So I think a recap of January events and training is in order before I head off this weekend to tackle Mt. Woodson, Iron Mountain and Black Mountain – three of San Diego’s toughest peaks – in an overnight training session spanning about 15 hours while carrying 50lb sandbags in various ways. January was a very busy month of fun races, hard training and good people. It began the first weekend of January with back-to-back Goruck Challenges which is a great place to start this post and blog since this whole journey leading up to the Death Race really begins with my first Goruck Challenge back in May of last year.
The Goruck Challenge
go·ruck [verb go + verb ruck] noun ruck is short for rucksack (aka backpack), it’s also a verb: to ruck is to move with a rucksack, and implies action, energy, and purpose
I first came across the Goruck Challenge last year. Goruck is a company founded by former Green Beret Jason McCarthy. It “introduces military-grade gear tough enough for Special Forces to adventure seekers worldwide. All GORUCK gear is built in the USA and adheres to the highest standards of functionality, durability and style.” The Goruck Challenge was initially developed as a way to test their products. It has since grown into a brand of its own with Challenge takers all over the country.
Here’s a video interview with Jason McCarthy: http://benogrady.com/interview-with-jason-mccarthy-founder-of-goruck/
And here’s an article that gives more insight into Goruck and the Goruck Challenge:
The website describes the Challenge as “team event and never a race. Inspired by Special Forces training and led by Green Berets [as well as Navy SEALS and Marine RECONs], the Challenge builds teams and solves problems.” Each class of participants (classes are capped at 30) is taken on a tour of their city led by one of the Goruck cadres that covers 15-20 miles and lasts 8-10 hours. This is their version of what they call (and eventually I came to embrace) Good Livin’. In actual fact, Challenges often last over 12 hours and cover distances of 20 miles or more (more on this later). As the website likes to proclaim they “under promise and over deliver”. Sounds daunting, right? Well, yes, which is why I signed up immediately the first time and didn’t think about it too much. Signing up is the biggest hurdle. The rest is all mental!
During the Challenge, participants wear a rucksack (backpack) weighed down with 4-6 bricks (4 bricks for persons under 150 lbs. and 6 bricks for those over 150 lbs. – life isn’t fair). Originally, participants were required to use a Goruck bag that you could borrow or purchase from them. Challenge takers now can use any rucksack of their choosing but, really, there is no other bag like a Goruck bag (I currently own the GR1 and it is awesome!). They take a beating AND you look cool wearing one! In addition to the bricks, the class is responsible for coordinating a team weight prior to the Challenge. Team weights are shared by the entire class. Often times, the cadre will find additional team weights along the course. Logs, telephone poles and couches have all been known to become team weights.
The Challenge begins somewhere in your city at some point under the cover of darkness. I won’t go too much into the details of a Challenge. Some things just need to be experienced. Let’s just say that during the course of my first Challenge (Class 034) we spent a good number of hours in and out of the ocean during the wee hours of the night, I carried a good number of items besides my bricks, we did more push-ups than I care to remember, we carried a log and lack of teamwork resulted in extra good livin’ meted out by our cadre (I had Jason McCarthy as cadre in my first Challenge). We covered about 20 miles in 12 hours moving from the Venice Beach Pier to Runyon Canyon in Hollywood. Yup. You read that right. My body was destroyed for over a week!
Sooooo….all this to say that I began January by not only doing one Challenge but by doing TWO Challenges…back-to-back! The Death Race is a mentally and physically grueling experience with little or no sleep over the course of 24 hours or more (the 2011 Death Race lasted over 40 hours!) and I wanted to see just how much I could push my body non-stop for an extended period of time. That AND I was also suckered into it by two other GRTs (Goruck Toughs – previous Goruck Challenge finishers) who were also signed up for the two Los Angeles Challenges. Thanks Lain & Louis!
I felt confident going into it…at least going into the first one. I was in much better shape than I was last year AND I had attended to the tendonitis of my IT band with physical therapy (foam rollers are amazingly painful but incredibly useful!), stretching, and icing after being diagnosed with it sometime in early fall. At around 10PM on Friday night I made my way to Venice Beach with two fellow GRTs, Mel and Kyle, who’d flown in from Iowa and were staying with me for the weekend. They were slated to do the Saturday 10PM Challenge but wanted to see me and the other Challenge takers in classes 100 and 101 take off at 1AM. I think they got a little nervous after my class (100) spent the better part of an hour doing PT on the concrete parking lot floor a few hundred yards from the ocean…while wearing our brick-laden rucks. Or maybe they just felt sorry for us as we flutter kicked and busted out endless push-ups.
Again, I won’t go into ALL the details but zombies were involved as we rushed to save humanity from the impending zombie apocalypse. For a vast majority of the time that involved carrying our team weight (a large fiberglass monkey borrowed from a restaurant) in addition to a large number of ammo canisters loaded with sand and four 5-gallon water jugs filled to capacity. I carried one of those suckers on my shoulder for a long time. Lack of teamwork resulted in extra PT.
12 hours and over 20 miles later we finished at Runyon Canyon! I went home, showered, ate and changed before heading out once again to Venice Beach for the start of my second Challenge at 10pm…exactly 7 hours after the end of the first Challenge. And no sleep. At this point, I’d been awake over 39 hours (having woken up at 7am the day before). I was tired but feeling good and excited to run my second Challenge with my new friends Mel and Kyle and my buddies Louis and Lain from class 034 who were also going into their second Challenge (they began their first Challenge at the same time as me but were assigned to another class).
The second challenge was a real mental mind game. My body was exhausted even though my mind was ready for more. The cold ocean water really took a toll on me. I wasn’t close to going hypothermic but it was not pleasant to be cold for that long. The sun couldn’t come up fast enough! Since I had the same cadre for this Challenge as I did for the earlier Challenge I pretty much knew the course although the experience was very different. Knowing our destination did not help either! From Venice Beach we ran up the coast to Santa Monica then cut across surface streets to UCLA, snaked our way down Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills, emerged at the Sunset Strip and eventually found our way to Hollywood Boulevard and up to Runyon Canyon. Over 20 miles in 16 hours!!!
With the help of the team (and I really mean it when I say the team camaraderie and words of encouragement were crucial in keeping my eyes focused on the goal) and the cadres I was able to pull push myself to the very end. Not always easy but most good things in life are not easy to attain.
And what did I get in return for this effort? Nothing but the satisfaction of knowing I went the distance…and the Goruck patch. A small token of our accomplishment that is only earned and never sold. I love my patches!!
The final tally: 61 hours with no sleep (I finally went to bed at 8pm on Sunday night), 29 hours of Challenge, 2 patches, endless satisfaction, new friends and the knowledge that sleep deprivation will not be my downfall at Death Race!
I may not be the biggest or the strongest racer in Vermont. But I have determination, perseverance, and a fuck-all attitude to get myself to the finish come hell or high water. And doing it with a smile on my face whenever possible! Because if I am not enjoying the journey then I might as well stop. A strong mind will overcome the fatigue. A strong heart will overcome the unexpected.