This July Fourth, I did something a little different.
I did a GoRuck challenge, one of dozens occurring across the nation to commemorate our independence day.
It's hard to explain what a GoRuck challenge is, but this video perhaps gives a decent idea.
I think it takes a special breed of person: someone willing to spend all night marching around, carrying 30-40 lbs of bricks, food and water in a rucksack, and completing a variety of physical challenges assigned to your class of kindred souls by a former special forces member. It takes someone who loves challenges and who wants to push themselves past their physical limit and see what's on the other side.
GoRuck's stated mission is to Build Better Americans. I think there's something to their formula, which I'll touch on later.
First, let me explain what the class 1101 challenge consisted of.
We started off with 48 participants, myself included. This is much more than typically attend, as I understand that GoRuck waived the entrance fee (typically about $100) because of lack of signups. Of those 48, 46 finished, myself included. Though I'll say this up front: I was nowhere near the strongest or best participant, and one of my chief regrets looking back was that I was unable to contribute more to our team's success.
Too often I felt my strength flagging, and I let myself succumb instead of pushing through. That meant one of the other team members had to jump in for me, for example, while we were carrying a telephone pole between 10 of us. Even this far after the event, I'm still impressed by the efforts of strength, endurance, and camaraderie my teammates were able to achieve. I know I could not have done what I did without them. And, to the guy that I dropped on his head while I was trying to fireman carry him: Please accept my sincere apology!
I also regretted not having the time to prepare more, and perhaps this would have helped the above. I got my boot for my broken foot off about two weeks before the challenge, and the entire week before that I was in San Francisco for work. Oops.
Enough about that, though. I want to talk about what we actually did.
We started from the Mickey Mantle statue in Bricktown, Oklahoma City, though due to the Fourth of July crowd we were informed that we were moving a location further down the street that was less busy a couple minutes before the 9pm start time. There we met our Cadre, Geoff Reeves, a former Navy SEAL.
On our way to our "Welcome Party" (see below), a passerby asks Geoff: What all are y'all doing?
Geoff's answer: We're on sightseeing expedition.
That's putting it lightly.
Back over by the Rocktown Climbing Gym, there's Centennial park. Centennial Park was built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Oklahoma's statehood, and has heroic, larger than life statues of settlers as they race to stake their claim in the Oklahoma land run.
If you follow the path behind these statues, there's a clearing bordering a gravel road. This gravel road overlooks a concrete lined drainage ditch situated about 15 feet downhill. On the night of the Fourth the ditch was filled about 4 inches deep with a thick, swampy goop comprised of more algae than water. This was where our welcome party was.
Our welcome party was about an hour of intense calisthenics with our 30+ lb rucks on, punctuated by bathing ourselves periodically in the murky drainage ditch at the command of our Cadre ("Get wet!").
Truth be told, murky water has always given me the willies. If I can't see to the bottom of a body of water, it freaks me out a little. I thought to myself at that point- If I can toss myself into this nasty water, roll around in it, lay in it for 25 minutes, and survive the rashes I get from it, then I don't know what I was so scared of before.
We did get a pretty nice view of the fireworks, though.
After that we bushwhacked our way across waist high grass to get to the parking lot behind Toby Keith's restaurant. We put on quite the post-fireworks show for everyone there, as we bear crawled up and down a hill before dividing up into 4 teams of about 12 people each. We had 30 seconds to run as a team, grab a telephone pole lying on the ground at the back of the parking lot, and carry it as a team back to where we had the welcome party.
Of the 14 miles and 14 hours of our challenge, we had those damn logs for 8 hours and 8 miles of the challenge. One person broke their hand while helping carry the heaviest one, and undoubtedly the 2 people who dropped did so because of how absolutely demoralizing carrying these logs were. We didn't help things by getting lost, either.
Once we got on the streets, the physical difficulty of carrying these logs was exacerbated by the stop and go nature of our task. As soon as one log team got too far ahead of the others, they were told to stop and wait. The log, typically carried on the shoulders, had to be brought to chest level while the team waited, then shifted back up to the shoulders to move again. I think the task would have been 50% easier without this stop and go, but it would have meant leaving the rest of the crew behind.
After taking the logs in and out of the drainage ditch at the welcome party location, we were told to get the logs to the OKC Civic Center. Somehow we got turned around and spent an hour going in one big circle around the Devon Boathouse on the Oklahoma river, and were punished by having to crawl through the grass on our bellies for a bit.
Once we got to the Civic Center, we had to do lunges, as a team and while carrying the logs, across the Center's lawn. That was when we discovered that we had the heaviest log. I will freely admit here that I was exhausted enough that I was of little help. My group was the last to cross the lawn and were given a few minutes respite.
From there, we went to the Oklahoma City Memorial for the victims of the 1995 bombing. The last time I had been there was for the marathon in which I broke my foot, though the attitude was certainly much more somber for this. We carried the logs up and around the staircases into the memorial, and held them in a moment of silence for the victims after the Cadre explained to the security guard what we were doing.
The final destination of our log carry was the Oklahoma Capitol Building. Sort of- after a triumphant picture of us, victorious over our logs, waving flags framing the Capitol (I forgot to mention that you have to do the Ruck with at least 1 American flag and 1-2 25 lb. team weights), we had to carry them one last distance to the side of a forested road where we could ditch them, once and for all. After an appropriate amount of calisthenics, of course. I learned early on that no matter what we did, if the Cadre wanted to find something wrong to punish us for, he would find it. Builds character, right?
One interesting aspect of the GoRuck challenge is that the Cadre gives objectives, but rarely gave instructions for achieving those objectives. Instead, he periodically rotated out Officers In Command (OICs) from within the GoRuck participants. These OICs chose 1 assistant, and they were responsible for leading the team to their next objective. They had a difficult job, even if they weren't carrying the logs with everyone else- they had to think quickly while under pressure about the best way to get us to where we were going. Not an enviable task when they were just as tired as everyone else. I think the lesson here is clear: each one of us had to be ready to take on a high-stress leadership role if the need arose, or the Cadre voluntold us to do it. I was never one of the OICs, and I wonder if I would have had the strength and ability to lead our cohort while under the extreme mental and physical exhaustion we were all under.
Ridding ourselves of the logs also rid our spirits of weight. So much so, we got to do Indian Runs. The whole group marches or trots in 1 or 2 columns, and the people at the back run to the front. When they are halfway to the front, the next people in the back start running up. Repeat ad infinitum. I'll be honest, I actually enjoyed this part. As a (first time) marathoner I probably had a slight advantage over the rest, and what I lack in upper body strength I make up for in my long distance running ability. I got told by the rest of the group to slow down a couple times after continuing too brisk a pace at the front of the group. In my defense, we had already been stopped and made to do calisthenics once because we'd been doing our Indian Runs too slowly. I just didn't want us to have to stop and do more!
At some point as the sun was rising we stopped and practiced our carries. This included the Fireman carry and the 3 person carry. I think I was the only person to drop my buddy on their head. That was pretty embarrassing.
I will say this- all of our Cadre's criticism made us appreciate his compliments all the more. After one set of Indian Runs, we stopped in a park. To my surprise, Geoff says: That was pretty good. Good job. Take a 5 minute break.
I was disproportionately proud of that simple compliment.
At this point I'd like to explore a little bit about the Cadre's ability to motivate us. First, I think it shows the power of a self selecting system- that is, we all wanted to be there, and we all wanted to finish for our various reasons. So we were driven to push ourselves harder because of his shouted commands.
Commands like, "Get off your ass and get across that line NOW!"
Contrary to what I would have thought previous to this event, these very blunt, and frankly rude commands were actually quite effective at pushing me, at least, to try again and try harder. I'm not sure why that is. Possibly because we recognize the Cadre as the ultimate authority figure during the GoRuck event. We want to earn his respect, and the respect of the team.
I remember very clearly one of Geoff's speeches for the palpable emotional impact it had on all of us.
It was after a particularly rough bout of calisthenics. While doing wall sits, we had to lift our 30+ lb. rucks over our heads repeatedly in a press. It was rough. I found myself biting my arm to keep from groaning in a completely disrespectable fashion.
Afterwards, the Cadre called us in a circle and told us his personal story- how he overcame an injury that should have crippled him for life, and instead found himself running marathons.
"I kicked all the doctors out of the hospital because I didn't want to hear what they said. I was in a wheelchair for 3 months. After that, I walked again for the first time. A year after that I ran my first marathon. After that, I will NEVER let someone tell me what I can and cannot do.
After you finish this, you'll go home. Your friends and colleagues will complain about how cold it is, or how tired they are, and inside you'll be smiling. Because you'll know that you control your body, and not the other way around. You'll be willing to put in the extra effort to ace an exam, or secure an account, or practice your throws.
Never let someone tell you what you can and cannot do."
At this point I figured it had to be almost 8 or so, maybe later. But the cadre still had a few tricks up his sleeve. The last of which was the casualties game.
5 or so of us were designated as casualties and couldn't move on their own. The rest of us had to help carry them and their rucksacks, putting to practice the carries we had practiced earlier. We probably did this for the last 2 hours of the challenge. I helped carry one of the casualties for a while then switched to carrying other people's rucks so that they could concentrate on the carries. The last hour I was carrying 3 rucks- as many of us had to do, there simply weren't enough "non-casualties" to do otherwise- for a grand total of 110+ lbs.
Once we were almost back, the Cadre runs to his car to grab something. Ah, I think. He's grabbing our patches because we're so close to the end.
He pulls out a to-go box and starts eating wings in front of us.
Despite this sadistic move (or so it appeared at the time), we pull and carry each other into the official end point, which is in fact the site of the welcome party 13 hours before.
"Get wet!" Back into the drainage ditch we go. Leg lifts while we recite the pledge of allegiance, and sing the star spangled banner, our abs protesting fiercely.
Then the moment we'd been warned of 2 days before the event. We have to recite the declaration of independence. Lying in the muck, slugs and beetles crawling all over us, we each go through our parts.
"Nor have we been wanting in our attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of the attempts of their legislature to impose an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our immigration and settlement here."
Another compliment from Geoff: "I don't think I could have done that well. But, you guys didn't do it perfectly. You have to make it up to me with duck walks."
A couple people barely finish the required lap of duck walking. Geoff orders another.
10 feet into it, he tells us to come back.
"Do you know why I told you to come back?
It's because you're done."
How does GoRuck build better Americans?
I will answer that by explaining what I gained from my GoRuck challenge.
It required me to improve as a person and drastically increase my perception of my self-efficacy and endurance.
It challenged me to not just work as part of a team, but to earn the respect of my team as well as my Cadre.
It renewed my sense of respect for our service members, as well as my gratitude for the very comfortable life we lead in the USA.
Finally, I do think that doing something like this takes a little bit of crazy. I enjoyed tapping into that feeling. The action involved in an intense, off-the-wall challenge like the GoRuck inspires a sense of adventure and of boldness. I can only think that completing a GoRuck creates a so-called Virtuous Cycle: I've done one GoRuck, and I feel compelled and inspired to seek more crazy, bold adventures in my life. Who knows, maybe there is another GoRuck challenge at some point in my future.
Many thanks to Sam All and Jill Bates for the photos!
Dillon Dakota Carroll
...sees much and knows much