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Over the course of the 2,728 miles she ran in 104 days, Jacky Hunt-Broersma learned a thing or two about mental fortitude. The 46-year-old Arizona-based ultrarunner set a new world record on April 30 for most consecutive daily marathons, running 104 26.2-mile journeys in 104 days. The previous record was 101 marathons in 101 days.
Hunt-Broersma is no stranger to arduous adventures by foot, though, as she is a veteran ultrarunner. Even still, 104 marathons in 104 days challenged her in ways she didn’t think possible.
“This challenge really showed me how strong the human mind can be,” says Hunt-Broersma. “I was juggling so many things— kids, tasks at home, our dogs—and [if I wasn’t] deliberate in how I approached each day, I never would have reached my goal.”
Jacky Hunt-Broersma’s Mental Lessons from 104 Marathons in 104 Days
While most of us won’t ever get close to running even a few marathons in consecutive days, the lessons of perseverance and level-headedness Hunt-Broersma learned during her miles are ones that we can all apply to running and life.
The “Why” Powers it All
We often hear about the idea of having a “why” behind our athletic endeavors. Our “why” is the larger reason for attempting whatever challenge we’re currently facing. For Hunt-Broersma, her “why” was to enforce the idea that everyone can do hard things and push their limits no matter who they are.
“I wanted to show people that no matter who you are, you can do hard things,” she says. “Whatever you are facing in your life, you can overcome it through hard work and a strong mindset.”
To add to her belief that people of all abilities can achieve great accomplishments, Hunt-Broersma fundraised throughout her 104 marathons for Amputee Blade Runners, an organization that helps those who need prosthetics for physical activity access them at low or no cost. The ultrarunner raised nearly $200,000 during her 104 days of solo marathoning. Knowing her miles were helping others was a big part of Hunt-Broersma’s “why” each day.
There was the added motivation of knowing a world record was on the line, too. When things got tough, Hunt-Broersma would think about how sweet it was going to feel to be the new record holder.
“Around marathon 50, I woke up and thought, ‘Why don’t you just stop now. Fifty is enough and everyone will still be impressed,’” she says. “I had to remind myself: there is nothing physically wrong, there is a bigger goal on the line, and I can reach the finish line by pushing through.”
Staying rational and remembering why she attempted this journey in the first place kept Hunt-Broersma determined and rooted in her perseverance.
Know it’s Going to be Hard
One of the most important things that Hunt-Broermsa did to mentally prepare for her 104 marathons was to acknowledge from the start that this goal was going to be extremely hard and even painful at times.
“Life can be hard, and this run challenge was no different than difficult situations we might face in life,” said Hunt-Broersma. “I had to negotiate with my own mind each day. This world record attempt was 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical.”
For Hunt-Broersma, the hardest part of each day was mile 23. Knowing she had already run 23 miles, yet still having 5K to go, was a big mental block for her. But instead of breaking down or getting frustrated at mile 23 each day, the ultrarunner would accept that the final 5K was going to be hard and know that she would have to put in the work mentally at that time to push through those final miles.
For Hunt-Broersma, understanding her personal challenges, like the mile 23 mental block, helped her feel more prepared to handle them as they approached.
Her Boston Marathon (number 93 of 104) experience required her to practice mentally shoring herself up for another period of discomfort. Flying from Phoenix to Boston is a long day, and Hunt-Broersma still needed to complete marathon 92, which she did after an overnight flight.
Then, the day after the Boston Marathon, when most participants were hobbling around on sore legs and enjoying some rest and relaxation, Hunt-Broersma knocked out marathon 94 before a redeye flight home.
“The days leading up to and after Boston were just non-stop,” she says. “I was so sleep-deprived post-Boston, but going into Boston I knew this series of days was going to be hard. I prepared myself to expect them to be hard and was able to focus on the task at hand [the marathons] and get it done.”
Recognizing and predicting the stressful parts of an athletic or life endeavor can help mitigate how daunting they seem in the moment. Planning ahead and showing yourself grace are some of the best ways to move through them.
Break it Down and Celebrate
With a goal like 104 marathons in 104 days, it’s easy to quickly become overwhelmed by the gargantuan size of the journey. Breaking each day and marathon into bite-size pieces was a big mental trick Hunt-Broersma used.
“Each day I would celebrate every mile,” she says. “I would be like ‘OK, mile one down! Let’s freaking go!’ and do my best to continue with that positive attitude as I ticked off the miles.”
The mom of two took each day as a fresh start and didn’t focus on all the miles yet to be run. Instead, she focused on simply starting each day and getting that first step of the first mile checked off.
This can apply to any task at hand in life or sport. Instead of taking a 30,000-foot view and becoming intimidated by all the logistics that must fall into place for a goal to be achieved, place your emphasis on “micro goals” instead. One mile. One step. Putting on your run clothes. Filling your water bottle. Completing these smaller tasks will ladder up to eventually completing the bigger goal at hand.
It’s also helpful to have a support crew to pass the miles with: Hunt-Broersma’s daughter (age 11) would join her for a few miles, making that 5K the best of the day and something the ultrarunner would look forward to in the middle of her daily 26.2. Local friends would also join for miles here and there, making a daily marathon seem less daunting than simply marinating in one’s own thoughts.
Feel the Emotions, But Press On
Running a single marathon is an emotional rollercoaster. Running 104 in a row is a theme park of emotions: elation, frustration, irritation, joy—the list goes on. Some of those feelings were welcomed, but some were Hunt-Broersma’s brain rebelling against the exhaustion her body was storing, begging her to stop.
“It can be so easy to want to let those negative emotions take over in the moment,” she says. “That’s a time when you really have to muster up all your mental strength, remember your ‘why,’ feel your emotions, and then commit to continuing forward.”
The key to Hunt-Broersma’s success in managing her emotions was to quite literally keep calm and carry on. She knew that no one else could complete the miles for her (going back to her “why”) and that taking a few breaths or a quick break on the side of the trail was far better than caving to her brain’s desires to quit altogether.
All athletes can benefit from such advice. It’s better to take a moment to self-regulate than to let a momentary feeling dictate how the rest of a day or run will unfold.
Hunt-Broersma’s lowest point was the day she ran two marathons, day 35. Yes, that’s right: 52.4 miles in one day, sandwiched between her other full-marathon days.
“I ran a half-marathon that morning, then had to take care of my kids and do some household chores, so I did 13.1 more miles after that,” she says. “Then I got some notes on social media suggesting that the marathon would only count if the miles were in one shot. I didn’t want to ruin my chances of the world record so I headed out again that afternoon to run 26.2 miles consecutively.”
That night, Hunt-Broersma finished her second marathon of the day with just minutes to spare before midnight.
She noted that the feelings of frustration and exhaustion on that day were almost too much to bear. But that putting her head down, taking things step by step, pausing when she needed to, and acknowledging her emotions (but not caving to them) was how she soldiered through that low point of a day.
Now that Hunt-Broersma is the new record holder for most marathons run in consecutive days, she is planning on celebrating her accomplishment with her family by her side.
“As endurance athletes, we tend to immediately think ‘What’s next?’ after completing something,” she says. “I’m trying to extend my celebration of this challenge a bit and will be taking a much-needed vacation to reconnect with my family in the coming weeks—they’ve been so supportive and it will be great to get that time with them.”
Hunt-Broersma is far from done with her career in ultrarunning: She plans on racing the Moab 240 this October, which entails running 240 miles and 29,000 feet of ascent through the trails of Canyonlands and Arches National Park.
Hunt-Broersma got the itch to run again on day three of her recovery from the solo marathons. But she’s easing back into things, listening to her body, and celebrating what her mind powered her through.