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LiveBIG Adventures  |  No. 03


GORUCK Heavy

At Windy City Strength & Conditioning, we believe the quality of our health determines the quality of our lives—and nothing is more important than that. We believe real fitness is about strengthening and conditioning your body and mind in the gym so you can get out of the gym, explore the world, seek new adventures and be the person you were meant to be. That's why we started LiveBIG Adventures. Windy City coaches and members travel the globe, seeking the most adventurous ways to get out there and use their fitness—then show you how to do it too. Come join us!

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GORUCK leads military-style team-building endurance events called GORUCK Challenges, more popularly known by levels of difficulty: Light, Tough and Heavy. Their classes are led from start to finish by a Special Forces Cadre. His job is to test your limits, push you beyond them, and build your class into a team. There are no cash prizes at the finish. All you earn is a 2x3 inch patch and the respect of everyone to your left and right.

At Windy City, we're proud to honor the training, efforts and accomplishments of members Ingrid, Duke and Lance for completing the GORUCK Heavy, a challenge that 50% of participants don't complete. These guys, and the rest of the Windy City Ruck Club, are truly living BIG and they represent everything that Windy City stands for.

Join The Windy City Ruck Club

Join Ingrid as she recounts her experience completing the GORUCK Heavy challenge...

"The general goal for GORUCK Heavy events is to finish – average completion is listed at 50%. But I didn’t want to just finish. It was about being one of the more prepared participants both mentally and physically."


What made you want to do this adventure?

Ingrid: I had decided to do my first GORUCK event after completing the Windy City Murph Training. I fell in love with the style of training, the teamwork involved, and the mission of GORUCK really meant something to me – bridging the gap between military and civilian life. So I completed the GORUCK Tough challenge (12 hours) with a few other members (Duke, RMG, Eileen, Yacu, Yacu’s brother, etc.). From there, I felt like I had to do something more. I had to do the next hardest thing – the Heavy. So I told Justin about my goal, got Duke on board, found out Lance wanted to do one too and the Ruck Club started in fall of 2014.

The general goal for GORUCK Heavy events is to finish – average completion is listed at 50%. But I didn’t want to just finish. It was about being one of the more prepared participants both mentally and physically. So that was really the ultimate goal!

"As part of the Ruck Club, we received custom programming to prepare us for the intensity, distance and mental taxation that the Heavy would bring."


How did you train for this adventure?

The Ruck Club. As part of the Ruck Club, we received custom programming to prepare us for the intensity, distance and mental taxation that the Heavy would bring. We train Monday through Thursday and then participate in an extended evolution on Saturday mornings. The Saturdays are generally more intense than the daily workouts and, the closer we got to the actual event, we added more rucking to the programming to get our feet and legs prepared for the 40+ miles. Lots of push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and general military PT. We also focused on getting used to having the pack on for extended periods of time so there were a few workouts that we did thrusters and push-ups with the ruck on. Those were challenging and fun to complete!

"When the Cadre gave me my patch, I just started to cry. The sense of accomplishment – not just for that event but the journey overall was really intense."


The Journey

This year, I actually participated in 2 GORUCK Heavy events. The first was here in Chicago over Memorial Day. The second was in Pittsburgh over Labor Day. Why 2? Well, I failed the first one. Maybe failed is too harsh for what happened but it sure as hell felt like failure.

I’ve told most people who know about my training that preparing for the first Heavy taught me a lot about what true preparation feels like. I had never felt more prepared for anything in my life. I knew my pace for a 3 mile ruck. I knew how many push-ups I could do in 2 minutes. I knew what my strengths and weaknesses were mentally. I felt confident.

The event itself was one of the hardest things I have ever attempted. I’d still rather do a Heavy than do Fran…but that’s a separate discussion entirely.

Chicago Heavy
Start Date: Friday, May 22
Start Point: Wilmette
Approximate Mileage: 41 miles

PT Test:

  • 1 min Push-Ups (41 Pass) - FAIL
  • 1 min Sit-Ups (41 Pass) - PASS
  • 2 mile Run (15 Min Pass) - FAIL
  • Max Pull-Ups (7 Pass) - FAIL
  • 8 Mile Ruck March (2 Hours Pass) - PASS

Most Difficult Physical Obstacle/Exercise/Movement: Carrying #345 zodiac boats in teams of 4 down Devon in the middle of the day. We were only able to move one city block at a time before having to switch out teams due to fatigue. It was a challenge to be one of the only females to carry that portion of the weight and an emotional challenge as the team didn’t form together quite as well as we had hoped so there were some of us carrying more than we were resting.

Most Difficult Emotional Obstacle/Exercise/Movement: Failing to complete the event. At Hour 20 of the event, I was told that I had to go to the ER due to a bug bite on my hand that had become pretty swollen and started causing numbness in my chest. While I was sitting in the waiting room, all I could think about was how close I had come, how long I had trained, how my stupid hand had forced Duke to drop from the event, etc. I felt disappointed, guilty, angry, sad, embarrassed…all at the same time. All I wanted to do was be back with the group and get through the event but too much time had passed and I was unable to complete the event. Despite encouraging words from the Cadre, my teammates and friends, I still felt like I had totally failed and it really hurt and pissed me right off. I came back to the gym and tried to just keep my head high – 20 of 24 hours was still something – but it wasn’t what I wanted and accepting that was really difficult for me.

Most Gratifying Physical Accomplishment: Despite not finishing, there were some small wins. Completing the 8 mile ruck march with plenty of time to spare was one. The ruck was something I knew would be a challenge but that I could pass. When we finished with 20+ minutes to spare, it allowed us time to change socks, get warm, rest our feet, etc. and that was totally worth the effort.

Most Gratifying Emotional Accomplishment: This is a tough one and likely didn’t settle in for a while until the feeling of failure had subsided. I was pretty proud to earn the respect of the Cadre who ran our event despite not being able to finish. I was proud that I didn’t walk away from the event and accept failure/less than completion. I was happy with the physical and emotional progress I had made through training and, looking back, I think the failure really taught me so much about myself that I wouldn’t trade that for finishing the event. Ask me about that tomorrow and I might take it back but…I do know that I learned a lot from that setback.

Pittsburgh Heavy
Start Date: September 3
Start Point: Somewhere North of Pittsburgh
Approximate Mileage: 35 miles

PT Test:

  • 2 Min Push-ups (50 Pass) - PASS
  • 2 Min Sit-ups (50 Pass) - PASS
  • Rope Climb x 3 - PASS
  • Max Pull-ups (7 Pass) - FAIL
  • 12 Mile Ruck March (3 Hr Pass) – PASS

Most Difficult Physical Obstacle/Exercise/Movement: We were divided into 2 teams – each team (6-7 people) was assigned a picnic table. We were instructed to clean and press each picnic table 100 times as a team. As we were performing the movements, gallon jugs of water were put on top of the tables. If the gallon jug dropped, it was supposed to simulate an IED going off and we were punished as a team. The punishments were more overhead movements like holding rucks overhead. Overheads are my weakest lifts and I found myself really feeling sorry for myself during this part of the event.

Most Difficult Emotional Obstacle/Exercise/Movement: The emotional strain leading into the event. Since I had failed the Memorial Day event, I felt a lot of pressure to succeed in the Labor Day event. In the days leading up to the event, I kept remembering everything that went wrong, the many times I had felt tired, the pain, the frustration, everything. Truth be told, I was really scared to fail again.

Most Gratifying Physical Accomplishment: Being the one female in our group and being part of the team physically. There were only 13 of us in this class and I was the only girl. I felt SO GOOD about being able to help carry the team weight, the logs, the team water, really anything that needed carrying. To be in good enough shape to pass a majority of the PT tests, the smoke sessions of PT and picnic tables and still carry heavy things with my teammates really helped me feel strong physically.

Most Gratifying Emotional Accomplishment: Completion. We finished the event with a military-inspired version of Fight Gone Bad. Just as we were heading back through for another round of exercises, we heard the Star Spangled Banner playing. We were told to get into lines where we all started to sing the national anthem. It was the most moving version of the song I have ever heard and I don’t think I’ve ever sung it so loud! When the Cadre gave me my patch, I just started to cry. The sense of accomplishment – not just for that event but the journey overall was really intense.

"Part of what makes GORUCK events so special is they really do push you to a limit that other events can’t always replicate."


What did you get out of this experience?

Part of what makes GORUCK events so special is they really do push you to a limit that other events can’t always replicate. The Cadre in charge of each event have unique backgrounds and know so much about how to push the body and spirit because they have all been there (and in places worse than where they take you). And when you come out on the other side of the events, you’re changed. For me, the changes were mostly found through the journey of training and then failure and then success.

In order to be as prepared as possible, I definitely had to make sacrifices. At the time, they didn’t feel that way because the goal was so important to me but looking back, I changed my lifestyle to make sure I would be successful. Workouts went from 45 minutes in length to 90 minutes. This meant more sleep, earlier wakeup calls, better diet, more organization of my life, less time with friends and more time at the gym, etc. Luckily, I had a husband who was just as nuts to do the event with me so at least he understood why I would fall asleep on the couch at 9pm.

I started to find moments of peace while training that I had a hard time finding in regular life and began really looking forward to those moments every day. I’d lose myself in the counting during workouts with lots of reps. I got to think a lot about what I wanted out of the GORUCK experience and what sort of development I wanted for myself as a person during long rucks. Training became a meditative experience instead of just a fury of movements. Those moments are some that I cherish and something I strive for in training now.

For all of the ladies out there, these events were quite liberating in ways women will understand. None of my teammates cared what I looked like or what my gear looked like – they cared if I could lift the weight, if I could keep moving when they needed me, if I could be an asset to the team. And for me, I was able to really release the worry about what I looked like and that was pretty amazing. My body felt more like a tool and less like a thing I could be judged for.

I also made some really great friends doing these events. It’s a pretty bonding experience. The guys that completed the Pittsburgh Heavy share something really unique with us and it’s something I cherish. If they ever needed anything or came through Chicago, I’d jump through walls to help them and they’d definitely be crashing on our couch.

Also, I’ve been pretty lucky to have some great training partners in the gym. Duke, Lance, Dole, Ed, Copper, Wommack, Orwat, Meagles…we’ve all done some pretty cool things as teammates. I really can’t explain enough how much I care for the guys I train with. They’re some of the best people I know and we have a fun dynamic – lots of laughs (even sometimes when you don’t necessarily want to), lots of support through tough workouts/early mornings, lots of accountability, lots of dedication, lots of respect.

"GORUCK events (and really any event that pushes your physical limits in this way) will change you."


What's your advice to others who want to do it too?

The hardest part is signing up! Once you take that leap, the training and preparation begin but pulling the trigger on the event is definitely the hardest part.

Like I said before, GORUCK events (and really any event that pushes your physical limits in this way) will change you. You can walk away knowing that you’re stronger than you thought you were, even if you don’t get the patch at the end. Your capacity for hard work, planning/preparation and pain (physical and emotional) will expand. It’s pretty incredible so DO IT!

Definitely get the GORUCK gear. At first, I thought that the price tag on the bags was ridiculous and unrealistic. But the truth is…they really are amazing bags. The lifetime warranty on the gear is amazing, the GORUCK customer service team is incredible and really the bags are great for everything. I use them to train, to travel, to commute – they’re really versatile.

 

PRO TIPS

Where to stay:
If you sign up for an event in Chicago, definitely stay at home! You’ll want to get a good night’s rest before heading into the event. If you’re traveling for a destination GORUCK, stay close to the start point. Our drive home after the Pittsburgh Heavy was one of the more interesting drives of my life – being up after working out for 24 hours will do weird things to your eyes and brain so driving isn’t necessarily a great idea! Luckily for me, Duke drove us home.

What to bring:
GORUCK will provide a packing list to let you know what you need to bring – some of the specialty events have items unique to the event that you’ll need to bring. Some Cadre will add things for you to bring based on the skills they’d like to teach you.
 

  • The GORUCK rucksack is key. They make some great products – feel free to ask us about the bags if you have questions!
  • A ruck plate – depending on your body weight, this will vary. I had to carry 30 lbs since I’m over 150lbs. This will be on the GORUCK packing list.
  • A 3L water bladder. Camelback makes one. GORUCK carries one.
  • Bring only the food you want to carry or would feel comfortable asking someone else to carry. Cliff bars are a solid choice – some people bring full MREs. Lance Miller swears by a combo of Fritos and Peanut M&Ms. During training, you have to find out what works for your stomach.
  • Definitely bring Nuun tablets/salt tabs/something to keep you hydrated. Nuun makes tablets with caffeine and those saved me on a few occasions.
  • Extra socks will save your life every time. Any time we took breaks, I changed my socks. It helped with blisters/hot spots.
  • Mechanix gloves. These protect your hands when lifting rusty picnic tables, army crawling through mud, doing bear walks on pavement, etc.
  • For the GORUCK Heavy – I recommend wearing boots with ankle support. For the shorter events, a pair of gym shoes you don’t particularly care about anymore will do you just fine.
  • The requirements will have things like headlamps, reflective belts, climbing rope, etc. so a membership to REI is never a bad idea.

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