It's heating up fast in some parts of the country and I know you are all ready to go crush some miles and workouts but since I just finished a continuing education class in heat acclimatization for my Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist certification, I figure I'd share some information to help you all adjust to the heat.
Exercising in the heat when you are not used to it can put you at a higher risk of heat-related illnesses (heat exhaustion, heat stroke and cramps - please google these terms and be familiar with the symptoms). As you acclimate to the heat, you will lower that risk and your body will become better at regulating your heart rate and body temperature in the heat, your comfort level will improve and your exercise capacity will improve. You will become better at sweating (sweating more and earlier into your workout), you will retain more electrolytes and your natural thirst will better match your water needs.
Acclimatization is a process where you repeatedly expose yourself to heat in such a way to produce profuse sweating and elevation of your body temperature. The process of acclimatization takes about 2 weeks. Here's how to do it:
1. SLOWLY work up to being able to exercise at a level that produces significant sweating for 90 minutes in the heat.
2. Once you can do that, exercise for 90 minutes in the heat (or two times a day for about an hour each) for the next 7-14 days.
3. MAKE SURE TO TAKE IN ADEQUATE ELECTROLYTES AS YOU DO THIS. You can sweat out as much as 6 times as much of your electrolytes when you are not acclimated to the heat!
4. If you don't have time to exercise this much in the heat each day, it may take longer to acclimate. Simply spending time in the heat can help with acclimatization but resting in the heat won't do it as quickly as exercising in the heat. Also, sleeping in the AC or spending time in cool environments won't negatively impact your acclimatization efforts and could be good for recovery.
5. With better acclimatization to the heat comes more sweating. If you notice you are sweating more or more easily, that's a good sign but remember that as you become better at sweating, you need to drink EVEN MORE WATER and you should still put electrolytes (like NUUN tabs or equivalent) in your water.
6. Know that the jury is still out on whether being acclimated to dry heat transfers fully to being acclimated in humid heat and vice versa so if you go somewhere with a different warm climate than you are used to, you may have to scale things back a bit.
7. You start losing your acclimatization after about a week and can lose about 75% of it after 3 weeks of not exposing yourself to heat so if this happens, you may have to ramp up again but you will become acclimated again faster if too much time has not passed.
Reference: Gatorade Sports Science Institute's Heat Acclimatization to Improve Athletic Performance in Warm-Hot Environments Course
An article was published in the March edition of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research entitled, Heat Exposure and Hypohydration Exacerbate Physiological Strain During Load Carrying by Adams, et al. It was the first study performed to specifically assess the impact of load-carrying (in the form of a 45-pound ruck) on how the body responds to conditions of heat and dehydration (aka, hypohydration, or not replacing lost fluids). This post summarizes the research.
It's well-known that either high temperatures or dehydration cause a strain on the body during exercise and it's obvious to most of us that combining the two would make matters even worse. The research performed by Adams, et al. sought to evaluate the individual impacts of high temperatures and dehydration as well as the combined effects of the two when a load (45-pound ruck) is added during exercise vs. no load. (Non-loaded data is from prior experiments). Although we can all reasonably assume that the effects of heat and dehydration would be more profound when a ruck is added, this study provides insight on just how much those factors change with a loaded ruck.
12 moderately-trained people participated in this study and were asked to ruck with a 45-pound load on a treadmill for 90 minutes. The conditions tested were:
Hydrated subjects were allowed to drink to thirst the day before and day of the test and were asked to drink an extra 500mL of water on top of that the night before and morning of the test. During the test, these subjects were given fluids every 15 minutes.
Dehydrated subjects were fluid-restricted for 20-22 hours before the test and were required to perform 60 minutes of exercise the day before the test to ensure that they had lost 1-2% of their body mass due to dehydration prior to testing. During the test these subjects were not given fluids.
Exercise intensity was held constant across each test. All subjects participated in all 4 arms of the test.
Test subjects were evaluated for core temperature, heart rate, mood state and visual vigilance (awareness).
To summarize, dehydration and heat have a greater effect on you when you are rucking than if you are exercising at the same pace without a load. Heat, dehydration and load together create an added negative effect on core body temperature and heart rate. This puts you at greater risk for heat illness, decreased inability to control your core temperature once it starts to elevate and can induce a greater level of suck in terms of perceived exertion and fatigue. This study reenforces the importance of managing hydration before and during your ruck and taking opportunities to cool your body during rucking events.
Heat Exposure and Hypohydration Exacerbate Physiological Strain During Load Carrying
Adams, Elizabeth L.; Casa, Douglas J.; Huggins, Robert A.; DeMartini-Nolan, Julie K.; Stearns, Rebecca L.; Kennedy, Rachel M.; Bosworth, Megan M.; DiStefano, Lindsay J.; Armstrong, Lawrence E.; Maresh, Carl M. LessThe Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. 33(3):727-735, March 2019.
There's no reason that a change in seasons should stop you from doing outdoor events, even GORUCK or other events where you are outdoors for a long time and probably soaking wet for some of that time. With the right gear, you can stay comfortable in the cold, wind, snow and sleet and even after you've been dunked in the nearest body of water.
Through experimentation and suffering through a cold/wet wardrobe fail at a GORUCK Light in January 2015, I was able to come up with a gear combination that kept me warm during the rest of my winter events. The items that are listed below were purchased in 2015 and are those that I still wore on November 10th, 2017 during the Veteran's Day GORUCK Tough Challenge in Washington, DC, where the wind brought with it a "feels like" temperature of 15 degrees. This stuff will keep you warm and is a durable and long-lasting investment. Besides this most recent event, I've worn the same gear for at least the following events:
I'm sure there are lots of other great gear options that people have found but I am going to share what works for me. Many of the items on this list have been purchased and tried by other GRTs and I get comments at almost every event I do that someone bought something from the list below and it worked great for them.
There are two main themes to my winter gear selection: Wool and Columbia Omni-Heat. I use these in combination to achieve my main goal of staying warm. Staying dry is not always an option during GORUCK events but this combination can help you to stay warm even after you've been for a cadre-led dip in the water.
Wool: I love this stuff! It's not horribly hot when you are rucking fast or getting punished with burpees and it keeps you warm even when it's wet. Even if you don't go in the water during your cold weather event, you will still likely sweat during PT and being wet with sweat can make you just as cold if you don't have the proper gear.
When it's really cold, I make sure that I have a wool baselayer for my upper body, legs and feet. I have tried Under Armor Cold Gear and found that it takes a very long time to dry and doesn't keep me warm at all when wet. It's pretty much the most miserable thing you could wear when you are wet and it's cold. It gets worse when you put a wind resistant outer layer on and it never dries and just keeps the cold against you. If you want to stay warm when you are wet, go with wool. Specific wool items that I wear are below with the equivalent men's item at the end of each bullet.
Columbia Omni-Heat: This is the best invention in the world! Basically, Omni-Heat products have these tiny silver dots on the inside of them that reflect the body heat that you generate back onto you to keep you warm, just like a hypothermia sheet. It's awesome! In addition, the jackets are really thin because they aren't relying on bulk to keep you warm. That means you can probably fit your jacket in your ruck when not in use. You may find that during vigorous activity, you will warm up more than you want when wearing Omni-Heat products. While the sun is still up or in more mild weather, you may want to quickly remove your jacket and tie it around your waist before you start doing PT or at least zip it down a bit. The specific items that I own and use are below but if you find a different item with Omni-Heat that you like better, I'm confident that it will do the job for you.
Putting It All Together
I've talked about my two main staples of wool and Omni-Heat. I'm going to break down how I put everything together for an event, including a couple of items not listed above:
How to Save Money on All This Expensive Stuff
It does cost some money to really outfit yourself for winter but I have found it worth it. Not only does it allow me keep doing events in the winter, my gear also serves me on cold days, when shoveling snow, sledding with my son, on ski trips and when training. It has opened up a whole new world of being able to go for a ruck on a cold, snowy day, enjoying the beauty of winter while keeping warm. If you do some shopping around you will find websites, such as Sierra Trading Post, where you can get some of these items at a significant discount. Black Friday and holiday sales as well as end-of-season sales in February and March are also great times to pick up winter gear for less. The gear that I have listed above is in it's fourth season of getting beat to hell during GORUCK events. It has all held up beautifully. Good gear is worth it! Proper laundering will help your gear last longer and protect your investment so don't forget to read labels.
No matter what you decide to wear to your cold weather events, I can't recommend field testing your gear beforehand enough. Put on your gear, get outside, get wet and make sure it works for you in the conditions that you expect you will be in. Having the right gear and being confident in your gear ahead of the event will make you more confident about successfully completing it and is one of the few things you can control when it comes to GORUCK events.
My AAR from the GORUCK Expedition Heavy & the All American Marathon
When the GORUCK Expedition Heavy event popped up in my Facebook newsfeed, I registered immediately. Having done both GORUCK Navigator and Ascent and a handful of Heavies, I absolutely had to do this one.
(For those unfamiliar with GORUCK, their main events can be roughly anywhere from 5-24 hours long (the Heavy is around 24 hours). They are team events that involve wearing a weighted rucksack while performing a variety of tasks under the command of a Special Forces cadre. Such tasks can include traveling several miles within a specified time, sometimes carrying heavy objects like sandbags, logs or fellow teammates, doing PT (physical training - squats, push-ups, etc), learning and applying military-style skills and more. The events are long and put you and your team to the test, both physically and mentally. GORUCK also runs Expedition events, which are more laid back and focused on teaching specific skills. The GORUCK Navigator event focuses on land navigation and other wilderness skills while GORUCK Ascent is a mountain-based event. Both are 72 hours long but you are allowed to sleep, unlike the during the standard events.)
At Ascent and Navigator, we learned skills such as land navigation, knot tying, climbing, fire starting, wilderness medicine, building shelters, outdoor safety and how to create medical and survival kits.
During the 5 prior Heavies that I’ve done, we’ve covered high mileage, been PT’d to death, done PT tests, carried insanely heavy things over long distances, learned military tactics, built teams through adversity and physical/mental challenges, etc.
The Expedition Heavy was a great mash-up of the two - still heavy, still hard, still requiring focus and teamwork but with instruction and testing of many of the skills we learned during Navigator and Ascent. You don’t need to have done either of these events before in order to be able to do an Expedition Heavy. You should, however, train for a Heavy if you aren’t already in the shape to do such an event. For that, I can’t recommend the PATHFINDER Ruck Training program enough!
Our cadre for the event were Chris Way, who runs the Navigator and Ascent events, Mocha Mike and Cadre Cleve. The three of them did an outstanding job and put on a great event! We started out at Rise Fitness + Adventure, an amazingly-equipped GRT-owned gym in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Drop by and check it out if you are in the area!
We began with the Upper Body Round Robin (a PT test that includes push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, kip-ups, dips, bench press, a weighted rope climb and a shuttle run). I did horribly on this test, which was expected based on the fact that I did absolutely nothing to train for it. I almost always briefly tell myself that I shouldn’t expect to do great on PT tests. After all, I’m a 42-year old woman doing a fitness test for 25-year-old dudes going off to do badass shit in the military but, that’s a lame-ass excuse. I know deep down that I’m only limited by my thoughts and lack of training, not by my age, so maybe after the big event I’m training for this fall, I’ll put some effort into UBRR training and crush the shit out of it in some event next year. Look out 25-year-old beast mode dudes, here comes Lisa!
After the UBRR, we got to have fun on the climbing wall at Rise Fitness. Our task was to complete 10 ascents in 40 minutes. I was so excited for this part, I could barely wait! GORUCK Ascent in August of 2016 was my first time climbing and Chris Way was one of the people that got to witness just how over-top-scared I get when I’m trying something for the first time. Since then, I’ve been practicing and am completely in love with climbing. Let me just say, doing the UBRR and then climbing when your arms are already smoked and you are wearing trail running shoes, is a challenge but it was still a blast!
From there we were broken into small teams and given instruction in map reading, navigation and knot tying using the “drinking out of a firehose” methodology, which is basically having a ton of information thrown at you very quickly just before you must execute tasks using your quickly-learned skills. With that done, we were off into the night. We spent the night rucking and practicing land navigation and other skills. I’m going to keep the details between me and my fellow Expedition Heavy 001 classmates so as not to give too much away but we did some really cool shit overnight!
Sunrise found us at the beach where we were instructed to perform a 4-mile beach run without our rucks. This was probably the first time that I ever had to run more than a mile without a huge cloud of dread hanging over me for the first bit of the run. I guess that’s progress in defeating my “I hate running” mental block or maybe it was just me deciding that it would be bad to get all bent out of shape about running 4 miles when I have a marathon coming up soon. (More on the marathon later in this post!) Besides that, the whole scene just made me think of the 5-mile beach run that we did on Omaha Beach during the Normandy HCL in 2015 and I think I was too filled with gratitude to mind running all that much.
When we got back from the run, we took a little dip in the ocean. It was cold as hell but I love getting in the water during events so, no complaints here! Plus, we had a nice fire going on the beach to warm us when we got out. As we warmed up, Chris Way gave us all some great fire starting pointers and we got to practice them a little. It wasn’t long before we had to ruck up and head off on our next mission - some knot tying and a longer multi-point navigation.
For the multi-point navigation, we were broken into two teams, both of which got terribly lost and maybe set a GORUCK record for missing their time hack. I have no idea where my team rucked but it went a little like this: everything’s great, the map and the actual landmarks and our compasses are all lining up, then we start heading in a direction that somehow seems right according to our compasses but not by the map, then we decide to guess where we are on the map but then have to zig zag all over the place because there’s a bunch of nature in our way so we just walk various ways that people think are the right way until we find some sand and then we walk through these massive sand dunes, knowing generally which direction to go but not knowing exactly where we are until we come to a building and a fence which looked like we might have reached the Mexican border because it felt like we were walking through sand long enough to actually get to Mexico from Delaware, at which point we had to send out an SOS so that we could link up with the Cadre, who were trying to find our sorry asses.
Once we were all straightened out, we made our way to our destination, given a land navigation refresher course and sent off to hit a few more points. Rather than navigating through sand, this navigation took us through the marshlands of coastal Delaware, dodging small creeks full of a gross, smushy mud/toxic pollution slurry. I don’t think our team necessarily navigated any better this time around in terms of using the navigation tools we had, but we did get to our final destination without help, although a few minutes late.
Our last task was a classic GORUCK Heavy type of task, meaning that lots of teamwork and movement of heavy stuff over a number of miles was in order. Again, I hesitate to give away too much as I want those of you who are planning to do an Expedition Heavy to go have this experience without too much foreknowledge. We finished the Expedition Heavy at 10 pm, 25 hours after we started. It was interesting to start at 9 pm rather than 6 pm for this event. Going from the dark, rucking all day and then going a few hours into the dark again the next day was just enough to throw my internal GORUCK Heavy clock off a bit.
I loved this event so much! The participants were all good people and great teammates! We did so many different things throughout the course of the event. It was great to learn and practice skills and I’m really impressed with how the cadre were able to blend the Heavy and the Expedition events together so well and put so many elements of both into one 24-hour period.
But wait! This story doesn't end here!
Let me take you back in time to Joe Warner Bragg Heavy 3.0, where the best bad idea ever was conceived!
I was shadowing. My friend, Alex, was waiting in line to perform the next task in the UBRR. I noted to him that the Marine Corps 17.75K event, for which registration had just opened, was the same weekend as the Expedition Heavy. He mentioned to me that sometime around then, he was also going to do the All American Marathon in Fayetteville, NC. I checked the date on my phone and realized that the marathon was also that same weekend, on Sunday. When I mentioned this to Alex, we were both initially disappointed but a split second later, we both simultaneously smiled and said, “Well actually, doing both could be interesting!” and we laughed like a couple of sick-ass motherfuckers. He told me to text Carmela, our partner in executing ill-conceived ideas, who promptly replied that Alex and I are not allowed to come up with ideas.
Back to Delaware and the Expedition Heavy. With the event over, we rushed to take a quick shower and change clothes, hopped in the car and headed to Virginia, where we met up with our fourth counterpart, Meghan, who drove us through the night down to Fayetteville. According to my watch, I got about three hours of super crappy sleep during the ride.
We arrived about an hour before the All American Marathon started and were greeted in town by Alex’s mom, who had so kindly picked up our race packets the day before and was waiting for us so that she could pass them on to us and see us off at the race. We changed into our marathon clothes, I jammed my already-swollen feet into my running shoes and we headed to the start point and were off shortly thereafter.
This is how the marathon went down:
Mile 1: Running is great! Once again, it’s still not as bad as I seem to always make it to be.
Mile 2: Running is OK!
Mile 3: Walking is great! Oh, and Alex totally lied about there only being one hill on the course!
Miles 4 - 7: My fucking stomach hurts like hell and running makes it 10 times worse! My whole life sucks ass and this was the worst idea on the whole entire planet. Fuck this marathon! I’m stupid!
Mile 8: The Wear Blue to Remember Mile. It’s lined with pictures of people who died in service to our country. Nothing hurts! Running is fine! My mind and body are just full of gratitude as I run past the photo of each person, saying their name to myself.
Mile 9: Back to running some and walking some. My stomach is actually getting slightly better, thank God!!!!!
Miles 10-13: We enter Fort Bragg and Alex gives us a private tour as we move along. My feet hurt like hell and my stomach was still bothering me when we would run but it was super cool to hear all the knowledge that Alex was imparting on us.
Mile 14: Freak out time! We could see the cohort of vehicles that were following behind the last person in the marathon. I thought it was the event sweeper crew and just being able to see and hear them was stressing me out. On top of that, I was really hurting. My feet were wrecked. They were swollen and I felt like my sock was bunched up inside of my shoe. I checked my sock and it wasn’t bunched up so I knew it was, indeed, that my feet were massively swollen. Everyone decided to do a little more running than we had been doing. I asked if we could run more often but for shorter distances at a time because I just felt awful on every level when running. On top of the pain, I was mentally starting to melt down. I told everyone to go ahead. I needed some “me” time to get my shit together. I was in the world’s crappiest mood. I wanted to choke the spectators yelling, "Good Job! You can do it!" Once I mentally regrouped a bit, I took off running and caught up.
Miles 15 & 16: Running is great! There were orange cones placed in the middle of the road during these miles and we all just started alternating between running from one to the next and walking from one to the next. We had music going and it was great! It was a huge bummer when the cones ended.
Miles 17-19: Everything hurts!!!!! We stopped for a minute at this point to use the bathroom. Stopping didn’t work out too well for me because that’s when my body decided to pay me back for thinking I could run with such vigor and joy through the previous couple miles. My inner thighs froze up. They were so tight that they were burning like hell. I was back to walking and I was walking slow now! I dropped back and walked by myself.
Miles 20-21: The four of us regrouped and were together for a little bit. At some point, Alex mentioned that since we had 7.5 total hours to finish the Marathon, our current time and location made it so that we could walk the rest of the way and still finish. That was all the permission I needed to do just that - walk the rest of the way. In fact, I was under the impression that I pretty much couldn’t run anymore anyway. At some point, Carmela decided to run again and she and Alex moved out in front of me and Meghan, while the two of us continued to walk.
Mile 22: I can’t remember what we were holding, a banana peel or something, but Meghan and I had trash. There was a dumpster about 6 feet from us. We just kept holding onto our trash because the dumpster wasn’t on the course and we didn’t even want to walk 6 extra feet. Haha!
Mile 22.5: A brilliant decision! Normally, if something hurts, I just let it keep hurting. But this time, I really wanted some Biofreeze and when we went past an aid tent, I asked for it. I rubbed that stuff all over my legs and it really did help some. Shortly thereafter, we passed a water station and one of the volunteers said something like, “at least you’re not last”. We looked at the time again and noted that we were good to go to walk it out for the rest of the marathon.
Mile 23.75: A car pulls up next to me and Meghan. It’s the Race Director. He tells us that we have 20 minutes to finish the Marathon. We look at him like, “What the fuck are you talking about?”. He informs us that the cut-off is 7 hours. We had been thinking it was 7.5 the entire marathon! He tells us that everyone else behind us was swept off the course and that we needed to start running if we wanted to finish. Meghan took off in front of me. I was in disbelief at the situation at hand. How in the ever-loving hell was I going to run over 2 miles in 20 minutes when I could barely walk??? Holy shitballs! I wanted to die! The race director looked at me and he said, “I’m not going to not let you finish”. And I thought, “I need to pull off some crazy-ass shit right now to get this done.” I started running.
MIles 23.75-25: The race director stayed with me, driving along by my side. Thankfully, he was no annoying spectator saying “you can do it”. This guy knew what I needed and said everything that I needed to hear. He told me to just go to the place inside myself that is going to get this done. He reminded me that I wouldn’t have gotten this far into the marathon if I didn’t have such a place. With him there with me, I just kept running. I just kept doing that which I thought I couldn’t do just minutes before back when I was walking.
Mile 26: Right as I was coming up on the last mile, I felt a sharp, horrendous pain shoot through my foot and I went down. I thought I stepped on a nail. I pulled off my shoe and sock only to realize that part of the skin on ball of my foot was basically not attached to my foot anymore and that I must have just landed on my foot at the perfect angle for that all the fluid underneath that skin to explode through and burst the enormous blister I had. The Race Director had gotten out of the car and when we saw it wasn’t a foreign object, we both said, “It’s fine! Let’s go!” I slapped on my shoe and ran on the side of my foot for a bit. I was in a completely insane amount of various pain. On top of that, something stung me and my right arm felt like it was burning and stinging and just weird. It was all too much to contain inside of me and I had to let out some emotion. As I kept running, tears were rolling down my sunburned cheeks. The Race Director noticed and got out of his car, asking someone else to drive it. He told me he was running the rest of the marathon with me. We ran and talked and I knew it was going to be ok. The next thing I knew, I had some random Army guy running on my other side, telling me to just keep on pushing. My mind was alternating between, “This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me!” and “This is the most epic, awesome fucking thing that could ever happen to me!” Soon thereafter, someone ran up and asked if I was running with 3 friends. He told me that they were waiting for me just before the finish line. I told myself, "Just run to your friends! That’s all you have to do!!! Just go to your friends!”, and I did and as I got to them, we all ran and crossed the finish line together! There are no words to describe the last two miles of that marathon. To feel embraced and cared for by a stranger, a Race Director that could have wanted to go home after a long day more than he wanted to see me finish, was a beautiful “humans caring about other humans” experience. I’ll never forget that. Seeing three people that I love so much waiting for me, not at the finish line that they had already crossed, but before it so that they could cross with me meant so much to me. Alex, Carmela and Meghan - these are the people that I admire and love so much. These are the people that I would do anything for. These are the people that remind me that I need to always act in a way that makes me a person that’s deserving of having friends like them!
By: The PATHFINDER Ruck Training Course Advisors
Rucking is a great form of exercise for a number of reasons, including its simplicity - just throw on your ruck and away you go! Even on a short ruck, though, any number of things can happen when you step out the door. By making sure that you adhere to some basic rules of thumb and carry a few key items each time you ruck, you can significantly increase your safety while you’re out putting on the miles.
Before You Go
While You are Rucking
It's easy to rationalize not bringing a windbreaker on a nice day or not telling people when you are just going for a quick ruck but you never know what could happen - a sudden storm, a sprained ankle, etc. It doesn't take long to put together some basic things and take some fundamental precautions both before and during your ruck to save you from being portrayed in the next "true stories of survival" series!
On the weekend of November 5th and 6th, people around the world will gather in gyms, garages, parking lots and fields to honor the life of Kirk Deligiannis, a true friend, an amazing family man and athlete who lost his life way too soon. Kirk was a selfless person, spending countless hours helping and encouraging others in their training and launching fitness challenges that raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Green Beret Foundation and Team RWB. The number of lives he has touched is innumerable!
Kirk was a serious athlete and loved a long, brutal workout. His memorial workout is just that. You can do it anywhere, even if you don't have equipment. The three official versions of this workout are below but you can scale it any way you need to by reducing the number of reps, the weight (or just do the bodyweight version) or by modifying the movements to suit your needs. All three options are advanced workouts so know yourself, your level, make it hard but be smart and don't do more than you can handle.
If you want to find an locally-organized event, use the main Facebook event to find one. If you don't see one, just post on the event page and you may find others in the area that you can join up with.
If you are in the D.C. area, we will be doing the workout on Sunday, November 6 at 9 am at the Washington Monument, off to the side by the Sylvan Theater. Click here for the Facebook Event or here for the Eventbrite registration.
If you do the workout at home or with a group of friends, that's great too! Please consider making a donation of at least $20 to Kirk's family's fund: https://www.youcaring.com/maria-deligiannis-family-659142
On April 16, 2016, I had the privilege of participating in the Tough Ruck in Concord, Massachusetts with Team Unicorn (a name we, a group of four friends who are all dumb enough to sign up to carry heavy rucksacks for 26.2 miles straight, gave ourselves during the trip). It was quite the adventure!
The Tough Ruck is a marathon ruck event that is orchestrated by the Military Friends Foundation in conjunction with the Boston Athletic Association and Boston Marathon. Each participant rucks in honor of a fallen member of the military or first responder and carries that person’s name on their ruck. Participants that wish to compete for a winning time must carry at least 30 pounds in their ruck at all times and all participants that complete the Tough Ruck receive the official Boston Marathon medal. The event was once held at the same time and on the same course as the actual Boston Marathon but was moved in 2014 to the Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord due to security concerns with people carrying backpacks following the bombings in 2013. Approximately 600 people participated in the Tough Ruck and it was a sold out event.
If you have never done a marathon ruck, it’s an interesting beast. I have completed GORUCK events that covered many more miles but there is something about logging all of those miles continuously, without mixing in PT and other activities, that make it totally different. It’s rough and it’s a mindbender. In the Team Spearhead PATHFINDER Ruck Training Program, we call the marathon ruck, “The Character Builder”.
Our wild adventure began with a road trip from the DC area to Boston the night before the event. We left a few hours behind schedule and didn’t arrive until about 3:30 in the morning. The owner of the house where we were staying, a friend of one of the four of us, graciously got up to let us in so that we could get about 40 minutes of sleep before we had to get up and head out to the marathon start point.
The start point for the Tough Ruck was The Old Manse, a clergy house built in 1770 for Rev. William Emerson, the town minister in Concord, MA at the time and grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson (Wikipedia, “The Old Manse”). There, we were joined by a group of people to include many members of military and also some fellow GRTs. It was cold as hell waiting for the event to start and my feet were so cold that I could not feel them at all despite the fact that I was wearing doubled-up wool socks. Luckily, we didn’t wait too long until the reading of the rules, a few short speeches by the event organizers and supporters and the singing of the National Anthem and then we were off!
Not far into the ruck, the four of us naturally broke into pairs based on pace. The course started with a ruck on pavement though town for the first four miles or so, switching to a gravel path upon hitting the first of the aid stations and entering the National Park. The aid stations along the whole course were great - lots of variety of drinks and snacks and tons of smiling faces that were extremely enthusiastic about cheering on the ruckers. The gravel path lead us about 5 miles across the length of the National Park and was just beautiful. We rucked around farmland, up and down hills, over boardwalk bridges in the swamp, through the forest and past many historical buildings where park personnel were dressed in colonial garb and providing educational opportunities for park visitors. Being Patriot’s Day weekend, there were a lot of visitors in the park but it never felt too crowded. What started as a freezing cold morning, warmed into the perfect weather with just the right breeze.
After rucking for a long time, we reached a turnaround point where we learned that this was just the first half of an out-and-back movement that we’d have to do twice. The idea of turning around, rucking back to somewhere we had been before and then out to this place again and back once more was not a happy one. I tried to look at the course map to understand just how far back we had to go but I really couldn’t understand it. (Maybe it was because I had just rucked 9 miles on 40 minutes of sleep or something!) We had a snack, I took some Advil for my very tight hips and off we went back to wherever the heck we were going. Along the way back, we bumped into the Boston GOREV GORUCK Heavy Class. It was great to see their faces and I got to quickly communicate with and hug a couple of my fellow brothers and sisters in pain and suffering. After that, I felt like we were just rucking and rucking. I finally broke down and asked a couple people how much longer we had to go until we reached the turnaround spot and got wildly different answers. (Note: Don’t ever do this! People aren’t good at estimating distance and you could get your heart broken when they drastically underestimate the distance.) We kept on going until finally, a high point came when we passed a sign saying “Mile 15”. I thought, “Yes! Only one more mile until we are on the last 10 miles!” However, when we finally reached the turnaround point, which ended up being that very first first aid station where the pavement turned to gravel as we entered the National Park, someone said, “Congratulations! You have completed 14 miles! You are halfway done!” WTF!!!!!!! But, we had just passed the 15 mile sign! What was going on? Apparently, that sign was for when you were on your way back out the second time, not for when you were on the way back in the first time. It was a seriously horrible moment and I wanted to scream at that person about how they were wrong and that I was going to kill them for it. But instead, we took a short break and got back up, disheartened and downtrodden, and made our way out for round two of the out-and-back movement.
One thing we had going for us this time was that we knew it was 5 miles out and 5 miles back on the loop and that this was the last time we had to do it. We knew where we were going and had some familiar landmarks to give us an idea of how far we had to go. I have to hand it to my amazing friend and partner in marathon ruck hell, Heather, for lightening the mood by joking about what a great experience we were having. In no time, I felt better than I had the whole event and we were moving faster than we had at any point previously. It was time to get this event done! We lucked out and just happened to come to the location of the battle reenactment that was being held as part of the park’s Patriot’s Day activities just as it started. We got to watch the reenactment as we rucked and spectators and park volunteers cheered us on as we rucked past them. It was great! Definitely one of the happiest moments of the whole event! We once again reached the turnaround spot, agreeing to stop as briefly as possible and get right to completing the last leg back to that aid station. Once we had that done, it would just be two more miles on pavement through town and back to the start point at The Old Manse, which was also the finish line. That final 5 miles back in went slowly but we had fun, talking and hanging out along most of the way. As we got closer to the aid station, however, things started to get dark. Maybe we were just tired or maybe we were starting to let our guard down and go into that mode where you know you’re almost done and lose some toughness. Either way, the suck level was on the rise!
When we finally hit that aid station, we kept right on moving, determined to get the event over with. We were both severely done with rucking and wanted to finish ASAP!!! As we stepped onto the pavement, we realized that the change in surface material completely sucked. Everything started to hurt more, tense up, and feel 20 times worse! Mentally, everything got harder to deal with. It was only two miles but it went on forever, one step after another in a hell that seemed not to end. My stomach hurt and I really wanted to cry a few times. It was just completely awful! I wavered between total despair and telling myself that I was choosing to have those negative feelings and that I must find a new, better feeling to have. I don’t think I found a better one though. I was just desperate to finish. After walking what felt like 42,708 miles on the pavement, I checked my GPS and it said The Old Manse was 0.5 miles away. Moments later, we saw a sign that said “Mile 25”. None of us will ever forget that evil sign! People in other groups cursed that sign as they passed it too. I decided that my GPS was right and we only had 0.5 miles and that the Mile 25 sign could go fuck itself. I ended up being wrong as the GPS didn’t follow the course map. After seeing that sign, we rucked what was way more than a mile. It kept seeming like we were almost there but then we would turn a corner or go up a hill or do something other than finish. It truly seemed like the end would never come, like we were stuck forever in this endless prison of rucking. I remembered to remember who I was rucking for, Lt. Jeffrey Walz, an FDNY firefighter who lost his life on September 11. I won’t go into more than that about Jeffery Walz because I want to write a separate post about why he is special to me and why he is who I ruck for. Thinking about him didn’t make the end of the event hurt less but it did make hurting be ok, something to accept rather than fight. It made things bearable.
Finally, we crossed the finish line! We got our medals, we hugged and I laid down on the ground for a few, happy to be off my feet. As always, it was great to finish! We all hobbled to the bus that would take us to our car and then hobbled to the car. We were all really jacked up - our bodies were aching, tightening, doing painful and weird things. We all agreed that the whole thing was awful and that doing the Tough Ruck was a dumb idea. We swore that we wouldn’t do it again. We got back to the house, napped, ate steak, napped again, woke up at 11:30 pm and went to shadow the GOREV Heavy briefly, ate pizza and went back to bed. The next day, we had an amazing brunch in downtown Boston, wore our medals to the marathon finish line and had a glass of Samuel Adams 26.2 Brew at Cheers before driving home to DC. On the way home, being the sickos that make stupid decisions that we are, we determined that we would do this again next year and PR the shit out of it. All in all, it was a fucking awful experience but it was also one of the best bad decisions we ever made!
On November 7th, 2015, I participated in a custom GORUCK Heavy in honor of SSG Matthew Pucino, a Green Beret and all around great man, who gave his life for our freedom on November 23, 2009 in Afghanistan.
The event was led by Cadre Jesse H and Cadre Heath. There is no end to the imaginations of these two men and they put on a superb event. It was seriously hard! But it was also fun, creative, informative and a fitting memorial to SSG Pucino. Our team of participants was also top notch, coming from around the country representing Team SPEARHEAD, TRVLSQD, F3, Team Ninja and D Crew as part of the Blackbeard Ruck Team.
We started the event by going through "Selection". We did some PT and then we embarked on a ruck in which we were to follow a roughly 1-,mile course to be completed with a time hack that was unknown to us. We were also told that we were to successfully complete the course an unknown number of times before we were done. We pretty much sucked at this task and it took us 8 revolutions to successfully meet our time hack twice.
Our next task was to build an apparatus and wheel it around the same course. Wheeling this thing around the course was difficult but Cadre Jesse made it fun by playing music and having us dance. This temporarily drowned out the thoughts about how we couldn't have possibly made our time hack and would have to go around again. Much to our surprise, we were asked to stop short of the finish line and were relieved to put down the apparatus. This relief was only a short reprieve as the next thing was even worse: picnic table PT! This was rough! We did a number of overhead picnic table presses until most of us just couldn't lift the table anymore and then mixed in some squats before returning to presses. Once we were practically dead, Cadre Heath finished us off with 170 4-count flutter kicks on top of the tables! Cadre Heath is my freakin' PT hero! Not only can the man PT his ass off, he's my age and that gives me hope that I'll be able to do that much PT that effortlessly too if I keep working at it.
After a bit more time at our start point, our Team Leaders were able to successfully persuade the locals to provide us transport by bus to the location of our next mission. Unfortunately, however, the bus encountered transmission troubles at the bottom of a hill, requiring us all to exit the bus and pull it up the very long hill. The bus conveniently recovered it's operational ability as soon as we got to the top of the hill and it was able to return to town, leaving us to embark on a journey into the dark woods. It wasn't long before we made our way to a site where we picked up two substantial logs and we were off. We rucked through the night, chasing a cache of unknown riches, which would only be present at the next designated location if we made it there within our time hack. Along the way, we rescued hostages, shared stories about Matt Pucino, told jokes and took a chilly dip in the lake, or whatever the heck body of water we were in. (I think I saw a warning sign about a waste treatment reservoir or something). Sadly, by the middle of the night, we were down to 17 participants, from 26. We ditched the small log and were left with the one larger log, which took all of us to carry at all times. After a series of missed time hacks, we finally made one and were given the opportunity to accept a challenge - if we could move the log 500 meters within a certain time, we would earn the right to chop it in half, as long as we chopped it in half within another time hack. Thankfully, we kicked butt at both of these things. You could see the hatred of that log expressed in the feverish, violent chopping action of each team member! We carried on through the night and into the day, eventually encountering the cache and eventually getting to put down the log for good.
We were extracted by vehicle and returned to the start point, where we were informed that we were to perform the Army Physical Fitness Test. This was surprisingly kind of fun. Maybe we were all just grateful to not be hauling a bunch of heavy stuff with us as we circled the course from the beginning of the event two more times. Upon crossing the finish line from the run, we all received our patches from Cadre Heath. As a rule, I never assume we are finished with an event until I've been patched. This saves me from the mental suckfest that comes with buying into a false finish. However, with our patches in hand, Cadre Jesse H ordered us back to the picnic pavilion, back into our picnic table teams and to pull the picnic tables back out of the pavilion. Just as we are all thinking, "Are we really doing more picnic table PT? But we have our patches!", Cadre Jesse ordered us to pull out a snack and sit at the table like civilized people and eat it. It was awesome!
We ended our event by talking about Matthew Pucino and about the ways in which we honor our nation's warriors - about how we acknowledge and honor how they died but celebrate the gift of their life and time here with us. We then sang the Ballad of the Green Berets and we did it beautifully!
If you are looking to improve your rucking or want to train for a GORUCK event, there are a number of training programs available to help you meet your goals. There is one program in particular, The Team SPEARHEAD PATHFINDER Training Program, that I think is particularly unique and I’m lucky enough to have found it just in time to use it to train for my first GORUCK HCL.
The PATHFINDER Program is a 12-week ruck/PT training program that was designed to get you ready for GORUCK and similar type events. Like other training programs, you will do a lot of rucking and a lot of PT but here’s why PATHFINDER is unique:
1) Rather than holding you to a rigid schedule (i.e., ruck x miles Monday, do y workout on Tuesday, rest Wednesday, ruck X miles on Thursday, etc.), the PATHFINDER Program requires you to complete a given amount of work within 12 weeks. You can start light and increase the difficulty as you go along, work your training around the date of a specific event, fit it into a rigid MTWTF schedule, or just fit it in whenever you can. Being a working parent, a flexible program that I can fit into my busy schedule is way more doable than trying to bend my life around a rigid program. Life just gets in the way too much for that!
2) You have the support of program leaders and fellow participants. The program starts and ends on a specific date and during that period you are put into a Facebook Group along with everyone else doing the program. This provides an outlet for support, encouragement, questions and allows people training in the same geographic location to find each other and coordinate training events. Even if you end up rucking alone, you have a group of people with whom to share your experience.
3) Well thought out challenges with a purpose. In order to complete the PATHFINDER Program, you must complete a number of challenges. Examples of these challenges include a marathon ruck, a 10-mile partner ruck with 80 pounds of coupons and a 12-mile ruck in less than 3 hours and 30 minutes. The challenges are difficult and designed to test you in different ways – to provide you with the experience of a long ruck where you may have to deal with issues such as foot care and mental stress, to get you used to rucking under a heavy burden or to test your ability to maintain a fast past over time, etc. By testing various elements through the challenges, you gain experience and knowledge and remove unknown elements from your upcoming events. You don’t worry about how you will handle rucking the distance of your upcoming Challenge because you already know. Confidence replaces uncertainty.
When I found the PATHFINDER Program, I was already preparing myself for the Normandy HCL and I had 13 weeks left. The timing couldn’t have been better with PATHFINDER Class 005 ending on May 31st and my HCL beginning on June 4th. I knew this would be a more fun and motivating way to finish off my training but I didn’t realize how valuable this program would be to me. PATHFINDER definitely helped me step up my game and deal with some remaining issues that I wanted to have under control for the HCL. This is what I go out the PATHFINDER Program:
1) I was able to toughen my feet, test my blister prevention strategy really well and remove my biggest concern about the HCL.
I don't just get blisters. I get blisters from HELL! I get them on the bottom of my feet, deep under many layers of skin and they hurt like a motherfucker while rucking. After a long and enormously painful 15-miles walking on the blister shown in the photos, I became serious about finding ways to prevent and manage blisters. I have to say that I'm still experimenting with the prevention part but I do have a strategy that's better than nothing and I've becoming better at triaging problems as they start to occur along a ruck.
If you have blister issues, it's important to understand that everyone is different. People love to tell exactly what to do, what shoes and socks to wear, etc. but the truth is, you have to experiment with what works for you. There is no one strategy that applies across the board. Some resources that I used to understand blistering, it's prevention and treatment are below. I recommend checking them out if you are battling this problem as well.
Fixing Your Feet: Prevention and Treatments for Athletes - This book is like my bible!
Mark Webb"s awesome blog (Which has tons of valuable insight on non-foot stuff as well that you should read)
This entire website about blister prevention http://www.blisterprevention.com.au/
This Podiatry Today article
About the Author
I have completed 38 GORUCK events including 3-GORUCK HCL's, and have done a variety of other endurance events including Ironman Maryland 140.6 two times. I am a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and health coach, scientist, minimalist, nature lover and single mom but on a more basic level, I'm just a woman in her 40's that likes to push her limits and write stuff sometimes. This blog is a way of sharing some of my experiences and insights.