Tuesday, July 5, 2016

AAR: GORUCK Tough Class #1988

It had been 3 weeks since my first event in Detroit, MI at the GORUCK Heavy when this event arrived this past Friday night. Months ago, THIS event was supposed to be my first event but Detroit jumped ahead of it. In just about every way, I'm glad it did because I took the knowledge and fortitude gained from the Heavy and brought it to this Tough event. I'm glad I did because in the end, just about every veteran of these events agree...this July 4th edition of the Cleveland Tough was more like a 13+ hour Heavy. Within the last week, GORUCK HQ added a cadre, Cadre Geoff Reeves who is well-known as being brutal and relentless. As a Navy SEAL, it's expected but truthfully, Geoff was fair. But yea, you best get your mind right before showing up to one of his events.

Being the sharing kind of guy I am, I invited my wife and two young daughters to the beginning of the event AND my parents. Looking back, I'm not so sure that was a good idea. Yep...it wasn't. I'm sure of that. The worst part is that I sorta, kinda roped my wife into joining me in Saturday's Light event in downtown Cleveland. When she saw how THIS event began, she basically spent the next 12 hours trying to figure out how to NOT do the Light. "Why would you pay for that?!" I didn't know it impacted her like this until after this event was over and I walked in the door to shower up for the Light in a few hours...but that's the next AAR. :) On to the Tough...

Instead of the Start Point being in downtown Cleveland as other events have been, GORUCK supported the idea of starting at a CrossFit gym that is also a GORUCK Training Partner as a means of support. It's also the same gym I've become friends with and did the Murph workout at back on Memorial Day. It's the epitome of what a CrossFit gym should be. Plus, they have all the toys the cadre could possibly want for the Welcome Party! I never put two and two together until it was too late. Molon Labe CrossFit ended up being the perfect setting for a ramped up Tough, courtesy of Cadres Aaron and Geoff.

As 9pm arrived Friday night, so did Geoff's jet black car, screeching around the parking lot. He and Aaron immediately set foot for the inside of Molon Labe. A few volunteers were grabbed and soon tires, dumbbells, sandbags, atlas stones and kettlebells were making their way into the spacious parking lot.
Cadre Geoff... once a SEAL, now a race car driver. (NICE ride, by the way!)
Let me save you some reading time at this point. This Welcome Party wasn't an hour or two. Instead, it was 3-4 hours. Because clocks are purposely avoided during events, I can't tell you when it all ended, but I'm guessing near 1am. In those glorious late hours of Friday, July 1st and Saturday early morning, we bear crawled, we crab-walked, we did lots of push-ups, we had a relay race that included hauling all of the aforementioned gear around the building many times, and we suffered penalty after penalty after penalty due to the inability of people to follow instructions. In GORUCK, it's all about team and if one person screws up, we all pay. The hardest thing I did was right as we were moving out. We had left one of our team weights behind and to get it, we all had to duck-walk back to the start with rucks on front. That was awful. (I still don't know why we had that bass guitar...we already had a team weight.) The most frustrating part of the Welcome Party was definitely the emptying of our rucks...and every bag within. It created a mess, people lost things, my dry bag buckle got stepped on and busted...it was a mess. So yea, they smoked us good for the Welcome Party. Comparing it to the Heavy in Detroit, it was about the same amount of time but totally different movements. In Detroit, we had huge picnic tables. Here, we had a rough parking lot that destroyed my gloves and we spent lots and lots of time on it and all over it. Here are some images to help tell the tale...

We had a PT test to find out how everyone measured up against each other. Push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups on the rig.

One of the countless times we were dropped into push-up position for something "we" did wrong. 
The beginning of the Tough...rucks over head. Cadre Geoff leading the way. 
Me explaining to Cadre Geoff what I thought the purpose was of Team RWB
Our team weight(s)...there's that extra guitar. Jerry cans were used to carry water.
So what's up with the chain? Well, whoever wore the chains (there were two), they were the Team Leader and Assistant Team Leader. "Chains of Leadership" as they were so appropriately called. Here, I joined Stephanie for a few bear crawls back to the team. 
Gear inspection. That's my crap at lower right. Under cone is perhaps Chipotle...we're unsure. Either way, it was puke from the early moments of the Welcome Party. 
Relay time. That's a 70lb kettle bell in my arms. After each lap with our gear, we had to do 25 reps as a team of different movements. Let's just say they weren't easy. I won't spoil the details for any of you in the future that decide to join Aaron and/or Geoff for a fun night of activities.
So off we finally went into the night. With us for the journey was of course the TWO team weights, jerry cans filled with water, Old Glory on a 17lb flag pole, courtesy of Bryan, and 700 POUNDS of sandbags. Yea. About one mile into our ruck, we happened upon this wonderful, spacious parking lot:

At first, we appreciated the break and had some education on Old Glory and American history but then more PT. We probably spent a solid 30-45min here before heading off. Oh yea, we were carrying two full-size kegs...one of which was most definitely full.

Moving on, we constantly got chastised for being too loud in residential neighborhoods and even had a local police officer stop and tell us so...thanks to a call they received. I found this really frustrating. No matter how many times our team leader or cadre said to keep it quiet, there were some that wouldn't stop yelling. It's not rocket science...WHISPER! This, in general, is where I believe the Tough and the Heavy really differed. At the Heavy, it felt like we came together quickly, followed instructions, had each other's back and the inability to follow instructions tapered off pretty dang quick. That wasn't the case with our team. It really seemed to take the majority of the event for everyone to come around. It could've been the exhaustion or maybe even the switch finally got flicked, but it definitely was a sore spot for me. To combat that sour pill that I'm sure could be read all over my face, I kept reminding myself to smile. Kinda hard to be mad when you're smiling!

We continued on, heading clearly towards an area I know very well from my trail running days..the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Water, trees, logs, you name it...any cadre could have a field day with us down there. On the way there, we stopped alongside a cemetery. Here is one of the toughest physical things I've done. I don't recall what it's called but I'll try and describe it: We were told to find a person of similar size/weight. The guy I found was 220...I'm 205. First, he laid down with his ruck on his chest, legs straight. Then, I straddled him at his hips and I put my hands to either side of his head as to bear crawl. Then, he grabbed onto my ruck straps and I bear crawled...dragging all 220 pounds of him PLUS his ruck through the grass and he was strictly forbidden from kicking or assisting me in any way. That was NOT easy and came down to sheer strength, determination, and the mental fortitude to not quit. On the return trip when I had to lay down, he struggled quite a bit with me and nearly called it a night but he eventually crossed the makeshift finish line. Once we were all done, we shed the 700lbs of sand bags and kegs and continued on. Warning: if you shed that much weight, you should know something greater is coming.

We eventually hit the Towpath Trail along the Cuyahoga River that I have run on countless times at the Red Lock trailhead. We headed south along the Cuyahoga River towards the Boston Store. This is when the first glimmer of light appeared at the horizon, telling us 5am was near...our first confirmation of any time all night. Once we arrived at Boston Store, we took a right and continued on Boston Mills Road, past the ski resort. That road turns into a monster hill but since we weren't carrying much weight, we did pretty good. We were under a time hack so we kept the pace pushing. At this point, I figured we were headed to Blue Hen Falls to get wet and frolick in the water. Not so. We stopped just short of the Falls and instead turned into the maintenance area where a pond is and little known to us, a 1300 pound slab of concrete.
I was carrying the flag into this area and we walked right through the middle of that pond from one side to the other being VERY careful not to let Old Glory touch. We then formed up to hear instructions on how we would tackle the concrete below. 

We were broken into teams and told to brainstorm ideas on how to move it. We then came together to throw our ideas into a big 'ol pot and let the Team Leader decide on the way ahead. It was a consensus to use nearby logs and rope we brought to move it. This beast started along the trees, almost in the woods but we got it going. Luckily, we had some Boy Scouts on the team who knew how to tie ropes. We moved it a good 40 yards or so before moving it off the trail and leaving it. However, while we gathered up our ropes, half of the team disappeared around the corner. What emerged a few minutes later was a full length, heavy as (you fill in the blank) telephone pole.

This thing was no joke and we carried it down that monster hill, back to Boston Store, and the majority of the way back to Red Lock Trailhead...moving VERY slowly. Lots of moans and groans during this time! By this time of day on a beautiful Saturday morning, the Towpath Trail was bustling with activity, mostly bikes and runners. That didn't prove much of a problem but I'm sure we got our fair share of "What the....." by everyone who passed us by. Once we dropped the log, we were back to no weights but our team weights and Old Glory. New leadership was picked yet again and we were given 90min to get back to the Molon Labe CrossFit.

Moving fast or even into a light jog is an area I excel in. However, that's not the case with the majority. In a GORUCK event, it's ALL about teamwork so while I would've loved to have run the majority of that stretch, we had to do it AS A TEAM. This, in my opinion along with the log carry is where we finally came together best in our 13+ hours together. The sun was really blaring at this point and Highland Road that we took to get into the national park is pretty much all uphill leaving the park. There's a reason they call it the Cuyahoga VALLEY National Park. As we passed the cemetery, you could see strips of flattened grass where we pulled each other along.

Back to that buddy drag in the grass, I vividly remember looking up at the stars while my buddy fought hard to pull me. In an event as grueling as this one was, that really brought a peace over me. It was so dark out there that the stars were vivid and neverending. They were beautiful. I remember just breathing deep the cool, damp air of the morning and letting the visual soak deep within. It was amazing.

So as we plugged along, some folks really started to hurt. Lightheadedness, bruised and beaten feet, and just depleted bodies. With less than a mile to go, we even had one that had to be carried but we gathered around her and did what we had to. With the gym within site, here is what we saw:

The Macedonia Fire Department, two outstretched hoses and evidence that they were charged and recently tested (wet asphalt). We were all hot, stinky and sweaty so a hosedown sounded awesome! We got back, formed up into ranks and it began...ice.cold.water.

Finished, right? Not quite. Cadre Aaron: "Take 5 minutes to go to the bathroom and fill up your water." Hmmm. Those 5min began and I finally saw the time...10am on the nose inside the gym. So we're 13 hours in to this baby, eh? We formed back up then were split into 4 groups at 4 cones around a circle. Cadre Aaron and Geoff told us about when we're down to the end of a fight, we never know when it's going to end and this "fight" we're about to have will be just like that. At each station, we'd spend a minute doing a particular PT movement to max effort, not as a team. When we failed, we'd pay the penalty by forming back up and doing even more PT. Oh yea, the firehoses began again.

... and then...

And so, Class #1988 was secured in our 14th hour. In the words of Cadre Aaron, "We wanted to make it a bit more intense for July 4th." Well, you did! Such a great experience, a grueling one, a growing one and another true test of what myself and others are capable of when working together as a team. The mind is a muscle, too...meant to be worked, grown stronger and used. This, like any GORUCK event, is a great way to work every kind of muscle, both mental and physical. And yea, it's kinda crazy, too, and you'll meet all kinds of new friends like I did.

Photo Credits: Many thanks to Darcie Seachrist, John Matthew, Mark Nolan and John Miocic for taking the photos in this AAR. Appreciated more than you know!

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