Conditions: 88F and clear, cooling to about 75 by morning
Why: So why did I head off on my own to do this? Although, we had completed a tough event in Charleston, in February, I felt that we didn’t really experience what a very challenging tough event could be like. When I watched videos of the F3 Custom Ruck in Asheville, that was held in April, my fears were confirmed.
I really wanted to test myself with a tough and just see if I could get through it and I was worried that I could. I intentionally did not over-train, but tried to stick with our normal F3 regimen plus my Sunday Ruck work-outs. I also wanted to see if I could handle a tough challenge mentally and get a preview of what we might face in November.
Preparation and Gear
For physical prep, I have been trying to hit F3 workouts at least 5 times a week and also ruck on Sunday. I intentionally try to push through the pain or exhaustion during the workouts. A typical week is: Monday Brick City, Tuesday and Thursday Clinic AO, Friday Double Down Ruck and Curahee with Klinger and the Double Down on Saturday with an early Ruck and then convergence.
On Sundays – Ruck 1 mile, then ruck up and down the Kalmia stairs – temple style starting with 22 merkins at the top, going to bottom and doing 21 merkins – then back to the top for 20 merkins and continuing down and up until to zero. With the summer heat, this workout has gotten to be much harder and I sometimes can’t complete it. I then ruck 1 mile back home.
All in all – I was physically prepared. I was able to complete the PT and while very tired and sore, was able to finish strong. But keep in mind, the Cadre will push us to the point of failure. That’s what it is about – the tougher the team, the tougher the challenge (No easy day)
Clothing: I wore an F3 Tee Shirt. Under Armor Compression Tee Shirt, Under Armor Compression underwear, thin liner socks, Darn Tough medium hiker socks, Triple Aught Design Recon AC Pant, Solomon XA Pro 3D (not waterproof), F3 Tac Hat (“Embrace the Suck patch”).
I was the only guy wearing an F3 shirt to the event and there were 3 or more F3 members attending who I spoke with. I wore the UA compression shirt as a way to prevent a rash and chaffing from the Ruck on my lower back. It worked. I wore long pants even though it was hot because I was expecting to crawl allot. Only 3 or 4 people had long pants. By the end of the welcome party, I was sopping wet, but not hot at all. The pants and shirts dried pretty quickly.
I never had time to change clothes and since the cadre put us in the water 3 times, it wouldn’t have helped.
Gear: Rucker, 30# of Lead sheet wrapped in Duct Tape, 3L Source Bladder, Head-Lamp: Black Diamond Storm, Extra Bladder mouth piece, Money, Drivers Lic, Phone, Moleskin, bandaids, medical tape, scissors, gloves, extra pair of socks and extra tee shirt
Food: Four Clif Bars and 4 Clif Gu packets
The Cadre: Our lead Cadre was Garrett Noonan, from Massachusetts and he was training Cadre Carl. Both are Green Berets. Garret enlisted right after 9/11 and has served ever since. He is now in the reserves and working on his college degree. Cadre Carl has served for over 24 years. Both have served abroad and told us about some missions and activity in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Cadre Garrett started with GoRuck in 2012 and his first GoRuck event was in Charlotte. One of the Ruckers in the team attended that event. Cadre Garrett has led over 150 events and has also lead many other GoRuck events including Selection and Ruck U. He was firm and tough but never abusive or unprofessional. I would do another event with him anytime. He was passionate and energetic all night long. It felt like he was more excited than us to lead the event.
Flag and Team Weight: The Ruckers are responsible for providing a Flag on a pole and a 25 lb team weight. One lady made a 25 lb weight from a large metal disk and a chain and then painted it to look like an Olympic medal. “GoRuck” was painted on the surface of the medal. This type of weight was very easy to carry. The flag was a normal 3x5 flag on a wooden pole, about 8 ft long.
Intro and Safety: We arrived in Freedom Park and the team started to form in a parking lot. We had been given instructions to be in a 4 rank formation before the cadre arrived. So we walked to the field next to the lot and formed up. The Cadre drove by in a car and told us to move to another location further south in the park. We moved to that spot.
The Cadre were not in sight for about 10 minutes and then they came walking out of the dark… Cadre Garrett introduced himself and Cadre Carl. He then proceeded with roll call. 4 or 5 people were no shows. He then began discussing safety and emphasized hydration and heat stroke risks. We carried two 5 gallon water jugs during the whole event. (Whenever we had a break, everyone refilled water bladders.) He then asked if anyone had previous injuries or surgeries. Several people raised their hands and when called on, would report. Cadre would respond “Well, be careful.” One younger woman said she had ACL surgery within the past year. She dropped out during the welcome party after bear crawling for about 10 yards.
Gear Inspection: Cadre then told us to dump out our rucks so they could inspect our gear to make sure we had what we needed. He specifically checked to see if we had: Weight, water, ID, money for cab fare if needed. He didn’t seem to care about anything else. If anyone had bricks, their name and phone number had to be written on them with a sharpie. Several people didn’t have this on their bricks and started shouting out to ask if anyone had a sharpie. Fortunately, 3 people brought sharpies. When Garrett looked at my weight wrapped in duct tape, he leaned over and rubbed the writing (name and number). Fortunately, it didn’t smear…
Unpacking and Packing: Once inspection was completed, Cadre told us to pack our stuff up and then began to count out loud. After 30 or 35 seconds – he would stop us and tell us to dump everything back out. Then we would start again. He would change the time at each attempt and we were expected to be packed with rucks on our back before he was done. It got to the point where I just had to shove everything in fast, zip it up and throw it on my back.
Running and reforming: Once complete with the packing exercise, Cadre told us that we would be going through training and physical tests so they could verify that we were ready for the missions later in the night. Our first task was to run from the formation to a parking lot – around an island in the parking lot and back. We took off for the first time and stayed together as a group but we really didn’t know where to go. We ended up running around the entire lot. When we got back, Cadre said we had run too far and we needed to do it again. He told us which island in the parking lot to run around and we had 2 minutes to return and have our rucks on. When we got back, the rucks had been moved around and some were caribeened together. We failed by a few seconds and had to do it again. We came back again and the rucks were spread all over and next to the woods. But we were expecting this. We all just grabbed the first ruck we could find and helped each other get rucks on. It took us one more try to get it done in time.
Meeting fellow ruckers – All during this period, I tried to introduce myself and talk with the people around me. From the very start, Cadre kept reminding us to get to know each other. There were all kinds of people, young and not so young. (I think I may have been the oldest.) Several of the people were very experienced ruckers, some with 8 or more events. There were several cross-fit instructors and several F3 members from NC, Charlotte and Lexington, SC. There were also several people doing a tough for the first time.
We went directly into the welcome party after the running and time hack exercise while all of us wearing someone else’s ruck. Cadre announced we were going to “visit the zoo.” Having been through this before, I knew what to expect.
First was Monkey Humpers, but the Cadre call them something a little more descriptive… For each exercise, it is just like F3. Cadre announces the exercise, the team repeats it, he calls us to move into position, announces “in cadence” and we repeat that. Then we start endless 4 count repetitions. I think we did at least 50…
After MH’s, we formed a single file column and marched to a grass triangle bordered by walkways around it. Cadre told us to Bear Crawl in single file around the triangle. The ACL girl quit after about 10 yards of this, saying her knee was bothering her. We went about 2/3’s of the way around. And I think one other person dropped or tried to drop out – can’t remember. There was lots of grumbling and groaning during the PT and Cadre told us to not make noise and suffer in silence.
We then did crab walks for another moderate distance with rucks on our chest.
Next up - Cadre told us to split up into groups of 4 and we set up to do Ranger Push ups. Cadre told us to be careful about placing our legs on our teammates shoulders and not on backs so we don’t injure each other. He would shout “UP!” and we would count and go back down. We did 3 and then he told my team and another to stand up. Then he would keep calling “UP!” until each team had completed at least one Ranger Push up as a team. We tried to help the teams that were struggling. I was feeling okay at this point but was sopping wet from sweat.
We then moved to a small hill and Cadre told us we would do Caterpillar Push Ups. So we laid down and moved to have our head up to the crotch of the person in front. Then that person’s legs would be place on our shoulders. Cadre would call up and we would count. When we went down, the last person in line got up and ran to the front and then laid down. We ended up caterpillaring up the hill and back down. We did more than 40 reps of these. I lost my headlamp because I had my hat and headlamp in my hand and dropped it when I got up to run. I later retrieved it when Cadre gave us 5 minute break. This was the toughest part of the welcome party. We were getting pretty smoked and my face was getting ground into the grass and dirt pretty had. I had a mouthful of dirt.
Once we completed the caterpillar pushups, Cadre told us that the last part of the welcome party was to learn and completed Partner Carries. We formed into pairs and Cadre demonstrated the safe way to complete a partner carry. We then had to carry our partner about 40 yards and then switch out and carry the other partner back. My partner and I were the second ones done. When we got back, Cadre said “Great, you’re done. Now what are you going to do?” We immediately ran back to help others. This first time was without rucks.
We then repeated the Partner Carry with Rucks.
After this, Cadre announced the welcome party was over.
The Rules: At the beginning and through the welcome party Cadre would tell us The Rules. I can’t remember them all and was not really absorbing everything he was saying. Some rules: Rucks will not touch the ground, stay within an arm’s length of each other, coupons will not touch the ground without permission, stay off the road – consider the road to be hot lava. If we broke any rules, we would be punished as a team. The Cadre also explained Flag etiquette. The flag is not to touch the ground. It can be furled and leaned against something. The flag stays in front of the team.
Team stages: Cadre talked about the 4 stages of team development: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. He would remind us about these stages throughout the event.
Coupons: We started the event with the team weight, the American Flag, two 5-gallon water containers and a large, empty ammo box. At first opportunity, we filled both water containers. During our first water evolution, Cadre Carl filled the ammo box with rocks and sand. We took turns carrying these items. It took two people to carry the ammo box and we rotated people carrying it about every 5 minutes because it was so heavy.
Missions and Rucking
It was now time for us to proceed on our first mission:
Cadre asked for two volunteers to be leaders and two guys stepped up. One was made team leader (TL) and the other was made Assistant Team Leader (ATL). Cadre took the TL and ATL aside and told us we had 10 minutes to get organized. During this time, we all got our own rucks from each other and reorganized our rucks after the packing exercise. I went with a buddy to go find my headlamp. I also found a waterbladder mouthpiece that belonged to another guy. One lady’s water bladder had ruptured. And another team member actually had a spare to share.
The ruck swap was a pain for some people. I would say about 2/3 of the people had goruck bags and then there were lots of other bags. One guy had an Army Alice pack. The guy that had to do bear crawls with that thing on was cursing allot.
After 10 minutes Cadre, the TL and ATL came back to announce the mission and Cadre used this time to explain the key steps of leadership and mission planning.
At this point in the night, I was having trouble getting my head in the game and trouble listening. I started looking all around at everyone in the formation. Cadre Garrett noticed this and came over and got in my face. I think I was tired and just relieved to be done with the welcome party. But my lack of attention was causing me to miss important details.
Our mission was to move to the Vietnam Memorial and recon the church nearby for Infil and Exfil point for both a helo and van. We had to develop an intel plan to give to the cadre for review. Cadre explained this was a prep meeting for the second mission which was to recon Bank of America stadium for the same points.
Cadre gave us a time hack to get to the memorial and also told us that stopping for water and for any reasons that they stopped us would not count. We formed into two ranks and headed out.
This is where some of the experienced ruckers were able to help the team allot. Since our mission was to make a map, we needed writing instruments and paper. This stuff wasn’t on the standard packing list. Fortunately, some of the guys brought sharpies and whenever we passed a dumpster, someone would check it for cardboard and they found some white pizza boxes, which we used for writing on.
We got about ¼ mile and Cadre stopped us and asked why we did not stop for water at the restroom building. The TL didn’t have a good answer. I think we did some PT and then the Cadre told the TL to have someone go and check if water is available there. He explained the rules for sending a team out. After the team came back and said water was available, we went and got water. We also got reprimanded for heading out on the mission with team members having no water or very little water.
After water refill, we resumed the ruck. After another ¼ mile or less, our path came to a road underpass and a creek. Cadre stopped us and we went into the water to complete Hydro Burpees - about 10. Then Cadre told us to “Camo-up” – smear mud on any exposed skin. While doing all this, Cadre Carl filled the ammo box with rocks. After getting out of the water, we were inspected and if someone didn’t have enough mud. They were sent to get more. We then were taught hand signals.
We resumed rucking to point 1 under a semi-permissible environment – low level talking and hand signals. About halfway to the next point we were stopped and had to do more PT for a rule violation. I don’t recall what it was. Then we arrived at the first point. We had to set out formation and complete a count off for our time hack to be stopped. We had trouble getting a group count off done and each time we made an error, we had to do more PT. Once our count off was done, Cadre told the team leader that we had a 10 minute break and we should look around the memorial, but to be respectful. The TL and ATL called a small team together to recon the church and make the intel map.
During the free time, a group of us went to check out the memorial which is a chevron shaped series of panels with the history of the Vietnam War and a listed of the fallen from Charlotte. I read fast and moved across the monument by myself and walked around the path back to our formation. This was my big mistake. When I got back, Cadre immediately had us doing flutter kicks, but didn’t say anything to me directly. After that some of the team members told me what I had done. It still didn’t fully register in my brain for some reason and on a later break, I started to walk off by myself to take a leak but another team member stopped me.
We then had an After Action Review of the recon mission. The Cadre explained that he knew there would be several mistakes and errors since this was the team’s first attempt. The TL and ATL explained the recon map that they had created and the Cadre showed what could have been better done. We then reviewed the mission as a team and the Cadre gave us feedback. After this he asked for two more volunteers to be TL and ATL for the next mission. Once they stepped forward, the Cadre took them aside to tell them the mission and we had about 10 minutes on our own. We ate, pee’d and relaxed.
Mission 2: was better organized. One team leader was marine and the other was an experienced rucker. They announced that the mission was to ruck to the BoA stadium and recon it for a primary and secondary infiltration and extraction point into the stadium for a helicopter and for a van – 4 points. The TL then asked for 4 people to volunteer as group leaders and each group had a specific point to go and recon. We then set of for the stadium.
On the way, each group moved together to carry coupons and also plan for their specific mission. So when we arrived at the stadium we knew what to do. Once we arrived, Cadre told us that any team members found on the stadium property more than 15 minutes after time start would be dead. So the TL set a rendezvous point 3 blocks away at a park. We then set out in groups to recon our assignments. We did this quickly, grabbed our coupons and flag and headed to the park. Once there, the group leaders worked together to create the recon map, following the Cadre’s guidance from the last AAR. We had about 10 minutes to relax again. We again ate, peed and relaxed. Somehow, some guys got their hands on a pizza. I think someone we passed gave it to them. After the map was completed, the TL and ATL reviewed it with the Cadre and the team, again – our mistakes were pointed out and then both of the Cadre talked for a few minutes about real life recon. We completed another AAR and then two more TL volunteers were requested and stepped forward.
The Cadre also took some time to comment about Vigilance after this mission. They commented about our work to identify how to get into the stadium and that as a nation, we all need to be vigilant against the threats we now face on our own soil. This theme stayed with us for the rest of the night.
Mission 3 was to take the recon map and place it in a concealment device and then deliver it to our contact clandestinely. The TL and ATL were briefed on the procedure and how to make contact and also how to break contact if something went wrong. Before departing we were directed to ruck underneath a waterfall / fountain. With the heat and warmth of downtown Charlotte, it was refreshing. We also rucked back to the stadium for a group photo. We then rucked to the meeting point and the TL and ATL proceeded to the rendezvous point to make contact while the rest of is observed. Following this, we rucked a short distance to a park and had another AAR. Two more volunteers stepped forward for our final mission.
Mission 4 was to ruck back across town to another park to retrieve parts of a downed UAV. Two navigators were selected and we were given a time hack to reach the park. We set out and on the way, stopped at the NASCAR museum for another photo op and water break. We set up for the photo op with everyone on their sixes doing flutter kicks in cadence. After the photo, we resumed the ruck and the Cadre also picked up some concrete to add to our coupon collection. We then proceeded to the park, formed ranks and counted off. Cadre told us that we got there with 4 minutes to spare – except it was the wrong park. We then set up to find the right park which was 3 or 4 blocks further. This park was a baseball field lined by trees. Cadre told us to search the area for downed UAV parts – aka logs. The TL had the entire team searching and after 3 or 4 minutes, we heard him knock over the ammo can loudly and then about 30 secs later start yelling “bang-bang-bang.” We got down on our faces and he explained that since we didn’t leave anyone to watch the ammo, someone had come over knocked it over and destroyed it. We did some pushups. We then resumed our search and found the remnants of a dead, fallen tree which we pulled out of the woods. One large part was still up in the tree and the Cadre had us pull that out too. It was most of the trunk with three large branches attached.
After retrieving all of the UAV parts, we were asked to sit and Cadre Garrett talked about building rapport within a team. Then he began to ask team members if they knew the name of another team member that he selected. If they didn’t know the name, he made both of them get up and sprint across the field and back. After about 5 or more tries at this. He had us pair up with someone we didn’t know and sprint for 5 seconds and then crawl for 5 second together while learning as much as we could about each other. Once across the field, we sprinted back and sat down. The sun was starting to come up at this point and we talked more about vigilance.
Return and Endex
The TL was then directed to get the team back to Freedom Park with the logs and tree parts and the rest of the coupons. We began rucking toward Freedom Park, making good time along a path that followed a creek. After about 100 yards of travel on the path, Cadre told us that we had to ruck in the creek. So we all got in the creek and our pace slowed way down as we tried to make our way across loose rocks, slippery and sharp rocks with the coupons and logs. We also had to get underneath 3 or four bridges that had about an 18 inch clearance. I think we rucked through the creek for about a mile or more. We proceeded down the creek until we passed the Freedom Park entrance by about a tenth of a mile. The Cadre told us to exit the creek up a steep bank that had lots of trees and bushed. It took allot of teamwork to get the logs, tree, coupons and each other up the bank.
We were in Freedom Park but Cadre directed the TL to take us to the far south corner of the park, where we dropped the logs and tree. We then rucked back to our start point and Cadre had us form a tunnel of love up a hill.
This was endex – each person crawled through the tunnel of love and was met by both Cadre who awarded the Tough Patch. Some people could barely crawl through it…. It was about 0900. But frankly, I had no idea of the time for the entire event.
Waterproof your stuff. I had my cell phone and money in a plastic bag, in a Tupperware container. Evidently, I didn’t seal the bag and the Tupperware container leaked. So I now have a dead cell phone. My ruck was fully submerged a few times.
Get your head right: I think that I relaxed after the welcome party and stopped listening to instructions and details. I got self-focused and was feeling “personally accomplished” after getting through the welcome party. Then, I found myself making mistakes and getting the team punished. I also felt intimidated by the missions. I had a hard time understanding what they were about.
Train: I think the F3 workout schedule is pretty good and I recommend following Kaz and other’s advice about rucking miles and running. He is right about hip flexors. Mine have been feeling it throughout the training and are sore now. I also recommend getting used to PT with the ruck on. I think my push-up / merkin exercises really helped me. The PT was tough, but if you push yourself just a little bit on our workouts, you will be fine.
Also – focus on rucking in an up-right posture. As the night progressed, I found myself leaning over which is more stressful. And – get used to being uncomfortable: wet, dirty, etc.
Communicate: All teammates need to work together, so you must communicate. If someone had just grabbed me or stopped me from walking off, I wouldn’t have done it. We made several mistakes as a group that if we had just talked more, we would have avoided them. But, I could tell that there was allot of “individual-self focused” thinking at the beginning, including me. A GoRuck event is not about you. We must think as a team.
Navigation: Someone has to know the lay of the land and how to get to the destination points. Cadre don’t give you a map or cell phone. I don’t know Charlotte and was grateful to have teammates who were familiar.
It’s a war-time scenario – be on edge: Cadre will try to catch you unaware. “Be Vigilant” was the lesson that they tried to teach us. It is hard to stay on edge in a peaceful city in the US. So we have to keep reminding ourselves that we must be vigilant and work as a team to think through what could go wrong. And we have to do this quickly, because they won’t give you much time.
Support each other: Everyone has strengths and everyone will struggle. Cadre told us at the beginning that not everyone will be strong all the time, but everyone would be expected to contribute to the team. So we should expect mistakes or failures and support ourselves through the event. Things will go wrong, but we are a team and we should expect to suffer together and celebrate together.
Eat: Bring food that will replenish your body and eat and drink whenever you an. Cadre will not tell you when to eat or drink. I ate Clif Bars and Clif Gu. Later in the night one teammate shared nuts and dried cherries with me and they tasted great. You will not have allot of time so you need to eat small quantities quickly. On fluids – I drank water as often as possible.
Don’t carry more than you need: With my weights, water and gear, my ruck weighed over 40 lbs and by late in the event, my shoulders were killing me. For a summer event, I didn’t need much clothes and I had no time at any point to change clothes in this event. While during the Charleston event, I had time to change out of wet shirts and socks.
Learn to count off fast and effectively – time hack isn’t over until count: The inability for our team to count was really frustrating for all of us. It was an example of mental errors one came make when you are tired and things seemed to be happening quickly. Every time we messed up a count off, we were punished with PT. – Essentially – we have to work as a team.
This event was exactly what I was hoping for. We had a legendary and inspiring Cadre, just enough of a welcome party, lots of water, a great group of weirdos to ruck with and challenges that took all of us to get through. I was humbled and learned a great deal. I can’t wait for the next one!