Start point: 15+/- miles outside of DC.
Team: Twenty-nine men and women reported to SP. Twenty-five at ENDEX.
Conditions: Sunny and mid 90’s both days. Yeah… it was hot.
Cadre: JC Jordan (Force Recon, Active Duty), Brain Squared (Force Recon)
Distance: 40+/- (actual miles unknown)
Time: 24+/- hours (actual time unknown)
The Standards – I Might be in Trouble
We opened the event with the standard Heavy PT test consisting of a 12 mile timed ruck, 2 minute max rep push-ups, and 2 minute max rep sit-ups (the cadre added an extra movement of 5 min max rep burpee).
Heading into the event, I felt perfectly fine with these. My pace for 12 miles is an easy 15:30, so I wasn’t worried about the 3 hour 30 minute cutoff. For the push-ups and sit-ups I know that my numbers aren’t amazing (like the dude on my team who crushed 90 push-ups), but I should have been able to easily pass the standards. I did not.
On the initial ruck, we were told that the first 5 miles would be as a team and led by the cadre. After that, we’d be on our own to finish. We had a couple team members that were having a rough start so I and several others took on their rucks to help get them through the initial few miles. Upon entering a park, we were sent out a individuals to complete the remaining miles. I had my pace and felt good.
After my ruck was done, I grabbed a seat and began to hydrate and refuel. This was, in some ways, a mistake. All day I had been eating and drinking in preparation for the event and, honestly, I think I over did it. When I took a break after the 12 miler I drank a lot of water with electrolyte tabs in it. In addition, I decided to get a bunch of calories since I had no idea when the next food break would be. So, I consumed about 500 calories. The truth is that my body didn’t need it and it would prove to have a very negative impact on my next movements.
After getting called up for my push-ups, I gave it 100 percent effort. I fell one rep short and was moved into the “did not make the standard” line. This was a huge mental and physical blow. It was now that I really started to feel the impact of an over full stomach. I began throwing up, being light headed, and was having trouble recovering.
Cadre called us non-standard makers back up for a second attempt to make the standard. I was in pain, but was going to give it everything I had. I made standard by 2 reps. The problem is, at this point, I’ve now given 2 maximal efforts on push-ups and I’m a broken man… and this is just the PT Test. This was supposed to be the easy part. What in the world was happening. I was truly freaked out and questioning my ability to complete the event.
We moved into sit-ups and, while still hurting and “out of it” I manged to make standard. But, this effort obviously sucked even more out of me.
We finished with 5 minute max effort burpees (with a minimum standard we had to hit). Mentally, based on my “normal” burpee pace, I knew I should be just fine. But, my current state had me worried. So, I went full out to make the standard. I hit standard with almost 2 minutes left… but, again, it tanked me and I only managed a few more burpees in those 2 minutes. I was light headed, having trouble standing, and still heaving.
After all this, I was genuinely concerned. If I can’t make it out of what I assumed would be the easiest part of the event, how would I ever make it through the rest?
Adapt and Overcome
We rucked out of the park, picked up our coupons (extra weight), and began one of many long walks. It was here that I started to recover. Rucking with coupons is my bread and butter. It is were I feel strongest and where I believe I can contribute most to the team.
As we walked in the darkness of night, I asked myself, “What the heck just happened!?!?” I began to assess my mental and physical condition. It was here that I began to feel like the issue was my hydration and food. I simply had too much in me. The mix of lots of electrolyte water and dense calories was simply too much, too fast.
At that point I committed to only drinking water (no electrolyte water) and eating only as I “felt” like it (as opposed to force fueling myself whenever I stopped).
This proved to be a huge help. For the rest of the event, from a hydration and fuel perspective, I felt like I was in the right place and that my body was responding well. In total I ate about 300-400 calories during the remainder of the event and consumed 9-12 liters of water.
(as a fun side note, I lost 10 pounds during the event)
Applying Lessons Learned
During my last event, as I noted in my AAR, I had a moment where I snapped at my team trying to “motivate” them. I had lost my cool with people not pulling weight or getting on the “hard” coupons. What I took away from that event was that some times your team members are just hurting more than you. And, if that’s the case, then my job isn’t to tell them to suck it up and carry something. My job is to do whatever I can for the team.
I applied that lesson this time and everything was different. When teammates were hurting or maybe not pulling as much weight as some may have wanted them to, I just did what I could. I volunteered to take whatever need to be carried, even the thing I hate most… a full jerry can. This change in me made a lot of difference in my mentality. I rarely found myself frustrated and was able to do a much as I could to help the team. It is pretty fun to do something wrong, learn from it, and then do it (mostly) right.
While we didn’t have a “lot” of PT sessions, when we did I was a mess. I honestly have no idea what happened. I have pretty good relative strength and I trained very hard for this event. I’m totally used to 30-45 minute grinders of max effort, but every PT session completely crushed me. I had difficulty staying on the rep count and was unable to do some of the required movements (though I gave it every ounce of effort I had).
This was really hard for me to come to terms with and I couldn’t figure out what to make of it. But, in some ways I guess that is what an event like this is about. It is finding that point of saying, “I can not do this.” and then still trying to do it… and trying to do it again… and again.
Stress, Chaos, and Men Down
A GORUCK Heavy is 24 hours long and you cover 40+ miles. There are ebbs and flows to the mental and physical stress. If I were to sum up what we did in our event it was 1) Standards PT Test, 2) Rucking, PT, and talking about the events of 9/11, and 3) the stuff during the last hour.
We had pushed all night and all day. We were finally in DC and heading towards the Pentagon (which we knew was the end point). With about an hour to go the Cadre cranked the dial up to 11. Hill PT, casualties (nearly real ones), time hacks, false endings, team breakdowns, physical stress, mental stress, and so much more. It was the bad dream that would not end and probably the hardest ending to an event I’ve experienced.
But, there were still lessons to be learned and applied in future events (you know… in case I ever get amnesia and actually sign up for another event). As a team we had a last time hack to meet and the destination was in sight. It was a tight time hack and we really had to move. My thought was to just go for it. Get my coupon to the point and then go back to help others. But, all sense of “team” and everything that we had worked on during the night went out the window. While it was “for the sake of the team,” we looked like a bunch of individuals rushing to a finish line. Of course, Cadre let us know about our mistake in a very clear way.
At the time I didn’t have the clarity of mind to understand what we did wrong. But, looking back I get it. We needed to stay together. We need to push through as a team. We needed to not let each person fend for themselves to pull their weight or themselves to the endpoint. We needed to do it together. It is what we had done all night and, in an instant, forgot. I will not make that mistake again.
This event was a 9/11 memorial event, so all through the evening we talked about the events of that day and how they impacted us and changed our world. Every team member was required to carry a picture of someone lost in the attacks and, at some point, share their story with the team. Hearing the stories of those lost was very emotional.
I carried LCDR David Williams on my ruck. When it was my turn to share LCDR Williams’ story, I got chocked up and almost couldn’t even say his name. Through tears and cracking voice, I share what I had learned about him and the wife and 3 kids he left behind.
As the event went on, the stories seemed to hit me harder and hard, causing my lip to quiver and tears to stream down my cheeks.
Facing death and loss was extremely taxing, emotionally and mentally. But with these stories of loss, there were many stories of hope, courage, and love. It was truly an amazing part of the event to hear what each team member had to say.
When the team finally arrived at the Pentagon Memorial (ENDEX), Cadre told us we could go spend 10 minutes in the memorial, I knew we were done. All the emotions related to the 24 hours of physical exertion, the heat, the pain, and being in a place that honored all those that we had spend the night learning about rushed upon in an unexpected way. I began to sob. Not cry… I sobbed… for like 10 minutes. I was emotionally spent.
Through tears I asked a memorial volunteer to help me find LCDR William’s bench at the memorial. I sat on it and thought about his wife and daughters. I prayed for them. I cried.
I took the patch I had made with his picture on it, the one that I had looked at all night and carried with me every step of the journey, and placed it on the bench. I thanked him. And then I left.
I joined my team and Class 131 was officially patched out.
This event was supposed to be the first of three events for me this weekend. I was scheduled to do the Heavy, Tough, and Light back-to-back. At the end of the Heavy, I quit. Here are my reflections on quitting the HTL.
What a great group of men and women. It was an honor to walk and work along side each and every one of you during that 24 hours. It was you that made this event so great. To you, Class 131, I say thank you.