By Stony Smith (aka 014)
I’ve got 94 hours of Selection under my belt –and I loved every one of them. I guess I am a glutton for punishment, or maybe I just want to see how far I can push my body and my mind. My favorite part of any GORUCK Selection has always been the Welcome Party; from wondering where everyone went during Selection #014, smashing into friends during 015 and finally to Selection 017 where I was out for blood -this one was MINE! I’m not much of a writer or story-teller, but I hope that you find something of value in my AAR.
My training started 4 months before Selection 014. I had already been doing Crossfit for a while and I continued to train with traditional Crossfit WODs and then on the weekends I’d do a PT test. I’d then train all week and retest again on the weekend and track my progress. I also started on the Wendler 5/3/1 Program and was able to get through a few cycles before I had to rest and get ready for 014.
At the time I figured more muscle = more endurance. But the one muscle I forgot to train was my mind. I thought I could muscle my way through Selection. So during 014, at around hour 34, when it started getting difficult during “competitive” Log PT, combined with nasty chafing, the thought of going into the ocean again just got to be too much –I caved and told Jason I quit… My urine was dark at this point which had me freaked out but it I was probably just dehydrated.
I clearly remember gathering by the fire with some other Cadre and previous Selection finishers and thinking to myself, what the hell did I just do? I felt like I should have been able to continue, but as they say “hindsight is 20/20”.
I did manage to pick up every sickness known to man coming through the various airports and was down for about 3 weeks after getting home. I had also lost about 15lbs in that time –mostly from my shoulders and chest (Measure yourself before you go and see if anything changes or take some before and after pics, it’s pretty interesting).
For Selection 015 I did more of the same, but did longer crossfit WOD’s. I think a lot of people got caught up in the hype of 015 judging by the size of the group. The crowd seemed to thin out really fast, maybe it was just the bigger crowd made it seem that way or maybe there were more people who signed up before they were ready, I’m not sure.
As for me, I took a knee near the end of the Welcome party. As you may or may not know being a ginger albino from Canada means I don’t normally hang out on beaches, and I was getting hot super-fast out there! The ocean was great – I was purposely screwing up trying to get back into the water – but the heat had taken its toll and I ended my 015 experience. I was in good spirits though and welcomed the end so I could go lie in the ocean and eat a donut or three.
Selection 015 turned out to be a really fun trip for me; meeting up with friends, learning how to surf, and hanging at the Team House picking the brains of the Cadre all night trying to learn a thing or two. No regrets on this one.
I took a totally different approach towards training for Selection 017. The terrain would be completely different – mountains not beaches and hopefully more reasonable temperatures. I had kept myself in pretty good shape after 015. I hadn’t done a full PT test since but my push-up and sit-up numbers were in the 70’s and 80’s when tested individually, my cardio was fine although I couldn’t break the 35min mark for the run, and I was doing the 12mile ruck in about 3 hours with a 65lb pack.
For me, fear is a big motivator and not knowing what to expect in terms of the terrain and altitude had me freaked and made me train harder. I had added some aspects of the Selection training program from Military Athlete, mostly for the mountains I knew I’d be climbing.
Ankles, legs, back and shoulders were target areas for me to work and I really wanted to concentrate on mental toughness this time around. I ended up dropping out of Crossfit. My training at home was 6 days a week with many 2-a day sessions and at this point Crossfit WODs were just too short and not taxing enough.
If you are training for Selection and still find Crossfit WODs challenging, you should be concerned.
I was averaging 3 runs a week; distance on the weekend, hill sprints, suicide sprints, distance sprints varying throughout the week. I didn’t really go out on long rucks this time. I had the pacing and cadence down and I knew I could do the distance easily. I rucked but I went heavy for a shorter distance to build up my ‘pack mule’ aspects. Every other morning I’d do a 1 mile ruck carrying 100 lbs on my back to get a coffee.
I was also doing consistent weight training at home; mainly focused on back squats, bench press and dead lifts. My head space changed on July 21st (a month before Selection was due to start!) when I hurt myself doing back squats. All I did was breathe out a bit at the bottom and ‘pop’ went my back. The pain wasn’t bad but I felt it every time I tried to run or carry something heavy. I was really starting to freak out – my training had dropped to mobility only and even push-ups hurt my back.
It was at this time I really had to contemplate my situation, I still wanted it but now doubt had entered my mind. We’ve all heard not to come to Selection injured, and this turned out to be the hardest part of training – not training! I took this opportunity to get reacquainted with bouncing in and out of Ketosis, a system I had tried to use before but found difficult due to the dedication required to make it work.
I really dialed in my diet and focused on managing my intake quality and quantity. At about two weeks out my back finally started feeling better, still sore but making some progress. This is about when I started repeating to myself “doesn’t matter.” As in it doesn’t matter what happens –this one is mine!
In hindsight I think I may have brain washed myself. No pain was going to make me stop, no amount of PT would make me quit and I would crush everyone.
I used this phrase every time my body or situation threw me a curve; I overcame the pain and was able to bury it beneath my focus. On a funny side note, a week before I left for Selection I went to a sports physiotherapy clinic and had a once-over and discussed my back. After a thorough investigation they told me I had developed back pain because my left butt wasn’t firing. They hooked me up with some electro-acupuncture. I’m not sure it did much but my butt was still on fire up to and including the day of Selection… “doesn’t matter.”
Selection Day Arrives
My plan of attack was simple and based on the lessons I had learned watching myself and my friends fail at Selection: don’t make friends, don’t hang with the group, stay focused on crushing everyone.
I still feel awkward about this today as I’m a social person and this attitude is really not how I usually operate. But this was my third crack at Selection and frankly I wanted it to be my last. I’ve seen the approach work and now I know why. Conveniently, I found I only needed this attitude during the welcome party this time around.
For me, the Welcome Party was great – I felt strong, fast and generally crushed it.
My favorite part of Selection is always the Welcome Party, I love the beat down. It’s a game –know your part, be fast –listen to instructions (I always screw this up and have to pay). If you want to win you will be fast, slow people get noticed. The slower you are the more attention you receive till you can’t take it anymore and you quit. I sprinted my ass off on every occasion and it paid off; I was able to take a knee or rest in the water many times during the Welcome Party while everyone else was enjoying their special attention.
Each Selection is different and while you need to be in great physical shape you need to have even greater mental strength. The Cadre will always have more PT that you have muscles. They do things for a reason, they are pros! When you are tired, sore and covered in sand and they put you in the water they are helping you. Rinse off, find the time to shake the sand out and relax… use the water to recover those muscles.
I found the time went by really fast and before you know it the Welcome Party was over and it was me, 027 and 023 hopping into the back of the truck to head out into the wilderness.
It was at this point that I managed to inflict my worst injury during Selection. I was feeling so good after the Welcome Party that I decided to box jump up into the back of the truck. Well, my mind was obviously feeling much better than my body because I came up about 12 inches short on my jump. On the plus side, I was so amped up that I didn’t really feel anything until I realized I was bleeding all over my pants.
After a short (but freezing) drive out to the foot of the mountains, we all disembarked from the truck and loaded up with our packs 45 and sandbag babies 60+. We set off on a hike of unknown duration and quickly became separated from each other. After that I only saw 027 and 023 a couple of times as we passed on the sandbag baby carries.
I felt solid and strong at this point, super focused and in the zone. I was climbing as fast as I could, it was night time and I could make out other headlamps on the trails. I wasn’t worried about time hacks or the Cadre, I was just putting as much space between me and the other candidates as possible.
The sandbags were to be moved up the mountain to various drop off points, first one was to the bottom of the M trail, next was back to the top of the M, and then the last one would take us up the mountains and into the next morning. I don’t know how far we went, but it was just the beginning and I was happy to gently lower my baby to the ground and never look at him again.
I did find the altitude was screwing with me; in the beginning each time we climbed up the pressure increased behind my eyeballs and I felt swollen all over. But as we descended everything deflated and the pressure reduced. As time went on though, I seemed to adapt and while it never went away, the pain just kind of faded into the background.
It wasn’t until 24 hrs had passed that I realized 023 had dropped at 19 hrs and I was the last one… I didn’t plan for that and had to change the game a bit. We all know whoever is in front is the standard unless it’s a timed event. Now I was on my own. On the plus side, I was feeling great at 24 hrs. My ketosis plan was working and I wasn’t really hungry, but I ate my entire MRE including the sugar packs.
I assumed at the 24 hr mark it was about 1 pm –I was always trying to gauge the time but it didn’t really matter –it just kept my head preoccupied with something.
My 24 hr interview with Cadre Jason has generated lots of interest for the things I said. I do believe people need to push themselves over their edge of comfort to grow and feel alive –I set my goals high, trained and failed only to come back stronger and accomplish the dream. I can’t even remember the last time I used the term “Damn Skippy” it just came out and it fit.
The second 24 hours was a blur, Up and down, up and down –I don’t know how many times I climbed those mountains, I must have been in some sort of trance and wasn’t really in my body. I remember as night fell I starting to gauge what time it was and that kept my mind occupied for the rest of the event – this along with counting my paces kept my mind off the pain of my feet (which were numb now) and my knees which were screaming on the downhills. If I had to step down a ledge of over a foot I lowered myself down by taking a knee, or had to use a tree to steady myself.
It was around this time that it started to hail / snow / rain as we climbed yet another mountain. Everything was wet again but it helped in the numbing of my feet and as we got to the bottom it stopped. I knew the long walk is about 12hrs long-ish and I figured I must be getting close. I was waiting for a sign or someone to tell my when to start.
As we got to the bottom of the mountain I was told to get into the back of the truck and was driven to the middle of nowhere on a dirt road and told to follow it to the trail head. It was still really dark at this point. I was outfitted with more chemlights (full Rave status at this point) and Cadre Mike told me I was to start a timed walk. “Ok, a timed walk” I thought, still wondering when the long walk was going to happen (in hindsight this was when I was really starting to mentally fall behind…).
I followed the truck up the road to the trailhead at which time I acquired a Cadre follower. I think I rotated out 3 Cadre total during the walk. We’d hike up and down the mountain, pop out at another trailhead, tag team another Cadre follower and set off again.
It was stressful having the Cadre following me the entire event –but I was thankful they were there. At one point Cadre Garet told me “remember this trail, you’ll be climbing it at night by yourself”. Didn’t even know where I was let alone find that trail –getting lost was a real issue.
The Cadre were also there on bear and mountain lion patrol. Cadre Joel pointed out that we’d hear a bear but we won’t hear a cat. I thought about that for a while and wished I had my sand baby neck protector back on! At one point at a trailhead Cadre Dakota gave me some electrolytes to drink and as I was refilling water I could hear something sliding down the rocky mountain face behind us. I turned to look a couple of times with my headlight. I didn’t see anything so I went back to sorting my kit out. The next time I looked around the Cadre had moved in with bear spray and flashlights. I just turned around and finished my drink (they got it…. stay focused). I was clearly having issues with situational awareness at this point.
We moved out again and I was still trying to figure out what time it was –I was still waiting for the long walk to start.
The trails at night do funny things with your vision when you are tired. I always welcome these opportunities and think they are fun in a weird way. I was seeing all sorts of things in the woods; from wolves made of trees and shadows and giant black beetles crawling at my feet. The spiders were real though, many times I had to sweep them off my body after picking them up off the branches and bushes.
As daylight approached I could make out Bozeman way off in the distance and I kind of got my bearings on the mountain. Still nobody had told me the long walk was about to start so my sense of time was all messed up. I started thinking about where I was walking to –back to the start point probably.
I don’t know at what time or how I arrived at the giant ‘M’ again. I was told to fill up. drink another full Nalgene and get ready for a PT test. My heart sank, running was out of the picture for me. “Doesn’t matter” I instinctively thought and held on to it.
Push-ups, sit-ups and a run….without a Cadre escort this time I got lost on the trails.
All I had to do was get to the bottom and meet up with another Cadre. I remember looking at the trail signs and not being able to comprehend what they were telling me. I went back to where I had started, confessed, and headed out again. I finally got it right the second time and made it down. Cadre Garet was waiting for me at the bottom. With one finger point my heart sank. He was pointing to the trail that went straight up to the M. There are 2 trails that get go up the M: a 2 mile winding trail and a short ½ mile trail that feels like a 45 degree incline with loose rock. This would be the 3rd time I’d been up the steep trail since I’d arrived back to the M.
I knew exactly where to step, which path to stick to –I had to push my legs to climb. At this time Cadre Jason was beside me taking another video. “How are you feeling?” He asked. All I could come up with was “I feel dumb.”
My brain was messed up, I could only focus on whatever they asked me to do. When I arrived at the top, I was told to drink again (I’m sure the people milling about at the top thought I was homeless), turn around and head back down.
The next challenge was to carry the water jugs to the top on the M, then all the way to the bottom.
I don’t know what they weighed, maybe 50lbs each. The biggest problem was the diameter of the handle. My right hand was good but my left hand was slipping badly. I had brought my wrist wraps for just such an occasion they took some of the strain off my grip. As I was getting close to the bottom the Cadre said if I put the jugs down one more time we would go back to the top and start again.
I held on to those jugs as tight as I could, and when they started to slip I lifted them up to my mouth one at a time and bit on to the wrist wrap to tighten it up. It’s amazing what you can do when fear is the motivator.
Jason had asked me when climbing the mountain if I was ready for the hardest part –I had to say yes and just accept whatever came next –my ‘doesn’t matter’ mantra was still intact. I figured I’d be walking back to the start point for a good old fashion beach party beat down. But, to my surprise, it was going to go down right now. I guess the long walk was over…
Nothing can prepare you for the shark attack –it was great and horrible at the same time.
My muscles were toast and the Cadre know it. They are trying to make you quit –all the pain will stop if you say the magic words. Although I was in pain and the tasks were brutal as soon as I was on to the next one the pain for the past one was gone –they like to bounce to different muscle groups for fun.
The bombardment was nonstop.
The Cadre were tag-teaming PT on me; multiple angles, multiple tasks –I didn’t know who to listen to or what to do half the time. At one point Cadre Mike was telling me to get my pack on my back while lying on my front, but I couldn’t move to get it on –I had no idea what to do.
This was complete and utter confusion (for those of you who watch Game of Thrones this is where I started feeling like Reek). I could still see the humor in the situation though but I didn’t dare let them see me smile. I didn’t want to look any of the Cadre in the eye for fear of them ramping up the PT to 11. Just hold on, I thought, it will end eventually.
Finally, BD told me to get on my feet and turn around. It was over. My 48 hrs in hell was over. It was the best feeling I have ever had. Never before have I done something so difficult. The hugs from the Cadre were crushing and spoke volumes – those guys are the best. They play the game with all the professionalism that we expect and then turn into the best people in the world in a heartbeat.
I’m lucky to have stepped into their shoes for 48 hrs and dabbled with what they had to do for real. It was a great experience pushing my limits way beyond anything I ever thought possible. The human body is amazing. You only need to challenge your capabilities and limits with events like this to reach new heights. There is nothing I can’t do.
I had been training for 2.5 yrs on and off with this event in mind. There is no silver bullet –if you want it, go get it. You need knowledge of what you’re getting into. You need to be fast. You need a good kit. You need mental toughness. But the most important thing you need is a good reason. A good reason will carry you through the worst parts and make you train harder than the other guy. How you get these things is up to you.
Once Selection was over and I was back at home and my body recovering I started to drift back into my old ways and looking to train… wait a minute, it’s over –I don’t have to and I can chill.
This event had occupied such a big chunk of my life and I didn’t realize it. I had cut out so much family time and business time to train –I had sacrificed so much for this event and now I had that time back. While I think about the next event I want to tackle I’m enjoying wrestling with my son, hanging with friends, working on the house and building cool cars for cool people –life is getting back to normal, whatever that is. Few people in Canada know what I did down there in Montana and I’m good with that.
I have the one Patch to rule them all.
Special thanks to Stony Smith (aka #014) for letting us post his AAR on Ruck.Beer.
You ready for Selection? Probably not… but I’ll put this link here for you… just in case.
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