To Do What is Required: GRC 963

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I was a little hesitant going into this event, as my last full GORUCK Challenge was completed successfully, but I was a drag on the team rather than being an asset. I knew I was stronger going into this one, but I was not sure if I was strong enough.

I found the sculpture that was the landmark for our start point, found my teammates, and chatted waiting for the Cadre to arrive and determine where we went from there.

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Our Cadre (going by the highly improbable name of Surfhog) arrived, gave us the usual instructions, and appointed a team leader to make certain we all had our required gear squared away. He told us his background, announced, “It begins!” and lead us off at a pace that many of us struggled to keep up with. Along the way he punished mistakes that we made with designating casualties, meaning the person he pointed to had to be carried by the rest of the team. We reached a park and started the welcome party.

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The goal was to get everyone working as a team, all PT movements to be done in unison. The longer it takes you to make it happen, the more PT you end up doing. It took us awhile to get it together, due in part to me. On several of the exercises I couldn’t make things work, having to drop my feet in flutter kicks or drop a knee in pushups. On the up side, I had been wondering for some time if I am strong enough to do a decent buddy carry, and I got my answer.

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After much PT, more than a few doubts about coming, and seeing a few of our number drop, we were assembled into a circle and briefed on our mission for the night. A B52 has gone down, carrying three nuclear weapons. We must HALO in, coordinate with local sources, and recover the weapons. If possible, we are to recover the aircraft’s black boxes as well.

The HALO in: we all must lay on our bellies with head, legs and arms elevated off the ground, for two minutes. After costing us in the welcome party, there was no way I was going to be the weak link here. Cadre gave us 3-2-1 GO! and I lifted up and tried to calm my mind and just count out breaths. We hit 60 seconds with no trouble. Around 90 seconds the shouts of encouragement really picked up, and we all made it. Next step was to get to a treeline, stop to observe our surroundings, and then to move out using the treeline as cover.

We reached our objective with only a few complications, and recovered the first nuclear device (played by a duffel bag full of sand weighing somewhere from 300-500 pounds.)

New team lead, new objective, and we carried off the bomb to go locate the other two. 6 people carried the bomb on a litter, and we switched out carriers as they got tired. This is where me thinking too much became a problem. When I know I am one of the weaker of a group, I am always unsure if I should step up for heavier duty, or look after lighter tasks and leave the heavier tasks to those who can do a better job of it. This got worse when we screwed something up (I think we broke formation, but I’m not certain) and Cadre punished us by making us hand-carry our rucks as though the straps had broken.

OK, the previous time when Cadre John took our shoes was tough but amusing. Taking our pack straps is not freaking funny. It took so much of my effort to just keep up and not drop my ruck that I felt absolutely useless to the team.

Memories of exact sequence of events begins to get fuzzy about here, but one of our objectives was to get the team to the doors of a planetarium within a certain time. We missed the time hack, which would have gotten us our ruck straps back.

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The challenge that got our straps back came after several attempts to get everyone and all our gear up the stairs in under 20 seconds, and finally changing our methods to get there on time.

We set out on our next movement and missed our time hack. In the resulting PT session, I and a few others were called out for not doing flutter kicks properly. I just couldn’t get my body to sort itself out and keep my feet elevated as required. I gave all that I had, and just barely achieved the minimum that would let us continue.

Next missed time hack, Cadre asked the team leader what exercise we should be penalized with. Without hesitation, the TL chose burpees. The rest of us looked at him like, “What the hell. Really. What the hell.” TL explained that if we could do this well, and as a team, it would show Cadre that we were not intentionally slacking off. We were able to do them together, on cadence, and were able to move on wearing our rucks rather than carrying them. Epic win.

We picked up the second nuke sometime in the wee morning hours, and had to carry both of them up and down every set of El Train stairs we passed. I can’t remember, but I think that we had the black boxes (50 lb. sandbags) at this point as well.

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The police stopped in to ask what we were doing. (It should be noted that we were also expected to memorize two songs before we arrived.) Cadre explained what GRC is, and somehow we ended up singing “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” to the police.

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I couldn’t figure out how to carry anything else while we were hand-carrying our rucks, until the announcement to take off the rucks came while I was helping carry one of the bombs. That left no choice but to do what was needed, so I learned that I could.

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We picked up the third nuke right around sunrise. Sun coming up over the lake was beautiful and somehow did make things seem better. We rested for a few minutes, and Cadre announced that we were going to do do flutter kicks in honor of the sunrise. After my failure earlier in the night, I was determined to keep with cadence and make the form absolutely perfect. And, while I am not sure if due to increased determination or being a bit more rested, I was able to knock them out.

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All three bombs up, and off we go.

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By this time, I was no longer fussing over who was the right person to do the task at hand, and neither was anyone else. Someone carrying the bomb called out for a replacement, we all stepped up. In some cases we could only carry for a few minutes before needing a replacement ourselves, but it gave everyone else time to sort themselves out before going back in. We only had five alternates to pick from with 18 people carrying the bombs, so with that few to work with, any little bit you can help counts. In short, we had stopped being individuals and become a team.

We reached our objective (on time) and disposed of two of the bombs. The last one had to be carried back to the beach. When we got it there, we were told to take off anything that we wanted dry, as we were about to get wet.

We linked arms, went out to belly depth, turned to face the shore, and awaited Cadre’s signal. When he gave us a thumb-down, we all went under. I came back up and say he was signalling to do it again. get the team together, ready, okay, back under. When I came back up Cadre was calling us back to the beach.

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Cadre announced our Exfil, and we all moved in formation back to our start point. Much of the time we latched on to the ruck in front of us to make sure we stayed together. We arrived back at the park, received our patches, and the shadows shared beer with us before we all left.

I learned two big things from this event:

1. Practicing the exercises that you are worst at is not enough. You must be able to do them even when you are tired.

2. Don’t worry about if you are the correct person to do what needs done, just step up and do it. If you find you have bitten off more than you can handle, switch out as needed, but fussing about this beforehand leads to no one stepping up when it needs done.

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Consider Your Reasons

I want everyone who reads this to take a moment and consider WHY you do the activities that you do. Why put in the time, the effort, the money, to pursue your chosen endeavor?

Is it to push you to be the best that you can be, to inspire others to be their best, to see what you are really capable of?

Or is it to look cool, to stoke your ego, to have some reason to think that you are better than others?

I was disturbed when I came across a New York Times article called “Plodders have a place, but is it in the marathon?” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/23/sports/23marathon.html?pagewanted=all&_r=3&)

It claims that slower runners have “ruined the marathon’s mystique.” The quote from the end of the article summed up the worst possible attitude concisely:

“I always ask those people, ‘What was your time?’ If it’s six hours or more, I say, ‘Oh great, that’s fine, but you didn’t really run it,’ ” said Given, who finished the Baltimore race in 4:05:52. “The mystique of the marathon still exists. It’s the mystique of the fast marathon.”

This remark serves no purpose, other than to make those hearing it think that the speaker is an ass. Wanting to discount the efforts of 6-hour marathoners who can’t match your 4-hour pace? Are you just upset that the 3-hour guys beat you? Do you feel so insecure that you need to invalidate the efforts of others in order to make yourself feel more powerful?

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Sorry, buddy. There is a special term for elite marathoners. They are called “the winners.” If you didn’t win (and a 4-hour time is unlikely to grant you a win), then you are one of the mediocre, finisher’s medal athletes right along with the rest of us. Deal with it.

The longer course times allow those at the back of the pack (many of whom are just as hard-core of runners as the fast crowd) to push themselves and try to do something that less than 1% of the population will do. If you don’t want to share the course with the likes of us, qualify for marathons with a shorter time hack. Or try ultras, that should tone down your ego pretty quick.

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At the other end of the spectrum, this photo has been making the rounds on social media lately:

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Usually the guy is getting called out, but the shadow in the bucket shows that the woman has done the same thing, dumping most of the load required to be carried through the course.

I am pretty forgiving when it comes to getting through a race, AS LONG AS YOU ARE DOING YOUR BEST.

Seriously, you two, is this your best? Is this pushing you to be better, mentally tougher, physically stronger? Or is it just giving you a medal and a facebook photo so you can try to look like more than you are?

My request to all of those who read this: Don’t be “that guy.” Don’t shirk your potential, do every last bit that you are capable of. Success or failure, be honest about what you have accomplished. Hold your head high, knowing that you gave every last bit that you could. And regardless of whether the person you find yourself talking to was the race winner or DNF’d, or anywhere in between, show them the proper respect for signing up, showing up, and giving all they had.

Quarry Pit Punnisher: Vegas Spartan Super 2014

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Since I started racing, I have pushed myself through a lot of different sorts of terrain, from pavement to swamps to mountains. When I was invited to run the Spartan Super in Las Vegas, I was excited to add desert to the list.

I had agreed to help a few newer racers through the race, one of whom was just recovering from a respiratory infection, so it was clear from the start that we were going for a finish without regard to time.

We ran a few hundred yards out of the gate, then slowed to a quick walk for most of the course. The terrain was nearly all gravel and sand, always sliding underfoot and getting into everyone’s shoes. At several points we stopped to dump the sand out and retie shoes, only to have them refilled 100 yards later. 

We made good time through the typical beginning obstacles, over under through and short walls, then came to the big gravel hills and the bucket carry. Signs were posted to not carry the bucket on your shoulder (they say for safety reasons, but most of us thought it was just to make it more difficult). This is likely one of the most brutal obstacles, I had to put the bucket down for a moment 4 or 5 times before completing it.

I ran ahead of my battle buddy to knock out the atlas carry, then helped her complete hers. It must of been amusing to watch: I pick up and hand off the weight, run around the edge of the lanes to meet her at the far end, crank out burpees, pick up and hand off the weight again, and run back to the start point.

We caught up with the rest of the team at this obstacle and continued on together. The next item of note was the monkey bars.

She gets up on the bars, puts feet on my shoulders to help her across, we get through and go back to repeat for me. Feet on her shoulders, and she hits the afterburners. I am grabbing bars as fast as I can to keep up, course official is laughing, but I made it.

We each went back and helped one of the team (who I referred to as the Ladies in Blue) across. The last was going to skip the obstacle entirely, saying she couldn’t support her weight long enough for someone to get under. I asked if she could lift one knee enough to put it on my shoulder.

She ends up with me under one leg, someone under the other, and someone supporting from behind, and me yelling, “You got this! Go! Allez allez allez allez!”

The uphill and downhill gravel trudge continued, and I came to understand what dust storms are like. When it gets stirred up, you can’t see ten feet and breathing becomes a chore. The next memory that stands out is getting the team over the inverse wall. 

I cleared the wall and returned to help the rest. We would help push the person up to get a grip on the top of the wall, and if they had trouble from there I would go over the top to help them the rest of the way. I was impressed with myself, I completed the obstacle 5 times in about 10 minutes.

The sandbag carries at this race were tougher than many I have seen at beasts. I started the last one with my bag and my battle buddy’s, but she ended up taking hers back when I was having trouble keeping the load balanced.

In weather as hot as this was, the dunk tank was brutally cold. Find the bottom of the wall, plug nose, and push under.

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Over the slick wall, over the fire, and taking a moment to mourn the serious lack of gladiators.

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This was by far the toughest super I have done, and on par with the SC Beast in difficulty.

US Trifecta 2/3 complete. Utah, we are coming for you.

“Legitimacy”

There has been much talk about upcoming changes to the sport of obstacle racing, particularly since Spartan made the decision to eliminate gladiators at the end of their races. This is listed as a change that needed to be made as the sport seeks “legitimacy.”

Hobie Call makes some great points about what may soon change, both to become more “mainstream” and avoid the mess that is the American court system (http://www.hobiecall.com/0414/spartan-gladiators/).

This has stirred up emotions for me, as I have seen sports degrade under ever more restrictive rules. Watching MMA hem itself into an ever smaller box over the last few years, I truly wonder why anyone can still watch it. The martial arts greats of 50 years ago would indeed be sad to see what has come to pass.

I have seen great things from obstacle racing, seeing ordinary people rise to seize their potential in ways that they never thought they could. Seeing total strangers instantly band together and work as a team. Seeing the lowliest, most worn out, injured athlete cross the finish line running on determination alone.

But, it would appear that none of that matters. Its all about TV coverage, prize money, forgetting the average Joe and pretending that the elite athletes are a completely different animal, with abilities that we mere mortals could never aspire to.

I love the true sport, the sport that pulls the ordinary person to find the extraordinary potential that they have hidden inside. That pushes each of us to be our best and let our inner light shine for all the world to see.

How to go about gaining this sport recognition while keeping the awesome experience for the other 80% of athletes who are not there to compete, but simply to finish?

I do love the idea of keeping current events and adding a new class of race to meet international standards (and the stadium sprints are a good start on this format) but I would also keep track of the participation numbers and see which format brings in more participants. Don’t underestimate the non-elites. There are a lot of us, and we are willing to put crazy amounts of money effort into testing ourselves. I have a feeling many of us will gravitate toward the Spartans that we have now, over the sanitized “official” version. Many of us look at the proposed, indoor, 2-mile courses with non-stop obstacles and think, “Okay, lots of stuff to play on, but no brutal terrain, no crazy distance, no soul-crushing, no test of will, so no point…”

 

Greatness is not this wonderful, esoteric, elusive, god-like feature that only the special among us will ever taste – you know it’s something that truly exists in all of us. It’s very simple, this is what I believe and I’m willing to die for it. Period.

Will Smith

Does this really matter?

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Since I was little, I was always inspired by the story of the original marathon.

The brave soldier Pheidippides, pushing through the limits of human endurance, running through exhaustion to bring word of the victory, delivering the message with his dying breath.

I was somewhat crushed when the historical inaccuracies of the story were pointed out to me. After the battle, it is recorded that the entire army moved back to a defensive perimeter around Athens, so it is unlikely that a runner would have been sent ahead. If there had been a messenger sent, it very likely would have been on horseback.

Recently I was told a likely more historically accurate story of Pheidippides, and I now find him even more inspiring and thought-provoking.

As the army was gearing up to fight the Persian invaders, he is ordered to run to Sparta to request reinforcements. 145 miles through rugged mountains, 36 hours, no sleep, no rest, very little food. When he gets there, the Spartans refuse to send anyone until the end of their religious festivals. 

Carrying the bad news, he turns around and runs the same 145 miles back to join up with his comrades…to find the Persians have been driven back, he has missed the whole show, and the reinforcements that he was unable to bring back were not needed.

So why the story of the 26 mile run to death?

Pheidippides likely would have spent years muttering in his drink over being sent off on a useless errand while his brothers in arms defended his home. Everyone else gets the glory of throwing the invaders back into the sea, but the one guy sent off for help misses it. I think that over the years, those who remembered his epic determination and ability to put the good of everyone above his own desires for glory painted a picture that he would have enjoyed. Defeating the foe, giving everything to carry word of the victory home, and a death in glory that we are still talking about 2500 years later.

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So, what will the future remember of what YOU consider your failures, the things that you poured all you could into but could never quite make work out?

Never forget that what you see of your own life tends to be the gag reel. To often we compare it to everyone else’s highlight reel and are amazed when we don’t measure up. We think what we are doing cannot possibly matter, but never understand who may be inspired by it.

“We create the meaning in our lives. It does not exist independently. Being  Anla-shok does not mean worrying about what others will think about us.  It does not mean deciding what to do based upon whether or not it serves our sense of ego or destiny. It means living each moment as if it were your last one. It means doing each right thing because it is the right thing. The scale doesn’t matter. The where, the when, the how, or in what cause .. none of those things matter. In my life, I’ve discovered very few truths. Here is the greatest truth I know: Your death will have a meaning if it comes while you’re in fullest pursuit of your heart” 
– Sech Turval

Go out and seek what truly matters in your heart, no matter how many people think it is useless. You never know how your story will be written, or who will look to your story as an example.

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