Sunday, November 10, 2013

GORUCK Challenge NYC Class 847: Debrief

I just got up from sleeping 6 hours post challenge. I'm sitting in my hotel room reflecting on what transpired over the past 24 hours. In general that was probably the hardrest physical/mental endeavor I have undertaken. Was it anything that makes me special? No. In fact there were 6-8 other identical events going on today around the country to match the 1000 that have gone on in the past. But as I figured out last night, it's not about me. It did give me a huge respect for those who hold the GORUCK Tough patch, which is earned through completion of the GORUCK Challenge. But enough about me.

The GR Challenge is not for the feint of heart. It is a crushing 12 hours of Good Livin' as the Go Ruck community likes to put it. The difference from other events like this is that you can't escape the "we" factor, which is taught through the process. The team is everything. It's not about how strong or fit you are. It's about how you make your team stronger. This is the point of the challenge. It's not who finishes first, but how you finish together. This concept is what helps get you through the horrible amount of suck that your "Cadre" is about to put you though. It is 12 hours of building a team of strangers. Go Ruck is based on special forces training, it rewards teamwork, it punishes individualism. 
Your Cadre is a special forces, combat hardened individual who's purpose is to make your next 12 hours of the unknown, successful yet sadistically hellish. This is done by making you become a singular entity, taking out the "me" and putting in the "we". It was amazing how that developed last night. In our case it was Cadre Bobby, an active duty Green Beret weapons systems implementation specialist. He let us know he was excited about his next deployment in Eastern Africa where he will be, "floating on a ship harpooning pirates. What could be better."
So as with all GORUCK Challenges, there is no known or setup course, there is no welcome tent with swag, you get an email telling you where to meet and at what time you show up. In our case it was 26 Wall Street in front of the New York stock exchange at 1am. Yes AM
Requirements are that you have a ruck, filled with six bricks, a 3 liter hydration bladder (camelback or similar) a head lamp and a windbreaker. Food and other is up to you.
Each team is to have a flag and a team weight that weighs 25lbs. In our case it was on awesome chain-filled 343 fire helmet built by one of the team members, an NYC firefighter. 
At 1am on a clear but windy, 36 degree night in lower Manhattan, seemingly out of nowhere Cadre Bobby appears. He has us form up in threes as he addressed us in the form of what he called, "happy fun cadre time" which he said was soon to end. 
He gives us the rules and what is expected of us "Candidates". You can see that here

 Then comes the "welcome party". A solid PT session of finding out what happens when you don't move with expedience or you act as in individual. Overhead ruck squats, push ups, flutter kicks, bear crawls etc. Let the pain begin. witness what happens when you make Cadre unhappy Here.
Then come the missions. A team leader and assistant leader are chosen and briefed by Cadre while the rest of team normally does something like having to hold themselves up with one hand and one foot on the ground or something to that effect. 
The team leaders come up with a plan for the mission and briefs the team as to the requirements and time constraints of making your "hack" aka achieving your goal in stated time and how well do it. This is how the rest of the challenge would go. 

Mission 1: Get from Wall Street to the Brooklyn Bridge.

For the entire challenge we had to stay together as one unit.  No running ahead, no gaps in formation. Otherwise we would be punished. I don't remember how long we had but we didn't get there in time. Cadre put the hurt on us for not achieving the goal. We get our second speech about working as a team and how that the person beside you is as important if not more then yourself. 

Mission 2: Cross the Brooklyn Bridge to the park just southwest of the Manhatten Bridge down by the East River. The kicker, it will be a "purse" carry. Ruck straps were not allow to be put on your shoulders they had to be carried around your arm. Remember these are 40+ lbs. This was a bicep workout to say the least and extremely uncomfortable. We didn't know that this was in fact only a walk to the park in comparison to what we were in for. We make it to the park in time and are told to form up...

Mission 3: Water Games

 2:30am, just an hour and a half in. Cadre tells us to place our packs on the ground in front of is, neatly. He selects the team leaders and briefs them. The team leaders brief us. We are to get our headlamps on and proceed to the bank of the east river. 
We then, as a team, arm in arm, are made to lunge out into the 56 degree water. This was horrible. Beside the fact that this was the east river, smelly, salty, discussing, The cold water literally took your breadth away. It was like little else I have felt and then it got worse. I truly don't remember a lot of what went on in the water, it was so bad I think I blocked it out. I know we stood there a while, we're told to submerge ourselves and we did some push ups. I remember that we didn't do something together and that put us under the water multiple times. It was 10-15 minutes of hell. 
We were told to come out of the water as a team. We formed two soaking wet lines facing each other on the park green and Cadre briefed the team leaders on the next task. Sing the national anthem, moving down the line, alternating each person singing one word then the next person two words. We were shivering cold, miserable, borderline hypothermic. It just hurt to be standing. Needless to say this task didn't go well. It went so badly in fact that Cadre sent two team members, dubbed "guppies" to the water for our f'ups. Each time we messed up they got wet. Our action caused them pain. Cadre notice we were "cocooning". ( so cold we couldn't function) Out of whatever little compassion he had at that point he made his corrections and instructions to the team leaders. They eventually got us to complete the task to satisfaction in what was a terribly weak display of patriotism. We sent the guppies into the water about 10-12 times. It was tourture to watch everytime we were forced to turn and watch them go in the drink on our account.


Upon completion we were given a break to get warm. This was almost a joke. There was absolutley no way to get warm. Your clothing, gloves, hat, shoes were soaked. It was 36 degrees and windy. Everything was almost freezing. Ring ring out your hat and pour water out of your shoes, that was about it. Once the break was over we rucked up and set off, shaking from cold, for a park just to the west. 

Mission 4: Buddying Up
We make it to a large open green about a 1/4 mi away at about 3:30. Here we are told to find a buddy who'd be your buddy for the rest of the challenge. You were responsible for them. This was the true beginning of learning to work for someone else. Still soaking wet and freezing, shaking, we were put through a pretty heavy 45+ min PT session. This helped to stayoff hypothermia but not by much. The grass was wet and cold adding to the misery.  Buddy carries, buddie drags, bear crawls, wheel barrows. 

We then rucked to another green further to the west and did a ton of lunges including chants of go(on down) ruck(on up), 8(on down), 47(on up) and the class favorite, Shimmy shimmy(on down), yeeeeeea (on up).

Cadre could tell we were frozen; shaking, wet, miserable. Quite honestly the lowest point of night. He decided to introduce us to what at that time could have been the most awesome thing ever thought of. The "Manferno". The team huddled together as closely as possible sharing, albeit very moist, some very welcomed body heat and creating a pseudo man oven. We swapped the inside and outside people several times and were allowed to warm up for a few minutes. Then it's was off to the West again where we would meet a new friend. 
"31 Person Manferno"

Mission 5: Log Carry to Chinatown

We're were led to the waterside where cadre briefed new team leaders. They then had 6 of us pick up a large squarish shaped log that used beam for something as there was still hard wear in the wood. 
Our mission was to make our way to the Manhatten Bridge, cross it and make it to the outskirts of Chinatown. The team leaders directed us. Swaps of the log carriers were made on a voluntary basis as need on the heavy beast. As people got tired on the log volunteers stepped in. Cadre "procured" four 40 lbs sandbags that were holding down a fence. These got added to the carry. So now we were up to a log and four sand bags. Over and up to the bridge, Up the span and down.

We made it with the wind buffeting our wet and cold clothing to the Manhatten side and were given a 10 minute break to refuel with food, drink etc. It was about 5:30, a glimmer then began to peak out from the east. The sun was coming up. A sight that was very very welcome.

Mission 6: Empire State
Our next task was to move the log and sand bags with two "casualties" 40+ blocks to the Empire State Building. Setting us up for failure he gave us 35 minutes. There was no way. but even so we worked as if we could. 
The new team leaders employed the same strategies as the past where 6 carried the log, 4 carried sand bags and 2 carried casualties. They were replaced with a volunteer as they were called for. This resulted in a few things going wrong. People were getting tired quicker on te log after having carried it for a while already. There were some that weren't as willing to volunteer to replace and it was rather random when people were being swapped which made for many stops. We were moving very slow. We got to the Empire State Building about an hour late and didn't meet our hack. Cadre proceeded to "kick our shit in" for the horrible display of teamwork. With the sun fully up and beginning to warm us from our frozen state, we did an avenue length block's worth (1/4 mile) of bear crawls, lunges, overhead ruck squat holds. Cadre made it very clear we need to stop thinking as individuals or this will go on all day. 

Mission 7: Central Park 

Get the log, sandbags and casualties to Central Park 35 blocks away.
This time our tactics became more systematic. Replacements on the log, sand bags and casualties were made, not volunteered, more and more people stepped up their game to help the team. It was more of a moving conveyor of effort. All team members involved = a lot less stopping. We got the beast to Central Park in time. We were rewarded with about 20 mins of rest so we could eat and drink water. 

Mission 8: To the Westside 

Get the log/sandbags to Hudson River park. Now we were starting to click. The team leaders formed an assembly line of people. You moved through the weights, switches were made often. Each switch, a team member and his buddy moved one spot. So you moved up through line to the sandbags, through the six people on the log and back to the back of the line. We moved MUCH better and with purpose. But alas we did not hit our very aggressive time hack. 

Mission 9: Freedom Tower

At the park, cadre pulled the team leaders over and they were given a choice. Get "your shit kicked in" here or add two casualties to the next mission. The choice was to add two casualties. New team leaders were chosen and briefed. They inform the team that the next mission is to move the log, sand bags and two casualties to the Freedom Tower 3.5 miles away down the West Side Highway. Rules were that casualties could not be the same person for more then 1min 30. So we couldn't just pick the lightest people. We had 1:30 hrs to complete. 
The system of the last mission was used but modified to fit the new criteria. For the next 85 mins the team became one. 85 switches, almost flawless in all respects. There were maybe three brief stops. It all worked. Team leaders, teammates stepped in where needed, not just when it was their turn. People worked for the team. After a small turn in the walkway to the east and with about half way to go, we were able to see the objective: The Freedom Tower. Could there be a better target? This was much needed as the team was getting noticeably fatigued. It really added a sense of urgency and purpose. The tower kept getting bigger as we approached adding to the necessity to just keep moving. We trudged through and ended with time to spare at the base of the Freedom Tower. As not to be greedy, we deposited the log in a walkway tunnel near the tower and piled the sand bags leaving them so that someone else could enjoy them as we did.

Cadre forms us up with many a tourist now taking pictures and asking questions about what we're doing. He addresses us with words of praise and encouragement on what we just accomplished. Thinking back to that hellish freezing water and the hours after, it really didnt matter at that point, we were done. Mission complete, team built. Cadre passed out our GORUCK Tough patches shaking each person's hand. What is a stupid peice of fabic to most will always carry much more of a meaning to the holder of it and those they earned it with. 
We had one more celebratory "Manferno",
a quick picture,
and then off to have some ACRTs (Advanced Cellular Repair Technology, or Beer)

That was some Good Frozen Livin'! 

The numbers: 11 hours, 15.25 mis, 12.75 mis carrying the log and sand bags. 

Great job Class 847!


  1. Great write up man, brought me back to evey point of the nught, well done

  2. Great memories of a great night!