combined with my friend and neighbor Chelsey, would prove to be magic.
I donned my ridiculous light getup and headed a quarter mile down the road to Chelsey’s house. As I approach, I see her bent over laughing. “What’s so funny?” I asked, to which she replied “YOU!” Apparently my outfit was indeed absolutely spectacular and blindingly bright, so much so that she could see me coming from far, far away.
And then we ran. 6.5 miles goes by so fast when you are catching up with a friend you don’t see often enough. The caffeine kept me wide awake, and Chelsey even had to yell at me to slow down so she could keep up. In short, I felt great. We had taken bets before the run as to whether or not we’d get stopped by neighborhood security during our run. We didn’t …but did have two very slow drive-by’s from a clearly very confused security guard. I’m not sure if it was the fact that we were out running at two o’clock in the morning, or my insanely bright light getup that left him confused. Probably both.
Saturday 6:00 am – miles 26.63-33.13: Huntington Beach State Park
I had hoped sleep would come easily again after the 2:00 am shift. Alas, that 75 mg of caffeine probably didn’t help my case here. I tossed and turned, and maybe caught 20-30 minutes of sleep before my alarm went off.
Very reluctantly, I climbed out of bed. I think – I’m pretty sure – I ate a bagel. It’s hilarious that I can’t remember. But I definitely got in my car and drove to Huntington Beach State Park, where I planned to run and watch the sunrise.
Except my dumbass forgot to bring my Kogalla – or any lights. I think subconsciously I was assuming it would be bright-ish by 6 am. No, the sun wouldn’t be up, but it would be bright enough to see where I was going. I was wrong. And so I sat around in my car for maybe 15 minutes, and then moseyed around the bathroom for a bit, until it was safe to run.
Here in the Grand Strand area we have some incredible sunrises – but this Saturday morning wasn’t going to be one of them. The sky was full of clouds, so I barely saw the pink and orange hues on the horizon signaling the sun was coming up. Nevertheless, it was still beautiful in it’s own way.
Beauty aside, this part of the Yeti 24 hour challenge hurt. Running the first 3 miles into the wind and on the sand probably didn’t help. But I was tired – much more tired than I would have been had I simply run 26 miles straight through.
Now, I was beginning to understand the difficulty of this challenge, or others like it. I’ll admit that I, like others, initially scoffed and thought “24 hours to run a 50K is easy, nothing like the task of actually running a 50K straight through”. But now I can officially say that they are BOTH difficult in their own way. The sleep deprivation combined with legs that have tried, five times now, to start the recovery process, only to be thwarted by yet another run, made this task more difficult than I imagined it would be.
But I saw dolphins, which obviously immediately makes any pain worthwhile.
Saturday 10:00 am – miles 33.13 – 39.76: Neighborhood Stroll
Over the years I’ve learned that there are sometimes defining moments in ultra endurance events, whether it’s a race or simply a training run. They more than often AREN’T the PR’s or podium’s or the moments where you exude success. Rather, they are the shitty moments – the tough times – the instances where you survived.
“Survived” sounds a little overdramatic, but I think you get the idea. And while I never expected the Yeti 24 hour challenge to BE one of those instances for me…it was.
Because as 10:00 am rolled around, I looked at my husband and said “I don’t really want to do this anymore.” I was exhausted, but more so, my right leg HURT. My posterior tibial tendon has been flaring up from time to time, and this was one of those times. I was no longer having any fun, and what I really wanted to do was get in the shower, and then take a nap.
Besides, it was just a fun virtual event. I didn’t even officially sign up for it, because my distance was different than prescribed, and so my results would be skewed. (I did, however, spend the race entry money my sister gifted me for my birthday in the Yeti store instead on a 24 hour challenge hoodie. Don’t tell my husband. Actually, do…there’s a cat on it so he’ll probably be jealous. ) This was nothing but a training run, so I could quit now if I really wanted to. And I did really want to. From a professional stand point, I knew I was no longer making any physiological gains from this run. If anything, I was doing damage.
But, I decided to head out the door anyway, and just see what happens. I literally ran 15 feet before stopping and realizing that my leg was happy to walk, but very reluctant to run. I’m ready to throw in the towel, because the thought of walking the next 6.5 miles straight sounds miserable. Just then that obnoxious voice in my head casually reminds me that this moment right here? This is NOTHING compared to what you’ve been through, and what you’re about to tackle again (48 hours at Country Mile).
And so I walk. 6.5 long miles through my neighborhood. I walk because I committed, to myself, to covering 39 miles. I walk because I’ve learned that every time you keep pushing through when your mind has given up, you get stronger. And that the next time your mind gives up, it gets a little easier to say “no, we’re not going to quit, we’re going to keep moving.”
And then I came home, took a shower, got into my sleeping bag suit, and took a nap.
YETI 24 Hour Challenge Final Thoughts:
I’ve read a lot of tips and advice about how to successfully complete this challenge. Hell, I even wrote a blog post on it myself. I’m going to go ahead and tell you what worked – and didn’t work – for me.
Everyone mentions planning your gear and clothing ahead of time. Well, the truth is, 98% of the clothing I own is running gear. So while I did go through an extraordinarily large amount of clothing during this challenge (much to my husbands chagrin – he does the laundry) I didn’t feel the need to “plan it out”. I just grabbed what was closest in my closet.
As mentioned already, I didn’t feel the need to fuel DURING the runs, but I did snack around them. I’m sure I could have done a much better job here, as I probably ate a few thousand calories worth of snacks versus anything resembling a meal.
Good luck? I really have no advice here. If you can sleep between runs, do it. If you can’t, I feel ya. Sleep has always been elusive to me at the most random times, and in the middle of a long run is no exception.
I will say that starting at 2 pm was awesome because I only had two really sleepy intervals. I can’t imagine starting at midnight and running until midnight the next day. One night of messed up sleep is more enjoyable than two, always.
In short (who am I kidding, I wrote over 3,000 words about this challenge, there is never any brevity in these parts…) I’m glad I decided to give the Yeti 24 Hour Challenge a try. It didn’t necessarily go as smoothly as I anticipated, but that’s running for you. And I can’t imagine anything else I would have rather done on my birthday.
Except, maybe, run 39 miles without stopping.
(That said, Jason Green, as soon as you make a 100 mile version of this nonsense, I’m in.)
Heather Hart is an ACSM certified Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), UESCA certified Ultrarunning Coach, RRCA certified Running Coach, co-founder of Hart Strength and Endurance Coaching, and creator of this site, Relentless Forward Commotion. She is a mom of two teen boys, and has been running and racing distances of 5K to 100+ miles for over a decade. Heather has been writing and encouraging others to find a love for fitness and movement since 2009.