The Donkey Strength Doctrine: Initial Thoughts and Principles

When I first started training, I remember how hard it was to find training information for events that included both strength and distance running. I pored through all the information I could find (living next door to the library helped) and finally found a way to put them together… right about the time that OCR-specific training books and plans started to come out.

Now, I see that the problem has morphed over the years. There are hundreds of training plans for specific types of athletes, and it gets very difficult for a beginning or non-elite athlete to find what training style works for their goals and their current physical condition. This often leads to doing nothing, paralysis by analysis.

The unlikely catalyst for putting together some thoughts for athletes in this space (the space where I lived for some time) was jokes surrounding an online meme:


I commented that Donkeystregth sounded like a ruck training program, then realized it was a fitting metaphor for this sort of athlete. Lacking both the speed and endurance of the race horses and the strength and stamina of the work horses, we get through training and events more on sheer stubbornness than anything else. Working toward being able to keep up with both of them (maybe call that state mule strong?), just not quite there yet.

I may write more on this at a later time, but for now, here are the key principles that I have learned so far:

1: Start now.


Do what you can with what you have now. You can change up how you go about it as you learn more and get stronger (there are things I did five years ago that I would not do now, and there are plans I have waiting for when I am strong enough to keep up with them), but doing nothing isn’t going to get you anywhere.

2: No Yeah Buts.

Hey I should start working out. Yeah, but I’m not sure if this plan is right.

I should eat more vegetables. Yeah, but the fresh is too expensive and the frozen has added sodium.

Doing something is almost always better than doing nothing. Frozen veggies are better for you than McDonald’s. You don’t need to do things perfectly, just do a little better than you are doing right now. Later you can try to do a little better than that.

3: Pick a plan.

I like to pick a training plan lasting from three to fifteen weeks, complete it, then switch it up. This counters the two problems I often find: over-specialization and the shiny object syndrome.

Many goals require a certain amount of specificity in training, and that is all well and good. If you are training for a 100 miler, you need to devote a good deal of your training time to long runs. Just don’t get so focused on only one skill that all of your other abilities decrease. No one wants to be the guy that can run 200 miles but can’t carry his suitcase in from the car, or the guy who can pick up the car but can’t run around the block. Devote the training time to whatever event you have, then change up the next plan you use.

The shiny object syndrome was a problem for me for years. I like this plan, use it for a week. OOOH SHINY! That plan is better, I will switch to that one. OOOH MORE SHINY. Totally changing everything because this one is cooler! Other trainers have described this as chasing many rabbits and catching none. Pick one plan and stick with it for a month or three, then change things out.

4: Fit the plan to your abilities.

We have all tried a plan that looks easy on paper but absolutely flattens you when you go to do it. A lot of plans for events I want to do are written for people considerably fitter than I am. While a little of this is good, too much of it will lead to injury. If you find yourself on a plan that requires way more fitness than you have, you have three options, which fit different types of workouts.

First is to switch to an easier plan.Doing this too often leads to the shiny object syndrome, but doing it when you recognize you are out of your league is okay.

Second option is to break it into pieces. If you are beaten down at the halfway point of your workout, do half in the morning and half at night, or half today and half tomorrow. Next week try to do a little more, and build up to doing it all in one go.

Third, and most common, is to scale the weights, reps and paces. Plan calls for ten pullups and you can only do five? Okay, do five. You can’t keep the 8-minute-per-mile pace called for? Pick a pace that is challenging for you and go with it. Don’t make it easy on yourself, but make it doable.

5: PACE 

We all have things to do other than training, and life can get in the way. Having a PACE plan (Primary, Alternate, Contingency, Emergency) for your workouts can help keep you moving forward on days that would otherwise prevent getting any form of workout in.

Primary is what you originally planned to do.

Alternate is for small bumps in the road that may screw up your workout. If someone is hogging the squat rack, I can switch to a run or some dumbbell work (depending on what I did yesterday, etc.).  The alternate can be for the entire workout, or for a particular exercise that requires particular gear.

Contingency is for when logistics prevent you from getting to the gym or outside or wherever you usually workout. I like workout DVDs for this.

Emergency is when time and logistics have gone to crap and you just want to get something in. I keep a kettlebell behind my desk, will do 5-10 minutes of swings when I can’t get anything else in. Any available exercise can fill the bill. A little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.

6: Don’t overthink diet.

There are eleventy billion diet plans on the market, and every last one of them is convinced that they are the only way to eat properly, and you will likely hate being on at least 80% of them.

Make sure you are getting enough nutrients and are somewhere close to the amount of food that keeps you at the same weight (slow gain or loss depending on your goals). Take care of those two things and you have 80% of it figured out. Don’t look for the perfect diet, just something good enough that you can follow without hating life.

7: Learn proper form, and keep learning.

Learning how to exercise correctly will often mean doing it wrong for awhile until you figure it out, but you should always be trying to get as close to correct as possible. Various trainers will have various little tricks to check if your form is correct. Pick those up where you can and use them. (I tend to use little tricks from Pavel’s books pretty frequently.) While you are working through a plan, see what info you can dig up on what plan you might do next, try to understand the logic behind them and see if it matches your goals.


Battle Buddies: Tiger Valley 2-Man Team Match

This is a swat-team based shooting competition, originally with 4-man teams and later simplified to 2-man teams. It was discontinued in 2014 due to lack of participants, but a few people pushed for it to be restarted and pushed to try to get enough shooters involved. In particular, I have to give a shout out to InRange TV for letting me know about this event and setting up a page for solo shooters to find a teammate.

Stage 1: Sniper Tower


Both shooters start at the side of the tower, run around it and climb a ladder that appeared to be made of fire hose:


Then run up the stairs to shooting positions on the landings. Shooter 1 goes to position one (4th landing up from the bottom) and shoots the steel target marked with a #1. Five hits, unload and show clear, continue up. While Shooter 1 is firing, Shooter #2 runs past him to shooting position 2 on the next landing up. As soon as one shooter is done firing he starts running to the next shooting position, and the other starts shooting. They leap-frog past each other until they reach the top, where both shooters need to be in position before either can shoot. Five hits on each target, then reverse the process leap-frogging back down. Maximum time is 9 minutes.

My teammate was recovering from an injury, so I went up the ladder first and stayed to help him over the guardrail, then ran for the first shooting position. We made it up and down reasonably efficiently, and I happened to be the last shooter.

“That’s five hits. Unload. Show clear. Haul ass!” Ran like hell down the stairs, and found we had made it in a little under 8 minutes.

Stage 2: Armor and Infantry


Both shooters start on the second floor of a smaller tower. Between both of them they must neutralize three tank commanders, then each must neutralize five foot soldiers (2 hits on each target).


Then both shooters go down a ladder and engage closer steel targets with a pistol, shooting numbered targets from numbered shooting ports.

23172601_10213654548505274_4476131539571852835_n (1).jpg

When both shooters have completed this, you run to a helicopter…


Where one shooter engages a target with an M249 machine gun. If the target is not hit with the 5 rounds in the machine gun, the other shooter engages the target with his rifle, one hit required from one weapon or the other.


Then run back to the end point, marked by a hula hoop on the ground next to the tower.

We both cleared our rifle and pistol targets reasonably well, and my partner got the bonus of making a hit with the M249.

Stage 3: Obstacle Course.


Meant to simulate bounding fire and movement, this stage has one shooter engage a steel target while the other clears an obstacle. Then the second shooter shoots, the first clears two obstacles to put him in the next shooting position, again leap-frogging through the course.







The final position was a wobbly helicopter that each shooter needed to make two hits from.


Then both shooters have to run back to the start point. Time hack is five minutes.

I got flustered worrying about time and missed a lot more than I should have, and we timed out before we could get to the helicopter. I want a rematch with this stage.

Stage 4: Run and Gun


Start by making one rifle hit each on two steel targets from the wooden support, then run two bays down to reach the pistol targets. Both shooters can engage targets, but many teams elected to save time by having one shoot and the other sling his rifle so he could run faster.

Between the two of you, put two hits on each blue target and don’t hit any of the white targets. It is up to you to keep track of what you have and have not hit, 60 second penalty for each required hit that you don’t make.


Then run to the next bay and crawl under a series of 8 sticks, penalties if you knock any of them down, then engage paper targets with the rifle and run back to the start point.



I don’t remember what the time hack was for this stage, but it was tight. We just barely made it.

This was the end of Day One. Rest up, tend to gear, back at it in the morning.

Stage 5: Shooting Obstacles


This stage started out with four obstacles that you had to shoot through or from on top of, each shooter must shoot from two. You had to knock down four steel targets in windows from each position.


When both are complete, run to the next bay and engage paper targets through various ports in a series of barricades.


Run to the next bay, into a fenced-off area with a lot of no-shoot targets and a lot of targets with clay pigeons attached to them. Break all the clays with the pistol, then run back to the start point. Time hack was I think 5 minutes, and we made it in around 4:30.

Stage 6: Back to Back


Shooters move together down a bay. At each shooting position they turn back to back and engage paper targets, only A zone hits count. At the end were five pistol targets on each side, and only five rounds could be used. Get as many hits as possible and run back to the start point.

Stage 7: Quick and Alert


21 teams completed this stage all at the same time, lined up by team number in prone position. In a pit 200 yards away, the match staff would randomly pick a target with a team number on it, put it up where we could see it and walk with it for 6 seconds before pulling it back down. We were permitted five shots while it was up. So you have 6 seconds to spot target, identify if it is your target or not, and try to get 5 shots on a moving target. Two targets can be in play at once, and they may or may not appear at the same time. Those of us with magnified optics helped the rest by calling out numbers when the targets came up.

Also worth noting that you and your teammate will be firing at the same time, and if you happen to be on the right, the brass and hot gasses from your buddy’s rifle can really shake your aim. We were told that targets might appear more than once, or they might not. Each one was presented four times, but we didn’t know that until it was over.


We were watching targets for half an hour or so before we were told that it was done and to clear our rifles.

This was both a lot of fun and an intense learning experience. Can’t wait to do it again.

Learning notes

While I had a great time and learned a lot, I did not do nearly as well as I hoped. Recording a few notes to improve here.

First and foremost, you need to have your mind right. You will start missing targets that you are more than capable of hitting if you allow yourself to mentally start fussing over the amount of time left, or something about your gear that isn’t quite right today, etc.

The above is easier if you make sure all of your gear is what you intended it to be. When I arrived I realized that the ammo I had was different from what I had sighted in with, and I had no idea what or how much the difference in zero could be. It likely was not much, but I let it get in my head and didn’t shoot nearly as well as I know I can on the first day. I was able to bring the correct ammo the second day and shot much better, likely more due to being confident in my gear than due to any difference in zero.

Practice more in shifting gears. Running hard, climbing walls and shooting well are not nearly as hard as trying to randomly juggle doing all of them, and shifting from going hard and fast to being slow and steady is a skill that I have not mastered yet.

When you are there for learning and experience, plan what you want to get from a stage and then follow the plan. I really wanted to get to the helicopter at the end of the obstacle course, so I should have taken some penalties to save time to get there.

I need to stretch more and spend more time in prone. Having a muscle cramp up and start twitching does not aide accuracy.

Take time to hang out and chat with those around you. You will find a lot of good advice and just some all-around awesome people.

Post Script: I found the results after posting this. My team, Team 9, placed 35 out of 42 teams present. With the caliber of competitors that showed up, I am okay with that.

I did not hear stage names when we were there, but I thought I should include official names here.

Sniper Tower= Old Red

Armor and Infantry= Hot Extraction

Obstacle Course=Ball Buster

Run and Gun=Tunnel

Shooting Obstacles= South

Back to Back= 130

Quick and Alert= Movers.

For The Motherland!: Red Oktober Kalashnikov Championship 2017



I heard about this match through online videos of last year’s competitors, and instantly knew I wanted to try it. Everything is shot with AK variants or other Combloc weapons, many people come in period costume, the shooting stages are more physical than most shooting competitions, and the emphasis is on having fun over being hyper-competitive.

With this being my first big match, I decided to volunteer. I wanted to see the nuts and bolts of how a match is run, and it was easier to deal with the thought of screwing up when there are 12 people there to see it than when 200 other shooters are on site. Volunteers, in this case, shoot the Thursday and Friday before match weekend so that they can uncover any potential problems with the stages.

Notes: Photos were taken while we were resetting between shooters, so some of my fellow shooters are shown downrange. Everyone is pulled back behind the firing line for safety whenever someone is shooting. Some stages were shot out of order, so my numbers may not match the official stage numbers.

First stage:

Start out in a mass grave. Run to the sloped platform where your rifle is staged, and engage five steel targets from the platform.


Run to another shooting position (marked by a square on the ground) engage the steel again, run to a third position, break all the clay pigeons, engage the steel again…


Then run up a hill to a wooden structure and engage two long-range steel from there.


This one was a blast to do, and I did reasonably well at it. For me, it was a perfect stage to start on.

Before the next stage, I heard the Range Officer giving another shooter advice that I should have realized sooner: Many of us were taking the time to take slow and careful aim on big, close targets that didn’t require it. If you have enough margin for error in what you need to hit, you can get a quick and dirty sight picture, shoot faster,  hit well enough, and complete the stage faster.

Second stage:

Start in a foxhole, shoot 5 steel targets, climb out of the foxhole into a trench (I got cool points for doing a combat roll) engage targets inside the trench, engage paper targets and steel again from a concrete block gunner’s port, run to the end of the trench, climb into another foxhole, shoot the steel again, and then shoot the dreaded spinner target until you flip it.



I failed to rotate the spinner before the time limit, but still had a lot of fun on this stage. I also found that it takes a good bit of mental focus to shift gears between shooting quickly at big targets and shooting more carefully at small targets. (The clay pigeons in the middle of no-shoot targets were particularly evil.)

Stage 3, that I somehow failed to get pictures of:

California Build Party: Four magazines of ten rounds each are staged on barrels throughout the stage. Start seated at a press, and pump the handle to compress a 7.62 case to the height of a 9mm case. When that is done, retrieve your rifle and first magazine, then work your way through a series of corridors, engaging targets as you come to them and reloading as you come to your magazines. I got a bit of a curve ball on this one: as I was staging my mags, the shooter before me was picking up his mags which look very similar. He grabbed my mag of ten, leaving his mag with four rounds left. I was still able to make it work, but it did make me realize I need to mark my mags.

Stage 4, Cooper Tunnel.


Start on the blue line, rifle and first mag on the table. Engage what targets you can, then crawl under the table and shoot targets as they become visible. the last targets must be shot under a wall. I went back and took a picture with the water bottle for scale.


I did okay with shooting from under the table (although my muzzle blast echoing through steel drums around me was an interesting experience) but when I got to the wall I couldn’t get low enough to see under it. The RO called out instructions, rolling all the way onto my side, sights aligned sideways, got me low enough to shoot. the gasses escaping the breach of my rifle kicked up enough dust to entirely hide the target with each shot, and it was suggested after that shooting left shoulder/ left eye would point the breach up, lessening this problem.

Stage 5 brought in some OCR and a cool Rube Goldberg device.


Climb a tunnel onto a platform, where a pistol is staged. You shoot a steel target that, when it falls, releases a bowling ball rolling down a track. When it reaches the end, it activates some swinging no-shoots and exposes one target that will show only once, so you have to run, retrieve your rifle, and be in shooting position when that target shows itself. Then you proceed through the barricades as needed to engage the rest of the targets.

My learning moment: If it is necessary to knock over a target to make everything else happen, make sure you do that. We had to leave the pistol empty, I went first and made the mistake of trying to knock it over on my last shot, and failed. The rest of the squad learned from my mistake, knocked it over first, then fired off the remaining shots as quickly as possible.

Stage 6: Colonel Kaput


Crawl through a tunnel carrying a single 8mm round, take the Mauser off of Col. Kaput, and shoot the steel target that activates the moving targets. (On this stage, if you miss the target, you then run up and punch it.) Then run to the other side of the stage, pick up your rifle, and proceed through the barriers to engage all the targets.

22780419_10213586614766973_8997474918043809105_n.jpg22730401_10213586614446965_9147034557153455989_n (1).jpg22729225_10213586614086956_3364284347251962849_n.jpg

That was the end of day one. Back to the hotel, rest up, clean up the gear, back at it in the morning.


Stage 7: Shoot house.

Breach the door of the house with a hammer, throw in a flash bang, grab your rifle and shoot the targets as visible through the doors and windows. There was a steel activator that had to be pushed/kicked, as it was too close to shoot safely. I had video taken of this one, so of course this was the stage that I lost track of what target I was on and looked somewhat Keystone-Cop-like.

Video Here.

Stage 8- Bayonets and sniper towers.


We started this stage by stabbing a straw bale with a bayonet. Battle cries were encouraged.

“Shooter ready. Stand by. BEEP.”


Stab the bale, leave that rifle there, grab your rifle, engage a lot of paper targets…


Then run up a trail with various targets along it…


To a sniper tower, from which you engage two long-range steel targets.


Stage 9: Voodoo Valley

This stage started with a rifle provided by Rifle Dynamics, a maker of high-end AKs and sponsor of the match. My AK is very much on the budget end of the spectrum, so it was cool to compare it to top of the line.


The course of fire was to start with six rounds in the stage rifle, and hit three steel targets from a wooden “tank trap.”



From there, leave the stage rifle, grab your rifle, run down a trail engaging paper targets, get to the end and re-engage one of the steel.


That was officially the end of the match, but there was one more unofficial stage. The match organizers put together a dinner Saturday night, a chance to hang out and get to know your fellow shooters. They put in a night team relay match. I was there alone, but the Range Master paired me up with Matt, a shooter from California, under the title of Team Thrown Together.


Both teammates start in a square, rifle and pistol staged in slant boxes. First shooter runs to his rifle, clears a rack of steel plates, puts down rifle, runs back and tags teammate. Second shooter does the same, then tags first shooter, who runs to his pistol, cleans a plate rack, turns 90 degrees to engage a single popper target, pistol down, tag. Second shooter completes pistol, and time recorded is when the last shooter makes it back to the start point.

We both knew we were not the varsity at this event, but we shot relatively well, and it was a lot of fun. Only big mistake I made was forgetting that last pistol target, putting the pistol down and starting to go to tag, only to have to run back and get that last shot in.

This is an awesome event, and particularly good as a first-time rifle match. The match design is a balance that is both difficult to do really well (a challenge for skilled shooters) and reasonably easy to just get through for new shooters (time limits are generous and targets require no more than 10 MOA accuracy). They are also more forgiving of newbie mistakes than many other matches. (That is not to say that their safety protocol is lax, just that they are more gentle in enforcing it. A mistake that will get you a stern talking-to or a stage disqualification here will often get you sent home from other matches. So if you get any sort of safety reprimand, learn from it and understand that it will be enforced more harshly when you go to other ranges.)

I am looking forward to doing more matches like this.


Starting Competitive Shooting

I have shot three competitions over the past few weeks, and wanted to post some notes of what these competitions are and some recommendations for anyone else wanting to try them out.



I saw that the local range in Sioux Falls has USPSA pistol matches, contacted the organizers for newbie questions, and showed up for the match. They explained the safety protocol and basic rules, and told me that the expectation for starting was to go slow, make your hits, and handle the gun safely. We would get to making it faster later.

This type of match has you shooting from odd positions, around barricades, through windows, etc., shooting a mix of paper targets (requiring 2 hits) and steel targets (that must be knocked over). The targets are also often behind obstructions, requiring you to move to get a clear shot of them.

My first stage was something of a dumpster fire. I was nervous and missing shots that I should have made, then a trigger pin popped out of my gun and the range officer stopped me. We got it back together and tried again. Nerves were less, hits were better, and the pin popped back out after about 15 rounds. At that point we declared the gun down for the day and scored the stage based on what I had gotten to.

One of the other shooters on my squad (the group that you shoot each stage with) happened to have an extra pistol in the same caliber as mine, so he let me borrow it for the rest of the match. I had a little trouble getting used to it, but overall was able to hit with it reasonably well and the match was a lot of fun.

The second match was a qualifier, meaning that stages were set up according to a standardized design rather than to the ideas of the people setting up the stage. I found these stages a little less interesting than the first match, but still fun and a good test of shooting ability. My pistol held together for this one.

Smoking Hot Date Night at the Range

Rev Tac Firearm Instruction puts on a date night event every so often, a laid-back event where you shoot pistols and rifles and have dinner, range time with your significant other and a chance to try out different types of guns. It ends with a friendly team competition of all the couples there. We shot three pistols from three different distances. Steph got us off to a solid start with the 9mm:


And I secured the win with a .500 magnum revolver referred to as “Big Sexy.”


(Perhaps not as serious a competition as USPSA, but the ones I win have to make it into the blog.)

Notes for newbies:

Bring factory ammo, brass cased from a known brand. (Bulk Winchester or Remington/ UMC that you can find at Walmart is fine.) Many of your fellow shooters can loan you a spare pistol if you need it, but many of them don’t want unknown handloads or low-quality steel-cased ammo in their guns.

There will be shooters there who make the match look like a John Wick movie, already being on the other end of the stage before the steel has had time to fall. Don’t make the mistake of trying to duplicate that on your first match. He’s Keanu Reeves, you’re not, and that’s okay.  Go at your speed, make your hits, and don’t get sent home for doing something stupid.

Wear clothes that you can get dirty and bring work gloves. There will be wet paint on some targets, and at many matches everyone is expected to help set up/ tear down and to help reset targets between shooters.

Listen to your fellow shooters. They can point out little tips and tricks that can help you out.

Before and after everything else, learn from what you are doing and have fun.

Welcome Back to the Suck: The Suck 2017

I had completed the Midwest Suck in 2014, and it pushed me to my limit to such an extent that I knew I wanted to do it again. I attempted and failed in 2015, then volunteered to get a closer look at the event in 2016. Adjust training based on my observations there, then come back to try again this year.


We assembled at the start point with required gear for the national anthem and a pep talk from Joe and Nicole. The first movement was ordered: Take your buckets down to the pond, you will receive further instructions when you get there.



At the pond, drop the buckets, run back to the start point. Once there, 25 squat-curl-press with a 50# sandbag…


25 hand-release pushups…


And tossing an Atlas ball over your shoulder.


Next we moved through a patch of trees to a pond that we had to swim across, out of the water, through more trees, up a steep incline (so slick with mud that I joked I was winning the Swamp Thing costume contest), then back to the strength challenges. Three logs that needed to be flipped various numbers of times…


Complete a rope climb…


10 burpees while breathing pepper spray (applied to the room, not to the racers)…21369526_1313639688765146_662282516020799579_n.jpg

Then over or under a fence to swim across another pond to where we had left our buckets earlier. Fill them with water, carry them halfway back to the start point, shoot a shotgun…


And cover the rest of the distance back to the start by burpee frog leaps.


This circuit would be repeated two more times. I had some equipment failures on the first round (zipper on my hydration pack broke and my headlamp stopped working) so Nicole gave me five minutes to refit and get back to work. As usual I was the slowest racer there, but managed to complete all of the required tasks.

After the third round, I was given 20 minutes to refit and return with the rucksack, one bucket, both sandbags, life vest, and food/water for 6-8 hours.

Staggered up to the checkpoint with roughly 120 pounds of gear to check in with Nicole and get instructions for my next movement.

“How are you feeling?”

“At this particular moment, I hate you.”

*Laughter* “Love it. Take this road down to the creek, you will get more instructions there.”

Let me just say, any time you are carrying more than 100 pounds for distance, it is really easy to start questioning life decisions that lead you here. Carry it as far as I can, drop it, recover, realize that there is no way to do this that doesn’t suck, pick it up, repeat. Finally made it to the creek and got the welcome instructions to drop the heavy stuff, as we only needed the bucket and life vest for the next movement.

Pausing here to note a screwup on my part. When I had refitted for this movement, I put all the food and water in the ruck and left the hydration pack behind, meaning I could not separate my supplies from the ruck if I needed to. The hydration pack itself is about a pound, just go ahead and throw the whole thing into the ruck.

The next three movements were variations on a theme. Take your bucket, follow the creek bed, through or over multiple fallen trees, until you find a chem light, touch the chem light, follow the creek back to where you started (at the intersection of the three creeks that we were sent down), fill the bucket with water, complete some sort of exercise with the bucket without spilling it (overhead press, squats, and bench press were the respective exercises for each round), then move on to the next creek. Several people complained about the bucket being clumsy to carry, but I found it made a decent improvised walking stick when climbing over logs.

The next movement was probably the most taxing for me: leave one sandbag here, take the ruck with the other sandbag and the bucket, and go to that chem light that you can just see in the distance. When you get there, you will see another, keep following them until you are met with further instructions.

Everything was up and down steep hills and valleys, and in the dark I couldn’t find any better way through it. This segment is officially called the Snake, but while doing it I referred to it as the Soviet Spider. Spiders kept falling out of the trees onto my neck, and I started chuckling, “In Soviet Russia, spider step on you.”

Another group of racers passed me at this point, and we all hit the next checkpoint at about the same time. 50 pushups, 50 situps, the news that we were close to being pulled for time hacks, and moved out down another creek bed.

Since I did not have my hydration pack with me, I dropped the sandbag out of the ruck and used the ruck to carry my food and water. This movement crossed a number of fences and fallen trees that would have been much easier to get through without the added bulk of the ruck.

At one point I tripped and my lead foot came down hard enough to drive a piece of wood through the sole of my shoe, just a scratch on my foot, but it lodged in my shoe so that I couldn’t walk in it. I sat down and spent 10-15 minutes wiggling it until I could get it out. (I keep a Leatherman in my pack for GORUCK, why didn’t I think to bring it here?)

Racers coming the other direction made it easier to follow the trail back to the HQ. More log flips, then climbing 3 ropes, a chain and a suspended ladder. I completed the first rope without problems, but couldn’t even get started on the second. The ladder was tough to get onto, but once there it was relatively easy to climb as long as you kept it close to your body. Penalty was 25 concrete block burpees for each climb not completed, 75 total. At this point I was weak enough that I was doing them one or two at a time, but got them done.

Next task was collecting 10 bales of hay from the fields around us. We were supposed to give the volunteer a number for him to direct us to what bales to pick up, but the volunteer there had just gotten there and was not up to speed yet, so he did not know what bales to give us.

“Umm, that is one of the bigger ones. Can I take that one?”

“Yeah, that works. Go.”

I had gotten one bale and was heading out for the second when I got orders to grab food and water and go talk to Nicole. I thought that I had gotten far enough behind that I was being pulled, but was pleasantly surprised to be given instructions for my final movement: Follow the path that you took to get here backward, pick up all of the gear that you left at checkpoints, and get it all back to the start point. Hurry, you’re on a time hack.

First segment of this movement was great, moving fast and excited to still be in the game. Picking up the first 50 pounds and carrying it through water that ranged from ankle to chest deep made it much less exciting and more of a trudge. (Along the way I learned that putting the sandbag inside the bucket and strapping them both into the ruck is a BAD IDEA. The positioning makes it feel twice as heavy. The first dry place I found to put the pack down, I stopped to refit and strap the sandbag solidly into the ruck.) The last two miles, carrying both sandbags, were absolutely horrible.

I finally made it to HQ and was greeted with a joyous shout of “THOMAS! You made it! You are done, drop your gear at your camp site.”

I carried everything to my campsite, fell on my side, unbuckled the pack, squirmed out from under the pile, and hobbled back to join the last few finishers in receiving our challenge coins.


I am happy to have completed this, and happy to learn that I can do more than I thought I could. That being said, I seriously want to do better. Some notes on what did and didn’t work this year.

I seriously need to improve speed over ground, both loaded and unloaded, and speed in the water. My current pace is eating time that I need for other challenges.

While my practice on rope climbs made a huge improvement, I need to work on climbing more than one in a row.

I need to test some gear more severely than I have thus far. A headlamp that works fine being occasionally dunked can fail when it is held under water for five minutes.

Having primary and secondary setups of everything helped a lot. I was able to quickly grab the backup for what broke and get moving again.

Having straps in the MOLLE webbing of the pack to position the sandbag worked extremely well.

The search continues for a headlamp that provides adequate light without going dim at 3 AM or drowning along the way. Also need to switch to a life vest that can be worn with the ruck more easily.

Hoping I can make some improvements on these before 2018.


Mad Minute Rifleman: Sioux Falls Appleseed Shoot 2017

As I have mentioned in a few earlier posts, I am trying to get back into shooting regularly and improving my skills. I was a little nervous about attending rifle-based events, both because my knowledge of formal range protocol is limited (I grew up shooting on the farm, but that does not always translate into knowing what the Range Master expects of you) and because I have always been the worst shot of any group I shot with. I decided to attend an Appleseed shoot because they seemed to both be open for those new to formal rifle events and pushed for a high level of skill.

Project Appleseed is an odd mix of a shooting club and a historical society. We would go over some aspect of shooting, like proper shooting positions or how to use the sling, shoot a course of fire to test it, and then be told a little bit of the history before moving on to the next shooting topic. For purposes of this write-up, I am going to discuss the shooting and the history separately.

Most of the history presented dealt with the events of April 18-19, 1775, Paul Revere’s famous ride and the Battles of Lexington and Concord. I was of course familiar with the story, but there were a lot of details presented that I had not heard before, that really changed how I think about it. It is easy to think of historical characters as one-dimensional, forgetting that they were people who had things going on in their lives. The captain who had to leave sick kids at home. The man who met Paul Revere on the way home from proposing to his fiancee, who would die in the fighting before the wedding could take place. The militiaman who lived near Lexington Square and staggered home to die in his wife’s arms. The 78-year-old who killed a half-dozen redcoats before the rest of the squad got to him, took more than a dozen bayonet wounds, and died… 16 years later having sired several more children.

I had always studied the Revolution in terms of generals and armies, forgetting the people that those armies were made of.

As far as the shooting, we would begin and end each day with a “red coat” target, a quick way to judge your current abilities and see how you are improving. 13 rounds from whatever position you like (prone suggested for stability) at silhouette targets sized to simulate a full-size target at 100, 200, 300, and 400 yards. 3 shots into each target, then one last shot into “Morgan’s Shingle” (which duplicates a 250-yard target that Daniel Morgan used as a qualification for joining his unit).

The first day of shooting we did back-to-basics how to get into shooting positions, why the positions worked like they did, how to read what you are doing wrong from your target, how to get and confirm the rifle’s zero, and ended the day with an AQT (Army Qualification Test). This test has timed shooting in standing, sitting/kneeling, and prone, with simulated targets from 100 to 400 yards. Out of 250 points possible, 125 is passing and 210 is expert or “rifleman” and earns you an awesome patch.


I made a mistake adjusting my sights and shot a 108. ( I would later mark it up and score what would have been if I had left the sights alone and got 155.)

The second day we reviewed the information from the day before, worked on the little details that can tighten up groups, fixed my sight-adjustment screwup and confirmed that my zero was where it should be. We then went into the “AQT Grind”, shooting the AQT repeatedly, alternating doing the stages in normal order or “Australian style” reverse order (mainly to save us the time of having to re-adjust slings between stages more than we had to). My scores were improving, but I would often have that one stage where something went wrong in an otherwise solid score. I put my shooting glasses too close to my face and they fogged over, costing me time I needed to get those last few shots in. Not locking a magazine in and taking half the stage time to figure out why I couldn’t fire. More often than anything else, hurrying when the time hacks were short and forgetting things that I knew enough to do. I had several scores hovering around the 190-200 level, but nothing quite high enough to earn the patch.

Our last AQT was the “quick and dirty” rules. Rather than time limits for each stage, five minutes to shoot the entire course, two 10-round magazines and one 20-round. I focused on keeping the shot cadence with my breath and trying to keep my position steady, finished the course of fire, safed the rifle and left the firing line. My instructor looked at me a little quizzically and said, “You have three minutes left. You just shot that in two minutes.” Arrgh, must have been hurrying and not noticing it, I probably screwed that up horribly.

We swapped out targets for our last redcoat of the weekend, putting the last AQT aside to score later. I took my time with the redcoat and came within one shot of shooting it clean (one miss on the 400 yard target). Side-by-side of the first and last redcoats speaks well for the instruction provided:


We then scored the last AQT and found that my “mad minute” shooting had scored a 215. I’d made Rifleman.



This was an awesome experience and taught me a lot. I cannot recommend these events highly enough. If you want to find an Appleseed near you, start here.

Race Mule Musings from the Minnesota Mud: Twin Cities Spartan Sprint and Tough Mudder 2017

I learned a few things about myself while thinking through this post.

The first is that it is harder for me to write about events that are similar to what I have done before. It just feels like it is becoming a boring checklist of carried this thing this far, completed this obstacle, failed that one, this thing was hard, that sucked a lot, then there was the new obstacle that everyone is talking about, I thought it was garbage. It loses the feel of the event and becomes incredibly irritating to write.  There have been times when I simply skipped writing about an event when I couldn’t think of anything new to say. So I hope you will forgive that this (and I am sure future posts) will omit some details that I have written about before to focus on new developments.

The second realization is that, having focused more on ruck-based training than OCR training, I am not as good of an obstacle racer as I used to be. I need a little more help over the walls, can’t go as far on the monkey bars as I could when my training was focused on that. While not as good of a racer, my training has made me a much better race mule. (For any unfamiliar with the term, a race mule is an assistant to a racer permitted in certain very grueling events. The mule carries needed gear for the racer, and in certain cases can tow them along.)

Spartan Sprint


I ran this with my son Josh again this year, who is at that point in growing where he is a bit bigger and heavier than last year, but the proportional increase in strength has not arrived yet. He was feeling dejected and unsure of himself after a few obstacles that he remembered being easier last year (and remembering that running down a basketball court is a whole different thing than running up ski slopes.) I had him grab onto my pack on uphills, towed him up and then we walked/jogged the downhills.

I encouraged him and helped him on whatever obstacles I could, and on most of them he did okay. On the bucket carry, I would take my bucket as far as I could up the hill, run back to wherever he had gotten it to, bring his up even with mine, do it again. I love the picture above, as I think it is the only time I have ever been photographed carrying the bucket at a trot.

For the record, he did move his a good distance on his own.


At the dunk wall, I put the hand that happened to be carrying my hydration pack under the wall, then gave Josh a quick pep talk before going under. Unbeknownst to me, the photographer on the other side was concerned at seeing a pack float up and not seeing anyone immediately follow it.

59502d8a8dfe86966487f3d6-o (2).JPG

59502d908dfe86966487f3d7-o (1).JPG

A lesson learned at the rope climb: make sure you train in the actual gear you will race in. I had used a different type of shoes that were great in the mud, but that couldn’t grip the rope.

After our last set of burpees, I encouraged Josh to finish strong:

“Okay, I know you’re tired, but you can see the finish. I want the Charge of the Light Brigade, everything you’ve got, make the fire jump photo look good.”

“Okay. Three, tw–”




Tough Mudder55546031_race_0.3800368302992583.display.jpg

Another realization about myself: I’m not upset with myself for skipping obstacles if they don’t train anything that I consider useful or aren’t fun for me. (If they aren’t fun but train something vital, then I’m doing them, no question. More on that part later.)

The way the ice bath last year was set up was on the very edge of being unsafe, and there were rumors that they had made it worse this year. I ducked out of line to watch the Mudders in front of me going through the obstacle, and found the rumors to be untrue, and in fact the issue had been fixed rather than worsened. Drop ruck, slide down the tube, freeze everything, ruck up and move quickly to warm up.

I forgot to mention that I was rucking with 20# this year, using it to complete one of my Pathfinder challenges. The blue foam thing attached to the ruck is a float for the drop-into-water obstacles.

At the Hero Carry, I hit one of my old training goals: I performed well enough to have multiple people ask if I was military. “No, just do a lot of GORUCK stuff…”


Shawshanked is an obstacle where you crawl up a tube and drop backward 6-8 feet into water. When I had done it before, I hadn’t realized what it was until I was too far into it to turn back. This time as I approached it, I realized I was honestly scared to do it. Which meant it was vital training and I had to do it. Drop ruck, put on the floatie, have a minor panic attack in the tube, make the drop. Successfully avoided drowning and continued on. I have no pictures, but I really think TM needs to post a photographer there.

I saw two of the most awesome instances of teamwork among strangers that I have ever seen at this event. The first was a woman at Everest who attempted the run no less than 8 times, five of those making contact with my hand at the top but missing getting a grip on it. People behind us held my legs and the legs of the guy next to me so we could extend out a few more inches, then all of us worked together to pull her over.

The second was at Pyramid Scheme. I don’t think more than two or three of them knew any of the others, but they formed into a team better than any group I have ever seen (to the point that when the next group coming up asked the volunteer how to complete the obstacle, she simply pointed to us and said “Watch them.”) Myself and another man formed the base, with a stack of people above us standing shoulder-on-shoulder. Those above then held from above as those below climbed over everyone to get to the top.

I broke my water bladder somewhere around mile 4 and was dependent on the water stations for the rest of the course. Makes getting to the victory beer at the end all the more satisfying.