GoRuck Alaska: Back-to-Back Tough and Light

“No, it’s not a group suicide…”

Shortly after sunrise, 26 weirdos were standing at the edge of a steep bluff on the Alaskan coastal trail ready to rappel down a hundred or so feet to the rocky shore. We were covered in mud, wore heavy rucks, and literally smelled like crap. A drunk couple yelled down to us to ask if this was a group suicide. Everyone laughed and reassured them we were okay, but once we reached the shore we did an exercise in the surf that simulates drowning in ankle deep water, so I suppose their confusion was understandable. Just another day in GoRuck event paradise.

GoRuckToughRockingChairs

GoRucks are the oddball events of the OCR – Endurance world. There’s an abundance of obstacles, filth and heavy things to carry, but there’s no set course or timing chips. They start when you meet up with a genuine Special Forces Cadre, then venture out as a group to push beyond the limits you thought existed over 13 hours with a smile on your face – and at least 40 pounds on your back at all times.

Our 9 pm starting point was a park near the coast in downtown Anchorage. The Cadre for this event was a Navy SEAL, so I was fairly terrified. Would this guy be crazy enough to send us into the tidal flats and frigid Alaskan ocean? Going off the GoRuck website pic, he didn’t strike me as being an overly cautious.

CADRE BRETT

GoRuckCadreBrett

We didn’t wait long for the answer. First task after roll call: go to the beach, get completely wet and muddy, then come back here. “You’ve got 5 minutes.”

I’m pretty sure most people knew whatever we did wouldn’t be good enough. On our 5th try, we finally got it right. Our reward for getting completely filthy was sitting in a saltwater trench and then “disappearing” underwater for 5 seconds as a group – adding 10 pounds of water to our rucks in the process.

Once out of the water, the 2-hour welcome party started with pushup facing downhill. Somewhere on the way to our 20 rep goal, the Cadre made us start over. I lost count of how many times we were reset back to zero (someone’s knees would fall, we weren’t in sync, the man bun the Cadre’s hair was in was too tight, etc.), but it was a lot and I’m pretty sure we did at least 80 in a row. Restarting the counts happened a lot, regardless of the exercise we were doing.

GoRuckToughWelcomeParty

The party ended with an over-under tunnel of love that was downright painful.

GoRuckToughTOL

Then we were given our first mission: locate and transport a pair of listening devices along the coast. The enemy had cleverly disguised the devices as heavy logs.

GoRuckToughListeningDevice

The devices were moved along the trail to a secure checkpoint: a swamp with 2 inches of goose poop floating on the water. It was guarded by a hornet’s nest, but almost everyone snuck by without getting stung.  The lighter device was discarded and the heavier one continued its journey.

GoRuckToughCrapPond

At 26 people, the heavier device seemed manageable. But this being GoRuck, Cadre Brett made things interesting by saying only the task’s team leads could talk. Within minutes, two people broke the rule and became casualties.

GoRuck Lesson 1: Follow the instructions or wish you did.

Casualties in GoRuck mean bodies need to be carried. Each casualty takes two people off the log (er, device support): the injured and the carrier. Things go from being manageable to sucking quickly. Everyone shut up after that and developed mad sign language skills.

A few quiet miles later, we reached a bridge the Cadre deemed unsafe. We headed off trail to the mouth of a ravine and tied a rope bridge to cross under. Hooking yourself to 100’ of rope with a carabineer and dragging yourself across a ravine is an interesting experience. Doing it in the dark while pushing and kicking tree branches out of the way made it downright exhilarating.

We recovered the listening device and made it to a bluff along the coast just short of the airport runway for a break where Brett told us a funny story about his first combat Op. It involved him and a SEALs team watching a group of drunken Iraqis ride a bucking donkey in Baghdad sort of like a rodeo. After that, we overhead pressed the log while he briefed the new team leads on the next task: moving the device to a steep bluff so we could kick it down the hill to the ocean.

The device hadn’t stopped careening downhill when Brett said (laughing) we had to go down after it. This is where we learned how to rappel, and it was pretty fun.

GoRuckToughRappel

After the drowning exercise in the freezing surf, we packed 500+ pounds of rocks into sandbags and headed up the coast for a timed and a series of other fast marches (most of which we failed). About midway through our last march, the Cadre noticed people were too far spaced out. Bam! 5 casualties. As we slowed, the 5 casualties became 10.

At 10 bodies, everyone was carrying bodies, being carried or holding multiple rucks. Our group started failing one by one. Seemingly annoyed, the Cadre told us to stop and march back to the Goose Crap lagoon to pick up another listening device. The groans were audible. Then he smiled and said “just kidding, you’re done.”

It took a second to process, but after it sunk in, everyone swore at Brett with genuine passion, then relief. After 13 hours, our Tough class graduated.

GoRuckToughFinish

A few of us had signed up for the GoRuck Light that was scheduled to start four hours later.

The five of us returning after the Tough were hoping the Light would be easier. After roll call, Brett made two of the returning Tough alums the team leads and said “you know what I want to see.”

“Okay everyone, down to beach to get wet and covered in mud.” Surprise! We missed the time hack. Our penalty: the Tunnel of Love through a muddy ditch.

GoRuckLightLuvTunnel

W elephant walked out of the inlet and hiked a few miles to a lagoon and formed two rows in the water, then were told to disappeared for five seconds.

GoRuckLightDisappear

Since we were completely soaked, it was time for another welcome party. For the Light, exercises were in sets of 10 and he didn’t reset the counter on us. It seemed like he was genuinely trying to keep this one more fun focused – and we got to see his sarcastic sense of humor come out more.

After the welcome party and more elephant walking, we arranged the rucks into two course markers to play “it pays to be a winner.”

We divided into 2 teams of 8 for a series of wheelbarrow, leapfrog, low crawl, barrel rolls, etc. races against each other. In the first two races, winners sat in the shade for a break while the losing team jumped into the lake to disappear for five seconds. Losers in the 3rd race received a punishment so bad I won’t even talk about it.

Next up was a timed hike to acquire a new listening device camouflaged as a tree along the rocky coast. It was so light I asked Brett where the hell it had been during the Tough. A few hundred feet down the trail, another listening device (this time disguised as an enormous rock) was identified and hooked up to the first one. Not surprisingly, a 2nd device resembling a large rock was added up shortly after that.

GoRuckLightListeningDev

We marched the devices back to the starting point, only to be turned back to the beach. Back on the coast, the devices were unbundled and chucked into the sand. Graduation time? Nope. 19 group burpees instead.

Once the last of the burpees was counted out, the moment everyone had been waiting for finally arrived after 4 hours and the patches come out.

GoRuckLightGraduation

The feeling of pride having fought off the urge to stay home after the tough and coming back to finish both events is something I think the 5 of us will remember for a long time.

These events are truly special. You meet amazing people and get to hang with genuinely elite members of the armed forces to celebrate fitness and America.  Video from the event is available here .

Can’t wait for GoRuck Pearl Harbor Heavy in December.

Photo Credit: Brett Vernon, Christopher Lutes, Ralph Swan, Louie Weigers.

BattleFrog Xtreme vs. Triple Digit Heat in Portland

If the devil visited the course on race day, he would have worn shorts. My hometown greeted the BattleFrog crew with a blistering 100+ dose of PNW sun.

BattleFrog - BFX Briefing - Portland

The BattleFrog Extreme (BFX) started with a 7:45 briefing / PT Session from the Beard himself, and then an 8:15 send off from Coach Pain (after a person who missed the 7:45 briefing was publically hazed). Our goal was as many laps of the 8k course as possible, but whatever lap we were on 6.5 hours later would be our last. You could stop at 3 laps for a BFX medal, but an extra gold star for each lap would be waiting at the finish line if you wanted more – and a silver star at lap 5.

BattleFrog - Coach Pain - Portland

Coach Pain’s send off was great. The guy channels Don King’s lyricism, Leonidas’ inspirational touch and Jack Lalane’s passion for being awesome in all things fitness. And he’s a super nice! After the race I shook his hand and thanked him for the boost at the start. He pointed to my BFX medal and said it meant a lot to him to see me wearing that. Kids need that sort of guy as a role model.

The race course started easy enough going up a hill. A bunch of people ran up it while I did a slow jog, then it leveled out and I started passing. After a nice downhill in the shade we turned back up for the full sun exposure parts of the course. There were a few standards O-U-Ts, walls, and then a pond / horse toilet where the Normandy Jacks supported low wires we had to crawl under.

BattleFrog BFX Stinky Pond - Portland

After the pond there was a nice trail section again with some shade that didn’t last, and then the Jerry Can carry. These 50 pound containers of water felt easy on the first few laps, but they morphed into instruments of torment as the day got hotter. The unshaded loop we carried them on was long, and had respectable inclines.

BattleFrog Jerry Can Portland

Still, most everything was simple on lap one. The early morning flow helped burn off a lot of the nervous energy. The muddy creek we traversed, mud mounds and the quicksand obstacle were all still fresh – and they all took turns dumping new rocks into our shoes. Later in the day, these became shoe stealing and cramp inducing bogs where the mud didn’t stop until it hit your knees.

What stood out by lap one was the obstacle variety. This was my 12th OCR / endurance event, and I’d developed a bit of “been there, conquered that” cockiness about most OCR things not called an Ultra Beast. Any meathead can push through Spartan obstacles, but the BF stuff is tricky and took some real thought.

On my first lap, I successfully navigated the elite wedge wall. I think the cliffhanger from ANW might be easier. The thing leans backwards, uses rock climbing hand holds that are unevenly distributed and goes on forever. But let’s talk about that platinum rig…  I completed this contraption on 3 of 4 laps, but even after watching my video I still can’t tell you how. Were the course directors downing shots and commiserating over bad breakups when they designed that thing? The rope to Olympic ring transitions were awkward enough, but the varying heights of the rings made that thing exceptionally hard. Battlefrog, I owe you an apology for underestimating your courses…. Those obstacles are about as “easy” as Coach Pain is timid and shy.

Lap 1 ended shortly after I made it up the tall rope climb (above 2 inches of hay?) and through the Tip of the Spear (a really, super fun and semi technical obstacle). At under 1:20, I was feeling good about getting five laps in.

I’d read about the triple digit heat and thought I was ready. Instead of steady pacing the day, I planned to go out a faster and bank as many laps as possible before the heat caught up. I restocked my hydration belt, downed a Gatorade and some Nuun spiked water and took off. About 1:25 minutes later I was back again, with only a minor calve cramp from spacing calories too far apart. Lap 3 took 11 minutes longer, but the body was still showing me love so I took off for #4 feeling cocky.

It had been oppressively hot for a while before lap 4, but I thought I was managing it well. After all, I’d made it through the Platinum Rig three times already – and that thing’s impossible! The medics by the drop area asked if I wanted them to pour cold water on my head before leaving. I tapped the hydration packs on my waist, gave them a cheesy grin and said “no worries, I got this” and took off up the hill.

BattleFrog - BFX PDX - On Site Medics

Around 1:30 the course felt like Hades. The stinky pond with the Normandy Jacks now felt like an Oasis that I didn’t want to leave. I put all of my body that fit into the water to cool down a bit. After some more trail weaving, those wretched Jerry Cans were back. While lugging that thing uphill my core temp started feeling nuclear, and the heart rate started spiking. I set the can down a few times, but even after rest I felt just as tired as I did before stopping. Then the cramps started. I didn’t realize until afterwards that my final hour on the course was going to be a textbook case of heat exhaustion.

Shortly after posing for my last Jerry Can picture, muscles in my abs started visibly balling up under the skin. Every time a mud obstacle would come, cramps in the legs started firing off like a symphony. And it got progressively worse.

The legs didn’t get all the fun. The 90+ obstacles had taken an upper body toll. My forearms started seizing and locked the affected hand into a claw-like pose. Even flexing for a picture triggered the “claw” cramping. It was pretty grim, but then waves of nausea started and they helped take my mind off the cramping.

After moving like a zombie for a bit, it was round 4 with the rig. This time, I failed. The volunteer told me he wouldn’t make me do the penalty loop. Yeah right, like I’m going to start cheating on lap 4? I insisted. He pointed to a 50-pound wreck bag to carry round the loop. I found out later he was being nice, because he didn’t tell me I was also supposed to grab a Jerry Can. Sorry BF, I tried to honor your rules.

The final trudge to the hilltop cemetery felt appropriately symbolic before turning down to the finish line. After three more obstacles (where it was a constant struggle not to vomit), my 20 mile, 120 obstacle and 2,800 feet of elevation gain journey in the blazing heat was over.

If I were a horse in a 1950’s western, they would have shot me at the finish line. Instead, I was pampered with water and ice, and given a huge medal with 4 stars for my effort. I crossed the finish line 6:39 minutes after I started (too late to go out for another lap) and came in 7th among the men.

BattleFrog- BFX Swag - Portland

After the race, the medics watched us like hawks. I hadn’t been laying down for more than a couple of minutes before they had ice packs under both of my arms and behind my neck. Battlefrog really took everyone’s safety in that heat seriously. Watching them constantly checking on their volunteers throughout the day to make sure they were doing alright just reinforced this group’s class.

The course was great, the people were amazing, and I really fell in love with the way this crew rolls. Count me as one of the BF converts. Easily one of the better times I’ve ever had on a course.

If you’d like a highlights visual of the course with Tchaikovsky in the background, an 8-minute video of the day is available here .

Photo Credits: “cool random guy at the shower station” and Chosen Technologies via BattleFrog.