What’s a GORUCK Challenge? A 13 Hour Adventure that Will Introduce you to Yourself
by Bryan Black August 3, 2011 08/3/11
The first thing that I typically hear when I tell someone about GORUCK, is “what’s that?” GORUCK is definitely not a common word, but neither is ruck to those outside of the military and the UK.
Short for rucksack, ruck is how our ALICE packs (All-Purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment) were referred to when I was issued mine in the Navy. While a lot has changed since the initial development of the external frame ALICE Pack, they’re still being issued today to our military.
Whether using an ALICE Pack or another ruck, our troops hump weapons and equipment everywhere and it’s from this that the GORUCK Challenge was born.
go ·ruck noun [verb go + verb ruck] ruck is a noun short for rucksack (aka backpack), it’s also a verb: to ruck is to move with a rucksack, and implies action, energy, and purpose.
Mike recently wrote about his experiences with GORUCK Challenge Class 031 and now I’m here to give you my recount of Class 050 from not only a Veteran’s perspective, but from the perspective of someone that’s gone through the better part of what some will argue is the hardest training in the Military, BUD/s (Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL Training).
While I definitely rucked my ass off at BUD/s, from what I’ve heard about the Q-Course and the training that Green Berets go through, they definitely spend more time in training under a ruck. This is an important detail, because GORUCK and the GORUCK Challenge was founded by Jason, a former Green Beret.
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.
The Challenge is billed as 8-10 hour / 15-20 mile guided tour of each city they visit, yet it’s also mentioned that the route and distance are unknown to participants and Challenges can last longer and go on for greater distances if the team needs it in order to fully become a team. They certainly like to under promise and over deliver!
Why I Signed Up
First of all, if reading that description above doesn’t make you want to be a part of that, maybe it’s not for you. I on the other hand never miss a chance to test myself under physical and mental exhaustion, I live for it. I also liked the fact that the Challenge I’d be participating in started at 10 p.m. because the night time is the right time!
Truthfully, I was skeptical about participating in something like this with people who hadn’t been in the Military, but I’ve been getting over the whole Military background thing for some time now since leaving the service.
I can’t tell you how many turds there are in the punch bowl that is the Military. Yes, there’s something about everyone that’s been in the service that will always be a common bond and there are certainly many good people alike, but CHARACTER is what counts… not experience. I’m a firm believer in that and my Challenge class was certainly full of character! A few that were characters, but being able to laugh at adversity is what’s it’s all about if you ask me.
Another reason I wanted to sign up is to honestly see what all the hype was about and if it was as interesting as it sounded. I’ve been to Mud Runs, Triathlons, got CrossFit Certified, run a Marathon and there’s a reason I don’t do these competitively. I don’t care… I really don’t. If you ask me, most of those races and are all about chest beating, egos and individualism. I’m just not into that, I participate in those events not to be number one, but to achieve.
Trust me though, I’d rather achieve as part of a team any day. The amount of camaraderie you experience in not only achieving something as a team, but (here it is again) in overcoming adversity collectively is worth far more than individual achievement. I think that’s what I truly miss most about being in the military. I know from experience that there’s nothing like overcoming adversity to turn a group of individuals into a team.
It is said that adversity introduces us to ourselves…
Even when I was really into CrossFit, I didn’t care much for getting great times on the individual events, but I still pushed myself to do it. Everyone needs that “Fire in the Gut” to be able to achieve individually, but to me being part of a team is where it’s at and why I wanted to Take the Physical Challenge… No wait, that’s Double Dare.
Is it all about Selling you a Pack?
Something that I immediately picked up on when I was researching taking part in a Challenge is that “The Challenge was designed as, and in many ways still is, a product test for GORUCK gear. All Challenge takers wear a GORUCK bag.” Not buy one mind you, just wear one. GORUCK provides one if you haven’t taken advantage of the 30% off they give you when you register for a Challenge.
Now like many of you, I was skeptical when I read this detail and wondered if it was just some elaborate event created to sell me an expensive pack. I personally know the challenges and costs of getting a product made in the US, which is where all GORUCK products are made, so price really wasn’t the issue for me.
I also appreciated the fact that they were up front with the statement about the Challenges being a testing ground for their packs. I sure don’t know of another company putting their products to the test like this nearly every weekend. And trust me, the packs take some abuse during the Challenges.
There’s definitely incentive for you to buy one of their packs, but I can’t blame a company for wanting to sell products, it’s not like they’re calling you on the phone and harassing you to buy one. I was also originally going to just borrow a pack, but after I knew I’d be signing up for two Challenges and the GORUCK Ascent. I purchased a GR2.
I’ll talk a bit about the pack’s performance in this article, but after the Ascent I’ll be writing up a full review on my GR2.
Training for the Challenge
As I’ve mentioned I’m pretty active and I swim, run and PT on a regular basis. I started to prepare for the challenge about 3 months out by slowly starting to add weight to my runs. I did this at first by throwing things into an old BCA Stash Pack that is still one of the best packs I own. I need to replace the hydration bladder with a Source though!
The gym I go to swim at is 2.5 miles from my house and I started to throw my swim stuff into my pack along with water in the bladder. The weight started out at about 10-12 lbs. I’d run back and forth to my swims three times a week along with PT two days a week.
I’ll typically do some kind of variation of a 1-10-1 pyramid multiplied by x 1 pull-up, x 2 pushups, x 3 sit-ups and x 2 dips along with a few dead lifts or whatever I feel like that day. I really try to mix it up a lot though so It’s hard to say exactly what I do. I just wanted to give you some kind of idea of the PT I did.
My swimming is typically either done with fins and the CSS (Combat Side Stroke) for a mile to a mile and a half or I’ll do freestyle laps and intervals that typically equal out to a mile and a half. I swim a lot and love the water. As the weeks started to progress my swimming would fluctuate between 2-3 days in the water, but I was always swimming.
After about two weeks of running with the 10-12 lbs. of weight I started to add my rings into the bag, as well as bottles of water to push the weight to about 15 lbs. After another two weeks of the additional weight, I started to add in some longer distance runs with the 15 lb. sandbag pill I created in the video here. The longer distance runs were between 5 and 7 miles 2-3 times a week, along with swimming a few days and adding in PT when I could.
The further along I progressed with my training, I increased the weight to a 20 lb. sandbag pill. I kept with the same distances and tacked on more days of running with my pack. I kept up my swimming but was decreasing the PT I was doing to a day or two a week, depending on the time I could devote to it.
In the last three weeks before the Challenge I was putting in three 6 mile runs a week, swimming two days and throwing in PT 1 to 2 days a weeks. I never put in any more distance under a weighted ruck than 6 miles and my pace was typically anywhere between 9:30 to 10:30 a mile. Definitely more of a shuffle. I tried to stay on soft ground (grass) where and when I could, as weighted runs are not good on your knees and lower back.
Preparing my Gear
As I mentioned, I decided to purchase a GORUCK GR2 to use during the OKC Challenge and it arrived just the day before the Challenge. I already had a pretty good plan of what I wanted to take and packed up everything that evening.
The photo on the right shows what I packed and below is the breakdown:
- GORUCK GR2 w/ ITS Tactical PVC Patch
- Source WXP 3L Hydration Bladder w/ Helix Valve
- Source UTA (Universal Tap Adaptor) and Coyote Pouch
- Revision Sunglasses
- Salomon Speedcross 2 GTX Shoes
- Petzl e+Lite
- Liberty Mountain Locking Carabiner
- QuikClot Combat Gauze and SWAT-T Tourniquet Vacuum Sealed Together
- SW Motorsports FastFit Gloves (Acquired by Camelbak) – In ALOKSAK Bag
- Extra Socks – In ALOKSAK Bag
- ITS Tactical PVC Patches and Stickers to hand out – In ALOKSAK Bag
- Zone Bar, Clif Builders Bars (2), Reese’s Pieces, 5-hour Energy – In ALOKSAK Bag
- Gu (8), Lava Gel (4), Lava Salts (24) – In ALOKSAK Bag
- Under Armor Running Shorts
- Under Armor Heat Gear Shirt
- OTTE Gear Super L Windshirt
The bricks I used were just the simple paver bricks from Home Depot. They measured 7 3/4″ x 3 3/4″ x 2″ and I had four of them. The Challenge states to have four bricks if you’re over 150 lbs. and three if you’re under 150. The only thing I did is wrap my bricks with Black Gorilla Tape to secure them together, slap an ITS Tactical sticker on them and put them into the pocket in the large interior section of my GR2
One last thing I wanted to touch on is water consumption. Oklahoma was HOT. I was drinking at least a gallon a day leading up the the Challenge and I used a consumption formula I’ve used in Triathlons in the past to estimate the GU, electrolyte replenishment pills (Lava Salts) and water I’d be drinking.
I planned on drinking 24 ounces of water an hour which would mean that my 100 oz. bladder would last me about four hours. My plan was to fill the bladder another two times over the estimated 8-10 hours. Lately I’ve been mixing my GU and Lava Salts directly into my bladder so I don’t have to worry about sucking down a GU at a certain time, I just drink as needed and I get everything I need. Based on my plan I needed a GU/Lava Gel every 45 min. and 2 Lava Salts every hour.
Since I had bars too, I pushed the GU to one every hour and started with 4 Lava Gels and 8 Lava Salts pre-mixed in the bladder I started with.
Just a caveat to start out with describing my Challenge itself. I’m going to be vague and not describe too much about it here. What truly intrigued me about the Challenge was that even with what I’d read about it, I still didn’t quite know what I would be getting myself into and that to me was a large part of the fun of it all. The unknown.
That’s a big reason why I also signed up for the GORUCK Ascent. all I know is that we’re flying into Colorado and we’re going to climb some mountains!
We had our Ruckoff just a few hours before the Challenge started and there was only one person out of the 20 or so that were there drinking a beer, which I thought was nuts right before whatever we’d be doing. We all stood around socializing for the better part of two hours, when it was time to head on over to the start point. It was only a few blocks from the Ruckoff to the start point so I decided to walk.
Earlier that day I’d read the start point (which is announced quite close to the date of the event) was at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum Survivor Tree. The tree was one of the only things left after the tragic Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. I thought it quite a fitting place to start and had been to the site many years ago, but had forgotten a lot of the symbolism that was built into the memorial. Since our Challenge started at 10 p.m. I also got to see the memorial lit up at night. Definitely a different experience.
Something truly awesome was that one of the guys from the Challenge, Russell, had arranged through GORUCK and the Museum to utilize a 25 lb. piece of the granite from the Murrah Building as our team weight! In a GORUCK Challenge each class is required to have an additional team weight of 25 lbs. Some have used a Pelican case full of beers and others a Kettlebell, but I really loved the fact that we got to carry a piece of the building with us.
After arriving at the start point, we assembled in the parking lot across the street to distribute packs to those that didn’t have their own, pack up the team weight and take roll. Our cadre for the Challenge were both Active Duty Green Berets, Lou and Jake. Both of whom I could tell were quiet professionals, but Jake had a huge smile on his face and I wondered if that was just the way he always was or he knew what awaited our class. We were also joined by Hal who had previously completed a Challenge and was along to document ours with the awesome photos you see in this article.
We quickly formed up after their introductions and moved out to the Survivor Tree where we were greeted by the Museum staff. They talked about the significance of the Memorial and the team weight we were carrying and how much it meant to them to have us carrying it. I loved every minute of it. It was an honor to be carrying the granite for the 160 that fell that day back in 1995.
Intro to Exercises
I remember during First Phase in BUD/s when I read intro to anything on the schedule it was never an intro, but a beat down. The intro to the exercises we’d be performing during the evening didn’t disappoint. We started off on a bad foot when Lou asked for a volunteer to be the class spokesman and the only person to talk directly to the Cadre when they needed a collective answer from the class. Once I realized we were all about to get some extra good livin’ if no one volunteered, I rogered up.
I didn’t quite know what
I was volunteering for, but I’ve never been one to turn down responsibility. Apparently it wound up also being the Class Leader position, but the great thing about the group of people I was with is that everyone that wanted it had a chance to lead at some point during the Challenge.
We then proceeded to go into how they wanted us to perform pushups, buddy carries, crab walks, bear crawls, squats and lunges. During the exercises I saw our lone drinker during the Ruckoff, Lee, rethinking his decision while puking. This was when we learned that during the Challenge we’d be practicing Leave no Trace just like the Boy Scouts. The fact that he even attempted to pick it up was good enough for the Cadre and Lee rejoined us and pushed on.
I recall during this part of the Challenge thinking that I hoped I didn’t sign up for some glorified Boot Camp experience that was just going to be a bunch of yelling and PT, but we moved out soon enough and that thought never crossed my mind again the rest of the Challenge.
Something I’ll always remember is doing bear crawls down the length of the memorial reflecting pool looking at the names inscribed on the chairs for each of the 160 people who lost their lives during the bombing.
On the Move
When we moved, we moved as a team, whether it was an indian run, buddy carries or with our coupons. Coupons? yep, coupons were items we picked up along the way for some extra good livin’. We started out with a concrete parking block and kept adding from there. Our next coupons were a huge railroad tie and a telephone poll. We’d take turns under the log, railroad tie and parking block and carrying the team weight bag.
It was definitely an interesting way to see Oklahoma City, under a log. It was actually really cool and reminded me of all the Log PT we used to do in BUD/s. I think I jinxed us though, because soon after we pulled over for a pit stop to do some log PT. Log pushups, sit-ups with the log, and overhead presses.
Oh, we also had an extra bag dubbed the bitch bag that had a sandbag in it that probably weighed about 40 lbs. before we got it wet and wound up being about 60 or 70 afterwards. We developed a pretty good system for moving the bag around during the indian runs and would keep the bags up at the front so that the pair that would sprint up to the front of the pack would grab the bag from the pair holding it before. It then got passed up as that pair would grab the team weight bag and so on.
The evening was filled with trips to various water features throughout town and one such trip took us to a canal that ran through Bricktown and I laughed hysterically when I saw everyone tucking their hydration bladder mouthpieces into the bands of their head lamps to keep them out of the muck. They looked just like snorkels and I was glad I had the cap on my Source bite valve!
That particular water adventure left a nice filthy sheen we wore for quite awhile and contributed to our class funk when we ran through the bar district around 1 a.m. with buddy carries. Another priceless moment was when a particularly drunk female shouted at us that she wanted a hug. Lee volunteered and I just shook my head and laughed. She quickly said “Wow, you stink!” as she looked down at her shirt and it was covered in a nice sludge from the canal we’d just come from!
The Ultimate Coupons
We stumbled upon two of the best coupons Lou said he’d ever seen in a class, which we dubbed the War Hammer and Thor Hammer. They were concrete blocks with 4×4 posts that we carried on our backs just like Thor’s Hammer.
Initially we figured they weighed about 80 lbs. but after the Challenge, Eric, who owns a Crossfit gym said the one he kept as a souvenir weighed 100 lbs. We humped those things pretty much the entire Challenge too.
We eventually got relieved of our logs, but just when we thought our log carrying was over Lou led us to the biggest log I’ve ever had the privilege of carrying!
Bigger than the infamous Old Misery or Mini Me at BUD/s, this thing took our entire class of 22 to lift and carry. Gooooood Livin’!
Breaking the Mold
Something I loved about the Challenge, is doing something that most people who saw us wouldn’t have ever dreamed of doing through a city. I remember one guy driving by when we were filling up with water stopping his truck and saying “I weigh 350 pounds and haven’t worked out since I was 6.” Really? I thought to myself… and you’re proud of that? I also loved seeing the look on people’s faces when we’d stroll by with our logs. We got our fair share of hagglers, which is to be expected but to be fair I sassed a few people myself throughout the city.
I always loved when we’d come back from our dives in 2nd Phase at BUD/s and the instructor driving the bus would stop at the gate and we’d all pull down the bus windows as he opened the door to pretend to have a serious question for the gate guard. With a well timed “let’s give him some sass!” We’d yell “YEAHHHHHH” and watch him jump!
As we were asked what we were doing during the Challenge, we’d sound off with “GORUCK!” and they’d look just as puzzled as they were before.
Seeing the Light
Our Challenge took place for the better part of 13 hours, but since we weren’t allowed to wear watches I can’t be exact. I do know it was a boost of energy to see the sun come out and know that we were close to the finish line. The hours truly did melt away as we made our way through Oklahoma City. I can’t be sure where all we went, but It was definitely an adventure.
If I had to define the experience through just a few words it would be these: Camaraderie, Patriotism, Teamwork and Integrity. Something that the Challenge will give those that have never needed to dig deep to find that fire in the gut is a true lesson in who you are.
I think the biggest thing I took from my training in BUD/s and completing Hell Week is what I learned about myself; that I’m capable of achieving anything. I know that the mind truly controls the body and each and every person is capable of anything they put their mind towards. The only thing holding you back from accomplishing all you want is your own mind. I’ve tried to relate my experiences in the Military to the experience of a GORUCK Challenge to attempt to show that this isn’t just some weekend warrior event.
If you put out and make the most of the experience there’s no way you won’t learn more about yourself than you knew coming into it.
A couple of other things stick in my mind throughout the night, like Lou stopping at an American Flag flying and saying a few words about what his service to his country meant to him and that each one of us should be able to look at the flag with our own reasons for what we’re doing for our country. The undertone of patriotism was existent throughout the entire challenge and truly appreciated. Especially when we would stop for a set of ten pull-ups and do one more for our fallen comrades.
Of course I can’t forget to mention the class stopping for some PT and singing Oklahoma while attempting to dance, doing Smurf Jacks in our best high pitched voice impersonations, Dive bomber pushups making dive bomber plane noises and of course Lou saying “You guys don’t want to mess with me, I’ve got Milton Bradley on speed dial and I can play games all night!”
I think one of the neatest parts of the whole event was the last mile when Lou said we had a mile to go and we’d be doing it just like those that have gone before us, buddy carry style. We ended the GORUCK Challenge by buddy carrying each other all the way up to the Survivor Tree where we started at and all touched it at the same time.
The people from the Museum came back out to greet us along with the family members of our teammates and everyone was all smiles as we completed our GORUCK Challenge. We were subsequently presented with our GORUCK Tough patch that each person earns when they complete the Challenge. They’re never sold, only earned.
Something we weren’t expecting at all was that the museum presented each person in the class with a lapel pin and their own small piece of granite from the Murrah Building! That was truly humbling and something I’ll always keep with me. They also let our team keep the 25 lb. team weight piece of granite, which Lou is trying to get put into the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum at Ft. Bragg.
Hal was a regular tourist and took nearly 800 photos of our class which I’ve used here to illustrate our adventure. I’d like to personally thank Lou for the inspiration and leadership throughout the Challenge, Jake for the drive and humor that I know so well and Hal for the support and encouragement he gave to our class.
Brian, who was my battle buddy during the Challenge, also helped keep me motivated and we worked well as a team. Especially in what seemed like miles of buddy carries, thanks brother!
Afterthoughts on Training and Equipment
So with hindsight being the 20/20 that it is, here’s a few notes on how my gear performed and how well prepared I was in terms of my training.
I should have definitely done more lower body PT, including squats and lunges. Do yourself a favor and don’t practice bear crawls or crab walks, those are just a gut check and you’ll be able to do them just fine when the pressure is on. As you’ll notice in the photos most everyone was wearing gloves even me after the first few rounds of bear crawls. I initially thought I probably wouldn’t need gloves, but when I started feeling the hot spots on my palms I put them on.
We got beat often in BUD/s with bear crawls and after awhile you build up clauses, but the amount of time you spend on your hands in 13 hours, you’ll be glad you’ve got gloves. Out of the gear I brought, the only things I didn’t use were sunglasses, the QuikClot/Tourniquet (but I was glad I took it just in case) and the Windbreaker (obviously because of the 100+ degree heat). Just wanted to have it in case though too.
I ate every bar I had as well as the Resse’s Pieces. The extra socks were a nice thing to have after being in wet socks for a few hours. My lightweight Solomon shoes really helped with the water draining. I remember someone saying during the evening that they regretted wearing GORE-TEX shoes. Not smart after the water gets in, but good in a puddle I guess.
During one of our water stops I changed out my socks. Speaking of that, the UTA I had for the Source WXP bladder was fantastic. One of our fill stations was at a hospital and while everyone had their bladders to fill waiting in line at the water fountains, I was able to go into the bathroom and hook mine up to the sink and fill it quickly, enabling me to have the time to change my socks.
I never even had to take my bladder out on that stop. I will mention that on my GR2 I had to take some paracord and tie it onto the grab handle to ensure my bladder didn’t fall down to the bottom of my pack. It would be great if GORUCK would add a lashing point or hook on both the interior and in the laptop/hydration pocket. The GR2 is definitely a large pack and during the crab walks it was choking me out it was so big. I liked having plenty of room for everything, but I think a GR1 would have been much better for the Challenge.
Many people also had to unwrap their bricks before we started because all GORUCK had for loaner packs were the Radio Rucks and Echos. Heads up on that, if you plan on borrowing a pack, ensure your bricks will fit the smallest pack that GORUCK offers, which is the Echo. There were also tons of issues with peoples Camelbaks and other no-name hydration bladders leaking.
At least two bladders burst and one guy had his water leak out before we even started from his Camelbak. I was thankful I chose wisely with my Source Hydration Bladder and I was the only one there with one. Many would leak from the bite valve as they would buddy carry or have their packs off and set it down on something. (Source did not sponsor me on this, I just stand behind their products because they work!)
The carabiner I had came in handy when we were holding on to each others packs during an Indian run and it afforded a grab handle to the person behind me. The ALOKSAK bags were fantastic and not one leaked on me. We went through quite a bit of water too!
Total water I consumed during the 13+ hour Challenge was 400 oz. as we filled up three times and one of those times I bought a gallon of water to share and no one needed any water so I drank a lot of the remainder after filling my bladder, so more than 400 oz. is what I drank.
I did use the two 5-hour Energy bottles I brought but not until the 3.5 hour drive home. I’d been up for 32 hours at that point and I didn’t’ want to pull over to sleep. I wound up doing it anyway for 45 minutes even after drinking one of the 5-hour Energy bottles!
Should I do a GORUCK Challenge?
Absolutely! I think everyone that’s physically capable of doing one should sign up. By that I don’t mean the guys and girls who look like they should be posing for a muscle mag. It’s about that fire in the gut, mental toughness and functional strength. This is for everyone regardless of age or gender.
We had an awesome woman in our class, Sarah, who was buddy carrying a guy up the stairs on more than one occasion and took her turn with the Thor Hammer just like all of us! This is more mental than physical and all you need is the drive!
Just to make things clear, ITS Tactical has no partnership with GORUCK, I wrote what I wrote without any bias and wholeheartedly recommend this. You’ll definitely learn something about yourself if you’ve never been put through this kind of adversity before.
Even if you have been, it’s good livin’ that you won’t regret! Check out this link for a GORUCK Challenge near you!
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