Saturday, July 11, 2015

Operation Red Wings GORUCK Challenge AAR

A couple of weeks ago I completed the first Operation Red Wings Memorial GORUCK Challenge. This year is the 10th anniversary of Operation Red Wings, so there were a number of memorial events going on throughout the months of June and July. If you've seen the movie Lone Survivor, that's the mission this event was commemorating.

The event was led by four SEALs who knew many of the men who died that day personally, and they shared their stories with us throughout the night. This Challenge was special in a few ways, in an attempt to give us a taste of life in SEAL Teams, and also to get it as close as possible to the mission profile of Red Wings. Some of the differences from a traditional Challenge:

  1. Everyone, regardless of size, had to have their ruck weigh 40 pounds dry (without food and water)
  2. We all needed to bring 6 liters of water
  3. Everyone had to build and carry a 13 pound PVC gun throughout the night
  4. It was held at Breakneck Ridge, which is extremely steep and challenging terrain
  5. It started at 11PM, which is a few hours later than usual

All of the above meant that everyone's starting load out was ~65 pounds, which is significantly heavier than a normal Challenge (especially if you happen to weigh less than 150 pounds). This definitely upped the intimidation factor prior to the event, and there were a lot of last minute drops. 

The Welcome Party

This event was led by SEALs, and so we started on the beach. The theme was "Welcome to BUD/S", so we got to spend a lot of time in and out of the Hudson River, getting covered in sand and doing PT. This was actually one of my favorite parts of the event. It was pure chaos - imagine 4 Navy SEALS screaming at 92 people in the middle of the night who are running in and out of the water, doing burpees, carrying logs, burying their rucks in the sand, and generally getting their asses handed to them. You would spend 5-10 minutes with one Cadre, and then be sent over to a different one to do a different exercise. The constant movement was exciting, and kept it from being a suckfest where you spend hours doing one or two exercises, which can happen at some events.

Dumping sand on ourselves

Mmmm sandy water

Rucking Up the Mountain

After the welcome party we had a 3-mile ruck run while covered in sand to really get the chaffing going. Then we split up into 4 "platoons" and started our main mission - rucking up Breakneck Ridge to an observation point where we could reenact portions of Operation Red Wings. During this ruck the Cadre taught us some really basic SEAL patrol tactics, and we moved pretty slowly up the steep terrain. 

"What should we make them do next?"

This platoon pissed off their Cadre...thankfully it wasn't mine

Observation and Extract

Once we arrived at the observation point, we received additional instruction on how SEALs conduct reconnaissance, and wrote down a bunch of notes about what we saw. The SEALs then acted out one of the scenes from Lone Survivor, complete with a fake goat herder and all. After they agreed to let the goat herder go, we were instructed to run down the mountain as fast as possible.

This ended up being pretty sketchy, but it was also a lot of fun to attempt to sprint down a cliff face. I was dripping sweat, and the constant stepping/jumping down ledges with a 60+ pound load did a number on my knees. I'm extremely happy that I didn't twist an ankle or get any other injuries during this part of the event. 

Once we finished coming down the mountain we rucked to a parking lot and waited for the rest of the group to finish. We ended up standing in that lot (with rucks on) for over an hour as people trickled off the mountain. 

Finally 88 out of the original 92 finished the event, and we heard more stories from the Cadre, the mother of one of the men who died during Red Wings, and a few other people who wrote letters to be read at the event. This was a pretty special moment, even though we had some trouble getting organized and had to get a few words of encouragement from the cadre:

Final Thoughts

The point of this event was to honor the men who died during Operation Red Wings:

With the stories from the Cadre, the setting in the mountains, and the physical difficulty of the event I felt like we accomplished that goal. You can never bring back the fallen, but I know that I will never forget this event, and thus never forget the men who sacrificed everything to protect our way of life. 

The event was extremely well put together, and it sounds like it is going to become an annual Challenge. If you weren't able to make it to this one, I highly recommend going next year.

Memorial Day GORUCK Challenge/Light AAR

Similar to my last post about a Challenge/Light combo, this one is going to be told mostly in pictures.

Challenge Summary

There were a couple of major differences between this event and past Challenges I've done:

  1. We had to take our shoes off for the welcome party and the first ~3 miles of rucking during the event
  2. All of our food was taken away, and only given back after the patching ceremony
  3. We went straight into the ocean right after the welcome party and were fully immersed
  4. We got to build and carry a lovely contraption you will see below, dubbed "The Pendulum of Pain"
Here are some highlights:

Overall it was a really fun event, and I learned a ton. We all did okay without any food, shoes are a luxury that aren't actually required, and heavy shit was just meant to be carried (you can't outsmart the pendulum). 

Light Summary

This event was basically a mini version of the challenge. We had the same pendulum, went in the ocean, and enjoyed each other's company in the sunshine this time.

The cadre kept it fun the whole time, and I'm really glad I came out for both of these events!

Friday, May 8, 2015

GRC Class 1417 and GRL Class 699 AAR

On April 10th and 11th I completed my first GORUCK Challenge and Light back-to-back. This ended up being an 11+ hour, 16+ mile event followed by a ~5 hour break and then a 5+ hour, 7+ mile event. In general these events were similar to others that I have posted about, so I'm going to provide a short summary of each and then write a bit about tackling two events in a row.

Challenge Summary

Overall this event was slightly shorter than my first Challenge, but it was by no means easy. The mechanics were familiar - run up the hill, run down the hill, do some PT, carry some heavy things. Rinse and repeat:

The team came together extremely quickly, and everyone put out the entire time. The Cadre's only complaint was that we could have moved a little more quickly, but otherwise everyone really gelled and everyone finished.

I faced my own demons at around 3am, when my left IT band flared up and started causing a lot of pain on every step. ITBS is something that I've dealt with quite a bit in the past, but historically it has always been on my right side. Having it crop up on the left during this event was an unpleasant surprise, and made the last 5+ hours of the event a bit of a grind. I was very happy when it finished, but knew that I had to come back for another event in a few hours.

Between Events

Given that I had 5+ hours of rest time between the Challenge and the Light, I decided to go home, shower, eat, sleep, take Aleve, and change out some of my gear. This was a nice break, but made it extremely hard to go back out for the Light. When I rolled out of bed at around 12:30pm I felt completely awful. I was barely walking, could hardly put a coherent sentence together, and seriously considered skipping the Light. My wife Steph encouraging me to stay home and sleep was not particularly helpful either (just kidding, you were great Steph! Just never do that again ;-)).

Once I got moving things started to loosen up a bit, and I was able to get out the door and back to Boston Common.

Light Summary

This was clearly the most difficult of the three lights that I've done, mainly because we only had 10 people and had to bring the larger of the two logs from the Challenge with us the entire time. It would be easy to say "of course it was harder, you had just done a Challenge", but I think it was objectively the most weight per person that I've seen during a Light.

That said, the sun was shining, the weather was great, and there were a few other people from the Challenge class who came back to share in the suffering for another 5 hours. My IT Band was still bothering me quite a bit at this point, so I just focused on moving forward one step at a time, bending my knee as little as possible on the left side, and trying to continue contributing to the team as much as everyone else. Finally the event ended, and it was time to get patched and head home for some much needed R&R.

Closing Thoughts

I assumed that doing two events back-to-back would be pretty difficult, but the real challenge was working through my unexpected IT Band issues. Without that problem I think I would have breezed through these events without feeling too terrible. Still, I learned an important lesson about how much pain I can push through, and I feel like these events helped prepare me mentally for the Heavy I'm doing in August. I've got another Challenge/Light combo in May, a Challenge in June, and then I'll be spending ~6 weeks training hard for the longest event of my life. Completing these two events was encouraging, but I still feel like I have a long way to go before I'm ready to thrive at, and not just survive, a 24 hour event.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

St. Paddy's Day GORUCK Light 670 AAR

This event was my second GORUCK Light; the first was a September 11th remembrance event that I did last year. As a reminder, a Light is billed as 4-5 hours and 7-10 miles. This Light was roughly 4.5 hours, and I think we covered somewhere north of 6 miles. The reduction in distance was more than made up for by an increase in PT and pretty much the worst weather conditions you could imagine. It was also unusual because it was at the tail end of an HCL, which meant that 8 of the 20 people in attendance had just completed a Heavy and a Challenge prior to starting the Light. All of them finished, completing HCL class 009 as Boston broke the all time snow record for a single season:

This was a fun event, and after completing a Challenge in October I came into this without being too stressed out, and just looking for a fun afternoon and a good workout with friends. Cadre Aaron and Cadre Andy delivered, with some bright green logs, a game of charades, and another game that involved forming letters with our bodies after bear crawling and low crawling across a field.

By the end of these games we were all wet, cold, and tired - during our time at the field it rained, hailed, and did some other things that are difficult to describe. We ended up huddling together for warmth before rucking back to the start point:

When we got back to Boston Garden we held a relay race around the gardens that got pretty intense. My team lost by a few steps, edged out on the final lap by an incredible last minute effort.

The event closed with more PT and a reminder of why we do these events from the Cadre. It was a powerful message, and emphasized the point that Light ≠ Easy. It's never too late for poopy faces, and we were all hurting by the end of this - especially the HCL folks who had been going for 45+ hours at this point.

Finally it was time to get patched, take one final picture, and then try to restore feeling to our feet.

This was a really fun event, and helped remind me why I love GORUCK so much. The Cadre are incredible, the community is amazing, and even at a Light you can get a pretty strong sense of accomplishment. Doing this event made me want to sign up for every Light in Boston for the rest of the year - it's a fantastic way to spend a weekend afternoon. As an added bonus, I got to add another special patch to my collection:

Monday, February 9, 2015

My Experience With Bulletproof Coffee

Bulletproof Coffee (BPC) has been getting a lot of attention recently, so I decided to give it a shot. I've been drinking it consistently for the past few weeks, and have been enjoying it so far.

The tl;dr on how to make it is:
Why would you do this? Well, the claim is that bulletproof coffee gives you long term energy, high quality calories, and mental superpowers, all while making you a fat burning machine and tasting amazing. It's also supposed to cut down on the jittery feeling that many people get after drinking a strong cup of coffee. Some people even recommend skipping breakfast and only drinking BPC. Sounds magical, right?

My experience with bulletproof coffee has been positive overall, with some caveats. As you might expect, much of the hype is unrealistic, and BPC is not going to change your life overnight. I think it tastes great (like a buttery cappuccino), and I do find that when I drink it I get lasting energy without feeling jittery or over-caffeinated. I think the easiest way to talk about its effects in depth is actually to address the criticisms of BPC.


Like anything popular, BPC has its share of haters, so here's a breakdown of the common criticisms and my response.

It Tastes Bad

Taste is really personal preference, and I find BPC to be delicious. Many of the people who think it is disgusting are simply making it incorrectly. Some common mistakes are:
  1. Using coconut oil instead of MCT oil. The latter is liquid at room temperature, while the former is a solid. Coconut oil can make your coffee too oily.
  2. Not blending it. You MUST blend BPC for 30-45 seconds, or you are just drinking coffee with butter floating in it, which is revolting. Once blended it becomes foamy and resembles a cappuccino.
  3. Using too much MCT oil or butter. I recommend starting with 1-2 teaspoons of MCT oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. You can go up from there if you want. 
  4. Using salted butter. Salty coffee is gross. Don't do this.
Replacing Breakfast With BPC is Stupid and Doesn't Work

This is probably true. I eat a big breakfast with my coffee, typically 3 eggs, half an avocado, and two pieces of buttered toast. I am highly skeptical that drinking only BPC will hold you over until lunch, and it strikes me as potentially an unhealthy idea. Continue to eat breakfast and you will be fine here. 

There's Too Much Saturated Fat

Nutrition science is the biggest failure of the scientific community in the history of the human race. We still know very little about how macronutrients really affect people, and the "common wisdom" changes on an annual basis. Does BPC have too much saturated fat? Maybe, but if you use a modest amount of MCT oil and butter (<= 1 tablespoon of each) you are only consuming 200 calories and ~22 grams of saturated fat, which is right around your daily value. This isn't the outlandish excess that some people make it out to be.

BPC Doesn't Make You Lose Weight

I'm not trying to lose weight, I'm trying to gain weight. So personally I see BPC as a delicious calorie delivery mechanism. If you stop eating breakfast and drink BPC instead while changing literally nothing else you might lose a little weight, since your caloric intake is probably going down and you are consuming higher quality calories. That said, most people are not going to see a dramatic change just from changing how they take their coffee.

The Branded Bulletproof "Upgraded Coffee" Is Way Overpriced

I address this in the cost section below, but this is true. You don't need to buy this, you can use any coffee beans you want.


Coffee: I typically buy coffee from Whole Foods, and it runs around $12 for a 12oz bag (340 grams). The Aeropress recommends using 12 grams of coffee per cup, so you get around 28 servings per bag. This works out to a cost of $0.42 per cup.

MCT Oil: I buy Now Foods MCT Oil from Amazon via subscribe and save, which is $18.67 for a 32oz bottle. This has 64 servings, so it is $0.29 per cup.

Butter: Kerrygold grass fed unsalted butter is around $3.69 for 16 tablespoons at most grocery stores. This works out to $0.23 per cup if you are using 1 tablespoon of butter.

With all of that together, your cup of BCP costs about $0.94, which is much less than anything you are going to get from a local coffee shop.

Bulletproof Upgraded Coffee is $18.95/12oz + $6.95 shipping = $25.90, or $0.91 per cup. This is pretty excessive, and twice the price of buying great coffee from Whole Foods. Still, it doesn't really move the needle that much on the overall price, so if you decide to try it you won't break the bank. It's also dramatically cheaper than your typical "venti vanilla soy double shot peppermint white chocolate mocha" at Starbucks. I've never had the bulletproof branded coffee, but it is supposed to be very good. Luckily, there's a way to get it for roughly half that cost:

If you buy Upgraded Coffee in the bulk 5lb bags you pay $80 for 189 servings, or $0.42 per cup. You still pay for shipping in this case, but if you spend a little more on other things (or buy two 5lb bags) you can get free shipping and keep the cost quite low. Even if you end up paying the $6.95 for shipping, your per cup cost only goes up to $0.46. I'm going to try to wrangle some friends to share the larger bag with so I can at least try Upgraded Coffee.

Wrap Up

Bulletproof coffee can be a delicious way to improve your daily cup of coffee, and I do think that it gives you added energy without the afternoon crash. Just do it responsibly - eat a solid breakfast and don't go too crazy with the amount of butter and MCT oil that you are putting in your coffee.