I did my second GoRuck Challenge over the weekend. It was every bit as challenging and unique as the St. Augustine 007, my first GRC, last December.
The Tampa Challenge — Class 083 — met at 0100 hours at Ballast Point Park, just north of MacDill Air Force Base. We started off with 25 members and finished with all but one. Cadre leader was Brian Richardson, a former Green Beret medic and all around badass. The total journey was about 27 miles, with 21 miles of rucking and a 6 mile truck ride! Finish time was around 1430.
Our team weight was an ammo box filled with coins and a bottle of rum. Individual weight was either 4 or 6 bricks, depending on your body weight, which was a change from past challenges. My pack at the beginning of the event weighed about 45 lbs.
See this link for a Google map of the route, which doesn’t include short ruck sections on Gandy Blvd and within MacDill. Also not included is the truck ride from the Gandy boat ramp to MacDill. Thanks to one of our members, Chelsea, for putting this together.
The Down and Dirty
We set a record for earliest penalty in a GRC when we incurred bear crawls in the first fifteen seconds. I also fucked up and forgot that I had my watch on…which extended the penalty. That translated to 45′ of bear crawls in and around Ballast Point Park. Bear crawls might not sound too bad on paper, but it royally sucks when you have a heavyass pack riding down your shoulders and shoved against your neck. Knees and forearms also get smoked from crawling around on pavement. It sucked.
One format change was the addition of mission based challenges. After the opening smokefest, the rest of the night/day consisted of missions with a time limit. I’ll recap a couple of the missions to give you an idea.
Mission #1: Another team was pinned down about 5 miles north of our position and running low on .50 cal ammunition. Our mission was to hit an ASP (ammo supply point), gather a bunch of ammo, and then ruck it to the other team. Time limit was 1 hour.
The ASP was a rocky patch of beach at Ballast Point and the ammo was rocks. Big ones. Brian instructed that we carry 12 rocks at least the size of the ammo box the full distance. We had a couple of minutes to select our rocks and off we went. Some of the rocks were at least 50 pounds.
This was by far the worst mission for me. I struggled with carrying the extra weight of the rocks, and running indian sprints with the rock or the ammo box was brutal. My arms cramped and I had to stop inside the last mile and give up my rock. I was in danger of falling out. Consider that, with a 50 pound rock and the fully loaded pack, we were doing indian runs with nearly 100 pounds. What!?
We blew the time by over 20′. We failed the mission.
Mission #2: Team 2 had withdrawn deeper into enemy territory and we had to deliver the ammo. This mission had a shorter time limit, only 35′, with a shorter distance. One added danger was that we absolutely could not break formation or we would incur casualties and have to buddy carry the wounded. This happened to us TWICE and added a tremendous load to the group. We were now humping heavy rocks, two bodies, and the four packs of the buddy carry squad. This slowed our pace to a crawl. A couple of our guys, in a fit of ingenuity, grabbed a shopping cart from Publix, which we used to haul most of the bigger rocks and both casualties the remaining distance.
We completed the mission right on the money and it was a massive relief.
The whole night and day pretty much followed the mission format, with a few additional challenges thrown in. For the sake of brevity, I won’t recap every mission, but suffice it to say they were difficult and involved rucking around with weight. One mission included a 7 mile stretch where for most of the miles we couldn’t use the shoulder straps on our packs. That royally sucked, because it meant you were either hugging your pack to your chest, carrying it on your shoulder/neck, or balanced on top of your head. There was no way to get comfortable. Imagine how shitty it would be to walk for 2-3 hours with 40 pounds on top of your head…it was exactly that shitty.
One highlight was a sprint up an 11 story stairwell at a hotel with a time limit. We accomplished that mission and the reward was getting our shoulder straps back. That victory was immense, one of the high points of the day.
My favorite part of the whole deal was beach PT at Cypress Point Park. The water felt great and I thought crawling around on the beach was a blast. I was seriously rejuvenated by getting wet and sandy. There’s just something about being in the water and in the sand with the sun on you that feels awesome. I could have done beach PT for hours.
In one of the last missions, we did a challenge that involved pulling a fully loaded moving truck with a rope. Piece of cake. The real challenge, though, was sticking 25 dudes inside the back of the truck that was loaded from floor to ceiling with office furniture. I shit you not, we had guys contorting themselves on top of cabinets and chairs. Brian informed us that finding transport in weird places and riding on top of cargo was a common experience of Special Forces. So I thought it was cool we got to experience that, even though it was hot as balls inside the truck.
The truck took us approx. 6 miles to the entrance of MacDill AFB, where we talked our way onto the base to visit the SOCOMM/SOF Memorial with a police escort. That was a true highlight. That was also the end of the GoRuck Challenge for Class 083.
The major lowlight was the long slog from Cypress Point to the boat ramp on Gandy, a distance of close to six miles. This was the point in the day where we were all hurting physically, low on water, hungry, hadn’t slept all night, hot, and the terrain was boring. It was a long, painful grind. I was fighting my mental state tooth and nail and trying to keep thoughts of quitting and all negativity at bay. Physically, my feet, achilles, and ankles were in bad shape. I was hobbled and it affected me mentally. I would say this was an even darker and lower stretch than the one I had during 007.
We also got started so late that we didn’t get to do buddy carries or PT in the bar district while the drunkards watched, which was good fun during 007 and I understand a highlight of most of the Challenges. I missed that.
Besides regular Crossfitting and going to my strength and conditioning coach twice a week, I didn’t do any training specific for GoRuck. I have it in me to get through 10-12 hours of rucking with no training, but I don’t recommend it. The suffering is pretty intense. I would have performed a lot better in those last few hours if I had trained up to it.
I recommend doing regular weighted runs with a slow run pace and building up your mileage. You should be able to comfortably ruck with 40 pounds on your back for 3-4 hours, with short breaks built in. Try rucking while also carrying a rock or ammo case. It sucks, but you need to be prepared.
Make sure to wear comfortable shoes with decent padding and a decent thickness footbed. I don’t recommend minimalist shoes or Inov-8s. Those are too thin and will lead to blistering and a lot of shock on feet and ankles.
The good news is I suffered no long term injuries. As you’ll recall, I stress fractured my foot at the last GRC and couldn’t run for a month. After 083 I was back at the gym for CrossFit Tuesday.
The bottom line is GoRuck Challenge is still the toughest, most grueling military-style event on the block. While the mission format is a welcome change, they made it even harder with *double* the bricks, more log PT, more rock PT, more bear crawls, and total suckfests like rucking with no straps. The mileage is still formidable, as we did 21 miles rucking over 13 hours. I was smashed mentally with about 2 hours to go. Earning a GoRuck Tough patch is, in my humble opinion, even harder now than it was a year ago. The team will get you through the tough times, but you can’t approach this thing lightly.
What’s cool about the new format is there are many more opportunities for people to step up and lead, which is what sets this event apart from other extreme events. Each mission required a new team leader and navigator, and it was great to see my friends from various gyms step up and dominate.
The saying is that adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it. I believe the GRC reveals character and that’s a special thing.
If you’re reading this and still on the fence about the GRC, know that it is every bit as tough mentally and physically as you’re imagining. Rucking with 6 bricks, which is around 35 pounds, is absolutely brutal and makes the 3 bricks from a year ago look like chump change. Your shoulders, neck, and back will be destroyed and your hips, hamstrings, and every part of your feet will likely go nuclear. You’ll have to dig deep mentally to get through it and you’ll hit a low point where you want to quit. That will happen and you’ll still have a couple more hours to grind. It will suck. You will question yourself. Getting past that is the point.
If you can make it through the suck, you’ll be a mentally tougher athlete and all your other endeavors will seem a bit brighter, a little less taxing, a little less weighty. That’s good livin’.