So a little background before getting into the events of the F3 Custom HTL and my perspectives on the event. This was my first HTL; however, not my first lengthy endurance event. Prior to this I had completed a handful of other GORUCK events, 50K, and also numerous training exercises while in the Marine Corps. So physically and mentally, I had done things that were hard on the mind and body.
The reason for that is not to brag or boast about previous accomplishments, it is to state that I had tested my limits before in events of this magnitude and succeeded, and that success was extremely beneficial in mentally and physically preparing for the HTL. Having the confidence in knowing that you’ve done something like this before is great, it helps to calm the nerves that one may feel before going into something like this. Had I not completed what I had done before, I would have probably been a nervous wreck. Another thing that brought confidence in going into this event was knowing I was going in not as an individual, but as part of a team that I knew had been training and training hard for this. It wasn’t something that F3 was taking lightly, and we knew good and well the Cadre were going to bring their A game as always so we needed to bring ours.
Also as F3, we call these events CSAUP events. CSAUP stands for completely stupid and utterly pointless. I honestly believe the name is completely wrong for these events, to some they may seem stupid and pointless…but for those who do them, the opposite holds true. They are far from stupid, and definitely not pointless.
Training and Prep Work:
Training for this event started sometime mid last year. The good and bad thing is that along the way I roped myself into running a 50K. Prep work for a 50K does not include lifting heavy things, it includes logging mind numbing amounts of miles. Well my stubbornness told me to keep lifting heavy things while logging mind numbing amounts of miles. In the end, it didn’t help my 50K performance but I do believe it helped me build endurance that was definitely needed for the HTL. So with that being said, definitely incorporate some running (w/o a ruck) into your training.
As stated I was also lifting heavy things. One thing I felt that I was lacking was adequate strength after finishing the F3 Custom Heavy in 2015. That was something I was not going to let happen again. I was using an older training plan that I used while I was deployed for the last portion of 2015 and then in early 2016 I found the Kris Gethin’s 12 week Muscle Building plan. IMHO I believe this plan was excellent for muscle building for the HTL. Lots of supersets and crazy ladders in the workout to not only build muscle, but also build endurance in those muscles. I finished this plan about two weeks before the HTL and could tell a huge difference strength wise.
In addition to this time in the gym aka fern, I would also attend usually 3-4 bootcamp sessions (4th usually being a double down on a Saturday if time allowed), 1-2 run groups, and the Reaper per week. So that usually equaled somewhere between 8-10 workouts/week. The Reaper was great because it is a hill repeat (hill is approximately 1/5 mile long one way) workout with merkins (aka push-ups) at the top of the hill, and LBCs (aka crunches) at the bottom with an increasing amount of reps with each lap completed. After the 50K was completed I rucked the Reaper, with the ruck usually weighing 30-60ish lbs and at times carrying either a 45-65 lb sandbag as well.
One thing I did not do was log a bunch of miles (yes I logged a crap ton prepping for the 50K, yes that’s an official count). I logged some miles each week, usually during the Reaper and the longest ruck I have completed this year was approximately 10 1/2 miles (excluding the two events completed earlier this year, Greenville Tough and Bragg Heavy). Not sure why I didn’t, I think partially because I was comfortable with my gear setup, the clothes and shoes I would be wearing. And also, it was either throw in even more training and sacrifice time away from my family or sacrifice a little training and spend valuable time with my family, easy choice for me. And again, not to sound arrogant but I was confident in my rucking abilities figured the longest ruck movement during the events (w/ the exclusion of the 12-mile ruck, which happened during the Heavy portion) would generally be 3-5ish miles at a time.
So you may be thinking, that is a lot of what was done as an individual and this is a team event. And you would be 100% correct, this was a team event…the ultimate team building event GORUCK has to offer excluding the insanity that is the HHH. But being part of a team is being able to hold your own during the event and being able to offer something to the team instead of being a burden on the team. Part of teamwork is individual effort IMO, but it takes those individual efforts coming together harmoniously to be effective. Your team can’t put in the work for you, you have to do that. I wasn’t going to rely on my team to carry my weight, my team can’t log my miles for me, and I wasn’t going to be the team member standing by watching them carry heavy stuff because I was too weak or didn’t have the fortitude to help out. To be part of the team, you have to be able to contribute to the team and I’m hoping that I did with carrying heavy things, and being there for my teammates.
Having that mentality when it comes to teamwork creates accountability. You hold your teammates accountable to putting in the work, and they do the same for you.
I brought two pairs of tac pants, a handful of shirts (one per event, #WalkerStrong for the Heavy to honor Walker), some gym shorts, smartwool socks (5-6 pairs), Merrell lowcut hiking shoes (can’t recall name but dear God they are comfortable), Asics Sendai 2 running shoes, and Asics Cumulus 16 shoes. Also had a Back Country shell jacket. Changed socks once during the Heavy, and after each event. Tac pants for the Heavy and Tough, shorts for the light. Short sleeve shirts throughout each event, skin paid the price for that with some amazing scars.
25L Rucker for the Heavy and Tough, and GR0 for the Light, 3L low profile Source bladder (x2 and thankfully so because one was punctured toward the end of the Heavy), Nalgene bottle, sternum strap and waist belt (used as needed), dry bag and Pelican case, Mechanix gloves (x3 but only used two pairs).
Steel plate for the Heavy and Tough, and old school bricks for the Light.
The week of the HTL came, and with that came nutrition prep. While training I kept a fairly balanced diet of protein and carbs, definitely keeping the calories rolling in so I could keep going. The week of the HTL though I upped the counts of both, knowing I would need both to sustain my body while going through the rigors of the HTL. This included spaghetti w/ turkey, copious amounts of eggs, grilled chicken breasts w/ sweet potatoes, and some other stuff. Tried to cut out the empty simple carbs as well.
The day of I downed my traditional PB&Banana (go Team Banana) sandwiches, a large protein shake for breakfast (Dark Chocolate Almond Milk and Optimum Nutrition Natural Oats and Whey Vanilla flavored, absolutely delicious IMO) and an apple. Additionally I had packed away meals for in-between the events, had chicken breasts, more PB&Banana sandwiches, more protein shakes, wild rice and chicken soup, and more apples. Also had pickles which meant I had pickle juice as well.
I ate most of that w/ the exception of the chicken breasts (not sure why I didn’t, wasn’t as convenient to eat I suppose). Also one of my teammates (my Battle Buddy for life, Muggy Tape) brought me up a hearty breakfast after the Tough…can’t really recall what it was but I inhaled it all.
During the event I had packed out Nuun tablets, Jack Links Small Batch Bacon Jerky, Epic Bison Bacon Cranberry bars, some Hammer Gels (espresso flavor for the caffeine), and some Shot Blocks (which I never opened, completely forgot about them). Throughout the entire series I ate one complete bag of the Bacon Jerky, probably 5-6 Epic bars, 3-4 Hammer Gels, 6-8 Nuun tablets (obviously drank these while mixed with water), and also drank copious amounts of water.
Post HTL I ate everything in sight and also got Hangry while looking for a place to eat because downtown Asheville was absolutely packed and we couldn’t find a spot that didn’t have a long wait. Once we found a spot the food was lucky if it hit the table before it was gone. Once that food hit, it was food coma time as the adrenaline had worn off and the massive burger I had just downed set in.
Rest and Recovery Between Events:
My initial plan was to get to the parking garage we were staying in, yes you read that correctly we stayed in a parking garage as it was right across the street from the start point, clean up and destroy some calories, and then sleep some.
After the Heavy, that plan somewhat worked. Ate, cleaned up, changed, and got about 1 1/2 hours of sleep. There was approximately 5 hours in between the Heavy and the Tough. So after I woke up, ate a little more and then started getting ready for the Tough.
After the Tough we had about 4 1/2 hours before the Light started. Not sure if it was the adrenaline running or what, but I was restless. I ate, I cleaned myself up, changed but I could not fall asleep. I had a blister on the bottom of my big toe that was causing my foot to be restless, I’ll blame the lack of sleep on that.
The funniest thing I witnessed in between events was watching Rocking Chair (respect!!!) trying to put deodorant on before the Light. He couldn’t lift his arm high enough, and thankfully one of our shadows (Thumbs Up, respect) that had come up and was driving us back home helped him out by putting it on for him. Hilarious but true #Iam3rd moment. Teamwork is needed to finish an event like this, even if the teammate isn’t a participant.
So all the prep work was done, you read or didn’t read all the other stuff above and are now down here at what went down during the HTL.
We got to the start point, got some mumble chatter in and then went to form up. The Cadre came in hot, caught me by surprise for some reason. Not sure why I was expecting something different but they came in with a high intensity level. And that intensity level stayed there the entire time. As stated above, they brought their A game as they always do but also brought an intensity level I had not seen before.
So we make it through the welcome party and admin portion (that was “fun”), and then Cadre Jesse has the lead. We set off on an unknown distance and unknown time hack ruck. It was an individual task. Of course F3 being stubborn and never leaving anyone behind, we thought this was a trick and while still moving at a decent pace did our best to stick together. After making it about 2/3 of the way back of the out and back route we were stopped, and it was explained again that this was individual effort movement. From there we realized it wasn’t a trick, and off we all went. In the end, 7 out of the 55 met the unknown time hack (still no clue what that time was). Pays to be a winner, meant extra rest and time off the feet, time to put some calories back in, and re-hydrate.
Once everyone was back, off we went again this time with the coupons and whatnot. We eventually make it to a beautiful stack of railroad ties and we may have done something before this, but I honestly cannot remember. It was obvious at this point though that it was log PT time. We gathered up the logs and off we went to an empty lot, doing some PT there and eventually moving to a larger empty lot. Log PT was fairly simple, it consisted of OH presses, squats, some curls, and picking it up and putting it down. Between some of the PT there were some loop runs, and the resting position was not standing there…it was the front lean and rest (FLR).
It was around this time that I witnessed something I have never really witnessed before during a GORUCK event. People dropping, I’ve heard about it, heard about how people just disappear, but never really witnessed it. It happened for various reasons, bodies of some just gave out and did so out of no where. The thought crossed my mind that if the Cadre kept this intensity level up, hardly anyone if any would show up to the Tough (it was just a thought that I kept in my head).
After we finished log PT and some glorious hill suicides, we moved out again and went on to our next destination with the existing coupons and some new railroad tie coupons. When we got there, I started to look around. Where was everyone? I was looking for two specific faces and couldn’t find them. Moving past that mind blowing realization that we were down to 35 pax, when we started with 55 pax, we re-hydrated and then moved onto some more PT to include some crawls of various sorts and other fun things.
So we moved out again to the next spot, when we got a chance to drop some coupons if we earned it with some teamwork. Various team exercises were completed and somehow or another we pulled it together and earned the right to drop something, can’t recall what but I think it was water cans (those things are stupid awkward to carry). Also got a chance to get some food in and re-hydrate again.
Morale was back up at this point and the team was really coming together. We moved through some brutal rolling hills in Asheville, had a little mindgame fun, and then it was obvious what was about to happen next. Cadre Chuy (if you’ve never done an event with this man, you’re missing out…of course the same can be said about any of the Cadre during this event) was looking for that perfect spot to get into the water. And he found it, the water was our reward for working together as a team. It was refreshingly cold, but we also got an amazing story from Cadre Chuy. Do an event with him and he may share it with you. After the water it was time to move out again.
But before the water something happened that I thought was really powerful. One of the pax was called out for being a grey man. He was then put out in front of the entire group for a critique. Was this harsh? Yes, no, maybe. What it did was transform a pax from a grey man pax to one who put out and went on to finish the HTL. The Cadre are there to teach us, guide us, and help us grow. And in that moment, their guidance helped this man grow, but also helped the team and each individual man there grow. Each man dug down deep for each other. That moment is something I have witnessed before during previous GORUCK events but never in way like this one. It was powerful.
So now we are up and moving back toward the end point. We make a couple more stops along the way, eventually dropping the majority of the coupons. As stated intensity stayed high but the team was working together and was rewarded for doing so. We made one last stop along the way for some more fun PT and then finally back to the endex. The endex was brutal, but that is expected. It was GORUCK Heavy, if you wanted easy then you shouldn’t have signed up for this. 31 out of 55 had finished the Heavy portion, and 27 out of 48 HTL’ers said they were coming back for the Tough. If you wanted to finish the HTL, you really had to want it, which meant leaving the Heavy without a patch at the time. If you wanted to get that patch, and get it from the Cadre you had to get it at the end of the Light.
-Rest and Recovery-
20 HTL’ers show back up. But even more inspirational, some that dropped during the Heavy risked their body failing again and suited back up for the Tough. Work still had to be done, they came to do work, and jumped back in with their team. The mental mindgames they had to overcome to do that, awe-inspiring!
Cadre Chuy had the lead on the Tough event, and it was the Charming the Snake version of the Tough. As the website says, not any less physical just more mental or something like that. And this being my second Charming the Snake event, that definitely holds true.
We go through the welcome party and admin portion, and then get the details on our mission. We have very specific details that we as a team need to remember. We had to work with indigenous personnel to help us recover two downed pilots.
First objective is to get to the fist destination within an hour, it was approximately 4ish miles away with a lot of hills in the way. Cadre Jesse was leading us, and he was booking it. Those hills were brutal, just as brutal as the first time we went through them during the Heavy. I recall thinking to myself this has to be the destination, and he’d keep moving and moving and moving. I’d also think to myself, how much farther can my legs take me at this pace…and thankfully, they kept moving and moving and moving. But while they were moving, my feet could feel the efforts and 35-40 miles or so we had put in during the Heavy. Thankfully I love leg day, really think that helped out with keeping my legs moving during this portion.
We got to the check point, had a debrief and watched as the next evolution took place. This included working with indigenous personnel (our POC, Papolo) and our team leaders bargain and negotiate with him to gain information. Unfortunately Papolo needed some firewood for his family, and the only firewood around were some freshly cut logs. We had those, some water cans, water buckets, “gasoline”, “rice”, and some other stuff. It was blackout time down a trail where we did some more Charming the Snake type things, more debriefing, and at this point I was tired. I remember standing there listening but having this 1000 yd stare going on.
We moved on to the next check point for some PT. Things almost went hairy at this point, but thankfully the team was working together and the situation was diffused. The team leads did an excellent job during this, especially our interpreter Padre. We recovered our downed pilots, which meant stretcher time! Two stretchers and two logs, plus some other coupons.
Negotiation skills came into play at this point. We were moving, tried to negotiate dropping the logs…failed, paid, rinse and repeat a few times, and through all of that morale stayed high. I thoroughly believe this was largely due to the TL. Eventually we reached our goal, barely, and dropped the logs. Then it was debrief time, and then time to get the casualties to the LZ.
That movement happened and it was question time…wait question time???? Yeah, those details we were given 10-11 hours prior, we need to remember answers to these questions. Specific answers, and very specific details. Wrong answers equaled more PT. The PT had a purpose though, one I didn’t see at first and was hating it especially when it was a brutally long bear crawl loop. Eventually we got the questions answered and finished the endex of the Tough.
-Rest and Recovery-
All 20 HTL attempters show back up for the Light, we were basically there right? It’s just a Light…
Welcome party and admin portion, some forgot headlamps and we paid for that. The packing list is the packing list, just bring what is on there. I will say that that lighter weight requirement for the Light was awesome, although the ruck probably weighed somewhere between 25-30 lbs, it felt light as a feather compared to the Heavy and Tough load.
We then split into three groups, each going to specified destinations with unknown time hacks. Did some PT along the way, and more running though the amazing hills of Asheville. We truly looked like weirdos, which is saying something for Asheville.
Eventually all three teams met back up, and then headed to the end point for the endex. We go through the endex activities and then the Light group split from the HTL group. The Light group held rucks overhead, and then the HTL group…well things happened. It was brutal, it was loud, it was chaotic, it was electric, it was amazing, it was moving, it was sensational, it was memorable, and it required each of the 20 to dig deep down and use every last bit of strength and energy that we had.
Rucks went on the front, we did some squats, and saw what we accomplished. As we each looked each other and the Cadre in the eyes, we realized what we accomplished…together…as a TEAM. The old acronym for TEAM, Together Everyone Achieves More holds true. We stuck it out, together, and achieved more than we had imagined.
As Lee Greenwood’s – God Bless the USA played from Jesse’s speaker we all started to sing it, loudly, proudly. This song holds a deep meaning to me, during family day after 12 weeks and 6 days of brutal training down (one day away from graduating) at Parris Island, SC we were going through the family day ceremony receiving our Eagle, Globe, and Anchor’s (EGA) this song was playing. So needless to say, when this song plays, it brings back memories…great memories of overcoming the odds and completing a brutal challenge.
Not a dry in the circle, we 20 were there, arms locked around each other, the Light group surrounding us, arms locked, families there watching on, those who didn’t make it through the event there for their teammates because even though they didn’t finish the HTL they were still part of the team, and we were all just there…living in that moment. We believed, we accomplished, and we created long last memories and learned life changing values that one can only accomplish by pushing themselves to or close to or even beyond these limits.
The 20 were there patched for all three events, and then we cheered on the rest of the Light class as they received their patch. We then listened on intently as each Cadre gave us a debrief of what went down, sharing life lessons, and what a powerful moment it was while each was speaking. In that moment, it wasn’t about the Cadre, it wasn’t about the class, it was about all of us, and living in our moment.
I learned that even when things a difficult, I can mentally and physically continue to push forward. Had the Cadre taken it easy on us would I have learned that? No. Do I think that the Cadre had something to prove? Absolutely not. They have a standard, and it is our job to reach that standard. We made mistakes, we learned from those mistakes. We asked for this, they brought it, we took it. The same can be said about those who didn’t finish, if they were never pushed to that level would they have learned their current limit? NO! We don’t cheat ourselves by taking the easier route, sometimes the only way to learn to push it to the limit. Without doing that, you’ll never learn what that limit is. Some of us found it, some of us saw it creeping up, and some of us realize that we can achieve more than imaginable.
I learned that I have work to do still, both physically and mentally. I learned that there is more than I can learn in becoming a leader.
We learned negotiation skills, life lessons, team work…and we learned that we cannot fear hitting our limit. Our perceived limits are just like fear, both are mental and most are not real. We cannot fear failing, if we did that we would never really achieve anything nor would we ever really live. Living occurs when you step outside of that perceived comfort zone and get a little uncomfortable. You learn so much about yourself, so much about what it takes to become a teammate, and so much more about what else you can achieve in life. And that does not just include physical achievements. The physical part is the easy part, once you get beyond that you realize that mentally you can push your mind more, spiritually you can push your soul more…and what does all of this translate into?
It translate into you offering more to society, to your friends, to your co-workers, your employees, your peers, and most importantly to your family.
There is so much more learned from this event that my mind is still trying to digest, and the real learning that occurred from this may not really show right now in the present but in the changes that I and each of us take in molding our future. It is our responsibility to take these lessons learned, apply them to life, and use them to do good. If we do not do that then we really haven’t learned anything at all.
Don’t believe in failure, keep getting back up so you can do good, inspire others, and crush your perceived limits.