GORUCK Challenge Class 1051 Boulder, Colorado, USA June 6-7, 2014
Wow. I guess that’s the best way to start this post. I believe this was the hardest physical effort I’ve done since I left the military, 21 years ago. Thankfully, I’ve been preparing for this event for awhile.
First, some background. What is GORUCK? For those of you that have never heard of it, GORUCK is a company that manufactures equipment for the US military’s elite special operations forces, and also makes that equipment available to the general public. The company was started by a former Special Forces soldier (aka Green Beret). He decided to hold events, with some of the proceeds going to support the Green Beret Foundation, a charity that helps the families of Special Forces soldiers that were killed or injured in combat. The event I did is called the GORUCK Challenge, which is the second tier of difficulty for their events. It consists of carrying bricks in a rucksack (4 bricks if you’re under 150 lbs, 6 bricks if you’re over 150), an American flag, and a team weight. Our weight happened to be a motorcycle inner tube, filled with sand, and sealed with duct tape. It weighed about 30 lbs. Our team consisted of 28 people (25 guys, 3 girls), plus the cadre, Adam, who is a US Marine. GORUCK events take place all over the world. A challenge is supposed to last 8-10 hours, and cover 15-20 miles. Nobody is allowed to carry a phone or a watch, so nobody knows what time it is, or how long/far you’ve been moving. You can see more info here: http://www.goruck.com/en/Events#.U5cek00U-Uk
Not gonna puke… not gonna puke…
The Beginning: Our challenge began in Boulder, Colorado. It lasted 12 ½ hours. Whew… It began at 9pm, in a little park called Chataqua Park, in Boulder. Once we were all gathered in the park, the cadre introduced us to the concept of a “welcoming party” where we spent roughly two hours performing a variety of physical tasks, to include bear crawls, crab walks, and fireman’s carries. Just for context, my ruck, with bricks, water, and other supplies, weighed about 55-60 pounds. Carrying that wasn’t particularly easy. However, carrying my ruck, AND a person that weighs 180 pounds, was a bit harder… not to mention they ALSO had a 55-60 pound ruck on. Sprinting up and down hills with that load almost made me puke… almost. After just this initial two hours, everyone was soaked in sweat, and exhausted. Only 10+ hours to go…
A Walk in the Park: Upon leaving the park, we walked toward downtown Boulder. It was downhill, so would not have been so bad, if the cadre hadn’t found a big, heavy log on the side of the road for us to carry. We proceeded down to Boulder’s Central Park, where we did another hour of grueling physical exercises. We did bear crawls while dragging a person underneath us, crab walks, duck walks, and two bizarre activities called the Tunnel of Love and the Stupid Frog. At the same time we were going through this challenge, another group was doing a challenge in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The cadres knew each other, so we were treated to the opportunity to do a team push up contest. We ended up beating their team total by more than 100 push ups, but it was at the expense of any strength we had left in our arms. After at least another hour of this fun, once we were thoroughly spent, we formed up and marched on down to a convenience store, where we restocked everyone’s water supply. Most, if not all, had already gone through 3 liters of water by this time. I also took the opportunity to eat a Bonk Breaker bar, as well as consume my second gel of the evening. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through training for Ironman, it’s that nutrition and hydration are keys to success, and without them, almost assured failure. HYDRATE EARLY, HYDRATE OFTEN!!
Crawling through the stream
Climbing Red Rocks Trail
Up, Up and Away: Up into the mountains we trudged, up steep, slippery trails, through streams (where we were required to crawl on our stomachs through freezing water), and up a rock face to the top of the nearest peak. For this climb, I volunteered to carry the team weight, so that added about 30 pounds to my load. Since we weren’t moving quickly enough to make the cadre happy, we were required to select two group members to carry up the slope, so we carried two of the girls, who were the lightest group members. We knew things would get worse, so we were pacing ourselves. At the top of the mountain, after climbing more than 1,000 feet, we had our first break of the night, and rested for 15 minutes. Thankfully, we were able to put our rucks on the ground and give our shoulders a rest. Another gel, and another Bonk Breaker bar for me at this point. I pulled my windbreaker out of my pack, too, because I was soaked to the skin, and the outside temp was about 42F. Down the mountain, slipping and sliding on loose soil and rocks, we made our way back to where we began climbing. As we crossed the road, and worked our way back toward Boulder, Cadre Adam happened upon a couch…
It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn: Cadre Adam had one team member lay on the couch, and six team members carried the couch for the next several miles. We swapped out team members as individuals got tired, which become more and more frequent. Before long, I had my windbreaker open, then off altogether. This was really getting tough! After a couple of miles, to keep the guy on the couch from getting a break, he jumped down, and we put the log onto the couch, and carried it that way. Along the way, Adam spotted a truck tire, so he threw that onto the couch also. It was becoming heavier and heavier. We could see the sun starting to come up on the Eastern horizon, giving us some idea of what time it may be. We all remained soaked in sweat, and completely exhausted. Throughout the event, the cadre would designate a Team Leader (TL) and Assistant Team Leader (ATL). I hadn’t been designated yet, but I knew it was only a matter of time… I took several turns helping to carry the couch, and also spent a good amount of time with the team weight. We were walking along the bike path next to Boulder Creek, when Adam spotted a sand volleyball court. With an evil gleam in his eye, he asked the group, “Has anyone ever heard of a sugar cookie?” We all groaned. He had us bury ourselves completely in the sand, rucks and all. We had sand in our eyes, ears, noses and mouths, not to mention everywhere in our clothes, and it stuck to us because we were wet. Misery. We got the couch back in the air, and moved along. We kept along the bike path until we reached another park. We placed the couch next to the path, and grouped up in the middle of the park.
The Bear Crawl Returns
Zombieland: The sun had finally come up, and we were in a circle in the middle of Carpenter Park. Even though it was now light enough to see, we were like a group of walking dead. There were many people with cramps, sore joints, and other painful ailments. We were also out of water. Cadre Adam was asked to let us head over to a water fountain and refill our water supply, but we had to earn it first. We lined up at the bottom of the hill, and had to bear crawl all the way to the top, where we turned around and crab walked down to the bottom. Everyone in the group could only move 5 or 10 feet at a time before having to stop and rest. We were reorganized into a line on our backs, and formed a “human zipper.” Each member of the team had to “crowd surf” from one end of the line to the other, multiple times. As we laid on our backs, and attempted (sometimes in vain) to hold our teammates above our heads, we were showered with sand from all the cracks and crevices in their clothes and packs, and once again, it went into our eyes, noses and mouths. We continued by forming a line to do huge push ups as a group, They’re called worm push ups because it looks like a worm, as the whole group tries to lift up at once, layered on top of each other. After several attempts, the cadre showed some mercy, and we were able to make our way over to the parking lot for another break. Morale remained high, despite everyone’s pain and fatigue. We spent some time eating and drinking (yep, another Bonk Breaker for me) and getting as much sand as possible out of uncomfortable, unmentionable places.
Leading the Herd: As we finished our break, Adam came over to me and designated me the Team Leader. He didn’t assign an Assistant Team Leader, but rather looked at me, and told me I had exactly 20 minutes to assemble the team, and make it to my objective. The objective he gave me was about 1.6 miles from where we were standing. As a triathlete who has been training as much as I have, 20 minutes sounded generous, but when I considered the weight we had to carry, and our level of fatigue, it was going to be a real challenge. I got everyone ready to go in about 0 seconds, and we set off at a slow jog. As team members fell behind, I assigned others to carry their ruck for awhile, so they could recover. We wound our way through the streets of Boulder, and in a final sprint, arrived as a team at the intersection I had been told to head to. Unfortunately, we missed the time limit by 45 seconds, so we were certainly going to pay the price. Again. I was told to assemble the group into a single file line, and get ready to do the “Elephant Walk” which means to put your left hand between your legs, so it could be grasped by the person behind you, with their right hand. We formed a bent-over line of people, who now had to wind our way up the stairs for all five levels of the parking garage that sat at the corner of the intersection. We went up the stairs that way, then back down. Thankfully, I was then relieved of my duty as TL.
Home Stretch: Upon leaving the parking garage, there was no mercy from the cadre. We were divided into multiple teams, and each team was assigned a “casualty” that needed to be carried from that point forward. We started with four teams of seven members, so there was plenty of folks to rotate through the duty of carrying another person, or at the very least, someone else’s ruck. As we walked, team sizes got reduced, and additional casualties were assessed, to the point where we had nine casualties. Essentially, on each three-person team, one person was a casualty, one was a carrier, and the third person carried all the gear. We were under a time limit again, so we had to move quickly uphill toward the finish. We made it back to Chataqua Park, now 12 hours after we had started. We were so excited to get to the end that we were running and cheering, at least until we realized that we weren’t quite done…
Final Exam: Adam gathered us into a circle in the middle of the park. Twelve hours earlier, during our introductions, Adam had said that we would get to know each other by name, and learn a fact or two about each other. He even mentioned there would be a test. I guess some though he was kidding… he wasn’t. He looked at our circle, and asked for a volunteer to come forward and state each team member’s name, and two facts. Nobody could do it, so we were assigned more bear crawls, sprints, pushups, etc. Adam would re-form us into a circle, and ask again. While in the circle, we usually had to hold our ruck over our heads, or sometimes straight out in front of us. Most (including me) couldn’t sustain this, and every time a ruck dropped down, it was more bear crawls. We finally figured it out, and used teamwork to get everyone’s name right, and say something about them. Adam was pleased that we were working as a team. He formed us into two rows, and said we had only one more thing to do. Adam’s MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) was 321, so he told us to do 321 burpees, then it would all be over. I’ve never done more than 50 burpees in a row in my life, but I wasn’t going to give up. As it turns out, this was the last demonstration of teamwork required, so the 28 team members did 13 burpees each, which exceeded the 321 required. We were done!
I’ve been sore for two days following the event, but it was a great experience. I’ll have friends for the rest of my life from within the group.