This past week, the brothers Lesko and CrossFit South athlete, Chris Caswall, were in our nation’s capital to participate in the Independence Day GORUCK Challenge. The GRC is an 8-10 hour, 15-20 mile adventure that is a slice of reality found in the most elite schools in Special Operations. They say they “under promise, over deliver” and it most certainly did. We started at 5am at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and didn’t finish until 5pm in a park in Georgetown. In addition to our rucks, each team had a team weight that had to weigh at least 25 lbs and had to be carried for the entire challenge. We had a weighted tube with a copy of the Declaration of Independence inside.
I spoke with a lot of people at the GRC that said they’ve been training for weeks with bricks in their bags and going on practice rucks, and eating almost 4000 calories a day for the week before, etc. We went into it blind, almost naive. The Challenge was 50% physical, 50% mental. Without any GRC-specific training before the event, we were able to finish, which I think speaks greatly about our training at CrossFit South. We train for the unknown and the unknowable, which is what CrossFit is all about!
Inspired by the most elite training offered to Special Forces soldiers and led by Green Berets, the GORUCK Challenge is a team event and never a race. Challenge cadre build each class into a team through collective conditions of mental and physical exhaustion. Classes are small, camaraderie is high, smiles are plentiful, and teamwork is paramount.
With our ruck sacks full of bricks, food, and water, our team left the Lincoln Memorial to a nearby park where the fun began with bear crawls, low crawls, push ups, flutter kicks, and inchworms. Never once is your ruck allowed to touch the ground, so for the next 12 hours our rucks never left our body. I never thought push ups were hard until I had to do them with a ruck on my back that was well in excess of 50 pounds!
Disappointed in our lack of team work, our cadre made us go run in formation which we somehow struggled with so they made us do the “elephant walk” so we knew how to stay together as a team. We finally came to a park with ledges that were perfect for flutter kicks! Our cadre gave us one more chance to learn how to count and work together, and once we finally did we were rewarded with buddy carries! It might have only been 50 meters, but when you’re carrying a teammate that weighs over 200lbs PLUS his ruck and your ruck it gets hard. Once we got to the end, we had to switch and come back as a team. Well, apparently my ass is too heavy, so I got to carry my buddy both ways. We were still having trouble finishing as a team, so we were made to do more bear crawls before leaving the park.
We then came to another park with a fountain, and of course it was perfect for flutter kicks! Our cadre said “if the fountain smells like bum piss, that’s because it is!” It was disgusting. After flutter kicks we got to do more 4-count pushups IN the fountain. I wanted to throw up. We were bad at counting so we had to start over. Finally, the cadre made us get out because we needed to get to the White House before it was full of tourists. Running there, they told us we dropped something and pulled out a sand bag from their own rucks for us to now carry. They also had new intel for us that the DC sniper was back in town and we needed to keep our eyes open for suspicious activity.
I was the first to get “sniped” and I was wounded and could not walk any further so my team got to carry me to the White House on their shoulders. A couple Asian tourists kept taking our pictures, they must have thought I was famous. We made it to the White House, and luckily I only had a flesh wound so I had to get back on my feet.
After regrouping, we were given the task to get to the Washington Monument in less than 13 minutes for evac. Shortly after starting, the DC sniper struck again. And again. We ran through town with our two wounded and made it with time to spare! After taking care of our wounded, we went over to a park with there were plenty of logs perfect for carrying…But first we had to set them up as mortar to fend off the terrorists coming up the hill. They were too quick so we kept having to reposition our artillery to kill them all!
We were safe for now, but the cadre thought it was in our best interest to take some of the logs/artillery with just in case we were ambushed again. The biggest log had to have weighed 700lbs, the smaller log was at least 400lbs. We nicknamed the big guy Stumpy.
The log is a great metaphor for the Challenge. When it begins, there’s total disbelief at how heavy it is. For the first hour, the class struggles against working together and assumes that they’ll be allowed to stop before long. During the second hour, there’s a slow acceptance and recognition of the need to work together. In the third hour, the class just doesn’t give a shit. They’ve figured out their system and how to implement it as a team.
My shoulders are still bloodied and bruised from carrying Stumpy around for so long. It was thick and heavy as hell, but too short to get enough people underneath to make it manageable. We tried many different methods, none seemed to be perfect. After about an hour and half, the cadre gave us a buddy carry challenge: if we could start as a team, finish as a team, and get down and back across a parking lot before time runs out, we got to ditch the smaller log. We finally starting working as a team and completed the challenge, but we were still left with Stumpy.
Many hours later, we were given another team challenge: if we could successfully complete an inchworm (think human centipede) and hold it up for a 4-count, then we could finally get rid of Stumpy. With the promise of such an amazing reward, we did it, we finally got up in an inchworm and held it as a team!
The GRC was maybe halfway done, but the hard part was never over. We rucked around town for almost an hour in the blistering heat over to Roosevelt Island. At this point I was starting to cramp up in my legs. Once we got to the island we did some water activities while singing the SpongeBob Square Pants theme song in unison, and then we trekked through the swamp. Not too far in front of me I heard a teammate yell “OUCH! SHIT! BEES! BEES! BEES!” and everyone ran out of the swamp in a panic. But, we weren’t finished with the swamp, so we walked about 50 ft further down and back into the swamp! By now it was getting really muddy, my legs were getting stuck in the mud and I would get excruciating cramps in my calves as I tried to pull myself out of the gunk.
We finally left the shady Roosevelt Island and rucked across bridges over to the Iwo Jima Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. For about 15 minutes, we were off cadre time and could walk around the memorial at our leisure. I rested and changed out my socks for the 3rd time, but to no avail my feet were already covered in blisters.
After Iwo Jima, we rucked back through Arlington, over more bridges, and back into DC. The cadre had a treat for us since it was hot as hell and we were working together so much better: a fresh water fountain! But it was about 2 miles away…Once we got there, kids were playing and splashing, but we the cadre told us to do 4-count push ups so we had to spoil all their fun and do push ups in the cool refreshing water. I’ve never been so happy to do push ups, but it was short lived. We were down at the water front and our next rendezvous was up a big hill in Georgetown. We went up for what seemed like a thousand blocks, and ended up at another park.
We then went down a steep hill for about 1 km and stopped at a stream where more cadre was waiting. We were congratulated on all our hard work…were we finally done? NOPE! More squats and flutter kicks while singing Spongebob and Fresh Prince of Bel Air themes! The stream was so cool and calming, but we had to leave and climb back up the hill. I was cramping badly by now and my team offered to help me, but I was stubborn and smiled through it. Halfway up the hill, the DC sniper struck again! We were exhausted and disoriented, we couldn’t get out of there organized as a team. And then the sniper struck again. More chaos and confusion! Then the sniper struck for a third time! We had 90 seconds to get to the top for evac. We finally got up the hill with 2 seconds to spare…and we were told to put our rucks on the ground, we were done!
The GORUCK Challenge, was the hardest, most excruciating, physically- and mentally-challenging thing I have ever done. And I can’t wait to do it again! I’m sure I’ve left out some stuff from the adventure, but you get the idea. My brother and I are planning on doing a GRC in Atlanta in October, and I’ll post details before then if anyone would like to sign up with us. I’ll go ahead and say that the GRC is not for everyone, but if you think you have what it takes and want to challenge yourself, then come join us at CrossFit South to get ready for the Atlanta GRC. Next time I’ll be more prepared and bring more socks to change in to, so it should be a blast!
- Bring lots of socks. Your feet are going to get wet. A lot. Blisters are no fun.
- Go on lots of practice rucks. With a full bag of bricks. You’re going to cover a lot of ground on challenge day so you need to make sure your feet, back, and shoulders are ready for it.
- Eat a lot of food leading up to the challenge. The last thing you want to do is burn through your energy stores and cramp up halfway through. Consider ditching your restrictive diet temporarily.
- Do the challenge with a buddy to keep you motivated.
- Wear boots or shoes with enough cushion.
- If you go out drinking the night before, don’t drink too much.
- It doesn’t matter how you prepare, it’s still going to suck. A large part of a GRC is the testing of your mental fortitude.
- Work out at CrossFit South, of course.