I like being prepared for whatever comes my way. That doesn’t mean I know what’s coming, but simply that I’m as well prepared as possible to deal with situations that may arise. In so doing, I pay close attention to my surroundings, whether they are immediate, in the micro sense, or globally in the broader sense. I consider this critical to preparedness and the ability to act when needed. Paying attention to myself is equally critical. Having the mental capacity to assess the situation and devise a plan is one thing. Having the physical ability to carry it out is something completely different. Physical fitness is critical, especially if you envision your situation involving bugging out and carrying the provisions and defensive tools necessary to sustain you even for a short period.
Personally, I have always enjoyed physical fitness and being in shape, beginning at the age of 12 with my first set of weights. By age 18, I was enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, and a life of physical preparedness took on a different meaning. It meant I might have to rely on my physical abilities to save my life, or someone else’s. Today, 31 years later, in a world of incredible uncertainty and peril, no fewer challenges exist. Now, however, I’m a 49 year old, married, father of girls, and fitness is a much harder game yet equally, if not more, important to my preparedness.
Throughout my life I have maintained an affinity toward personal fitness through a number of hobbies and activities, such as weight training, ice hockey, downhill skiing, mountain biking, hiking, and archery hunting in the Colorado mountains. At the age of around 45, I realized the drive to stay fit required a challenge to keep me engaged. So I signed up for my first Tough Mudder Challenge being held at Beaver Creek Ski Resort in Colorado. I began following the P90X workout series and literally changed my aging body over the next six months, getting myself ready for Tough Mudder. In September of 2012, I completed the 13+ mile obstacle course, traversing the Colorado mountains without significant difficulty for one simple reason. I was in shape, because I had properly prepared.
Following that event, I knew another challenge was needed for the next year. I found it while reading the pages of SurvivalBlog, where I ran across a submission regarding the GORUCK Challenge. At the GORUCK.com website, I learned about their challenges, the background of the Cadre leaders, and the challenges they prepare. After that, I was all in. This led to months of hard training, much the same as before. Nine months of time in the gym, P90X in the basement, swimming laps in the pool, and some form of physical activity five or six days per week put me in the best shape of my life and ready for that 2013 September night.
Without going into all the details of a GORUCK Tough Challenge, I will say that it was tough. Weighing over 150 pounds meant I was required to carry a pack containing six bricks, slightly over 36 pounds, not including water or food. Our cadre was also required to carry a 25 pound team weight, a full 8-gallon water jug, and of course a U.S. flag. We started at 1:00 am, and throughout the next 14 hours we navigated 15 miles, carrying “casualties” and their packs, railroad ties, walking with only one shoe, or being required to carry our pack (or packs) using only one strap. If you think carrying a 36+ pound pack on each shoulder with one strap and one shoe on your feet for two or three miles is simple, give it a whirl. You will find it isn’t easy, but it will prepare you for that time when you need to. As I said, the GORUCK Tough Challenge was just that– tough. Our cadre finished with the entire group of 33 starters, and along the way I learned a few new things about challenging others and myself in an unfamiliar environment. The challenge tested not only fitness but also mental willingness to push beyond what is considered “normal”. Ultimately, it was a great experience, which I highly recommend.
Earlier, while researching the GORUCK events, I learned the founder and his buddies had once run a Tough Mudder Challenge wearing weighted packs. That sounded pretty challenging, and so I made my own decision to finish a Tough Mudder Challenge in Colorado carrying a weighted pack.
Unfortunately, my plans were altered for me over the next year. While practicing for archery hunting season during the summer of 2014, I noticed the strength in my right arm was off, way off. In a fairly short period of time, my right bicep strength diminished so badly I could no longer do a single bicep curl using an eight pound weight. No amount of chiropractic, acupuncture, or deep tissue massage helped pinpoint the problem, so it was MRI time. By late July 2014, I was undergoing shoulder surgery to repair a torn bicep ligament. I spent a full nine months after the surgery rehabilitating and resting my shoulder and body. Fortunately, the surgery and rehabilitation were successes, and in early June 2015 I was able to resume preparing myself for Tough Mudder 2015 being held in late August at Snowmass Village, Colorado.
I had determined I would carry my GORUCK pack containing six bricks, with two additional five pound plates, making the total weight 47 pounds. This decision came from the research I have done regarding the more difficult GORUCK events, which require a minimum 45 pound pack, excluding food and water. I figured if the Special Forces guys at GORUCK have it figured out, I would follow their plan.
On September 12, 2015 I finally ran, and completed, the Tough Mudder Challenge at Snowmass. This time the event was 11.5 miles with 18 obstacles scattered throughout the course. Each obstacle required something different, such as climbing, crawling, submersion in an ice water pool, or team-carrying heavy logs. The course traversed the mountain, requiring a climb from the base to the summit twice, but after more than 4.5 hours I finished the course, with a couple of good friends at my side. I can assure you, this time it was not easy.
I’ve had several months to reflect since then, during which friends and family ask the same question. Why? It’s a fair question, considering there were thousands of people at Tough Mudder and I would reasonably guess not five carried heavily weighted packs. My answer is always the same– because it’s a challenge and I can succeed. However, the real answer is deeper.
As I stated earlier, I have always enjoyed being in shape. But, being in shape and being prepared to travel long distances, sometimes at speed for prolonged periods while carrying heavy weights, are two different levels of fitness, I can assure you. I trained hard for my first Tough Mudder and GORUCK challenges. However, when I carried a pack for TM2015, I followed the P90X routine for only three months, after a full year off due to injury, surgery, and rehab. This meant I was at a decent fitness level at which I believed I was capable of finishing the event but not at peak conditioning. I can honestly tell you, the next morning I absolutely did not want to put my shoes and pack on for another 11-mile traverse through the mountains.
But what if I had to? What if, rather than being the crazy idiot my friends joke about having carried a pack at Tough Mudder, I was instead carrying 50-ish pounds of critical items, such as food, shelter, clothing, ammo, knife, assorted survival components. Are you counting the pounds as they add up? Did I say ammo? How much of that do I need? That stuff is heavy. What weapon am I carrying? The sweet Armalite AR-10T Ultra in 300 RSAUM will punch big holes at great distances, but it also weighs over 15 pounds and will certainly be left behind. The same is true for that cool 15” commando knife weighing in over three pounds. Remember, what goes in the pack has to be carried along with anything else you strap on, dangle, tie, or otherwise attach to your body, and it all adds up quickly. How many people are in your group? What can they carry? My family members consist of three small-framed women, who can’t carry anywhere near what I can, but they need all the same considerations.
Also remember, your provisions may also go away fairly quickly. Water, food, ammo, could all diminish faster than you may want, which means what? You might be required to carry more of some items, depending on the circumstance.
The bottom line to this giant story is that weight is a killer and your life may depend on how you deal with it. Whether in the form of a spare tire from too much good eating, or more “stuff” in your pack than you can reasonably carry, it is your burden to deal with and plan for. Extra stuff can be dispersed or left behind, but extra personal weight is all ours to bear. If you’ve determined in your mind that you’re bugging out when the SHTF, you’d better pack wisely and be physically capable. If you’re in a situation where you really have to get out (think urban setting), you had better be able to move quickly or have a good backup plan.
The idea that we can jump up and throw our BOB over our shoulder, bounding across the countryside with weapon in hand and the rest of the party in tow, makes for a great Hollywood story. Reality sets in when you’re six miles in, having kept a brisk pace the whole way, and you face another mountain peak to climb and there’s another behind it and another.