Drew Stephens

GORUCK Challenge

Photo credit: Troy Angrignon

I did the GORUCK Challenge last weekend. The GORUCK Challenge is a 12 hour guided tour of a city, led by special forces guys known as the Cadre. Every challenge, even in the same city, is a different experience, tailored by the Cadre based upon their desires, the folks on the team, and what the city has to offer.

Class 662 Summary

A team of 34 people, each with a 45-55 pound rucksack hiked & ran 20 miles around San Francisco over the course of 12 hours. We were accompanied by two 30 pound bags of quarters, a ~100 pound log, and, for about half of the time, a ~300 pound couch adorned with a 210-230 pound person. In the last few hours, we swapped the couch for a pair of 250 pound logs.

Difficulty

Overall the event was a ton of fun. Having read numerous things in the weeks leading up to this, my first challenge, I had gotten a bit worried. The number of people who listed this as the hardest thing they’d ever done and hinted at the misery they endured made it sound like a rough, “Well, I’m glad I did that. Once.” sort of thing. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you’re physically capable, you’ll have a good time until the end.

What do I mean by capable? I don’t think a single test other than the Challenge itself (or perhaps doing a Light and saying it was easy) could make it clear, but I can put it in CrossFit terms. CrossFit + weight lifting is my main regimen, 3-4 days a week at Patriot CrossFit in Arlington if you want to get an idea of the programming. I’m certainly no firebreather, but I manage to do a majority of the workouts as prescribed and in fairly good time. If you can follow the main site, doing half of the workouts as prescribed without being horribly slow, you’ll be fine. You need not be Jason Kaplan to be in good enough shape—my 7 minute Fran is enough to make the Challenge a non-killer event.

Notes on Preparation

Hydration

I say hydration here because I think something more than water is important. I used a low-profile SOURCE bladder which fit well in the main compartment between my bricks and the main flap. I filled it with water and 6 Nuun tablets initially, and tossed in a few more tablets when I refilled at around 0300. We didn’t stop for water again and I was out near the end of the challenge, along with most of the team. If my next Challenge is anywhere warmer, I’ll find a way to have a second bladder or even a couple of Nalgenes.

Food

I often deride cyclists for their obsession with fast carbs, thinking that without sucking down maltodextrin every 20 minutes they might just go from being a world-class überathelete on their Yellow Polkadot Single Baller Edition Cervélo to a prole riding a Mongoose. But it is to cyclists whom I turned when gathering supplies for this challenge. In the end, I downed seven gels and two packs of chewie jobbies throughout the 12 hours. Are those absolutely necessary? Not at all, I could have gotten through without any of that and gone strict paleo with some bananas or some such. But it would have sucked. Having good blood sugar support after glycogen stores are depleted increases your ability to perform for sure; more importantly, the carbohydrate combined with caffeine improves mood, keeping the event from being a gruelling death march.

So hit up your local bike shop and get some of those goofy fast acting carbohydrate sources. I had a couple of Honey Stingers (which are mostly honey) but most of what I brought were caffeinated (35mg or 70mg depending on the flavor) Gu Roctane energy gels. I drink tea regularly, so I think the regular-strength (35mg) ones were best for me. Next time I’ll probably bring 10 gels along with a bunch of the chewie versions. The chewies are amazingly delightful after you’ve speed marched across the city. If you’re the prepared sort, it’d be good to bring some extra. Even amongst such a rarefied group there are knuckleheads who bring little to no food. If someone’s performance falls off, a caffeinated gel is a great way to bring them back.

I also brought a few bars (Luna or UberFood, I think) but only ate one. It’s nice to have something different during a long break (5 minutes).

Clothing

This challenge was during June in San Francisco. For those who don’t know, that’s winter. Paradoxically, it wasn’t windy or foggy that night, but it was a bit cold.

I wore Under Armour leggings, some Champion workout shorts, Drymax socks, a padded football shirt, a long-sleeve Under Armour Cold Gear top, and a workout shirt over that.

Unsure of my shoe choice up until the day of The Challenge, I settled on Inov8 F-Lite 195s. I’ve been wearing minimalist shoes (Merrel Trail Gloves are my favorites) exclusively for a few years now, but I was concerned that the extra weight on my back would lead to a Bad Time for my feet & knees. I had bought some F-Lite 230s which were what I had planed on until the day of, but I settled on the 195s because my feet feel better in them. They were just fine, despite the weight and surfaces we were walking on.

The other thing you need to do is tie your shoes properly. If you can slip your shoes off without untying them, they aren’t tied properly. We had to stop multiple times during our first time hack in which we needed to cover 3.5 miles in 35 minutes due to shoes that came untied or got flat tired. Properly tying your shoes completely prevents both of these and will keep your teammates from thinking you’re incompetent from the beginning.

Pockets. You want pockets. Movements are often an hour or more, during which time you don’t have opportunity to dig around your pack for the aforementioned sugary delights. Every time you stop, ensure your pockets have a gel or two in them. Pockets are also where you’ll shove the trash after you down one of those as cadre are strict about littering, rightly so.

Your Ruck

Do something to your ruck so that you can differentiate it from everyone elses. All cadre are different, but you’ll end up taking your ruck off and passing it to teammates at some point in the night, and if they all look the same, it’s impossible to find your own. I had a light-colored War Stories & Free Beer patch so that I could identify my GR1 from the back; the loops of cord that I use to hold my hydration tube makes it notable from the front.

Having a black Omega carabiner clipped through three MOLLE sure does look cool, but it’s not particularly funcitonal. I have one on my ruck and it’s nice for briefly attaching a water bottle or my bike helmet, but it’s really difficult to remove for other uses. When your ruck is jammed full of bricks, water, and yoga blocks, you can’t manipulate the fabric enough to remove the ‘biner easily, so save yourself the hassle and have it only clipped through two loops so that it’s faster to get at.

Other Junk

Minimize it, but don’t go crazy. There are endless words written to the effect of “if you’re not sure, don’t bring it”. I largely subscribe to this mentality, as you most likely aren’t going to need things, but there’s a dose of realism that is needed here. Between the 30 pounds of bricks and the 10 pounds of water and misc that are the minimum weight, you aren’t going to notice a few extra food bars, gels, or a windbreaker, so don’t sweat it. If the weather is on the edge of being cold, bring the windbreaker. I always carry a Sharpie & a pen in my ruck day to day and was sad that I didn’t have them when we needed to write things down.

Things to certainly not bring are those that will absorb water. Carrying around a small portion of your local body of water is a bad time.