Lessons Learned From My First GoRuck

My friend and I recently attended the GoRuck HTL (Heavy, Tough, Light) in Charlotte, NC.

Unfortunately, I did not complete the HTL, and withdrew after completing the Heavy. I’m sharing the content below to help others avoid some of the mistakes that I made.

Background

Similarly, to Mike (collegiate rugby), I played collegiate hockey and was introduced to CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting my freshman year in college.  I really enjoyed lifting but was never able to achieve maximum strength while concurrently playing hockey.  Upon graduating, and concluding my hockey career, I started focusing exclusively on competing in Olympic weightlifting.  Over the last year, I have put over 20 kilos on both my front and back squats and 10 kilos on my snatch and clean and jerk. While excellent for strength gains and my personal goals, Olympic weightlifting doesn’t translate as well to GoRucks as trail runs, marathons, and Ragnars do.

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Photo Credit: Kurt Story | Carrying the team weight during the EndEx

Goals

This is an obvious, yet extremely important topic.  Why are you willing to spend hundreds of dollars, commit to hours of training, and deal with extreme discomfort? Before you consider doing a GoRuck HTL, you should have a very good idea of what the answer to that question is.  For me, it was about pushing to my physical and mental limits, to learn about myself, to improve my leadership skills, and to become a better American.

While I think my “why” was fine, I do not believe it was aggressive enough.  In order to finish the HTL, you have to have the killer instinct.  Simply completing the HTL should not be the goal. Your goal, like Mike’s, should be to destroy it.  In order to do this your fitness levels will have to be incredible.

The experience you gain from completing a GoRuck event is ultimately determined by your level of fitness. If it is poor, you will quickly learn what it feels like to let a team down.  If it is good, you will learn what it feels like to be part of a team, but not necessarily a leader.  Only when your fitness is superb will you have the energy to take responsibility for others before yourself and lead, which in my opinion, is the most valuable experience you can walk away with.

There are highs and lows, and everyone will experience the above in varying degrees, but where you spend the most time is determined by your fitness.

19598704_10212373280119893_1542811983989096778_nAfter the Heavy – that’s me in the middle with the black Nike shirt and coyote brown pants

Signing Up

I think a highly underrated piece of the GoRuck process is actually signing up for the event.  Careful consideration needs to be given based on several factors:

  1. Current level of fitness and past experience completing similar events
  2. Time/work it will take to build required fitness
  3. Multiply your estimation of how long you think it will take you by a factor of two (shit happens)

I signed up for the GoRuck HTL on February 26th, giving me just over four months to prepare and train. Going from zero endurance baseline to completing an event that is 48+ hours long and covers 70+ miles, in only four months, was a fairly ambitious timeline, and of course, shit happened. I ended up spraining the SI joint in my hip which greatly inhibited my ability to train.

GoRuck offers events year round and across the world.  I would encourage people, especially those who haven’t done a GoRuck before, to plan well in advance and allocate more time to training than you think you will need, it can only help you.

Gear

Surprisingly, some people who signed up for the Heavy overlooked gear and were not prepared.   You do not want to waste any mental or physical energy thinking about or tinkering with your gear. The people who became flustered with or complained about their gear at the beginning of the Heavy were not with the group at the finish.

As a GoRuck noob, I consulted with Mike pretty extensively and used a fairly similar setup to his.

However, I cannot stress how important socks are. Seriously, DO NOT OVERLOOK THESE! Good socks will make your life bearable.  Poor socks will make your life a living hell.  I used the long Drymaxx socks and my baby feet came away from the Heavy relatively unscathed.  Superfeet were also a tremendous upgrade from the crappy insoles that come stock with the Rockys.  Above all else, make sure you are comfortable in your boots and break them in as much as you can.

As you’ve probably already figured out, all the gear can get fairly expensive, pretty quickly.  It sucks, but if you can afford it I recommend purchasing quality gear once and only once. It will pay for itself in the long run and it is definitely worth the peace of mind during events like a GoRuck.

Travel

This is something that I completely underestimated and should have given more thought to.

I arrived in Charlotte, on time, around midnight the night before the Heavy started.  Booking the last flight of the night to Charlotte was risky. Something completely out of my control such as a weather delay or cancellation could have really thrown a wrench into the weekend.

Additionally, being enclosed in a tube of aluminum with 150 other humans is a great way to share germs and sickness, which I unfortunately fell victim to.  During transit I caught a stomach bug that would ultimately snowball into heat exhaustion sixteen hours into the Heavy.

Proper nutrients, hydration, and rest are a must leading up to the HTL. If you can, travel a day early and get acclimated.  You trained really hard and paid good money for the opportunity to do an HTL – don’t let it fall apart at the last minute.

The Cadre

The Cadre in Charlotte were all incredible.  Aside from being complete badasses, they were all really good dudes who were extremely knowledgeable. While the Cadre are certainly not your friends during these events, they are also not there to solely make you suffer and hurt.

Do not be intimidated by them, and do not be afraid to ask questions or for help if you genuinely need it.

When I was dangerously close to blacking out due to heat exhaustion, The Cadre were there to help me get better so I could continue on with the Heavy.

The Cadre also shared some amazing lessons, stories, and insights from their combat experience and involvement with GoRuck.  Simply listening to the Cadre can provide you with great lessons and insights and is one of the highlights of my experience.

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Photo Credit: Kurt Story | Under the watchful eye of Cadre Flash during the welcome party

Heat Exhaustion

As I alluded to above, I was dehydrated heading into the Heavy due to the bug that I caught the night before while traveling.  During mile three of the timed ruck, my legs and calves started to cramp – something that I never experienced in training even in 100 degree Texas heat.  This was not the scenario I wanted to find myself in only two hours into an event where I was supposed to last nearly two full days.  I finished my whole 3L Source bladder  nine miles into the timed ruck, and spent the next 45 plus minutes without any water.  This was a tremendous mistake in hindsight.  Do not do this.  I repeat DO NOT run out of water under any circumstances. Ever. Being already dehydrated and going nearly a solid hour without any fluids nearly cost me the ability to continue.

After completing the 12 mile ruck, we all had a brief break before starting our first team event.  Sitting still and resting only made the cramps more intense, so I started chugging water.  Another 3L was downed in less than 30 minutes.  This was also a poor decision, as drinking too much too quickly can cause over-hydration and electrolyte imbalances.  Consequently, I would end up puking mid-ruck, and was unable to pull any weight other than my own during our first team exercise.  The next 12 hours would be filled with various highs and lows, and would culminate with me nearly blacking out during our community service event.  The heat exhaustion had reached its peak, but my fellow teammates nursed me back to strength, and picked up my slack during the hour or so I spent recovering.

Clearly, the best advice is to not find yourself in this position in the first place.  There are many precautions one can take in order to ensure they are prepared, but sometimes, things are out of your control and you have to deal with them as best as you can.

Not being able to help the team during my low points really sucked, but quitting would ensure that I wouldn’t be able to help the team at any point in the future. On the other hand, continuing forward meant that I would have the opportunity to repay my debts to the team in the future.  This, along with the incredible support I received from my teammates, is one of the things that kept me going. I learned a valuable lesson about doing the best you can with what you have regardless of the circumstances.

Well Worth It

Although I am proud to have finished the Heavy, it was extremely difficult to say the words “I quit”, especially since I knew Mike would end up finishing.  It is not something you envision yourself having to say.

While I obviously wish I would have finished the HTL, my goal of pushing myself to my physical and mental limits, learning about myself, improving my leadership skills, and becoming a better American was still partially fulfilled.

Participating in a GoRuck event, regardless of the outcome, will make you a better human and I encourage everyone to do one.

About the Author

Dan was born and raised in a small midwestern suburb, went to college in Boston, and currently reside in the great state of Texas. Fitness and athletics have always played a large role in my life, and I am a big believer in the physical and mental benefits they provide. I love my family and friends more than anything, but I also really like to go camping/hiking, fly airplanes, drink coffee, and eat pancakes.

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed expert in medicine, nutrition, or training. Use your best judgement, consult with your doctor, and research things for yourself before trying them. I use logic and research before recommending things, but these are just my suggestions. 
Always Up Fitness is not formally or financially affiliated with any of the companies, sites, or people linked in this article. Information is shared purely for educational purposes. 

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