MH’s Fitness Editor Is Tackling 24 CrossFit ‘Hero’ WODs in 24 Hours, With an Ultra-Marathon In-Between

·7-min read

CrossFit’s ‘Hero’ workouts are, without question, the most formidable sessions in the Sport of Fitness. Dedicated to a member of the armed forces who died in the line of duty, each WOD represents an opportunity to push your physical and mental fortitude to the limit as a way to memorialise those who have already given everything.

They’re long, gruelling and punishingly difficult by design. One Hero WOD is enough to bring any elite athlete to their knees with a redlined heart rate; 24 in 24 hours is nothing short of a prodigious feat of fitness. Which makes it all the more remarkable, then, that MH’s Fitness Editor Andrew Tracey has crushed this colossal challenge on three occasions already, and is gunning for a fourth this Saturday 20th November.

Every year since 2018, inspired by the motto of military charity Pilgrim Bandits – “always a little further” – Tracey has strapped on a weighted vest, taped his hands, and stepped up to the bar in aid of WODvember, a month-long fundraising initiative that sends wounded military personnel on adventures and expeditions their injuries might otherwise preclude them from.

Except, in addition to the thousands of palm-shredding press-ups, pull-ups and muscle-ups he’ll chip away at throughout the day and night, this year’s attempt will see Tracey cover an ultra-marathon distance between the WODs, which take place every hour, on the hour. That’s on top of any meterage he’ll accrue within the workouts, of which several contain a running element. (continued below)

“This is the first endeavour of this ilk where I’ve thought, ‘this is going to be a struggle, this is actually potentially dangerous,’ because it’s physically non-stop,” he says. During past attempts, the schedule has alternated between “longer, less-intense jaunts” and “shorter, slightly more intense ones”, allowing 40 to 50 minutes every few hours to refuel, recharge, and make up any lost time.

“This time, that safety net is removed, because I have to make it to the next checkpoint for the next workout,” Tracey continues. “If a workout takes 50 minutes, I’m left with 10 minutes to travel two or three miles up the road to start the next one. The minute that happens, you’re on the back foot. That’s the most daunting part. I’ve got to stay on pace.”

Pacing isn’t the only challenge. An ultra-marathon and a WOD marathon are uniquely taxing on the body, and their polarised demands make for a brutal combination. “You’re running on extremely fatigued legs, with a extremely fatigued upper body,” he says. “You rely on the structure of your upper body to hold you together when you’re running. Once that goes, you’re almost running against the resistance of your own body to get to the next checkpoint, and all of that is going to compound over 24 hours.”

Kicking off at 10am sharp in rural Essex with ‘James Prosser’ (100 muscle-ups, for the unacquainted), Tracey will squat, press, lunge and run his way through Harlow, Epping and Woodford until he reaches Stratford’s Olympic Park. The challenge will culminate with the toughest WOD, ‘Murph’ – two one-mile runs, split by 600 reps of bodyweight movements in a weighted vest – at 9am. It’s one hell of an undertaking, and there’s not much Tracey can do to train specifically for the task at hand.

“You have to make sure you’ve got the work capacity, but beyond that, the focus is on injury prevention,” he says. “By nature of what it is, you have to pace yourself. Most people can run a 100-metre sprint, but they can’t maintain that pace for a marathon. But you wouldn’t try and run a marathon at your 100-metre pace. Most of the training is just about building capacity and durability, and familiarisation with the workouts.”

Those aspects of training may be crucial ahead of time, but they’ll only take Tracey so far on the night. “You’re training under optimal conditions,” he continues. “That’s not the version of you that’s going to be doing those workouts. Your digestive system runs differently during the night; you think weird shit when you’re delirious. You can’t train for those things, you just have to be mentally prepared for the fact they’re going to happen. And then it’s just about fatigue and pain management.”

For most of us, anticipating the suffering that lies ahead – shredded palms, lactic acid-drenched limbs, the internal battle with your inner monologue – is impetus enough to call time on the challenge before the first WOD has been checked off. For Tracey, however, discomfort is the essence of its appeal.

“In the fitness industry, there’s this whole narrative built around ‘get comfortable with the uncomfortable’ and ‘get out of your comfort zone’,” he says. “But by and large, all people do is go to the same gyms, with the same people, doing progressively harder workouts. I would argue that the gym has become their comfort zone.”

When you’re working through three sets of 10 at the gym, you always have the option to stop. “It’s elective, there will be no ill consequences,” he continues. “Whereas the people to whom the Hero workouts are dedicated, the men and women who lost their lives in the line of duty, they never had the option to say, ‘I’m going to scale my weights’, or ‘I’m only going to do half’. They were fighting for their lives.”

By the time Tracey crosses the finish line on Sunday morning, he’ll have shifted tens of thousands of kilograms of iron, covered somewhere in the region of 40 miles on foot, and ticked off triple-digit reps of pretty much every CrossFit move you can call to mind. It’s a merciless physical assault and a profound psychological challenge by any measure. But that’s because it’s intended to be.

“Discomfort is not found within the four walls of a gym,” he says. “That’s just a little bit of hard work… This is about putting myself in an unknown situation where I can’t stop. And this year, more than ever, will reflect that, because there’ll be real consequences to slowing down. It’s shit or bust. You either make it to the next one, or you don’t.”

Want to sponsor Tracey’s Herculean efforts? You can donate directly to Pilgrim Bandits here. Scroll on for the full WOD running order...

10am: James Prosser
100 muscle-ups

11am: Nate
20-minute AMRAP:
2 muscle-ups
4 handstand press-ups
8 kettlebell swings

12pm: Hidalgo
2-mile run
20 cleans
20 box jumps
20 walking lunges
20 box jumps
20 cleans
2-mile run

1pm: Jerry
1-mile run
2000-metre row
1 mile run

2pm: DT
5 rounds:
12 deadlifts
9 hang cleans
6 push jerks

3pm: Ricky
20-minute AMRAP:
10 pull-ups
5 dumbbell deadlifts
8 push-presses

4pm: Mead
20-minute AMRAP:
30-foot rope climb
100-metre partner carry

5pm: Bert
50 burpees
400-metre run
100 push-ups
400-metre run
150 walking lunges
400-metre run
200 air squats
400-metre run
150 walking lunges
400-metre run
100 push-ups
400-metre run
50 burpees

6pm: Joseva
15-12-9 @ bodyweight:
Bench press
Deadlift
Power clean

7pm: Oz
100 squat cleans

8pm: Burgess
30-20-10:
Pull-ups
Burpees

9pm: McLaren
20-minute AMRAP:
3 thrusters
5 box jumps
7 press-ups

10pm: Bolger
5 rounds:
400-metre run
25 air squats
Carry sandbag

11pm: Smudge
3 rounds:
5 muscle-ups
10 squat cleans
20 sit-ups

12am: Jordan
100 kettlebell swings
100 sit-ups
100 air squats
100 push-ups

1am: The Chief
5 x 3-minute AMRAP:
3 power cleans
6 push-ups
9 air squats

2am: Heidi
23-minute AMRAP:
23 air squats
23 push-ups
23 kettlebell swings
23 lunges
23 sit-ups
23 box jumps

3am: Jones
30-minute AMRAP:
400-metre run
30 air squats
400-metre run
15 push-ups
400-metre run
30 burpee broad jumps

4am: Jay
20-minute AMRAP:
22 air squats
12 toes-to-bar
9 burpees

5am: Sham
7 rounds:
11 deadlifts
100-metre sprint

6am: Jenny
20-minute AMRAP:
20 overhead squats
20 back squats
400-metre run
*run with barbell

7am: Randy
75 power snatches

8am: Joseph Grzelak
100 kettlebell swings
EMOM perform 2 burpees

9am: Murph
1-mile run
100 pull-ups
200 push-ups
300 squats
1-mile run
* wear weighted vest

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