GORUCK HCL – AAR

Over the weekend of August 1st, 2014, I participated in the second most difficult “event” that GORUCK offers, the HCL.  For those that don’t know, The GORUCK HCL is “Back to back to back Good Livin’”.  Friday night at 5pm, we lined up to prepare for the 24 beast known as the GORUCK Heavy.  Upon completion, we get a few hour break before lining up again to start the standard 12 hour GORUCK Challenge.  If and when you survive the Challenge, you’ve got another 6 hour punctuation, the GORUCK Light.  At the completion of each event, the respective patch is handed out.  At the end of the Light, the coveted HCL patch is awarded.  

The Patch
  I am writing this post to document the weeks leading up to the HCL as well as the event for both myself and for anyone that is curious.

Training

For those that don’t know already, I attempted my first GORUCK Heavy with little to no training.  I finished, but it wasn’t pretty, and I wasn’t happy with how much I struggled.  Since that day, I started rehab for my knee, and even trained for and completed the NYC Marathon. Five weeks before HCL, I decided to make a conscious effort to work on my posture.    I had heard that it takes about two weeks to fix your posture.  The first week takes focus, and you have to think about it every time you sit down.  By the second week, it becomes easier,. and by the end of the second week it should be almost natural.  I have found that correcting my posture helped in my rucking ability immensely. Four weeks prior to the HCL, I started Bert’s Selection Training Program.
Click to Expand Chart

WEEK↓DAY→ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
1 RUN 3 MILES@ 8:30 min/mile pace 1‐HR RUCKSACK MARCH WITH 55LB LOAD RUN 4X400 Meters in 100 seconds, 400M easy between. RUN 2 MILES in 15 minutes. 

 

Day Off

Abs/Core

6‐MILE RUCKSACK MARCH, 17MIN/MI 50LB LOAD

Day Off

Abs/Core

2 RUN 3 MILES@ 8:00 min/mile pace 1‐HR RUCKSACK MARCH WITH 60LB LOAD RUN 4X400 Meters in 100 seconds, 400M easy between. RUN 2 MILES in 15 minutes 

Strength

Training

Day Off

Abs/Core

6‐MILE RUCKSACK MARCH, 16MIN/MI 60 LB LOAD

Day Off

Abs/Core

3 RUN 4 MILES@ 8:30min/mile pace 1‐HR RUCKSACK MARCH WITH 60LB LOAD RUN 4X400 Meters in 100 seconds, 200M easy between. RUN 2 MILES in 15 minutes 

Strength

Training

Day Off

Abs/Core

10‐MILE RUCKSACK MARCH, 16MIN/MI 50LB LOAD

Day Off

Abs/Core

4 RUN 4 MILES@ 8:00 min/mile pace 1‐HR RUCKSACK MARCH WITH 65LB LOAD RUN 4X400 Meters in 95 seconds, 400M easy between. RUN 2 MILES in 14 minutes 

 

Day Off

Abs/Core

10‐MILE RUCKSACK MARCH, 15MIN/MI 60LB LOAD

Day Off

Abs/Core

5 RUN 4 MILES@ 7:45 min/mile pace 1‐HR RUCKSACK MARCH WITH 65LB LOAD RUN 4X400 Meters in 95 seconds, 400M easy between. RUN 2 MILES in 14 minutes 

 

Day Off

Abs/Core

12‐MILE RUCKSACK MARCH, 17MIN/MI 50LB LOAD

Day Off

Abs/Core

6 RUN 4 MILES@ 7:30 min/mile pace 1‐HR RUCKSACK MARCH WITH 65LB LOAD RUN 4X400 Meters in 95 seconds, 200M easy between. RUN 2 MILES in 14 minutes 

 

Day Off

Abs/Core

12‐MILE RUCKSACK MARCH, 15MIN/MI 60LB LOAD

Day Off

Abs/Core

7 RUN 4 MILES@ 7:15 min/mile pace 1‐HR RUCKSACK MARCH WITH 70LB LOAD RUN 4X400 Meters in 90 seconds, 400M easy between. RUN 2 MILES in 13 mins or your fastest pace. 

Day Off

Abs/Core

15‐MILE RUCKSACK MARCH, 17MIN/MI 50LB LOAD

Day Off

Abs/Core

8 RUN 5 MILES@ 8:30 min/mile pace 1‐HR RUCKSACK MARCH WITH 70LB LOAD RUN 4X400 Meters in 90 seconds, 200M easy between. RUN 2 MILES in 13 mins or your best pace if slower.

Day Off

Abs/Core

15‐MILE RUCKSACK MARCH, 15MIN/MI 60LB LOAD

Day Off

Abs/Core

9 RUN 5 MILES@ 8:00 min/mile pace 1‐HR RUCKSACK MARCH WITH 75LB LOAD RUN 4X400 Meters in 90 seconds, 200M easy between. RUN 2 MILES in 13 mins or your fastest pace.

Day Off

Abs/Core

15‐MILE RUCKSACK MARCH, 15MIN/MI 70LB LOAD

Day Off

Abs/Core

10 RUN 5 MILES@ 7:30 min/mile pace 1‐HR RUCKSACK MARCH WITH 75LB LOAD RUN 4X400 Meters in 85 seconds, 200M easy between. RUN 2 MILES in 12 mins or your fastest pace. 

Day Off

Abs/Core

15‐MILE RUCKSACK MARCH, 14MIN/MI 80LB LOAD

Day Off

Abs/Core

11 RUN 5 MILES@ 7:15 min/mile pace 1‐HR RUCKSACK MARCH WITH 80LB LOAD RUN 4X400 Meters in 85 seconds, 200M easy between. RUN 2 MILES in 12 mins or your fastest pace. 

Day Off

Abs/Core

18‐MILE RUCKSACK MARCH, 15MIN/MI 65LB LOAD

Day Off

Abs/Core

12 RUN 5 MILES@ 7:00 min/mile pace 1‐HR RUCKSACK MARCH WITH 80LB LOAD RUN 4X400 Meters in 85 seconds, 200M easy between. RUN 2 MILES in 12 mins or your fastest pace.

Day Off

Abs/Core

20‐MILE RUCKSACK MARCH, 15MIN/MI 65LB LOAD

Day Off

Abs/Core

 

 

 

I had read about it on the GORUCK Tough page a while back and the timing worked out so that the 12 week program ends two weeks before Selection, should I decide to do it.  The gist of the program is to build up weight, distance, and time for rucking, and speed/distance for running.  It builds up rather quickly, but I found the ruck training to be the perfect warm up for HCL.  By Aug 1 I was only on week 4 of the program, yet my body seemed unfazed by the weight it was carrying, unlike my first Heavy.  I would highly recommend this program for anyone attempting a Heavy or greater. Another benefit of this, or any other ruck training program, is preparation.  In the four weeks I spent training, only two days per week were actually dedicated to rucking.  However, this gave me time in between to modify my ruck as I needed.  It allowed me to test how I wanted my weight distributed, what shoes I wanted to wear, and even how to focus on my gait to prevent sore muscles or injury.  There is a lot you can learn about yourself in four weeks, and I recommend getting in any training or testing that you possibly can.  Even if it’s only 30-60 minutes of rucking around a lake, a little bit can go a long way.

Travel

So why Colorado?  Why not do a local HCL?  Why do an HCL at all? All questions I asked myself in the weeks leading up.  Selection finishers have suggested that the HCL is a good litmus test for those looking to attempt Selection.  However, you don’t want to do one too close to Selection that you risk injury or illness (I’m still sick, two weeks later), and you don’t want one too far out that you aren’t prepared for it. At the time of registration, only one HCL was located on the east coast in a reasonable time.  Florida, home of Selection.  The only other option?  Colorado.  We decided Colorado.  What this meant, however, was flying out a few days early to acclimate to the higher elevation.  In hindsight, we probably should have done more than just bar hop, but at least we enjoyed ourselves.

Preparation

One of the most important part of the HCL, in my opinion, is the preparation.  You’re about to spend the next 48 hours “embracing the suck”, the last thing you want to worry about is your gear.  To prep, I laid out all of my gear on a table.

2014-07-30 13.13.40


From here, I separated what was being worn during, what was being stored during, and what was being used before/after the challenge.  Everything I was going to wear I rolled up and put inside of my Tac Hat.  Everything I was going to store, I put in a dry bag that had a built in purge valve, or a dry case.  Everything else went inside an easy-to-access duffle bag.

The Dry Bag included:

  • Dry Socks
  • Undershirt
  • Warm Hat

The Dry Case had:

  • Trail Toes
  • Cell Phone (I regret this decision)
  • Bandaids
  • Nuun Tablets (added one to bladder at every refill)
  • Advil

And the duffle bag:

  • Clean socks
  • Fresh underwear
  • Baby wipes
  • compression socks for recovery
  • sleeping pad
  • clean towel
  • lead weights
  • cheap luggage scale*

These were all essential to my mission.  Packing is key, if you don’t need it, don’t bring it.  My goal was to keep my ruck as empty as possible, with my weight, water, and the few essential dry items.  With so few things in my bag, everything would be easy to get at in a moments notice, something I found to cherish when the time came.

*I highly, highly recommend this scale between events.  It will make adjusting weight so much easier.

Required Weight

Each event is treated differently by the Cadre, and each event has its only required ruck weight.  For the HCL, each portion had an lower weight for each section.  The weights listed are “dry weights” and include the weight of the ruck.  “Dry” meaning no food or water.  It is important to have a plan on how you will meet weight for each event so that you don’t waste the few hours you have between events trying to figure it out.  For me, my weight was as follows:

  • Heavy – 35lbs
  • Challenge – 24lbs
    • Ruck – 4.0
    • Lead – 20.0
  • Light – 16lbs
    •  Ruck – 4.0
    • Lead – 10.0

¹Since the time of writing, GORUCK has released their own version of the weighted plate.  I highly recommend checking them out. GORUCK.com

Between events I was sure to adjust weight and use my portable scale to check to make sure I came in over weight, but by as little as possible.

The Night Before

The night before we made sure to get a full, tasty meal.  We had a couple of sangrias, to keep our alcohol content down, but still fun.  And we made sure we got to bed early with absolutely no alarm set in the morning.  We chose to get as much sleep as our bodies would allow, knowing this was the last time we’d sleep for the next 48 hours or more.  To save a little more time the next day, and also because we couldn’t sit still, we prepared our rucks.  By the time I fell asleep, I was ready to leave for the event.

The Day Of

The event didn’t start until 5pm.  This meant we had all day to rest and take our time, so we took it.  We all woke up around 10am and hung around the hotel until noon.  From there we headed to the start point, stopping at a Qdoba on the way.  We spent over an hour taking our time eating, and relaxing.  From here we drove to the start point, arriving almost 3 hours early.  We wandered around the area, checking out the museum and getting an idea of the area.  We stayed hydrated and then, with just over an hour before the start, we started our final preparations. With just over an hour, it was time to finally get everything in order.  Change, put on socks, shoes, whatever else we we needed for our event.  We filled our water bladders, and got our rucks sealed up for the last time before starting.  We tied everything up with about 20 minutes to spare, so now, it was time to wait…

The Heavy

The Start

I will try to keep most of events fairly secret, since all challenges are different, and half the difficulty is the unknown.  That being said, the Heavy started the way all Heavy’s start now, with the APFT.  This is not a requirement of the event, but merely a litmus test to see where everyone falls in preparedness.  For ours, we were tested only on Pushups, Situps, and the 12-mile ruck.  I think we lost 3 people during the ruck, which involved the road, and 16 fucking laps on a track.

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After that, the Heavy “began”. Most of the Heavy was spent traversing the mountain trails of Boulder.  A ton of step ups and downs were had, much of it with a particularly heavy Log.

The Log

However, seeing as this is the ultimate team event, our team crushed it.  Just about everyone who signed up for the Heavy was prepared to do the full HCL, so we were all mentally prepared, and that helped us immensely. Middle of the night, during the Heavy is when I reached my lowest point.  I think I was lacking in water, and my head started to throb.  Middle of a Heavy is not when you want a headache.   We had reached maybe 10 hours into the Heavy, with our food taken from us, and we were trucking through the woods.  My head hurt so much that I was bringing up the rear, just trying to help carry extra rucks for whoever was carrying anything else, losing myself in my own head.  At one point, we stopped for a refuel, and I remember I had brought some Advil.  I popped two in my mouth, and while I was fishing for my water, it dawned on me that these were the candy coated Advil.  Without even thinking, I had sucked all the sugar off of the Advil and still hadn’t even started to drink water.  It was fucking delicious.  I suddenly realized why I had Advil in my mouth, and proceeded to actually swallow it this time.  Within ten minutes my head was back to normal and I could return to the task at hand.  This was the greatest morale booster for me of the entire weekend. At one point, we got some hand’s one fieldcraft lessons from Chris Way and Grant S…omethingorother.  This was a brief, much appreciated break, that was also an interesting bit of learning.  This also gave us a chance to refill our water bladders, as we were all running low. One of the biggest differences between finishing a normal Heavy, and finishing the Heavy portion of an HCL, is that you don’t feel remotely close to finished.  If you signed up for the HCL, you know that you are halfway there, and it’s a huge difference.

First Break

Upon completing the Heavy, we were informed that we were running “behind schedule”.  Fuck, we just lost at least an hour of crucial rest time.  This is where preparation plays a huge part.  We had 3 hours to get food, to the new start point, a parking spot, rest, and ready for the Challenge.  3 hours is very little time to fuck around before starting a typical, overnight, 12 hour Challenge.  We quickly shook hands, waited for our FARM mates to get the car, and booked it to the nearest Whole Foods. If you have a nearby Whole Foods, I highly recommend going there in between.  I utilized their salad bar, sushi bar, and smoothie bar to consume as many calories in the shortest amount of time possible.  I also grabbed a few more finger foods to bring with me on the Challenge, and we were off to the start point to find parking. Parking was especially difficult for this event because the Colorado Iron Man was in town, but we managed to find a side street with free parking.  Once we parked, we got all of our gear in check for the Challenge.  Specifically, dropping weight.  Personally, I got rid of everything I possibly could, used my portable luggage scale, and found I had exactly 24 lbs, perfect.  I took my shoes off, put on compression socks, and laid out on an inflatable pad next to the SUV we rented.  In hindsight, I would put more layers on to stay warm.  I didnt’ get any sleep, my alarm went off, and it was time for final prep.  As with the Heavy, this meant water, weight, and clothes.  Before I knew it, we were walking to the start point.

The Challenge

The Challenge followed almost the same format as all Challenges do.  You needn’t look far to find AAR’s of a GORUCK Challenge, so I won’t waste yours or my time.  We started with the pushups, situps, and two mile run of the APFT.  We did a lot more trail “hiking”.  We did a significant amount more running.  Yes, running, it sucked, we all hated it, but reaching a low is par for a Challenge. Towards the end of the Challenge, we stopped at a Crossfit Gym for some “It Pays to be a Winner”.  I had some mixed feelings about this, but it did add some healthy competition and fun to the event.  We had 4 teams compete in typical xfit workout races, with the losers being “punished” with more races.

I enjoyed it, and I think it boosted the morale of the team. We finished the Challenge near the start point, with some Joe Warner based infill.  We had fun with it, even though it took us an extra hour to get our shit together.

Second Break

Yes, we lost yet another hour on another crucial break.  Back to Whole Foods, quick refill, purchase sunblock this time since the Light is midday, and head to the new start point.  The second trip to Whole Foods was much more productive than the original, since now we new what we wanted, didn’t want, and needed.  Definitely a learned experience. Upon reaching the new start point, we got our gear in order, again dropping as much weight as possible, and took a power nap.  This was surprisingly more difficult to wake up from than the first, though probably because I failed to get any sleep the first time around.

The Light

Not going to lie, at the beginning of the Light, I was terrified.  Not because I was so close to finishing, but because when Cadre Mocha Mike did roll call, we discovered that we had 23 HCL participants, and one Light participant.


Then the Light started, with a brutal welcome party.  It wasn’t a very long welcome party, but it started off rough right out of the gate.  I was honestly panicking about this challenge, right up until I was doing flutter kicks, and an ice pop landed on my chest.  “Eat this while doing PT”, I heard Cadre Bert say.  That right there was all I needed to snap my head out of it, and remember this is a Light.  It’s not going to be easy, but it is going to be fun.  And fun, it was.  Shortly after the welcome party, Mike put us in the stream for bottom samples.  I have never wanted to be in ice cold water as I did at that point.  It was amazing.  Quick bathe, quick cool off, and ready to go. The rest of the Light was spent carrying our log from the Heavy (dreaded this from the start) and other various items throughout the city of Boulder.  As we rounded the corner to the original park starting locations, my heart started to race.  So close I could taste it.  But it wasn’t going to be that easy.  Nope.  Cadre Mike really made us work for that last 30 minutes.  Made us suffer.  Made us earn that patch.  But there was no way in hell any of us were going to quit now.  No matter how much it sucked, we were going to finish. And we did. And it was glorious. And yes, I cried like a little bitch

After Thoughts

Listed in no particular order

Attitude

You need to know going into an HCL that you will finish the HCL.  If you go in thinking “I’ll see how I’m feeling after the Heavy”, you will fail.  A Heavy is a beast as it is, and you have already quit the rest of the event.

No sleep

Sleep plays a huge factor in this whole event.  Make sure you get it when you can.  Maximize your sleeping time between events, and make sure you get enough the night before.  You won’t regret it

Foot Care

Blisters – Lucky me, I managed to get not one, but two blisters the day before leaving for CO.  My girlfriend recommended picking up Band-Aids with “Advanced Blister Healing Cushions”.  They were expensive, but I was desperate.  I was blown away.  Not only did my feet survive 48 hours, I think they actually healed during the event.

Base Layer – Before even puttin on my socks, I coated my feet in Trail Toes.  There were mixed reviews during the HCL on this stuff, but I have absolutely no complaints.  Either my feet were stronger thanks to training, or this stuff really worked.  Either way, 12 dollars goes a long way towards easing my mind.

Socks – I tested out two different socks for this event.  Prosok and Darn Tough Trail Runners.  I loved both socks, equally.  I can’t definitively say which one I liked better, but would highly recommend both.  Update 7/2/15:  After a few months more of testing, I can say that I do not recommend Prosok.  Not sure why they worked so well for the HCL, but they have given me blisters nearly every time since.  Go with Darn Tough.


Shoes
– For the longest time, I used a good, heavy trail running shoe for Challenges.  Until I purchased the Salomon Men’s XA Pro 3D Trail Running Shoes, and instantly fell in love.  They’re light, they have some ankle support, and they have a quick draw lace.  For anyone that has done an extended challenge, this is crucial.  It allowed me to quickly, and easily, untie my shoe any time I needed.  When time is important, this really helps.  I would highly, highly recommend these for challenges.

Relationships

If you’re like me, you have someone pushing you to do better at home.  They’ve supported you all the way up to this point and are rooting for you.  They have also put up with your bullshit training and travel schedule.  The night before the event, from the city you have chosen to travel to, is not the time to question that.  You will get into an argument, and you will be the one making it worse, as you are already under enough stress from the challenge as it is.  Get your head out of you ass, appreciate what they’ve done for you, and enjoy your phone call.  Idiot 🙂

Selection Prep

It has been suggested that the HCL is a great tool to determine your preparation for GORUCK Selection.  While this might be true, I personally would be weary in suggesting it.  This, of course, depends on how close you are to Selection, but for me, I was out for a week after the HCL.  This wasn’t because I was out of shape.  On the contrary, I fell much better after the whole thing than I did after my first Heavy.  No, I think the biggest problem is straight fatigue.  48+ hours of no sleep and pure physical activity will take it’s toll on anyone’s body.  I wasn’t the only one that go physically ill the entire week after the event.  If HCL is your goal, this is fine, you will recover.  If Selection is your goal, you have now lost, at minimum, a week of important training.  I’m not saying this will happen to everyone, but I do suggest you keep this in mind.     In closing, I will add more details as I remember them, or as I see fit.  In the meantime, please, please, please comment below with questions and I’ll be more than happy to answer any 🙂

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