Monday, March 12, 2012

GoRuck Challenge Tulsa (Class 121)

"What are you guys doing?" asks an overweight woman at a riverside park on a sunny Saturday afternoon around 1:15 p.m. "A GoRuck Challenge" someone responds between gasps of air while bear crawling with a 50 lb pack strapped to his back. "What is that?" No answer.

If you are watching a group of 19 zombie looking men from all walks of life perform ridiculous exercises after more than 12 hours and 20+ miles of suck and you have to ask with a cheeseburger in your hand, then you wouldn't understand. If you click on this link and you are at least slightly intrigued, then the GoRuck Challenge might be for you. If it gives you chills, then you NEED to do it.  My first GoRuck is complete and it was quite the experience.

So what is a GoRuck Challenge? From the website:

"Inspired by the most elite training offered to Special Forces soldiers and led by Green Berets, the GORUCK Challenge is a team event and never a race. Challenge cadre build each class into a team through collective conditions of mental and physical exhaustion. Classes are small, camaraderie is high, smiles are plentiful, and teamwork is paramount."

I first heard of the Goruck Challenge last Fall after reading someone else's Tough Mudder blog. I checked it out and I was definitely interested. It was just a matter of location and timing.  Eventually, they had one scheduled for Tulsa which is only two hours away.  

The Goruck Challenge is advertised as 8-10 hours over 15-20 miles with the tagline of "Under promise, over deliver". Oh yes they did.  The challenge always starts at night. Ours started at 0100. We were basically told to bring 6 bricks (4 for anyone under 150 lbs), a headlamp, some water, and something to eat. That was basically it. Each Goruck event has a different Facebook event page which we were encouraged to use and we used the page to organize a class weight (also required), a ruckoff (pre-challenge meeting), etc. We started with a team of 19 men and one woman. Roughly half of us were at a local bar/restaurant a couple of hours before things kicked off. We chatted a while and some of us went back to our cars to try to relax a little before things got started. Around midnight a Chevy pickup pulls up right next to my friend's car. It was our cadre for the challenge. He started to unload a bunch of Goruck bags, ropes, a guidon, etc. So much for relaxing. The guy looked kind of serious.  It is almost show time.

At exactly 1:00 a.m. we all assembled. We signed the standard death waiver that all of the cool events require (I didn't read a single word of it) and had our bricks inspected. Our female team member had some real pretty pink and other colored ones. Pretty funny. People like myself that bought a Goruck branded pack received their bags, and we proceeded to pack up and ship out. We also received a "Hurt Feelings Report" to fill out in case we got our feelings hurt during the challenge.

I am not going to give the blow by blow details of the challenge. If you are my Facebook friend, you can go to my wall and review my recollection of what we ended up doing (I have already been reminded I missed a bunch of stuff). A long list doesn't really do the experience justice anyway.  Essentially, this is a team building exercise that tests you physically and an extreme. It hurts. Bad. It sucks. Bad. The short story is this:

We started with a lot of painful exercises with our packs on our shoulders (our bags never left our shoulders except for rest periods which never intentionally went over 10 minutes or when the exercises required the packs be somewhere elevated over our heads). Then we got into the river to do a few more (it was just above freezing at that point with the temperature still dropping). Once we were fully "warmed up" we began our challenge.  We had a few tasks to complete such as carrying "medical equipment" (heavy military boxes labelled "live grenades"). I assume that isn't what was in there but I find it hilarious that we found them next to a dumpster and dropped them off next to an oil refinery for the next class. We even had police drive right past our group without a single question.  Team leaders, etc. were chosen and rotated, and for the most part, we were allowed to make our own decisions with guidance from the cadre (while constantly being reminded that we needed to move faster).  

Around 0400, one of our team members started shivering a little more than the rest of us. We gave her some extra clothes to try to warm her up. She kept going. By the time our first mission was complete, she was showing some stage of hypothermia and dry heaving. Cold is one of those things that once it gets you, you are done. She had completed a Goruck before but this time she had to quit.

We are all told to have our ID and $20 along with us in case we need to call a cab to get home. Unfortunately, the cab companies weren't answering their phone. Time to improvise. Two team members ran the four miles or so back to where we started to get a vehicle. The rest of us waited around and shivered like crazy while discussing how nice it would be to run 4 miles to warm up and then jump in a nice warm vehicle while taking the long route back.  Frost was forming on our packs. It was now below freezing. There was another incident during this time that I won't divulge but as Scott said, we killed some bears afterward so it is all good. Eventually, our team member's ride arrived and we continued on. I think standing in the cold was probably the worst part of it as we knew we had so much more distance to travel and had nothing to do but think about it.

We continued on for a total of 12.5 hours and what I believe was 20.2 miles (based on our photographer's phone GPS). Our team was blessed in that one of our team member's wives volunteered to take photographs for "as long as she can stand the weather". She did the entire challenge with us, carrying her own backpack with her own supplies, etc. When we ran, she ran ahead of us so she could stop and take photos of us running by. She was amazing! I don't know if she was the smart one because she basically got the same experience as us for free or if she is crazy for doing all that and not getting her own Goruck patch! Regardless, we were all very thankful (most of us gave her our $20 bill after the challenge as a thank you afterwards) and lucky to have the entire event fully documented! Thanks again Kayla!

So what did I learn?
  1. Extreme pain in my shoulders. While I certainly did a few long marches with a pack in the Marines. I have to admit I have never gone that distance with that much weight. My shoulders were plenty uncomfortable after only a couple of hours. The pain during the last four hours was well into the "this hurts so much it is funny" stage.  Somehow we actually were able to continue to laugh pretty much the whole way.
  2. The pack isn't the worst of it. It is carrying all of the other junk that really wears you down. We carried a 25 lb team weight, a couple of PVC pipes half filled with water, a stupid bucket half filled with concrete for our guidon (which we never really sat down anyway), a bunch of rope, a bullet proof vest, a bunch of other useless stuff in some of our packs, and for several miles, a creosote filled telephone pole. Fifty pounds isn't so bad, but throwing odd shaped objects on top of your shoulders, which already are on fire, just doesn't feel good. Not in the beginning. Not after 20 miles. Not ever.
  3. People don't show up for these things unless they are in good physical condition. At least not to our challenge they didn't.  I have read some blogs where team members had to hand their packs to others because they couldn't carry theirs anymore. We never had that issue. Our team was strong.
  4. I felt pretty good about my endurance level. My legs never felt weak, my joints felt strong the whole way. I did use some KT tape on my calves for the challenge as I was a little worried about calf cramps (yes I make another stupid training decision the week before the challenge) but my calves held up and feel fine today.  Yes my shoulders hurt during the challenge like never before in my life and I could barely reach forward to lift my cell phone off the dash on the way home but I felt I was able to carry my fair share of the team weights the entire time. I wrote this roughly 27 hours after finishing the challenge and I have slight stiffness in my shoulders (although they feel very weak and exhausted right now..I iced them immediately after the challenge) and stiffness in my lower back and butt similar to what I would have after a good deadlift workout.  This stiffness was really just caused by the telephone pole as I was taller than the majority of people on the team and found myself having to hunch over for most of the pole carry. All in all, I feel good. And I feel good about the fact that I went through all that and still feel pretty good the next day. If our crossfit wod the day after didn't include a bunch of push presses, I would have gone just so I could say I did...too bad I didn't so I can't.
  5. I am still a big fan of crossfit and loving it more and more all the time.  Personally, I wouldn't recommend attempting one of these things with crossfit as the only training (my opinion anyway) but it definitely provides an excellent base of fitness.  When I used to run only, my joints would be so stiff after 10 miles of running that I could hardly walk right after a run. Now I am up to 16 miles on my long runs (getting ready for a marathon) and my joints feel nothing. Yesterday was 20+ miles under heavy loads the entire time and my joints and leg muscles feel nothing.  Joint strength doesn't come from running only. Joint injuries come from running only. Crossfit likes to talk about how it prepares you for almost anything. I am not aware of a better "anything" to test that theory out than a Goruck Challenge.
  6. If you are the least bit intrigued by a 20 mile, 12+ hour challenge that will make you hurt like never before, you should train for it and do it. If not, stay home. This isn't a Tough Mudder where you can be overweight and out of shape and just take your sweet time to finish. Do your team mates a favor and don't show up unless you have taken your training seriously. This is a TEAM event.  My attitude on this is kind of like welfare, I am happy to help out anyone truly in need but if you are sitting on your fat butt smoking crack all day I would rather see you starve then show up asking for a handout. You made that choice not me. We had a couple of team members that were exceptional, but I saw everybody pulling their own weight. I should mention how extremely difficult it is to volunteer to carry team weights for the last four hours or so!
  7. If you are intrigued by the challenge but what I just mentioned in #6 above has you questioning if you are ready, sign up anyway and get training!  The challenge is intimidating but that is the point! Find an event, sign up, and train!  You will probably be amazed at what your body is capable of. Just stop thinking about it and sign up. We had guys from their low 20's to just under 60 (amazing!). Anyone that wants to do a Goruck can do one if they really want to.
  8. The Goruck Challenge is NOT a boot camp experience. No worries about getting yelled at, etc. The cadre is very much focused on helping you acheive and I never felt unsafe or at risk. He constantly reminded us to keep the pace up but in all honesty, we controlled the pace and it seemed like as long as we pushed ourselves, we were left alone.  Other than some muscle pain and a few lost toe nails, there wasn't a single injury that I know of.
  9. From talking to our cadre David after the challenge, I learned that our original course was over 24 miles.  We had to reroute slightly due to our lost team member. I think it would have been easier to do the extra miles and keep moving rather than to wait it out though.
So what is next? Good question. I know there are a lot of people at my crossfit box that are into Tough Mudders, Spartan Races, etc. This is very different but it caters to a subset of the exact same audience (I think most of the people I talked to had experience in obstacle racing) so I will be trying to talk some of them into it. I would love to get enough people interested to do a custom Goruck right here in NW Arkansas.  The hills of Fayetteville, the College Campus, Lake Fayetteville, etc. would make for a great experience.

The Goruck people also offer a number of alumni-only multi-day events that are even more extreme. Things like 4 day mountain climbing expeditions, 4 day beach missions in the Florida Keys, Spy type stuff in Washington D.C., etc. I suppose one of them would be the logical next step although World's Toughest Mudder is my training focus for the remainder of the year. As far as just doing another Goruck, I am probably not interested unless it is either with a friend or friends or in a cool city. We saw West Tulsa. It is a dump.

In the near term, I am running my third Tough Mudder (Dallas) in three weeks. Should be fun. Two weeks later I have my first marathon which is nothing more than a bucket list item I want to knock out. From there, I have a couple more Tough Mudders that I have already signed up for and a Warrior Dash in Tulsa. I am still debating with myself whether or not to do the "24 The Hard Way" race this fall in OK City. Seems like it would be a good measure of my fitness level for WTM but we will see.



  1. Hi Marti, Great blog! I was hoping to talk to you about the GRC. Could you shoot me an email when you have time? I had some questions about how to best train for it. Thanks!