I recently completed a GORUCK Event, a “Tough”-level event. This was a phenomenal physical training opportunity and a self-inflicted gut-check. If you’re looking for a way to challenge yourself mentally and physically, a GORUCK event is a good way to do it. This post will talk about GORUCK Challenges, how to prepare your gear and yourself, and serve as a brief AAR to the GORUCK Tough Mogadishu Mile event I completed.
Full Disclosure: I have zero financial interest in GORUCK – either the clothing and equipment line or GORUCK events – whatsoever. They don’t even know I exist. What you read here are my entirely unbiased opinions. This article does contain affiliate links to Amazon.com, but the links to GORUCK are NOT affiliate links.
Intro To GORUCK
I admit being a little surprised when telling people about my plans to attend this event, only to learn they had never heard of GORUCK events. Many of my readers probably know what it is, but many more might not. GORUCK began as a backpack company. They do make some fine backpacks, and further down I’ll talk about the pack I used. In addition to backpacks they also make footwear, workout gear, and apparel.
However, they are much more than that now, and also offer GORUCK Challenges. I had been describing them as “sort of an adventure race” to my friends who had no clue what I was planning to attend. A good friend with whom I attended gave me a better way to put it. He calls them “endurance events,” and he’s not wrong.
All GORUCK events (with one exception) are team events. You are organized into a platoon-like team. You must carry your ruck through the entire course, which is lead by a “cadre,” a special operations veteran who tells you where to go and what to do. In addition to your ruck there are also some other “goodies” to carry like sandbags, 5-gallon water bladders, and the like, all to add to the challenge.
The GORUCK Tough Mogadishu Mile
Most GORUCK events are categorized as “Basic,” “Tough,” and “Heavy.” Basic events last about 6 hours, involved rucking 7-10 miles, and have a reported 100% completion rate. Tough Events last 12 hours and require rucking 15-20 miles; 94% of people who start one finish it. Heavy events are 24 hours long and the ruck distance is 40+ miles with just a 50% completion rate. All events require carrying a ruck with a ruck plate (a weight) of 20 lbs if you weight under 150, or 30 lbs if you weigh over 150.
Our Tough was led by a cadre who was with 3rd Ranger Battalion in Mogadishu in 1993. It was beyond cool to get to meet and hear stories from a man who was there during of the most famous battles of the modern era.
Our GORUCK Tough
I attended this event with two friends. One is has been a very close friend for many years. The other is a more recent friend from work. Both kicked ass during the event. I’m going to let the longer of my two friends tell you about his experience with the even we attended. If you read nothing else from this post, read this!
We all know the anticipation is the worst part of many life events and this was certainly no exception. As a newly minted AARP card holder and recent graduate of my 50th trip around the sun, I was nervous. Really nervous. Terrified, in fact, of this stupid event that I thought I could actually participate in and maybe even finish without seeing flashing red lights and hearing my wife yelling on the other end of the phone with a Paramedic.
Seven long months ago an acquaintance casually mentioned to a close friend of mine (within earshot of me) an upcoming GoRuck event. I had heard of this, but only just. So being the bored, sedentary, beginning-my-descent-into-old-age, average male that I am, decided to look into it and invite myself along if possible.
15-20 miles…10-12 hours…starts at 9:00pm (PM!!!) and goes through the night until 9:00am-ish…pics of young, studly men and younger, studlier women carrying various heavy things while wearing a rucksack (NOT a backpack)…pushups…squats…lunges…………..sure I can do that!
At least I had 6 months to prepare.
Honestly, I needed to do this. I HAD to do this. I was woefully lacking in anything that motivated me to actually get my aging ass out of bed in the morning. So I started training. I joined the TRIBE on the GoRuck website. I ordered the official GoRuck gear…rucksack, 30# weight plate, shoes, boots… I spent money. The gear from GoRuck is beyond durable. It is bombproof. It has to be some of the best gear I’ve ever run across and I have a shelf full of backpacks and tents. Holy crap this stuff is solid.
I think my first “ruck” was on my treadmill and I believe I went about a mile. With sweat soaked clothing and a pulse rate that could puree apples, I honestly thought I was going to die. Oh boy. I didn’t even have water onboard yet. I attempted some of the workouts available to me as a TRIBE member and quickly realized I was not an olympian and probably a good 25 years past the audience these were designed for. A rude awakening to say the least. But I still had 6 months…
During those months I slowly (very slowly) and incrementally increased my speed and distances. As the warmer months came around, I found a very nice routine with taking my puppy to the park with me for my workouts and we just kept going. My puppy got stronger and, amazingly, so did I. We alternated between rucking and running. I very quickly noticed that rucking made running so much easier than ever before. The farthest I had ever run was a 10k my wife talked me into many years before.
When it’s Time to Perform, the Time to Prepare is Over
Nearing the end of the training, I had actually achieved a 12 mile ruck and a 15 mile run! I couldn’t believe it! Interspersed in this were squats and pushups and step-ups and various other calisthenic exercises that I somehow, miraculously improved upon as well. Of course, there was some pain and recovery involved but that comes with the territory…like dietary changes…ugh. Necessary.
Two weeks before the event I tapered my workouts so I would be fresh for the event. Then comes the panic…
What the hell was I thinking??? Who does this??? I am completely certain my wife was preparing for the worst when she started asking for passwords and info on our investment accounts the week prior to the event.
My friend, myself and a last minute participant embarked on the 5.5 hour drive to the event the morning of the challenge. Maybe not the best idea but hey…we’re manly men. We got this. I’m pretty sure I was close to having a stroke the entire 12 hours preceding the actual start of the event itself.
We arrived at the hotel, had a great steak dinner (bad idea, btw) and made a horrible attempt at trying to rest before our 9:00pm start time.
After absolutely no rest and nervously gearing up (with half a dozen alternatives thrown about that DIDN’T include a 12 hour pain festival), we went to the start point and resolved ourselves to bear the brunt of whatever bad decisions we’d made preparing for this thing.
Here’s where I’m going to get very vague. Every GoRuck challenge is different based on the theme of the event, the location of the event and who is running the event (aka The Cadre) so I think it is important to tell you right up front, I’m not going to give many specific details. I will, however, give you my impression of the event we participated in.
It’s hard. Know that. Nothing about it is meant to be easy. You will carry heavy things. You will do many, many workouts when you stop. There will be opportunities to refuel and use whatever facilities exist near you. In our case, the breaks we had resulted in shivering sessions because when it chilly and you’ve been sweating and you stop moving…you get cold.
So the breaks you’re hoping for result in a different type of discomfort. Or at least they did for us. It’s also important to note that our Cadre was very devious. He told us up front that in order to discourage quitting early, he simply made things harder and harder as we went so when we really wanted to give up, it didn’t make sense.
So you will carry heavy things again. And again. And more workouts. And carry heavy things. And more workouts.
The good news is, time flies by pretty quickly…even though you don’t really care anymore about anything at all except not dying and waiting for the next time you get to put down the heavy things.
I’ll give you one detail. It was shortly after sun up and we were all pretty tired but could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I thought I had been exhausted from physical activity before in my life but I was wrong. NOW I was physically exhausted. We weren’t doing a good job at staying in formation so The Cadre wanted to help us refocus. “Cryotherapy” he called it.
The temperature was about 45 degrees. We were approaching a boat ramp and, naturally in his sympathetic state, he gently coaxed us all in groups to descend backwards in a bear crawl down the boat ramp and submerge ourselves in the river so he could only see our eyes and head…Navy Seal-like. And then bear crawl back up the ramp to our start line. Good stuff.
Time to pick up the heavy things again and move on toward the finish line. Just a few more more miles. No biggie. Then came the increase in pace for a balls-out push to the finish line…which wasn’t really a finish line but another, very hard workout.
And then it was over. About 12.5 hours. Somehow, I made it. We all made it. The feeling was extremely satisfying. Not the same kind of satisfying as finishing a 10k or half-marathon, but different because we all did it together…as a team. If someone was struggling, you help. If you’re struggling, someone will help you. The goal is we all start together and we all finish together…and all of us stronger at the end than the beginning. It’s a very unique feeling to me but very clear from a military mindset, which is what these events are based around. It’s not about you, it’s about us. Teamwork. No man left behind. When you think you have nothing left, dig deeper and you’ll find it.
As I’m writing this it has been 3 solid days since the end of the challenge. I’m still sore in places I’ve never been sore. But I am proud of myself. I’m proud of the people I traveled with and completed the challenge with.
I realized just before the event that no matter the outcome of the event for me personally, I had already gained far more in the 6 months of preparation and training than I did at the event itself and that really made me ponder if that wasn’t the whole point all along.
GORUCK Tough Gear
Since this blog has a high percentage of readers interested in gear, I’ll talk about what worked and what didn’t. I’m sure I’ll end up sounding like a GORUCK fan-boy, but again, I don’t get a dime from GORUCK.
I used a GORUCK 25-liter Rucker 4.0 and padded hip belt. This is larger than the standard Rucker and I’m glad I sprang for the additional size. With all the required gear, this pack was pretty full. I would have had a hard time getting it all into a smaller pack. But I have plenty of packs that are this big or bigger. This one shines for other reasons.
First, it is bombproof. The 1000D Cordura is tough as nails, the zipper is strong as new rope, the seems are sewn to handle extreme weight. It seems impossible to break this bag. Second, it is made for rucking events. It has a pocket, high on the back panel, to accommodate a ruck plate. It has handles, top and bottom and left and right, for doing ruck workouts. Everything about it is built for rucking events.
GORUCK rucks are expensive, but I’m firmly convinced the cost is worth it if you plan to do events like a GORUCK Tough. My Mystery Ranch Scree 32 is certainly more comfortable, but I doubt it would have handled some of the abuse my Rucker was subjected to. Not only are you wearing it and walking, you’re also balancing sandbags up to 100 lbs on it (the heaviest I carried was 60). You’re doing “bear crawl ruck drags,” swinging it like a kettle bell, and putting it through all manner of other abuse. The Rucker is built to survive this abuse.
This one deserves a little special attention. GORUCK offers branded, 30-lb weight plates for the low, low price of $120. I opted to go to Amazon and purchase a no-brand weight of the same size and footprint for about $40. I really like GORUCK’s gear, and understand there is a cost to innovation. However, I don’t understand the 3x price-gouge on a piece of cast-iron.
Footwear is crucial to success in an event like this. One attendee had only learned of the event three weeks prior, and as a result, did not understand the importance of adequate footwear. Instead, he wore a pair of Vibram toe shoes that shredded his feet. To his credit he finished, albeit with some prolonged discomfort and healing to look forward to.
I went back and forth on shoes and eventually decided on the GORUCK MACV-1 boots. The more aggressively-soled MACV-2 is replacing the MACV-1, but both are good boots. It get it, I’m a fanboy, got it… but there was a reason for this.
First, they are a heck of a lot like old-school military jungle boots that I had great success with in my younger years. They are lightweight, provide great support, and are comfortable. Second – and maybe the reason I didn’t wear a more padded, waterproof boot – is MACVs are proudly NOT waterproof. I figured we would get wet and I was right. The MACV-series has drain holes. Combined with a good, Merino-wool sock, this worked tremendously well and my feet were pretty much dry by the end.
For socks I wore Darn Tough Crew Lite Cushion socks. I’ve slowly been transitioning my socks to Merino wool. These are expensive-ass socks, but they are phenomenally tough and backed up by a lifetime guarantee. Highly recommended.
Blister Care: Leukotape
I’ve never done a great job at blister care. Fortunately, I do know where I get blisters: the balls of my feet and my heels. Neil brought along a roll of Leukotape. I had never used this stuff and was somewhat skeptical, having never had great luck with moleskin. He told me it was a great preventative, providing a thin, slick layer with a powerful adhesive that would reduce some friction.
I then did about the stupidest thing ever: I did something completely untested and put a strip on the ball of each foot and on each heel. And guess what? It worked like a charm! No blisters, at least where the tape was. I will certainly be using this stuff more in the future.
My Thoughts on the GoRuck Tough
I don’t have a whole lot to add that my friend hasn’t already said. One thing did hit me after completing this event, though. I want to do some sort of mental and physical gut-check every now and then. I don’t want to set too strict a schedule on it; let’s say I have a loose goal of doing something like this maybe something like once or twice a year. As I wrote in my “Value of Doing Hard Things” article, some voluntary time in the pain-cave makes you appreciate creature comforts all the more.
Wrapping up this testosterone-fueled weekend was an evening with my dear friend and Across the Peak co-host, Mr. Rich Brown. Living about 1/3 of our way home, Rich invited us to spend the night at his house after the event. I gladly accepted his offer. And a couple serendipitous things happened. First, The ol’ Good Times Liquor Store in Crossville, TN was good to me and one of my friends. I found a bottle of Blanton’s (I’ve been looking for one for months, unsuccessfully). My friend found a bottle of Weller Full Proof, an even rarer bourbon find.
When we arrived at Rich’s house in the early evening (we did eat a hearty breakfast and take a solid 3-hour nap) I was still chilled to the bone. When we walked in, Rich had a fire cranking. I’ve never seen a more welcome sight! After eating some more, we had a few drinks of bourbon, swapped stories, and enjoyed the most manly evening I’ve had in a while. I would also like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Rich (and his lovely bride, Lisa) for their selfless hospitality and support. Thank you, Rich!
Why am I telling you this? In hopes you’ll do something similar! GORUCK has been around a long time; you don’t need me to tell you about them. I do hope one person reading this will decided to do one, though. If so this post and the time my friend and I spent writing it will have been well spent.