While the Toronto Wolfpack and the rest of Super League wait to find out when, or if, the 2020 season can resume, there’s one thing the transatlantic club doesn’t have to worry about.
Blake Wallace’s conditioning.
On June 5 and 6 Wallace took part in the 48-Hour Challenge. Originating with former US Navy SEAL, marathoner and motivational speaker David Goggins, the goal is to run four miles every four hours, for 48 hours straight, challenging the athlete both mentally and physically. Wallace’s goal over the two days was to raise $5,000 for The Frontline Fund, a foundation which supports Canadian hospitals in the fight against COVID-19.
“I just went five grand,” Wallace answered when asked about the number. “I’ve never raised money before, so I didn’t know what was going to happen. I thought it was ambitious, but also who cares? I put that as my goal and if I get there, great. If I don’t, I don’t.”
Having seen the pandemic play out on two continents, Wallace is in a unique situation.
When Rugby League pushed pause on all competitions in March, he was locked down at his apartment in the UK. A few weeks after it became apparent that there was no quick fix to the world-wide crisis, he made his way to Canada to be with his fiancé Keli Tobias.
Following his two-week Canadian quarantine, at her Toronto-area home Wallace resumed his training, but was looking for an additional challenge to keep his mind occupied.
“I’m not a distance runner. The farthest I’ve run is 21 Km in one go. I’m not an endurance athlete, but as soon as I saw it something in my head just clicked and I said ‘I want to do that.'”
“About two months ago I saw him (Goggins) post about this challenge and he does it every year,” the Stand-Off/Scrum-Half explained. “As soon as I saw it, something in my head just clicked and I said ‘I want to do that’. So I put it to our Strength and Conditioning Coach Jon Kelly, and I messaged him and said ‘I’ve got an idea and I want to run it by you’, and he just says ‘how far do you want to run?’”
JK, as Wallace calls him, was integral to the undertaking of this challenge. The two reshaped Wallace’s training regime to prepare for his two day marathon, mapped out around his neighbourhood. Typically he would run high-intensity hills on Monday, with run days on Tuesday and Thursday, followed by a five kilometre run on Saturday.
“We went back and forth for a bit and then he (JK) sent me a plan saying ‘this is what we should look at’. I started playing around with how far I was running, my recovery, and how fast I was running. It wasn’t just ‘bang, ok you’re going to do it, you’re going to run for three days’. It was one session and it was a day off. Then it was two sessions and a day off. The weekend before it was three sessions on the Saturday and three on the Sunday.”
“This time it’s on me to do. It’s on me to get up at 12:30 to go for a run. No one’s forcing me to do it, it was something to me on me. I’m going to do this, I’m going to raise money for charity.“
In the lead-up to Friday, Wallace made a small tweak to the layout, adding distance to the already daunting task. “When I figured out how far the distance was, I looked at 48 miles and thought ‘what’s two marathons?’ I realized that four miles is basically 6.5 Km, so for two marathons I figured that I need to run 7.1 Km every time, because I wanted to be able to say at the end of it all I ran two marathons in 48 hours.”
And with that, Wallace set off early on Friday morning with the first of his 12 runs. For any early morning or overnight runs, Keli would follow close by in a car, as reports surfaced of a Coywolf (Coyote, Wolf hybrid) roaming the area. On mid-day runs, she provided Wallace with everything he needed to keep going from ice baths to food. As the hours wore on however, Wallace struggled with his appetite didn’t sleep much.
“I slept when I was tired, but I had very minimal sleep. Probably from when I woke up to the end was two or three hours, so it was more like a half hour nap here and there, an hour sleep at night. I didn’t have an appetite on day two either so the afternoon run was pretty tough because it was hot. My hydration was good but I wasn’t getting food into me because I couldn’t stomach it. I wasn’t hungry.”
Wallace kept going though, and kept everyone in the loop on Instagram with constant updates. The donations continued to roll in too, and by mid Saturday afternoon he was over halfway to his $5,000 goal. He had even added to his cheering section, when Zack showed up to one of his Saturday runs. Since he first joined the Wolfpack, Blake and Zack have developed a special connection. And Wallace admitted that, even if it was from afar, it was good to see his biggest fan.
“I knew they were going to be somewhere,” Wallace explained. “But I didn’t know where. So when I was coming around the street I could see them sitting there and he had this sign and a big smile on his face. It was pretty good to see them and have them come out to support me. I was really grateful for that and it was a nice moment for sure.”
But as the hours ticked away, things began to take their toll. That’s when Wallace called one last audible.
“I got to run 10, and I did it at five in the afternoon, and I was sitting there and, this is probably JK’s fault, he texts me ‘you know what would be impressive? Sub-35,’ because I was running 7.1 in about 40 minutes” Wallace laughed.
“It’s definitely a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. But at the same time it’s probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.“
Knowing that pushing it that much probably wasn’t the best idea with two runs to go, Wallace turned to another tactic.
“I message him back like ‘You’re going to wake up to something. Whether you like it or not, I’m going to do runs 11 and 12 together, and I’m going to run 14.2 Km’. So I ran the 14.2 Kms. Then one of my mates sent me a message saying ‘get to 15Km’. So as soon as I saw that, I rang him and I told him ‘I’m running, and I’m getting to 15KMs. One-hundred percent.”
“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Just with how my body felt. I didn’t want to walk, I wanted to finish it and I wanted to run. Keli’s just in the car with the hazards on just going real slow next to me for an hour and 40 minutes to run that 15 Km. People would have been driving past, looking, going ‘what’s going on over there?’ I don’t know how she did it. She listened to about three podcasts. I was pretty lucky to have her looking out for me and supporting me during this.”
Two days later, and Wallace is still recovering from the 86 Km he ended up running. He was so sore Sunday morning that he nearly collapsed getting out of bed. Fortunately for him, he didn’t lose as much weight as he thought he would, dropping a little under five pounds over the weekend.
Given the choice, he quickly admits he’d rather play back-to-back games for the Wolfpack than try the 48-hour challenge again in the near future. But he isn’t ruling it out as a post-career interest. Ultimately it was all worth it as Wallace reached his goal of $5,000, ultimately pulling in $5,200 for The Frontline Fund, on Sunday.
“At the end of the day I was raising money and whether it was $500 or $5000 I was going to be happy because I’d done something. Then as I started doing it, people started jumping on and it blew me away how many people donated. People I didn’t know, people I hadn’t spoken to for six years back in Australia donated. It was overwhelming. I honestly didn’t think I was going to get that $5,000 but to beat it and to break it is something I’m pretty proud of. And I’m sure The Frontline Fund, who I was raising the money for are really appreciative of it too.”