It’s 7PM, Friday 9/9/11 and I find myself in a dingy one-room loft apartment in SOHO. I’ve just signed a death waiver so detailed that I’m not even sure I own my own soul anymore. The police are combing the streets trying to chase down a possible terrorist threat and I’m carrying 30lbs of bricks on my back. I’m sweating. I’m about to start the GoRuck Challenge New York City and experience some #goodLivin first hand.
Let’s backup for a minute. In April I completed the Tough Mudder in Bear Creek PA. 11.5miles of cold muddy fun with some bone-crunching obstacles thrown in [read more here]. Almost immediately following that I started jones-ing for the next challenge. I had actually found Tough Mudder easy enough, despite lots of long lines and cold, it turned out to be very do-able physically. So I resolved to find something more difficult. The Goruck Challenge (http://goruckchallenge.com) seemed like a good candidate so after a LOT of self-doubt and debating I signed up.
I remember thinking at the time “why am I doing this? I’m not sure if I can do it”, then realizing that was exactly why I needed to sign up. GoodLivin’ had begun.
A lot of folks have asked why do this. I guess if you have to ask then I can’t explain it. For me these challenges are an opportunity to appreciate life, to appreciate health and make the most of it. Here I am with the opportunity and the physical ability to be able to attempt something like this. That’s not something I take lightly. There are a lot of people who don’t have that opportunity through no fault of their own.
Over the last four plus years I’ve watched my wife go through various treatments, radiation, chemotherapy and surgeries and there have been times when something as simple taking a walk together has been out of reach. When just to be able to sit quietly and not have the room spin has been a blessing. I also have known others who’ve passed either in 9/11 or through cancer and out of respect for their families I won’t mention them here but all these people would’ve appreciated the chance to do something like this. Since I have the chance I won’t take it for granted.
Along with signup fee I committed to raising some cash for the Green Beret Foundation and purchased a Radio Ruck. I had no idea which bag to get but this turned out to be a good choice and I’ve already used it in my daily life on a recent business trip. More on the bag later.
The Challenge was set for 9/9/11 at 19:00, we’d be running all night. I had roughly 3 months to prepare. I’ve already spoken about my training here, here, here and here. I’m not a personal trainer, I don’t have a coach. So training for me was sort of a hit-or-miss affair and I muddled through. Overall I think I did OK. I focused on upper-body, shoulders, core, running with a pack and my back. I really did not want to get beat up or cause a lasting injury from this ridiculous activity.
I ran with an old Russell Athletic crappy bag I had, found 20lbs of bricks in the back yard. The neighbors are convinced I am nuts by now. I mostly ran about 6 miles, in hot weather (NJ summer heat). I only really ran with the pack about 6 times. Mostly I ran without it and tried to change up the run by inserting pushups every half mile and pullups at the various kids playgrounds. The kids in the neighbourhood also think I’m nuts. Evenings I would visit Lifetime and row or do my burpee/pushup/pullup combo which is a good way to push your VO2 Max.
I don’t really have a huge amount of time to train but I made the most of what I had and come race day I was more or less ready. Areas I could’ve done more in are lower-body, squats, lunges and interval training. This bit me during the challenge as we’ll see in a minute. Meanwhile here’s everything I brought:
Our class was assigned the number 057 and we were slated for a 7PM start. I had spent the previous day drinking a gallon of water and 2 quarts of Pedialyte. I had kept drinking that day itself so as 7PM came and went I was pretty much amped up and ready to explode. After signing our waivers, Jennifer Paquette, the Executive Director of the Green Beret Foundation showed up to kick off the weekend with some thoughtful words. Her husband is a green beret who’s lost both legs below the knee. This was starting to get meaningful.
Our cadre’s name was Lou. Lou’s a man you don’t meet every day. A tall guy, well built, tanned and confident. I had pre-conceived notions of a full-metal-jacket Sergeant Hartman type leading us around. Right from the get go I could tell Lou wasn’t that, but he wasn’t our best friend either. At least not yet. As he read out the briefing I was starting to wonder what this guy’s seen. He has the look of a guy who’s been there and back. He’s steady. Confident. Takes no shit. You could probably drop him in any given cluster-f*ck of a situation and he’s going to keep his head.
We paired up 2-by-2 and it turned out our class headcount was only 28. No matter. I was paired up with my “battle buddy” Evan Lotzof and we set off running at an easy pace for Battery Park. The first bear crawl happened in the covered footbridge on the way to Battery Park. Up the stairs and over, nothing major but the trick was to keep alongside your buddy. Work as a team, don’t take off on your own.
We got to the water-side assembled into 4 rows of 7 and dropped packs for some basic PT. Lou had already cautioned us that the packs are not to be taken off without his say-so. Here we did a combination of Pushups, Flutter kicks, Air Squats and more Pushups all to Lou’s cadence. We sprung back up, put packs on and got ready for buddy carries.
As soon as I put my ruck back on I felt dizzy. Oh dear. Time to throw up. The combination of squats and pushups had pulled all the blood from my core. I’m sure Evan was thinking “this guy’s done, why’d I get paired up with this joker?”. That was physically the worst I felt all night.
Lucky for me Evan is a horse. With the pack I probably weighed 210lbs easily and Evan hauled me down the walkway no problem. 15 minutes later I was back to normal. I hadn’t thrown up. In terms of buddy carries there was no way I could carry Evan, I was just not strong enough so we figured out a strategy of pairing up with other people for buddy carries. This worked much better.
As far as feeling woozy I was not alone. We continued our PT with dive-bombers on the grass during which another big dude got queasy. I took his pack (which couldn’t hit the ground) and he recovered. A couple of others experienced the same throughout the night. Thankfully no one hurled, no one quit and no one was sent home.
Each team is asked to bring an extra 25lb weight as a team weight. This can be anything of the team’s choosing and in our case was recovered metal and glass from the world trade centers. The extra weight is put into a bag which gets passed around from team member to team member as the night progresses. At times you can be running with as much as 55-60lbs depending. A piece of our team weight:
The class behind us (
058 059) arrived at our old spot by the water and proceeded to begin their PT. Here is where Lou’s fiendish side came out. He decided to split off a small team of 3 or 4 to infiltrate the 058 059 team and pretend to be one of them. It was early in the night so teams wouldn’t have known every member. The rest of us would distract whilst our plant would steal the team’s “bitch bag”. Needless to say we pulled this off flawlessly. A classic move. This pleased Lou greatly and I’m sure team 058 059 was SEVERELY punished at having fallen foul of such a disgrace. We were already gelling as a team.
We continued around the tip of Manhattan to the Healing Field project. One flag for every life lost on 9/11. This was an impressive sight, even in the dark and a solemn reminder of the meaning of the weekend. Then we crab walked down Wall Street. A roach led me most of the way. I would get close to stomping him then he’d run off again. We stopped at George Washington for a photo op then continued down to the Wall Street Bull. More Photos. Then on to Brooklyn.
On the way we held a race. The losers got punished. I’m not saying what happened but this was integral in forming of the team. Maybe you can figure it out.
We hoofed over the Brooklyn Bridge. Anytime someone would ask us what we were doing the entire class would yell “GO-RUCK”. Sometimes we would ask ourselves what were doing, just as we passed someone sleeping or passed out on a bench. You gotta stay alert in New York City.
Once in Brooklyn we made our way down to the “beach” which is nothing more than a pile of slippery rocks. We waded in and laid down for some more PT. Pushups and flutter kicks. The night was hot and humid so the water was actually pretty nice. I changed my shirt but it really didn’t matter as ten minutes later it was soaked in sweat again. Given the heat we stopped regularly for water and I think I drank about 7 litres over the course of the night judging by the refills of my camelbak.
We picked up two massive coupons in Brooklyn, the first a huge log, estimated at around 500 to 700lbs. That’s about 50 stone for all my Irish friends. The second was a railroad tie around 300 lbs or 22 stone. These were carried for what seemed like hours. Back into New York over the Manhattan bridge into Chinatown, up Bowery and then over to Washington Square Park. This was far and away the toughest part of the challenge. Not only were they heavy, they were awkward. The log was irregular and you could not get comfortable with it. We tried padding the thing with cardboard found on the sidewalk but it was too little too late. Even now, days later my right shoulder has a huge road-rash area with no skin left. GoodLivin.
Once we dropped the log I think we all would agree the challenge became easy. We had gelled completely as a team. We ran up to Times Square, up to Central Park and watched the sun come up. Then jogged back downtown again.
Our challenge ended at a firehouse in lower Manhattan. This particular firehouse lost seven firefighters in 9/11 and our visit was arranged by a team member, Laura Cross, who’s father was a New York City battalion chief.
“Chief Cross, 60, known as Captain Fearless, lived with his wife in Islip Terrace, N.Y. His favorite saying was, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Take care of the men and the men will take care of you.Ã¢â‚¬Â “
Here’s the coincidence. Our class number was 057, his battalion number was 57. I’m not sure how this happened. There’ll only ever be one team 057 and there’ll only ever be one 10th anniversary of 9/11 so what a great way to memorialize him.
We buddy carried half the team the last 500′ into the firestation where after 15.5miles and 11 hours Lou declared us officially GoRuck Tough.
A note on the bag: As I’ve already said I bought a Radio Ruck. The bags are advertised as tough but we’ve all heard that before. Well after going through this challenge I threw my bag in the laundry to get the East River out of it. It’s good as new. By way of example at one point we decided carrying the enormous log would be easier if we took our packs off and got on either side of the log with the packs underneath. Each person held one strap of a pack whilst the log rested across all the packs. I was sure the bags would be trashed or rip a strap under the massive load but they held up fine. This worked great but Lou didn’t like it so we switched back to carrying the log on our shoulders. Bottom line is these bags are tough as nails.
What’s it all about? If you think this challenge is about a personal goal you’re right and you’ll be tested. Physically this is an extreme activity and I’ve left a lot out. We did a LOT of stuff and it was physically VERY tough but the challenge was not all about the physical. We could’ve done more pushups, carried more stuff, ran more miles. At the end I was tired but definitely not done-in. In the days that followed I was sore but to be honest I’ve been worse off in training.
For me this challenge is all about taking a group of individual people, of varying strengths and weaknesses and forming them into a team. You get a glimpse into the type of mental conditioning the army goes through when stakes are high. You go from a mode of “how can I get myself through this” to a mode of “how can I finish quick so I can go help out someone next to me”. Your mindset changes from thinking about all the stuff that lies ahead and psyching yourself out to breaking the task into smaller chunks and focusing on the immediate task at hand, getting yourself through the next 50 feet. That’s invaluable. If only there was a way to work this into corporate america 😉
I would be remiss to end without a word of thanks: To all in 057. This group quickly put egos aside and were generally out for a good time. And of course my battle buddy Evan Lotzof who kept the party going with Mitch Hedberg jokes. You’re a horse in a fake tuxedo! Thanks 057 for a great night and here’s to many more.
Overall this was a great experience. I’ve met a lot of new people, gained some new friends and shared an experience and memories that will last a lifetime. My kids are at an impressionable age and I think it’s also a good influence on them to see that these kinds of crazy things are attainable and achievable. I’ve also pushed my own self to a new level both mentally and physically. That kind of goodlivin money can’t buy. Whatever you want in life, it’s there for the taking.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. What are we dooooowaannn? GO-RUCK!
Now go checkout Asha Wagner’s account of the night: http://nuffsaid6.blogspot.com/2011/09/goruck-tough-class-057-with-you.html
Here are some other pics from the night:
P.S. Thanks to Evan also for some of the pics which I stole from FB.