GORUCK Challenge - Class 1414

I get it.  Goruck after action reviews (AARs) are a dime a dozen nowadays.  You’re probably reading this with the same dull expectation to hear of some newcomer’s new-found-glory discovered in his first GRT event.  If you’re looking for something like that, I’ve got an AAR for that.  This is not one of those AARs.  Having done three more GORUCK events after that first one, I didn’t feel the need to write a review about those because it would have given that same ol’ ‘difficult welcome party, endless ruck and mild smoke session at the end’ review that we’re used to reading by now.  This one was different.  This one warranted the creation of an AAR.  People had to hear about what happened.  My name is Neil Murphy, and I am one of the surviving six of class 1414.  This is my story.

 

The commitment to this challenge wasn’t difficult to muster up.  Having done plenty of these in the past I felt confident that it was going to be a breeze and that I was going to lead the new guys through the challenge and be the hero for the day.  So when my friend Ben (the other founder of Team Regiment) sent me a $100 GORUCK gift card for Christmas, I signed up with him without hesitation.  This would be his first GORUCK, so I had to be here for that!  The website said that “Cadre Brian Squared” was going to lead our challenge, of whom I knew nothing about.  However his cheerful and innocent smile in his GORUCK profile picture showed a relaxed, compassionate and easy-going demeanor.  So I figured this would be the same as any other challenge (you should be laughing by this point).  In the week leading up to this event I vaguely recalled reading about a heavy class that had a 100% failure rate.  You probably read about it, too. 

Who was the cadre for that fabled fade-to-black heavy?

Cadre Brian fucking “Squared”.

Our fated day had arrived, and a misleading description of our starting location was given to us.  After having to change our parking location to a shopping plaza in Orlando’s most glamorous ghetto, a group of us scurried over to the starting location signified by the errant headlamps dotting the field.  With no formalities or any easement into our situation we were immediately commanded to fall in line in two ranks of six where Brian did the usual ruck/team weight inspection.  Little did we know that this was the only time in the next eleven and a half hours where our rucks were going to touch the ground without punishment.  Immediately there were problems.  Ben didn’t have his cab money.  So we were instructed to put our rucks on and get into the pushup position while Ben ran across the street (safely) to get his money and get back to his ruck.  I really wasn’t fazed by this until we had to lift our right foot off the ground, followed by our left hand.  With everybody now squared away with the mandatory gear, some brief words were spoken about this event.  First and foremost, we were NEVER to address Brian in any other word aside from “Cadre”.  If we called him ‘sir’ at any time, we would get “strong as fuck” (his words).  The cadre didn’t care to know our names.  “I only care about those who make it well into the night, which most of you won’t do” he said.  I silently laughed it off, thinking of it as a psychological ruse to scare the new people into submission.  I was wrong.  He made it very clear that we would face harsh punishment for anything done below 100% effort.  Fair enough.  Bring on the welcome party.

Let me first put this little disclaimer out there.  I may have the order of exercises wrong, as my brain probably tried to suppress the memories of the next 1-2 hours of torture that ensued.  If you’re one of the surviving six who are reading this, please feel free to chime in with any corrections or things that I missed.  The party began in a long grassy field in view of the Orlando City soccer stadium.  Our first exercise consisted of planks, followed by an insane amount of calf-cramping jumping jacks.  25 eight count bodybuilders came next. Wiping sweat from my eyes, I looked over to a tree that the cadre pointed to about 250-300 feet away.  We got a good gauge of the distance when he gave us a 30 second time hack to sprint out to the tree and back – which we failed.  So we had to do it again until we succeeded.  Our next exercise was to bear crawl over to that tree and form a line when we were finished, which some of us did with ease.  By some, I mean two of us.  Matt Dolitsky and I were the first two to finish the bear crawls.  We got up and turned around to see people only 20-30 feet in to their bear crawls.  This was the point where people learned the importance of securing your gear.  You know – where your weight slams into the back of your head, or your hydration bladder starts leaking or your miscellaneous gear falls out of your ruck.  I noticed one particular fellow was notably far behind with the bear crawls; this was going to be the first VW, or voluntary withdrawal.  He staggered to his feet and shamefully walked towards the cadre.  I told him that we didn’t mind holding the pushup position that we had to stay in while we waited for him, but he had already checked out. 

11 now remained and we were only 20 minutes in.

The next exercise was the man-makers.  This was a seven step exercise where you have your ruck held in front of you and you place it on the ground (1), get into the pushup position (2), go down (3), up (4), move your feet up to your ruck (5), pick your ruck up (6) and lift it over your head (7).  That was one rep.  We did 25 of these, I think.  We made it to about five when we had to start all over.  Ben’s gear kept falling out and we had to endure punishment while he got his gear fixed.  He hastily tried to tie off his leaking hydration tube under the criticism of the cadre.  During this time I vaguely recalled hearing the noises of one or two people already violently vomiting from exhaustion.  Once we struggled through the man-makers we then had to duckwalk from the tree back to the starting location.  I stayed ahead of the group with the duck walks and I made sure to keep it that way as I heard the cadre ridiculing others on their improper form, forcing them to reverse-duckwalk back to the start and doing it all over again.  I was one of the first two who finished, so I got up and turned around to see another set of people struggling to inch forward, with one person not moving at all.  I squinted my eyes and saw one person still at the tree hunched over and vomiting.  It was Ben.  I had briefly hoped to see him get back on his feet to duckwalk towards us, but that hope was dashed when the cadre said “we’re down to ten now, who else is next?”  The only reason I was in this class was to share the experience of his first GORUCK, and that was now gone.  A new reason to win was now evident – I had to carry the torch for him.  I had never quit an event in my entire life and I wasn’t going to do it now, especially in the presence of my mentor and fellow regiment elite Matt Dolitsky.  I remembered the video of Marcus Luttrell in BUD/S explaining to the cameraman that his best friend just quit.  “So are you going to quit now?” mocked the cameraman.  “I can get more friends” was the response to that jab.  I smiled and looked to my left and to my right.  These were my friends.   I was not going to let them down.

10 people now remained.

The next exercise was 30 sets of four-count mountain-climbers, led by a person nicknamed “crossfit turd” by the cadre.  The cadre made it clear that if our knees don’t reach our armpits during this exercise, the count goes back down to 0.  With our core and quads thrumming with pain from the previous PT, we struggled to knock ‘em out.  Halfway through, crossfit turd was beginning to mirror the rest of us by struggling to keep on with the exercise while getting slammed in the back of his head by his loose ruck.  He said the words that you should never say – “I can’t”.  Fellow regiment elite Cheloman instilled upon me that wherever the mind goes, the body will follow.  As soon as I heard our crossfit friend say those two words, I knew that it would be a matter of time before his body would follow his mind.  We slowly but surely finished the remaining mountain-climbers and were instructed to reverse crab-walk back to the tree with our rucks on our chest.  I saw another person approach the cadre to VW, and I paid no attention to it. 

9 people were now left in class 1414.

Once we made it to the tree we then had to lay on our backs with our rucks held over us.  This next exercise was going to ‘get us looking good for beach season’ according to our lovely cadre.  There were two positions we were instructed to hold our rucks.  One was above our heads, the other touching the ground above our heads.  There were two positions that we had to hold our legs at – six inches above the ground, or ninety degrees upward.  We cycled between endless variations of this torture until most of the group cried in unison at the cramp-ridden pain that wracked and ruined our core.  Once we got to our feet we were told to bear crawl back to the starting position.  So many of us hesitated at this that the cadre stopped us and told us that since we don’t want to bear crawl, he’ll have us seal crawl.  For those who don’t know, seal crawls are where you lay down and drag yourself forward with only your hands – you cannot use anything below your waist, nor can you low-crawl it.  The issuance of this challenge was too much for the crossfit guy to handle, so he quit right on the spot. 

Class 1414 was down to 8. 

Once we agonizingly moved forward one inch at a time, the welcome party was over and we were given a 10 minute break to pee, vomit and get our rucks situated.  Some of us misinterpreted the idea of ‘break’ (including myself) and set our rucks down next to the water jugs to refill our hydration packs, and another person also said “thank you sir” when the welcome party concluded.  Payment was due.  Before we could begin the rest of our challenge, we had to pay the price of our errors in the form of 20 mountain climbers (10 per misplaced ruck), and then 15 eight counts.  Those eight counts turned into 25 when another infraction was committed (I don’t know what it was), and then 35 when somebody called the cadre the s-bomb once more.  Once our dues were paid we proceeded to fall in two columns of four people each, never to go further than an arm’s length apart from each other.  Our next challenge would be ruck-running.  We were to run at pace of the cadre until he started to get out of breath.  During this time I heard more vomiting from somebody behind me.  “vomit while you run” commanded our irritated cadre.  After the team expectedly floundered at the ruck runs we were instructed to do squats in a lake to ‘cool off’ before continuing more ruck runs.  Somewhere along the line we had another person drop the s-bomb, which was paid by doing pushups combined with a high-five to the person across from you.

By this point there were two people that stood out from the group.  These two would give a snide look when they were told to run a certain pace or to make sure the flag didn’t touch the ground.  It was clear that their attitude wasn’t right, and they weren’t going to last much longer.  As was said before, where the mind goes the body will follow.  During our runs we were instructed on some new commands that we got very familiar with for the rest of the night:

“Reach!”  - Reach to the person in front of you within 10 seconds (it was counted down in 4-5 seconds).

“Straps!” – Have your ruck removed and held in front of you within 10 seconds.  You’re exempt from doing this if you’re holding the team weight or the water jugs.

“Prepare to high/low boat” – Get ready to lift your ruck above your head with your arms locked / bring your ruck down

“High/low boat” – Lift your ruck / bring your ruck back down.

Our first command was straps.  One of the two with the bad attitude failed to get their ruck in front of them in the time hack, so we stopped to pay the price.  Conveniently placed 150 feet in front of us was a dumpster in a parking lot.  We were told to bear crawl to that dumpster and back.  Focusing at the task at hand I bear crawled to the dumpster and stood up, only to see those two people standing with the cadre and slowly walking away, giving up on the punishment that they incurred on the team. 

Six now remained, and we were only a few hours into our suffering. 

We bear crawled back and our cadre asked us if anybody else wanted to quit.  “No sir” was the foolish response by one of our guys *cough, Dolitsky*.  We paid our price in the form of mountain climbers or man-makers, I don’t remember which.  It sucked.

Pictured in the background is the dumpster we had to crawl out and back to.  

Pictured in the background is the dumpster we had to crawl out and back to.
 

If we just got started, and that was the penalty for what was surely to be a command we were going to be given many times, we’d better get our shit together or this was going to get very bad.  Once we were done with that lesson we were reminded that for every person that quits, our burden worsens.  We moved on to one of the many lakes that dot the Orlando cityscape where we did high boats combined with lunging and reverse lunging.  Shortly afterwards we stopped to do mountain-climbers and learn various carry techniques such as the three-person carry and the fireman carry.  Our first eight minute break was given to us after these lessons were learned, then the cadre jokingly mentioned if we wanted to learn another buddy carry technique.  “No sir” was the response, so of course we were to learn this third method…

There weren't any pictures taken of us doing these particular carries, but here is a picture depicting what we did.  

There weren't any pictures taken of us doing these particular carries, but here is a picture depicting what we did.
 

After the carries we finally became human.  The cadre had us stand in a circle as we each introduced our names, our age, our profession and why we’re still here.  That was a very satisfying and pivotal moment for me for some reason.  To some, seeing a psych every couple of months is a nice mental refresh.  To me, GORUCK was that therapy to me.  Whenever I catch myself being in a negative mindset, I tell myself that it’s time to do another challenge.  Every time I do one, it fixes me up.  I felt that completing this humanizing introduction to our team made this surprisingly difficult challenge doable, and that any pain I felt now would eventually go away if I just stuck through it and worked on making it easier for my teammates and not myself.  So we kept moving.

The next couple of hours were a blur to me brought on by repeated commands, casualty carries and constant fights with my stomach in order to keep the contents from spilling out both ends.  The casualty carries were consisted of one person being switched off via fireman carries.  A system was put in place where there was an ordered line of carriers who would pass the extra rucks, water and team weight behind as they geared up to carry the casualty.  I forgot to mention that the casualty could not touch the ground for more than ten (read: five) seconds.  We eventually made it to the Orlando Science Center where we low crawled through a fountain and then across a long grassy field that stretched on for eternity.  Inches felt like feet and feet felt like miles as we pushed the water jugs and team weight through; all the while feeling the occasional sting of the fire ants casting their revenge upon us for crawling over their homes.   Shortly afterwards we were given a 35 second time hack to sprint to a light post and back.  We were told that we would do this until we got it right, and we believed it.  Our first attempt finished at 46 seconds, where the person holding the team weight was understandably lagging behind.  Having hit the podium at many ruck-running events I happily took the team weight for our second attempt, which came in at 34.2 seconds.  Talk about down to the wire…

Our next casualty carry and command-ridden route landed us at Rollins College, where we were introduced to the lovely campus by doing lunges through the sulfur water sprinklers.  These I did not mind, in fact.  The water was refreshing and I could do lunges all day.  My team's Monday training sessions consist of a quarter mile of lunges, so this was nothing.  The lunges weren't too bad, which led us to a set of stairs for us to bunny-hop on for eight loops. 

Lunges through the stinky reclaimed sulfur water!  These actually felt good...  

Lunges through the stinky reclaimed sulfur water!  These actually felt good...
 

Afterwards we did reverse bear crawls up the same stairs, in which during that time Dolitsky once again dropped the s-bomb.  Our payment for this infraction came in the form of having to do the entire set of reverse bear crawls all over again which wasn’t that bad, but we sure as hell pretended that it was! 

Bear crawls!  In reverse.  Up stairs.  

Bear crawls!  In reverse.  Up stairs.
 

One thing I did notice however was when the cadre demonstrated the exercise, his gigantic digital wristwatch showed the time of 0430.  Hell yes!  I thought the time was nowhere beyond 1 in the morning, so this was excellent news.  Still glistening from the sprinklers and our own sweat, we headed over to a volleyball court to do one of the most signature GORUCK exercises known as sugar cookies.  I’m sure the picture below explains what went on, so I’ll just put this here:

Yes, sand got into the naughty places.  Yes, it was chafed.  

Yes, sand got into the naughty places.  Yes, it was chafed.
 

After this point, we never got wet again.  We had to keep the sand on us at all times, which effectively turned everything that touched us into sand paper.  After more casualty carries and commands we made our way to a park and were given a 10 minute break to pee/vomit/eat.  I remember this point specifically because my stomach was seriously starting to rebel against me.  I couldn’t keep any food in me and despite the constant hydration, I hadn’t peed once.  The entire day leading up to this event was riddled with bouts of diarrhea, which put me in a really compromising position in terms of nutrition and hydration.  With the bathrooms were still closed, I had to hold it in.  Every exercise that engaged my core incited a warzone in my stomach in which defeat would result in me shamefully voiding my insides.  Lovely, right?  We smelled horrid enough as it was, and we sure as hell didn’t need that added to the cocktail of ruck-musk that we were drenched in already…

After more random exercises, carries and commands we reached a 711 where I was allowed to run into the bathroom.  I’ll spare the details on this part, but in short it turns out I had a short term infection in my GI tract that has since been taken care of.  Nevertheless, the temporary gut-relief was all that I needed to keep moving.  By this time the sky began to change its hue as morning slowly crept on.  At this point I started to notice neon red/green/yellow lines of ‘spaghetti’ that would periodically swim in my peripheral vision.  It was clear that my body was telling me that things are going to get much, much worse.  Very rarely would I hallucinate at an endurance event, let alone a GORUCK. 

With a smirk the cadre set down his ruck and told us to set aside the team weight, water and flag.  “I understand that you’re all pretty shot at this point and your adrenaline has left your system.  So I’ve got something special for you guys to wake up to”.  Great, I thought.  The cadre then pulled a Bluetooth speaker out of his ruck and told us to put our rucks in front of us and get into the squat position.  Then he played this lovely song:

Every time the words “bring Sally up” happened (this happened A LOT as you can no doubt tell), we had to stand up and raise our rucks far above our heads.  “Bring Sally down” meant bringing our rucks back down to our chest and back into the squat position.  I swear there is an extended remix of this song, and he managed to find it…

More miles of rucking riddled with commands, carries and various forms of other PT blurred by as the sun finally broke through the morning clouds and began to beat down upon us.  Our sandpapered skin roasted in the unforgiving rays of the sun as we focused on keeping arms-length distance from each other, with our hand at the ready to remove our waist strap, and to make sure we didn’t drop another s-bomb.  We could feel the end coming.  We could feel the pressure of the cadre increasing on us, his ever watchful eyes searching for any sign of weakness to exploit.  With the remaining six of us being GORUCK veterans we all knew that this was a sign of the end, and that things were about to get much worse.

Our final series of torturous tests began when we had to run 30 second interval ruck-runs, in which the team weight was frequently passed around due to our dwindling strength.  After that, Dolitsky apparently stepped on an imaginary IED and had to be casualty carried to the next point.  As our individual strength dwindled away fireman carries quickly turned in to 3-person carries, with only the flag bearer and one other person left to hold multiple rucks and the team weight.

Luis held on to the team weight and some extra rucks while we did casualty carries.  This guy was a beast!  

Luis held on to the team weight and some extra rucks while we did casualty carries.  This guy was a beast!
 

And then we saw it – the preverbal light at the end of the tunnel.  The Citrus Bowl (aka Orlando City stadium) appeared in front of us.  This meant that the field of misery that claimed four people eleven hours ago was only one block away.  Our three-man carry team went through rotations at increasingly higher frequency as our team strength wobbled on the bleeding edge of complete collapse.  The small spike in adrenaline kept us hovering over the pain that gripped every inch of our being.

The final carry that ended in the field of misery.  Moments before the end.  

The final carry that ended in the field of misery.  Moments before the end.
 

A funny thing happens to the body when it sees the end in sight.  It begins to shut down thinking that it’s finally time to relax.  In fact, one of the most dangerous moments a survivor endures can be when he is finally found by their rescuers.  With the end of suffering in sight, it was clear that we were beginning to physically shut down.  We finally set the casualty down in the field, where we once stood in formation for our ruck inspection 11.5 hours ago.  I was mentally prepared to endure the welcome party all over again, to be honest.  The next exercise was called the ‘tunnel of love’.  To those who don’t know, this is where everybody forms a close-knit line in the pushup position.  One person on the end of this line then low crawls underneath everyone and reaches the end of the line.  This leap-frogging continued until the cadre told us to stop, which seemed like an eternity.  Without any delay we were commanded to spread out into a circle, facing away from each other and out of each other’s sight.  Remember those six inch/ninety degree ab exercises that we did in the welcome party?  It was time to do that again, but only three times longer than before.  Every time somebody’s feet weren’t close enough to the ground, they got called out.  Every time somebody didn’t have their arms locked with their rucks held over them, they got punished.  Every command brought my core grinding against my pain receptors as colors began to consume my peripheral vision.  Sand from my ruck fell into my eyes as my legs quivered at the six inch mark above the ground, the only sound heard around us were the grunts of agony that we all shared.  The cadre was quiet…  My abs couldn’t take it anymore, so I held my ruck up with one hand and clenched my pain-wracked stomach with the other.  Barely able to continue on, the silence was broken with two words…

“You’re done.”

The silence was immediately broken by the sounds of everyone’s ruck thudding into the ground, followed by our raspy screams of victory.  I had made it.  WE had made it.  Out of the twelve that had shown up for what became the most difficult GRC to date, I had done what five others managed to do.  I stumbled to my feet and saw Ben at the edge of the field waiting for us.  He was the only person who dropped that came back to show their support.  I later found out that as soon as he got home, he registered for the next Orlando challenge.  I couldn’t have been more proud of him for turning a failure into an empowering learning experience.

After plenty of hugs and handshakes we were given our well-earned patches, and with that Ben also had a surprise for me in the form of a commemorative paddle to celebrate all that we have done in the last five years in Team Regiment.

The final six.  From left to right:  Luis, Nate, Neil, Matt, Savannah, Jordan, Cadre Brian  

The final six.  From left to right:  Luis, Nate, Neil, Matt, Savannah, Jordan, Cadre Brian
 

In the end, we got much more that we bargained for.  We later learned that the GORUCK Light class that the cadre led later had three of the ten people drop from that class.  Could this be a new, stricter standard that GORUCK is now moving towards?  Whatever the reason, I can certainly pen this down as the absolute hardest GORUCK challenge I have ever encountered.  No other class came close to this level of insanity.  Cadre Brian’s Heavy had a 100% failure rate, where the website says 50%.  His Challenge had a 50% failure rate, where the site says 6%.  The light had a 30% as opposed to the regular 1%.  To me, I got my money’s worth and I will highly recommend cadre Brian to anybody looking for a real challenge.  All throughout the entire event, I remembered the slogan of Team Regiment.  These words kept me from quitting, for that I am the founder of the team and I will always lead by example:

Feel the pain of discipline, or feel the pain of regret.

 

Of course the regiment elites weren't done.  Immediately afterwards we all went to Monster Challenges to run 4 miles while conquering 30 obstacles!  It wasn't run at our fastest pace, but it sure was fun.  We all decided to run together for one last hurrah for class 1414.


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