AAR by John Pietrzak
TL:DR summary: Above all else, get your mind right and come prepared. Time under weight is your friend.
Quitting is not authorized. What are your Questions at this time?
210 people signed up for the third annual Joe Warner Memorial Brag Heavy. Due to this size, the admin portion began an hour before the event start time. Forms were signed, bags were weighed, and nerves were stressed.
Of the 210 that signed up, 141 made the trip and were ready to attempt the “KING OF ALL RUCKS.” Once the admin phase was complete, the event began with the national anthem, as well as some words about who Joe Warner was, and what would be expected of you. The group was then split into two parts. Those that have done the JWBH or three or more heavies, and those who have not.
Those that were in the former group went on to take the UBRR test. I’m not 100% sure what all that entails, but I know I know there were at least bench presses, kip ups, and pull ups. The latter group was off to do a 12-mile road march.
How many GRT fit in the back of a pick-up?
The 12-mile road march started being led by Cadre Dan, with Cadre Flash surveying the group on a scooter, ala Joe Warner. We were given a 3:30 time hack to meet and were told that it would pay to be a winner.
After about three miles of rucking in formation as a group, we were set loose and told to go “as individuals,” however, the buddy system was in effect. This is where my prior training leading up to the event really paid dividends.
The ruck group I am a proud member of, Hylands Hopeless, did 12-mile training rucks every weekend for the last few months, with a 3:00 time hack and we often pushed to beat that. I found a Hyland’s member, Ted Lind, who was willing to push the pace with me, and we began picking people off.
There was a discussion between us between the cost/benefit of pushing, as we didn’t want to be burned out by hour 18, but we also wanted to win. We alternated between fast walking and fast shuffling. I don’t know what our pace was, but we pulled away from the main group and quickly began picking off the smaller groups ahead of us.
As we approached mile nine, we came up to Cadre Dan and a group of four other GRT. He pulled us aside, along with the next two finishers and told us to go grab a seat, relax, and don’t talk to anyone else coming in. He congratulated us and told us that we were in for a reward. As the rest of the group came in, we sat in our small group of what Cadre Dan deemed “The Great Eight.”
The last person came into the stopping point twenty-five minutes after my team linked with Cadre Dan. Rest was not authorized for that last place finisher, so as soon as they came in, the group was called back into formation to finish the last three miles of the march. The eight top finishers, however, were crammed into Cadre Dan’s truck, with the tonneau cover down. We were “nut to butt” with almost no room to move once the cover was down. We were then taken on an about 15-minute drive back to the start point. We were told just to relax and enjoy the break.
It seemed like an hour passed before the rest of the group got back to the start point. We couldn’t figure out what took so long. As they came back in, though, we quickly discovered how lucky we were and how much it paid to be a winner. We were told that the last three miles were completed by alternating between bear crawls, crab walks, duck walks, and lunges. The group was then yelled at for being a disappointment before being split into three large squads. From this point forward, the AAR will be from the perspective of Team Two.
Evolution one for Team Two was with Cadre Flash. Before this evolution, we had our first attempted quitter. However, Cadre wouldn’t allow it, and they were told to get back in formation.
We followed much of the same route as the 12-mile ruck march. However, every single person was under some weight this time. Coupons included whiskey barrels, a manhole cover, a scooter with a 50lb plate, water cans, ammo cans, ammo crates, the “Pain Train” (four sandbags connect via rope in the following order: 120lbs, 80lbs, 60lbs, 120lbs) logs, chains, a piece of girder… basically, just imagine the worst things to carry, and they were included. During this evolution, we had roughly five medical issues. People were not doing well. This compounded the issue for those not injured, as we had to carry the additional weight.
We finally made our way to a checkpoint and were told to drop the whiskey barrels. This was a massive relief. We then attempted to make our way back to the starting point by cutting through some horse trails that led back to the main road. Big mistake.
I was in front with the flag and carrying a small duffle bag with two 35lb dumbbells in it. It was obnoxious, at the least. But damn it, it was Joe’s, so it was an honor. As we passed a house to our right, we heard a loud POP. It sounded like a firecracker, complete with light flash. Ok, Cadre is screwing with us, I thought. However, the next words we heard set up the scene. “GET OFF MY FUCKING PROPERTY AND NEVER COME BACK!” an older lady shouted. “GET OFF. GET OFF NOW. GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE”.
We quickly reversed course and double timed it the hell out of there. The woman, however, got in her car and got right behind us. Cadre Flash attempted to address her and calm her down, but with little luck. He’ll have to explain how that conversation went, but she tried to get physical with him.
When we made it back to the road, we were greeted by four sheriff’s cars. The group took a breather while Cadre Flash explained the situation. What 46 people experienced will probably go down as one of the strangest occurrences in GORUCK history, and like any other significant event, even though 46 people were there, somehow, over time, several hundred would claim to have been there. While in the back of Cadre Dan’s truck, a GORUCK employee who was also in the Eight made a comment “This is why we need waivers.” I now disagree…. The reason we need waivers is because of old ladies who carry weapons.
Since we couldn’t cut through the trails, we had to retrace our path back to the start point, which added four miles to the evolution. Lucky us.
Upon arrival to the start point, five participants decided the event was no longer for them, and med dropped due to injuries or illness.
Everyone wants to be a GRT…
…until it’s time to do GRT shit, which is what was next.
It was a round robin Cadre smoke session on a rugby field. Orders shot out “Go find Cadre Bill, ask him what he did prior to being a Cadre,” but Cadre Bill wasn’t interested in that “You aren’t cool enough to know that, get under that log.” We spent about a half hour being sent over to different Cadre, asking questions assigned to us, and then getting smoked for asking them. It was definitely interesting. It was also where I got injured. It turns out logs are heavy.
Lifting this particular log did something to my trapezoid (editor’s note: We’re pretty sure John did something to his trapezius and not his trapezoid). It swelled almost immediately. The upside, it looks like I’m always flexing it. There is a difference between being hurt and being injured. I was hurting. It hurt to lift my arm, but I refused to be injured. An injury could get you med dropped. Being hurt just got you more amounts of pain per dollar. In that regard, I got my monies worth.
Slow is Smooth, and Smooth is still too Slow.
Evolution two for group two was another long walk carrying heavy things with Cadre Carl, but don’t call him Cadre. Ever.
During this walk, we had a Joe Warner team weight, water cans, sand bags, and ammo crates. We were expected to hit 17-minute miles, but we were closer to 30-minute miles. This did not please Carl. We had one chance to pick up the pace, and we did our best to do so. During this walk, I was under a water can.
I owe my Heavy finish to Ed Neitzel, a fellow member of Hylands who we affectionately call “Heavy Eddie.” If you’re ever picking teams for a GORUCK event, you pick him first. Every time. Ed and I were swap partners for the water can. It was only 45lbs, but it was awkward to carry, and my hurt shoulder wasn’t doing me any favors. Whenever we would swap, he would easily carry it twice the distance I would. If there was an uphill coming up, he’d take the can, “I got this, you rest.” If there was a downhill, it was “here, use this downhill, I’ll take it back at the bottom.” I don’t know if I could have finished this evolution without him.
We ended up at a park next to a lake, where we did a quick refuel as the sun continued to rise. We were then given a sneak peek at what would happen if we continued to move slowly. The back of his truck was filled with additional weights. “If you want to move slowly, I will give you a reason to do so.”
After the refuel, we were given a litter kit and an assignment to get it halfway around the lake to the extraction point. If we didn’t make the time hack, the extraction point would be moved. We then moved with purpose to the designated point, until we were stopped. We were given a couple minutes to strip down and then sent into the water to do some squats. “If your armpits aren’t touching the water, you are doing it wrong.” We then were able to put our clothes back on and were told the extraction had been moved back to our refuel spot at the park, and we had 20 minutes to get there. It took us six. We then were on our way back.
Earlier in the evolution, someone asked Carl what his favorite part of doing the events was. He said it was “when that lightbulb goes on, and the group starts to click.” This happened on the way back. We were moving with a renewed purpose and with speed we couldn’t have touched before. We had weight rotations down, and we were clicking. This must have irritated Carl, because he felt we were moving too fast, which meant we didn’t have enough to carry. He rectified that situation. We were then given additional 45lb steel plates, water cans, and pipes to move. This quickly demotivated the group. We suddenly lost our rotation partners. Now, instead of being able to swap the 60lb sandbag I was under to get a breather, I had to carry it myself. It was demoralizing, to say the least, and combined with the now 70-degree heat, tempers began to flair as teamwork broke down.
Eventually, we were able to again work out a rotation, where you almost always had weight, but sometimes, it was just a little bit lighter of a weight. The route back was considerably longer than the route to the park, and we felt every step of it. We finally made it back to the start point, passing a group doing sand PT with Jason McCarthy. I did not envy them, and I hoped we weren’t next. We were then some time to address our priorities and told to drink all the water we could, and then drink more.
Counting to Joe.
Somewhere in the GORUCK bylaws, log PT is stated as required. It has to be. We made our way to an area filled with logs, or as I like to think “Cadre Heaven.” They picked out 10 or so logs for us to carry down to a staging area. We were then lined up by height and split up to about nine “normals” and three “beasts” per log. We then commenced the “Joe Warner Log PT Portion of the event.”
Log presses, counting to Joe.
Push-ups, counting to Joe.
Flutter kicks, counting to Joe.
Swap logs, repeat exercises.
This went on for roughly an hour before we were split up again and doing various small group PT exercises. From the “100 meters of fun” (essentially dragging a kit filled with sand bags for a hundred meters, but stopping in intervals to do presses with a slosh pipe) to bear crawls, to sprints. Lots of fun to be had. As we ended this evolution, we were all “baptized by mud.” A lot of mud. Fun fact, I got hit with a frog. We then got to put all the logs back to where we got them and form back up at the starting point.
Beat down from the logs, covered in mud, and tired from the event so far, we were then tasked with forming into our three teams and carrying every single coupon from the event. Everyone was under multiple weights, and no one knew how long this was going to go on.
I can’t exactly say how far we traveled, but it wasn’t too far, comparatively. Maybe a mile, maybe less than that. I don’t exactly know, but I do know we were all pretty excited when the Cadre led us back to the start point and had us start loading up all the coupons into various vehicles. The end was near.
Standing in formation, we were then assigned to spell out JOE with our rucks, and it better be perfect. After making it happen, we sat down and got to listen to some kind words about Joe Warner. This was followed by a tribute by the Cadre to Joe. It was a touching moment. There were definitely feels.
We put our rucks back on and formed back up into one giant class. Jason then yelled, “Class, the Joe Warner Bragg Heavy is AT LEAST 24 hours. MOVE MOVE MOVE.”
We were then put through a fast pace welcome party. Suicide sprints, team push-ups, squats, arm claps, suicide bear crawls.
God help you if you were seen not giving maximum effort. Rep after rep of “JOE JOE JOE JOE JOE.” Next, Jason yelled “BACK IN THE MUD”, and the class plodded through the mud once again, before forming on the line for whatever misery was to follow.
We then were told to form a large circle, and run around the Cadre, all while shouting the familiar rep count. “JOE JOE JOE JOE JOE JOE JOE”. Louder. “JOE! JOE! JOE! JOE!” Cadre Dan stopped us and started reading the objectives of the Cadre.
Objective one, Honor Joe Warner. Check.
Objective two, physically and mentally exhaust participants. CHECK.
Objective three, execute an after party worthy of the event completed.
“JOE WARNER BRAGG HEAVY CLASS, ENDEX SECURED.” Again. There were feels.
Million dollar question: Would I do this event again? Short answer? No. Long answer? Ask me again in a couple weeks.
Special thanks first and foremost go out to my wife. She had just had surgery on an injured wrist and had to take care of two young kids while I went and walked a couple miles with some weirdos.
Also a huge thanks to the Hyland’s Hopeless group in Bay City, Michigan. Without their help, there was zero chance I would have finished this event. Lastly, thank you to all the Cadre, especially Cadre Dan, who put this together. I truly appreciate your service to this country, and your willingness to impart your wisdom and experiences.
JOE. JOE. JOE. JOE.
AAR by John Pietrzak – I’m married, father of 2 girls, and started rucking in August of 2016. I’ve completed a Custom Tough, Custom Light, and the Ann Arbor Veteran’s Day Tough/Light. This was my first Heavy. I belong to a rucking group called Hyland’s Hopeless out of Bay City, Michigan, which was featured on the GORUCK blog.