Earlier today my brother and I finished the Goruck Challenge in DC, class 827. To say I'm happy to be laying on a couch destroying a giant pizza right now would be an understatement. As much for my own amusement as to inform others who might want to do one, I figured I'd try to capture the experience as best I can. I won't mention all the sites we visited or objects we needed to carry...that would spoil your fun.
The temps were supposed to get down to the mid-30's in the middle of the night, so obviously we needed something warm but also able to dry quickly. The last thing I wanted was to jump in the water at 2am and freeze my ass off for the next 10 hours (mission not-accomplished). I brought the following:
- UnderArmour coldgear base layer (thick)
- Adidas windbreaker
- Skull cap
- UA compression shorts
- Board shorts
- Wigwam tri socks (2 pair)
- Mechanix gloves (2 pair)
- Old Asics running shoes (NOT racing shoes - that's just a bad idea)
Bottom line: I was freezing the entire night (as was everyone else), so I'd change a couple things next time. I think the shorts were the right way to go even though it was so cold; the fact that I didn't have wet pants covering my legs was better than the alternative. The shoes and socks worked well too. They got wet and cold but drained quickly and didn't bother me too much. I probably should have beefed up my top layers though. I just never got warm, no matter what we did. In hindsight I think I should have added a thinner compression layer beneath the UA coldgear; that may have sucked when it warmed up but the benefits of not freezing all night would have been worth it.
Whatever you do, bring extra socks and gloves. Those items turned out to be golden. The socks are a no-brainer, you'll want to swap them out whenever you can, but the gloves I wasn't sure about. Turns out that was a huge benefit. And the hat...I thought the skully was a perfect choice but some people had baseball caps. I wanted the warmest option available and it did the job.
I didn't really know what else I was going to need along the way so I thought of about 30 things I was going to bring (ibuprofin, band-aids, blister kits, hand-wamers, etc...) but eventually came to my senses and just brought the following:
- Pro-Bar Meal (2 bars)
- Pro-Bar Bolt energy gels (2 packs)
- GU energy packets (1)
- Body Glide
- Blister kit
- Nuun water tablets (2 tubes - enough for 12 liters)
I'm not sure how, but for some reason I only drank about 1/2 my water (1.5 liters). After 12 hours of rucking I should have gone through 3 times that, but I think the cold just kept me from becoming thirsty. Most times I drank because I thought I should, not because I was really thirsty. But I'd use the Nuun tablets again - they tasted just find (lemon lime) and should help with recovery a bit more than just water alone.
The food was fine too. I only ate a GU packet and a Pro-Bar Meal bar. They did the job so no complaints. Turns out I didn't need the bister kit or the Nuun refills, but I think it's still a good idea to bring them.
As for the bag, I used the recommended GR1 and loved it. You can bring your own but honestly, it'll just piss everyone off. There will be plenty of times when you'll be hauling someone else's ruck and it will likely be in the heat of the moment when the group is trying to sprint to the next checkpoint and someone handed it to you because they were just told to go help support the guys hauling the telephone pole (or some other ridiculous object you shouldn't be carrying). There's no time to get used to a different type of ruck and figure out how to carry it along with everything else you're doing.
For the water, it seemed like most of the group was using standard CamelBak bladders. I wanted something larger than the one I had so I bought the one goruck sells along with the GR1. It worked fine.
And the bricks...just duct tape the crap out of them and move on. Mine sat pretty low in the pack and had no problems. Some people put them near the top to sit higher on the back. Whatever. It's going to suck no matter what you do.
We got to the meetup spot 45 minutes early. There were 8-10 people already there and the place filled in pretty quickly. One guy had his bladder burst immediately and another had a headlamp problem. I had some extra water and my brother had some duct tape in the car so we were able to help out, but it was a lesson-learned: ALWAYS HAVE DUCT TAPE WHEREVER YOU GO, EVER.
We did some introductions and shuffled around in the cold for a while until a truck rolled up and someone started yelling....
The Welcome Party
I couldn't tell who was telling us to do what, but people started running to the field nearby so I followed. We got organized and lined up in rows. The cadre introduced themselves, did roll call, and we were put into two teams, each with 38 people. With the logistics out of the way, the fun was about to begin.
Jessie, our cadre, spent the next 2 hours showing us how pathetic a team were. We couldn't line up straight, so we did pushups. We couldn't do pushups in unison, so we did more pushups. When we couldn't do more pushups, we did flutter kicks. When we couldn't remember the names of the people in our group, we had drag each other back and forth across the field. I think we had to do some low-crawls at some point too. Then more pushups. Rinse and Repeat.
Oh, and they also told us to never let our flag touch the ground so of course we did that immediately and without delay. Because if you're going to fuck up, might as well fuck up royal. I don't recommend this as a strategy, however. Our reward was a 45-lb. plate we had to carry for the rest of the night.
Eventually we got something right, so the cadre let us head over to his truck to get our coupons (stuff the group has to carry) for the night. I won't mention what they were; part of the fun is being surprised. But let's just say that eggs are dicks.
Embracing The Suck
Even after a couple hours of being told we needed to move and think like a team, we still weren't listening so we had to be...educated. As we headed through Rock Creek we knew what was coming. Let's just say we had to get down face-first in 40-degree water, enjoy the view for a while, then roll over and do flutter kicks. We were drenched, freezing, and it was quite clear that we needed to get our shit together.
From there we marched, sprinted, missed time hack after time hack, and surprisingly got better. We still had serious trouble walking in straight lines but no one gave in and everyone worked together. The entire team, in spite of being miserable, stayed focused and just worked through it. Seeing the sun come up on the mall after 6 hours of being frozen was a pretty sweet moment.
There were good moments moments, from running around the reflecting pool trying to make a time hack with Katy Perry and YMCA blasting in the background (shut up, it's cool when all you've heard for the last 8 hours is the sound of your own suffering), to possibly getting tuberculosis in the muddiest portion of the potomac. But I think our groups finest moment was kicking ass on a certain set of famous stairs in Georgetown. Songs should be written.
There were also some really crap moments, like hearing that you've missed a hack by <insert small number> seconds and have to do it again, or being handed an egg. #$!@ eggs.
Everything I read about the challenge said it was more of a mental exercise than anything, and it really is. The cadre aren't there to destroy you physically (though they can), they're there to push you and see if you have what it takes to endure when put in a difficult situation. If you give what you can and find a way to help the team, you'll make it.
All-in-all it's a great experience and one I will gladly do again.