Summarizing this challenge is going to be more than difficult. GORUCK Heavy was unlike any other event (including GORUCK Challenges) that I’ve done to date. We were fortunate enough to have Cadre John (aka Big Daddy) fly out and put on the event of a lifetime. He promised that we would each hit our wall and burst right through… and right he was.
Why GORUCK Heavy?
Leading up to this event I was asked this question a number of times and it really got me thinking about this question. The only answer I could come up with is probably one of the worst answers that can be given. It’s a combination of because it’s there to be done and because every now and then you need a serious gut check. This answer wasn’t satisfactory to anyone but it was all I had. I was thinking maybe it was because the team that was signed up for it was so great… but I kept thinking and even if TRVLSQD wasn’t doing it I would still be there.
Training for GORUCK Heavy
I trained for this event… which is better than how I approach most things I do. I had the Military Fitness GORUCK Heavy Training Plan and tried to follow it. The hardest part was dedicating long stretches of Saturdays to working out… so I ended up just doing a bunch of the shorter workouts sporadically. In addition I continued my normal training which involves swimming two to three times per week, running three to four times per week, and cycling two times per week. Through all of this I found that I didn’t get tired nearly as often as I thought I would. One thing I wish I had done differently would be more weight training and longer rucks. The longest ruck I did was 10 miles which is a lot shorter than the 34 miles we accomplished. However, all of my training rucks were with significantly more weight than I was carrying during this so that gave me some confidence.
I packed a good deal of gear for the event. If you click the picture below you’ll go to my Flickr page where everything is tagged. In addition I have a separate post where I explain the purpose of each item.
The theme of our event was water. It was highly encouraged that we bring some sort of neoprene shirt to keep us warm because we were going to be setting records.
We showed up at the starting point (on a pier) which followed the water theme quite well. Cadre John showed up with 2 huge jugs of water and cake. The water was to ensure we didn’t get dehydrated and the cake was to ensure we started off the night with a stomach ache.
When we got going the eleven of us were directed to head off to a beach north of Seattle. Everything was a time hack with a reward for meeting them. The reward… our food. Did I mention that? Cadre John took all of our food at the beginning and kept it using it as a “reward” for meeting time hacks.
After spending some quality time doing PT with a snorkel in our mouths (it’s like breathing through a straw) we got in the water and practiced our snorkel skills.
After the water we created some 17 beautiful 40lb+ sandbags and received 3 blow up boats. The 11 of us carted these beasts through Seattle towards the West Seattle bridge… which honestly took a long time. Every now and then we’d have an “accident” with a sandbag where Rocky’s knife would puncture one making the load a little better. We crossed the West Seattle bridge and found the “Lincoln” log, which was our log from GRC 053 (the first Seattle class.) This was one of the mentally hardest parts of the challenge because it’s where we had our first DOR. I’m not going to get into details but it hit the team hard and we all were wondering what we could have done to keep that individual in the game.
Once we finished up there we moved towards Alki beach where the Cadre had a specific destination he wanted to get to. We were also instructed that each beach we passed we would be getting into the water and snorkeling at least 100m. This was rough as it is 50 degree ocean water at around 2am but the 10 remaining toughed through it.
After more water entries we finally hit our destination. At this location there was a beautiful bonfire built by our wonderful Shadow crew. There was one condition to enjoying the fire… we’d either have to swim 1000m with breaks or 500m without breaks. We went for the shorter of the two which seemed awful at the time but was probably for the best. We were in that 50 degree water for a total of 27 minutes and at the end some of us were clearly better off than others.
After warming up by the fire we quickly followed the coast and headed off to our next destination. We continued this ruck for a long ways with little to no rest until we finally hit a public beach/pool thing. I say thing because I don’t know how to describe it. There was loud music, swimming, and people selling stuff. We looked more out of place than you can possibly imagine. As we went from morning to midday the temperature continued to climb. It was projected to hit 90 degrees and it sure felt like it was there by noon. Thankfully around 1pm we found a firehouse that was nice enough to let us use their water to cool off. In typical GORUCK fashion you need to trade for water… so we had to trade some PT for some nice cold water.
We left the firehouse and rucked over to a local school or something. I can’t for the life of me remember where we actually went but I just remember the place was large and it had shade. It was there that we switched team leaders and I became the team leader for the next 5 or 6 hours. When we left it was back to Seattle… finally time to cross that bridge and head home(ish.) It was on the trek back to Seattle that we lost our second teammate but this time due to medical reasons. We were in the process of trading 500 flutter kicks for a bucket of chicken when our teammate began suffering heat exhaustion. The Cadre took a great amount of care in dealing with this situation and eventually the medics were called to take him away. I hear he’s currently training for another GORUCK Heavy event and I’m sure he’ll crush it. This one’s for you brother.
After the medics left we spent a solid 20 minutes talking about what we could have possibly done to avoid this situation. Any signs we could have looked for or anything at all we could have done. This was a great moment and I feel like we really took an interest in each others’ health from this point forward. It was a sign that we weren’t invincible and that we really needed to watch our vitals. When we finished talking we left the path and continued our movement back to Seattle.
When we reached Seattle it was onward to a park by the I-90 bridge for our last water immersion. By the time we had reached that park even I had lost my smile…
… but only momentarily.
Each step on the way back felt like hell but I knew I had to push through. There was no quitting at the 25 hour mark and I did my best to keep the pace in the front. The picture of me looking pissed off was when we were getting to the water and this beautiful shot was when we were about halfway from I-90 to the big wheel (our ending point.) The end of every GORUCK Challenge I’ve done is always exciting, but the end of GORUCK Heavy was a lot more than that. There was relief, awe, wonder, and happiness. This is truly one of the best moments I’ve experienced in an event before. I wasn’t only excited to receive my patch but I was excited to get my phone back and call my wife… to tell her I had finished.
I hope to do another event with Cadre John in the future. He really puts his heart into planning these things and it shows. Thank you brother for making the trip to Seattle and giving us the event of a lifetime.
Most GORUCK events have shadows. Shadows are the people who follow along and don’t interact with the team. Generally they’re there for photography purposes but sometimes they just want to watch. Our shadows went far above and beyond what I’ve ever seen happen before. The temperature reached 90 degrees during the event and there was some serious humidity. Cadre John had tasked the shadows with water detail and any time someone was almost out of water he’d call them up and they’d drive some over. Without them I’m sure we would have had more people dropped due to heat exhaustion.
I was shocked at how quickly my body recovered from this experience. At the end of the Heavy I could hardly walk without a limp in my left leg. My left knee was killing me and both my feet were in bad shape. I took three days off from the gym and on the fourth day went back and cycled for an hour and fifteen minutes. The following day I went for a fifty minute run (averaging just under nine minute miles) and felt great. The recovery time was essentially three days… which was unbelievable to me. I thought for sure it would be longer but am glad it was not.
I would, again, like to give a big thank you to Big Daddy for coming out and putting this event on for us. I would like to thank all of the Shadows who kept us warm, hydrated, and alive. In addition I’d like to thank them for taking thousands of pictures. I’d like to thank my TRVLSQD family for doing this event and running all of the awesome training sessions that led up to it. Without them I’d have been a lot less prepared for the 26 hours. I’d like to thank GORUCK for continuing to bring events out to the Pacific Northwest. I know we’re not the closest destination but I’m glad you make a point to throw some events our way. Finally I’d like to thank my wife for letting me sign up for this stuff… without her support it would be a lot more difficult to head out to these events.
Man I read this and I’m filled with a lot of emotions. I tear up thinking about the strength and heart you all showed in finishing and how you all seemed to care for one another. I’m looking forward to my first challenge in September.