What the Ruck

My husband and I got involved in rucking after reading “The Comfort Crisis” by Michael Easter. On April 9, 2022, we participated in a GORUCK Tough event in Austin, TX. We believed we were in for walking with a weighted backpack (20-pounds on me, 30-pounds on him), 7am-7pm. It ended up being 12-hours of walking with three times that amount of weight, as the purpose of the event was to memorialize the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Bataan Death March.

The Battle of Bataan Death March was one of the biggest atrocities of World War II. In April 1942, several thousand US and many more Filipino soldiers were captured and forced by the Japanese to march what is estimated to be 70 miles while being brutalized by their captors the entire way. Many died- some from exhaustion or killed for falling behind; some were shot for attempting to drink clean well water; some were beheaded for helping out a fellow struggling soldier.

Here’s a testimony from one American survivor of the Battle of Bataan Death March.

Knowing what this event was paying homage to, I should have suspected it may be tougher than just sliding on a 20lb backpack and taking a 12-hour walk. It was- much tougher, in fact. But even in the toughest feats, there’s there’s unity in community. There were twenty of us, total. Some active duty; some veterans; a retired cop; some curious newbies. We were the GORUCK Battle of Bataan TOUGH team, Austin, TX. We stuck together and pulled everyone through to the finish.

We began the 4/9/22 GORUCK Tough event just east of the 1st Street bridge on the north side of Lady Bird Lake. Our rucks were checked to be sure that anyone under 150-lbs had a 20-lb ruck plate in their rucksack, and anyone over 150-lbs had a 30-lb plate. The day commenced with putting our rucksacks on our backs and doing push-ups, Burpees, squats, lunges, Man-Makers, and a handful of other moves coined “warm-up” by our Cadre, Scott Fagan, who served for 20-years in the U.S. Army, 5th Special Forces (green beret), 1983-2004.

Next, Cadre presented several 50-60-lb Sandbags, an ice chest filled with ice and beer, two water jugs- the kind you see at little league games- filled to the brim with water, and two 2x4s, rope, and tape. An active duty member on our team took the initiative to loop the ice chest and a 2×4 together with rope, tie it up in some knots, then secure it with tape. We slid one water jug’s lid through the other 2×4 and two men took the two ends of the lumbar. A young buck grabbed the other water jug, bear hug style. A few of the big fellas grabbed the Sandbags. We took off. At this point, I was still only carrying my 20-lb rucksack and felt fine.

But at 3-miles in, we veered off the beaten path and reached a dirt trail with sand near a pond. Cadre instructed us to open the Sandbags. Inside those Sandbags were a matryoshka (Russian doll) of additional Sandbags. We had to use shovels, which some were carrying for reasons we weren’t aware until now, to shovel sand into the Sandbags to fill them up. Now, no longer could women and pint-sized men skate by with just our 20-30lb rucksacks and a flag, shovel, or nothing. We added both water jugs to one 2×4 to free up one lifter. We all had to pitch in, adding 200% more weight to our carry… for another 10-hours.

About 9-hours in, the water jugs were lightened by team members refilling their Camelbacks. So, Cadre had us find a spigot and refill the water jugs. Now the water jugs were back to 80lbs each and nobody wanted to carry them. We found that if we catty-cornered the lumber on opposite shoulders and switched sides frequently, it was bloody awful but doable. As for the ice chest, we arranged a rotation that two guys would be on flag duty to recover, then switch to ice chest– with quick rotations because the chest was so dang heavy. The weaker people on the team were starting to wane (some of them had just done the Battle of Bataan GORUCK Basic event the night before, from 7pm-midnight). That meant that the stronger team members had to take on even more weight to pull them through, some carrying a 60-pound Sandbag, 30-pound ruck, and one side of the ice chest at the same time.

At the twelfth hour, we returned to the starting line. It was a glorious finish. Every team member pulled through and dropped every ounce of our gear along with a few choice words. Physically, my legs, glutes, heart and lungs were fine. My upper trapezius and neck were jacked. Mentally, I was drained. Had hubs and I not had to get up the next morning (me to teach cycling, him to take care of our kids), I bet we both would have slept for 12-hours straight.

Fast-forward to now, 3-days post-event, I’m glad I did it. Many passers-by on the event asked what we were doing, and when we explained that we were carrying heavy stuff for 12-hours, the obvious follow-up question was “why.” Because there’s elation in embracing discomfort. It’s nice to put the cell phone away from dawn til dusk (the whole team would have been punished if anyone pulled out a device- including a watch). And it’s really cool to work together as a team and lift the load when others are suffering and knowing other people “have me,” too.

Waterproof hiking shoes courtesy of Ryka.

Cadre ordered us to walk through water 3x during event. Waterproof shoes definitely helped.

The total death total in the Battle of Bataan, 1942, is unknown. It is estimated up to 18,000. The exact distance is unknown, it is estimated to be 55-70 miles.

War crimes convict General Masaharu Homma, who masterminded the Battle of Bataan Death March, nicknamed the “Beast of Bataan,” was executed via firing squat in April 1946.

I knew very little about The Battle of Bataan prior to registering for this event. It was interesting to learn about this historic event and pause life for a day to give it my mind and body.

Every GORUCK Basic (5hr) or GORUCK Tough (12hr) event recognizes something else. This one was more endurance marching with a ton of weight because of it’s reverence to the Bataan Death March. Other events may have more bear crawls, army crawls, overhead squats– whatever the respective Cadre has in mind. You never know until you know. Just hydrate, strength train, sunscreen up, pack snacks, leave your cell phone at home, and wish for the best.

There is something to this rucking trend. Outdoor activity is the #3 fastest growing trend in fitness, according to ACSM’s 2022 fitness predictions. It makes sense that people in a post-pandemic world want to connect with nature, move, and do so with other people. Doing so taps into environmental, social, and physical wellness. Rucking may become the next running. It improves muscular endurance and cardio endurance while being kinder on the knees and hips than power walking, jogging, or running. My, personal, favorite place to ruck is Garey Park in Georgetown, TX. But I hope to ruck the Grand Canyon E->W Rim in 2023.

Will hubs and I do another organized GORUCK event? Yep. We’re already signed up for Sandlot JAX, a massive GORUCK fitness festival– nirvana for outdoor enthusiasts.

Will I compete in fitness competitions there? Probably so.

But will I participate in another GORUCK Tough event? Um, maybe. I see there are some cool events in the future, like the Rucking World Championships, that completing a GORUCK Tough event previously is a rite of passage. So, never say never.

But for now, I’ll set my intention on 4/21-24 Sandlot JAX. I’ll be writing on that event for Texas Lifestyle Magazine, so– stay tuned!

Brook Benten, M.Ed. is a fitness professional in Austin, TX. She has been a fitness educator, spokesperson, model, workout video choreographer, and Executive Director of Healthy Living. Now, primarily answering to “Mom” (pronounced “MOM!”), she freelance writes for Prevention Magazine and keeps this blog to Help Other Mothers Lift the Motherload.

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