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...Does Not Compute

John Sullivan, ready to go head to head with teammate Kellen Matthews for a world record at this year's PHL24. Photo: Bryan Lathrop

One Monday morning in late April of 2021, during sharing time in a suburban Kindergarten classroom, a little boy proudly exclaimed to his classmates that his father had run 100 miles that weekend. His teacher didn’t press the issue. She just smiled and moved on, figuring his assertion was typical Kindergartner hyperbole. During parent teacher conferences later that week, she told the boy’s parents “Your son thinks very highly of you. He thinks you ran 100 miles last weekend.” The boy’s mother replied “Actually, it was 114.” It’s safe to assume that a “does-not-compute” expression consumed the teacher’s face upon hearing the mother’s confirmation, but that's pretty much the response most people have when they hear about the feats of that little boy’s father, John Sullivan (aka “Sully”).

Sully's prize at the SRT finish line: hugs from his kids and family, including the Kindergartner who rightfully shared his excitement about his father's accomplishment. Photo: Bryan Lathrop

For instance, are you able to compute doing 20,000 burpees in a month? John Sullivan can; in fact, he did, a mere 646 burpees daily—not broken into easy-to-swallow segments of 100 here and 100 there—but consecutively, in one fell swoop, every day, for a month. All because he’d casually mentioned to a friend that he could out burpee a popular YouTuber who’d done 15,000 burpees in a month. “I can do 20…” And he kept his word, even though it meant his vacation would have a much higher than average DBO (daily burpee output).

While 20,000 burpees sounds superhuman and “does not compute” for most of us, it’s just the tip of the iceberg in Sullivan’s world. How about running for 48 miles at night with a buddy, carrying only a snickers bar and 1.5 liters of water each? Or running the entire 114 mile length of the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT) in 26 hours? Or doing a mile’s worth of burpees? Or doing Murph every day for a month, just to see if you could? [Important aside: Murph is a workout named after Navy Seal, Lieutenant Michael Murphy, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2005 trying to save soldiers pinned down by enemy fire. One Murph = a one mile run, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats, and another one mile run, all while wearing a 20 pound weight vest.] But for Sully, there’s nothing extraordinary in all of this, “I can do these things because I decided to do it, dedicated myself to it, held myself accountable and got discipline