Earning the GORUCK Tough Patch with Challenge Class 732 in Portland
Earning the GORUCK Tough Patch with Challenge Class 732 in Portland
I sit here, just days after completing my GORUCK Challenge with mixed emotions. My muscles are no longer sore. I no longer travel with slow deliberate movements and I carried my four year old daughter at the grocery store tonight. I still hurt though. I have several open wounds that are starting to scab and any movement or pressure still reminds me that I spent last Friday night and Saturday morning completing the hardest physical tasks I have ever attempted. But, with the pain I felt immediately after completing the challenge fading, I am ready to sign up to do it all again.
ITS Tactical introduced me to the GORUCK Challenge via articles written by Editor-In-Chief Bryan Black and Contributor Mike Petrucci who had both completed their own Challenges. I am the type of person who likes to challenge myself. While my peak athletic performance days are behind me, I like to believe that I have the mental strength to persevere when my body is less than willing. I sat on the fence about signing up for a GORUCK Challenge because I wanted to get in shape first, but I procrastinated about starting any sort of training regimen. Then I attended the Inaugural ITS Tactical Muster in October, 2012. That event changed my life. I was inspired by the people (staff and attendees) I met. I learned that there are sane, rational people that share a lot of the same interests as me. Either that or there are a lot of crazy people like me; the jury is still out.
While I made the mental commitment to quit procrastinating, my training took a backseat to some medical conditions. In December of 2011, I suffered a detached retina in my right eye. After three surgeries that month, my retina stayed attached and the healing process began. A fourth surgery in March and all was going well, but the expected cataract developed and a week after returning from the Muster, a fifth and final surgery restored normal health to my right eye.
In December of 2012, I signed up for a GORUCK Challenge in my hometown of Portland, OR, scheduled to take place in May. I even convinced a fellow Muster attendee to travel to Portland and do the Challenge with me. I started my training program with the “7 Weeks to 100 Pushups”, “The Ultimate Jump Rope Workout”, some treadmill jogging and what I can remember of the weight training program from some personal training sessions at my gym several years prior. I like solid plans and what I was doing seemed too ad-hoc so I convinced another, different Muster attendee to travel to Colorado and spend a few days in Mid-March training with Nate Morrison of RIKR Performance. Now I was confident that I had a plan to prepare for my Challenge.
Two weeks after returning home, I suffered a detached retina in my left eye. By now I am an expert, but let me explain for you. When you lift anything more than trivial amounts of weight, pressure is exerted on the outside of your eye. After an incision is made in your eye, the typical restriction is that you are not allowed to lift more than 20 pounds for at least four weeks. That did not fit with my training plan. At this point I only had eight weeks left before my challenge and for at least half of that time I would not be exerting myself at all and one week was scheduled for a family vacation to Disneyland. With three weeks (at most) of “real” training time before my Challenge, I made the hard call to postpone my Challenge attempt.
I looked at the calendar and picked a date far enough to allow me to get my training back on track. I skipped two scheduled Portland challenges and picked August 16th. Unfortunately, life still got in the way and I was not able to get back to the same training regimen that I had set up for my initial attempt.
** WARNING ** Do not follow my training plan.
I run my own business so even though I was “off work” during my recovery, I still had work to do. It was hard to read and use a computer so I completed the bare necessities required to support the extra work shouldered by my employees. That left a huge pile of work to get caught up on when I returned to work, leaving little time for any sort of training. To save time, I started working out at home with the push-up and jump rope exercises. I started jogging around my block which is about 8/10ths of a mile. I was not happy with the amount of training I was able to do, but I was afraid that rescheduling my Challenge would become a bad habit and that I could easily slip back into “procrastinating on life”. There are always demands on our time. For me, those demands include running a business, spending time with family (wife and three children), volunteering as a Reserve Police Officer and coaching youth soccer. It was time for me to make a decision and I decided to complete the Challenge.
I understood that the GORUCK Challenge was as much of a mental test as a physical test. I had seen pictures of people who had completed prior challenges and convinced myself that I was in as good of shape as some of them. I knew that the Challenge would be painful and that as long as I kept giving everything I had, I would succeed. While that turned out to be true, I spent the entire night wishing I had trained more.
What should you do? Again, don’t do what I did. I looked at the Training Blog & Program at the GORUCK website and thought the plan was overkill. Now I am a convert. If you don’t already have a plan that is similar, follow GORUCK’s plan. Another place you could look for a training plan is the recent release of “Combat Conditioning” by Nate Morrison & RIKR Performance.
I purchased a GORUCK GR1 pack when I purchased my Challenge entry. I needed a solid pack for to use as an EDC pack and I had heard a lot of good things about the GORUCK packs. The price is higher than your typical “back-to-school” backpack, but there is no comparison. I have been carrying my pack for six months and it just completed a Challenge with me and it still looks brand new. Tough as nails!
I used the slim 3 Liter Source hydration pack stored in the water bladder section of my GR1. It seems that Source has updated their offerings and the Widepac is most similar to what I have. I carried my six bricks wrapped as one unit and I placed some lightweight foam bricks at the bottom of my pack to get the weight of the bricks higher on my shoulders. I didn’t put anything soft at the top of my ruck so anytime our heads were below our shoulders, the bricks would hit the back of my head. I recommend finding a way to put a cushion between the bricks and your head.
I carried a standard first-aid kit and an ITS ETA Trauma Kit & Tourniquet. The first-aid stuff was already on my pack as a part of my EDC kit so I wanted to keep it there. Thankfully, I didn’t need to use either. Someone did require some bandaging, but I’ll get to that later.
Besides the water, I carried a Liberty Bottle Works bottle with Kill Cliff “Tasty”, a carbonated, caffeinated “Recovery” drink, a protein bar and some PowerBar Gel packets. Three hours into the event, I took a sip of the Kill Cliff and decided a carbonated beverage was not going to work for me. I was also reluctant to put anything solid in to my stomach as people were vomiting around me. The gels were great though. I am not a fan of the chocolate flavor because it was too rich but the two strawberry banana packets had a light enough flavor that I easily consumed them. I also carried two bottles of 5 hour energy, but only consumed one during the challenge.
I chose to wear pants for the challenge. The “weather guessers” predicted a low temperature of 63 degrees Fahrenheit so I really wasn’t worried about getting cold, but I thought some extra protection on my legs might come in handy. I don’t feel like I was too warm and my knees had far fewer scratches and scrapes than some of my teammates. In an effort to reduce friction, I wore two layers of t-shirts with a compression shirt under a standard t-shirt. My shoulder still has a big road rash style wound so I am not sure if my shirt strategy helped or was ineffective. I am very happy with how my feet held up. I wore the same WrightSock CoolMesh II socks I wear anytime I wear boots, but my boots were more of an unknown. I had worn my new AKU NS-564 boots a few times, this would be their first big test. I am impressed! Even after being completely wet, my feet held up. No blisters and no hot spots.
Lastly, I supplied the team flag. Originally, I was going to take the flag I fly everyday at my house. It is not the highest quality, but at least it was a sewn nylon flag and a size that could be easily carried. When I told my wife that I would be bringing the flag, she immediately asked if I wanted to take the flag my brother gave me after returning from a tour in Iraq. That flag was flown over Camp Fallujah on July 4th, 2008. I am sure several flags were flown that day, but that flag certainly has more meaning than the one I fly everyday at home. Later our Cadre told us that he also had a connection with Camp Fallujah from his time in the military.
About a week before the challenge, my class was notified of the starting location, O’Bryant Square. I’ve lived in the Portland Metropolitan area my entire life, but I am not as familiar with the downtown area so I looked up some information about the park. Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia page:
O’Bryant Square is a small park and fountain at the cross streets of Southwest Park Avenue and Stark Street in downtown Portland, in the U.S. state of Oregon. The park is officially O’Bryant Square, but also known as Paranoid Park, Paranoia Park, “Needle Park”, or “Crack Park”.
The park got its nickname from near-exclusive frequenting by street kids, users of illicit drugs, sex workers, and homeless people due to a Portland Police Bureau precinct office across Ninth Avenue from the Northwest corner of the park.
The park is designated as both part of Portland Police Bureau’s “Drug-Free Zone” as well as “Prostitution-Free Zone”, due to its frequent association with drug- and prostitution-related crimes.
Due to its frequenting by homeless persons, areas of the park covered and sheltered from the Portland rain were sealed or otherwise re-exposed to the elements during the era of Mayor Vera Katz’s sit-lie law.
FANTASTIC! That sounds like a great starting place and I assumed we would have lots of curious bystanders.
Some of the group organized a meetup immediately before the official start time. It gave us a chance to introduce ourselves and complete the team weight. Our team weight consisted of five, 5lbs bags of rice that would later be donated to a homeless shelter & addiction recovery center where one of our teammates works. Some of the team also carried cans of food in their personal packs that would also be donated.
The mood during the meetup was subdued. Some people had friends joining them for the Challenge, but for the most part we were strangers. Of the 16 participants, only three had participated in a challenge prior to this one. We all knew we were embarking on an adventure that would test us, but the unknown about the details were weighing on us.
We did have a visitor though. An elderly lady had a station set up with clear plastic take-out containers with some food, a bucket of flowers and a sign with “Peace Corps Veteran” handwritten in big black pen. As our group grew in number, her curiosity got the better of her and she came to ask what we were waiting for. During our discussions, she told us that she would share some of the food with us, describing it as leftovers from people who had purchased lunch at the nearby food carts, but did not finish eating it. She said people had handed it straight to her and that the food “…never touched a dumpster.” Well in that case, what do you have? She also encouraged us to leave a donation for her mortgage fund if we wanted any of the flowers from her bucket. She seemed like a nice lady, but no one took her up on any offer.
At precisely the start time, our Cadre walked in and asked all the participants to form up in two lines. After some initial confusion about rows vs. columns we were loosely gathered for roll call and brick inspection. Then the “Good Living” began. Pushups with our packs on our back, flutter kicks with the pack compressing your chest and diaphragm, jumping jacks with the packs on our back, wheelbarrow races, animal walks, body surfing and the “tunnel of love”. If you know exactly what I am talking about, I’m sorry. If you don’t know, you don’t know.
Somewhere during the series of animal walks, I think it was during the crab walks, a pair of guys came walking through the park smoking cigarettes. One was curious enough to chat with the Cadre. As that man was leaving I heard him say, loud enough for the group to hear, that he served six years in the Marine Corps and wished us luck. I’m stomping my foot, because you will want to remember this later.
After our three hour “Welcome Party” we were given the requisite too short of time to refill our water containers and get back to the square, still carrying our team weight and flag as well as minding our team integrity. The first class leaders were chosen and we began the “ruck” portion of GORUCK by moving as a group through the core of downtown Portland towards a park with easy shore access to the Willamette River. I knew we were going to get wet, but I assumed we would do that at one of the many fountains around town. The river water was warmer than I expected so the “Hydro Burpees” and flutter kicks were almost pleasant; well comparatively anyway. I later found the recorded water temperature that night and found it was 72 degrees Fahrenheit. To steal a phrase often repeated by our Cadre, “It could be worse.”
After water PT, we were introduced to the “single object that would complete our transformation from 16 individuals to one team.” This “log” was really a tree that had fallen into the river and floated down until it lodged on the beach at the park. It was probably 30 feet long with three large branches at one end. The first task was to get this log up the rocky bank of the river to level ground from near the waterline. We struggled through the initial stages of team building but we were able to get the log away from the river. This log was big and quite heavy. We had one person set to carry the team weight and the flag while the other 15 lifted and carried the log. It took every one of us.
Our next task was to carry the log North from the Hawthorne Bridge to the Steel Bridge, approximately one mile. Over several attempts, we developed a plan to coordinate the lifting and lowering log. Walking North was slow, but we had 90 minutes to make our goal. We worked through the friction normal with a new team doing new things quicker than I expected, but we missed our goal by seven minutes. Reflecting back, we all knew we wasted time and could have made our goal by taking shorter breaks and talking less (working more). By now, we understood that there is not a comfortable way to carry a tree.
Our walk North was accentuated by things most GORUCK groups encounter in the core of any city. Three police cruisers checked on what we were doing. Multiple homeless individuals visited, some longer than others and some random people who saw that we were different than them and used berating us or taunting as their defense mechanism.
As we were nearing our goal at the Steel Bridge, a vaguely familiar person wandered up to the cadre with a gallon jug of water. I heard the Cadre ask how he found us and then it hit me, this was the Marine Corps veteran who wandered by during our Welcome Party. I later learned his name was Corey, but for some reason I called him Aaron for the next couple of hours.
After we reached the first goal, it was time to refill our water bladders and select new class leaders. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I volunteered. My “battle buddy” Zach and I were taken aside and told what our next objective would be. We had 135 minutes (2.25 hours) to move our team across the Steel Bridge, South on the East Bank Esplanade and West across the Hawthorne Bridge, ending at the Tom McCall Waterfront park, completing a circuit where we played in the river. That seemed like way too much time so I asked if there would be “stops” (read more challenges) along the way. The Cadre replied “Oh, you will be taking the log.” Of course we were. I blame pain and exhaustion for thinking we had completed the log portion of our Challenge. Two pieces of good news, we basically had 40% more time than we did and all we the distance is only increased by crossing the river twice, right? We step off with me in higher spirits than you might expect.
All is going fine and we’re moving this log about 100 feet at a time. We have a system worked out, lift the log to our waist, then to our shoulders, move, down to the waist, all the way down the ground, short rest and repeat. Until our extra volunteer, Corey, was too slow getting his hand out of the way before the log went all the way down to ground. We had a longer rest time while someone patched up a small puncture wound in Corey’s hand and cleaned up some scrapes on the back of his knuckles. To his credit, Corey didn’t want to quit. The Cadre let him help us move the log one more time, to prove the injury didn’t sideline him, but our bonus helper was out. Corey did follow us the rest of the night.
Along came daybreak. Most people who stay up all night embrace daybreak as the sign that they made it. I was not happy because daylight revealed that we still had a long way to go before reaching the bridge we would use to cross back to the park that was our current goal. Coupled with the disheartening distance was the mounting aches and pains of some team members. Sure we all hurt, but there were two injuries that were starting to bother me as a class leader. Every time we put the log down, a team member would grab his side and double over. He described the pain as a sharp, stabbing pain. I was worried that he had somehow injured his ribs and was exacerbating an injury with every lift. To that teammate’s credit, he wanted to continue. Another teammate was having problems with a knee. His knee would start to lock up causing the team to stop short of our next mini-goal and put the log down early. He also wanted to continue, but was eventually switched from log duty to carrying the team weight and flag. Every time I asked either of these teammates how they were doing, I would get a non-committal response so I just started asking if they were getting worse or staying the same. They never responded with worse so we drove on.
During one of of the breaks, I turned to my co-leader and said, “I don’t know how much longer I can keep asking these guys to do this.” I felt like we were driving hard, but by this time, we knew we weren’t going to make the time deadline. My teammates were awesome! They always came back to the log and the only complaint expressed to me was that our breaks were too long. It was extremely motivating to work with these folks.
Somewhere around 6AM, the team was low on water with some members completely out. The Cadre gave us a short break to refill water bladders. With a municipal water fountain as the only available source of water, the break extended beyond what was allocated and gave our bodies time to tighten up and gave our brains time to evaluate what we were doing. As we were approaching the log, three people stepped off to talk with the Cadre. I feared that if all three of them quit, the remaining teammates would not be enough to actually lift the log, let alone return it to where we found it. I don’t know how committed they were to quitting prior to their talk with the Cadre, but all three of them returned to the log and we continued towards our goal.
Putting Our “Twig” Away
When we reached the East end of the Hawthorne Bridge, the Cadre called the class leaders over and showed us a place on the East bank of the river where we would place our log. We made it! It was easy to get the team motivated for the final 100 feet with the log. There is a video of our final carry and our Cadre for the Challenge commented “Class 732 putting their twig away.” None of the participants would agree with his assessment.
Thinking the hard part was over, I assumed we would march back to the starting point and finish our Challenge. Of course it wasn’t that easy. For the first part of our trek back, we had to carry one “casualty”. No problem! The next leg required us to carry two “casualties” plus carry our rucks like a briefcase, rather than on our back. OK, we got this! Then came the kicker. The last leg had us carrying six “casualties” leaving just four people not carrying a buddy. Three loaded up with extra rucks and the fourth carried the team weight and flag.
I was relieved when everyone was back at the starting location and the Cadre called us back into a formation. The Cadre congratulated us and I was proud to receive my “GORUCK Tough” patch. Somehow I made it to the end. Multiple times I wondered how much longer I could continue, but I was not going to quit until I couldn’t physically move forward.
Prior to starting our Challenge we were strangers, introducing ourselves and making polite conversations. After we were dismissed, no one departed. We wanted to talk to each other. We wanted to get to know each other. We didn’t want to leave. It was an amazing transformation. We learned about pushing ourselves beyond what we think is possible and we started some new friendships!
The Cadre told us that we would want to sign up for more Challenges in the future and to save our bricks. I can tell you that when he said that, I thought he was crazy. My body hurt. Almost a week later, most of my body has healed, and I am checking my calendar to see where I can fit in my next adventure. I am sure I will do another Challenge in the future.
Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Kris Q. as a contributor on ITS Tactical. Kris is one of our Life Members and attendees at the Inaugural ITS Muster. It was great getting his perspective on the GORUCK Challenge nearly 700 classes after Mike and I participated in each of our challenges.
Photos by Rod Haines.