Yesterday I finished my first GORUCK Tough event. I went into it with little idea of what to expect. I was somewhat prepared, knew it would be tough (as the title indicates) and was ready, except that I was not. The following is an account of my experience that I share with you for two reasons. First, to document and remember the experience. Second, to showcase the truth that you can endure much more than your mind is willing to accept.
We arrived at Piedmont Park close to 10 pm (event start time), too close in fact. We scrambled a little to get our gear and get down there. We fell into a pack of people, not knowing what to expect. Shortly after that, the cadres arrived. Cadres are the event leaders and are always former elite military. The cadres were unhappy to find us disorganized, and missing our team flag and weight, both event requirements to be provided by the event attendees. It was not a great start. This resulted in some fun PT including a plank (while wearing my 47.8-pound rucksack) that seemed to last forever, followed by an exercise that might seem like no big deal, until you do 150 reps, at which time your arms are about to fall off.
Then came the time for the cadres to verify that we had packed all of the required gear. We had one minute to dump all gear out of every part of our rucks onto the ground, and then 45-seconds to repack the ruck. When we failed to meet the time requirement, we had to do it again, and again.
After they verified that we had our required stuff, and we repacked our rucks within the allotted time. We formed up ranks and did a quick jog across the field and back. Then we began a ruck (quick walk with rucksack) to another part of the park where more fun awaited.
We got to a sand volleyball court (you can see where this is going right) and lined up facing it. Suddenly the cadre yelled, “put your face in the sand!” After my brain took a moment to process such a request, I slammed my face into the sand, waiting on the next instruction. That instruction was, “take a handful of sand and dump it on your head. Do it again! Do it again!”
Then we stood up, sandy, waiting, ready for what was next. The cadre thought as a part of our community service we needed to rake the volleyball court. To do that, we were to low crawl (crawl on the belly with hips touching the ground at all times) across the sand. Then we were to baby-crawl back on hands and knees.
On returning, we were split up into groups of four, with each member of the group intended to weigh about the same amount. It was time for buddy carries. We learned how to properly do a fireman’s carry, two-man carry, and three-man carry. When it came time to practice the fireman’s carry I accidentally buddied up with a guy that was 220lbs compared to my measly 150lbs, not a great matchup. He carried me down, and I was supposed to carry him back. Only, when I went to pick him up, I couldn’t get him off the ground. He ended up carrying me back. After that I matched up with a woman roughly my weight, I carried her, and she carried me back, no problem.
Next, remaining in our fire-teams of four, as they were called, we were to carry one person from our team a full mile using whatever carry we wished (and alternating the person carried as well). My team set off and honestly this was probably the easiest part of the night. We were just walking a mile around Piedmont Park, carrying and being carried and getting to know one another. I enjoyed that part. Also, we didn’t have our rucks on when we were doing any of the carries, which was awesome!
When we got back to our spots, it was time for a modified murph challenge. It was the following PT with no rucks. 100 Burpees, 200 Push-ups, 300 Squats. All I’ll say about those is that they were not the best-formed exercises I have done. I did the best I could, but those push-ups didn’t touch the ground on every rep, it wasn’t possible for me.
Next, we went rucking around Piedmont Park looking for a water spigot to fill up our Jerry Cans and water bladders. This was pretty easy as we were just walking around with our rucks on, which I had done for many miles during training.
We headed roughly back in the direction we had started and came to a large field. It was time for a very long low crawl across the field. In addition to the just the low crawl, some people also had items with them they had to drag along behind them or push in front of them, like the team weights. Also, the team had about six sandbags, two weighing 40 pounds and four weighing 60 pounds. Everyone with a sandbag didn’t have to low crawl; they had to do lunges (knees touching the ground), all the way across. Mind you; these people were wearing a 45-pound ruck and carrying a 60-pound sandbag, doing lunges to the ground. They did get to swap out with people along the way, but still, it had to have been grueling.
Now it was time to ruck some miles. We headed out of Piedmont Park and towards Emory, though I have no idea what route we took. What I do know is that they found a hill that seemed to go straight up, forever. It was a little ridiculous. On our way up the hill we were instructed not to talk because we were in a residential neighborhood. Therefore, we were to act as if we were on a covert mission. Unfortunately, one guy rucking next to me didn’t get that memo, and his phone started ringing right there in the middle of the street, in the middle of the night. When the cadre noticed, I knew we were toast.
At the top of the hill, the cadre stopped us. He informed us that the cell phone ring had alerted the enemy to our presence. The enemy had set an IED at the car we were next to, so now we had five “casualties.” A casualty is a person deemed injured (or dead) by the cadre. That person has to lay down, take off their ruck, and put down whatever they were carrying. Therefore, one casualty means that someone now has to carry two rucks (this became my new job), someone has to pick up the sandbag or another item (which they call coupons) they were carrying, and then one, two, or three people have to carry the casualty. This means that five casualties add more weight to three to five people. After that, I rucked carrying my ruck, and another guys ruck for a few miles. This was particularly brutal and one of the hardest parts of the night for me. Carrying an extra 90-pounds of weight for a couple of miles isn’t easy stuff.
Finally, we got to our destination, but when we did, one of the guys started having a medical issue. A doctor that was one of the participants (and the guy I ineffectively tried to lift into a fireman’s carry) looked at him. The cadre took care of this man, and we got some rest, for about 20 – 30 minutes. I think it was about 6:30 am by this time, and the sky was starting to grey, preparing for sunrise. The 20-minute rest was glorious, and we took the time to eat, get water and take any needed bio breaks.
The cadre got back, and it was time to work again. We went to the base of some stairs where the cadre told us about Operation Red Wings. The event we attended was in honor of Operation Red Rings. If you have never heard of it, here are the things that are important to know. It was a special forces operation that resulted in the worst special forces casualties that the US armed forces have had in a single operation. I believe nineteen men died. The operation was memorialized in the book and movie Lone Survivor. The title gives the story away.
After hearing the story of the brave men that fought, slid down a mountain and ultimately died in that operation, it was our turn to climb three flights of stairs, going up in a bear crawl and coming down in a crab walk. We did this five times. It was tiring, but not too terrible.
Then, we had a simulated casualty and were ordered to ruck and carry him up to the top of a seven-level parking deck for a helicopter medevac. During this ruck I shared carrying a jerry can weighing about 40-pounds with my buddy Nathan that came with me to the event. We would carry the can up two ramps and then switch. We got to the top of the parking deck and were told that the medevac couldn’t land there, so we had to carry the guy back down to a nearby intersection. We got to the intersection in the required time allotment. If we had not, we would have paid for it dearly.
Then it was time to start rucking back to Piedmont Park, the end of the event was near, but the worst was still to come. On the ruck back the cadre gave us challenges. If the entire team can be passed that street sign within 45-seconds you get to dump the sand out of a sandbag, that sort of thing. It was brutal running up hills and rushing to try to dump weight, failing often.
The cadre was also a stickler for tight formations. This means that when he said “reach!” we had five seconds for every person to be touching the ruck of the person directly in front of them. If we could not do that, we failed, and penalties ensued. Every time he yelled “reach!” we struggled to all reach and catch up to one another, but inevitably failed, and every time that happened, we got another casualty.
Over and over we were rucking, he would say to reach, and we just wouldn’t make it. At one point, in Virginia Highlands I think, I was marked as a casualty. At that time there were so many people carrying their rucks, plus a bunch of other stuff, that there was no one to carry me. Finally, a guy wearing two rucks threw me over his shoulders, and we took off. He must have carried me for three blocks like that; I honestly don’t know how he did it!
It was during this time that the cadre was breaking us down completely as a team. We were completely spent. Everyone was carrying way more than they ever thought they could and it was a struggle. Finally, I think when the cadre knew we were fully at our limit, he relented. No more casualties, dump out all the sandbags, now all we had to do was to keep up with him. He set off at what felt like a jog, and we covered the last mile to the park in record time.
Back at the park, it was time to pay for our infractions from throughout the night. An infraction is when the team, or someone on the team, screws up (like not being organized with our flag at the start) and the whole team has to pay for it. We had 30 infractions, for a total of 300 reps owed to the cadre. We got in a circle and were instructed to do a plank (with the ruck on) while each person in the circle does a 4-count push-up (2 push-ups) in turn until we hit 300 push-ups total. It was grueling trying to hold that plank. I couldn’t stay up for longer than 20-seconds before dropping to my knees completely spent. A guy just a few down from me threw up from the strain of it.
We got through the push-ups without having to restart or otherwise provoking the cadre, and that was it! We had completed our GORUCK Tough event, and my buddy and I got our patches.
Today I am profoundly sore, a little tired, grateful and humbled by the experience. Will I do it again? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes. Has it made me into a better person? Yes. Has it given me profoundly more appreciation for the armed forces? Yes.
I’ll write more soon about what I learned from the event. But, for the moment, one nugget is simply this. When you think you have given it your all, you still have a ton more to give, you just have to keep going.