BAR: Wednesday April 16
AAR: Sunday April 20
Preface: I’ll try to make this post useful for both those who have no idea what GORUCK events are (most likely the majority of my audience) and those who are already GRT (“Go-Ruck-Tough”).
Below is my Before Action Review (“BAR”) for the upcoming GORUCK HCL in Albany, NY. I decided to make up the term as a way to post BEFORE an event as well as after (After Action Review (“AAR”)) to compare my expectations with reality. The BAR will note my expectations of difficulty of several key categories and what I did to prepare for them, i.e. my process. The AAR will provide the opportunity to see how horribly off I was on most things.
go·ruck [verb go + verb ruck] noun: ruck is short for rucksack (aka backpack), it’s also averb: to ruck is to move with a rucksack and implies action, energy, and purpose.
Based on their own experiences in Special Forces, GORUCK cadre lead team-building endurance events throughout the year all over the country, bridging the gap between military and civilian life. Note: These events are not races and they are not individual events (aside from Selection). The goal is to survive these events until the end, as a team.
There are four core levels of events, each intensifying in both length and effort required to complete. Here is the breakdown:
GORUCK Light: 4-5 hours, 7-10 miles, 99% pass rate
GORUCK Challenge: 8-10 hours, 15-20 miles, 94% pass rate
GORUCK Heavy: 24+ hours, 40+miles, 50% pass rate
GORUCK Selection: 48+ hours, 80+ miles, <10% pass rate
To date, I have completed three GORUCK Challenges. But this BAR is for their newest event – HCL.
“HCL” is a Heavy + Challenge + Light, back to back to back with minimal down time between (~3-5 hours). That’s at least 36hrs of event action with at most 10 hrs recovery in between. The first HCL (“HCL 001”) took place in Seattle, WA last month. I believe 56 started and 12 (now known as the “Dirty Dozen”) finished all three events. Interestingly, the 12 that made it thru the Heavy and showed up to the Challenge portion after the 5hr recovery all finished. Tomorrow, Albany, NY will be HCL 002.
Based on my experiences and fellow GRT’s posts, here is my BAR for HCL 002: my expectations on a scale of 1-10 (1=least challenging, 10=most challenging) and my preparation process.
I see two reasons I would not finish this event: 1. my back locking up beyond recovery during or after the Heavy and 2. being med dropped from going hypothermic. The latter is dependent on how cold the nights are and how often we get into water.
Despite the fact that you don’t actually know details of where you will go, what type of physical challenges you will be tasked with, or how long the event will last, there is a general understanding that you will carry heavy sh*t for a very long distance and be subjected to numerous “smoke sessions” and water submersions along your journey. Smoke sessions are exactly what it sounds like – sessions of PT to smoke you. For comparison sake, I would give a triathlon a “2” in this category and a Spartan Death Race a “9.5”.
Cold water turned out to be a major factor early on in the Heavy. One thing I did not account for: intense cramping while in the water and after exiting. My calves started to twitch and lock up in the last 30 minutes of the initial 12 mile ruck. After the ruck, we were directed into icy lake water, where both of my feet went directly into thick, deep mud and my calves completely locked leaving me writhing in pain and trying to survive. After exiting, my legs would simply not work. This was by far the darkest moment of the HCL for me. It wasn’t until 60 minutes or so after this that I was able to function normally, and I believe my calves were affected the remainder of the HCL.
This will be one of my biggest challenges for HCL and this is when, at least in my own head, weaknesses will be exposed. How I deal with them will determine my success. To prep for this element and to get used to a variety of movements under the added stress of a weighted ruck, I worked on my core strength by doing various workout routines (including actual fitness classes) with added weight . I completed the GORUCK Selection PT Test several times (2 min max push up, 2 min max sit up, 5 mile run in <40 mins and 12 mile ruck in < 3.5 hours). I attended a few “SLT” classes (Strenthen/Lengthen/Tone pilates style on a Megaformer) with and without added weight. *Luckily meh lady is an instructor so I can get away with that type of nonsense in the studio* In addition, 1-2 rucks per week of various distances – pretty standard there.
I underestimated the endurance required, mainly in the heavy portion. The rep count was extremely high (ex: Instead of 20 overhead seated ruck presses, we were tasked with 400). The biggest issue with rep counts this high (for me at least) is again cramping.
Strong cardio is of course required to complete an event of such long duration and distance. However, this event is mostly a slow and steady grind. Pure speed and cardio endurance is not the most crucial factor in completing it.
Fortunately, I came into the event with some running experience. There were several forced runs (with ruck) on various terrain and inclines during the HCL. Running on your own and knowing you can break or adjust pace when needed if vastly different from being led on a run and told you MUST not fall behind. Come prepared.
Mental Toughness: “8.5”
Luckily I refined my mentals this year with two tough events – the Spartan Winter Death Race and the Peak Races Snowshoe Marathon. I’ll have my BAR and AAR posts for those events shortly after the HCL. Mental prep for this event was not specific – it mostly involved staying focused on my training and realizing that I would need to keep going regardless of the pain and exhaustion that will surely set in early on and continue for over 48 hours. Long rucks (I finished one 18 miler during training) around NYC will do a decent job of testing your mental toughness and willpower.
I’m increasing this number a bit as the naps during each event proved extremely difficult to recover from. If you plan to rest at all (which I think you should)- be prepared to face serious demons when waking up knowing you need to show back up for more Good Livin.
Packing/Gear Complexity: “7”
The packing and gear selection is fairly complicated but thanks to the community ideas were readily available to pick apart and customize for my own needs. I ended up packing my ruck with lead (to meet mandatory weight), a change of socks and gloves, basic survival tools (foot care kit, strapping and biners, headlamp, etc.) and nutrition/hydration. KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid.
I could have kept my packing and gear selection even simpler (who doesn’t say that?) and still finished. This event required only the basics mentioned above and I would not adjust my setup for a future HCL.
I’ve trained physically hard for this particular event. I’ve prepared my gear and tested it out thoroughly. I “Got my Mind Right” at the barber shop in Albany – something always seems to relax and focus me in the chair. And successful completion of my first marathon, the Spartan Winter Death Race and the Peak Races Snowshoe Marathon have molded my mental toughness and the “don’t quit factor”. This was my process and on April 17th at 5pm ET it will be go time.
I knew GORUCK was going to bring the heat for HCL and they over delivered. The Cadre (Logan, Paul, and Machin) ran a flawless event and I’m proud to have finished under their leadership. The ruck pace was very fast, there was plenty of running. Cold water is always going to suck- but it REALLY sucks when you cramp up like a pretzel in it and need to keep moving when you get out. There are few chances to hide in a Heavy- don’t plan on trying to “reserve” gas in your tank as you will need to put out the entire time. For many stretches, to move the required weight each team member had to double and triple their ruck weight while buddy carrying casualties. You will need to push yourself to the end, and when you get to the end you’ll need to do 150 more reps. Once you finish that cycle- prepare for the same cycle 25 more times with different sets of PT. The Challenge and the Light were no walk in the park- they may get less stressful but you will get smoked on several occasions and still need to perform to earn that HCL patch. It was a honor to complete GORUCK HCL with a strong group of 9 others I will remember forever.
If you can sleep- do it. But be prepared for the toughest wake up call you will ever receive when it’s go time for the next event.
Practice rucking at a sub 13 minute pace and notice how fast that TRULY is. Be prepared to start your Heavy with 12 miles at that pace.
Know what nutrition and gear you want in your Ruck and have it ready and WRITTEN down ahead of time.
You may be miserable on your way to the next leg of the HCL, but once your blood gets flowing you will be thankful you showed.
Respect your Cadre and always be prepared to move quickly.