Review by Neil Murphy
I remember my first GORUCK. It was my first ‘serious’ event.
I remember the sudden shock and fear of what I have gotten myself in to, and how I will announce my intent to quit to my fellow class without sounding like a total wimp. After some intense introspection I managed to finish, but I never expected to do any other similar ruck event longer than 13 hours ever again. It’s funny how we think we’ve reached the peak of our abilities, only to find that that false summit gives us sight of the next summit. Breaking the barriers of my ever expanding comfort zone always seemed to follow the same train of thought –
I can’t do it.
I doubt I can do it.
I want to do it.
I’m doing it.
I’m doing it right now.
I did it!
As the founder of team regiment, I wanted to lead my team by example. It was getting to the point where carrying a tire and the team flag through multiple laps of a tough mudder wasn’t enough to keep up with the ever-improving people that made this team so amazing. I had to grow, and when regiment elite Matthew “Ironbeast” Dolitsky announced his 24-hour Ironbeast Challenge (IBC24), I hesitated at first. I can’t do it, I thought. How could somebody be out for 24 hours subjecting themselves to that kind of stress? Could my mind and body hold out that long? Months passed since the initial announcement and the lighter 12 hour IBC was held. After reading the stories and seeing the pictures of people’s mangled feet the thought of doing twice of that was pretty intimidating. I thought to myself that even though it’s feasible, I doubt I can do it.
Though self-discipline is important, sometimes you need to seek the discipline of your peers. I get a lot of inspiration from Matt. I’ve seen him grow since his first 8-mile Tough Mudder training run was posted to seeing him holding up a Spartan Death Race finisher skull years later. Seeing that path of improvement means a lot to me since I used to be able to only run half a mile until I had to stop and rest. Matt had many people sign up for his previous IBC12 event only to chicken out at the last minute. This infuriated him and got him to express one of his very few pet peeves that put him in a rare state of negativity – excuses. To help lock people in to his next event, he would post “confirmed” pictures of people who have 100% dedicated themselves to attending the IBC24 event in order to potentially later on shame those who skip out on the event. It sounds harsh, and it was. Commitment is cheap when backed up with mere words. I would know – I’ve done it before. I couldn’t bear with the shame of my mentor’s disappointment in me. Seeing this made me realize that if I wanted to continue to improve, I had to take that next step. Cheating on my discipline is the same as cheating in a relationship. If you cheat an expect it to still work, you’re in for a harsh lesson. I decided right there and then that I want to do it.
Let me go off on a side-story of another race. Fast forward a week or two. I was on business travel in Tampa FL and I realize that my entire free weekend falls right in line with the Gaspirilla Half Marathon. Matt had set up a group almost a year ago for a team of people to run this event while carrying a tire. Well over 40 people had ambitiously clicked “I’m going” in the group page over the course of a year, and it was finally time for people to put their money where their mouth is. Cost for this event was steep and I really didn’t come prepared for this event since my original travel plans didn’t fall on this weekend which made it very easy to bring on the excuses. I went to the Facebook group page and had typed out my paragraph of excuses to explain to the group why I won’t be ‘able to make it’ to this event. Before I hit the enter key I scrolled down to the influx of other posts by people with similar stories. Deep down inside I knew that I had nothing better to do that weekend, and my per diem would more than make up for the cost of this event. Deep down I knew that if I back out of this commitment, I would hate myself later on once I see pictures of the tire team holding their medals. I closed my laptop shut, got into my car and went to the fitness expo to make a last minute purchase of my race entry. Later that night I drove to regiment elite Travis’ house and got a tire from him and set my alarm for the next morning. As it turns out, only FOUR people had followed through with their commitment to run the half marathon with a tire. The feeling of accomplishment to be part of that four was incredible. I re-learned the team’s motto of “feel the pain of discipline, or feel the pain of regret”. Later on that week I told Matt that I’m doing it. I am going to do the IBC24.
It’s 10am and I meet my fellow 8 classmates who will be with me for the next 24 hours. I’m doing it right now. Most of them I know, and those who I have not met I have heard about many times on Facebook. “I expect the founder of the T3 and the regiment to complete this event with flying colors!” I looked up at Matt with a little apprehension and gave him a curt nod. Hearing that made me smile, it told me that I was behind held at a higher regard and that my actions have the power to inspire others! After some quick pictures were taken of the group, we were issued our first warm-up challenge of completing a half marathon in 2:30:00 or less. This wasn’t a big deal since we could run it without our rucks on (a rare situation). The run went smoothly as I paced with an athlete that I will become good friends with by the name of Cheloman. With only a map in our hands we ran our route smoothly for the first six miles and gradually separated after that.
Slight heat exhaustion started to kick in at around mile 8, but the literal roadblock came into play when I tripped on the raised lip of a sidewalk, landing on my wrist and my jaw at the same time. The impact of concrete on my jaw induced the signature red/yellow colors in my peripheral vision as well as ‘fogginess’ in my head that lasted for a good hour afterwards. I slowed down to a walk in order to regain my composure and get my sense of direction back online when Matt caught up to me.
I didn’t want to show weakness at the time so I downplayed my injury as I picked up the easy running pace beside him to the finish tent. Cheloman waited for Matt and I at the checkpoint tent where early finishers got a 'bonus' challenge of each carrying a 50+ pound tire or a bucket filled with rocks. Lovely! The distance we had to carry the tires and buckets weren't that bad, and we got to encourage the other finishers as they passed us so I considered it a nice little stroll around the block. As it turned out, just about everybody in the group got lost on their way back to the checkpoint! Good thing that they ran fast enough to still make it back in time!
We had a brief break at the tent where we could hydrate and gorge ourselves on VPX products before we put our weighted rucks on and set out to do our next challenge. This next challenge comprised of a short 2-3 mile ruck into downtown Tampa for a swim across the water followed by a run back around to the docks where we staged our rucks and dry clothes. We had to do this swim and running rotation for a total of six times and to be honest I could have done it another ten times after that. The cool water brought everyone’s core temperature back down to a tolerable level and swimming was not an issue for me. After our six rotations were complete, we put our rucks back on and went the same route back to the checkpoint tent (but this time with soggy wet shoes). As soon as we arrived at the checkpoint tent we had our first person drop from the group. This was difficult to see because seeing somebody so defeated reminded me of my experience at the Spartan Ultrabeast. No matter – I felt great and I knew that I wasn’t going to quit. Feel the pain of discipline, or feel the pain of regret!
Our next challenge started off with a 4+ mile ruck over to the shore where we would be stacking rock slabs from one pile to the next. This was when the weight of my ruck started to bear down on my shoulders and I began to feel the initial soreness in my feet and shoulders that would grow as the hours continued to pass through this challenge. The rock slab challenge was difficult for me since the tendon on my forearm was still inflamed and sore from a previous injury. Matt understood this and allowed me to carry smaller rock slabs over to the new pile, which was still a painful experience as far as my forearm was concerned.
With our rock slabs neatly placed into a new pile, our next task involved a somewhat confrontational swim across the inlet that connected the ocean to the bay. Having watched shark week I realized that not only do the bull sharks funnel through this area to feed but the sun was beginning to set, which is when they’re most active! The entire group expressed a lot of concern about our safety after one of the fisherman told us that he caught a 4 foot bull shark just two weeks ago! Nevertheless, we waded through the water and began our nerve-wracking swim to the other side. Having an irrational fear of being in murky water, I focused hard on moving forward with my group and not letting my mind slip into a frenzied panic. To give you an idea of my mindset, every time my life vest’s strap touched my leg I could feel my heart leap to my throat in a moment of brief panic. After what was the longest ten minutes of the challenge, the blissful feel of the ocean floor on my feet was a welcome experience! We all rushed out of the water and on to dry ground for a short run back to our rucks where we would ruck another 4+ miles back to the checkpoint tent. Oh, and remember that guy who caught the shark? Right as we got back to our rucks, he caught a stingray on his fishing line that was aggressively trying to sting whatever it could with its barb...
The sun slowly melted into the horizon as we reached our pavilion. As night began to set in, we were told there will be only one more stop to this checkpoint for the rest of the event. My attention was soon directed over to one of my teammates. I could see that he was fading away pretty fast. “You guys, my knee isn’t doing so well, I think I’m going to qui—“ I stopped him right there. We were too far in to this event to see people quit. I quickly scrambled around my first aid pack for a knee brace and pretty much demanded him to put it on. I didn’t let him speak until the brace was on. My question to him was strategically worded to forge a positive response from him. “That feels much better, doesn’t it?” It worked! With a doubtful nod he was back in the game. I told him that if he felt like quitting at the next checkpoint (which I knew wasn’t going to happen for a long time) he can quit then if he’d like. We both knew that by the time we reach the next checkpoint we will be far too engrossed into the challenge and far too deep to quit. The renewed hope we both felt was augmented even more after the next bit of information was given to us – we’re having pizza! After a short time to resupply we put our rucks back on and set out to the city for what was expected to be the best pizza we’re ever going to taste! Even though we were told this, I didn’t want to believe it. I was mentally prepared to have our group walk up to the restaurant and continue walking past it as a means of mental torture. These are the kind of things you have to mentally set yourself up for. Always expect the worse, and anything above that will make your situation amazing! As it turned out even cadre Matt was human, and hunger was a real thing that he had to satisfy. Collecting the odd stares of countless people, we set our rucks down and feasted on the most amazing pizza that words could not fully describe. Cheloman had the added bonus of meeting his family there as well! When you’re in these kinds of situations, any kind of comfort and joy can bring even the most distraught of athletes back to working condition. Despite our body’s desires to eat as fast as possible, we had to take small bites. It is not uncommon to see people throwing up from fatigue at events on this level. All and all, I’d have to say that the pizza challenge event was my favorite of challenges :)
The weight of my ruck felt like it doubled every time I had to place it back on my shoulders. I could tell that my body was starting to reject the punishment I kept delivering to it. With an aching jaw and a non-functional forearm I hefted my ruck back on and we set out for a long evening of rucking and PT. Our first destination took us from downtown Tampa over to Ybor city. With the IBC24 falling on a Saturday, Ybor city was a zoo of partygoers. This attracted an hours-long onslaught of repeat questions mainly centered around “what in the world are you doing?!” We weaved in and out of the heart of the city as our food digested and our feet roared in pain. One of the nicer moments of levity we had during that ruck was our red carpet photo! Apparently there was a film festival going on and we had the chance to crash it…so we did!
After our adventures on the red carpet it was time to add more miles of rucking. We were well over 17 hours and 30 miles in to the event and we had a lot of work ahead of us. Seemingly endless miles were rucked eastward towards the Spartan stadium where we would encounter a dreadful exercise known as the ‘rainy 1000’. To those unaware, this was a series of ten 100 yard exercises that had to be completed. The tasks included a wide range of difficulties anywhere from running backwards and then sideways to bear crawls, rolls and low crawls. Hours passed and we earned a little time to recuperate ourselves for a little while. Time was not squandered as I hastily patched up my feet and put on another fresh pair of socks. With the rainy 1000 complete it was time to continue the seemingly endless addition of miles rucking.
Hours passed and we listed onward to our last and final stop at the checkpoint tent. The time was now past 4am and we were given the opportunity to refuel and get a quick 15 minute nap in place. In hindsight, I shouldn't have tried to nap. Random muscle repair spasms wracked my body as I tantalizingly slipped in and out of the comfort of sleep. Five second long dreams of me slipping and falling jolted me awake many times as my body desperately clamored to enter recovery mode. My friend with the hurt knee seemed in high spirits as I reassured him that the knee brace appears to be doing its job , which helped keep his spirits high and kept his mind in the game. After talking to him I looked towards everybody else and what I saw was greatness. Nobody seemed to have given in to their body’s pain, or the peril of their situation. Everybody was in high spirits and ready to take on what could be the last remaining challenge of the IBC24. As Mr. Cheloman put it – You can and you will!
After splashing some water on my face I fastened my ruck and refilled my camelback as the fatigue of all of the IBC thus far attempted to set in. There was a new goal… the sun. I knew that once the sun came up there would be only a few hours remaining and we would be DONE! You remember how we had to start the IBC with a half marathon? Well it was time to do another one, only this time with a ruck and around 20 hours and 41 miles of abuse on our bodies. The only consolation in doing this was that we were promised a stop at Wawa somewhere along the course for a short breakfast. I still wouldn’t fall for it. I was prepared to walk right past that Wawa and continue our 13 miles of hell!
As you can no doubt tell from the picture above, we got to eat a short but epic breakfast at Wawa! Let me tell you that those biscuits and gravy were so good that I almost broke into tears eating it. The unfortunate side effect of eating too fast and then going right back into physical activity is the gut-wrenching nausea that sweeps over you, which hit me like a ton of bricks. The next four miles were quiet miles for me. My focus was on not throwing up and waiting for the endless night to be destroyed by the morning sun. Others suffered during these miles including Matt. Did you know that it’s possible to be asleep while rucking? Matt proved that it was possible! To see somebody like him showing signs of fatigue was a pretty big deal for me. I wasn’t expecting him to show the least bit of exhaustion and to see him in that condition was an empowering moment for me. My second wind was redoubled when the sky slowly ushered in the red and blue introduction of the morning sun. It was around this time that we reached our 6.5 mile turnaround point at the beach, where we rested for a short while and took in the beauty of the morning. No-see-ums were a constant hindrance to any true relaxation, though. If you don’t know what those are, be happy that you don’t need to know! Before we could begin our last six miles we took a quick moment to walk into the water for a group picture. It was easy to smile by this point knowing that all we have to do is reach the checkpoint tent and we would be done!
Have you ever run a marathon, and just the thought or sight of the finish line convinces your body to turn your legs into jello? Your body has a devious way of shutting itself down when it knows that it’s almost at the end of the road. This was a lesson harshly learned when 4 miles still remained. Every step shot pain signals up to my brain as I tried to slurp up any last drops in my now dry camelback. My body was trying to send me scenarios of pain in an effort to feel the forced reprieve of quitting, but my mind wasn’t going to have any of it! Every turn at the street was a double edged sword. Where my body would come up with a new source of agony, my mind would counter it with a new strengthened resolve. One turn led to another, and we started seeing familiar houses. “I have an announcement to make once we reach the checkpoint” declared Matt. “Great” I muttered to myself. There was no way that this announcement was that we were finishers of the IBC24… there was just no way. Littering the checkpoint were tires and buckets filled with rocks which made me nervous after every time we stopped there. This was probably his announcement. He probably wanted us to carry them for an indeterminate distance or something crazy. Nevertheless, I was prepared to go through it since the 24 hour mark was approaching and there was no way in hell that I was going to give in to my pain at this point.
The last mile was agony. Everybody was out of water and each step was a symphony of pain that deafened all other senses. Nevertheless we trudged onwards to the checkpoint tent, eagerly awaiting his announcement. We sat down and got about a minute of rest in when Matt gathered us in for his special announcement. “Congratulations, you all have finished the Ironbeast 24 hour challenge!” I paused for a moment in complete silence. Was this a trick? Were we actually done? A brief moment passed and we all soaked in the victory. It was real, we were finished.
I did it.