Redefining Possible: GRC 1127 and GRL 396

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In my ongoing training for the Ultra Beast, I have pushed myself to find tough events to test out my gear, my physical abilities, and my mental game beyond where I push myself in training. I had to cancel out of a 50K trail race, and found out that there would be a GORUCK Challenge and Light in Sioux Falls (my girlfriend’s hometown) and got a few of my teammates from the Blackshirt Spartans to sign up with me. Looking for a way to push harder, this seemed like the ticket. I had no idea how right that would be, how hard we would push, or how much more than we thought possible we would do.

Found the start point, met our Cadre (Cadre Rick), and started the welcome party. I was called up to demonstrate the Tunnel of Love and the 1-man buddy carry. Buddy carries, rushing drills, failing entirely at the dreaded Inchworm Pushup, then having to bear-crawl and crab-walk around the park.

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We then had all of our food taken from us. (Word to the wise, ALWAYS have gatorade in your hydration pack. You will need the sugar.) We then moved out following Cadre, until we reached our first assignment.

We were given a time hack to have one team fill a sandbag while the other recovered a piece of information from a nearby landmark. We made the time hack, and moved off team-carrying the sandbag, heading for the battleship memorial.

We soon figured out getting people on the sandbag and switching them out on the move. At one point we had to be told of our remaining time/remaining distance by Cadre, indicating we needed to step it up, but overall the movement went very well. At several points we went through crowds outside bars, and I’ve got to hand it to Sioux Falls, this is the first city where I have ever gotten cheers.

We made it to our objective with 3 minutes to spare and were given time to eat, rest and take on water. During this time, Cadre asked us a number of historical trivia questions that would help us on our next movement. We got exactly one right.

When Cadre gave us the next objective and the time hack, several of the locals, who knew where we were going, responded with, “No way. We can’t do that!” We were then told that we could not use our pack straps, pack top handles, or the handles on the sandbag. Our one correct answer had earned us one ruck that could be put on.

We agreed that the flag bearer should get to wear the ruck, we were able to divide up everything that needed carried (with great difficulty) and we were off, but not nearly at the pace we needed. Cadre encouraged the team leader to get us better organized, and we started to pick up the pace. After awhile the man carrying the sandbag (around 90 pounds) started faltering, and I took it from him and handed off my ruck. I was impressed with how well I was able to carry the load, but I still started faltering before too long. By this time we had entered a residential area and were told no talking, hand signals only, so I couldn’t get anyone’s attention to switch out the weight, so I struggled on with it as well as I could. Schmitty came up next to me and gave an inquisitive thumbs up. I did my best to improvise a signal for “I’m freaking dying,” and he took the sandbag and gave me his ruck.

Speaking in whispers, Cadre gave us additional historical questions to earn back more ruck straps. The first few went to people struggling with two rucks. When no one volunteered for the next one, several of us nominated Schmitty, and the next one I jumped on.

I then caused us a little trouble. A female GRT behind me asked if someone could take her ruck, I turned and took it, but this caused some confusion in the lines and caused us to break formation. Cadre stopped the line, and explained to us that while my intentions of helping a teammate were good, I failed to communicate this with the rest of the team, and that little communication points like this will save your team’s ass. I appreciated this and several other points like this where he was willing to stop the movement, not to punish us for mistakes, but to teach us how we could do it better.

Just before daylight, I was named team lead and given a task that I thought impossible. Cadre selected a railroad tie that was something near 12×16″ and roughly 14′ long. I went to lift the end of it to see how heavy it was, and I couldn’t budge it on my own. Cadre asked what I thought, and I told him flatly that I didn’t think the team had enough left in them. He simply replied, “Yes, you do.”

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That was the most brutal carry I have ever done. The first few minutes, my leadership was an absolute mess, but then I started figuring it out, ordering the team weight to be handed off to put someone new under the log, putting a weaker person as flag bearer to give us more muscle to work with, getting under it myself when someone needed out. When I was under the log, I couldn’t look around, so I told the flag bearer to be our eyes and direct us. We carried it in and out of several of the lookout points overlooking the falls.

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We hit a point where unit cohesion was breaking down, we were dangerously close to losing control of the log, and several people told me later that they were close to walking away. I didn’t know what else to do, so I called out to Cadre, told him we couldn’t hydrate with so many of us needed under the log, and asked permission to take a break. He pointed to where he wanted the log, and we were given a short time to recover before getting it back up and taking it back where we had gotten it.

The last movement was getting back to our start point with two people designated as wounded, so we had two people carrying the wounded, and two (including me) carrying the wounded’s rucks in addition to their own. We would move about a block or two at a time, then switch out people under the wounded. At some point someone asked if they should take the extra ruck to put me in rotation under the wounded, and I replied that I didn’t think I could carry that far at a time. A few minutes later, we hit the inevitable point where the call goes up for a new carrier and no one steps up, so I handed off the ruck and picked up the wounded. I was able to go the required distance and traded off every other stop for the rest of the movement.

When we reached our destination, we were ordered into the water.

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We did an unknown number of thrusters, and then were announced mission complete. A few hours to rest up and patch up, then back for the Light.

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The light was very unusual, in that there were only four of us. The official rule is that there need to be five or the event will be cancelled, but Cadre offered for it to go ahead and we jumped on it. Welcome party similar to the night before, heading out on the Greenway trails, and again being given a sandbag carry. We struggled on with it as a 4-person carry, but it wasn’t really working with no one to trade out with, all of us on the carry. Eventually Schmitty gave me his ruck, threw the sandbag on his shoulders, and drove on. We absolutely annihilated our time hack, and were rewarded with being able to empty the sandbag.

Next challenge: One of the team is wounded in one leg, they can be carried or can hop on one foot, but if the left foot touches the ground there will be a penalty in flutter kicks. Each minute over the time hack will incur a penalty in flutter kicks.

I was chosen as wounded, and got to learn exactly how much being carried over someone’s shoulders sucks. We tried several different methods and benefited from several bets with the Cadre that if we stopped for flutter kicks or sang to a local I could walk a specified distance. We reached our objective more than 300 flutter kicks late and were given a reduced penalty.

We moved on with basic movement drills, and were given our final mission with me as team lead: You have 10 minutes to reach the top of a specified parking garage for helicopter extract. If you miss the chopper, you will be assigned one wounded and will have to make it the rest of the way out on foot. And you have just been ambushed so badly that you all lose your shoes.

I put Will, who knew the location, as flag bearer to show the way and we moved out. All seemed to be going well until I nudged one member of the team to move a little faster, and that pushed her past her mental limits. She started yelling that she wanted to quit, that I was being a jerk for telling her to go faster, pretty normal spaz out when we have hit our limit.

Between Cadre and the three teammates we were able to encourage her on, knowing we had missed the time hack and would have to carry her out of here, but better that than letting her quit when we had to be near the end.

As we approached the top level, Cadre made a comment of ,”Let’s go see if the helicopter is still here…”

“GORUCK Light Class 396, you are Mission Complete. The helicopter was always here. You just needed to make it here.”

It was an unusual end to an event, as two of us were tending to the blisters on our teammate’s feet, arranging who to send for a car to get her back to the start point, and Cadre giving us a short AAR on what could have been done better, that she needed to be more honest about what she needs to keep going, and that I as team leader need to be able to tell when I am dealing with pride putting a brave face over pain, and be able to work around it without making anyone feel that they aren’t doing their share.

I learned a lot at this event, and it is one of the few events in my history, while I performed far from perfectly, I think I did well.

We did what we thought was impossible.

Not yet, not ready quite yet, but HEAVY, I am coming for you…

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Unworthy of the Name: A Discussion of Athletic Elitism

It is all too common for athletes who have trained hard and reached elite levels to feel a disconnect with those who have not achieved the same level.

Some, among them many of the greats, remain connected and encourage others to keep pushing their limits, even if those limits seem paltry.

Sometimes this disconnect grows into a swollen ego, and that is where problems with being considered an athletic snob come into play. There is one particularly annoying aspect of this that has been cropping up lately: The idea of “Anyone who is not near my athletic level has no right to call themselves (insert whatever title I want just for me).”

The New York Times carried this article (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/23/sports/23marathon.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0a) asking if slower runners have the right to call themselves “marathoners”. They have “lowered the bar” and “ruined the marathon’s mystique,” and if you didn’t finish in a certain time, then you didn’t “really” run it. You were merely a “participant.”

What is that magic time that is worthy of the name? Typically just a bit slower than the finishing time of the person who wishes to label someone a “participant.”

T Nation published a rather poorly-thought out article dealing with who can and cannot call themselves “athletes”. (http://www.t-nation.com/training/crossfitters-arent-athletes) It claims that the requirements to earn this title are to participate in a sport that has a large fanbase (while deriding Olympic events that it would appear are no longer “sports”) and you have to find yourself on the winner’s podium fairly often. You must also derive a large portion of your annual income from your sport.

What are you if you finish every event but don’t place in the top three?

You are then a “Recreational Non-Athlete” (Really?) or a “Competitor”.

Okay, now that we have put the snobbery out in the open, Let’s look at real definitions.

Marathoner, noun. Someone who participates in long-distance races (especially in marathons).

If you finished a marathon before they took down the finish line, then congratulations, you ARE a marathoner.

Athlete, noun. A person who is skilled or competent in sports and other forms of physical exercise.

Skilled or competent. Not the best in the world. Not making a living off of it. Just competent, able to complete the task at hand. So the DFL race finisher is still an athlete.

Sports and other forms of physical exercise. So the Yogis, the bodybuilders, the obstacle racers and the Crossfitters are athletes too.

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Why is this important?

Because our sports push us to make ourselves better, stronger, tougher. We complete the same event as all of those who finish before and after us. We become better human beings. And calling us “recreational non-athletes” or “participants” (the sports world equivalent of telling us to sit in the corner and color) can hold people back from reaching their true potential. While being recognised for our accomplishments, to have the title of Athlete placed on us before we would ever think of saying it ourselves, helps push us on to greater heights.

“But everyone having the title makes it worthless!”

First off, not everyone has the title. Finisher’s medals are not “participant ribbons”, they mark that you finished and did not falter halfway through a tough challenge. Less than 1% of the US population will ever run a marathon, even with us slowpokes in the back. If being in the top 1% is meaningless to you, I really don’t know what to say to you.

Secondly, if you truly are so great, so elite, so badass to have earned the right to decide what people can call themselves… You should be tough enough to not let what everyone else calls themselves bother you.

Guest post: Robert Veeder

I came across the following post in an ultra-running group that I am part of, and it sums up so perfectly the struggle and triumph of the human experience that frankly, I have nothing to add to it.

I know it is meant well, but when people hear about my ultra-running distances and they express concern, I have to admit, it angers me a little. One of the first things that inevitably goes through my head is, “where the hell was the concern when I was drunk every night for years on end?” And truthfully, I know that people were concerned, but they just didn’t know how to express it. I reason to myself that it is good that they finally feel that I am approachable enough that they can be concerned about my running.
On average, a person will drive under the influence about eighty times before getting stopped for a DUI, this is according to Mother’s Against Drunk Driving; you can verify it for yourself by checking out their website. I am sure that I fall well within those statistics. In fact, I think that I probably drove under the influence quite more often than that. I was just lucky- or in this case very unlucky- that I didn’t get caught. Many people were unlucky that I didn’t get caught. I left bars night after night for years without anyone saying a word about my safety or the safety of others. I can actually remember one person in that entire time that expressed concern that I would drive while intoxicated, but that’s it- one. I drove anyway. Lives were lost.
When I was in prison, nobody wrote for years, for many years, expressing their concern over my well being or safety. It hurt. It was lonely. It broke my heart daily. Where did my friends go? By the end of my incarceration, I had a few close family members left and a few very committed friends left that continued to stay in touch, but honestly, that was it. My friends were gone. Life had moved on and I was no longer much more than a fleeting thought.
That really hurt.
I passed the lonely times away by running, at first a few laps, but then the laps turned into miles. I’d listen to traffic reports while running laps around the fence, a nice confirmation that life was still going outside of the institution that I was in.
Eventually I talked the Assistant Superintendent into letting me measure the perimeter of the fence so that I could calculate how far a mile was. That didn’t make me popular in prison at all, to be seen walking the entire yard conversing with the Assistant Superintendent; but it was important to me. I needed to know the distances so that I could have goals.
One late summer day, I ran nineteen miles around the yard! I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know anyone had ever run that far.
Later, I read an article in a newspaper about a female astronaut who ran an entire marathon on a treadmill in the International Space Station. That’s how I learned that a marathon was 26.2 miles. That became my next goal.
Since then I have run many marathons, and now I like to train for ultra-marathons. I love it. I love the people I meet and the places that I get to see. I love that I am no longer whiling away the hours on a barstool, or in a prison cell.
I’m active and hungry for life.
Sometimes, when I am out running trails by myself, I like to stretch my arms out as wide as they can go like I am flying. I feel freer than I ever have before in my life.
And then I have friends who are concerned that maybe I am running too much, or that I am simply replacing one addiction for another. They are worried that I might get injured (which, of course, I will). They don’t ask about HOW I train. They only hear the distances, and they become worried for me.
And again, while I think this concern is well intentioned, I simply don’t have the tolerance for it that perhaps I should. I spent too many hours of my life waiting, for this.
Waiting to live again.
Waiting to run!
To skip across streams, to jump over fallen trees, to power up hills, to be truly alive in my life.
Running is such a celebration for me.
It is such a freedom.
I want to do it as much as possible- while I still can.

Much Ado About Fitness

There will always be debates, mostly harmless, about what athletic pursuit is the best, most adaptable, etc. The problem that I see developing is that ego is getting into it and people are getting very cocky.

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Sports Illustrated issued its list of 50 fittest athletes, in which, among other things, it assigns greater endurance to a basketball player than to the winner of the Tour De France.

“We claim to title the Fittest on Earth, and we can do that because we as a fitness methodology have defined fitness. At this point, no one else can make a claim.” Dave Castro, Director of the Crossfit Games.

Sorry to say this, but fitness already has a definition. From the Oxford dictionary:

1. The condition of being physically fit and healthy

2.The quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task

3. An organism’s ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment

Crossfit grabbed on to definition 1, and in simple terms decided that fitness=power, emphasizing intensity over volume. Now let’s look at the other two definitions.

Being suitable for the task at hand and able to survive. Okay, we can work with that, how have people gone about checking that? For people who need to handle the task at hand and stay alive, I like to look to the military.

The Roman Army’s fitness standard was a 25 mile march, carrying 80 pounds of gear, in under 5 hours.

The French Foreign Legion required its troops to be able to cover 28 miles during the hours of darkness and be strong enough to fight at first light.

The US Army (as well as the British and Australians, among others) require a 12-mile ruck march in under 3 hours.

All of these require long-duration movement under load without rest, which is an aspect sorely missing from the Crossfit Games, but available in abundance at events such as the Ultimate Suck and the Death Race. I am also yet to see a military that requires its troops to be able to walk on their hands.

I give the athletes their due for excelling at their competitions, will even give them the title of “Capable of producing the most power in a given timeframe.” But fittest? I need to see one of them knock out something lasting more than an hour or two before I am willing to give them that title. 

How can this be fixed? Easy.

Put all of the events of the Crossfit Games back to back. Knock out one event, run to the next, knock it out. One finish time to rule them all, total time something over 12 hours, total distance at least 40K.