Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Summit Project: My Letter to the Family of Joel A. House

As part of the GORUCK Heavy Boston we did two weeks ago, we had to carry a team weight of 50lbs throughout the event. We carried 50lb of stones from the Summit Project. Per their website:

"The Summit Project ... is a living memorial that pays tribute to the fallen service members from Maine who have died in the line of duty since September 11, 2001. 
The surviving families of our fallen Maine heroes have made this project viable.  Not only have they shared the stories of their loved ones’ character, integrity and service, they have also unearthed and donated a special memorial stone that uniquely represents their fallen family member. We’ve engraved those stones with their names. They will be carried on Hikes and mountain climbs.... We will carry their stones during the hike, but we will carry their stories for a lifetime —  making the Summit Project a living memorial."
Part of carrying the SP's stones is the requirement that you write a letter to the families of the Heroes stones which you carry after the event. While it wasn't the easiest thing to do, I'm glad that I did this as it made me reflect on what I just did and why I did it and really what that meant to me. I chose the Stone of Sgt. Joel A. House, Lee, ME.   

The House Family
Lee, ME 04455 

To The House Family, 
My name is Brett Biggs, you do not know me, nor should you know anything about me from any past interactions. Our paths, however, have now crossed under a common thread, your son Joel.
I recently took part in an event, The GORUCK Heavy in Boston on March 14th-15th. Our team had the Honor of carrying his memorial stone via the Summit Project amongst the other 50lbs of stones inscribed with more of Maine’s finest on them. Before the event, individual team members took ownership of a stone. Your son and I were paired by fait as I choose the first name on the list and it happened to be his. For reasons expressed herein, this is the last time you will read the use of the singular and not the plural to refer to our actions. 
To give you background on our event, it was a 24 hour endurance challenge. It is inspired by Special Forces training and taught by Special Forces individuals, in our case two seasoned Green Berets. While for it’s participants it is a physical and mental challenge, the main theme of this event is to be the “Ultimate Team Event” and to “Build Better Americans”. This is done through enduring physical and mental challenges that push your team past it’s comfortability zone and up against and sometimes through it’s collective mental and physical limits. You are forced to look beyond yourself and rely on your team to get through it.  It is only at this point that you are able to do more as one team then you can accomplish as a group of individuals. Not everyone makes it through. In fact we lost 9 team members out of 33 throughout the event. 
While this event is a military inspired challenge, as it is based off of the training experiences of active special forces members, no team member, many of which are ex-military, would claim this to be an experience equivalent to what our servicemen, go through on a daily basis. However, for the non-military team members, this event has an added aspect which we can only hope more Americans would experience. It offers a glance into the window over a relatively short period of time of what our servicemen go through physically and mentally. It is 24+ hours of getting uncomfortable, tired, dirty, cold and mentally beat down. All the things most Americans try to void their lives of. The major difference is we paid to do this in a safe environment and get to go home afterwards. This small taste of the world that your son volunteered himself to, gives a much deeper respect for their sacrifices for our freedoms. To even get a glimpse, no matter how small and toned down, is an eye opening experience.
The inspiration of the stones from the Summit Project brought so much more to that particular aspect of our experience. Just as your son did not know any of us, we did not know him. He volunteered to carry the burden of Freedom on his back for us and our families, no questions asked. The very least we could do is to carry his memory on our backs using his sacrifice as a inspiration for the short time that we did to accomplish something that was greater then anyone of us could have done alone. 
We want you to know that together in the good company of the other stones, your son’s life touched 33 people in many ways in that 24 hours. In whichever way that was, even for those that dropped out, there were better Americans built that day. Something was taught and learned by the weight which we carried together. When people learn to get outside themselves and do right by others, it is quite a feeling that is tough to describe. It is more then charity, it is becoming a stakeholder in the betterment others even if it is at your own expense. This becomes contagious and spreads. By your son’s example, his legacy will live on because of this. The Summit Project will continue to inspire others to do and be better in the name of the fallen in the things they do on a daily basis. 
GORUCKs products have a lifetime warranty on them. Any ruck sack no matter how good, if it is used as intended, it will sometimes get ripped or torn. Rather then throwing it out, when this happens we send our rucks to GORUCK’s SCARS program. It gets repaired and it returned usable as new but with stitches and patches where the damage occurred.  This is something that it to a certain extent desired to have on your ruck. It shows that you went through some serious stuff to get them. It makes the ruck better. 
We are all inundated on a daily basis with news of individuals killing, stealing etc. It’s easy to focus on these tears and rips in our society rather then what still good about it. If we don’t look around to see what is still good amongst all these wounds in society, we forget that the fabric of good can be restitched/patched into something even better. The sewers that do this are people like your son. When you see those few and far between benevolent acts where people think outside themselves and act for others, know that your son Joel along with his many “teammates” has had part in that. May we all focus more on people like Joel and less on the darker side of society. That is why it was such and honor for us to carry his memory with us.  

On behalf of GORUCK Heavy Class 028,

Brett R. Biggs 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Back at It

Now that the Goruck heavy is complete and recovery is over. I'm back to my in-season workouts. Get to do less "pack mule" training. Which is a relief. Rugby playoffs are still ahead. Gotta get he stamina up so I can play 80mins if needed. Workout one:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

GORUCK St. Paddy's Day Heavy Boston 3/14/14 AAR (After Action Report)

An AAR is a term the GORUCK Community borrowed form the Military as a recap of their experiences throughout the event. Here is mine of the GORUCK Heavy (GRH) Boston that I went through last weekend. The GRH is a 24+ hour Special Forces inspired team building endurance challenge, led by Special Forces individuals. In our case it was Cadre Dan and Cadre Logan, two well seasoned Green Berets.
Cadre Dan
 Cadre Logan 

I spent the day Friday resting and prepping my gear. Left my hotel at 4PM, Rucksack filled with 43lbs of bricks water and other equipment and hopped on the "T" Redline (subway) to the end of the line which was Alewife station in Cambridge, MA.  Got off the train and made my way over to the start point a little after 5PM with time to spare. It was about 35 degrees pretty chilly wind, about 15-20 mph.  As I walked up to what appeared to be a few other weirdos with rucksacks. Immediately a very enthusiastic 18 year old, 120lb string bean of a kid runs up to me and Says, "Hi!, My Name is Torin!" a bit confused I replied in the same manner. "Are you with the GORUCK Event?" he asked I said that I was. As we walked over to another person there we began to talk and Torin revealed that this was his first GORUCK Event. Flabbergasted the two of us were thinking that this kid is in some deep Sh*t. To go straight to a Heavy looking like you couldn't lift your own arms is not your normal path to completing a Heavy. As more of the team flowed in, 33 in all, there was more of the same. No one thought this poor kid would last the first hour. Boy did he prove us wrong.

6 PM rolled around, we were starting to get a bit cold just standing in the wind for an hour and were ready to get going. We were formed up in two ranks for roll call. After roll call, per GRH SOP 2.0 (Standard Operating Procedure) The event is to start with a PT Test. This is meant to show the Cadre what they are dealing with as well as weed out people who have no business being there. i.e. if you can't do 10 push ups you probably can't carry a 40+ lb ruck sack for 24hrs let alone a bunch of other crap. The test includes the Army PT Test items of 2mins of push ups, 2 mins of sit ups. Then it is followed by what is described as a 12mi Ruck March in under 3.5 hours. That's about 3.75mph.

We took turns doing our PT Situps and Push ups. It felt good to start moving and get warm. Then it was time for the 12mi Ruck March. Having read other AARs from the other 2, Heavy 2.0 events, this hadn't seemed to be a simple "go out and Ruck 12mis in under 3.5 hours".   Ours was no different. It was fast and was more like 15mis. Being that we weren't in a closed environment i.e. Fort Bragg heavy a few weeks ago, we couldn't just be set out and asked to return. So, this would be a team effort. Cadre Logan would set the pace and we'd ruck in two ranks with our American Flag and Jolly Rodger flag that Logan brought, plus our 50lb Team Weight.

A small aside, the team weight is carried in each GORUCK Event. It is different and should have some kind of meaning. Ours was a GR 50lb Sand Bag filled with stones there were inscribed with the names of soldiers that had given everything in the name of freedom. They were from the Summit Project. For more info check out the Summit project's website.

Ruck March- 15.25mi (All distances are estimates)

We started off in the dark toward what would be the Minuteman Trail (aka Paul Revere's route) with some small departures. It was for the most part a two lane bike trail with snow on both sides. An added bonus was the black ice that would pop up now and again. Cadre Logan was moving at a fast clip. Later we learned that he was at a 15min/mi pace with some spurts even quicker. We were moving just shy of running. This was the only time during the event we (or at least I) was actually warm. We rucked all the way up to Lexington Green, the site of the first shots of the Revolutionary War. It was at this point we were stopped and made to form up.

We were given our first speech on being a Team and patriotism and then were then made to turn around to see a fellow teammate finally catching up to the group. I thought this would be Torin, (now dubbed "Warbaby" by the group) but I looked off to my side and there he was smiling away. Needless to say, the lack of team mentality did not make the Cadre happy. We were made to do PT in the Common on the mostly snow covered ground. After the learning lesson it was time to return. On the way back with team on our mind we did our best to keep up with Cadre Logan and fell behind several times. We were forced to catch up doing lunges and bear crawls.

Then came the first casualty. The individual who was struggling on the way up was also struggling and holding up the group. He was gassed. He was asked by the Cadre if he wanted to continue. His decision was not to. 1 down, 32 Standing. Again Warbaby was there with a big shit eatin' grin.

The Team continued on, eventually stopping to have our rucks weighed with what Cadre Dan called, "Kazakhstan's finest Chinese hanging hand scale." The standard for the event was 35lb dry, (no water bladder). We all made it albeit close in some cases. I think one ruck was 35.1lbs.

We continued on, there were more stragglers but they were able to fight through. All made it back to the start point. Roll call was taken. It was at this point we realized 4 more had absconded to the shadows and decided to not continue. 5 Down, 28 standing.

The Coupons:
The team was then introduced our coupons. Coupons are things you need to carry throughout the rest of event. They are normally heavy and awkward. In our case the Cadre decide to give us 14 filled 5 gal water cans (42lb each), A Bag for the fallen which was a 35 lb GR0 Ruck, Another equipment bag with more empty sand bags, body slings and other crap at about 25lbs and our food bag. Yes, we were releaved of our food at this point and it was put in one bag which we had to carry (45lbs). With Rucks were looking at about 1,500lbs of crap.

The First Movement: Bunker Hill - 4.85mi

Now a bit sweaty and getting a bit cold standing in the ever-present wind, the 28 remaining set off with our coupons to Bunkerhill. I think we had 2 hours. The trip went about as expected. Kinda slow while we got used to the new coupons we were learning to carry efficiently. After one final push up Bunkerhill to the memorial at the top, we were called to the base of the monument. At this point we were informed that we had not made it in time and the demons got to two more of our teammates. They had notified Cadre they were not continuing. 7 down, 26 Standing. Again Warbaby (Torin) there smiling away....

While we were not made to reenact the Battle, we were made to proceed up and down the very wet grassy hill for a 30+ min Sh*t kicking. Low crawls, bear crawls, poleless stretcher carries. We were formed up and given our next movement.

Movement 3 - South to the Harbor 4mi

This was slow, I don't know why but it just kept going. A long slow, cold trudge, coupons crushing us in our moist clothes, still being blown by the wind in the 35 degree temps. As the light from the sun just started to come over the horizon, the Team was brought onto the beach, Rucks were dropped at the top. The Cadre told the team leaders to take the empty 80lb sand bags from the kit bag we had and to go fill them. While they worked on what surely would be another coupon we went half way down in two ranks. We performed sand PT including Push-ups, Flutters kicks running in place and rolls to the left and right as Cadre demanded. I don't remember the exact timing but Cadre Dan gave a talk on DFQ ( don't f*cking Quit) a GORUCK mantra widely used. He told us that we needed to live that not just say it. To own that statement. Again repeating the PT activities we marched one step at a time toward the water.
Before entering we had two more quit. The site of the water got them. 9 down, 24 Standing. Warbaby was again not one of them. We were put in up to our thighs in the 38 degree water several times having to do squats up to our waste and push ups at the water shore break. Back out in the sand and back in the drink for an extended period. Thoroughly cold and wet we were given 10 mins to eat until given out next movement. 

Movement 4: Boston Common 3mi

Now 35degrees and lightly raining, the team started to click. Although now even colder, wetter and with new 80lb coupons, we moved well. Finally comfortable moving the weight. We hauled and made the Time hack to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on top of a small hill at the back of the park.

We were formed up at the base and given a talk for a moment, the subject matter I cannot remember. It was then that The the GORUCK Challenge group that was going on at the same time showed up carrying a full keg of beer as their team weight.  We were made to compete against them in a series of  very muddy hill exercises including low crawls, crab walks, burpees and some other fun muddy things.  We kicked there ass on each one. :) After the PT session we heard a loud cheer from the Challenge group and saw the Endex (finish) of the Challenge. I don't know if this was inspirational or not. It kinda seemed indifferent. Onto the next.

Movement 5: Charles River Run 5.5mi

The Team was to move up the Charles River to a park of which I'm not sure of the name. As we left the park the sun finally came out and gave us a little warmth FINALLY. We headed up a bike path along the still frozen River. There was an icy wind coming off the river but the sun compensated for this. Then it got real.

Cadre Logan found a small 20 ft wide inlet off the river in-between an out cropping of land and just under a bridge. It was one of the only areas that wasn't frozen over. He was not beating around the bush with this. We were told that we would link arms proceed into the water with rucks on to thigh deep, sit down in the 34 degree water and lean back to submerge out heads completely. Without hesitation the group preformed the task that was set for them. It was shocking. Your breadth was gone and I know at least in my perspective, I was just short of panicking.  We had to get one of our teammates "Back in order" afterwards but were able to do so and all continued. We continued on and over a bridge to the other side of the river. This was by far the coldest part. The icy wind off the frozen river buffeted our freezing cold wet clothing. Upon reaching the other side we probably made a mistake and stopped near the river. Again the constant wind crushed us as we stood. 3 people were overcome with hypothermia at this point. You saw the light switch shut off. One couldn't figure out how to use his hands to open a bag. Another was shaking like I have never seen. This was unfortunately Warbaby. First time I didn't see him smile the whole time. The team stepped in. We got dry layers on them, huddled and deployed Mylar blankets as under layers. After about 20mins or so everyone was back in moving order and off we went along the river.

At one point before we got to the objective there was a park with pull up bars. Cadre Logan made a deal that if we could collectively do 58 ruck-on pull ups we could dump our 14 water cans. Wouldn't you know I think we got 59.

Now under lighter weight we made the way to the objective and were given 10 mins to eat.

Movement 6: Back Home to the Start point 1.5mi

The team began to move back to the start point. The "end" had to be within reach now. Soon after departure we realize something was not right. As we rounded a curve we noticed that there were a few members missing. The team moved back to find the Cadre with three of our teammates. He told us they were now casualties. That meant time to buddy carry. Now everyone was loaded up with something as the 6-7 people capable of buddy carries took turns. Every so often we'd screw up somehow and pick up another casualty. We ended up with 6 in all. This was a long slow few mis. We had to stop every 100-150ft or so to give the buddy carriers a break. This probable took 2.5 hours. We made it to the park, go in to find Logan on a bench. He tells us to move the coupon to the Softball field across from where he was.

As soon as we set foot throughout the left field fence we could tell this was a quagmire. Probably snow covered until a few days ago this was ankle deep mud. The Cadre broke up the team into 2 and put us through 5 relay races in the muck with penalties for the losers.
After about and hour we lunged our way out to the bench Cadre Logan had been sitting on just outside the field. This was at the base of a small grass reed covered hill. We made "sniper trials" low crawling through the reeds to the top. At the top was small asphalt circle with some sitting stones around it at the precipice of a much longer hill (about 100 yards) that bottomed out to a swap.

We stopped for a bit to go over our team weight and the names and profile of the Soldier that were inscribed on the rocks in the sandbag we'd carried for what was about 22 hours. This was an emotional part of the event. 

Post review of the team weight Cadre Dan and Logan regaled us with stories of Green Beret School and the dreaded "Hill" that was used anytime there was an F'up. Up and down they'd go, and thus so should we. Under the threat of begin put into the swamp we went down, we went up, We crawled down we crawled up. We were made to one step towards the swamp right to the edge several times. 

Up, Down, Up, Down. Stretcher sling carries, 80lb sand bag crawls. It was a while on that hill. On the final Crawl the Cadre grabbed the 80lb sand bags and dumped it's contents on us. We didn't have to carry them any more. 

Movement 7: Final Ruck

The Cadre had us move the Coupons back to the start point , clean them up and place them into the vehicles they brought. We formed up exactly where we had started. As the sun started to become pretty low in the sky but without twilight yet setting in, Cadre Logan then began to read the Ruck March Standard that he had read prior during the original PT Test. This time it was 8 mis. We'd walk at staggered intervals at a slower pace and not talk. A crushing revelation to some, just another 8mi to others. I don't think anyone would have let any other member quit right then. We were set off  into the park on the trail led around the "Hill" and back to the start point over about .5mis. 

Upon reaching the Start point we were given a speech that I will leave the contents to those that finish " Heavy". It's very hard to describe that feeling and the words mean so much more. Our patches were given with a hand shake and ACRT (Advanced Cellular Recovery Technology) aka Beer and bourbon, were broken out. Amongst those still standing, Warbaby. That little son'bitch to say the least surprised us all. It was an honor to go through this with him and every other member of the team. It is something that I will never forget. 24 Hours, 37mis(per the Cadre) and a crap ton of weight. Good Livin' for sure.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Go Time

2:30 hours till kickoff. GORUCK Heavy Boston is hear. Adrenaline is flowing. I'm fueled up. There's not much more I could have done and I feel like I'm ready.  Just 24+ hours and 40+ mis with all kinds of good livin thrown in there. See you on the other side of this. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Dreaded Taper.....Grrr

Well after a week of crushing some workouts that included a 20mi ruck with 50lbs, Crossfit open 14.1, 5k Row of time, Overhead squat one rep max for a new PR (235 :) ), over a 100 GHD sit-ups and extensions, some additional Metcon work a TON of mobility work and a 12mi ruck with 65lbs for time, I have to shut it off. I have 5 days until the Event, and thus begins the dreaded "Taper". I hate tapering. I HATE it. I feel like a sedantary peice crap by the end of the week. The thing is, it freakin' works. Like a lot. In fact I think one of the biggest mistakes that people make, who are avid fitness folk, is their rest time. Your body needs time to repair. Working out day after day after day never gives your body time to fully recover. Every once in a while a full week of nothing make a huge difference. I've done it for other events like a half marathon, but I've also felt the difference in strength items like squat. After a long stint of working hard. That week of mobility work and nursing your body without physical distress is a hug game changer. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


Tomorrow is one week till I'm shipping up to Boston (insert Dropkick Murphy Music), my training is at full bore until Sunday when I taper to the event. In the last week with my ramped up training people have been asking me what the hell I'm doing walking around with bricks in the cold, then it gets into what GORUCK is and after doing my best to try they ask, "Why would anyone want to do that?" I'll briefly try to explain and not get into trying to sell anyone on the experience. GORUCK is is a Tactical gear company started by a former special forces individual who used certain well known "mud" endurance races to test his flagship product the GR1 Rucksack. You can learn a lot more by going to The company has really become a people company and its premise is to "Build Better Americans". If you get involved with the GORUCK community of people who have completed some of their challenges you'll find that the effect is pretty amazing, but I digress. The event itself is not a race. It is a Team building challenge. You learn very quickly that the event is not about you. It's about your team. That's what makes it different. The Cadre, just like any sadistic trainer, knows how to put you through the physical wringer. The difference is, from their personal experience and training, they also know how to add a very healthy dose of mental stress to that physical scenario, dubbed "Good Livin'", forcing you to go in of two directions. One, let the the stress break you as an individual and you quit, or two, work with your team to overcome it. The degree of that stress depends on the event. The Light (99% Pass rate) is a fun but still physically demanding toe in the water 6-7 hours of "Good Livin'", the signature event , the "Challenge" (94% Pass rate) is a 12+ hour 15-20mi event with more weight and more mental stress, the Heavy (50% Pass rate),which is a very SERIOUS Dose of Good Livin'. 24+ Hours, 40+ Mis. Then there is Selection. Probably as close as you can get to actually Special Forces Training, 3 days of utter hell, of which only a few have passed. So there is is in a nut shell, now why do it? The reasons are many and tough to explain, here are the obvious in my mind. It sounds like an awful thing to go through, but I quote Cadre Mike, "Be Yourself and be open to the idea that you are about to have the best and hardest night of you life." 1.) Like any other physical endeavor, half marathon, marathon, tough mudder, etc, It is very rewarding to complete the physical challenge. 2.) You will be pushed in ways that test your limits mentally and show you what you can accomplish. It really teaches you a lot about yourself. 3.) The Team component is unmatchable. It really makes you forget about yourself and work for others. To Quote Cadre Tom, "The worst thing you will face tonight is not the weight of your ruck, the log, the water, or the cold. The worst thing you will face tonight is yourself. If you can focus on your teammates, and not yourself, you will be able to complete the challenge.” this could not be more true. When you feel your team starting to click it's pretty amazing. 4.) To Quote Cadre Bert, " Thank you for your enthusiasm in trying to learn what we do." This is after all Special forces inspired training taught by Special Forces individuals. These events give a small taste of what these amazing individuals do day in and day out. If nothing else this will give you the utmost respect for these awesome weirdos who do this voluntarily for months and years under the threat of death, not a day at a time in a familiar city and then go home. So Thats,"Why do this?" You can learn a lot about yourself and the cadre, and gain some new perspective on how to accomplish many things in pretty crappy situations. That being said: GORUCK Heavy is definitely on my mind. Especially so after Last Saturday in which two things happened. One The GORUCH Heavy took place at Ft. Bragg. and two I went on my last long training ruck, 20mis with 50lbs. I read the After Action Report from Bragg. They crushed them. Super loads, mental f*cks and freezing temps for 30 hours. That's to be expected and what was signed up for. I've spent the last 10 weeks getting ready physically. Mentally I'm surrounding myself with things I'll need to get through. I'm as ready as I can be. Just have to Remember, DFQ ( Don't F*in Quit), It's not about me it about them, and Remember those who have gone through way more suck for me without ever knowing me and in many a case paid the ultimate price. There is the inspiration....