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!
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. I am a fitness 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.