Training for the GoRuck Challenge

I’ve been getting a lot of emails since I published my GoRuck St Augustine Review from guys and gals who are looking for advice on training for the GoRuck Challenge. In this post, I’ll review the training I went through, what I thought worked and what didn’t, and offer some suggestions.

Here’s a summary of the workload for GoRuck Class 007 in St. Augustine, Florida: 23 – 24 miles of distance, most of which was done Indian-run style. Running was done primarily on sidewalk or pavement, with a couple of bridges thrown in, and about 6-7 miles were on soft beach sand. All participants had a GoRuck pack loaded with 3 bricks (approx. 20 lbs) and whatever extra gear and food/liquids they needed. I estimated my pack, fully loaded and dry, weighed about 32 lbs.

Exercises included a few sets of flutter kicks, pushups, and air squats, but this was trivial compared to the running. Unless Jason changes up the format of the GoRuck (wouldn’t put it past him), you can almost not train for those movements.

We jumped in the water at three different points during the night and were completely soaked, muddy, and sandy, which added several extra pounds of weight. It’s possible that my pack after a thorough soaking was close to 40 lbs. Air temps were in the lower 40’s.

My Training

I go to a Crossfit gym 3 times per week. I also see a personal trainer for strength and conditioning another 2-3 times per week and I’ve been doing that for almost a year leading up to the GoRuck. Outside of the gym, I did a handful of weighted runs on my own or with buddies. Breakdown:

Crossfit: Great for anaerobic threshold training and overall fitness improvement. Provided more than enough stamina to handle the pushups, flutter kicks, and other body weight movements from GoRuck. Also helped with shoulder and back strength to handle the weighted pack.

One thing that helped me prepare mentally was doing Murph with a weighted pack several weeks prior to the Challenge. Murph is:

1 mile run

100 pullups

200 pushups

300 air squats

1 mile run

Murph is no joke without weight, but with a backpack it was a beast, especially on the pullups. After finishing I was ready to kick some serious ass. My weighted Murph time was ~57′.

Personal Training: We usually did lower body and legs on Tuesday and upper body on Thursday. The Tuesday workouts included things like heavy leg presses, squats, deadlifts, tire flips, and many many lunges. Some of the lunges were weighted, with either 30 or 50 lbs. I think the leg work, more than anything, conditioned me properly for the GoRuck loads and kept my knees and ankles healthy throughout. I’ll talk about injury a bit below, but the legs stuff was a big deal, as I historically have had knee problem with high mileage. The last real marathon I did I sustained an IT band injury that knocked me out of running for over 6 months.

Weighted Runs: Did several weighted runs with a backpack loaded with plate weights. Longest run was 8 miles and I did this with two friends at what we thought was the GoRuck pace. This was very helpful to get used to the gait of a weighted run, which is very different from normal running. Also gets you used to the loads on your shoulders and back. Without these weighted runs, I wouldn’t have been mentally prepared.

One other thought on this, I do NOT recommend using a weight vest as a substitute for a weighted pack. The vest is tight on the body while the pack has some bounce to it, and thus won’t simulate your weighted stride properly. What that basically means is the vest is easier to run with and easier = bullshit. Get the full weight on your back and shoulders because that’s good livin’.

My Recommendations

If you lift weights or Crossfit regularly, you’ll have zero problem with the land exercises. That was minimal. The running is a killer, and I recommend going on weighted runs every week leading up to the GoRuck. If you can get in 5-6 runs at varying lengths, including several that are multi-hour, then great. If you suspect you’ll be hitting the beach because the Challenge is in a beach town, absolutely go on weighted runs on the beach. This is critical because beach running is brutal compared to pavement.

Since you’ll be doing Indian runs all night long, also do interval work on pavement. Something like 20 x (15″ bursts / 50″ easy jogging) over several workouts will do the trick. Do interval work WITH a weighted pack to get used to the loads.

If you can’t afford to hire a personal trainer like me, then at least go on LONG lunge walks. When I say long, I don’t mean 200 meters. I mean, do a lunge walk around a city block, something that will take you a half hour to complete. Yes, your legs will be smoked, but you’ll have bionic knees inside of a month. Also do long lunge walks with a weighted pack. Spend time doing this and embrace the suck. I’m also a big believer in hill running and incline repeats…if you have hills in your town (we don’t in Florida), sprinkle in hill repeat days a couple of times leading up to the Challenge. I recommend 8-12 repeats per session. This will strengthen your legs.

One other thing, it’s totally possible you’ll have to carry an extra brick or gear for several hours during the event, depending on the composition of the group. We had a huge group and several of the athletes broke down and could not physically continue while bearing the weight. We distributed the weight among everyone else. I carried 1 extra brick for almost 4 hours, and even took on a fifth brick for almost an hour. You’ll also be doing buddy carries and may have to carry someone else’s entire pack for short distances. GoRuck Challenge is all about teamwork.

Pacing

The pacing will be affected by the size of the group, quality of athletes, and how aggressively Jason wants to push you, but expect the pace to be slightly *harder* than you expect. I expected basically an easy jog the whole night and was surprised to find hours of Indian runs and a pace that actually had me breathing hard. There is no lolly gagging on the run, you’ll be moving with a purpose. Expect breaks every so often to eat and go to the bathroom.

Injury Prevention

This was a big problem for our class, as I know of three athletes who ended up with significant knee injuries, one guy with a ankle injury that still affects his running 3 months later, and two dudes who stress fractured a foot, including myself. That was just the handful of people I talked to, and there could be more because we had a big class (22 people total). I could put no weight on my foot for a full week after the Challenge, and the stress fracture had me off running and lower body workouts for a month.

I attribute my injury to having shitty footwear. I wore 2-year-old Asics because I didn’t want to trash my new shoes with mud and beach sand, which was a big mistake. For one, the Asics are crap, and not designed for long distance running. I HIGHLY recommend going with comfortable, high performance footwear that you trust for marathon distances. If you need to buy new shoes for this event, don’t hesitate to do so.

My biggest fear was an overuse knee injury that would knock me out of training for months, as I’ve had these in the past. I’m happy to say my knees were strong and healthy throughout and I attribute this 100% to the work I did in the gym. Hit those lunges and make sure your joints and connective tissue are indestructible. You want the legs of Robocop going into this.

Final Thoughts

While the physical part was extremely difficult, the mental component of the the Challenge was even harder. It’s a long LONG grind to go through 10 hours of humping weight while you’re wet, cold, hungry, and tired. Lean on your teammates when the going gets tough and think only positive thoughts. Remember, you’re living a unique experience, something that 99.9% of the population wouldn’t even consider doing, and you WILL finish. Embrace your destiny as a badass Warrior King and you’ll be just fine.

Any thoughts or comments on ways to prep for GoRuck Challenge are welcome, please leave in comments. Hope this helps!

  • Ellen Z

    What kind of pace was the running? I’m imagining 8-10 minute miles with some sprints. Thanks.

  • Chris Webb

    Thanks Ben. I’m doing the GORUCK Challenge in May and you’re write-up provided some much needed insight.

  • Kevin Gettens

    Thanks for the read Ben! I’m wanting to do the GORUCK challenge next time around in Atlanta and have just started training for it specifically. I completed Tough Mudder (much harder than I thought it would be) so the next step is GORUCK for me! Congrats on finishing and being one of the few.

  • @Ellen, I didn’t have a watch so couldn’t measure pace, but I believe it was slower than 10′ miles. Probably closer to the 11-12′. My guess is the smaller the group, the faster the pace.

  • Mikeboz

    Hey Ben, my friend and I are doing the GORUCK in two weeks and we both found a lot of useful tips in your article. My question is, did you guys get a chance to change socks or footwear at any point? If you could do it over would you have brought a more water type shoe(like vibrams) and changed out when you got the chance?
    Thanks for the helpful article bro

  • Hi Mike. Yes, you’ll have several opportunities to change out gear, but you won’t have an opportunity to change footwear before hitting the water, so bringing VFF’s would just be extra weight. I wear Saucony Kinvaras, which is a high quality minimalist shoe that is very comfortable, so I’d go with something like that for the entire Challenge.

  • Mikeboz

    Awesome, Its great to finally get feedback from someone who has been there. Much appreciated brother

  • Steve D

    This is an excellent writeup. Really useful as I’m getting ready to do the Goruck in San Francisco in May. Oo-wee, time to step up my game! I actually thought I was getting ready. Ha!

    Do you know of any other accounts of Goruck experiences online? I’m trying to learn as much as I can and there’s not much out there. Would love pointers from you or others.

  • Steve, I haven’t seen any other blogs about it, but I do suggest the GoRuck product/services page on Facebook. Other newcomers are chatting on there and exchanging ideas. http://www.facebook.com/GORUCK

  • laneo77

    Ben, nice review !! I am registered for the Cincinnati event on July 2nd. Got a question, I am training for an olympic distance tri for June 2nd and really cant load up on leg work prior to this event. If I have the month June to prepare the legs with weighted packs, do you think that is enough ??

  • @laneo, yeah, you’ll be alright. I only had 2 months to train prior to GoRuck and I was ok. Take a few days off after your tri and hit the weighted runs and lower body stuff hard. Do lunges. Throw weight in the backpack and do long runs. Make sure you’re legs are steel, which you can accomplish in a few weeks.

  • Gargoyle

    MMMMMMMMMM 60 yrs old here but have done Tough Mudder and many Tri’s ———- run weighted regulary ——– looking to do Goruck NYC in Sept ——-any Special tips for a older guy?

  • Gargoyle, if you handled TM and you’re fit, you should be totally fine. Age doesn’t matter. Get ready to have a blast.

  • Gargoyle

    Outstanding ——training harder tho lololo ———– i dont wanna be ‘liability guy” i wanna be help the team guy lololol

  • Dave

    Hi Ben. Thank you for the heads up on the GORUCK challenge. I am a very fit and athletic type 1 Diabetic. My blood sugars are great and under control. Do you believe a type 1 Diabetic would have a hard time getting through this challenge. I know that I will be making sure I recieve a lot less insulin through my insulin pump while on the challenge. Any thoughts, comments, or concerns would help. Thanks Ben.

  • Dave, thanks for reading and commenting. That’s a good question and one I’m not qualified to answer. I did post the question in the GoRuck Facebook group and will share the responses here: “Possible? Sure. I’d want to take some precautions though, depending on how remote the challenge is likely to get. 007 was fairly isolated at one point and emergency medical services would have been challenged in accessing us both physically as well as in a timely manner. A few precautions could alleviate much of the possible issues though. Someone trained appropriately could carry a glucometer, insulin, D50 and IV setup and be able to deal with the acute care required.”

    “One Gorucker with diabetes did DC 025, he had something of an injector that could not get submerged. So he passed it to me just prior. Yes, the team had a little extra warning that class.”

    “Carrying insulin, D50 and starting IVs carries a lot of issues. In Virginia, unless you are a doc or approved for that event, then it is a NoGo. BLS and a CASEVAC plan would need to be in place”

    Consult your doctor…I’d also find some well trafficked endurance sports discussion boards and post the question for more responses.

  • Dave

    Thank you very much Ben. I appreciate it. You make some good points to be aware of. I sure dont want to go in to the challenge knowing that I could have been more pre-pared medically.

  • I just signed up for NYC Sept 9th @ 1700. This has me motivated. I’m also reading Lone Survivor. What these guys did/do is so beyond my limits of comprehension. It’s a new facet to life really. Hoping Goruck gives me a taste, but only a taste. I couldn’t handle the real thing.

  • Scott Sullivan

    Great information! I’m signed up for Wilmington, NC in September. Did you get your GoRuck bag before or at the event? I need to train with something on my back and I’m wondering if it’s best to get the actual bag I’ll be using.

  • Scott, I do highly recommend training with a weighted ruck. If you purchase the bag beforehand you won’t get the 25% discount, though, so factor that in. For training I used a hiking daypack that I loaded with weight and that was a fair approximation.

  • Conrad

    Currently training for Metrodash, Spartan and Goruck. I have the GR1 and last night loaded it up to about 35lbs. The challenge I have is that the pack does move around at this weight and pulling the shoulder straps tight to make stable serves to restrict arm, shoulder and chest movement. Normally I would use a lighter pack with waist belt (which retains direct downward center of gravity on weight and chest straps.

    Any tips for running with pack so that the whole thing doesn’t jump around all over the place?

    great blog and thanks for this post

  • Conrad, thanks for reading. Yes, it’s tricky to get the weight secured in the GoRuck packs. I’ve talked to guys who get really creative with this by using rope or zip ties to secure the bricks higher up on the shoulders inside the pack. I recommend joining the GoRuck Facebook group and asking this question, guys will give you good suggestions. As far the pack bouncing around, you’re SOL there. It’s part of the challenge. Also, look for tips in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xBAJEpMGtO4

  • Braden

    I looked at the Saucony Kinvaras. Are these a good shoe for areas where you’ll be in and out of the water? I was looking at some of the Solomon shoes with gore-tex and designed more specifically for tougher trails. Or is it better to have something light?

  • Hi Braden. The Kinvara is a great shoe for Goruck because it has enough padding to handle the loads and is also light and drains water decently. I prefer lighter shoes over heavier trail type shoes because I like feeling fast. You will be waterlogged so no amount of goretex will really help. A couple of my friends did GoRuck with Kinvaras and they raved about it.

  • Braden

    Thanks Ben. I went ahead an ordered a pair. Currently, I’m running in Nike Zoom Structure Triax+ 14, and they’re great for half- and marathons. But, they don’t feel suitable for trails/off-road and water. Any suggestions for pack abrasion between the neck and shoulders? I have been doing 35 lbs. weighted ruck runs 5-8 miles up and down hills and instead of fitness or strength demands, it’s the sores and infections its causing between my neck and shoulders that becomes a problem.

  • Braden, chafing from the pack is a legit issue. Are you training with a GoRuck pack? There’s no amazing solution for this, that is you’re just gonna get chafed and abraded on the Challenge. I did a cold weather GRC and wore many layers, including a jacket, so that helped tremendously. My back and right shoulder still got rocked. Try to pack the weight as high up on the shoulders as possible. I’ve seen pictures where guys will use zip ties or straps and figure out ways to secure the bricks high inside the pack. I stuffed a ton of clothes and towels under the bricks and that helped a little. I’ve even put an empty plastic gallon container underneath the bricks to keep them high on a training run. Unfortunately, the GRC packs don’t have frames or hip straps, so they’re not ideal for carrying heavy loads, which means it will be tough on you physically. That’s part of the challenge.

  • Jim

    Ben, thanks for the tips. I’m currently beginning to prepare for the GoRuck coming this November. I did my first run this morning with a back pack that has chest strap, waiste strap, and adjustabel shoulder straps. In addition the the pack has some nice padding in various areas. I used a 15lb dumbell wrapped in a towel as my starting point. I ran approx 2.5 miles in just under 23 min. I found the following:

    1. my breathing was very relaxed and never reached heavy breathing. That was surprising.
    2. The pack was tight and comfortable with the weight just slightly below ky waste line.
    3. While my breathing was easy, I found my quads, glutes, and ankles feeling the stress of the weight and don’t feel I could have gone much more than a couple more miles.

    My questions are:

    1. Are the goruck packs recommended/required? what are your thoughts?
    2. Should I be concerned with the aches associated with such a short run? Is there enough time to build up? (i am a regular crossfiter 4 to 5 times a week and generally very competitive within the box)

    Thanks for your feedback!!
    gj

  • Hi Jim, thanks for reading and writing in. To answer your questions…you have to use a GoRuck pack on the Challenge and they do not have hip straps or chest straps. You can see their complete line of product at goruck.com. A primary component of the GRC is dealing with the discomfort of a pack loaded with tons of weight for a long distance…the GRC packs are not ideally suited for running. You will have to manage that. I recommend purchasing one ahead of time and then mod’ing it. For instance, you can buy chest strap additions and that helps. You’ll also want to play with strapping your bricks high in the interior of the pack and that really helps.

    See this blog for how Asha does it: http://nuffsaid6.blogspot.com/2011/07/goruck-echo-mods-and-setup-field.html

    For the second part of your query, expect nearly 40 lbs of load in your pack after your bag gets wet. Train with 30-40 lbs and build up your running distance in increments. You will have aches and pains…that is unavoidable. What I highly highly recommend is doing some serious strength and conditioning of your knees and hips. That will save you a lot of grief. I wrote a post that addresses this:
    http://benogrady.com/goruck-training-robocop-legs/

    Enjoy the challenge!

  • Nrsthree

    Ben: excellent article! Many thanks for the info. I plan to sign up for GoRuck Jax in November. One question: in building the leg strength you mentioned how many days per week do you recommend doing the long lunges & running with a pack? I’ve had some of the same overuse knee injuries you mentioned so I want to be sure I get that part of the training right. Thanks in advance for your feedback & for the post.

  • I did the leg work at least one day per week with other CrossFit stuff 3-4 days and that worked for me. Just don’t injure yourself. I recommend a weighted ruck run also one day per week, building your miles up incrementally. I wrote a post with some other lower body training ideas: http://benogrady.com/goruck-training-robocop-legs/

  • Guest

    Thanks for the tips. Do you have any additional suggestions as far as maintaining hydration and electrolyte consumption?

  • Stephen Foster

    Great article. I just signed up for the Austin GoRuck in March, giving me about 14 weeks to train.  I’m in decent shape having just completed Army basic training but have never competed in or trained for an event of this magnitude before.  I cannot afford a personal trainer and was wondering if you had any tips or resources for cost-effective techniques or programs to help prepare.  I’ve never ran long distance before consistently and only recently started runs >3 miles. 

    Thanks again for the write up, your site has been a huge help!

  • Stephen, if you can afford to go to a CrossFit gym 2-3 days per week, that’s a good start. That will generally increase your fitness and strength. Besides that, go on weighted runs every week and gradually increase your distance and load. Start off slowly. If you’re at 3 miles now, work up to a 5 miler, than do a 5 miler with a light load, say 10-15 lbs. Go up from there. 

  • Cakneeland75

    Those are great words and tips! I am gearing up for a Super Spartan after being lethargic for about a year. And I have been eyeballing the GoRuck after the SealFit Kokoro this summer. You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned the mental aspect of these types of challenges. Thanks for the training advice and I hope more people read this and go for it! Train hard my warrior friend!

  • Nika

    I am looking at doing this. I love anything that will challenge me to go completely out of my comfort zone. What would you suggest I do to prepare? My challenge is not until April but I would like to start after I complete the half marathon I am doing this weekend. I am a female 63″ and 114lbs. I have a gym membership but cannot afford a trainer. I have an issue with my left knee due to 11 years of killing myself in the Corps. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

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