Wednesday, November 5, 2014

GORUCK Challenge Class 1241 AAR

This is an After Action Review (AAR) of the 2014 Halloween GORUCK Challenge in Boston, MA

This event was the hardest physical challenge that I've ever undertaken by a wide margin. First, the stats:

  • We started at 9PM and finished at 10:45AM (13 hours and 45 minutes later)
  • The Cadre estimated that we covered around 17 miles
  • 24 people started, and all 24 finished
  • My ruck weighed about 40 pounds, but as you will see I was rarely carrying just that

Having completed a GORUCK Light a few months prior, I figured this would be harder but not substantially different. I couldn't have been more wrong. The Challenge made the Light look like a backyard BBQ. I trained hard, following the GORUCK "Get Ready in 6 Weeks" plan religiously, and adding on top of that extra pushups (to stay on target for my goal), Taekwondo, and Ultimate Frisbee. Even with all of that the event was extremely difficult.

Welcome Party

Every Challenge is a little bit different, but typically they open with a "Welcome Party", where you spend a couple hours doing calisthenics as a team. The worst part of the welcome party for me was the buddy bear crawls. Here's an example from another GRC class. Unfortunately for us, about one third of the crawl was over hard, pebbled ground which tore up my back a little bit and was pretty uncomfortable overall. 

For some of these activities we had a "time hack", which is just a time limit for a given task. We had three of these during our welcome party, and missed all of them. There are consequences for missing time hacks, and for us three missed time hacks meant 1/3rd casualties for our first movement. This meant that 1/3rd of the people at the event had to be carried to the next objective. To spread the load out a little we had the people being carried give their rucks to the people who were not carrying anyone, which meant that every person either had another human on their back or two rucks. 


This first movement ended up being about three quarters of a mile, and we had a time hack we had to make. Luckily we were able to hit it, so upon reaching our destination we were able to revive four people and continue on with only four casualties. At this point we also spent some time in the Charles River, getting reminded that the Challenge is a team event.

After that we began a series of movements around Boston, typically with four casualties. This went on for a few hours, with one short section where we were able to drop all of the casualties and move under our own power as we tried to get out of a slightly hairy situation with a lot of drunk people who looked like they wanted to start a fight. I was carried during one of these legs, and I have to say that I prefer being on the ground. Riding on someone's back is uncomfortable, you feel useless, and you get cold quickly. 

"The Log"

At some point in the early morning (I think around 2AM) we started carrying a couple of relatively small logs that we found on the side of the road. We still had a couple casualties at this point, so it wasn't easy, but it was pretty manageable. Unfortunately, after a few minutes we stopped to exchange the two smaller logs for "The Log". I'm suspicious that this might have been planted by a previous class or Cadre, because it was conveniently located along our route and unbelievably heavy. It was over 20 inches in diameter at the small end, 12-14 feet long, and by some credible estimates at least 2000 pounds. I honestly thought that the Cadre was kidding when he told us to pick it up. He was not kidding. 

Due to its large diameter and relatively short length, we could only fit 13 people under the log. Because of height inconsistencies we had a limited number of people that could even be effective under that log, so those of us who carried it didn't really get to swap out. I honestly don't remember if people were trading off at all, but I know that I was under that thing for the full time that we had it with us. We handed off our rucks to the other team members to save space, and put the log on our shoulders for about 50 meters at a time before we had to take a break. Because we wanted to put as many people as possible under the log, there was only enough space to step forward about six inches at a time. We shuffled along like this for 2-3 hours, and carried that log over 1.5 miles. People were puking at points, I think some tears were shed, and everyone was pushing themselves as hard as they could.

This was the defining moment of the class for me, because it accomplished one of the key goals of the GORUCK Challenge - showing you that you can accomplish something that you previously thought was impossible with the help of a team. If you had asked me how far I thought we could carry that log, I might have said 100-200 meters. A mile and a half later I knew that we could carry that thing until the Cadre told us to stop, however long that took. 

More Logs and The End

Once we finally dropped the massive log we traded it for two smaller logs, each between 400-600 pounds, with one being slightly larger. This was clearly a favorable trade, but wasn't easy by any stretch of the imagination. These logs came with us for the next 2.2 miles, at which point we dropped one of them, and took the other one an additional 2 miles. We finally got rid of that last log near the Harvard Bridge a little after 10AM. Our final movement took us from there to the finish point, which ended up being Dillon's Restaurant for some much needed food and ACRT. Everyone received their patch, and we got a chance to chat more informally with the Cadre and each other. 


Saturday after the event I was pretty worthless, basically only able to clean my gear, shower, and go to sleep. On Sunday I could walk again but every part of my body was more sore than it has ever been. By Monday I was back to about 80%, still sore but almost entirely functional.

A funny thing happened to me after this event: on Saturday and Sunday I was in so much pain that I questioned why I ever wanted to do this kind of thing in the first place, and had a hard time imagining doing it again. By Monday evening, as I started to feel better, I found myself back on the GORUCK website, looking for the next event and thinking about tackling a Heavy

At times the event was miserable, but it was also a ton of fun. Misery loves company, and I couldn't have asked for a better group to share this with. I met a lot of incredible people and incredible athletes, and I hope to see many of them again at future events. We earned that patch on Halloween night, and I can't wait to earn the next one.

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