A WELL-WORN SACK OF NYLON
When I was a young Marine Recruit, a portion of our training was conducted at Camp Pendleton, California. This was our Basic Combat Training segment. A keystone event during this phase involved a long, arduous “hump,” or hike, well known in Marine Corps circles. We had been told just enough about that hill for it to get into our heads, create fear and doubt, and wonder if this was the thing to wash us out; to get us to quit and give up earning that Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. We stepped off in the dark of early morning, packs loaded up with nearly all we owned at the time, and headed towards the famous climb of Mount Motherfucker.
My ALICE pack was conceived in 1973 – this was 1986. A well-worn sack of nylon with big pockets, broken snaps, and some string to close it up, all attached to a metal frame made of ironing board tubing and hope. It did the job, but not without showing its age after countless years of abuse by Marines, Drill Instructors (DI’s), and bad life decisions. On mile three of the hump, a weld on my pack frame broke – no doubt because it was still tired from service in Vietnam. If I didn’t hold that lower left corner together, the offset weight pushed me into a right-turning circle like a retarded goat and out of the column. This drew eyeballs from the DI’s. Not good. The trail was soft and sandy from so many recruits stammering up it. So steep you had to scramble with your hands at times. It made for a long excursion filled with frustration, sweat, and dumb fortitude.
But sunrise from the top of Mount Motherfucker never looked so good. That Ham & Chicken Loaf MRE never tasted so good. And I knew I could handle anything else the Marine Corps could throw at me. I dug deep and conquered Mount Motherfucker. This was my introduction to Humping, something as a Marine Infantryman I’d be doing a lot in the coming years. Today we call it Rucking.
THE FITNESS TREND OF 2015
From Men’s Health and Men’s Journal to SELF Magazine and Pilates Bridge, rucking has been touted as “the fitness trend of 2015.” As defined in the SELF Magazine article:
Described as marching or walking while wearing a rucksack—your backpack—rucking is something military forces have used to stay in shape for quite some time. You can do it anywhere, need very little gear and will torch three times as many calories as plain old walking…
Since we’re pretty much all double-bagging it already with our crazy-heavy purses and gym bags, why not load up in a backpack that’s a bit more forgiving to our shoulders and give it a go?
GORUCK, well-known gear manufacturer, event coordinator and promoter of rucking as an activity, defines rucking in one of their own videos as:
The activity of moving with weight on your back in a rucksack (AKA backpack). Action, energy, and purpose required.
Given the substantial growth of outdoor-related endurance events – especially Obstacle Course Races like Tough Mudder, Spartan Races, and Battlefrog – it seems rucking has gained a solid place in both training and competition outside of the military world. GORUCK has seen exponential growth in attendance at its events. Running events at three different levels – Light (6 hours), Tough (12 hours), and Heavy (24 hours) – athletes from all walks of life have taken on this different view of performance.
It seems 2015 was quite a year for rucking. But all of the publicity and articles and videos are still missing something, and it’s that intangible “something” that makes rucking special. It’s not as simple as putting weight on your back and walking.
COLD, WET, AND SANDY
Rucking has been around as long as warfare has been a part of humanity. We have always needed to get to the fight with all of our people and equipment. From ancient Assyrians to Napoleonic Europe to Operation Iraqi Freedom, war is fought on the ground and troops need to get from one place to the other. It has been called many things: Marching, Foot March, Road March, Patrolling, Recon, Recce, Oscar Mike, Humping, Rucking. But they all equate to the same activity – putting all your shit on your back and moving out by foot as a unit.
This past weekend we got some friends together to go for a ruck. We loaded up our backpacks with 35 to 45 pounds of weight, added water & snacks, and picked up our sledgehammers. Sledgehammers? Yes, sledgehammers. Why? Because they’re cooler than dumbbells – and add extra weight to carry in our hands. The goal was to power through the 7-mile route, over 1,734 feet of gain, as fast and hard as possible and see what kind of pace we can keep over terrain. Along the way we pushed each other to go harder, faster. We kept an eye on injuries, left directions for those behind us, and came together in ways unseen in most endurance sports. Why? Sweat. Goals. Training. Community. Teamwork.
Admittedly, my friends and I are fans of GORUCK events. Big fans. Not only because the events push us through our limits, but because we learn so much about ourselves. Unlike other endurance events that are about the individual, these events are about the team. Based on Special Forces Selection (and similar Special Operations training), they use weighted rucks, bodyweight exercises, and additional weights in the form of “coupons” (logs, sandbags, water cans, buckets of sand/rocks/water, etc.) in order to teach how to work together under stress. Each event group is called a Class, again taking from Special Operations training (because this training is usually experienced at an advanced school of some sort). Water and altitude being the great equalizers, most classes find hills to hump and water to get into. Getting “cold, wet, and sandy” is a particular honor… and torture.
At every event I hit a point where I ask myself “Why the Hell am I doing this?” It’s so easy to slip into the thoughts of “I’ve done my time,” “This is stupid,” and “Fuck I’m getting old.” Every. Event. But when I push through, see everyone else is feeling the same way, and focus on helping the team work through the next task, I realize again why I do this.
Like the climb up Mount Motherfucker, this is far and away from loading your double-bagged heavy purse into a backpack and walking around. While the benefit of torch[ing] three times as many calories as plain old walking is a great benefit, that’s not why we do it. In one event – training or official – we can experience something far greater. Something that pushes us through adverse situations, builds community, teamwork, and a workout like no other.
Nothing brings people together faster than shared suffering. Rucking, like the military training that gave birth to the civilian version, can teach teamwork and leadership in a powerful way. It forces the needed human connection to make things happen under stresses found only in adverse conditions very few have to live with regularly – in the dark, wet, freezing cold, with weight on your back and sand in your crotch. But sunrises never looked so good.
It truly sucks like awesome.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What events do you enjoy pushing yourself to the max with? OCR? Marathons? Crossfit Games and Competitions? Leave a Reply in the Comments section below.
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GORUCK: What is Rucking? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iSyDV9Mb4w