December 7, 2012

Health & Sports

The GORUCK Challenge: A Review

It all started with an email from Andy at Huckberry. They were doing an offer that week with a company called GORUCK. Andy wanted to introduce me to Jason, its founder.

I’d read about GORUCK before, and knew they had a really cool story. Jason had served in the Army as a Green Beret and wanted to offer civilians the same type of rugged backpack that he used during his military service. Jason started the GORUCK Challenge as a way to field test his packs in a memorable and convincing way, but they became so popular that they took on a life of their own.

The Challenge is a 9-13 hour team event in which a Special Forces veteran — called a Cadre — leads you on a 15-20 mile “guided tour” of your city. It begins at night and runs until the morning. Along the way, you take part in military-inspired challenges and “missions,” which includes doing some basic training calisthenics, taking a little swim, carrying logs (and each other), and a lot of marching. Oh, and you do it all while wearing a backpack filled with 30 to 40 pounds of bricks and other equipment. They tell you to bring $20 for a taxi – if you can’t go on, you have to call one to pick you up. The GORUCK Challenge is designed to push the individual physically and mentally and build teamwork and camaraderie among those participating. It isn’t a race. You don’t get a medal for first prize. The goal of the Challenge is to finish it, and finish it as a team. “Good livin’” is what Jason calls the whole experience: “when life is actually tough but you love it, your attitude is great, and you smile.”

Sounds…interesting, right? So when Jason invited me to take part in a Challenge, I accepted. It was partly out of curiosity and partly because I wanted something to push me in becoming a better man.

I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.

Full disclosure: Jason waived the fee for my entry into the Challenge, but I bought the backpack myself, and he didn’t even so much as hint that he’d like me to do a review. I just wanted to write this up for those who are curious, and to encourage readers to do it, as I think it’s worthwhile.

How I Trained for the GORUCK Challenge

As soon as I said yes, I started to fanatically research the Challenge: What’s it like? How should I train? What should I bring? Will I survive?

I quickly discovered that details about the Challenge are hard to come by. The folks at GORUCK keep a pretty tight lid on what the Challenges entail. They don’t even let you know the start point of your Challenge until the day before the event. The surprise and intrigue are all part of the fun of the GORUCK Challenge. Members of the GORUCK family — individuals who have successfully completed a Challenge — play along with the clandestine vibe and keep blog posts about their experience pretty vague.

The guys at GORUCK say you really don’t need to train for it and that if you’re in pretty decent shape, you’ll get through it just fine. They argue that the Challenge is more mental than physical. Also, because every Challenge is different, it’s hard to know exactly what to train for.

After completing the Challenge, I have to agree with them. I trained for a GORUCK Challenge that was entirely different than the one I actually experienced. Based on my research of previous Challenges, I thought there was going to be lots of Indian Runs and city blocks-worth of walking lunges and bear crawls. My challenge had a few bear crawls at the beginning, but no walking lunges or Indian Runs at all. Dang. Honestly, I probably could have completed the Challenge just fine without my special GORUCK training program.

That isn’t to say that my intensive training went to waste. The drills I concocted for myself pushed my body and mind further than they had gone in a long time, and I’m now in the best shape of my life. The conditioning definitely mentally steeled me to complete the grueling 9-hour challenge. I don’t regret one bit of the hours and sweat I put into getting ready for it.

If you’re interested in training for the GORUCK Challenge, below I provide my weekly workout routine as an example. As mentioned above, I thought there would be lots of windsprints, bear crawls, and lunges during the challenge, so I designed my conditioning routine around those exercises.

I also took 15-minute ice baths after my most intense workouts. They served a few purposes: 1) you typically get dunked in cold water at the beginning of a challenge. I wanted to be ready for that, 2) the ice baths aided in recovery, and 3) they were part of an experiment I was doing on naturally increasing my testosterone (the results on that in the new year).

Brett’s GORUCK Training Program

I started this training program back in August. For the first three weeks, I did the running and the lunges/bear crawls without the fully loaded GORUCK GR1. After that, I completed all my conditioning workouts while wearing the brick-filled rucksack. However your train for the GORUCK, I definitely recommend spending time getting used to carrying that thing around.

Monday: 5×5 Stronglifts Weightlifting Routine

Tuesday: 50- x 40-yard windsprints with loaded GORUCK pack (1-minute rest between each sprint). 15-minute ice bath after workout

Wednesday: 5×5 Stronglifts Weightlifting Routine

Thursday: 5K run with loaded GORUCK pack + 300-yard 75-pound sandbag carry. 15-minute ice bath after workout.

Friday: Alternated between 720-yard bear crawls and 720-yard walking lunges with loaded GORUCK pack. 15-minute ice bath after workout.

GORUCK Challenge Class #335, Oklahoma City. November 24, 2012.

After months of training, the night of the Challenge arrived. I double-checked my gear, kissed Kate and Gus good-bye, and drove down to OKC to pick up my brother. The starting point of our Challenge was in front of the downtown baseball stadium. We arrived shortly before 10PM to find 15 other people standing around in front of a statue of Mickey Mantle, nervously waiting for our cadre to arrive.

Our GORUCK class had a great mix of folks from all walks of life. Military veterans and current servicemen, police officers, and just regular old civilians. Our team of 17 even had two hardy gals.

Showing our bricks to our Cadre, Beaux.

Around 10:15, our cadre, Beaux, rolled up. Beaux is a Force Recon Marine with multiple deployments in Iraq. He now works as a Special Ops trainer for the Navy and leads GORUCK challenges on the weekends for fun. He’s a badass. Beaux did a roll call, asked to see our load of bricks, and then established the ground rules. He informed us that he has his PhD in pain, suffering, and discontent, and that we’d be matriculating through the school of pain and suffering that evening. After the “pleasantries,” we started our 9 hours of Good Livin’.

I could go into detail about the Challenge, but I won’t. I don’t want to ruin the experience for folks wanting to sign-up, and there’s something special about keeping only the GORUCK family in the know about what goes on. It’s much like a fraternity.

With that said, I’ll briefly describe what Cadre Beaux dished out to GORUCK Class #335.

The Welcome Party

The evening started off with lots of push-ups, flutter kicks, and rolling around on the ground.

The evening began with Basic Training, or what Beaux called “The Welcome Party.” We did push-ups, flutter kicks, bear crawls, and rolled around on the ground, all while wearing our fully-loaded packs. The worst exercise was the Human Centipede. Our team of 17 people laid down in a line on the ground and we had to put our feet on the shoulders of the man behind us and put our face as far up the rear-end of the person in front as we could. We proceeded to do push-ups and crawl around like inchworms on the ground in this position.

The point of Basic Training isn’t simply to do difficult calisthenics. It’s actually an introductory lesson on the importance of teamwork in the GORUCK Challenge. It took us all a bit to figure that out, but as soon as we did, training became a lot easier.

After pounding us physically and mentally for about an hour and half, Beaux told us to go dunk ourselves in a freezing cold pond nearby. Getting into the water wasn’t that bad; I was used to hanging out in cold water with my ice baths. Getting out was a different story. It was 34 degrees that night and really windy. Needless to say, we were all uncomfortable and a bit miserable for the rest of the night.

Fighting Zombies

Me helping with a log carry.

Beaux had crafted a series of missions for us that night that followed a Zombie Apocalypse storyline. Every mission had a time limit. If we didn’t complete it in time we were punished with “Fist Pumping,” which involved pressing heavy objects above our head while Beaux blasted music from his SpongeBob SquarePants speakers.

Old Glory waved proudly the entire night.

My brother and I shooting zombies. I think we killed them all.

We had to do “Fist Pumps” as a punishment whenever we didn’t finish a mission in time. “Fist Pumping” was code for “lift heavy stuff over your head over and over again.”

The missions involved lots of low crawling and carrying giant logs on our shoulders. The hardest part of the Challenge for me was buddy-carrying our teammates two miles to “medical help” after they had been “bitten by zombies.” My back and legs were smoked after that.

“Embrace the suck.” Darn right.

My brother Larry and his beard.

The buddy carry segment of the Challenge was perhaps the toughest part of the night.

These guys from Blue Line Tactical Fitness wore gas masks the entire Challenge. It was part of an effort to raise money for the Oklahoma Fallen Officer Foundation.

Teamwork was emphasized throughout. You had to do everything as a team. We marched as a team, were punished as a team, and lifted heavy crap as a team.

Our Challenge ended at about 7:30AM. Not a single member of Class #335 dropped out during the night. We started as a team and we finished as a team.

Beaux presenting our patches at the OKC Bombing Memorial.

Individuals who successfully complete a GORUCK Challenge are awarded a GORUCK Tough patch for their bag. Beaux led us to the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial for the presentation of patches. For those of us from the OKC area, that place holds a lot of meaning. I had several school friends lose parents in the terrorist blast that killed 162 people. But the community rallied together to support the families of victims and rebuild. Beaux gave a solemn and inspiring speech about the values and mission of the GORUCK Challenge and what it means to be an American — it was to encourage that same sort of camaraderie and teamwork that the community of OKC demonstrated in the aftermath of the bombing.

My GORUCK Tough patch

Beaux presented us our patches one-by-one, shook our hands, and welcomed us to the GORUCK Family.

And with that, my four-month journey to the GORUCK Challenge was over.

GORUCK Challenge Class #335

Final Thoughts and Why You Should Do a GORUCK Challenge, Too

For the next week I was sore as all get out. My shoulders and back were scraped and bruised, but I saw them as badges of honor. All in all, I found the GORUCK Challenge to be a tremendously satisfying experience.

While I was training for it, some people asked me why I would want to do something like this. Looking at it from the outside, things like the GORUCK Challenge, and obstacle and adventure races of all sorts, can indeed seem kind of silly. Sure, it’s easy to think, “Gee, isn’t it sad that society has become so devoid of challenge that people have to pay money to stay up all night carrying around a rucksack full of bricks?” Maybe. But the alternative is doing…nothing. And being an armchair critic. The reality of living in the modern age is that there are no longer things built in to the culture that force us to push ourselves – we have to actively seek out these experiences ourselves. The fact that there were a good number of former and current military guys in my class shows that everyone is looking for, craving really, an extra layer of challenge in their lives. Every man should be regularly stretching both his physical and mental capabilities. We may not be under zombie attack (yet), but every man should know that he’s ready for anything, and feel confident in the knowledge that he’ll be able to perform when his limits are pushed.

I see guys all the time who settle down in the suburbs, have a kid, grow a gut, and spend their nights watching Netflix. Soft suburban dads. I’ve decided I won’t let this to happen to me. And I’ve found it’s important to have goals to train for — things to motivate myself to stay physically active and mentally sharp. That, to me, is the value of doing something like the GORUCK Challenge. I bet you’d find it worthwhile too.

Good Livin’ gentlemen.

 PS: Things have come full circle. Huckberry is once again offering a super deal on the GORUCK Challenge. If you buy a GORUCK rucksack, you get free entry into a Challenge. Pretty dang sweet. As Huckberry puts it, “This gift is sort of like combining a Christmas present and New Year’s resolution into one, and in the best/worst possible way. No pain, no gain.”

Thanks to Ryan Long from Blue Line Tactical and his friend George for providing the pictures of the event. 


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