Training + Community: Pathfinder Ruck Training Program Review

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I had been hearing good things about this training program from my fellow adventure racers and GORUCK junkies for some time, but I kept putting off signing up for one (for reasons I will get into later). Shortly before Class 010 was due to start, Kirk Deligiannis (co-founder of Charity Challenges, evil genius behind Mettle Forger, and an all-around awesome member of the rucking community) died suddenly after an event. Class 010 was made a memorial class with proceeds going to help his family. There was no question at that point, I was signing up.

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Many of us wore his roster number, made it a point to include some of his signature workouts in our training, and I kept the following quote on the cover of my training journal:

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The program turned out to be both a fitting tribute and an awesome training regimen.

What Pathfinder is NOT

The main reason I had shied away from this program even though better athletes had recommended it: I thought that it was something different than what it actually is.

I’m the kind of person who tailors my training around my event schedule as soon as I decide on doing an event. It is not uncommon for me to have training planned out for a year or more into the future, and I thought that I would have to scrap that to follow the Pathfinder workouts.

This turned out not to be the case. Pathfinder is not an every-day-planned-out, do-this-and-only-this training plan. It is much more open-ended and adjustable, so it can be fit around other training. (I successfully got PF requirements completed while continuing my 100M training. If I can fit it around a time-consuming plan like that, it can fit around whatever workout program you are on.) While there is a schedule of workouts that you can follow if you like, as long as the requirements of the program get met, no one cares when or in what order you get them done. One of the advisers completed the 12-week program in a month, just to show that it could be done.

At the other end of the spectrum, it is also not a virtual race where you get the finisher’s insignia regardless of if you actually did the work. While it is on the honor system, you have to complete the required challenges and log them online in order to be listed as a finisher and receive your patch.

The Pathfinder Program

The program is intended to help you perform at a higher level at ruck-based events, or as they say, “Thrive, don’t just survive.” It also puts those of us who are dedicated to this type of training together so that we can motivate each other and help each other out. (Fellow Pathfinders met me on trips to Minnesota and Texas to get workouts in together.)

There are three levels of training, but I am only going to detail out the beginner level, Pathfinder Forward. The others are the same idea, but with more miles, more workouts, heavier weights, and shorter time limits (for individual challenges, all levels are still 12 weeks). You can find more details and sign up here.

To complete the program, you have 12 weeks to:

  • Ruck at least 75 miles
  • Complete at least 20 workouts (10 workouts must involve your ruck)
  • Complete at least 4 Pathfinder Challenges

For the challenges, you must pick four from a list of options:

  • Pass the Army PFT (pushups, situps, and 2-mile timed run)
  • Attempt the above test 4 times, showing improvement
  • Ruck a total of 36 miles immediately before or after workouts
  • Ruck 8 miles on mountain trails (parking garages and sandy beaches have been used as a flat-land alternate)
  • Ruck 15 miles in the dark
  • Carry additional weight 8 miles (intended to be done with a team, 45# for every two teammates)
  • Ruck 12 miles in 3.5 hours or less
  • Ruck an additional 75 miles (150 total)
  • Ruck yet another 75 miles (225 total)
  • Complete a ruck-based challenge like GORUCK Light or Tough

You are provided a sample schedule and list of suggested workouts, but you are free to alter the schedule, use different workouts, and choose different challenges based on your abilities and preferences.

You will be added to a Facebook group for the class and assigned an adviser who has been through the Advanced program. It is a great place to ask questions, make sure that your idea for a workout or challenge will count, share your accomplishments, and encourage your teammates. I didn’t expect it, but the social aspect of it helped me push harder and do more than I would have if it were just me keeping track of the workout log. I’ve also found that I will care more about meeting a time hack when I have to report a success or failure to my team.

Notes and Advice

Having been through it once now, I can look back to see what went right and what I could have done better.

Make sure you have more than one path to victory. You don’t want to find yourself counting on passing the APFT on the last day and miss it by one rep. In my case I had planned on the 15-mile overnight ruck and the 150 miles total. I got sick, missed a couple workouts, and had some crappy weather prevent me from getting in miles that I needed, so I missed those two challenges. I was able to replace them with the mountain ruck and the 12 miles in 3:30. Plan ahead so that you have multiple options.

It is much easier to put in the work at the beginning and start out ahead than to start out behind and try to catch up. While the looming deadline can push you to get more done, it can also make you panic when the task in front of you is so big that you don’t know where to start.

If you are, like me, in a place where weather can severely affect your workout plans, think about that when you decide what challenge you are going to do when. Some of what I did in the January snow would have been so much easier when it was 50 degrees in November.

Conclusion

I think the best way to convey my feelings towards this program is to say that I am already signed up for the next 3 classes. The training is solid, the community is awesome, and having the requirements and time limits helps keep me focused on my training. If I just update my workout journal and put it back in my ruck, its easy to loose track of the big picture and lose motivation. Logging that workout, seeing the progress toward earning your patch, sharing all of this with your team, somehow makes the progress more tangible and more real.

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