Back to Basics: SD Enhanced CCW Class

I have been re-evaluating what types of events to pursue, what areas I want to grow in. H.W. McBride noted in A Rifleman Went to War that the two main requirements of a soldier were to march and to shoot. At this point I’ve pretty well proven I can march, so let’s look at improving shooting ability.

The obvious first step was to update my CCW permit to my new home state, and I found a class for the Enhanced permit that is recognized in surrounding states.

The class was provided by Rev-Tac Firearm Instruction out of Jackson NE. I chose them to tick the boxes needed to get my permit, and to check out their teaching style to see if I wanted to take additional classes. As it turns out they did a great job, and they have some interesting classes on the schedule, so look for other AARs to come.

The classroom portion was held in a conference room of a local hotel. They covered what are good/ bad options in pistols and holsters, where you can and can’t carry, basics of how firearms work, etc. While this type of information can easily become Death by Powerpoint, they interjected enough humor to keep it engaging and entertaining.

Quick break for lunch and we moved out to the range. We started with basic drawing from concealed, shooting stance, and reholstering. Instructors milled around the students correcting anything that they saw, and did a great job of explaining the context of why they recommended doing something a particular way. (For example, I was using a support-hand grip that worked fine on the Browning Hi Power that I was shooting, but that might result in my hand being too close to the muzzle if I did the same with a smaller gun. In the interest of building good habits, I adjusted to a grip that would work the same on any pistol.)

We then moved on to live fire, starting at very close range and moving back gradually. They put up targets with numbered dots, and gave us a particular dot to shoot at for each distance. We would realize later that we only needed to hit the cardboard silhouette that the target was attached to, but they specified the dots to encourage the “aim small miss small” mentality.

They saw that everyone was getting it, and decided that we were ready to shoot the qualification needed for our permits. Different numbers of rounds shot from different ranges out to 7 yards. Everyone passed, and I kept my target.

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(Hole in the grey is from a staple holding up the target, all my shots were good.)

At this point the Iowa and Nebraska residents were done, but the South Dakotans had a little more shooting to do. Our instructor explained that state law requires a certain number of rounds fired, but does not specify what all of them are to be used for, so he uses the rounds left after qualification to give us some drills that would be good to practice. One hand shooting, weak hand shooting, using trigger reset for faster controllable fire. At the end of this we had met the legal requirements and got our paperwork to send in for our permits.

A quick note: I’m purposely mentioning but not explaining these concepts for a reason: Reading this blog does not qualify as training, and if any of this sounds interesting to you, you need to seek out a quality instructor and learn it from them, rather than trying to sort it out from reading it here.

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The Burden of Reputation

A simple conversation about an upcoming event made me realize a few things.

“I told Brian you’d be there. He was like ‘Awesome! That dude’s a beast! He doesn’t look like it, but he can freaking haul!'”

My first response was to be happy that others feel I’m contributing to the team more than I sometimes think I am. (I do my best, but often get frustrated that even at my best I’m still far weaker and slower than I want to be.) After a few minutes something else hit me: this is a responsibility. Rather than just hoping that I’m not a drag on the team, my teammates are expecting me to be an asset.

This has caused a slightly different mindset in my training. Being more careful about avoiding and caring for injuries. Hitting training as hard as I can. As mundane as it sounds, making sure I get sleep. Understanding that others are depending on me to show up ready.

Working like hell to make sure I live up to the reputation I’ve earned.

Perseverance and Perspective: Bataan Memorial Death March 2017

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I liked the idea of this event from the first time I heard of it: Marathon distance with 35 pounds on your back, through a military base in the middle of the desert, honoring some badass WWII vets, who will see you off at the start line.

It turns out that many of the marchers carry some form of food as their weight, and a local food bank sets up at the finish line to take donations. I found that 4 big cans of hominy in a Warhammer carries beautifully and weighs in at 38#.

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The Bush’s logo being visible earned me the nickname “beans” while I was on the course. I also carried photos of my great uncles who were killed in WWII. (Neither of them were at Bataan, but it seemed appropriate to bring them along.)

We showed up to the starting corrals well before daylight. The opening ceremony was an experience that you need to see for yourself, as I lack the words to convey the feeling. Powerful to the point of making me tear up.

The first to move out on to the course were the Wounded Warriors, and seeing them move out, missing limbs but stepping up to cover the distance, helped put us in the frame of mind to ignore whatever petty pains came up and do what was required. They were followed by the military heavy group, then my group, the civilian heavy.

We went in a loop around the starting corrals, shook hands with the Death March survivors at the start line, and we were off. The first few miles were on paved streets around the post, then we turned off onto sandy dirt trails, walking through a haze of dust kicked up by the marchers ahead.

The first bathroom stop had long lines and I figured I would push on to the next one, then I broke out laughing as I turned the next corner and saw a wall of guys standing out in the bushes. Someone behind me commented, “The guys waiting back there must be first-timers… or just polite. One of the two.”

Water stations were every two or three miles, with oranges and bananas available about every other station. We had debated if we should carry a water bladder or depend entirely on water stations, and I decided to split the difference with 2 bottles in the ruck that I would top off at every station. This turned out to be a good idea, as one of the stations toward the end was out of water when I got there. (I passed the truck bringing in a new water buffalo about a half-mile later.)

I stopped every few miles to drop the ruck and stretch out my shoulders, and the first 5 miles or so went by easily. Then I realized the point I had overlooked in training for this: This year set a record for hottest temperatures for the march, and it is tough to train for New Mexico heat when you are training through a South Dakota winter. The heat got to me, my energy levels went down, and the suck arrived.

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I happened to catch up with my teammates Carl and Schmitty at the 8-mile checkpoint. I stopped to sit for a few minutes and reapply sunscreen, and Schmitty asked if there was any way he could assist.

“No. I just need to suck it up and get it done.”

“I was going to say it more politely, but yeah, that’s the mindset you need.”

Shortly after this we moved back onto paved streets, which would have been nice if they were not going unrelentingly uphill. About this time the winners of the light division were passing us on their way back, so we cheered them on as we passed.

It turns out that the sunscreen I had brought was not up to the task, and people started pointing out that I was burning around mile 9. I reapplied mine, got heavier-duty stuff from the medical tents, and kept going. We left the road for more trails, deeper sand and more hills. When I hit the halfway marker I asked another marcher to get a picture of me ruck-flopped on the side of the trail. (The trails are sunken into the ground enough at places that they make a decent place to sit down, and the frame of my ruck propped me up.)

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In the TV show The Selection, Roster #11 has a moment when he asks himself, “Why am I out here in the middle of the desert, dying? I think I’m losing my marbles…” I had that moment at mile 14. There was a hamburger stand there, which should have raised my spirits, but by that point hot food was the last thing I wanted. I wanted to quit there (and rumor has it that this was a popular spot for DNFs) but I remembered what this event is, what it is in honor of, and you want to quit because its a little hot out here? Perspective reset. Refill water, ruck up, back at it.

Things got a little easier, because there was a lot more downhill involved in the second half. Heat and sun continued to be a problem, as I think shows in the photo from the next checkpoint:

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It was about this time that I checked in with one of the medical stations, as I was having trouble moving my arms. I noticed it when a volunteer offered me a tray of fruit, and I had to ask him to hold the tray lower. The diagnosis was simply that the muscle the ruck straps bear on is worn out. Only thing that would fix it is rest.

“So I just need to grunt it out for the next 10 miles?”

“Pretty much, yeah. Good luck!”

Push 2 miles, sit a minute. Push a mile, sit. Around mile 20-21 we hit the Sand Pits. Depending on who you ask, this is between 3/4 mile and 1.5 miles of ankle-deep sand. I had gaiters to keep it out of my shoes, but it still drained leg strength that was already mostly gone. I remember one marcher stopping in frustration, yelling “this is the pits! *laughter that sounds on the verge of losing one’s mind* The sand pits!” As I passed, I offered,”What’s that old saying, if you’re going through hell, keep going?” The other marcher smiled and got moving.

I reached an aide station that had music playing, and I found myself increasing my march tempo to match the music. Silly as it sounds, that raised my spirits a lot for the last few miles.

The end of the course is mentally taxing, as you think that the end is just around the corner, then you come around the corner and see another turn, and it just seems to take forever. I finally rounded the last turn, saw the end, and went into the fastest shuffle I could manage, with spectators cheering us on to the finish.

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I find myself at a loss for words trying to describe this experience. Grueling. Brutal. Humbling. Alongside the most awesome people you can imagine. And having never been happier to put down your ruck.

In Defense of the Dirty Name

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Mud Run Guide recently posted an article titled “The Sternum Checker Needs to be Chucked,” laying out the case that this particular obstacle is too dangerous and needs to be eliminated from all races. The author made some valid arguments, but also made some that are so far wrong that I felt the need to respond. Each race handles obstacles a bit differently, and I admit that some are pushing the limits of safety, but this would be a call for adjusting the design of the obstacle, not eliminating it entirely.

I am only giving excerpts below, full article can be found here. Here is a list of points that need addressed.

The challenge is to get yourself over the second and higher of the two logs. This is usually done by running at it, stepping up onto the lower “launch-pad” log, and jumping at the upper log.

It is this way of attacking the obstacle that is causing the injuries. It is supposed to be a controlled jump from one log to the next. Note the instructions from the military field manual:

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A brief exposé of the origin of this obstacle is in order. It was developed by some forgotten sadistic genius as part of the world of military boot camps. Note that this is not “bootcamp-style” group training, but actual, real, brutal military bootcamps. The goal here is not to get you all into shape and to have fun while getting fit. Nay-nay. The goal here is to break people before rebuilding them into perfect fighting men and women.

The author is misunderstanding so much here. Let me just say that the field manual lists a purpose for this obstacle that does not include breaking things. It is the rare soldier who can continue training with a broken clavicle or spine.

Sternum Checker is the only regularly used obstacle that I have come across that is designed to hurt you even if you do it right. The initial and obvious challenge is to absorb the impact against the log (failure = bruised or broken sternum, xiphoid, ribs, ruptured spleen, bruised liver, broken wrist, broken clavicle, broken jaw, lost teeth).

If you do it correctly, you might get a bruise. I get bruises from any wall taller than 6 feet, it’s part of the race. The injuries you are describing come from doing it wrong, going at it way too hard, or the obstacle being set up improperly. More on that last one a bit later.

Let’s compare and contrast likely fails on the Sternum Checker with the most likely fails on other common obstacles.

  • Fail the rope climb, and you slide down the rope. Maybe some rope burn, maybe a twisted ankle.
  • Fail a warped wall, and you slide back down. No likely issues.
  • Fail a Rig, and you tumble a couple of feet to the ground. No likely issues.
  • Fail the Irish Table and you swing back down to the ground, or maybe fall a foot. No likely issues.
  • Fail Dragon’s Back, and you slide or fall the steeply pitched ramp. Maybe you injure an ankle or wrist or knee if you miss your grip and tumble down.
  • Fail the Sternum Checker, and you could easily wind up out of the race or in the hospital or a wheelchair or in the ground.

If the racer fails correctly, most of these are true, but not everyone fails correctly. I have seen a few racers (including myself) lose grip and fall from the top of the rope. If your feet make the jump on the Dragon’s Back but your hands fail to find a grip, you are likely to hit the ground head-first (feet have support off the wall but the rest of the body does not.) If you fail the sternum checker correctly, you do a back breakfall, maybe have a bruise on your butt, and go about your day.

I will throw out here that there are several safety concerns with the way that particular races arrange this obstacle, most notably lack of padding underneath to help break the fall, and unpadded lower logs where you could fall back and hit your head on them. The solutions for this are either a) add padding as noted in the military instructions above, or b) make the first log high enough that racers will safely fall underneath it, as the photo at the top of this post has done. Some races have also tried to make it harder by making the dimensions of it much wider, which causes safety problems as well.

Now to the sexism argument:

The 1st sternum checker was far and away the biggest gender gap obstacle at the 2015 OCRWC. It is not unreasonable to extrapolate from this that failure rates among women at non-championship races with a lower average caliber of athlete would be even higher…65%, 75%, 80%+. The gender gap on SC1 sticks out like the proverbial sore thumb. There was much post-race discussion after OCRWC 2015 about SC1 being unfairly hard for shorter racers, which demographic stats will tell you are mostly women. Looking at these numbers, you can make the case that they had a case. Historically, the Platinum Rig is the big band-breaker at mandatory completion races. However, these women handled both Rigs significantly better than they did SC1. 

This is an upper-body strength obstacle that requires reach and thus favors taller competitors. There are always going to be obstacles that favor one body type over another. Many tall guys who rock the sternum checker have a devil of a time getting through spider-web type obstacles. You are never going to build an obstacle that is equally tough for everyone. There are men’s and women’s lanes at some obstacles already, why not this one?

There are many safer alternatives that offer similar physical challenges such as the Irish Table and its variants, without risk of serious injury If you want a mind-f&*k confidence obstacle, then something like Toughest’s Dragon’s Back fits the bill perfectly, again without the high risk of serious injury. Heck, even something as simple and harmless as a 10-15 foot jump into water would stop and balk many racers, with almost no risk of any remotely serious injury.

All of those offer pieces of the challenge but do not duplicate all of it, sort of like pushups, squats and jumping jacks are great, but they still are not quite burpees. The hardest part is the controlled jump off of a balancing position (rather than a stable surface like Irish Table or Dragon’s Back). This is what people are often trying to avoid when they try to hulk-smash their way through it (see “launch-pad log” method above), and if you try to hulk-smash anything you are going to get hurt (unless you are, in fact, the Hulk).

I call for all races that use this obstacle to make adjustments for safety that they should have been doing all along (that safety section of the field manual above has been there a LONG time), but it is a unique and challenging obstacle that deserves to be kept. More importantly, the most common comment I saw about this topic was “Never had a chance to do that obstacle, but would love to give it a shot.” There are a lot of racers out there that deserve to have this on their course.

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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State of the Monk Address 2017

Just after the new year, I’m taking a moment to take stock of where I have been and where I am headed in 2017.

Perhaps the most notable highlight of 2016 is the realization that some of my readers see what I’ve done and realize that they can do it too. People who have tried their first obstacle race or GORUCK event, those who used my logistical notes to plan a trip, a few planning to do the Snowdrop. I love seeing this. It reminds me of what drew me into this realm of crazy physical challenges to begin with:

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Its not about you. Its about the person next to you that you can help. I’m overjoyed that what I do has helped some of my readers.

I laid out some goals for 2016 at the start of the year. Some of them I smashed, some I didn’t quite meet, but I at least made progress on all of them. I now test out younger than my actual age in body-age assessments, I’m measurably stronger and faster, and I’ve learned a few (often painful) lessons on what I can and can’t let slip in my training.

2016 taught me that having a very few train-for events (events that I need to specifically tailor my training toward in order to complete) and some extra train-through events (things that are just for fun and don’t require a break from normal training) is definitely better than trying to over-pack the year with train-for events. My big events for 2017 are the Bataan Memorial Death March, A GORUCK Heavy, a few other GR events, and the SUCK at the Decker farm in Illinois.

Since this is most certainly a ruck-intensive year, I’ve signed up for Pathfinder training programs that will cover most of the year. I will be finishing my first in the next few days, so look for a review of the program to be posted shortly. I’m also starting some back-to-basics running training, hoping it will help my speed over the ground, which has always been my weak point.

I recently changed to a new gym, and I am finding it a much better fit. The reason for this didn’t really hit me until I suddenly realized that no one at the new location had looked at what I was doing and asked what in the world I was training for. I don’t think I went a week at the old gym without that question. There is much less talking and a lot more grinding, everyone working on their own goals, which suits me perfectly. I think it sums up the general feel of the place to note that, being a 24-hour facility, at one time or another I have been there every hour of the day, from lunchtime workouts to 3 AM wakeups to getting there at 10 PM and leaving sometime in the wee morning hours, and I am yet to be the only one there. There seems to always be at least a few people putting in work, no matter what the rest of the world might be doing.

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Snowdrop 55 Hour Logistics

A few friends have expressed interest in doing the Snowdrop next year, so I thought I would throw out my thoughts on what I did right and what I could have done better.

First and foremost, whatever else happens, make sure you get your long training runs in. My training for about a month before the race went sideways, and I paid for it in additional pain. Long runs are time-consuming and tough to fit in the schedule. Find a way.

Get your foot care regimen sorted out well before showing up. The more you prevent, the less you have to fix. The foot medic they have there is awesome, and you should not be shy about going to see her, but the better you do at preventing problems the less you will need patched up.

The tent sites are inside the loop that you will be running. Make certain that where you pitch your tent is at a local high point, as the lower areas flood when it rains. (A few people brought pallets to make a walkway across the low spots and help keep feet dry.) The site can be windy, so when you come to set it up bring enough gear to weight it down. Also be familiar with your tent, as mine would leak if I didn’t position gear to push out the walls. Having a dry place to catch a 20-minute rest can mean the difference between moving on with high spirits and standing there wondering why you thought you could do this.

In addition, a rain shelter outside of the tent (with chair and waterproof gear bin)would have been great. It would have been much easier to be able to tend my feet and grab pain meds without having to crawl into the tent. There was a significant amount of time I refused to stop for gear, worrying that I would stay in the tent and not want to move. Having gear dry outside would have made it easier to grab what I needed without stopping.

Having some piece of gear that you can put your feet up on when you lie down helps enormously. I used the rucksack that had all my extra clothes.

The food selection is awesome. Eat a lot. Drink a lot. Do not allow yourself to feel hungry or thirsty. You know that calories and water in are going to be an issue, so head it off before it becomes a problem.

Bring all the socks you own with you. Bring several pairs of broken-in shoes. If you have different styles for different trail conditions, bring them and change as conditions change. Bring extra clothing in more than one style (i.e. if you usually wear compression, bring some loose-fitting stuff). The compression shorts that served me well at 50 miles were killing me by 75, and my jersey seemed to be strangling me by mile 60. If all I had brought was multiple sets of the same clothes, I would have been in trouble. Changing into boxer-briefs and a loose T shirt fixed the problem. Also, bring rain gear. You may be able to take a break when it rains, you may need to keep moving through it.

Plan for as many things to go wrong as you can think of. You are less limited in the gear you can bring here than in any race I have ever done, so take advantage of that fact.