These patches are earned. You can not buy them. Now let me tell you how I earned mine…
Let’s start at the beginning. A group of my friends from Unleashed all decided they wanted to do a GORUCK together. Several of them had already done one (or many) before, but we also had several rookies sign up, myself included. It says right on the website that “If you can do a mud-run or a 5K, you can do Light. Our Cadre will introduce you to the power of a team. You will also smile. A lot. We promise.” Since I train so much, and the event that was chosen would be after my first half marathon, I thought sure, why not and signed up during their Christmas in July sale for only $37.50.
I figured I had 3 months to get ready for this madness and would train really hardcore after my half was over. The events were almost exactly a month apart. What I didn’t plan on was injuring myself during the half since I had trained following the plan to a T. I was definitely concerned when I had the peroneal tendinitis because when it first happened I could barely put full weight on my foot. Thankfully, doing everything I could, I was able to walk normally and do a little training prior to the GORUCK.
Prior to Saturday, we were picking the brains of our friends who had all done one before. What to pack, how to pack it, will this work, will that work, etc. Finally, it was suggested we have a “packing party” so they could see what we had and help us out. I’m SO glad we did this because one tip I got about taping all of my bricks together and laying my yoga block flat might have actually saved the day for me. During training, I had the yoga block standing on it’s side and I had 2 bricks strapped together and the other 2 together, but not attached to each other so essentially they could shift. At the last minute, my friend Amy suggested taping the two 2-brick packs together so I decided to do it since I trusted her judgment and thank you for that!!
During my training, I threw a 4K (almost 9 lb) kettlebell on top of the bricks in my pack. I’m also super glad I did this because once I put in dry clothes, food, water, etc my pack ended up coming in around 28.5 lb with the bricks only being about 18-19 lb of that weight. We all took down some pointers from Amy and Corrine – our resident experts – and I think us rookies did OK!
I’m also glad we had this little “party” because while Chrystal was looking at my ruck in the picture above, Keisha happened to notice something fall off. Turns out, it was one of the clips that pulls my ruck in tight to itself, compressing the contents within and making it sturdier. It looked like the strap had never even been sewn in properly! Without time to get another one taken care of through Amazon, Tara took it to her mom on Friday and she was able to sew it back on and save the day. I never had any issue with it during the event.
Now that I’ve bored you to death with a little background, let’s talk about game day. I’ll just start with the weather forecast. In one word, it was Misery. 80% chance of rain, temps with highs only in the low 50s, oh, and we’d be on an island. Good times. I got up at 4:30 with the plan that everyone local was meeting to carpool to the ferry and would be at my house at 6:30. Tara got up, being the team “den mother”, and baked some pumpkin bread and cinnamon braids from scratch. There was no way I would be able to keep something like that down, being as nervous as I was, so I had my typical pre-race fuel: a bagel w/ peanut butter, banana and coffee.
Around 6:15 or so, Christine showed up with her friend Steve that was joining us. Everyone else trickled in slowly after that. Some ate some food, some took a potty break (drink all the water, pee ALL THE TIME!) and we finished packing up what we needed for the day. We decided there being 7 of us, we’d take 2 cars. I had Christine, Steve and Stephanie in my car and then Amy drove with Chrystal and Corrine.
Normally, with traffic it can take anywhere from 45-60 minutes to get to the ferry in Narragansett. It only took us about a 1/2 hour to get there, which is good because we ended up leaving 15 minutes later than we planned to catch our 8:15 high speed ferry to Block Island. Once we got there, we paid to park and walked over to wait for the boat. We ended up meeting two of our soon-to-be teammates, Jordan and Joel, and then another Unleashed friend Chris met us there with his friend Josh. I can only say that shenanigans followed and we probably annoyed half the people on the ferry on the way out there because we were all hyped up. I know I personally didn’t stop talking the whole time because I was so nervous.
The boat ride out wasn’t that bad, only slightly choppy due to the weather. I know some that would disagree that don’t enjoy boats very much, but we didn’t have any hurling so we’ll count that as a plus! Once we arrived, we found some lockers and got ourselves prepared to take only what we needed. It was about a 1.5 mile walk from the ferry landing to Veterans Park, where we were instructed to meet our Cadre – Logan. A GORUCK Cadre can only be a Cadre by being a former Special Forces member of the military and have participated in a GORUCK before (I’m pretty sure that’s right, but correct me if I’m wrong).
Once we left the landing and started our march to the park, it didn’t take us long before we were soaked to the bone. The rain was pretty unrelenting and damn cold. I was glad I had 3 top layers because I needed every last one of them. I led the way there with Chris because I had checked out where we were going earlier in the week. I looked at Google Maps and Google Earth to get a street view. The roads were easy enough to follow, but the street view image was very confusing and only made it worse once we actually got there. As I had seen online, there was only a dock and a large house, which I think was maybe a bed and breakfast. When we got there, there was definitely no park so I walked over and found a woman walking out to her car. She said we just needed to go back to the road we passed maybe 100 feet prior and go up it and we’d see the cannon in the park shortly after that. She said Google isn’t very reliable when plotting the island, which apparently was true. It only took us another couple of minutes to get there after that.
Once we arrived, we realized we had a lot of time to kill. We found the best tree we could in the park and all penguin huddled underneath it to stay as warm as we possibly could in the conditions. At this point we were basically all shivering uncontrollably and hadn’t even started yet so I was a tad concerned. A little while after we got there, Jordan and Joel showed up, as well as Rich, Emily and Kim who had taken on the GORUCK Challenge the night before (for 10 hours). I don’t know how they found the strength to do them back to back, but they amazed me. So here we were, the 14 members of GORUCK Class #481 – ready to rock and roll.
Cadre Logan drove by shortly after and gave us a thumbs up and a smirk. It was at that point I went in to full blown panic mode, wondering what the hell I was doing on this island, in this weather, with bricks on my back. He circled around the park and drove off to park his truck. Once he arrived back to us, he had us line up and gave us a short introduction about himself and what we were about to embark upon.
There are three certain rules which were to be followed at all times – your ruck never touches the ground and you need to remain at roughly arms length apart. If you were to get too far away from anyone at any given time, you could possibly become a “casualty”. The last was that you always needed a buddy. You were never to go anywhere without someone else.
After our intro, it was time for us to embrace the suck. GORUCK Light had begun. We started off with basic PT. We did flutter kicks with our rucks on our chest, mountain climbers, push-ups and seated military presses with our rucks. Don’t forget – if we’re not holding the rucks, the rucks are on our backs. Once we finished PT, I thought I wasn’t going to make it. It was so tough, but only tougher because of how cold and wet we already were. This was the first point I seriously questioned what I was doing here and wanting to stop right then. I didn’t know how I could possibly make it through several more hours without knowing what would be coming next.
Next came log PT. There was a lovely pile of logs next to the small building in the park. So convenient, so nice of them to be there. We were broken up into teams based on height. He picked each team and then picked a log for that team to work with. We then lined up and did some exercises while holding the logs – pick them up, put them down, curl them by bending in half at the waist and then back up, then we lifted them up and over from one shoulder over our heads to the other shoulder. That last part was the absolute hardest part for me personally. We worked well as a team though, so that made it a little easier.
From here, Cadre Logan asked us for two volunteers for the first mission. I volunteered to get it out of the way. I don’t enjoy being a leader so I figured I’d just get it over with. Stephanie volunteered to do it with me, so he took us aside and told us our mission. He said we needed to move 3 logs from the park about 2 miles and asked us how long he thought it would take us. Stephanie suggested 32 minutes. Since I use humor when I’m anxious, I thought I’d be funny and suggested 32:54, just to give us slightly more time. He told us that was fine, plus he gave us a few minutes to brief our team on what our mission was and then to get moving. I was called the PL (which I believe was “platoon leader”) and Stephanie would be my APL (assistant PL).
Stephanie and I were not allowed to carry the logs, so they had 2 less people to work with, but the same size/weight logs. I also carried the flag. The flag is always up front and never touches ANYTHING except the person carrying it. Our jobs were to make sure we stayed together as a team, never separating too far, and if someone needed a break to call it out. We were never allowed to walk on the road unless otherwise instructed or someone could become a “casualty”. This would prove to be a bigger issue for me than one would think. My foot/ankle was already still bothering me prior to the event, but walking on uneven terrain, tipping my ankle inward, made it much, much worse.
We followed the instructions given to us by Cadre Logan. He also had told us during our briefing that we would be allowed one map check and one time check during our journey, to make sure we ended up where he wanted us to go. We found what we thought to be the right road, but it appeared to just sort of end at some docks. We were going to use the map check, but I think he took pity on us realizing we were so close to where he wanted and just told us we should probably check out the road. We ran down together and left the team with the logs. We ended up finding some stairs at the end of a driveway and they led down to the beach he wanted us at, so we ran back and led everyone down there. We made our time goal!
He had us leave the logs where we were and we all walked down to the small beach at the bottom of the stairs. He filled us in on his time with a diving team and how they only had certain instruments to guide them underwater. We knew it was inevitable we were about to get even more wet and sandy. He had us all line up single file and link our arms together. He then had us step forward, or backwards, adding to the torment just a little. Once we were in the water, we then had to do flutter kicks. I inhaled more than a few mouthfuls of water on this one with the waves coming up over my head. We then turned and did some push-ups and sat and did more military presses. We all then had to turn and face the water, get down on our knees and stick our heads underwater.
Once he finished with us in the ocean, he had us line up 2 x 2 and squat. He then instructed us to pick up handfuls of sand and throw it up in the air. When he instructed, we would change directions (left, right, forwards, backwards) but always tossing the sand with both hands. It was at this point I thanked my friends for suggesting wearing a hat! It totally protected my face from getting tons of sand in my eyes or mouth.
When we finished on the beach, we had to walk the logs back to the park. At this time, Cadre Logan told Stephanie and me that we were fired and asked for two new volunteers. I should probably mention, only rookies can be PLs. At this point, Chris and Josh took over. We had to get the logs back to the park and then march down past the park to Cadre’s truck to pick up some water jugs – 6 total. These were 5 gallon jugs I believe, and if my math doesn’t fail me, this means they weighed over 40 lb each.
We were told that we needed to march the water jugs to the end of Graces Cove Road. We didn’t know how far it was, but we had 45 minutes to get there so we needed to keep a quick pace. I started out carrying the flag and then cycled in to help carry the water jugs here and there. Everyone tried to give people rest who needed it if they weren’t carrying anything. I should mention we had also now picked up our team weight – a sandbag – which needed to be carried as well.
We made our time to the beach at the end of Graces Cove Road and this is where I was basically ready to throw in the towel and had my meltdown. My friends kept checking in on my throughout the march because my ankle was bothering me more and more as we went on. I didn’t want to be that diva, the weak one, the whiner, so I would just kind of shake my head when they would ask how I was doing. We got down to the beach and were then told it was time for “Logan’s Run”.
Logan’s Run was a nightmare. Essentially what it was, was that we would run down to a fixed point (in this case, a large boulder on the beach), touch it and run back to the start point. This would be our standard to measure the rest of this portion of the mission. Each time we ran after that first run, we had to run it with the water jugs. If we beat our initial time, we got to put down one jug. If we didn’t, we picked up a jug.
Our initial run was 40 seconds. We lined up with the jugs and ran as hard as we could. It’s at this point I should mention that we were not running on packed sand. Oh no, this was straight up soft as it gets sand, making it all that much tougher to run through. I knew there was no way I could carry anything while running with my ruck on so I purposely never took one and felt really guilty about it, but it only got worse. With each sprint we did, I could breathe less and less and my ankle was screaming more and more. I don’t remember how many we had done, maybe 4, when I threw myself across the finish line to make sure we made our time. I didn’t want to be the reason we picked up an extra jug. I couldn’t get up. I vaguely remember heading “take her ruck!” and feeling people take it off my back, and unhooking the straps on the front, but it was all kind of a blur after that. I know my friends took my arms, my hands, anything they could and helped me finish out those last few sprints. We beat every time – we never picked up an extra jug. All of that is thanks to my amazing teammates. I cannot thank them enough for that moment.
When we finished Logan’s Run, he gave us a brief moment. I do remember at one point we almost had a casualty because someone was alone without a buddy. He then had us line up, arm in arm again, right in front of the water. He had us doing the step forward, step back torture again and we were sure we were going back in. At this point, I probably wouldn’t have minded it because I LIKED being in the ocean. It actually felt warmer than being in the freezing rain so I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. After a few steps forward and back, he told us we had 20 seconds to grab all the jugs and run them back up the rocky trail that led to the beach. We barely made it up.
Chris and Josh were “fired” at this point. He then asked for two more volunteers. Things got confusing here. No one volunteered, and I’m not sure what happened, but we all ended up being instructed to get down and do flutter kicks. He then asked again and Chrystal stepped up, but no one else. He told us we were then going to do mountain climbers, but we all realized there was only Chrystal left that hadn’t done it. For some reason, it was thought that there were 6 rookies. We didn’t have to do the mountain climbers since that was the case.
This is where the bargaining began. We were told we had to march back to the park, however, in order to get any time we had to bargain with casualties. He said we could have 2 casualties for 20 minutes apiece. This meant we had 40 minutes to get back to where we were before. The catch was, we got to pick one person while Cadre would pick the other. We picked Amy because she is small and light and then, of course, Cadre picked Steve who was the biggest, heaviest dude we had in the group. Chrystal was instructed that she could only carry the team weight (sandbag) and nothing/no one else. We were given a couple of minutes to coordinate and then our time started.
We didn’t start out well. It’s very tough to have so much stuff and even less people. Due to my stupid friggin’ foot, I started out cautious. I took Amy’s ruck and wore it on my front and carried the flag. This way, she was lighter for whoever carried her. As we marched along, I helped out as much as I could, grabbing the handle of a water jug here or there or whatever I could do. We were picking out points in the distance and saying we would walk to the pole and take a break, or walk to the tree and take a break. It was just tough and we were zapped and, after 40 hellish minutes, we finally just ran out of time.
It was bargain time again. This time, we were told we could have 5 minutes per casualty. We opted for 2 since we thought we were pretty close and could do it in 10 minutes. This meant we now had 4 people to be carried, none of whom could help carry all the stuff we had. We worked out the next 2 casualties and trucked on. With about 300 yards to go, we ran out of time again – we took 2 more casualties for 10 more minutes and knew we needed to get it on this final push.
At this point, I had a ruck on my front, my own ruck on my back and would have to carry 2 water jugs as well. There was no escaping the math. I took the two jugs with straps tied on them figuring maybe I could have them over my shoulders, but that just didn’t work. I tried to Farmers Carry them and fell behind VERY quickly. I was in the back all by myself, nothing left in me and the Cadre was next to me. I asked if I could drag them and he said yes, on the grass only. I said hell yeah and let them fall to the ground and dragged those bastards as fast as I could. We had to cross two streets, so I did have to carry them again briefly, but the dragging made all the difference. I never would have made it if I had to carry them straight up. Towards the end, I ended up swapping a water jug for the final street crossing and took someone else’s ruck in exchange. We were SO tight on time by the time we got back in the park. I don’t know what it was, and I remember he told us, but I was just so happy that hell was over.
He had us put the water jugs over to the side and had us line up single file arm in arm again. I remember thinking I don’t know how much more I can take because I barely made it back. It was at this time he said congratulations, we were done! I couldn’t even believe it. I just remember the BIGGEST hug from Amy and I didn’t want to let her go because I was SO happy it was over. We all stayed in line and Cadre came to each of us individually and shook our hand while giving us our patch. I’ve said it over and over – of all the medals and race shirts I’ve gotten over the last two years of racing, this is my most favorite “bling” ever!
All total, we covered about 5.5 miles and took around 4 hours 20 minutes to finish. Below is a graphic shared by one of our team members on Facebook.
These are my teammates. Without each and every one of them supporting me, this never would have happened.
While I’m elated at finishing, I wish I contributed more than I did. I did everything I could that my body would allow, and even more because of them. Would I ever do another one? At this point, I say no. I don’t like feeling like a failure. I’m my own harshest critic and this was really hard for me. Really, really hard.
Thank you to Amy, Christine, Chrystal, Stephanie, Corrine, Steve, Jordan, Joel, Chris, Josh, Emily, Rich and Kim. I will forever thank you whenever I look at that patch.