GoRuck 24 Hour Challenge: Learning From Failures

Monday, April 24, 2017

Well, I’m sitting in a restaurant in Omaha recounting my GoRuck Heavy experience. The funny thing is… not one time since it ended did I wonder if I packed the right thing or wear the right shoes. All my thoughts are around my mental state and physical capacity to suffer. If I lacked anything, it was that. During the opening speech, they said they would push us all to the breaking point physically and mentally, and that we would consider quitting. I didn't think that would be me!

It started off with people gathering in the park and greeting each other. Some people were first-time Heavy attempters. Others had tried and failed, and still others had completed the event and wanted to do another one. As soon as the cadres showed up, they started calling people over to weigh their bags even before the official start time. Mine weighed 40lbs. As soon as the attendees weighed in, they were instructed to form a line and hold their rucks over their heads; therefore, the first person had to hold his ruck for a very long time. Needless to say, people started failing to hold them up. After that was completed, we were given a talk about how hard it was going to be and that if we were idiots and decided to drink too much water too quickly, we could go ahead and "piss ourselves". I got the point. It's going to be tough and suck bad.

Next, came the PT test. The requirements were 55 push ups (in 2 minutes) and 65 sit ups (in 2 minutes). Only 4 people out of 17 were able to do both according to the criteria established by the cadres. We were all chastised for the lack of physical ability in our team.

James and Corey Wearing Their Headlamps

Preparation is key

Then, the fun really began! We were asked to bear crawl with our packs on across a field, which was about 120 yards or so. “Okay,” I thought. “I got this.” We got about halfway and were told to go back. This went on for several attempts. We were starting to get tired, and we all realized we had no idea how many times we were going to be asked to bear crawl across that field. It took our team about 1hr to get this done. The bear crawl wasn't hard for me. I could have done it all night long and been fine; however, some people couldn't even make it once across the field, hence the reason we had to start over so many times. Finally, people started taking the weak persons ruck and dragging it for him.

Unfortunately, we finished the bear crawl and the real work began. Creosoted railroad ties were in a parking lot chained together. We were instructed to lift them up and were showed how to get them on our shoulders. We quickly realized they were insanely heavy. Just getting them to our shoulders was crushing physically and mentally as we were told we better get used to them for the next 24 hrs. I don't have good shoulder joints, and I was immediately worried about the health of my shoulders. I can carry a lot of weight, but my shoulders sublux easily. I didn't know how they would perform.

Once the entire team got the beams on their shoulders, we were told to lift them overhead. Words can't describe how hard that was. Immediately after pressing the beams overhead, they started crushing us, and we had to let them down to our shoulders. No sympathy or acknowledgment of their weight was offered from the cadres. We were just told immediately to get them over our heads. Each time we failed. The beams were dropped on heads and shoulders followed by a repeat of getting them over our heads. Finally, the team with my beam stumbled or something, and we dropped it! I tried to catch it as it was coming down, which caused me to front flip over the beam and onto the ground. The beams being chained together causing it to tug on everyone else’s beam. Amazingly, no one got hurt, and we were able to get the beam back up onto our shoulders. It's funny how nice it was to just have the beam on our shoulders and not have to press it overhead! It's all relative.

After a team lead (TL) and an alternate team lead(ATL) was chosen, we started rucking with the beams. The ATL was my friend. The TL neglected to tell us where or how far we were going, but we rucked none the less. The beams were crushing me. This was obviously going to be the hardest part for me. Being one of the tallest ones in the group, I could tell I was shouldering a lot of the load of my beam, and I started thinking it was too much. That was my first mental mistake. I started struggling so bad that someone in front of me said to the TL that they better get me switched out for someone the right height....Or, at least thats how I interpreted it. I was put on the back of a 3 person log with a girl in the middle. It became very obvious to me that she was shouldering almost none of the load. We would switch shoulders often to give our sides a break. Each time we switched, I could tell the weight didn't change when she was under it. I got frustrated and asked her if she was carrying the log and she replied “yes.” So, maybe it was just me, but I felt crushed by these logs, and it seemed I was struggling more than most. Maybe it was my height, maybe I was working way harder than everyone else, maybe I was weak, or maybe I just thought I was struggling more and was internally complaining about it?!?! I have no idea, but unlike the bear crawl, I thought these logs might do me in. After 2.5 miles we arrived at a creek near a running trail. We were allowed to put the log down and were instructed to slowly make our way down a very steep grassy bank and get in the creek. I knew we would get wet. I was ready for this. I was also extremely thankful to be done with the stupid log for a period of time. Nothing could be as bad as that, right?

Once we made our way down into the water, it was very clear this was going to be cold. My expectations were we might have to get in up to our waists. I was wrong. We were asked to go all the way across, which wasn’t actually far and it wasn't deep. We were asked to tell our cadre what the creek bed was comprised of. We replied, “sand and rocks.” He then gave us instructions on what we were doing there. He said we would be doing ‘Man Makers’, which have several different names. It's basically similar to a burpee with your ruck sack. It starts by holding your ruck to your chest, slamming it down into the water, diving in chest first and submerging all parts of your body, getting back up and pressing your ruck overhead. Several things that are important to understand. The water was cold! Your ruck quickly fills with water and becomes very heavy! When you stand back up, you can’t wipe your eyes as your holding your ruck. We were told we had to do 100 reps of these, and just as with the bear crawl the first several reps didn't count because people weren't putting heir heads under. Some people had dry hair after 2 or 3 reps; therefore, our official count was still at 0!!!

Everyone has a breaking point, and it quickly became apparent this was going to be it for many people. One person had quit near the beginning while carrying the log. He got dizzy and started falling over. My friend the ATL helped him for a while, but he couldn't take it. He was our first loss. The girl who was in the middle "helping" carry my log quit very early in the water. Probably after the first couple of dunks. Then, a guy started complaining about back spasms. He was the third.

Back to the ‘Man-Makers’... Right from the start people started falling over and going under because they couldn't stand up--me included. It was hard to keep your balance as you struggled tripping over rocks and sinking in sand. All I could think was how glad I was to not be carrying the log. I started to shake and as soon as I thought, “I'm cold and can't wait to get out,” I realized that meant carrying those logs and was immediately happy to be in the water. We kept doing Man-Makers--struggling, tripping, falling, and more people quitting. It was during this time, my friend started struggling so much in the water the cadre asked him if he was drunk, and he wasn't joking. My friend didn't answer. He just couldn't get his footing nor could he get his bag above his head. He stumbled all the way back into the middle of the creek and fell all the way under several times. He must have been exhausted. I saw him do it once and started to get concerned. I knew if my friend was struggling this bad, it wasn’t good. He's one of the strongest and most perseverant people I know. As we pressed on, my friend hit a breaking point and said he was done. This was around number 30-35. A lot of things went through my mind about how our dry clothes were back at the starting point in the same bag and how would that work out if I stayed? What would he do? How would we meet back up if we split, and I also felt responsible since this whole thing was my idea. It was honestly hard to process my thoughts then. I decided to go with my friend. He didn't ask me to. I just went. I knew he was hurting, and I felt somehow responsible. As I walked across the bank, he tried to step up and fell over backwards into the creek. I tried to catch him and help him up. We got him onto the bank, the cadre took his ruck a little ways up the bank, and I helped my friend up the steepest part of the ledge. We finally got up to the top and regained ourselves. He started shaking worse and couldn't even operate the clip on his bag to get something from the inside, nor was I able to understand him. He told me later his biceps hurt from shaking and clinching so hard--pretty crazy when you think about it.

We got our clothes from the cadres vehicle, and I called a Lyft back to our hotel. Thankfully, the driver was kind enough to turn the heat up all the way. Anyone who knows me, knows I hate being hot. This might be the first time in my life I appreciated the heater being all the way up.

When we got back to the hotel room, my friend was doing better. He was talking and even making jokes again.

Even though my friend and I didn't complete the event, I learned a lot about myself. I learned I hate cheaters, and I met several on my team. When bear crawling, I thought I was going to get into a fight when I saw a guy with his knees down when he wasn't struggling that bad because he didn't think the cadres could see him. I let him know how I felt and he kept telling me shut up! I was ready for him to try something with me, but he didn't.

James golfing after the GoRuck Heavy Challenge

Enjoying some post GoRuck golf

I also learned I don't like doing team events with people I don't trust or know. I didn't know this about myself before, but I found myself doubting everyone's effort. I felt like I was struggling and putting forth more effort than others. I don't know if this was true or not, but I didn't know these people. I didn't know who was pushing themselves and who wasn't. I trusted my friend. As long as I was with him, I knew I could trust him to put forth the same effort or greater than me. Everything in my body hurt and I felt like I was alone in that.

I also learned I can break too. When I was carrying that log, I struggled mentally. I struggled with thinking about how long my shoulders could hold up. I struggled with the pain my body was going through, and that's when doubt about my teammates immediately crept in. That's a horrible thing in a team event. Others seemed to trust or at least didn't care about their team mates efforts, but it was all I was thinking about. That’s what broke me down more than anything. Don't get me wrong, the log crushed me. My back hurt bad, my shoulders will have marks for weeks and my muscles in my legs burned, but if I was with people, I trusted I would have been stronger.

So, that's it. Am I going to try the heavy again??? I'm already mulling it over in my head. I have some more work to do, but I don't like failing at something. Now, I can empathize with all of those people I met at the start that had failed previously. Sometimes it takes learning from failures to finally overcome them.

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