It has been a while since I’ve written for the Spartan Strength blog but this story is one I have to tell. It begins much like “The Dirty Dozen.” Last year shortly after running the Chicago Urbanathlon with the team from Spartan Strength “Team Mom” Kris Archer was back at it again. She revealed the next event that she would use her special blend of peer pressure, insults and appeals to my ego to sucker me into. It was The GORUCK Challenge.
A GORUCK is a military grade backpack or rucksack. It’s made in the USA and built tough as nails. The GORUCK Challenge (GRC) was created to test how tough the pack really is and you get to be the tester. The GRC is hard to describe. It’s not a race nor is it a competition. The GRC is a team event. Imagine a weekend work retreat where your boss makes you do some lame team building exercises. Now give that a lethal dose of steroids, infect it with rabies throw in mud, rain and a 40 pound backpack and you have the GRC. It’s designed and led by members of the United States Special Forces and inspired by their training. Many including myself call it the hardest thing they have ever done.
For most training for the GRC consisted of early Saturday morning training sessions where various team members took turns designing a near impossible workout that would often take over two hours to complete and involved everything from simple runs with a rucksack to carrying telephone poles around the gym. Team members would also wear their rucks for routine workouts during the week. For me the training was different. About a year ago I moved away from Des Moines for my job so I wasn’t able to participate in all of the training at the gym. I had to use my garage for the bulk of my training. I knew how hard the rest of the team was training and I knew what was expected of me. So I ran my own ridiculous training regimen with double stacked Deck-o-cards, ruck runs, tire drags and everything else I could do to prepare and make sure I was going to be ready like the rest of the team. I often got some funny looks and several questions from my neighbors. You get a certain satisfaction when you answer “yes” to the question. What’s in the backpack a bunch of bricks?”Whenever possible I made a weekend trip to Spartan so I could to train with the team. Every time I stopped in the team grew a little more. We ended up with enough Spartans to fill an entire GORUCK class. This alone speaks volumes about the toughness, confidence and quality of character you’re surrounded by Spartan Strength.
After months of training April 28th was here. The GRC was set to start at 1:00 AM. I couldn’t really sleep and I spent most of the day anxiously making adjustments to my pack and preparing the load of food and water I was going to carry with my bricks. As luck would have it the temperature dropped into the low 40’s and a thunderstorm rolled in just before the event. Each participant got hammered by rain and soaked to the bone before we even started. Several of us were shivering uncontrollably just trying to stay warm enough to start the GORUCK.
The GRC started with short introductions and quickly moved to pushups, overhead presses and something we I’ll call a “monkey squat” to keep it PG. After that we started to move. Walking is not allowed during the GRC so the cadre gave us something else to do. We would just run, Indian run, Indian run with lunges, buddy carry, bear crawl, and little torture of an exercise called the elephant walk that will no doubt bring you closer as a team.
It wasn’t long before we realized things were just getting started. The purpose of GRC is to see what you can accomplish as a team and you will learn what shared sacrifice means. Before the event we selected a team weight which was a 25lbs log chain. A short time into the GRC we acquired a “coupon for good living” which was a suitcase filled with rocks. The chain, the coupon and our packs were never allowed to touch the ground. We also had to move in close formation at all times. If something hit the ground or we got too far spread out we quickly learned how good we had it before we screwed up. We would often lose the use of our straps on the packs, walking across a bridge became a privilege that we either had earn by paying the “toll” or sometimes we would just go through the water. Occasionally we would get punished by creating a casualty and team members along with their rucks had to then to be carried.
Along the way we found ourselves exercising in Grays Lake and carrying a couple logs to the edge of the city. All the while our bodies were breaking down. We were given tasks to complete with time limits and small competitions with the other GRC class. If we completed the task in time or won the competition we were rewarded if we didn’t complete the task in time we were punished. We didn’t quite make all the times (missing one by 10 seconds) but we did win all the competitions.
Somewhere about eight hours into the GRC my body began to hurt worse than I can describe. I wasn’t the only one. Thoughts of quitting crept into the back of our minds but it was never an option for any of us. For me the thoughts were quickly replaced by overwhelming feelings of joy and pride when I watched my team press on together.
Teamwork and shared sacrifice began to take on a whole new meaning. Running with a 40 pound pack sucks, but adding on a log, coupon or even another human being on your back sucks way more. Team members would take turns carrying the extra weight often times until he or she physically could no longer do it. Every time a team member was at their limit another was ready without hesitation to bear the burden of the extra weight so you didn’t have to. With my body screaming at me to lay low and to not volunteer for the coupon anymore I began to understand the more pain I was willing to endure the less the rest of my team had to and that became more important than my own personal comfort. I was surrounded by team members that were willing to do the same for me it’s an incredible feeling you have to experience to understand.
The GORUCK ended at the capitol. Thirteen hours in we were exhausted and most of us had cramping issues. I felt like I had given it all I could possibly give. The cadre gave us the good news. We were almost done. The cadre then gave us the bad news. Half of the team had to be carried along with their rucksacks in formation up the stairs to the front door of the capitol. I remember thinking how hard it was to even walk and a buddy carry up steps at this point seemed impossible. Then again impossible what we were trained for. I have no idea where the strength came from but everyone stepped up we took turns carrying each other up the steps.
I’ll never forget the final steps to the finish. I didn’t hurt anymore but I had tears in my eyes from the overwhelming amount of pride in myself and my team and what we accomplished. In a single line each of us marched with buddies and packs on our backs each step called out in cadence by Nick. “Step, up step, up, step, up” 29 Spartans started the event and 29 finished as GORUCK Challenge Class 154.
That’s the GORUCK. Ours lasted about 13 hours and covered about 20 miles around the city of Des Moines. I learned a few life lessons along the way.
- No matter how bad you think you have it your situation can always get worse.
- Even when it gets worse you can survive your circumstances especially with the right people around you.
- You have no idea what you’re really capable of, but you should try to find out.
A friend mentioned to me afterwards that theirs a brotherhood formed through suffering together and he’s right. I’ve always said how much I love being a part of a team. After the GORUCK we were more than a team we were a family of brothers and sisters. Another GORUCK is coming to Des Moines September 22, 2012. Why I would even consider doing this again is something I cannot explain but I hope to be there with my brothers and sisters. If the GORUCK family is something you want to join stop in at Spartan Strength and ask about it. No gym in Des Moines has more GORUCK veterans or more experience in preparing you for the GORUCK.