On Friday, Sept. 28, @JohnWitzing, Josh Chessman and Brian Chontosh will compete in a 24-hour isolation and sensory deprivation challenge to raise awareness for mental health initiatives in the veteran and first responder communities. @DoWinnerStuff https://t.co/jtO7uOaXcK pic.twitter.com/SMjWDR114I
— CrossFit (@CrossFit) September 26, 2018
A couple of athletes from Peterborough, Ont. undertook an unusual challenge on the site of the Spartan World Championships on the weekend, running for 24 hours in total darkness to raise awareness of mental health issues in the military and first-responder communities.
24 hours of running. No light. No sound. No stopping.
The White Board Project created #LL24h to raise awareness for mental health, veterans and first responders. They’re here at #SpartanWC2018 and they’re starting NOW. pic.twitter.com/r2Oolbx1HT
— Spartan Race (@SpartanRace) September 28, 2018
Police officer John Witzing, 43, and personal trainer Josh Chessman dreamed up the idea earlier this year, on their way to their first 50K ultramarathon in New York state. They planned to run for 24 hours straight, each in their own closed shipping container, in total darkness. The idea was to create conditions of sensory deprivation and isolation, with no ability to communicate or tell time, similar to the isolation felt by those dealing with a mental illness.
Witzing told Nick Faris of the National Post he hoped to exceed 150K (93.75 miles) in 24 hours, running on a TrueForm treadmill, which is not mechanized, and therefore more closely mimics the motion of running on the road. “Short of putting a bullet in me, I’m going to make it to the finish line,” Witzing told Faris.
Spartan supplied the shipping containers, on the site of the Spartan World Championships, which took place concurrently with LL24H. TrueForm supplied the treadmills and helped brainstorm the logistics of the project, and it was through TrueForm that retired marine Brian Chontosh got on board. Spartan athlete Isaiah Vidal also participated.
Just for context, running 150K in 24 hours equates to a pace of 9:36 per kilometre. The record for most kilometres run in a 24-hour period is more than 300. And consider that at last year’s Sri Chinmoy 24-Hour Self-Transcendence run, which takes place in endless loops around the Tooting track in London, U.K., Pat Seabrook (a 76-year-old woman) ran 83 miles (133K).
So by some standards, the goal was not particularly ambitious, especially for a pair of healthy, cross-fitting guys who trained for months with running, weightlifting and yoga.
On the other hand, running in total darkness, with no ability to communicate or tell time, is both unusual and difficult, which was always the point.
None of the four met the 150K goal. Chontosh ran the farthest (80.5 miles, or 129K), taking breaks totalling 40 minutes. Vidal ran 56.3 miles (90K). Chessman ran 52.6 miles (84K), and Witzing ran 52.3 miles (83.7K).
“It was definitely the toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Witzing told us. “There were variables I hadn’t encountered in training,” he added, noting that he wasn’t prepared for the extreme temperature changes he experienced during the 24-hour period. “The temperature drops rapidly in Squaw Valley at night.”
On the advice of former professional adventure athlete Ian Adamson, whom Witzing met while preparing for the challenge, Witzing adopted a ketogenic diet in an effort to be less reliant on carbohydrate (and more reliant on fat) for fuel. During the challenge he consumed only two cheeseburgers and two almond-butter sandwiches, though he had brought more food into the container. “I used to have to time my workouts much more carefully as a carb-fuelled athlete,” Witzing told us. “As a fat-adapted athlete, I can work out anytime. I have way more energy.”
In an Instagram post after the 24 hours had passed, the group declared that “The sensory deprivation challenge raised awareness and funds for mental health initiatives, especially within the veteran and first responder communities.” There is a GoFundMe page whose goal is to raise $20,000 for The Reveille Project, an initiative of Wounded Warriors Canada.