The GORUCK Challenge Explained


Teamwork, leadership, camaraderie, smiles, and a gut-check worthy of Special Operations training. But the beauty of the Challenge is that it’s not about you, it’s about the people by your side, the individuals that become your team. Ruckers have called it an introduction to themselves and a West Point graduate told me it was the best leadership training he ever had. The funny thing is that the Challenge was an accident. Back in 2010, I saw it as an event to product-prove our gear. But as strangers became teams and friends left asking for more, sooner, so they could bring their other friends next time, the Challenge grew. And because of the Challenge, bonds formed and a family grew in a way that I have never seen outside of the military.


Every Challenge begins awkwardly. A bunch of individuals standing around, wondering what’s first. And what’s after that. There are no frills and no start line.


But eventually your Cadre shows up and life changes. Beaux is one of the great characters in this world, and a Force Recon Marine. In your class, he’ll tell you how he earned his degree in pain, suffering, and discontent in the Al Anbar province in Iraq. And then he’ll laugh and smile and talk about hunting zombies and making you a better person in the process. And you’ll laugh awkwardly and know he’s telling the truth. I’m asked how we pick our Cadre, and the bottom line is that it’s smiles and pedigree. The smiles mean you’re a character, that you can entertain 30 strangers who respect you while you build them into a team. The pedigree is a background in Special Operations, a mindset of mission success via unconventional solutions.


Logistics before go time, hurry-up-and-wait style.


There’s always a beginning and it’s called the the welcome party — also a staple in nearly every military school I ever attended. The point is to break down the individuals. Everything we do has a purpose, everything  we do builds a team. And being a team is a mindset, and the mind responds to a good welcome party.


Bricks. Yeah, you’ll have them. If you forget to wrap them, which ‘Raw Dog’ did, you’ll probably hate your life for a while, but you’ll fight through it. The important part of this story is that Raw Dog is a ROTC student, hopefully destined to do great things as an officer in the US military. And I’ll guarantee you that for the rest of his military career, he’ll show up ready. Which he did not on this day. But he did finish, and he did thank us afterwards for the lessons. It’s still funny to me how that works.


Randomly lucky people to take in the welcome party. The first question they always ask is: what is going on here? As if having a team lined up in inchworms at the Lincoln Monument isn’t normal.


Eventually the movements, and the missions start. Above is a throwback to Class 001 in San Francisco. Before Beaux was Cadre. Notice the gear being dragged through the sand. All our gear still makes its way through the Challenge prior to being launched. But more importantly, notice the smiles. Smiles get you everywhere in life, and the Challenge is no different. Good Livin’ is what you call it when life is actually tough but you love it, your attitude is great, and you smile. And since life can be a tough place from time to time, smiles always matter and attitude is everything.


Java, the love of my life. He’s done 15 Challenges with me, my sentimental favorites. Even though my notion as Cadre is that you’ll hate me till you love me, and you’ll love me at the end — people have told me that he makes it impossible to ever hate me. And the truth is that I love that about him.


Ah yes, back to Beaux. Spectators are a good thing, especially when they’re fun and it’s someone’s 21st birthday party. Beaux — are you blushing?


It’s hard to completely separate the gear from the Challenge. All gear has weak points, but it’s our job to field test everything and make sure that what we’re doing is working. And that it continues to work. So suspending a log with your packs – when I’m cadre I won’t let you do it for very long because it’s easier than carrying the log, but it does help us prove the gear.


If you had one of my classes in the summer of 2011, you know all about the party ruck, above. That thing really is a sight of beauty. It went through 25 Challenges and it wasn’t light.


As the Challenge progresses, smiles still abound, but the goal is always to stay together. More together, more all the time. Any separation (‘breaks in contact’ in military jargon) indicate that the team is not functioning properly. The system for weight transfer matters, for rotating the heavier items like the party ruck. That’s the leader’s job, and the leader is appointed by the Cadre. It’s a learning process, and the classes have to be reminded that all the rules matter all the time. The most important one being: work together. Some people have less weight, some have more, some are doing better, some worse. But life’s not fair and neither is the Challenge. The people doing better should take more weight more of the time, and they should ask for no special reward in return.


When it doesn’t happen, when a team starts to separate, the Cadre takes it back to the basics of team building, a taste of a welcome party long past. Something like the inchworm. There are all sorts of interesting twists on it, the centipede, bounding, and a limit of advance. But the point is that as the Challenge progresses, individuals grow increasingly tired. It gets harder to think of the team, easier to think of yourself. You have to fight through that, especially because the missions of the Challenge continue, and missions happen together. It’s no different in the military. The toughest times and the most adversity bring out the best in people, and I’ll believe that to my dying breath. Hence so many stories of heroes making the ultimate sacrifice for a buddy — because ultimately it’s about your buddies. And the Challenge is, too.


Coupons. Redeemable for extra good livin’ immediately. In war, it’s the notion of battlefield recovery. Basically, that means that if you’re fighting and you need something, you take it. Like water or rifles or ammunition. In the Challenge it can be anything. A Playstation guitar or a computer monitor. Sometimes, the point in life is just to smile. And if Rod Butler, age 61, carrying a Playstation guitar for 10 hours in Boston doesn’t make you smile, I’ll buy you a beer and tell you about it till you do.


Linked arms = together = good. It took this class about 10 hours to understand that. The other good thing is that the Challenge brings people of all walks of life together. Military and civilian, runners and lifters, men and women. No matter your size, smiles and a sense of cool will always get other people to follow you.


A lot of people watch the Challenge. Most wonder what’s going on. Some explanations happily require more time than others, though.


The Challenge is mission based. This happened after about a year, an idea brought to it by Dan, a Green Beret who was fresh off a deployment leading Afghanistan’s most elite soldiers on mission after mission, night after night. When he came back, he modeled his Challenge after that. Cadre picks leaders and assistant leaders, explains the mission, sets a time hack, identifies threats, and then the team steps off with the leader in charge.


The classroom of the Challenge is based on our military training and experiences. Above, Beaux is explaining what it means to bound, to work together with your team to overtake the enemy’s fighting position in a way that minimizes risk to your own team.


And then the teams execute. I can still hear Beaux in the picture below, at the top of the picture, making very loud machine gun sounds and pointing with his hand his direction of fire. Eventually, all the teams overtook his position. In his scenario, his fighters were now better prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse.


And the ‘downed pilot’, which pretty much means that your team is moving great distances to save a pilot who has been shot down.


The funny thing about the log, I mean the downed pilot, is that it’s an evolution of acceptance. The first hour, the team struggles and believes it’s too heavy. They moan and groan, looking for sympathy they’ll never find. The second hour, they try to work out systems to rotate people in and out but by and large they fail. Too much effort is spent to make it easy and not enough effort is spent to just suck it up. And the third hour is one of acceptance. Interestingly enough, the third hour is always their best and fastest hour with the log. No matter how heavy it is, no mater how difficult the first two hours were. The bottom line is that people, when they work together, are capable of infinitely more than they thought possible. And that’s a powerful thing to know, and even more powerful to experience.


There aren’t exactly water stations, but water is a priority so there are stops.


I usually cry when we stop at 1 World Trade Center. And it’s always on the route in New York City. The Challenge takes you to all the best places in every city. And I promise you it’s a new way to see it, and if the moment is right, you might cry, too.


But on it goes to greet the morning joggers. Joggers on the left have been up for an hour. Ruckers on the right have been at it all night. Good Livin’ and more smiles.


Fatigue produces instincts to act like individuals. So we go back to the beginning, a reminder that the team is always the priority.


And as it progresses, the goal is for the class to run missions successfully on its own. For the team to solve its own problems. The sooner this happens, and continues to happen, the better it is for everyone.


As if yesterday I can remember Drill Sergeant Hester telling my basic training class that if you’re ever wounded on the battlefield, you won’t care who carries you off. You won’t care if they’re black, white, purple, neon-striped, polka-dotted, whatever. I learned a lot from that man, and he prepped me well for Special Forces training, and for life. And some of those lessons come via the buddy carry.


All classes carry a flag with pride. Members of the military wear one on their uniforms, and this is a small way to honor their service, to honor the roots of the Challenge.


The progression of the Challenge is a thing of beauty for me, to watch the way that the team comes together.


But is it the real finish or is there another mission? In this case, the Challenge was complete. And Beaux talked to his class in Cincy about what they had done, and about why he’s proud to be an American. Because being an American is a state of mind. A state of mind that the Challenge proves exists and will always exist. A love of one another, a love of country. A state of mind where people are meant to work together, to do good, and to succeed together. And to overcome, always to overcome. And Beaux’s take is that people are born American all over the world, every day, it’s just a question of whether they get to come home. That’s the part where I turned away teary-eyed and wanted to live in that moment forever.


The small symbol of your Challenge is the GORUCK Tough patch, which goes well with the accomplishment in your heart. If you’ve already earned it, you know what you did to get it. And it means something when you get it. You join the GORUCK Tough family, and your Cadre shakes your hand in congratulations.


Some are humbled (Mouth Mead above), most are exhausted, but all are in awe of the people they did it with. In a huge way, the Challenge has reaffirmed my love in humanity. People are good, and capable of so much, and the Challenge lets them show it to themselves, and to each other. And in that process they fall in love with a family that is the GORUCK Tough family. It’s an extraordinary group of people who come from far and wide, from all different backgrounds, and who come together in 8-10 (more like 11-13) hours, all at once. In one city, with one cadre, to become one team.


And then the after party begins. The jokes fly about who did what — and how horrible, they mean beautiful, it was. Above is after my class in Jacksonville, everyone just hanging out to soak up the moment, to take it in. After the Challenge, everyone goes their separate ways but the time shared is never forgotten. I always find myself wishing that this moment, this shared elation of accomplishment, could last forever. The Challenge is the Challenge, the standard is the standard. But my goal is for all who come to experience this moment. It’s a noble feeling, and back in the early days, these were the moments when I started to appreciate that the Challenge was a special event, with special people. Or rather, with normal people doing extraordinary things for each other.


Then the dreaming of more begins.


And before you know it, smiles and a middle finger are in full effect. As we say, the Challenge isn’t nothing. But thank God it’s time to do it all over again, and we’re grateful for the people who keep showing up. Take the Challenge, join the family.

44 comments

  1. Uri says:

    Thank you Jason.

    The Challenge gave me back the confidence I lost after my IED. It showed me that in spite of my physical discomfort and pain you can do. Like you, I haven’t seen such a fantastic community outside the military.

    Again, thank you.

    GOOD LIVIN’!

  2. Class 200 says:

    Fantastic piece, Jason. Thank you for the pain and suffering. Thank you for the Challenge. Thank you for your products. But most importantly, thank you for serving for the best country on this planet.

  3. Class 083 and 099 says:

    Thanks for this, Jason. The Challenge changed my life. It’s made me a better father and husband, and there aren’t too many days that go by that I don’t use something I learned during a GRC. Thanks for showing us what we CAN do.

    Good Livin’

  4. SC says:

    I have been in the army before (my country requires every single dick bearer to serve).

    But the challenge seems more interesting, bonding and challenging.

    Nice piece.

  5. Brandon says:

    Thanks Jason. That explanation hits everything special about the Challenge. I was lucky enough to experience Beaux as a cadre and reading this article brought lots of smiles. I feel no shame admitting that I got misty as hell during the closing speech and when he gave me my patch. It’s definitely a moment like no other.

    Thanks again GR Family for all that you’ve done and all that you do.

  6. Scott says:

    A letter I wrote to Jason after my 2nd Challenge, class 178:

    Hey Jason,

    I waited until now to send you this message. I was the guy in GRC SF Class 84 who you gave a “mulligan” to. Although, I finished the challenge, I was definitely the weakest link and was carried by my team for the last mile. I wanted to give up, but you encouraged me to stay in. When I finished I was extremely proud and happy to be part of something so great, but was determined to compete the next available challenge in a higher level of satisfaction. I wanted play a stronger participative team role and truly enjoy event from beginning to end. I could be better, and set to make it happen starting that day, November 20th 2011.

    Yesterday 6/3/2012, I did just that. I finished GRC SF Class 178 with true sense of pride and complete satisfaction. I trained the appropriate amount and gave it heart everyday preparing. But more importantly I was mentally prepared and willing to give back and to help others. Now was the time to return the favor and pay back in full to the GoRuck family. Instead of being carried, I was the first to volunteer to carry others. I carried our team weight a good amount of the time, plus other team coupons. Even at the end, I made sure I was first to volunteer carry team log to the beach. I wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone and push myself more than just doing the challenge. I was sure to enjoy the event while smiling with a good attitude and sense of humor. I made sure others felt the same. I tried to help people laugh and feel motivated when needed at some of the challenge’s toughest times. I routinely checked on others this time, as my class 84 team did for me. One of the greatest team accomplishments, was the alumni doing Indian sprints uphill around team while singing 99 Bottles of Beer on the wall. We gave it our all and executed perfectly. This was a huge turning point for our 178 class and set strong precedence for the rest of the day.

    At the end I felt a huge sense of accomplishment and pride, not only in myself by all of my team mates as well. This time , I felt like “got it”. GoRuck to me is NOT some sort of physical challenge, but a self defining experience and tool, a catalyst to build better people of humanity and sense of service. Although, I received a small glimpse of what our armed services men and women do every day, it helped me appreciate them to the highest degree being a civilian. Some people in our country don’t appreciate or realize the sacrifice our military gives, but at the same time that is the beauty of our country. Everyone has the freedom to live, believe, speak and think. It is our armed services that allows and makes that happen. Their discipline and humble nature is what makes us so great.

    GoRuck has helped my build true character in my life and created a better me. It has enhanced the relationships and empathy with friends, family, co-workers, and complete strangers. It has catapulted me to help others and helped me identify issues of others and involved me to be part of the solution. I am father of 2 boys with a 3rd on the way. I want to lead by example and provide true guidance. GoRuck has helped me discover and form these principles and morals that will last life time.

    I would like to say thanks for the “mulligan’ and was happy to report back,… I have returned the favor.

  7. Max says:

    Jason,
    Great piece. In a similar (and obviously less severe) situation than Uri, the Challenge gave me back my confidence after a severe leg break. What a great family I became part of with Class 189 on July 4! Looking forward to more good livin!
    Thank you

  8. Mike P. says:

    On May 7th 2011, I completed the GORUCK Challenge (class 031) in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Starting at 1am, my team pressed on for almost 13 hours, carrying each other, a beach chair, a disgusting box spring, and one massive log. The GORUCK Challenge introduced me to myself in a way I never thought possible. Whatever I pour my heart into, I WILL accomplish.

    It’s been great to move beyond the Challenge and get to know the whole GORUCK crew during the Ascent, Scavenger, and various ruckoffs. You guys run a great company and I couldn’t be happier to be an ambassador of your brand. In the end, I know it’s not for everyone but I couldn’t be more proud to be part of this community.

  9. Deanna says:

    After hearing about GORUCK from one of my former coworkers, I was scared as hell to do one of these… He has a tendency to “excitedly embellish” things…but after other coworkers asked if I would ever do one, I decided to look at the site one more time…and have decided to do one next year.. I figured after running a marathon, I have some of the stamina required for this adventure..the guys I plan on doing it with are all guys I get to “tell” where to go during our regular jobs..I hope we can continue to work as a team, as we do on a daily basis now…I’m really looking forward to doing this, and have already wrapped my bricks, as my hubby looked on, shaking his head….lol

  10. Ryan says:

    Hey there, I’m really interested in the challenge. I’m a climber and I do a good amount of body weight exercise and would consider myself very active. However, I was born with some heart issues and I have trouble running much more than a mile. Is there usually much sustained running in the challenge?

    Thanks a lot!
    Ryan

    • jason says:

      Hey Ryan, tough to say. If you do the math, it’s a little over one mile an hour, though at times this is 0 mph and at other times faster. Officially I’d have to say check with your doctor. But one way you could start to test it out would be to get used to rucking around (walking or shuffling, not running) and see how you do. Since it’s a team event, the team has to accommodate everyone – you’re only as fast as your slowest person type of thing. I’m prone to optimism (in life) and pretty sure you’d be fine. But I don’t want you to risk your health in the name of fun. That said, in my experience in life most things that are rewarding have risk and something to overcome.

  11. Regina says:

    I’m a 51 yr old female. My friends recently told me about this goruck challenge. There will be one here in Tampa FL in May 2013. Can you please tell me if there’s a lot of swimming involved or water activities?
    I’m active, do some running, martial arts and other fitness activities. I’m a small build. But always up for a challenge and this sounds like a good one.
    Also, can we form our own team? And how many are there typically on a team?

    • jason says:

      Hey Regina, there isn’t a lot of swimming per se, since you’ll have a ruck on with weight in it (=dangerous). You can show up with whomever you like, but each class up to 30 has one Cadre with it for the entire time. By the end it’s one big happy family.

  12. Regina says:

    Thank you, Jason. We found someone here in the Tampa area that does some training as well. We’re hoping to hook up with him.

  13. Laura says:

    Columbus OH may just up the 15% chick participation rate! Three of us so far…working on a third! We’re ruckless so this is perfect.

  14. Jean says:

    My sons, ages 25 and 23, have signed up for a challenge in May. They’re trying to persuade me, their 56-year-old mother, to sign up, too. I do work out regularly including martial arts six days weekly. Is it reasonable to think I could train and do it? It would make for a good challenge for the new year.

    • jason says:

      Jean – yeah it’s totally reasonable. The older we get in life, I think that we’re capable of more it just requires a little more recovery time when we’re through with it. The Challenge itself is a team event, so everyone gives what they can. I find that the best classes have a mix of young and old, men and women, etc. Young bucks sometimes like to work harder not smarter. Wiser folks prefer to work smarter not harder.

  15. Linda says:

    Dear Jason
    I am doing the challenge in Melbourne Australia (I’m from Melbourne) in April 2013. My army friends (I’m a civvy) roped me in without really explaining what it is all about. After looking at your website I must confess I am thrilled I agreed.
    Can’t wait to be a part of the family !
    Linda

  16. Jean says:

    Thanks, Jason. I registered yesterday before seeing your reply. When I thought of all the reasons why I might not be able to do it–age, gender, and so on–I decided I didn’t want to invoke any of them. Why not do it, in other words, as opposed to why. May 18, here I come!

  17. Linda says:

    Hey Jason thanks for your post ! I’m trying to recruit some more peeps, namely gals, for the challenge in Melbourne…I’m told my enthusiasm is infectious, so how can they say NO ! I will keep on them to make sure they register :-)

  18. Scott Gordon says:

    A few of us from Class 424 (DC) were talking about how to sum our recent GRT experience to the less awesome.

    To do this endeavor justice through language, to properly express the magnitude of the necessary testicular (and ovarian) fortitude it takes to go all the way to the GRT Patch but also make it easy for the average “civilian” to understand seems nearly impossible, not unlike the Challenge itself.

    If you think you can’t do it, you probably can’t. If you convince yourself that every step, every hour, every mile, and pound is a “zero fail” scenario, you will finish. You’re team won’t let you quit even when your body wants to. You won’t let your body quit even though pat of you is ok if it does.

    Sack up I say, and sign up today.

  19. John McDevitt says:

    A big Thank You to the GORUCK challenge guys and gals I ran into at the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum, last night, at MIDNIGHT. I was at the Rocky Statue videoing a bit for a short film to be sent to my son and members of the Delaware Air National Guard recently deployed to Kuwait. These soaking wet people from the Schuykill River carrying bricks in their packs and doing jumping jacks surely must be nuts. It’s 39 degrees out here. I’ve read this website and am humbled. THANK YOU..each of you..and staff..for taking the time to shout out to our Airmen and Women currently deployed. This video will be on Facebook and Youtube and I will notify you when posted. And in the words of Rocky Balboa..”keep on punchin!” John McDevitt – Bear DE

  20. Linda Telai says:

    Dear Jason

    Team member 508 from Melbourne Oz with 3 questions:

    1. Has the start time of 10pm changed to 7am ? I registered for the 10pm, just checking t see if i need to buy a head lamp?
    2. Do “she” GORUCKS carry 4 bricks regardless or is it weight based as per website?
    3. Have an Australian Flag – do we need a US one ?

    Thank you and with 14 days to go I am starting to SH*#*# BRICKS !!!

    Linda :-)

  21. John says:

    State Capitol, Austin Tx, May 4th,2013, 2200 hrs.

    Class 554 begins their GORUCK Challenge.

    I was truly privileged to shadow this team as they proceeded through their GORUCK Challenge. What I witnessed was truly glorious and miraculous.

    39 individuals arrived prepared to carry their own rucks weight through to the finish. As they progressed through the evolutions 39 individuals became 1 team. Each team member was willing to carry another team member’s ruck while that team member was carrying a buddy. Team members offered each other encouragement, assistance and praise.

    This class carried two American flags and held them high throughout the challenge.

    The team even performed public service for the community during this event!

    At the end the cadre ordered them to perform another task.

    It was a test of their willingness to go further. The cadre was looking for the team’s reaction to hearing that they were not done yet.

    The cadre was also looking for the team’s willingness to go on and not the completion of the task.

    The entire team proceeded to do as told without a groan or complaint. The cadre was duly impressed with their performance and told them so.

    The cadre then addressed the team and congratulated them on completing their GORUCK Challenge.

    The TOUGH Patch was theirs! As each member received their patch, “Welcome to the family”, was heard.

    Class 554 was dismissed.

    HooRah! 554 HooRah!

  22. Jean says:

    Jason,
    Back in December, you encouraged me to take my two 20-something sons up on their invitation to do a Challenge with them. Today, I earned my GORUCK Tough patch. More importantly, I learned a lot about myself and just what I am capable of if I let others help me just as I help them. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for encouraging this 56-year-old housewife and mother to do something a bit more badass than her usual daily fare. Jean

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