Category Archives: GORUCK

GORUCK Challenge: Mogadishu Mile AAR

GRC_1214

This past weekend I completed my sixth patched GORUCK event and my third GORUCK Challenge. Class 1214 was one of dozens of Mogadishu Mile historic events, in honor of the twenty-first anniversary of the Battle of Mogadishu (aka Black Hawk Down). GORUCK is trying to do more events with a specific historic focus, with the Challenge fitting into the timeline of events being commemorated.

Class 1214 in Washington DC had 142 people signed up going into the event. Whether it was rain or other issues, only 97 people showed up for the Challenge.

Packing List

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This was the lightest I’ve packed for a Challenge. I know at this point that I don’t need much food or a change of clothes beyond socks. I brought an extra pair of work gloves and was glad I had, as I immediately gave them to my best friend Austin (aka Yakety Sax) who forgot his. I’d done a lot of work during training rucks and runs on my nutrition needs. I’ve moved away from Nuun as my primary source of electrolytes and switched to salt tabs, chia fresca (chia seeds, coconut water, lime juice and honey), and old fashioned water. I’d say I still over-packed on food but it ended up not mattering much, as you’ll see in a minute.

The list is color coded – I used the things in dark green. The things in light green I used, but barely. I didn’t use things in orange and the things in yellow – all my food – we were forced to surrender at the start of the Challenge. The historical Operation Gothic Serpent was a prisoner capture mission that was meant to least not more than an hour or so. As a result, the Delta and Rangers who were on it largely went out into the field short on supplies like food, water and night vision goggles. Our class gave up our food, which was put into a kit bag and carried throughout the Challenge, with only a couple periods of access for us to eat from it. And to be clear, people over pack on food. The full kit bag probably weighed over 100 pounds at the start.

I know everyone has their own take on footwear and foot care, but I can’t speak highly enough about the combination of Brooks Adrenalin ASR and Injini Coolmax toe socks. Add in Trail Toes prior to putting the socks on and it was a complete success. My feet felt dry throughout and I had zero issues with blisters or hot spots.

I packed a slightly stripped down Rogue Dynamics Trauma1 foot care kit. Though it went unused during the event (I’d previously stripped out some of the items in the kit, as there was no way I’d use all of its contents in one 12-15 hour event), I was glad to have it. Past Challenges or long rucks have always produced blisters and discomfort for me. Even better, Logan from Rogue Dynamics had the kits I ordered drop shipped to me to ensure I got them promptly. It was a nice move, well beyond my expectations.

At past GORUCK events, I’ve found use for a knife and a pen – but not this time. I’ve also dealt with a broken drinking valve for my water bladder in the past and wanted redundancy here. Fortunately it went unused. I didn’t waste a lot of weight on unused items, but as you can see, I clearly could have shave a few ounces by taking less.

Welcome Party & Teams

As with any other GORUCK Challenge, the event started with a Welcome Party. Ours was cut somewhat short due to a “friendly neighbor” calling the cops on us for being in a public park after dark. Nonetheless we had a quick smoke session consisting mostly of pushups and flutter kicks before moving out to another park for another quick smoke session of overhead press, mountain climbers, bear crawls, and an ungodly amount of burpees. Every time I do a GORUCK event, I go through my darkest moments during the welcome party. Every time I swear to myself that if I do another one, I’ll spend more time training PT exercises – especially pushups – while wearing a ruck. And this time, as with all other times, I totally slacked on my PT with a ruck on. And I paid for it. I was fortunate that it was relatively short and once we were done, I was good to go the rest of the way, with my demons left behind in Rose and Montrose Parks.

Traditionally when you have a large group for a Challenge, the whole class is split into smaller teams (usually of around 30 people) that spend most of the time apart. There were four cadre present for our event, so presumably we would have had teams of 35 had everyone showed up, or 24 with those who did. For reasons that aren’t clear to me, we never split up. We remained one group of 97 people throughout the 14 hour event. It’s the largest unbroken class I’ve ever heard of in a GORUCK Challenge (but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened before).

Movements & Casualties

Starting in Georgetown, we made our way to Glover Park. Along the way, we had about 25% casualties – meaning we had to buddy carry people. We also had plenty of other coupons – team weights as well as gifts from the cadre ranging from 25lb sand bags to logs and cement parking bumps. Throughout our class had plenty of added weights and plenty of casualties. Our movements started out very stop and go, but over time we got some decent systems for dealing with our weights.

We ended up on the Georgetown campus and spent a whole lot of time getting put to work there. One event was a circular route of stair cases near what I think is the library. We had to do five laps in 25 minutes. On lap four, someone on a team that was carrying a cement parking bumper walked into a cadre and didn’t apologize. That bought us an extra lap, with no extra time. We made the time hack, even with the penalty lap and were rewarded with a break to refill water bladders.

From the stairs we went to an astroturf sports field. It had been raining for the entirety of the Challenge and the turf was soaked like a sponge. We were given a mission low crawl from one side of the pitch to the other (probably 150-200 meters) and move all over our team weights in 12 minutes. For 100 people to low crawl with rucks on that distance, it’s probably a 12 minute task at minimum. Moving the weights made it even harder. We had a system where we sent some people going before starting to send the weights. It wasn’t a particularly smart system and before long, we were just booking it as best we good. It was stop and go and very wet and after a while…we were barely half way across the pitch. By the time we were done it had taken over 33 minutes and I don’t think we’d even gotten everyone or everything across.

We were told we’d have to try it again, only this time we’d bear crawl instead of low crawl. We had a bit of a better system this time, though half way through some of the peanut gallery thought they had better ideas than our team leads and things more or less broke apart. I won’t give away what did or didn’t work, but our time hack was 23:30 and we finished in 23:23, saving us from having to do it again using low crawls.

Food

The Challenge started at 9pm. The time from I’d say 10:30pm to around 4am went by in what felt like twenty minutes. All of a sudden we were having a break and had the option of grabbing some food from our over-stuffed kit bag. I had a small protein bar and grabbed a pack of gel shots for later. Throughout the entire event, I had 5 salt tablets, a protein bar of unknown brand that was about 200 calories, a handful of peanut M&Ms, a single bite size Snickers, and a pack of Clif shot bloks. And I was fine. In the future, I don’t think I’d bring more than this (or, about half of what I’d actually packed for myself). Each time I ate, I felt real value from it, but I wasn’t particularly hungry at any point. When I ate the protein bar, I really had to force myself – I didn’t like the taste, but knew having the energy would help.

More Movements

From the Georgetown campus, we went down to the Georgetown waterfront, got wet in a fountain, and made our way to the Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Memorial. Along the way we picked up a whole bunch more weights to carry and we slowed to a crawl under the new weights. Communication breakdowns lead to us losing strap privileges and then further communications breakdowns lead to us having to carry our rucks with only one hand (and still no straps). But we made it to the Lincoln around 7am, just as the sun was starting to rise.

Mogadishu Mile

During the Black Hawk Down incident, American troops spent nearly 18 hours waging a non-stop gun battle against Habr Gidr militia forces in Mogadishu. Eventually the embattled Rangers, Deltas and other Special Operations forces were met by an armored convoy from the 10th Mountain Division along with Malaysian and Pakistani troops as part of the UN mission. This convoy was intended to safely carry the Rangers to a rally point outside the city. But the convoy was overcrowded and the Rangers and Deltas decided to provide ground support for the vehicles on the way out – basically walking alongside to ensure there were no further ambushes. Due to a miscommunication, the armored convoy basically floored it out of Mogadishu, leaving the Rangers and Deltas on their own to sprint out of the city, while waging a pitched gun battle. This run, done after nearly a full day of unbroken combat, is referred to as the “Mogadishu Mile.”

Class 1214’s final task was to do our own Mogadishu Mile on the National Mall – from the Lincoln to the Capitol. Things seemed to start great, with us staying close together and helping a few slower team members. But we weren’t fast enough and we got loaded down with all the coupons we’d previously had, plus about 40% casualties. Long story short, it ended up taking us four hours to make it to the Capitol and the end of our mission.

Final Thoughts

This was the most fun I had in a Challenge. I’m not sure exactly why, but no small part of it may be because I convinced my best friend to do it with me. I had a good time rucking with him and watching him succeed in the event.

Other than getting my ass kicked doing pushups in the welcome party, I felt pretty great throughout the rest, even during other PT sessions, low crawling and bear crawling. I wasn’t bothered by any injuries or blisters. I had concerns going in about my wrists, which have taken a bit of a beating weight lifting the last few months, but never really bothered me until the very end.

I prepared for this Challenge primarily by doing crossfit the last five months, as well as doing at least one ruck and one run per week. The training runs and rucks were done on the hilly trails of Rock Creek Park. Whereas in the past all of my training rucks have been done on relatively flat, paved trails around DC, these trails are very hill, all dirt and often irregular. I think working the hills really helped build up strength under the ruck.

Crossfit undoubtedly helped me do this event from a place of good overall fitness. I can’t really place it but I did just feel stronger throughout than I have in any other GORUCK Challenges. I also felt the best later that night and the next day than I’ve felt after any other Challenges. I wasn’t too sore, to the point that I was back in my crossfit box on Monday, ready to go.

I’m not sure when I will next do a GORUCK Challenge, but I’m very glad I did this one and strongly encourage any readers who are thinking about signing up to go ahead and do it. You won’t regret it!

GORUCK Light Class 043: Massanutten, VA

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GORUCK Light Class 043 – Photo by Kit Klein

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.

our-log

Class 043’s telephone pole. Photo by Kit Klein.

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

A Cadre Workout

Here’s a good GORUCK Challenge training workout, courtesy of Cadre Chris.

With a weighted ruck:
Buy in: 800m ruck run
Then…
15 minute AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible)
5 – push ups
10 – flutter kicks (4 count) with ruck on chest (don’t let it touch the ground!)
15 – Air squats

Every 4 rounds do 10 wall balls (Ruck thrusters if you don’t have a medicine ball)

GOAL: get 12 rounds minimum
AMRAP starts right after the 800m run…

This is a great workout and really good preparation for the welcome party PT session at the start of a GORUCK Challenge. If you’re training for a Challenge, I definitely recommend mixing this workout in.

DC Mini-GRC for Kick A** Katie

As I’ve written about before, the GORUCK Tough community of GORUCK Challenge alumni is close knit and always ready to help when someone is in need. A few months ago, one GRT named Jason announced that his ten year old daughter Katie was going through a bone marrow transplant as part of her treatment for Cooley’s Anemia. Jason had set up a website for Katie to fundraise in support of her surgery and raise awareness about Cooley’s Anemia. Patches are a common thread in the GORUCK community and it didn’t take long for there to be a custom patch featuring “Kick A** Katie”, two unicorns (her favorite) and rainbows (because, per Katie, unicorns poop rainbows).

Jason also started to organize mini-GORUCK Challenges in support of Katie. Modeled on the real think, these min-GRCs are 4-5 hours and open to both GRTs and people who haven’t done a Challenge yet. The idea was to not only support spreading awareness into Cooley’s Anemia and Katie’s fight, but to introduce new people to a small taste of GORUCK-style good livin’.

This past Saturday I participated in the Mini-GRC DC event. It started at 7am at the White House Ellipse, with twelve participants and two GRTs playing the role of Cadre. Of the twelve, seven were GRTs and five were new to the world of GORUCK. We started off with a PT welcome party and before long were on our way towards the Lincoln Memorial. Within the first ten minutes of starting, we were given our log. It was probably about five to six feet long and weighed around 500 pounds. Logs are a great test of how well a team works together – can we find a system to keep the log up and moving? Or do we struggle with the enormity of the task? Well this team came together in a snap and developed a system to move the log with little trouble. This ended up being a sign for how we would work as a group throughout the mini-GRC. Everyone was there to support Katie and get work done. There was never any arguing or complaining. We just gelled.

The toughest part of this mini-GRC for me was the heat. When we started, it was already in the 90s and humid. By the time we were done it was over 100 and much more with the heat index. I’d hydrated like crazy the day before and was drinking water whenever possible, but still found the heat really tough to manage. When we made it to the Lincoln Memorial, we had to bear crawl up the steps and crab walk down. Near the top, one of our team threw up, but was able to continue on after a few minutes of down time. At the top of the Lincoln’s steps, I splayed out face down on the marble floor, in a spot of shade cast by a column. Less than two hours in and the heat was having its effects on me.

We moved from the Lincoln towards the Georgetown waterfront. With our next way point in sight, we were told to do walking flutter kicks for about 75-100 meters to our goal. For those that are unfamiliar, the walking flutter kick is a pretty brutal tool in the repertoire of GORUCK Cadre. It’s a buddy carry executed back-to-back, with both people wearing their rucks on their chest. The person doing the carrying has to move forward while the person being carried performs a flutter kick from their buddy’s back. This was my first time doing these and it’s a good deal harder than a regular buddy carry. At this point I was really overheating and feeling nauseous; doing this exercise was definitely the low-point for me during the mini-GRC.

Fortunately once we were done, we did a bit of PT in a giant fountain and cooled off substantially. It is impossible to put to words how good this felt, especially for how I was feeling at the time we hit the fountain.

From the waterfront, we made our way to one of the classic stops on a DC-based GORUCK Challenge: the Exorcist Steps. This long flight of steep stairs is one big, hearty dose of good livin’. There are three sections to it and we were instructed to box jump each step for the first section, bear crawl the second, and then after getting a little bit gassed, buddy carry up the third. Having not done a Challenge in DC before, I was a bit worried about the Exorcist Steps, but was able to get through it. At this point I was feeling much better, substantially cooled off, and ready to keep on rocking. The demons from the heat had been pushed from my mind and I really started to enjoy the mini-GRC to its fullest.

The last stretch involved a bunch more running and a false ending at Montrose Park. It seemed like we were done, but were instead lead down through the running trails of Rock Creek Park down to Rock Creek itself. We were instructed into the water and lined up to perform PT. If you have only ever driven past or run alongside Rock Creek, when you are standing in Rock Creek you learn that this water does not, in fact, smell as clean as it looks. This is definitely water that you do not want to drink. First up, though, was chest to deck push-ups. Since the water we were in was a foot and a half to two feet deep, each rep meant getting our head underwater. The first couple of reps were a bit tentative, but around this time the coolness of the water felt amazing.

By the time we were done with our water PT, I was sad to get out. With the thermometer reading over 100 degrees, a cool – albeit smelly and probably a bit toxic – creek was a great place to spend time. We made our way back up to Montrose and finished as so many Challenges finish: with buddy carries.

Katie, the girl we were honoring and supporting with our mini-GRC, was there as we finished. She was greeted by fourteen hot, dirty, sweaty people bearing a slight Eau de Rock Creek and smiles all around.

This was by no means a real GORUCK Challenge – it lasted around 4 hours and only covered about 5+ miles, though it was done on a day of record-setting heat in DC. But getting to meet this brave, young girl and see how well she is doing following her bone marrow transplant added an extra level of good livin’ to the experience. Our team working incredibly well together and all the people who were new to the Challenge expressed interest in doing a real Challenge in the future. Thanks to everyone who came out and participated, I had a blast. And thanks to Jason for inviting the GORUCK Tough community into his and Katie’s fight for health. Hopefully we’ll see her participating in a Challenge in 8-10 years!

A random cardio workout

I’m training for GORUCK Ascent 2012. My emphasis is really on building up leg strength, cardio and practice going long ways under a weighted ruck. Here’s a sample cardio workout from this morning.

Warmup
1 mile of stairs with 40# ruck
1 mile forced ruck march with 40# ruck
1 mile sprint (no ruck)
Cool down & finishing PT

My finishing PT varies, but today was four sets of pull-ups to failure and hanging straight leg raises to failure.

My biggest concern besides getting fit for Ascent is to not injure myself in training. I’ve read a number of articles recently which emphasize doing forced ruck marches rather than running under a weighted ruck. I’ve done quite a bit of running under a 40-50 lb ruck over the last six months and it certainly can be tough on the knees (and ankles and IT band…). A fast paced march is definitely easier on the joints, though I don’t get the same cardio intensity from it. For me, the forced march pace is 15 minute miles. I’m a big, still fairly slow guy and sprinting a mile is around eight minute mile pace in this workout.

This put me through a pretty decent cardio workout. My heart rate varied from 160-170 BPM throughout and everything I was wearing ended soaked through with sweat, including my GR2. I like mixing things up, but this is one I’ve done a couple times now and it’s good to get the practice going up under weight, while mixing in a bit of running too. It’s one of my less complex workouts, but sometimes simple is good.

I’ll check in from time to time with other random workouts for my Ascent training. Each is just a snapshot in time, not a program in itself, so its usefulness to a reader is probably pretty limited.

GORUCK Tough: A Community’s Tough Love

Originally posted at Huffington Post

This is the fourth post in a three part series on GORUCK and the GORUCK Challenge. Read my first post on the GORUCK brand, GORUCK: The Most Passionate Brand Following in the World, my second post on the GORUCK Challenge, The GORUCK Challenge: Bringing People Together Under Really Big Logs, and my third post on my completion of a GORUCK Challenge, Becoming GORUCK Tough.

The motto of the GORUCK Challenge is “Under Promise, Over Deliver.” While they sell the event that as 8-10 hours and 15-20 miles, the Challenge is almost always longer or farther in practice. In this spirit, I’m writing a fourth piece to conclude my three-part series on GORUCK and the GORUCK Challenge.

When I completed the GORUCK Challenge Class 110 in Baltimore this past February, not only did I earn a “GORUCK Tough” patch, but I became a member of the GORUCK Tough (GRT) community. Comprising only of the people who have completed a Challenge, it is a 2,000 person (and growing) Facebook group.

Like most other Facebook groups, the GRT group is a place where people share funny videos, post news stories (usually about GRT members doing amazing things in other athletic endeavors), and talk tough to the Cadre who run each Challenge. None of these things make the community unique. Instead, it is a deep and rich culture of charitable giving which has emerged from the GORUCK Tough community and best speaks to the character of its members.

GORUCK was founded by Jason McCarthy, a former Special Forces operator. Charitable giving is baked into the experience of participating in a Challenge, as GORUCK takes $10 out of every Challenge registration and donates it to the Green Beret Foundation, a group which supports wound Special Forces operators. For larger capstone events, GORUCK requires participants to do their own fundraising drives to support the Green Beret Foundation, with benchmarks of $1500-2000 per participant.

With this grounding in charity, it’s not surprising that alumni continue to give as a group. What is surprising is the degree to which the community is always there to support members in need.

Justin Grimm’s daughter Charlotte was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in February of 2010, when she was only two years old. Charlotte started on what would be two and a half years of treatment, including chemotherapy cycles and steroid treatments. As Charlotte, Justin and their family were going through the ordeals of Charlotte’s treatment, Justin decided to participate in a GORUCK Challenge.

“I signed up for the GRC to physically push myself knowing that mentally I had pushed through far more [with Charlotte’s cancer] than the devious mind of Jason could conjure up,” Justin says. Justin completed Class 049, where his classmate decided to do the Challenge in honor of Charlotte’s fight against cancer. Recognizing that they had done something special, Justin began to engage GORUCK alumni to help raise funds to support the Childrens Cancer Research Fund (CCRF).

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Morale patches are a common item in the GORUCK world and soon Justin had a patch designed to honor his daughter and support the CCRF. Justin describes it, “The Brave Charlotte Patch…represents a ladybug on a stage dancing from the clouds into the sunshine.” It both captures Charlotte’s indomitable spirit and would serve as a way for the GORUCK Community to support research to help cure leukemia. Donors were recognized with the Brave Charlotte patches and to date the GORUCK Tough community has raised over $10,000 for the CCRF.

In addition to fundraising through patch sales, members of the alumni community began to hold Mini-GORUCK Challenges in support of Brave Charlotte and the CCRF. There have been over fifteen of these events so far with more to come.

The GORUCK Tough community support goes beyond people who are a part of it. In March, Chief Warrant Officer Edward Cantrell, a decorated Green Beret, perished while trying to save his two daughters from their burning home. This tragedy hit the GORUCK Tough family hard – the Special Forces community is close-knit and Cantrell was known by a number of the GORUCK Cadre.

Dan, a Challenge Cadre and Green Beret, was touched by this outpouring. “When CW2 Cantrell passed away a couple months ago, I had people from all over the country in the GRT family emailing me asking for ways to support his family. Crossfit Lakeland Florida dedicated an entire workout and raised money that was donated to the widow of CW2 Cantrell. Patches are in production right now and all funds from the sale of those will go to the widow of CW2 Cantrell. I could go on and on but the GRT family always steps up when somebody is in need.”

Cadre Dan sees this as a normal response from the community. “I have never met a more dedicated group of people who are willing to help and support each other. The absolute beauty of it all is that most of the GRT family has never met each other, but when a GRT family member needs help, the outpouring of support is second to none. “

As a relatively new member of the GORUCK Tough community, I’ve found the willingness of its members to support each other and the causes we believe in to be rewarding in a way I never expected. The culture of giving is something we all strive to bring to our lives beyond the GRT group, but to see it emerge from a backpack company and their unique challenge is remarkable.

GORUCK staff talk about the Challenge as delivering their own kind of “good livin’” – with the implication that intense physical exertion and no small degree of suffering in silence leads us to a more fulfilling way of living our lives. But looking at the community that emerges from these Challenges and it’s clear that good livin’ doesn’t just come from personal, physical accomplishments, but how we build a better world through charitable giving.

Some stories have happy endings and as for Brave Charlotte Grimm, after fighting leukemia for over half her life, she had her final treatment on April 22nd of this year. Her father Justin says, “She is doing better every day. Her energy is coming back and that is a bit of an adjustment too since it’s been so long since she hasn’t felt like garbage. We are so grateful to all of our friend, family and GRTs for their support, thoughts and prayers.”

Sample GORUCK Challenge training workout

One of the first things I thought to myself after registering for the GORUCK Challenge was, “How the hell am I going to train for this?” Given that every Challenge is different, it’s hard to be fully prepared for it. The best you can do is be ready. I knew that it would cover a long distance (15-20 miles or more), it would be done with 40-50 pounds on my back the whole time, and there would be some long stretch of time carrying a really heavy log. In my training, I sought to emphasize leg strength, comfort with a weighted ruck, and endurance for traveling long distances.

In terms of building up comfort under the ruck, nothing replaces doing ruck runs and working out with a weighted ruck. Build up your distance on ruck runs. One way to do that is to run as far as you can under a ruck, then turn around and walk back to your starting point. This will push your distance in a big way – effectively doubling it. You’ll also spend a lot more time working under a weighted ruck, which is invaluable for building your endurance.

I never did the same workout twice, but wanted to post at least one sample workout which heavily emphasizes legs, but through dynamic motions which work your core and especially build shoulder strength (which is needed for rucking under weight and lifting logs).

50 x Thrusters
50 x Deadlift kettle bell swings
50 x Wall ball
50 x Medicine ball slam
50 x Air squats
50 x Burpees

Do this workout as fast as possible, but with heavy enough weight that you can’t do more than 25 reps in each motion before needing to break, so each weighted motion is probably getting 2-3 sets. You can also do all of these motions with a weighted ruck (other than the Burpees).

This is just one example of a workout framework that helped build the sort of strength that I found to be most important in training for a GORUCK Challenge. It’s not exhaustive, more like a snapshot of things you can be doing to prepare for a GORUCK Challenge.

Becoming GORUCK Tough

Originally posted at Huffington Post

This is the third and final post in a series on GORUCK and the GORUCK Challenge. Read my first post on the GORUCK brand, GORUCK: The Most Passionate Brand Following in the World and my second post on the GORUCK Challenge, The GORUCK Challenge: Bringing People Together Under Really Big Logs.

The hardest part of the GORUCK Challenge was probably signing up.

I’d learned about GORUCK, a military-grade backpack company, through the indispensable Pack Light Go Fast blog. It was also through Pack Light Go Fast that I learned about the GORUCK Challenge, a team event which puts its participants through a Special Forces-inspired physical and mental ringer. The Challenge always struck me as a bit too intense for me – 15-20 miles of running, PT exercises, all while carrying a backpack filled with about 50 pounds of bricks. I didn’t see the appeal.

My attitude towards taking the Challenge changed when I saw pictures and read about the capstone, alumni-only event in the Colorado Rockies, Ascent. It looked like an absolutely amazing, inspiring trip. If I had to complete a GORUCK Challenge to be eligible to go, fine, that’s what I’d have to do.

Of course, this was easier said than done. While I was fairly athletic in high school and college, I’d spent most of the last seven years working at a desk, with only intermittent periods of committed exercise. I hadn’t gone for a run of more than two miles since college. I was out of shape and would have to lose a bunch of weight to even feel like I was capable of trying the Challenge.

But I wanted to challenge myself. I was a few months away from turning 30, engaged to be married a few months after that, and feeling like I was about to enter a major new phase of my life. Finding out if I was tough enough to go through this Challenge seemed incredibly important. This past October I began considering doing a GORUCK Challenge. I knew I needed at least three to four months to get in better shape, but that timing would put me in a Challenge in winter.

I decided the Challenge in Baltimore at 1 a.m. on February 11th was the best date for me, winter weather be damned. I spent at least a week with my browser parked on the registration page. I’d fill out all the information, including my credit card, and panic, abandoning the registration attempt for another night of thought. When I finally hit submit, I was overcome with a wave of panic and nausea. What had I just committed myself to?

The fine folks of GORUCK like to say that anyone can do the Challenge, that it’s more mental than physical. This is certainly true, but I’m glad that I didn’t do my Challenge on the day I signed up. Had I, I would have either quit or endured some serious pain to finish. Fortunately for me, I had time to train to get myself physically ready for the Baltimore Challenge.

When I signed up, I was a bit above 240 pounds and in just about the worst shape in my life. I figured I’d want to drop about 30 pounds to be ready (and to not unnecessarily weigh down any of my teammates in buddy carries). Since I was effectively starting from scratch physically, I built up slowly on my cardio and strength training. I did a mix of strength conditioning with free weights, kettle bells, and body weight exercise, as well as indoor and outdoor cardio, and bootcamp classes that were influenced by crossfit, but not actually crossfit workouts. I aimed to do a lot of muscle confusion and emphasized building up leg strength in particular, as I’d be traveling a long way under weight.

Short runs on the treadmill evolved into longer treadmill runs. Eventually I moved to running outdoors and built up my mileage to the point where I began to do weighted ruck runs. Let me tell you, losing 20 pounds then adding it all back in the form of bricks really shows you how bad a place you started from. To make matters worse, through the course of my training I found out that I had exercise-induced asthma. Getting that diagnosed and taking medication helped, though I as still susceptible to asthma attacks in my more intense training sessions.

With a month to go in my training, I’d gotten my non-weighted runs up to 14 miles. In the closing weeks I pushed my ruck runs up and got to 14 miles as well. One thing that’s worth noting is that running with a backpack filled with 6 bricks and a few liters of water, which approaches 50 pounds, is less like running and more like a steady jog. The value of training with the ruck on was to break it in and get my body used to moving with the weight. Ruck runs also build up a ton of needed leg strength.

By the time the week of the Challenge rolled around, I’d lost 30 pounds. I felt great. I was healthy, though concerned about the chances of having asthma attacks during the Challenge. While I don’t think it’s possible to be truly ready for a Challenge which is always different, I felt physically and mentally prepared for it. I knew I was in for a whole bunch of Suck, but thought I’d be able to gut through it as long as I didn’t get injured.

The weather in the Mid-Atlantic has been unseasonably warm all winter. A week out the forecast for the night of the Challenge was calling for clear skies and temperatures in the upper 40s. But right before the Challenge, the weather took a turn for the worse. Suddenly it was going to be in the 30s, with a chance of snow. One of my greatest sources for worry had been what I would wear during the Challenge. I’d developed a good system of layers for running in cold weather, but I hadn’t trained in the rain and I expected that we’d be getting wet at some point in the Challenge, regardless of precipitation (the previous Challenge in Baltimore included time in the Inner Harbor).

I eventually decided on a water resistant set of gear that would hopefully dry quickly once wet, but still be breathable enough to keep me cool if I got too hot. I had changes of socks, gloves, and baselayer in my ruck, along with snacks for along the way. I was definitely nervous about my choice of clothing, but at a certain point I had to stop worrying and just do the Challenge.

GORUCK Challenge Class 110 started at 1 AM in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore. When we started, the temperature was in the low 30s and a mix of rain and sleet were falling. One of my concerns was starting a Challenge in the middle of the night. If you’re worried about this, don’t be – your adrenaline will be pumping so hard that you will not be tired in the slightest.

Class 110 started off with 26 people, about a third of whom were GORUCK Tough alumni. Our Challenge was lead by Cadre Lou and a new Cadre, Devin (Devin would be lead cadre on Class 111 the following night). After signing our death waivers and having a basic safety talk, Cadre Lou set us off and running. We moved towards a park not too far from Fells and were quickly doing Indian runs around it. We ran for a while, working on a pace that everyone could keep up with. In addition to our brick-filled rucks, every class has to have a team coupon (redeemable for extra good livin’). Ours was a twenty-five pound, five foot long slosh pipe, filled with water and nicknamed Carl Gustav. We were also given an extra ruck filled with a case of beer. And since one of our classmates was having a birthday, he was given a chunk of concrete that probably weight around twenty-five pounds. As we ran, each of these coupons were kept at the front of our line, an early exercise in teamwork.

We did Indian runs for a couple miles and then were brought into a park to have an orientation to PT exercises. As we entered the park, the sleet had shifted to snow. This is not orientation in the college freshman sense, with parties and too much flavored vodka. Instead orientation was an opportunity to do a lot of exercises until we got them right. Push-ups, flutter kicks, squats, military press, mountain climbers, lunges, buddy carries, and more that I’m surely forgetting. This was undoubtedly the hardest part of the Challenge for me. While I had trained with a lot of these PT exercise motions, I’d done almost no training with an extra 50 pounds on my back. Not training PT exercises with a ruck on was a mistake I will not repeat if I ever do a Challenge again. I gutted through it, but felt pretty awful and was worried that if we were in for another 10+ hours of this, I might not make it.

Fortunately for me, we moved on to our first mission around 3am (no watches are allowed during a GORUCK Challenge, but my guess is we did 1.5-2 hours of running, PT and exercises). GORUCK began integrating missions into their Challenges last year and the missions both provide a closer replication of Special Forces training and move the Challenge more clearly into a leadership development model that tests teamwork and mental strength, as well as physical fitness.

In our first mission, we had to navigate our class across the park we were in while escaping detection by our cadre, who were guarding our next rally point. We broke into teams and moved low and slow across a few hundred yards of grass and hills. Much of our movement was through low-crawling. It had been a mix of snow and sleet for a few hours, the ground was soaked and beginning to accumulate. Between this and our PT exercises, we were all soaked to the bone. I had water sloshing in my shoes and if I squeezed my hands into fists, water would come streaming out of my gloves. It was so wet that I realized all my agonizing over what to wear had been a joke, nothing would have stood up to this wet onslaught.

Movement was incredibly slow as our teams pressed forward. At one point, we spotted the cadre and had to hunker down for a long wait. Given how cold and wet we were, this part of the mission sucked particularly hard. But still, I was having fun and embracing the Suck made it easier to keep working together as a team. By the time we were making it to our objective, though, the Cadre had spotted us and we had failed the mission.

When the mission had started, we were told that if we were spotted, we’d have to low-crawl all the way back down to our starting point. Given that we’d low-crawled most of the way there, this apparently no longer seemed like a suitable punishment for us. Instead it was back to running and a new mission. Along the way we picked up a new coupon – a filthy, discarded couch which we would have to carry the rest of the Challenge, along with a busted up tube television.

I don’t want to reveal too much else about the content of Class 110’s Challenge. I think the mystery of what you’ll be doing in a Challenge is a big part of the mental challenge itself. That said, there are a couple more points I want to make.

After about six hours of snow and sleet, the sun rose and we had a bit of a break to refill our water and eat some food. Shortly after that, I was tapped to be team leader for our third mission. Serving as team leader tested me in a way I hadn’t expected to be tested. I’ve never served in the military and I was a GORUCK Challenge rookie, but watching how our previous team leaders had operated gave me some clues as to how to fill this role. My main responsibilities included keeping an eye as to how people were doing and if they needed breaks, as well as liaising with the Cadre about our mission and mitigating various punishments inflicted on us were key parts, as was navigating the class. Being team leader afforded me an opportunity to learn more about my strengths and my weaknesses than I probably would not have had otherwise. As a result I’ve spent more time thinking about this phase of the Challenge than any other since it was completed.

Since it’s common to every Challenge class, I have to say a couple words about our giant freaking log. Our final mission included carrying a fifteen foot log that easily weighed over 800 pounds and possibly closer to 1000 [Update: Hearing Cadre Lou in a podcast on the Challenge, I have to revise my estimates upwards. This thing was definitely well north of 1000 pounds, could be as high as 1500 pounds]. In addition to this, we had two smaller logs – each over 200 pounds – to go along with our couch, our slosh pipe, our rock, and our extra weighted ruck. Our big log was completely irregular in shape, making it a real challenge to get people of different heights positioned in ways that distributed the weight evenly. I think most every one’s experience was either bent over too far or with it crushing them downward. We had some real heroes during this part of the Challenge, but I can’t say I was upset when we were given permission to put the logs down and start running towards our finishing point.

There was a point on our run back to Fells Point where I knew I was going to finish and a tremendous feeling of excitement washed over me. I had trained for months and worried about my ability to do the Challenge. I was going to finish without injury (actually, this was despite myself as I took two hard falls while carrying multiple coupons – I was seriously lucky I didn’t get hurt). And I was going to get the GORUCK Tough patch that would quietly speak towards my hard work.

Class 110 completed the GORUCK Challenge in a bit under twelve hours. We finished in Fells Point, right where we started. I don’t know the exact mileage we covered, but it was long and it was hard. Mother Nature fought us tooth and nail the first six hours and really heavy things fought us the rest of the way. But we came together as a team and built the bonds we needed to get through the Challenge. While I was able to escape injury, a few others in Class 110 had to fight through serious pain to finish and I can’t begin to say how much I respect the heart and grit these members of our team displayed.

I’m GORUCK Tough and I’m proud of my accomplishment. If you’re reading this and remotely curious if you could do it, know this: you can and you should. Maybe this Challenge isn’t for everyone, but it is for everyone who is interested in seeing what they’re made of. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and you’ll join a community of extraordinary people who know that they are capable of incredible things. Find a GORUCK Challenge in your area and do the work to join this community, I’ll be waiting for you.

…As an end note, I want to extend special thanks to the people who encouraged me to do the Challenge, who helped me get ready for it, and who got me through it: my loving and understanding fiance, Lori; Sophie Pollitt-Cohen, Jason McCarthy, Cadre Lou, Cadre Brian, and Cadre Devin of GORUCK; Devin Maier of Balance Gym; Uri of Pack Light, Go Fast; Mike Petrucci of ITS Tactical; and every single member of GORUCK Tough Class 110.