David Goggins is widely considered to be the toughest man on the planet and one of the greatest endurance athletes of all time. The 33-year-old from Chula Vista, California, has recast himself as an elite ultramarathoner, a philanthropic machine, and a role model by pursuing a life that is truly unrelenting.
As a young man, the odds were stacked against David ever making anything of himself. He grew up in an abusive household. He spent his high school years as one of only a few Black kids in a tiny Indiana town just 20 miles from where the KKK was founded. As a result of this, he endured relentless bullying from racist classmates. To make things worse, he also struggled with serious health issues – obesity, severe allergies, sickle cell trait, and a congenital heart disease that left him with a hole in his heart the size of a poker chip.
David says he grew up feeling soft and weak, with no self esteem, but despite all of that, one day he decided to stop feeling sorry for himself and start kicking some ass. This new mindset put him on a path to start transforming himself into one of the hardest men alive.
Today, David Goggins is the only member of the armed forces to have completed the Navy SEAL training (including two Hell Weeks), the U.S. Army Ranger School (where he graduated as Enlisted Honor Man) and Air Force tactical air controller training. He has completed Hell Week three times, including two in a single year, and one that he started and finished with multiple stress fractures and a hernia. He once held the Guinness World Record for the most pull-ups in 24 hours at 4,030. He has run 8 consecutive 100 mile races over 8 back to back weekends. He ran over 7000 miles in a single year (the equivalent of running 267 marathons).
David’s transformation began in 2005. At the time, he was a 280-pound powerlifter who never ran more than 20 minutes and a Navy SEAL just finishing a rough tour in Iraq. But after losing some buddies in a “mission gone bad” in Afghanistan, Goggins vowed to help the families that now lacked a father and a husband. He wanted to raise money for the Special Operations Warrior foundation but wasn’t sure how to do it.
“So I went online,” he says, “and Googled the top 10 hardest races in the world.”
That’s when he discovered the Badwater 135 Ultramarathon—the legendary 135-mile race through the floor of Death Valley in the middle of the summer. He called race director Chris Kostman to see if he could get in. Kostman asked Goggins how many 100-milers he’d run. None. How many marathons? None. Kostman told him that the only way he could qualify for the race was to run 100 miles in 24 hours or less.
Four days later, David entered the San Diego One Day, a 24-hour race where participants ran around a 1 mile track for 24 hours to see how many miles they could run in that time period. David’s goal was 100 miles in 24 hours or less. By mile 70, he was in the worse pain of his life. He had broken both feet, torn muscles, had multiple stress fractures in his shins, he was pissing blood and his kidney was failing. But despite all that, he had managed to crank out the final 30 miles of the race and finish 100 miles in less than 19 hours. Ten days later, he was back at it. He ran the Las Vegas Marathon in 3 hours 08 minutes. Next, he entered the H.U.R.T. 100-Mile Endurance Run, one of the hardest ultras in the world. Goggins finished ninth. All this within a span of just two months.
In July 2006 Goggins lined up in Badwater with 84 other entrants, and finished fifth. Then he took second at the 2006 Ultraman World Championships (a double Ironman triathlon held over three days), though he didn’t yet own a bike. He returned to Badwater in 2007 and came in third. He won the Ultra Centric 48-hour run (covering 203 miles), and won the 2008 McNaughton 150-miler by three hours.
Goggins often covers 15 or 20 miles before breakfast and bikes 50 miles round-trip to his Navy job. He swims, lifts, and goes “long” on weekends.
“Other than being crazy, David’s just self-motivated,” says his wife, Aleeza. “I’m certain that he hasn’t taken a day off in three years.”
His exploits have raised more than eyebrows. In three years, Goggins has netted $200,000 for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which gives full college grants to children of Special Ops personnel killed in the line of fire. He also helps nonprofits that build handicap-accessible homes for disabled vets. “I keep thinking that there’s more I can do,” he says. “I guess I’m pretty hard on myself.”
But what makes Goggins push himself so relentlessly? For sure, he’s driven by his charitable mission, his infinite discipline, his superhuman gift to endure. And yet there is more.
“I’m different than most people,” he says. “When I cross the finish line of a big race, I see that people are ecstatic, but I’m thinking about what I’m going to do tomorrow. It’s as if my journey is everlasting and there is no finish line.”