GoRuck Challenge Boston – September 2011
September 17th 2011
The Event: The GoRuck Challenge isn’t in race format like the other events I’ve done, so it will be hard to compare it to anything else or to even fit it into my template that I have for reviewing these things. The GRC is a team event capped at 30 people per team ( or “class” ) created by a former Green Beret and inspired by his Special Forces training. It covers 15-20 miles over 8-10 hours of “Good livin’” through a major city with cadre presenting various challenges and tasks to your team. However one of their mottos is “Under promise. Over deliver”, so it’s safe to assume you’ll put in more time, more miles, or both.
The GRC was first created to test out the durability of the GoRuck packs. Each participant must wear a GoRuck pack. You get a hefty discount if you want to purchase one with registration. If you don’t, they supply one to you on challenge day. Regardless, anybody weighing under 150 lbs needs to bring three bricks to carry and anybody over 150 lbs needs to bring four bricks to carry. Packs end up weighing anywhere from 25-50 lbs depending on bricks and gear.
Getting There & Parking: Again, not being akin to the race format with thousands of competitors, this is really not applicable. The meeting spot is announced a couple days prior, so you just need to drive into the city, park, and get there.
Check-in & Logistics: There was no check-in. It was just 26 people ready to undertake a challenge with each other. They did a brick check, handed out packs to those that needed them, made sure everybody signed waivers, and that was that.
The Schwag: I was conflicted whether I should rate this here or not. Even if I had decided to, I didn’t know how I would rate it since participants do get a huge discount off gear at registration and then another one after the challenge. All you get challenge day is a patch if you complete it. Of course that patch holds a very special meaning to those that have earned it.
The Challenge: Like many of the GoRuck recaps I’ve read, I’m having a hard time figuring out where to begin. I was thinking of some over the top marketing-type intro like “If you’ve run a Tough Mudder or a Spartan Beast and you want to step it up about 5 notches, then a GoRuck Challenge is for you.” Then I was tossing around the idea of working in inside jokes with my GoRuck Teammates of Class 066 in there about “crushing it” or “what the f are you driving”. Finally I decided to start off telling you about my GoRuck Challenge by telling you what it is not. So sit back, buckle your seat belt, put your reading glasses on, and get your snorkel. We are going deep, and we won’t be coming up for air for a while.
What a GRC is not is that it is not a race-style event like a Spartan Race or Tough Mudder. It’d be like comparing apples to oranges if I were to try to measure either against the other. It’s not simply an exercise boot camp either because while it was strenuous, there were a lot of mental challenges and team challenges along the way. It also isn’t a team building course because while coming together as a team is absolutely crucial in the GRC, pushing through your own perceived physical and mental limitations was just as crucial. It was really a combination of all these things and then some, and I hope this recap will allow you to get a feel for what a GRC is like. If you’ve already done one, hopefully it will allow you to relive some of your own memories.
The challenge itself started in the Landmark Center parking lot, which is right down the street from Fenway Park. On a Saturday with the Sox in town, parking was the first challenge we faced. My teammates weren’t hard to spot as a lot of folks had their GoRucks already and everybody looked ready to get after it. We also bumped into some guys from class 065, which started 17 hours earlier who had supposedly “just finished”, so that was slightly worrying. Among them was fellow Spartan Beast’er Mark Webb who I had met up in Killington a month prior. They warned us about “Larry”, and our Challenge kicked off shortly after.
The first task of the day from our first cadre Brian, who will be referred to as Good Cop (you better believe there’s a Bad Cop!): fill a pelican case with “something” heavy. It’s funny to think about how high energy we were at that point as we ran across Park Drive playing frogger with traffic, chasing geese, and filling the case with the first thing we found: heavy ass gravel – I’m guessing 40-50lbs worth. Thinking about ways to lessen our misery was not one of our strong suits as we’d later find out. We had to carry that case (aka a coupon) with us wherever we went along with our team-chosen coupon: a replica Stanley Cup whose base was made out of a 5lbs weight plate and a Heineken mini-keg made by our unofficial team captain, Eric. That is of course along with our packs that were filled with 3-4 bricks depending on bodyweight along with water and supplies. If your pack ever touches the ground during the Challenge, you are in for a world of hurt.
Off we go in formation (2 side-by-side lines of 13) thinking we are the shit. Then the Indian sprints began, and we quickly found we are just shit. If you don’t know what an Indian sprint is, it’s where the person at the back of the line needs to sprint up to the front of the line. We had to do that while staying in tight formation. FAIL. It was off to a park for our first punishment. Good Cop Brian starts us off with bear crawls while dragging our team coupons. No idea how long that lasted, but I do know everybody I saw was on their hands and knees. It was here that movie quote comedy started. It started with Big Lebowski and took a meandering trip through other movies throughout the night. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t hallucinating some of it, but I wouldn’t bet on it! Next up was crab walks. Again no idea for how long. We did spend at least a couple hours there though. That was the place where we were asked for first of countless times, “what are you guys doing?”. My favorite response, “Crushing it.”
It was back into a short jog in formation to the spot where we were introduced to Larry. Larry was a twisted, awkward, knobby log that was about 15 feet long. I’m guessing it weighed around 1,000 lbs, but I could be off either over or under. Whatever it weighed, it sure felt like 1,000 lbs! So we pick up Larry and begin our trot down Boylston into the Saturday night, post-Sox game drinking festivities. We could only fit about 10 people under the log at once, so the rest had to stay in formation behind the log carrying our team coupons. The log was so oddly shaped that some parts were too high for even 6 footers to get a shoulder on while some areas (and of course the spots where the load was heaviest) were so low that you had to be hunched over to stay under it. Not to mention the spots you could get under were knobby, so they’d dig into whatever you had supporting it.
Not working as a team with a good system for sub’ing in and out, we incurred another punishment: shoulder straps no longer exist. Let me tell you that you don’t appreciate how easy it is to carry a pack with shoulder straps until you try to carry one without. I’m pretty sure we had to carry a teammate at this point to, but things start getting blurry here. All I know is that I have pictures of a teammate on another’s shoulders and distinctly remember farmer’s walking behind the log with a pack in each hand. It was somewhere on Newbury St that we just “couldn’t” carry the log anymore and decided to push it. We actually came up with a pretty good system of rotating in eight people on the log. Two would be in the front lifting it off the ground to break friction and push it along with the six other people pushing. Each group would push it as far as possible in one burst then they’d go to the back of formation until they rotated back up to the log again.
We were KILLING it. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking “Damn! We are kicking the crap out this GoRuck thing!”. We get all the way down Newbury, through the Public Gardens, and through the Commons to Tremont Street. Good Cop Brian tells us we are really coming together as a team and to remember this positive vibe when things are going bad later in the night. In comes cadre relief and GoRuck founder, Jason. He will be referred to as Bad Cop. So Bad Cop Jason immediately comes in and basically calls us a bunch of pussies for pushing the log. To highlight the point, he said we needed to pick up the log or be punished. I can’t remember what the punishment was at that point, but it was enough to get us all around the log. Our “gaggle fuck” (or was it Fraggle Rock? Always get those confused) was debating over how to do it, when Jason simply started counting down from 10. What do you know? The log found its way to our shoulders very quickly.
Off we go back through the Commons. Jason is trying to teach a little as he is beating us down. He’s telling us how we let our “I can’t” thoughts limit us and that’s why we pushed the log… again calling us out for being weak-willed and weak-minded. The shitty part was that it was hard to argue with the guy. We get through the Commons and into the Public Gardens when we put the log down, and I’m told to test the depth of the water in Swan Boat pond. I used to frequent the Gardens. Whenever I looked into that water, I always told myself “No way in hell would I ever jump into that nasty, rancid mess”, but sure enough I was off like a lightning bolt and jumping into the funkiest body of water in the city not called Boston Harbor. We do things as a team, so my team followed behind me jumping into the water.
Jason tells us to do flutter kicks. We were all standing around hesitating because I think we were all thinking how that’d be possible without going under. Not working as a team? Fine. Get out of the water and do inch worm push-ups where the person in front of you has their feet on your shoulders and you have your feet on the person’s behind you shoulders… Two lines of thirteen. We are taking a while to get setup when Jason says we have 15 seconds to get it done or more log PT. What do you know? A little motivation goes a long way. I think I got up once or twice, but after that it was just an isometric push against the ground while my face is jammed into the Public Gardens grass. We went back and forth between inch worms and flutter kicks until we finally got the flutter kicks right. Then it was back under the log. We carried it for a little bit until we ditched it in some bushes for later and began a jog to Harvard Square.
As always, we did squats at every light we had to stop at or if we had to stop so somebody could tie their shoes (one-two-three-zero). One of my teammates cracked that she thought she’d give up drinking after that because of all the ridiculously stupid drunk comments we got. I remember a few cracks about “why are you guys running so slow?”. Ahhh… because we are going on hour number nine right now lugging bricks, water, logs, and rocks around the city… Indian sprints made a comeback here as well. We had a pretty good system of exchanging the coupons off whenever somebody got tired. In all honesty, it’s amazing what you’ll get used to. It really wasn’t uncomfortable jogging with a 40 lbs pack and 50lbs of rocks. So many people were eager to take the load at that point that you didn’t even have a chance to get tired of it.
We arrive in Harvard Square and Jason tells us that the easy part was done. He just wanted to put some miles in. Now it was time to work. By the way, Jason was trying to mentally tear us down the whole time. I’m not really commenting on it, but just assume that Jason was belittling us like you’d assume we were all breathing. In other words, it was a constant thing. It was supposed to be pushups in a nice line, but we screwed that up, and it was back to inch worm push-ups. Gotta love it. After struggling with those for a while, it was off to Memorial Drive for a run along the Charles. Jason is threatening to put us in the Charles. I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but a late night dip in the Charles wouldn’t faze me much. I’m not saying I wasn’t dreading it, but my adventure running career has really trained me not to think twice about getting cold and jumping into disgusting bodies of water over and over again. I’m not sure if I should be happy about that.
Indian runs continued here when we were thrown a curve ball challenge, which we yet again entirely sucked at. We ended up doing a lot of overhead squats with our packs and sometimes while holding an extra pack or team coupon at various points while continually failing this challenge. We were bickering a little bit here, and Jason told the guys to shuttup under penalty of swimming in the Charles. The girls came up with the solution to the challenge right away. This led into a group of us holding the packs and coupons in a slow march while another group constantly ran circles around them. Eventually the group running circles had to do it carrying the team coupons. Did I mention that shoulder straps didn’t exist again? Yeah. Sucky.
This is the point of the night… well I guess it was the more like the morning since we were on hour ten or so at this point. This is the part of the morning where I was falling asleep while trotting and carrying two packs. I didn’t know I could sleep and move at the same time. I was at the front of formation for a bit, and I’d have to be called back to wait multiple times before it finally drove its way through my consciousness that they were calling me. It was apparent my teammates were doing the same thing as you had to ask them to do things multiple times too. At least we didn’t end up in the Charles. I’m thankful for that.
Satisfied with our progress or frustrated and cold from moving so slow for so long, shoulder straps once again existed and we jog in formation towards Bunker Hill. It was here our brothers from Jersey had to leave to make it to the hospital because they were both med students. Sucks they weren’t able to complete the challenge, and the extra bodies were missed. Jason is still digging into us but trying to teach lessons in the process. This one was about perception. Bear crawls and crab walks seemed shitty until we got under that log then we’d be happy to go back to bear crawls. Jogging with packs seemed crappy until we didn’t have shoulder straps and then how totally awesome it was to get shoulder straps back. Like “Yes! I can carry this heavy ass pack with shoulder straps! Life is good!” Maybe that’s where their “Good Livin’” slogan comes from… Who knows?
It was along this trot to Bunker Hill where I had my epiphanies about how much I was holding myself back. It was after my darkest moment where I started to feel a strength inside me that I’d never felt before. The thought of quitting actually crossed my mind. I didn’t seriously consider it, but it was still there beckoning me… “Why are you doing this to yourself?” “You are here voluntarily and you can leave whenever you want.” Etc etc. Again, I don’t think I ever considered it, but no matter how bad I was hurting at any other event I’ve been in, thoughts like that never registered even for a split second. It was only after beating those thoughts down and continuing on that I realized how much other negative self-talk has kept me back from truly giving it my all before. It was an emotional moment for me.
I could tell my teammates were battling similar demons either because they overtly told me as much or you could read it on faces. Screw that. We were all finishing regardless of how long it took and how much punishment we had to endure. We really started coming together as a team at this point. I think we were largely going on auto-pilot. After all, it was going on 12-13 hours after our official start time, we got to see the sun rise over the city, and I got a kick out of seeing people out for their morning runs all fresh faced. After we climbed Bunker Hill, it was Freedom Trail time.
We went to the USS Constitution and posed for a group shot. After that, it was one or two bodies up on shoulders. I can’t remember which because things are pretty cloudy at this point. All I remember is getting lost on the clearly marked Freedom Trail, doing some marking of our own in the North End (when you gotta go, you gotta go), and being absolutely miserable. To add to that misery and our increasing propensity to fuck up formation, we ended up with four bodies up. Now this is still one demon I never got the chance to fight.
For those of you that read my training blog, you know that I’m dealing with a messed up back right now. It’s actually a reoccurring, chronic thing that’s been going on for 10 years. When I’m good, I have a back like a steel rod. When I do something to tweak it, I won’t be standing up straight for a week or weeks, and I have to lay off training that hits it (heavy squats and dl’s) for a considerable amount of time. Well with the fact I’m working through a current problem period for it and carrying logs, rocks, Lord Stanley, and bricks all night, I felt close to tweaking it again. I hung back carrying any extra packs, the case of rocks, or Lord Stanley anytime I could get a hand on any of them. Hell I was carrying 3 packs at one point and asking for more. It was only when all the folks carrying other people were beat that I jumped in to carry somebody. After 100 yards and change (maybe even less), I figured I just couldn’t do it without screwing my back up. That concerned me because we were a bruised and battered bunch by this point. Some people could only manage to carry their own packs and some couldn’t even to do that. We had no clue how much longer we were going, and I didn’t want to screw up my back and turn into another casuality. Feeling like a POS I put my teammate down and asked one of my exhausted teammates to pick up where I left off. If I had known how close we were to the finish line, I would have pushed through, but that’s no excuse. It’s a conscious decision I made that has been haunting me since I made it and that will likely haunt me for a long time from now. Sorry team! More demons to battle I guess.
We had made it down the Freedom Trail past Paul Revere’s and my aunt Nancy’s restaurant on Prince St (Artu’s). We stopped in at MacDonald’s for a bathroom break and to pick up water. I was spreading the rumor that is was already 11am because the Custom House clock read 10:45am in Fanuel Hall right before that. Oops. I guess that thing always says that. Now we were approaching the dreaded Commons and beyond that the Gardens where Larry was lurking in the bushes eagerly waiting to pummel our spirits to dust. Jason had been mocking us all night long telling us how we had a lot more to do with Larry. As we approached the Commons, he was telling us that a GoRuck never ends with a whisper and to beware Larry.
We get to the Commons, and Jason stops us. He says that we never end with a whisper, and he points to a stairway about 100 meters or so away. He says that’s the end point, but half of us have to be up. We had fifteen seconds to figure it out. FAIL! Push-ups and the threat of Larry ensued. Fifteen seconds later we were ready to rock. Props to the 2-person teams that still managed to carry a coupon too! We marked out progress in park benches. “Just make it to the next bench then switch” On we went to the stairs where we all congratulated ourselves. Wait. Were we supposed to go up the stairs? Jason wasn’t helping, but with the thought of Larry on our minds, unofficial captain Jeff says (paraphrasing) “Screw it. Let’s climb these steps.” Back up the bodies went, and we climbed our last set of stairs. 9:45am and DONE!
Hugs and handshakes were exchanged. Lord Stanley was cracked open for some extra foamy beer poured into what was the top of the Stanley Cup. I know I took my share of deep pulls off that thing happy to be done. Jason congratulated us puffing us up with kind words and handing out our well-earned GoRuck Tough patches. Pictures were taken and jokes were made. It was an amazing experience.
It’s here that I’d really like to once again tell my team how truly impressed I am with each and every one of them. We had some people gutting through some serious pain and misery, but they refused to quit. Everybody did their part whether it was under the log, that run to Harvard Square, that challenge along the Charles, the Freedom Trail run, or all of the above. Everybody put out and did what needed doing for the team to be successful. I’m proud as hell to know you and to be your teammate. I’m also thankful as hell to our cadre Brian and Jason for pushing us to the point where we had to face some demons and to finally begin coming together as a team. Really guys. It’s a heartfelt thank you. Also, a special thanks to our unofficial team photographer Kelly who stuck with us for the whole thing taking pictures. Congrats to all of Class 066! Crushing it!
I really enjoy events like this because I’m kind of the “big fish” in my social circles when it comes to conditioning and what not. It’s very cool to meet other big fish and be put in my place in the grand scheme of things. I never felt like such a small fish as I did as a member of Class 066, and I love that. It drives me to keep pushing harder. What a night!
The Verdict: If you read this recap and thought to yourself, “Gee. That sounds like fun” , then you have to sign up for a GoRuck Challenge (or counseling). It takes a different breed to get enjoyment out of this type of thing, and if you are one of those people, then this is one experience you really can’t miss. I’m going to rank this as the current #1 in my Epic Run category. This was very different than a race though, so I think which is better is subject to opinion even more than normal. I’d expect different things from something like this and from a race-style event. Regardless of what city you do it in, I can guarantee one thing: it will suck. “Embrace the suck” as they say and have a good time.