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Is this your year to Conquer a Moonshot Endurance Event?

Marathon des Sable Dunes

What is a Moonshot Endurance Event?

A Moonshot endurance event is an epic, audacious and extreme challenge. It’s the kind of challenge you may only take on once in your life. Only a tiny percentage of the population has the special sort of courage required to even consider committing to a Moonshot challenge.

This small group of dreamers+doers is inspiring and bad-ass! You’re either in this group, someone who reads about what this group does, or you are climbing and clawing your way into this group.

A Moonshot event will light a bonfire under your ass, a fire that brings a huge focus to how you live for a year or more. A Moonshot requires your full passion and a massive, relentless dose of energy. To commit to a Moonshot means you are willing to take major risks and disrupt other areas of your life, including social and family time, job, hobbies, etc.

Moonshot status is saved for extremely special events. It makes your heart beat fast to think about a potential Moonshot. It excites you to know that you’ve identified a challenge that will take you far out of your comfort zone and give you an intense sense of purpose. Committing to a Moonshot event means you are willing to make major, potentially life-changing decisions and sacrifices to achieve your goal. To accomplish a Moonshot, it’s about more than “wanting it” — it’s about your desert-induced thirst that if you don’t quench, you will perish.


Sacrifices are mandatory, suffering is optional

To reach the moon in your endurance sports pursuits, you may need to use all of your vacation time to train, to attend training camps and to complete progressively more challenging events. You may consider moving temporarily to another city or country to train in a more suitable environment. And here’s a challenging one: you may find yourself putting relationships and friendships on hold, risking their loss, as it’s likely you’ll need to prioritize your training over dinners, parties, trips, vacations, and other social events for a while.

What about your career? You may need to dial down your career aspirations, miss out on a promotion, or even quit your job. You may need to make a significant investment in equipment, travel, and coaching. It could even be dangerous, with risk of injury in training or in the event itself.

Jeff Grant Mountaineering
Camp 2, Aconcagua, Argentina

The costs, risks and stakes in Moonshot events can be extremely high, yet so is the passion, excitement and fulfillment that comes along with them. Moonshots aren’t for everyone, but if NOW is a time when you are fired up about going big, then I want you to crush it and achieve your dream.

Just be open and clear with yourself and those close to you about the path on which you are embarking and bring your full passion into the journey. Yes, many sacrifices are required to succeed with a Moonshot, but suffering is a choice. If you go into a Moonshot with the right mindset, you will limit the suffering and thrive through the challenging period of sacrifice.

Jeff Grant UTMB Finish
Finish Line, Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc

One Person’s Moonshot is another’s Monthly Challenge, and that’s OK

What is and isn’t a Moonshot is a personal matter. It depends on where you’ve been, where you are and what you’re working with in life. If you are recovering from a major illness or surgery, your Moonshot may be to walk again so that you can complete a 5K or walk up a local mountain. And that challenge has my full respect!

If you are healthy with a background in running, your Moonshot could be to complete a 100-mile ultra marathon in the mountains or desert. Or perhaps you are a cyclist considering a self-supported transcontinental race or swimmer considering a very long open water swim.

There is no shortage of options for events to consider for a potential Moonshot. This includes ultra marathons, adventure races, cross country ski races, expeditions, open water swims, triathlons, and more.

In my article How to think like a coach: race season planning, I share my event classification system, which I find much more inspiring than the old school A, B, C categorization. I classify events for athletes I coach as Moonshot, Everest, Apprentice, and Walk in the Park.

Here’s what each event type looks like:

  • Moonshot: epic, audacious and extreme challenge, likely once in a lifetime. Worth taking major risks and significantly disrupting other areas of your life, including social and family time, job, hobbies, etc.
  • Everest: major challenge, stretch goal, considerable test of mind and body, well out of your comfort zone. Worth sacrificing time from other activities and priorities, and requires significant training and preparation effort
  • Apprentice: experience building and training races, progressive distance build-up races (e.g., 10K to Half Marathon, then Marathon), races to test equipment, nutrition and hydration
  • Walk in the Park: All about fun and adventure, yin events (like a zero-tech yin run), running to support someone, guerrilla “invented” races with friends
Jeff Grant Cycling
Cycling in the Inferno Triathlon, Switzerland

To the moon and back

It could be that once you reach the moon, you will decide to travel to the moon again, now that you know how to get there. Good on your for reaching this point in life, and still wanting to take on hard challenges! This would result in you classifying future similar events as Everest events, or perhaps even Walks in the Park.

At the same time, achieving a Moonshot also raises the bar on what you know is possible to accomplish with your mind and body, thus opening the door to a future Moonshot with an even greater challenge.

Just remember, this is YOUR moonshot, not someone else’s. You define it. You commit to it for your own reasons, and you own it. Someone has always done something harder, and millions couldn’t even fathom doing what you are considering. Your Moonshot is your Moonshot.

Why choose a Moonshot Event?

Jeff Grant Ironman Finish
Finish Line, Ironman Hawaii

You never forget your first, right? My first Moonshot came in 1996. Late in the prior year, I committed to myself to complete an Ironman triathlon in the following year. This was my first epic challenge. At that time, I had no background in any of the disciplines of triathlon, nor long distance events or sports in general. I also had zero fitness and was 65lbs / 30kg overweight. Finishing an Ironman was an audacious challenge for me, one that both scared me and inspired me.

That race became a beacon of my hope during 1996. While I still worked a full-time corporate job, I poured all of my free time into learning, training and overcoming a string of over-use injuries. I refused to let anything get in the way of my training. And during the race, I strong-armed my exhausted, inflamed, and nearly broken body into crossing that finish line. Conquering that Moonshot yielded a win far beyond a race medal. It secured a lifestyle transformation that persists to this day, 22+ years later.

I’d go on to finish many other Ironmans in later years, races that no longer were Moonshots for me, but still meaningful and exciting experiences. Over time, I became thirsty for another Moonshot and set my missile lock on the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc ultramarathon, a race that took me 37 hours of running to complete. Succeeding with that Moonshot brought me a decade of lessons and experiences, tools that I would ultimately draw extensively from to write my first three books. Moonshots come with a high price tag, but for many of us, it’s a price worth paying, as the payout of memories and lessons lasts a lifetime.

Coach Jeff Grant Winter Swimming
Winter Swimming to Train for the ECC Normandy

Moonshot Reasons and Drivers

Here are the top reasons for athletes committing to Moonshots that they ultimately succeed at. I’ve seen these reasons appears over and over again in my career in coaching and 2+ decades in endurance sports. I mention success, because I want to keep this success-focused. While we can learn a tremendous amount from failed Moonshot attempts, some folks commit to a Moonshot without the resolve to even start the preparations, much less to pull it off. I choose to believe that if you’ve read this far, you’re not in that group, so we’ll focus on effective motivators.

Here’s what drives people to successful Moonshot events:

  • Create balance with a similar strong force in their life (job, family, move, death of loved one)
  • Drive a transformation (fitness, weight loss/gain, getting personal life back from work, overcoming an addiction or illness)
  • Test Limits, find their edge
  • Do something for yourself
  • Live an enriched, exciting life
  • Thrill of adventure & conquering the unknown
  • Honor Someone

Failed Moonshots are often traced back to ineffective drivers, such as a desire to A) impress others, B) set an example (including for their children), and C) monetize the effort. In general, the more personal the driver, the greater the chance of it having sufficient power to motivate you through to the end. And while attempting to complete an audacious challenge to set an example for one’s kids certainly seems admirable, I’ve seen this one fail more often than not. If this is the sole driver, it’s too easy to spin a decision to quit into a lesson for children as well. I advise athletes to do it for themselves solely, and let the example for others be a side benefit, not the driver.

Events to consider

There are numerous endurance events around the world that for many would fall into the Moonshot category, and many times that many present in the Everest category. There is also potential for you to create your own event or adventure. Here’s a quick sample list at some events in various disciplines that for many people would fall into the Moonshot category. This is not meant to be a “hardest races” list, but rather a source of inspiration as you consider what you may wish to pursue.

Is this your year for a Moonshot Event?

If you’ve been eyeing a big challenge, don’t put it off. Maybe it’s an Everest or a full-on Moonshot. If you can make the logistics happen this year, go for it while you can. Life is too short to wait for that “right time” to go for a challenge that excites you.

If this is indeed your year, then enjoy the process of searching for an event, or inventing your own. I love this phase of starting a new adventure project, as this is the time I start to feel the energy catch fire, and I find myself excited about doing “something big” next year, before I even know what that is!

Are you ready to commit?

Once you’ve locked in to an event, first make the commitment to yourself–a commitment that you will finish. And with that commitment, visualize in detail three important moments: 1) the absolute lowest, hardest, most brutal moment you can imagine in your Moonshot event, 2) what you do and how you behave to overcome that moment, and 3) the moment of joy and rush of adrenaline and emotion you will experience when you finish.

Next, get registered and make it public. Tell your friends and start your accountability project. Use social media, live video updates, a blog, a YouTube channel—whatever it takes to ensure that you have a virtual support team in place and are communicating regularly with them. You will benefit greatly from their presence at your low points in training. And yes, you will have low points. We all do. They are invaluable growth moments.

Seek out other people to support you, to lift you up, and help you reach your goal. Embrace friends and family who encourage you, whether they truly understand and relate to your challenge or not. Also, reach out to those with experience in your domain who are willing to help you along your journey. And know as well that people will show up as obstacles in your path. They will arrive with inflated egos, jealousy, and negativity that could threaten your pursuit. As with any successful pioneer, rely on your passion and single-minded focus to burn right through their cloud of negative energy. Focus on your preparations. Focus on your mission. Surround yourself with people whose presence will contribute to your preparations and mission. And then live this dream you’ve built for yourself.

I’ll cheer you on

Drop me a note to share your challenge. I’m happy to support you, whether that’s checking in from time to time with a note of support or coaching you more formally. I love seeing people change their lives for the better by pursuing epic challenges. Go for your Moonshot–it’s waiting for you. Grab it and live boldly!

— Coach Jeff

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