Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On Being Challenged

As with the GORUCK Light patch shown in a previous post, you cannot buy this patch. Its issuer will never sell it, and I would be shocked--shocked--if anyone who has earned this patch would sell it. I earned one over the weekend, and it was much harder than I had expected, and something I could not have done on my own. From the sons' (especially the younger one) inviting me to try the GORUCK Challenge with them to their (and others') willingness to carry my pack when I was struggling, put a hand on my back to help me run a bit faster up a hill, and just verbally encourage the oldest member of their team, my success was not my own but part of a true team effort.

The Challenge I did was actually short by GORUCK Challenge standards. The Challenge is billed as 8 to 10 hours, 15 to 20 miles, but under the GORUCK philosophy of "under promise, over deliver," most are longer both time- and distance-wise. Ours lasted only 9.5 hours, but those hours started at 1:00 a.m. Using the MapMyRun map editor, I estimate that we covered somewhere around 8 miles. That said, those 8 miles only included our point-to-point travel, not any running, crawling, or other means of locomotion that we did at those points. And the point-to-point travel in most cases required carrying team members, somewhat large rocks, or what would be more appropriately described as a tree than as a branch.

I could not have succeeded at the Challenge without having done the GORUCK Light that I did in March. At the end of that event, Cadre (leader) Devin, said he thought that everyone who had been with him at the Light could finish a Challenge. I repeated that thought to myself often during the Challenge, especially at the outset when it became clear how the different cadre would make the two events even more different than the "Light" and "regular" nature might imply. After the Light, the sons and I estimated that it was about 10 percent physical training (PT), 10 percent carrying stuff (and people), and 80 percent rucking or traveling by foot from point to point carrying our weighted rucksacks. Our Challenge was closer to a third each of those things, and the PT we did was more varied and intense than it had been in the Light.

It became very apparent at the outset how much the tone of an event is due to the individual cadre running it. The Challenge's Cadre Matt was much more intense and loud-spoken than the Light's Cadre Devin was. That made everything we did seem a bit more pressured. When we didn't keep up the pace to Cadre Deivin's satisfaction, he added sandbags for us to carry, and those who were not filling those sandbags did push-ups until the bags were ready to be carried. He didn't yell at us; he simply noted we needed more encouragement. When we didn't keep up the pace to Cadre Matt's satisfaction, which was more often, we did PT typically involving removing our rucksacks from our backs and resting them on our heads (or as close as we could get them to atop our heads) as we did squat after squat after squat, and got yelled at in the process. In the Light, the casualties we had to carry became casualties for a reason. When we let too large a gap form in the middle of our group, that gap caused two members to be wounded or killed, so two team members had to be carried. In the Challenge, we just always had to be carrying a certain number of casualties, but for no apparent reason.

I actually started to write  a detailed summary of what we did and where we did it, but I just deleted that in favor of the highlights version. If you really want to know, ask me and I can tell you. Besides the PT already mentioned, we box-jumped (taking off on both feet and landing on both feet) up steps low and high, low-crawled (infantry style, on our bellies), bear-crawled, crab-walked, lunged, and rolled on the ground. We did push-ups and flutter kicks. We carried our rucksacks on our backs, on our fronts, and without using any straps, like babies. We did PT on the grass, in a river, in sand that was closer to powdered gravel than beach or sandbox sand, and on pavement. More than once I thought I was either going to have to quit or going to die. More than once, I wasn't sure whether the liquid running down my face was sweat, tears, or a combination of the two.

At the same time, more than once another team member or one of the shadows (people following and watching but not actually participating) told me what an inspiration I was. I may have been in last place had we been doing this as a race, but I never quit. I pushed as hard as I could, and I tried as much as I could to encourage my teammates. When someone took my pack so that I could move faster or better, I moved faster or better. When I got angry, I didn't show it but tried to channel the anger into whatever action was needed. (Readers who know me well may be surprised at that statement.) Somewhere between first grade and now, I may actually have learned how to work and play well with others, though as the title of this blog suggests, I do still run with scissors.

There is, of course, a downside to having successfully finished the Challenge. I can no longer say that I'm not capable of doing something because I have demonstrated to myself how much more I am capable of than I thought. When (note that I did not say "if") I get discouraged in karate, well, if I can do a Challenge, I can do karate, right? If someone offers to help me, I should be able to recognize that their offer is not because they think I can't do it but because they want to be helpful and perhaps make it easier to get the job done. Some of those things will be easier to do than others, but I should no longer be making excuses.

Will I do another GORUCK Something? I'm already signed up for the Light here in Charlottesville on June 22; I've even convinced a karate-mate to register to do it and hope to recruit some other bodies as well.  The sons invited me to do the July 12 Challenge here in Charlottesville with them. It seems that younger son worries his finishing the one we just did might have been a fluke. When he said that, I knew that they needed to do a Challenge without having to look out for the Mombat. I told them that I would shadow it and practice my night photography, but they could have the pleasure of not worrying about me. Finally, thanks (or not) to younger son, I have registered to do something called the Nasty in September. This one, I will admit, has me worried. I didn't take the time to watch the video on just what some of the obstacles are before I registered. If I had done so, I probably would not have wanted to register. But hey, I'm GORUCK Tough, so I should be up for this, right? As I said, there is that downside.

Finally, something of a punchline to everything else we did that day. I mentioned that we carried something resembling a huge branch or a medium-sized tree. We left that underneath a local bridge, after which we all filed into the river for a PT session. There was a seemingly homeless man who apparently had slept on a blanket beneath the bridge. He got up and watched as we ditched the log and got into the water. He may have been surprised by us but probably not as surprised as some of us were when he pulled out a camera phone and started taking photos of us.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Be Careful What You Want

The sons first heard about the GORUCK Challenge over a year ago, when the older one asked for a GORUCK bag for Christmas. It sounded intriguing but not something I'd be interested in. A while later, I saw a man at the gym wearing a GORUCK t-shirt. I asked if he'd done a Challenge, and mentioned that my sons were interested in them. He said that he had indeed done a Challenge and that it had been something of a life-changing event. He told me to tell the sons that if they ever had the chance to do one, to jump at it. It sounded even more intriguing, and I admit that I got a wee bit interested at that point.

Fast forward to the Christmas holiday immediately past. It had become clear that younger son would be moving back to the East coast, and they started talking about doing a Challenge in the Washington, DC area. I happened to be online at the time, so I clicked around the GORUCK website and found that there would be a Challenge in Charlottesville on May 18. They immediately planned signing up using the register one, register another for free plan. I felt a pang or two of jealousy.

A couple days later, younger son suggested that I register and do the Challenge with them. I think I said something about not wanting to embarrass them. Younger son said that would only happen if I broke down in tears in the first ten minutes of the Challenge, and he didn't think that would happen. I noted that I was a 56-year-old woman, and the Challenge seemed designed for 20-something men. He suggested I email the GORUCK people and ask them for their opinion. He also noted that while one could always ask why they should do something, sometimes it was better to just say why the hell not do it.

I took younger son's advice and left the following comment on a blog post "The GORUCK Challenge Explained": "My sons, ages 25 and 23, have signed up for a challenge in May. They’re trying to persuade me, their 56-year-old mother, to sign up, too. I do work out regularly including martial arts six days weekly. Is it reasonable to think I could train and do it? It would make for a good challenge for the new year."

Within two days, I had a reply from Jason, GORUCK's founder: "Jean – yeah it’s totally reasonable. The older we get in life, I think that we’re capable of more it just requires a little more recovery time when we’re through with it. The Challenge itself is a team event, so everyone gives what they can. I find that the best classes have a mix of young and old, men and women, etc. Young bucks sometimes like to work harder not smarter. Wiser folks prefer to work smarter not harder."

I signed up that night, and publicly committed to doing it here. I started to actually train for it, as described here. I even discovered a new GORUCK event, the Light, through which the sons and I could get a taste of what might be in store for us in the Challenge. I described the preparation for and nervousness before that event here. Finally, I described the experience here, in a post that has since been reprinted as part of the GORUCK training website.

So here I sit now, the Monday before the Challenge on Saturday. It might be better to say "on Friday night" because the Challenge actually starts at 1:00 a.m. on Saturday. It could be interesting. The starting point is just off the University of Virginia Lawn, which will be the site of graduation ceremonies both Saturday and Sunday. One of our partners in this dose of good livin' is an assistant district attorney here, and he's made sure that the appropriate police departments know that the thirty or so people wearing black rucksacks and running around the local UN World Heritage site (the UVa Lawn) in the wee hours before a major public event have nothing in common with the two young men wearing black backpacks at the Boston Marathon.

Despite having successfully finished the Light, my nerves are starting to tingle. Some of the other people doing this Challenge have prepared by doing 20-mile rucks carrying the bricks they will carry during the Challenge. I have not. Interestingly, when the GORUCK training website went live a week or so ago, I found that their six-week training program to prep for a Light or a Challenge was not all that different from what I've done. I hope it's enough. I'll let you know in a few days if it was.