Late last month I completed my first GORUCK Light as part of Class 043 in Massanutten, Virginia. For those not familiar, GORUCK Light (GRL) is a shorter version of the GORUCK Challenge (GRC), meant to be more accessible to participants. While the GORUCK Challenge bills itself as 8-10 hours and 15-20 miles, the Light is billed as only 4-5 hours and 7-10 hours. Of course for both events the motto of “Under Promise, Over Deliver” still applies.
Instead the more common motto emerging for GORUCK Light is that “Light ≠ Easy.” Within the GORUCK Tough (GRT) community, early reports were that the only thing light about it was the sky. Since most GRCs start at 1am, compared to most GRLs starting at 7am, this seemed apt to me.
If you want a good background on what to expect from a GORUCK Light, check out this video on their site or this post on the GORUCK News section. The generally gist of these is that Light is for everyone, that it’s much more fun and easier than a Challenge and people should try one. Which is all true.
Class 043 was unique in that it was open only to people who are signed up for the GORUCK Nasty 001 obstacle course in September. I’d guess that about 85-90% of our class of forty-five were GRTs. The course is at the Massanutten ski area in Virginia. The whole GRL was spent on the slopes of the ski mountain.
A traditional GORUCK Challenge usually starts with the Welcome Party – a PT session that can run one to two hours that forces the class to start working as a team, instead of as individuals. The GORUCK Light Welcome Party for Class 043 was much more of a party, complete with singing songs off-key.
In hindsight, the GRL Class 043 Welcome Party reminded me a lot of the old Jerry Seinfeld joke about whenever guys hug, they slap each other on the back, as if to say, “Sure, I’m hugging you…but I’m hitting you.” The Welcome Party was on a rocky hill and consisted of a lot of low crawling and staying in a high forward leaning rest. Oh plus some inchworm pushups. There was nothing easy about it. Between the work we had to do and the heat, I ended up pretty well smoked (the temperature was in the low/mid 90s, there was no shade on the ski slopes and it was soupy hot with the humidity).
After getting a cooling dunk in a nearby stream, we moved on to put a couple of Nasty obstacles through the paces. This was effectively the biggest down time of the entire GORUCK Light, as only one person could go over the obstacle at a time. By the time our class was done with the second obstacle, I’d recovered from the Welcome Party and felt ready to handle whatever was thrown at us.
It turned out, up next was the heading up the ski slope. We were slow getting organized and took a bunch of casualties – that is, we had to buddy carry a good portion of the class up the hill. By the time we reached the next time hack, people were pretty hot again & this lead to us getting put in the water again. When it feels like it’s in the upper 90s and you’re carrying 35 pounds on your back, plus lots of extra coupons, cold water is a truly great thing.
This was about the time that we our log – in this case, a full-on telephone pole. I’ve only ever had regular, old fashioned, irregular, knobby, nail-filled logs in my Challenges. The upside of a telephone pole is that it’s even all the way around. The downside is that it’s a damn telephone pole. We spent a whole lot of time under the log. Down the hill, up the hill, across the hill, up the hill, down the hill. It wasn’t the longest time I’ve had to move a log around at a GORUCK event, but my shoulders ended up more trashed than ever before.
Eventually we were able to get rid of the log and were told our final task was to get up to the summit of the mountain in a thirty minute time hack. We were given a choice between taking a mile-plus service road or going head on at it, straight up the chair lift line. In what was surely a sign that we were collectively suffering from mental failures due to the heat, we choose the direct approach. We made it up, but it was pretty rough on a few people at this point. Lots of people were fighting the heat and dehydration. I had to deal with cramps in my quads, calves and stomach, though I just kept hydrating and kept moving as best I could.
When we were done, we were awarded our GORUCK Light patches and a great view of the surrounding area from the summit. The event took a bit over five hours – far shorter than a regular Challenge, but the class did some serious work in it.
We had three cadre for the outsized class – GORUCK founder Jason McCarthy, Cadre Chris and Cadre Devin. One thing that I want to say is how great the cadre were at keeping us hydrated. We refilled water bladders & bottles as a class three times. By the time I was done, I’d drank at least three full 100 ounce bladders of Nuun-boosted water. And I was still fighting off cramps from the heat at the end. I can’t imagine how much worse we would have fared without diligent oversight by the cadre.
The question when it comes to GORUCK Light is how it compares to a full GORUCK Challenge. I’d put it this way: the GRL was easier than than either of the Challenges I’ve done because those extra hours are a lot of work, with a lot more time where you have to fight your demons and doubts.
That said, when I was done with five-plus hours of the GRL, I probably couldn’t have gone another seven hours to get to normal Challenge length. I was smoked. While the Light was easier than either of the Challenges I’ve completed, there was no one five hour stretch in my Challenges that were as hard as the five hours of Light Class 043.
In the Challenges I’ve done or seen while shadowing, there are periods of intense work followed usually by periods of moving long distances. Sure a lot of the movement has added weight, but there are stretches where you get to catch your breath as you find a rhythm to move forward over the miles. If you’re fighting cold or blisters or injury, traveling far distances in a Challenge can be brutally hard physically and mentally taxing. But they’re still a break in intensity.
Light Class 043 had almost no breaks in intensity, except when we were climbing over the two test obstacles and another point of doing pull ups. Other than that, it was non-stop go, with heavy weight and steep hills.
Going into the GORUCK Light, I thought a lot about Cadre Jason relating his experience of leading a Challenge in Okinawa with a class made up primarily of Force Recon Marines (read: some serious tough dudes). There are people in the GRT community who do back-to-back Challenges – something which is an undoubtedly tough thing to do. At the end of the Challenge in Okinawa, Jason asked the Recon Marines if anyone wanted to go out again in a few hours to complete the back-to-back. No one said yes, because they had all given everything they had in them to get through the one Challenge.
I knew the Light was going to be significantly shorter and thus easier than the GRCs I’d done. But I went into it with the intention of being truly smoked when I was done. Between the work we did and the heat we did it in, I was. I don’t say this to sound tough – it’s just that a way to ensure that a Light isn’t easy is to give it everything you can. Everyone will give a different amount, but it adds up to the total the team can get done together – that’s the beauty of GORUCK events.
If you’re thinking about doing a GORUCK Light, go for it. You can finish it and you’ll have a lot of fun while doing it. And hopefully, it will make you want to go out and earn a GORUCK Tough patch for finishing a full-on Challenge.
All photos by Kit Klein of GORUCK. See the full photo set from GRL Class 043 on flickr.