Back in April, I posted that I signed up for a GORUCK Tough event as a way to test myself and give me something to train for. That challenge was held on August 5th in Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, about three weeks before the event, a back injury I caused about a year and a half ago flared up quite badly. I originally injured myself during back squats at the gym, and thought the issue had gone away. When it hit me this time, I couldn’t even turn my head to look around. It went away in about a week, but I decided it was better to play it safe and moved my registration to later this year. However, Vandenberg Air Force Base happened to be hosting a GORUCK Light event the following weekend under the headline of Vandenberg Team Cohesion Challenge.
The Light events are billed as being about 4-5 hours and 7-10 miles (as opposed to 12 hours and 15-20 miles on the tough). I figured that was a great opportunity to see where my weakness are, how my injury would be affected by the strain, and to do some gear testing along the way.
We arrived slightly before the 0800 start time on a cool and foggy Saturday morning. Cadre Michael “Shredder” in-briefed us and got started promptly. He mentioned that he loved the team cohesion challenges put on at various military bases because it meant that they got to push people a bit harder than they usually would for a “light” challenge. From there, he went right into physical challenges to start “gassing” people and see where our limits were.
I’m not going to relay every individual component of what we did because it’s not terribly relevant and because GORUCK likes keeping a semi-tight lid on what happens during its events. I will simply say that between the long marches, runs, climbing objects, and creative ways of moving nearly half a ton of “stuff” for miles and miles, all under time constraints, the event is a good test of your mental and physical endurance.
As Cadre Shredder repeatedly put it: “Nobody cares how you perform when you’re 100%. It’s how you respond when you’re exhausted and have nothing left that’s going to tell me what kind of person you are…”
In all, the event took six and a half hours, and covered twelve miles.
As far as my performance goes, I gleaned some valuable information. My lower body strength continues to be my strong suit. Carrying and pushing all that weight did not cause cramps or strain on my legs. My ankle, which has traditionally given me trouble, did great (physical therapy works, people!). However, my upper body needs work. In particular, I need to build up shoulder and back strength. I think fears of aggravating my neck/back injury have caused me to shy away from strengthening the area. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always give you the chance to choose when you need to act- so you need to be as capable as you can be. While I succeeded in the event and pushed to the end, there are several components that I don’t think I would have been successful at without the help of my team. Honestly, that goes for everyone there. That is the point of the event: to force people to rely on one another to push past weaknesses and succeed. When I do another GORUCK event, I don’t just want to make it to the end- I want to be the guy who really helps the team and helps others get there.
If you were thinking of doing one of these, I highly suggest committing to it. If you have a regular strength/cardio routine and can comfortably run 3-4 miles at a time, you will be fine. You will be huffing and puffing, but everyone else will be as well.
As far as stuff I brought:
Pack and contents
- GORUCK 26L GR1 pack
- Source 3L water bladder
- Pelican 1040 mini case for wallet, ID, phone, and keys
- Magpul medium Daka pouch with two Cliff Bars and a pack of Cliff blocks
- Packable wind breaker
- Outdoor Research 20L dry bag with fresh shirt and flip flops
- GORUCK 20lb rucking plate secured in place with cut up yoga block foam and paracord
- Petzl Tactikka+ headlamp (not used this event, but required to bring per the rules)
- Various caribiners and S-biners to hold things in place
- Reflective ankle bands attached to the outer MOLLE of the pack for visibility (also a required per the rules)
- Athletic boxer briefs
- Under Armour long sleeve golf shirt
- TAD Recon AC pants
- Darn Tough light cushion socks
- Salomon Forces Jungle Ultra boots
- Baseball cap
- Mechanix gloves
In all, everything held up well. I had been using the zippered laptop compartment of the GR1 for all of my training with a 30 lb weight, but switched to using the sleeve inside the main compartment for this one. The sleeve combined with some foam lining and paracord tie downs to the internal molle webbing helped keep the weight in place. During training, I found that the weight shifting around and bouncing in the ruck was quite annoying; this modification helped immensely for the actual event. I have a pending review of the excellent GR1 to post after a bit more testing.
The Salomon boots are fairly new, maybe about a month old. I purchased them to replace my worn out Belleville 633 Sabers, but the shade of “sage” is too dark to meet Air Force uniform requirements. Instead, they are serving as my go-to boots for everything else. Salomon boots tend to run narrow, so I had to spend a lot of time breaking them in, especially around the toe box. If I had to buy them again, I would probably go a half size up. I think I just squeaked by on this one, as they caused only minor rubbing during the event rather than the blisters I had when I first got them. Some folks got by with athletic shoes and shorts, but I was thankful to have boots and pants once we started moving over uneven terrain and thorny desert brush.
A huge lesson learned here came from load carriage. The GR1 has plenty of cushioning in the straps, and is built to carry loads, but does not have a hip belt or anything else to distribute that load. All of the weight is carried on the shoulders. After six and a half hours carrying about 35 lbs in the pack, my shoulders were in a lot of pain right under the straps. Some of that is a signal that I need to work on my shoulder strength. A lot of it is also the reality that carrying weight for long periods on just your shoulders sucks. Be it from the pressure or the friction of the strap rubbing on the same spot, I wasn’t very happy by the end. The folks out there thinking that they are going to roam around in a TEOTWAKI situation with a loaded down shoulder backpack are gravely mistaken.
For the rest of the day after finishing the event, I kept asking myself, “Why do that again?” I felt the sore shoulders, saw the bruised arms and legs, and had trouble walking from sore feet. But, 48 hours later, I’m sitting here thinking about how I’m going to make myself “better” for the next one. I suppose that’s true of most of these types of endurance/athletic events, be it marathons, Spartan Races, Tough Mudders, or some Crossfit event. You do it the first time to see if you can, and then some folks will decide that they want to be better at it.
Sometimes a man (or woman) just needs to challenge themselves. GORUCK is a great way to do that. The team building aspects are awesome. I have never seen anything like this outside of the military, and even the school I’ve been to didn’t take it as far. In a way it makes sense, since the Cadre of GORUCK come from a world where their job is to help individuals find the best versions of themselves and become teams. The leadership and teamwork lessons that you learn along the way are invaluable.