S.E.R.E.-ious Business

Three months have passed since Death Race 2012 and although I have participated in a number of races and challenges in the time since my 62 1/2 hour ordeal in the mountains of Vermont I have been lazy about keeping up the blog.  All that changes now!  The remainder of 2012 looks pretty exciting and 2013 is shaping up to be quite a year!

First thing I want to write about is the S.E.R.E. Challenge – a great event put on by a very cool group of people.  I am already planning to take on a triple S.E.R.E. Challenge weekend next January in Arizona.  Your read that correctly.  A TRIPLE challenge…back to back to back.  So what IS the S.E.R.E. Challenge that I would want to kill myself three times in a row?  Read on!

SERE is a military acronym for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape – a program that provides military personnel, Department of Defense civilians and private military contractors with training in evading capture, survival skills and the military code of conduct. Established by the United States Air Force at the end of the Korean War (1950–53), it was extended during the Vietnam War (1959–75) to the Army, Navy and Marines. Most higher level SERE students are military aircrew and special operations personnel considered to be at high risk of capture.

Led by Keith Jolly, the founders of S.E.R.E. Performance and creators of the S.E.R.E. Challenge have taken inspiration from the military SERE training and come up with a unique physically and mentally challenging, team-building event.  Is it hard?  Yes.  Can anyone do it?  Maybe.  But you have to work hard and stay sharp.  Being able to run more than 10 miles helps although you will probably cover much more distance than that over the course of the event. Oh, and you can’t mind having a little dirt, mud and sweat all over you all the time.  Or getting wet.  In really cold water.

From the S.E.R.E. Performance website:

S.E.R.E. Performance is not the US Military! However, we train our clients using non-classified elements of military S.E.R.E. school while emphasizing STRENGTH – ENDURANCE– RELIANCE, all resulting into you EVOLVING your body and mind into a strong smart leader, athlete or over all great person, able to adapt and overcome any situation.

STRENGTH – In Body and Mind

ENDURANCE – The Ability to Continue On

RELIANCE – Confident in Oneself

EVOLVE – To Develop and Adapt

Our fearless leader, John Henry.

On a pleasant Friday night in August I drove down to San Diego to meet nine other guys at a bar in the Gaslamp District for a few drinks before heading over to Balboa Park where we were to meet our S.E.R.E. Challenge Instructor and torturer for the night, John Henry (a former Army Sniper and Drill Instructor).  I had my ruck with loaded with food, water and a handful of required gear items including my trusty Petzl headlamp.  A few familiar faces in the group helped calm any nerves I had.  Even now, after taking on the Death Race, there is still the moment of intimidation I feel upon meeting my fellow racers or team members at an event.  Usually, they are bigger than me and more than a few look like they regularly eat large trees for breakfast and dig holes with their bare hands.  Or are taller than me.  And, as always, I am pleasantly reminded of the friendliness and “coolness” of my fellow bad-asses.  Fears are allayed.  Confidence back at full.  Ready to go!

Getting ready to head out into the night…

After some introductory remarks by our fearless Instructor, we donned the white t-shirt we were required to bring and quickly assembled into a team huddle.  I was chosen to be team leader for the first task of our challenge: locate and move as a team to the closest baseball diamond.  We only had a few minutes to pull out iPads and other devices , determine our goal and step off.  The closest baseball diamond was about a mile away.  We got into a straight line formation and navigated through the darkness, arriving at our target a short while later.

Making plans…

And away we go…!

We climbed over a tall fence and moved into the outfield section of the diamond for some grueling PT.  A little physical beat-down before the real games were to begin!  Our legs and arms wobbly from bear crawl and lunge sprints, we then assembled near home plate.  And here is where S.E.R.E. departs from other similar military-inspired challenge events.  We gathered around the instructor for our first class of the evening – a lesson in survival and emergency buddy carries.  These short classes in a survival skill would be peppered throughout our overnight adventure.  A “lecture” followed by testing of our newly acquired skills in a hands on approach.  I really had a blast with this aspect of the S.E.R.E. Challenge.  And, although brief, the classes did provide me with some new insights and valuable pieces of knowledge for real world emergency survival.

The neck drag buddy carry…suck of the worst kind.

We tested out our buddy carries in a race around the baseball diamond. Four different carries twice, first team to complete 8 laps around the diamond would be declared the winner.  Piggy backs and over-the-shoulder carries are one thing but neck drags are a whole other ballgame.  Talk about brutal physical punishment!  One partner on his back with his arms around the neck of his partner who is straddling him in a low bear crawl position. The downward facing person drags the other person to safety.  My partner and I began with this carry thinking it would be the hardest one.  We were right.  And it sucked.  It sucked hard.  My partner and I were covered in sweat, mud and dirt.  We had fallen behind…the other teams had begun with the easier carries but now they were paying the price as we quickly made up ground with the easier carries.  We ended up finishing second…oh, yeah, we were the small-guy team.  Size is not necessarily always an advantage.

Our white t-shirts…no longer white but emblazoned with the S.E.R.E. letters.

The winning partners became team captains and took turns selecting from the remainder of us for their respective teams.  We would stay in these teams for the rest of the night and we would now be competing against each other!  This is another aspect of the S.E.R.E. Challenge that differentiates it from other similarly themed overnight challenges.  The entire event is a competition…team against team.  This adds a whole other dimension to the night and what made it so much more fun for me.  We still worked as a team but, instead of one large unit, we were working in smaller teams trying to accomplish tasks and challenges faster, smarter and more efficiently than the other teams.  Our S.E.R.E. Challenge class consisted of 10 people broken down into two 5-man teams.  I can see the advantage and added fun of having a larger class and more teams competing against each other throughout the night!

Planning our movement…

Our first team-based task was to make our way to a large grassy area adjacent to Petco Park (home of the San Diego Padres).  Each team began on opposite sides of the street.  There were several catches, though.  First, we had to turn left or right at every corner.  The first team to arrive at each corner determined the direction both teams would take until the next block…and so on.  Secondly, one person on each team had to always be buddy carried.  And third, we had to move as a team – in single file formation and with no gaps in our lines.  I can’t remember the exact mileage we covered but each team had iPads and GPS devices in hand mapping out the ever-shifting route to Petco Park as we ran.  After some distance, our Instructor allowed the two teams to separate and move toward the target location by the most direct route.  My team made a judgment in error and turned in the wrong direction just yards away from the target.  The other team was already hydrating and fueling up by the time we arrived.

On the streets of San Diego…headed to Petco Park.

We were hot, sweaty and dirty but had a bit of a respite as John Henry, our Instructor, led the second class of the night – this one in survival first-aid. Of course, it is impossible for these classes to be all-encompassing but they do provide some key basic skills that can be retained and drawn upon in time of need.  They also provide great entry points for further research and study if someone was interested in further developing a particular skill set.

John Henry leading a first-aid class.

A demonstration in first-aid.

Our next challenge was to move toward the entrance of the main hall of the San Diego Convention Center about a 1/2 mile away. We were then tasked with scouting the area to the right and left of the entrance.  We took photographs, noted possible entry and escape routes, mapped out strategic observation posts, places to hide, and safe noted possible safe areas before continuing on to our next goal several miles away.  This movement once again required one person of the team to always be carried in one form or another.  The other team was ahead of us but we caught up to them and eventually passed them as our 5-man crew worked like a well-oiled machine.  Our movement was swift and our transitions from one buddy carrier to the next were swift and well-executed. Although my team arrived first both teams missed the exact target location by about 20 yards!

Self-defense as the morning begins to break.

Moving to our next destination as the morning slowly creeps up.

And so it went for the rest of the night.  Tasks and missions followed by a class (evasion & escape, self-defense, team-movement).  I don’t want to give it all away…half the fun of any of these events is the surprise element!  We did cover a lot of mileage and saw a good portion of San Diego from Balboa Park to the Gaslamp District, from Little Italy to Sunset Cliffs.  One of our most interesting tasks involved locating a public payphone and taking a photograph of us calling the Instructor’s cellphone.  It was incredibly difficult to find a payphone!  We covered a lot of mileage in search of one before we were able to track down one of these dinosaurs.  Even our smart devices were useless in accomplishing this task.  So much for technology.

Taking a break…

Preparing for the next leg…

By early morning we had made our way to the beach for what would be the culminating task of the long night.  Arms linked, the ten of us faced the ocean as one and walked into it about waist deep.  After getting properly soaked we walked back closer to the shoreline for some good, old-fashioned water PT before our Instructor called us back to the sand where he informed us we had completed our S.E.R.E. Challenge!

We had worked as two teams and came together as one for our final challenge.  Our patches were well-earned and I cannot wait to do the next S.E.R.E. Challenge! I completed the Urban phase of the S.E.R.E. Challenge Series and have four more phases to tackle!

S.E.R.E. Challenge Series

Level 1: Urban

Level 2: Woodland

Level 3: Desert

Level 4: Arctic

Level 5: Maritime

If you are looking for your next personal challenge then check out S.E.R.E. Performance.  These guys put on truly unique, fun and challenging events!  And, on top of that, S.E.R.E. is a veteran owned and operated company that proudly supports the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

Many thanks to my S.E.R.E. Challenge Class (#10) teammates and our S.E.R.E. Challenge Instructor, John Henry!

The S.E.R.E. Challenge Urban patch!

Ruck On. Stay Muddy.


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