Every year GORUCK runs hundreds of events around the world. Each one has a unique focus, Cadre led game plan, and its own special brand of suck, but the Bragg Heavy stands out above the crowd. GORUCK first introduced the Heavy event concept (minimum 24 hours, minimum 40 miles covered, maximum difficulty – a podcast on the history can be found here) at Bragg, and it has since become known as The King Of All Rucks. After GORUCK Cadre and Green Beret, Major Joe Warner passed away from cancer in 2014, the event was renamed the Joe Warner Bragg Heavy or JWBH in his honor. Each year, GRTs (GORUCK Toughts aka the people who do these events) from all over gather at the Bragg Heavy to honor the memory of Joe and put themselves to the test. This is my after action report of the 2019 Joe Warner Bragg Heavy – how I prepared, what we went through, and what I learned during the process. This will be a long, detailed post, so I hope you find the content useful as you prepare to take on your next challenge. As always, questions and comments are encouraged!
I’ve done a few GORUCK events over the last few years, but I wouldn’t consider myself a regular. My first event was a Memorial Day Heavy in San Diego in 2016, followed by a July 4th HTL in Charlotte in 2017, and a Valentines Day Light in 2018. I have a solid endurance background between ultra-marathons and extensive backpacking. I’ve also been strength training since my days playing college rugby (graduated in 2013). Long story short, I have a solid base for these types of events.
There were two reasons I decided to do the JWBH: 1) I hate being cold and wet (does anyone like it?) and had avoided it in prior events and training so I wanted to hammer that weakness 2) this has a reputation of being the hardest GORUCK Heavy and I like doing difficult things. The more difficult things you do, the more capacity and strength you build. Long events like this are mentally taxing and learning to push through that adversity makes you better as a person – better able to handle challenges, more calm, and more confident.
My training strategy for this event was aggressive. I signed up for the JWBH at the end of September giving me five solid months to prepare. Right after signing up I wrote myself a training schedule (via Excel) that ran from 10/01/2018 through the event on 02/15/2019. The plan included 143 sessions (average of just over seven per week with tapers included in that). One of my mental challenges was to do all of the work I laid out for myself, no matter the circumstance. Over that five months, a lot would happen where I had to adjust my schedule and push certain sessions, however, I ended up getting in 145 total sessions, accomplishing everything I set out to do with a little extra on top.
My training structure and plan was based on a two key factors 1) capacities required to do well in the event 2) weaknesses in my game. Here’s how I broke things down, with simple, non-scientific explanations.
Note: I will be writing a much more in-depth GORUCK Heavy Training post in the coming weeks, where I’ll expand on these concepts (e.g. Aerobic Capacity) and share my thoughts on how to really prepare for an event.
Weaknesses In My Game
- Aerobic Capacity – ability to work at 80-90% effort and recover quickly
- Muscular Endurance – ability to do high repetitions of movements at light to moderate weight
- Core Strength – ability to keep a strong trunk under all types of loads at often weird angles
- Rucking – ability to move under load, quickly and efficiently
- Grip Strength – ability to maintain grip on various objects
- Shoulders – prior injuries made this a weakness
- Ruck PT – movement quality in movements like the push up, while wearing a ruck
- Core Strength
- Muscular Endurance
Strengths In My Game
- Absolute Strength – top line strength in lifts like the deadlift or back squat
- Aerobic Capacity
- Grip Strength
Based on this analysis, the key areas I decided to focus were on building up my shoulders and core, while further pushing my strengths as far as possible. Using the priorities of work principle, absolute strength was always going to be the first thing to go. This is just my opinion, but if you’re comfortably squatting and deadlifting 1.5-2X bodyweight, chances are this is not your biggest need for GORUCK events. Sure, lifting logs and other heavy coupons (GORUCK for objects that suck to carry) requires strength, but not high one rep maxes. My workout plan went something like this:
- Month One: Focus on Muscular Endurance and Shoulders
- Month Two: Ramp Aerobic work and add in functional work focused on Core Strength and Grip Strength
- Month Three: Significantly ramp Aerobic work, while moving strength to maintenance levels
- Month Four: Do lots of Ruck PT, in crappy conditions
- Month Five: Do it all, high volume with 1.5 week taper for the event
Throughout I did two mini tapers (one week each) and programmed in 60-90 minutes of stretching and mobility work per week, with quite a bit of yoga as well (not included as workout sessions). In order to accomplish this kind of volume, I did frequent double days with the occasional triple session. This kind of volume is not required to do well in a GORUCK Heavy, but, if you want to really compete, you have to build a strong foundation. Again, I’ll go into much more training detail in a subsequent post, but here is an average week, taken from my training logs, just to give you a sense of the work that was put in.
- 0530: 45 Minutes of Ruck PT with F3
- 400M warm up ruck, at each corner 10X Ruck Squats, Push Ups, and Leg Lifts
- 2 Rounds (ruck on back) – 30M bear crawl, 5 8 Count Body Builders, lunge walk back, max 8 Counts while team finishes
- 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 – ruck press, ruck squat, 4 Count flutter kicks w/ Ruck overhead, plank with ruck until last man finishes
- 2x40M Sandbag team movement + squat at each hand off (rotational strength)
- 3×15 ruck swings, 10 burpees, 10 lateral jumps over the ruck, plank with ruck until last man finishes
- 0615: Bulletproof Shoulders Program
- 10 push up shoulder taps (each arm)
- 15 arm circles (each direction)
- 3×8 Dumbbell high pulls @ 50# each arm
- 75S wall facing handstand hold
- 1730: 4 Hour Ruck on single track trails with 50# + water (typical trail pace was ~14:30 minute miles)
- 0830: Bulletproof Shoulders Program + Functional Session:
- 15M AMRAP For Quality:
- 10 PVC pass throughs (standing, squatting, prone)
- 30S KB overhead hold @ 53# each
- 60M farmers carry @ 53# each
- 10 Push Up Ts each side
- 15M to work up to a moderate power clean: 205#
- 3×8 single leg Romanian deadlifts @ 100# superset 3×8 strict pull ups
- 15M AMRAP
- 9 Deadlifts 155#
- 12 hand release push ups
- 15 box jumps with step down 24″
- 10 Rounds + 7 Reps
- 15M AMRAP For Quality:
- 0700: Bulletproof Shoulders Program + Strength + Aerobic + Functional Session:
- Bulletproof Shoulders
- 3×5 yoga push ups
- 3×10 cuban press @ 35#
- 3x75M (each arm) 1 arm overhead carry 62.5#
- 12 minutes to work up to a 10RM bench: 185#
- 4×10 Bench @ 90%: 165#
- 12 minutes to work up to a heavy back squat: 315#
- 4×12 DB curls: 25,30,30,35#
- Aerobic: 30M bike @140-155 heart rate
- 5x45M rope sled pull @ 90# superset 5×8 KB press @ 44#
- 5×5 311 tempo overhead squat @ 95# superset 5×10 tempo ring rows
- 3x20M broad jumps superset 3×6 rotational ball slams (each side)
- 2M Max sit ups: 77, rest 60S
- 1M max sit ups: 23, rest 60S
- 30S max sit ups: 13, rest 60S
- 2M plank, rest 60S
- 1M plank, rest 60S
- 30S plank
- Bulletproof Shoulders
- 1830: Sycamore Run Club – 5.7M run
- 0815: 60M of yoga
- 1600: 2 Hour fast ruck at 65# + water (typical pace was ~13:30 – no running)
- 1830: 30M of mobility work
- 0515: Speed Ruck with F3 50# + 80# sandbag (for 2-3 of the 4 miles)
- 0630: Bulletproof Shoulders + Ruck PT
- Bulletproof Shoulders
- 3×5 thoracic rotations
- 3×5 yoga push ups
- 3×10 DB strict press 62.5# (one arm at a time)
- Ruck PT – Deck of Cards Workout
- Hearts = push ups
- Diamonds = lunges
- Spades = 70# KB swings
- Clubs = Sit Ups
- Bulletproof Shoulders
- 0900: Forge Bootcamp workout (60 minutes, high intensity)
- 1800: 30M of mobility work
Sunday – Rest
Overall, I did about 80% of my training sessions alone. I believe that making yourself work hard, alone, builds mental strength. When you’ve put in that much work, without anyone else holding you accountable, you will end up being much more invested on game day. That said, I also think that competition is important. At least twice a week, I put myself in a position to compete with others. Whether it was doing the F3 speed ruck with a ton of weight, trying to keep up to those with half the weight, or doing very intense bootcamp style workouts on Saturdays, competition makes you better. I’m a highly competitive person and so I will push myself to places I just don’t reach when I’m alone, if I have someone to try and beat. I also subscribe to the idea that if you workout with people who are better than you, you’ll improve faster. I found this particularly true for running. My typical week would have anywhere from 1-3 running sessions and I would do one of them at a run club. I always ran with better runners and often felt like I was dying trying to keep up, but it really improved my speed in quick order. My five mile pace dropped from 7:45/7:50 to 7:00-7:05 in just a few months.
Another training concept I tried to implement was stacking things back to back when possible. For example, I would do speed ruck on Friday mornings and usually go straight to the gym for a 90-120 minute session. Doing all of that fasted sucked, but my body did adapt. I would also push myself to run on days where my legs were the most sore, just to get used to moving under those conditions.
I also believe it’s important to not get married to certain set/rep schemes. By doing bootcamp type workouts, where I wasn’t in control, I got used to doing undetermined amounts of work. I also, did a LOT of deck of cards workouts (assign a movement to each suit and get going). I like these because you may get 40 of the same thing in a row. I notice during events that people often expect PT movements to stop in increments of five, but the Cadre will often change the count, have you do 13, or just mess up the numbers to screw with you. Get used to not being in control, it’s a good skill to build!
For your GORUCK event, the volume you choose will impact how you perform. The amount of time you put in is your choice. Everyone’s life circumstances are different, but you don’t “find” time to workout, you “make” time. If being a good teammate matters to you, put in the work so you can more than lift your weight on game day. Use the priorities of work principle. If you can only make 60 minutes a day, make it effective and focused. Training your weaknesses is not always fun, but it works. I spent 60-90 minutes a week doing the Bulletproof Shoulders program. It was boring, and oftentimes uncomfortable, but I turned my shoulder weakness into a strength. If you absolutely hate running, it probably means that you’re a bad runner and need to run more. Do what you hate and you will get better.
Last note – if you aren’t sure how to train, follow a program or find a coach! You can learn a lot working with someone who understands strength and conditioning principles. This is a field I love and something I spend a lot of time on, although it’s not my day job. I’ve coached and programmed for people for years, but I still get coaching on a regular basis. In 2018, I had Cadre DS program for me for about nine months. I learned a ton from him that has made me more capable of coaching others and programming for myself. It doesn’t have to be complicated to work, but if you feel like you aren’t making progress, consider asking for help.
Gear & Preparation
Honestly, gear just isn’t going to make or break an event for you so don’t obsess over it. That said, it’s probably a good idea to practice with your gear, get your feet used to what you’re going to wear, and be comfortable with what you have. Here’s what I wore and how I prepared.
Feet & Footwear
Boots, shoes, toe socks, regular socks, wool, synthetic…so many choices. Footwear is a matter of personal preference. I like wearing boots to support my ankles. I’ve put hundreds of miles on the same pair of Rocky C5Cs and they’re still going strong. In training, though, I like to mix it up. I wear these boots, other boots, Reebok Nanos, Chucks, running shoes, and spend as much time as I can barefoot. I think that footwear variety helps build foot strength and helps toughen your skin.
For socks, in training, I wear cheap, cotton socks. I also dump a water bottle into my boots or shoes for all my rucks. I step in puddles when I can find them, and I never change my socks no matter how long the ruck goes. If you do this enough, your feet will get tough and used to being wet. For the event, I wore Drymax socks. I didn’t change mine during Bragg. I’ve worn this exact same pair for tons of other events including 50 straight miles in an ultra marathon. I have never gotten a blister or really even a hotspot in the last four plus years of training. It’s not because I have special feet, it’s just that I’ve toughened them up a lot. Those Drymax socks are incredible though. Darn Tough socks work well too, just find what works for you. This is just my opinion, but you probably don’t need multiple layers of socks with special tape, and powders., What you probably need is to build tough feet by crushing miles. Blisters are avoidable with preparation, especially if you spend a lot of time barefoot!
So the weather for the event was brutal. It started out around 65 degrees and dry before dropping to the mid 50s by midnight. Then it started to lightly rain and by 4AM it was torrentially downpouring. It just got colder, wetter, and more windy from there. The second half of the event was in the low 40s with feel like temps in the 30s. Based on this forecast I decided to pack/wear the following clothes:
- Pants: Kuhl Radikls – these are my favorite pants of all time, I cannot recommend them enough.
- Shirt 1: Cotton T-Shirt
- Shirt 2: Cheap long sleeve wicking type shirt from Columbia
- Shirt 3: Long sleeve stretchy half zip from Reebok
- Windbreaker/Rain Jacket: Kuhl Jetstream – don’t get this. It’s comfortable, blocks the wind, and is durable but WOW does it not stop the rain. I made the rookie mistake of not testing this jacket out, thankfully it’s from REI so I can return it.
- Ball cap: Rogue trucker because they look cool
- Knit hat: NoBull Watch Cap – just have something warm
- Gloves: Mechanix – I’ve had these forever and they work
And that’s it. I honestly didn’t need the second shirt, but I had so much space in the ruck I thought “why not?”. This event was cold, miserably cold, and having more clothes would have been nice, but I had more than enough to not get hypothermia. Just find what works for you, you’re going to be wet and cold at an event like this, nothing will make you comfortable, so don’t stress the minutia.
- Ruck: GR1 the thing is indestructible and small. I punched two holes in the bottom of mine and added grommets. I would highly recommend doing this so it can drain water.
- GORUCK Hip Pad
- GORUCK Sternum Strap
- GORUCK Hose Retainer
- Headlamp: Black Diamond I have used this headlamp so much over the years, I have beaten the crap out of it, and it just works.
- Dry bags: Sea to Summit – you’re gonna want a dry bag
- Hydration Bladder: Source – haven’t had an issue yet
Always check the event packing list to see if you need anything else, but otherwise the GORUCK gear is truly bomb proof.
I packed about 3,500 calories worth of food for this event. I could have used some more, but being hungry isn’t a big deal and I’ve done other events where we didn’t get to eat food until much later. I would recommend training fasted as much as you can to get used to it. People will debate me on this, but if you can do a four or six hour ruck with no food, and feel good, it’s going to be even easier when you can eat. I usually take my food out of wrappers as much as possible to make life easier and just stuck with Cliff Bars and Jerky. I brought along a big bag of Sour Patch Kids to share, because someone shared candy with me at my last event and I thought it was awesome.
Make sure you have your electrolyte game down. I use Rapid Rehydr8 and know to take them periodically based on how much I’m sweating. This is something you’ll want to be on top of for any event. You can go a long time without food, but if you don’t have electrolytes you will not retain all the water you’re taking in and things will go downhill fast.
I’ve written about this topic before, but preparing yourself mentally is really important for an event like this. You can find a bunch of strategies here, but the main things I did for this event were 1) expected and mentally prepared for the worst e.g. false finishes, messed up feet, being wet and cold, etc 2) plan to compete – be ready to push yourself and to be pushed by others so you can rise to the occasion 3) know your why – I had two clear reasons for this event and was fully bought into them.
Robbie Miller WOD
GORUCK recently announced changes to the Heavy format (a podcast on the changes can be listened to here). One of the key changes is that the 2 minutes of max pushups and 2 minutes of max situps (PT test) have been replaced by the Robbie Miller WOD. Before you continue reading, please read Staff Sergeant Robert J. Miller’s Medal of Honor Citation
After moving through the usual administrative stuff, Cadre Dan announced that we would begin the event by completing the full Robbie Miller WOD. The WOD was written by members of Robbie’s ODA and goes as follows:
- 3 Mile Ruck
- 12 Rounds of:
- Six Ring Pull Ups (or bar depending on equipment)
- Six Burpee Squats (full burpee + air squat)
- Six 4 Count Mountain Climbers
- Six Ruck Get Ups (lay on your back then get up to standing with the ruck on your back or stomach)
- 3 Mile Ruck
- For more details on the WOD and its variations visit All Day Ruckoff
I had heard about this change on the All Day Ruckoff podcast a few days before and was immediately excited. Robbie Miller is an American hero, and I absolutely love hero workouts. They present a unique opportunity to suffer in memory of someone who paid the ultimate price.
I took off with the lead group on the ruck and ran the majority of it. At this point the weather was gorgeous and everything felt great. I made it into the gym, where we would do the middle portion, about ten spots back of the lead. The Cadre then informed us that we would be doing all of the movements with our rucks on, not just the get ups. It turns out that this was a communication error between the Cadre – we were supposed to just wear rucks for the getups (listen to the full All Day Ruckoff Podcast on this year’s Bragg Heavy here – Cadre Dan explains this part, and debriefs on the event).
As I mentioned in my training section, I did a ton of ruck PT, and especially had done hundreds and hundreds of getups and burpees so I just settled into a rhythm and got after it. The deck of cards had conditioned me to not care what was thrown my way, so wearing the ruck for everything was a non-factor (mentally prepare for the unknown). One key for these types of long workouts is that you have to know your limits and not go out too hot. The adage slow is smooth and smooth is fast, is definitely true in a long workout like this.
After grinding through the middle portion at a consistent pace, I headed out the door thinking I was somewhere around fifth or sixth. The Cadre were releasing people to do the second three miler and I buddied up with a guy named Wes. We decided to push for a win and just started running. Wes is a beast of a rucker and gave me a really good push. We ended up passing seven or eight people in the first mile and then just kept going from there. Because I had underestimated how far back I was, we weren’t sure where we were in the order. When we got to the end, Cadre Dan showed us his iPhone with the time of 1:45. It turns out we finished first and in typical GORUCK “it pays to be a winner” fashion we got to go hang out for quite a while (~45 minutes).
Apparently half the class did the workout without rucks and half did it with (the class did it in two different spots). Everyone pushed hard on this and the atmosphere was really positive by the time it was finished. In my estimation, if you train well for this WOD you should expect to finish in the 2:15-2:45 range (assuming no ruck for most movements). If you want to go sub-two hours you’ll have to run all six miles of the ruck portion and take pretty much no breaks during the middle piece. Again, this WOD is going to be in every Heavy so start preparing. My recommendation is pick a smooth pace and just motor through it. Push yourself but don’t burn it down to the ground either…these are 24 hour events.
The Robbie Miller WOD is awesome and I am so glad GORUCK made this change.
The 12 Miler
The next event was the 12 Miler. Cadre Dan has stated that “the 12 miler will always be part of the Heavy”. The course was setup where we had to do five loops and then a mini loop of the National Athletic Village. The published standard on GORUCK’s website is sub 3:30, but Cadre Dan announced that the standard for Bragg was 3 Hours. You should be prepared to go sub three hours if you’re training for a GORUCK Heavy.
Wes and I decided to try and win this event too and took off with the lead pack. I’ll admit right now that I think I was too focused on winning things at this event (in general), and while it pays to be a winner I think it distracted me, at times, from being the best teammate I could be. Anyway, after the first lap a group of five of us were in the lead and we just kept separating from the rest from there.
To back up for a second, 141 GRTs registered for the event and 97 showed up at the start. That’s a lot of people and so the Cadre setup a safety system where whoever was in front had the American Flag (of course) and whoever was in the back had a Pineland flag. This allowed the Cadre to know where everyone was and to ensure that no one dropped off in the woods or something like that. By this point it was dark out and although the weather was gorgeous we all had to wear headlamps and tread carefully on the off road parts.
The five of us ran most of the time with the occasional brisk walk. I pretty much never ruck run in training. It’s really rough on your joints and with practice you can hold a very fast pace (~13 minute miles) without running. That said, on game day, you can just send it. We had a great conversation going, the weather was gorgeous, and we were moving fast. At the completion of lap three (~6.8 miles in) Cadre Dan showed us his phone and it showed 1:17. He informed us that we were on sub 2 hour pace, and that because we had lapped the Pineland flag, it was now impossible to keep order, which was a safety issue. We ended up having to stop, wait for the Pineland flag, and then stay right behind them for the remainder of the 12 miler. We were all really frustrated by this and once the Cadre left us I was pretty vocal about it. This was a dumb thing to get frustrated about and it ties back to my point of being too focused on winning. Safety matters way more than my ruck time, so I’ll be sure to check myself next time.
It turns out that of the 97 who started (I don’t think anyone dropped before the 12 miler, but don’t quote me on that) only 23 finished under the time hack. I’m not sure how many people dropped during the 12 miler, but I know there were 3 med drops and 12 voluntary withdrawals over the course of the event (82 finishers). The 23 of us that finished under the time hack got to hang out for a long time while the rest of the class began an absolutely massive coupon movement. Again, it pays to be a winner. Put in the training and make sure you can do the 12 miler, in a good time, without being too fatigued. You don’t need to do a 20 or 30 mile training ruck for a Heavy, but you absolutely should do at least one 12 miler just to know what it feels like.
All Of The Coupons
The eight Cadre for this event brought an absolutely absurd number of coupons. Cadre Montreal even brought a trailer full of them. I haven’t done that many events so I can’t really compare this to much, but there were so many that every single person in the class had to carry something heavy just to move them.
While the over time hack group started a coupon movement, our group got to relax. We eventually carried some rubber ducks (fake training rifle) into the woods and then grabbed some logs for a later session of log PT, but overall we had a long break.
We were then asked to join up with the rest of the class who had not moved far. There were so many coupons, they had to use a shuttle system, because it was physically impossible to move them all at once. By my estimate they had moved about 600-800M in roughly 45 minutes of working time, thats how much stuff there was. Our group joined in and we struggled as a class to move all of the coupons at once. The rain had started at this point and the suck factor was high. I personally became best friends with a litter covered in ammo cans and rope. Apart from the super log (more on that later), it’s easily the heaviest thing I’ve ever picked up at a GORUCK event.
The Cadre really let us sort this out as a group and there was a lot of back and forth on how to move things. I absolutely love this part of events because it teaches teamwork, leadership, communication, and how to be a follower. Candidly, I wish we had more coupon activities at this event, but that’s just me.
Our class eventually got thing sorted and moved all the coupons back to the NAV where we were then split up into three smaller teams.
By this point it was raining hard and had gotten cold. I have no idea what time it was, but I can tell you, with confidence, that I shivered non-stop from here until the end.
The three teams worked through a rotation of three major stations. Here’s the order that my team went in:
- Rifle PT in the woods – this was led by Cadre Jerad who kept pushing us on our “Why” for being there. I’ve never done rifle PT before and found it kind of fun. I mean, it was raining very hard, it was cold, and it burned my shoulders like crazy, but I thought this was cool. I’m not sure how long this portion went on for, but we were definitely out in the woods for a hot minute.
- Fitness on the Field – this was led by Cadre Marcus. I won’t bore you with all the details, but we basically did a lot of PT on a soccer field that seemed specifically designed to trap as much water as possible. It’s still unclear to me why this soccer field was designed to double as a pond, but that’s another story. We were doing things like burpee sandbag cleans, ammo can presses, and push ups and I couldn’t get warm. Around the time that we were out there on the field, dawn broke (the sun never graced us with its presence though).
- Obstacle Course – led by Cadre Fagan and Cadre Montreal. Our team had to move through an obstacle course with a bunch of sandbags. We did an over/under obstacle, a cargo net, and a log balance piece over water. At this point, everyone was pretty smoked, but really working well as a team. We didn’t exactly set any speed records, but the communication was solid, everyone helped out, there were a lot of funny moments, and we moved consistently through the obstacles. The rain had slowed by this point, but man was it cold. Cadre Fagan, not wanting us to get too dry or anything, then had us crawl up a muddy creek for maybe 75-100 meters.
Once all the teams moved through their evolutions, we all met back up at the main area to begin some log PT. It was very windy and cold and the rain picked back up again. Whenever we had “down time”, little penguin huddles would form. Here’s a close representation of what went down:
I’ve done log PT before and its never easy, but this log PT, wow. The concept is pretty simple, put a bunch of people on a really heavy log. Individually it’s not possible to do anything with it, you have to work as a team. The more you work in unison and distribute the load, the easier it gets. If someone is out of sync, things get heavy, if someone ducks weight, things get heavy, if you aren’t communicating, the log gets dropped, and so on. We had logs of all sizes for this event, but there was one big one, and then one massive one that should be classified as a tree. These two are where I spent my time partying, and man, it was rough. Here’s a photo of the
log tree on the ground before we picked it up. No photo could do this thing justice, just trust me, it was heavy. I should note that this photo is from later in the event; when we did the bulk of our log PT it was raining like crazy (check out photo 2).
In between partying with the logs, we did push ups, flutter kicks, sit ups, roles, and a bunch of other fun stuff in the mud. Everyone was freezing at this point and so after some more fun in the rain that may have involved low crawling forever, the Cadre brought us inside.
Honoring Joe Warner
I think this was done primarily for safety reasons (hypothermia risk), but we were given hot tea and shelter inside the NAV. A few people thought that this might be the end of the event, but it seemed a little on the early side. In my head I was thinking it was 2-3PM. Unfortunately I heard one of the NAV staff mention to someone that it was 12:15…six more hours to go, dang.
Everyone settled in trying to get warm using a combination of tea, huddling, emergency blankets, and jackhammer style shivering. The Cadre had us all sit around and then Cadre Marcus spoke to us about Joe Warner. He told us about his legacy, how funny he was, and how much he meant to the community. We then got to see a few huge pictures of Joe participating in the Bragg Heavy back before he was a Cadre. This part of the event was awesome, it added a lot of context and got everyone’s head back into the game. Before we headed back out the cold, Cadre Fury handed out a piece of white engineer tape to each person. We were told to tie it on our ruck handle (photo of mine below):
Honoring Jerome Gonzales
The prior year at the Bragg Heavy, Jerome Gonzales had collapsed and despite the immediate and best efforts of everyone involved, including EMS, he tragically passed away. By all accounts, Jerome was a badass GRT and he was loved by many. One of the things that GORUCK does so well is to honor those we’ve lost. The community takes care of its own and it’s no different in Jerome’s case (more from GORUCK here).
After being brought back outside, Cadre Dan gave us an emotional speech about Jerome. The prior year, there had been a series of events with an unknown standard, you just had to put out. I wasn’t there, but from what I heard it was a real grind. Each participant had a piece of tape on their ruck and it would be marked if you failed to meet the standard. When Jerome passed, his tape was totally clean because he put out, he met the standard. Cadre Dan had been carrying that piece of tape for the last year, tied to his ruck, and said it would be staying on until it eventually wore away.
We were then told that we were going to do the Jerome Gonzales WOD in honor of his memory. The WOD began with a run for an unknown time and distance. This was done without our rucks and was led by Cadre Nate. I’m not sure how far we ran, but I think we covered somewhere in the 3-5 mile range. It honestly felt pretty good to run without weight and it kind of warmed me up. By this stage of an event, you aren’t going to quit. You’re in it until the end, and now it’s a matter of just pushing every last bit of the way to maximize the experience. The class worked hard on the run and we were then broken up into four different groups to take on the rest of the WOD. Here’s the order that my group went in:
- Coupon Ruck – we rucked up a hill as a team and then grabbed a bunch of ammo cans. We brought them down the hill as a team and were told to load them onto a vehicle. People are beat up by this stage of things, and tempers got a little hot in our group when some folks didn’t want to slow down for those who were struggling. We sorted it out, got on the same page, and pushed through this evolution.
- 5 Pull Ups + 10 Step Ups (each leg)
- 41 push ups in cadence called out by the Cadre followed by 41 sit ups. The prior year the requirement had been 40 push ups and 40 sit ups, each in one minute of all out work. That was the standard. We met the standard and then did one extra for Jerome – badass.
- Buddy Carry – I won’t even begin to try and write this out, but we basically ran up and down that super wet pond-field doing buddy carries, ruck carries, and burpees. It was hard.
Bringing It Home
After completing the Jerome Gonzales WOD we were led on a ruck run by Cadre Fury. I’m not sure how far we went, I just know that things were getting dialed up again. After a while we were put in plank position waiting for the rest of the group to catch up. Those of us towards the front were led off by Cadre’s Karl and Marcus for “fun and games”, while the rest of the crew did PT (from what I understand – don’t quote me on this). We hung mortars aka threw sand in the air (and then eventually at the Cadre) until we were totally covered. We then proceeded to do “fire” and maneuver drills in what looked like an old paintball course. Essentially one teammate covers (your gun is your hands + saying pew pew pew) and your teammate sprints and then drops to the ground, where you then switch roles. We were all going pretty slow, so Cadre Karl and Cadre Marcus decided to give us a demonstration. They went all out explaining that you yell I’M UP, HE SEES ME, I’M DOWN. You do this so you mentally know when to get down before the enemy has you lined up in their sights. This probably sounds goofy if you’re reading it, but in the moment everyone was working pretty damn hard and also having fun.
Once the class came together again, we partied on the logs some more, which was only fitting. Cadre Dan then started to dismiss small groups based on different factors. I was on the big log again and we were the last group to go. All he said to us was start rucking (following the same loop we had done before). We had an unknown distance and time to do. The cool thing was that every single person, all 82 finishers, just said okay and stepped off. From what I could tell, no one groaned or complained about having to ruck again. We could have had miles to go, but everyone was in it to finish at this point. I personally figured that we had maybe two laps or so to go so I just took off running wanting to finish strong. After a little bit I crested a hill and saw that we were being turned back into the NAV, and that’s when I knew it was over. As I went running through the parking lot I saw my wife and felt pretty emotional for a second (no tears were shed though).
Finishing an event like this is an amazing feeling. I think one of the reasons I keep coming back to long endurance events is that feeling you get. It’s not like scoring in a sport, it’s a deeper, satisfying, emotional feeling of just being done.
Our class lined up, patches were handed out, and then GORUCK provided a massive hot meal for everyone. It was pretty awesome of them to do that, because we were all absolutely freezing at this point. Spending time being warm and eating, talking to everyone, and getting to meet spouses and family was great. It’s not an overstatement for me to say that I love the GORUCK community. It’s a special group of people that put themselves through these kinds of events and I’m thankful to be friends with some of them.
Overall, the Joe Warner Bragg Heavy was an amazing event. Cadre Dan announced to us that this was the last year it would be called the Joe Warner Bragg Heavy. We’ll always honor Joe, but it’s time to return to the original name: Bragg Heavy. Being part of the last one felt special. Honoring Robbie, Joe, and Jerome was the highlight of the event for me and I think the Cadre got this right.
Physically, I didn’t find the event to be nearly as challenging as I had expected. I think this is largely a function of training so much. Don’t get me wrong, it was a hard, heavy, 24 hours, but I felt like the training paid off in a big way. Mentally though, this one was a grind. I’ve never been so physically miserable in my life. It turns out that I hate being wet and cold just as much as I thought. I’m also so glad the weather was awful, because I feel like I’ve toughened up that part of my game, just a little bit.
After a week of running through the event in my mind, my biggest learning point was that I need to check my ego. I’m highly competitive and I let that get in the way of being a good leader on several occasions. When you train hard for an event, you have an opportunity to lead by serving others. You also have an opportunity to set an example and I needed to be reminded of that.
GORUCK Heavy Class 297, you guys are awesome. I had a blast doing this event with you and thank you for the push. There were some beasts in this class and it was awesome throwing down with you all.
To Cadres Dan, Marcus, Karl, Nate, Fagan, Montreal, Fury, and Jerad – thank you. Thank you for your service to our country, thank you for taking the time to plan and execute on this event, thank you for pushing us to be better, and thank you for doing such an awesome job honoring Robbie, Joe, and Jerome.
The Bragg Heavy is the King Of All Rucks. If you want to challenge yourself, do this event. Every event is an opportunity to grow as a person, to learn, and to put yourself to the test – the Bragg Heavy, well, it’s a BIG opportunity.
P.S. I hope I got the order of events and all of the details right! If not, send me a note and I’ll correct things.
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.