Reflections On Completing The GoRuck HTL

Reflections On Completing The GoRuck HTL

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on some of the reasons why I do some of the endurance events that I do. It all started with doing GoRuck events.

About 5 years ago, I completed the GoRuck HCL. For those of you that don’t know what it is, I’ll sum it up. GoRuck is a company that sells rucksacks (or backpacks) that does rucking events aka walking with a backpack led by your Cadre who was a member of the special forces in the military. GoRuck has three types of events.

The Heavy, a 24 hour event where your team typically carries a lot of weight. Pass rate is only about 50%. Rucking distance is roughly 35 miles.

The Challenge, a 12 hour event that typically has lots of rucking, PT and other objectives. Rucking distance is roughly 20 miles

The Light, a 6 hour event where it’s mostly rucking, some PT but mostly laid back compared to the other two events. Rucking distance is about 7–8 miles.

How I Got Involved In This:

This all started by mistake and what a mistake it was. I had a friend, Harrison, who did a Challenge and I blindly signed up for one of these. I had no idea the event was going to last 12 hours. I had no idea I was going to crawl through mud and possibly shit. I had no idea that I had to wear this 40 pound backpack almost the entire time. We had just finished a Spartan Race together. I thought it was going to be something like that. Not some grueling 12 hours where I would be sleep deprived and pushing my body to limits that I didn’t even know existed.

I have to tell you, I kind of liked it…


After a failed attempt at doing the HCL in Portland, OR in 2015 due to the bottom of my foot nearly coming off due to blisters, I gave it another shot with Harrison and his friend Jason. This time, it was in Chicago.

The event began at Soldier Field at around 5pm in September. This event was themed around in respect to 9/11 so our team put together this team weight that was a cross between a firefighter and the Ark of the Covenant.

The stadium steps are steep!
Soldier Field and The Team Weight

We had two Cadres for this event, Chad and Doug. Somehow they got permission from the city to allow us into the stadium and we knew what was coming next. Stairs. And lots of them. We climbed the equivalent of 110 flights of stairs in honor of the firefighters in 9/11 and this was just the start. At this point, we already had some people burnt out. One guy was puking already and I knew that he wasn’t going to make it.

Each patch was the patch of the people who quit during the events.

After doing 110 flights of those steep stadium steps, my legs felt rubbery. Cadre Chad told us that now we are to do the 12 mile ruck march under 3.5 hours. We can choose to do it as a team or individuals. We ultimately chose to do it as individuals and most of us went into small groups and rucked with each other.

Within about 4 or 5 miles of the ruck march, I started to get cramps. All of the sudden, took one step and like a tire blowing out on a car, I felt my leg just give out. I kept moving on though through the cramps. Eventually, I started to get cramps in my other leg and slowly each muscle in my leg started to cramp and tense up. It wasn’t stopping. I knew I couldn’t stop and just had to accept the fact that I was going to be enduring this for the next few hours. I took electrolyte supplements but none of it seemed to help. This was just a reality that I had to push through. I wasn’t going to quit. Especially with Harrison still going. There was no way. We were in this together and I wasn’t going to allow it.

We eventually finished the ruck march in about 3 hours. Giving us a 30 minute break to recoup until the next task. At this point, I wondered numerous times why I am doing this. Why am I sadistically beating myself down?

Teammate sharing a story of someone who parished during 9/11

The 9/11 Stories

The event now officially begins. The ruck march and the stairs were just the warm up. We first went to the Vietnam Memorial on the Chicago River. One of our homework assignments before the event was to pick a person who died in 9/11 and share their story in front of the group as we would do this multiple times during the event.

I chose Rick Rescorla who was responsible for saving over 2700 lives by evacuating the tower and singing songs to them to keep them calm. He was in the South Tower and was ordered by Port Authority for everyone to stay put when the North Tower was first struck. He told them to piss off and started to evacuate everyone. He was last seen on the 10th floor heading back up to look for stragglers and his body was never found.

Being reminded of these heroes. These people that selflessly risked their lives to save others gave me some fuel to continue moving forward. This event wasn’t just about me and my goals. This was also about honoring them.

Rick Rescorla

The Sun Is Rising

It’s a beautiful thing to see the sun rise during one of these events because you know you’re more than half way done. After rucking to multiple points of military memorials carrying our team weight and rotating people, our team started to get into a groove. We were really collaborating well together. We rucked to a fire station somewhere downtown. They really appreciated the event and meaning behind it. They ended up hosing us down with their firehose.

At The Fire Station

As we were finishing the Heavy, we were pretty far away from the start point. The Cadres told us to get back to the start point, any means necessary. We opted to get on the L. The only problem was we had the team weight. We asked the person downstair at the L if it was okay to take the Ark of the Covenant onto the Chicago CTA. They said it was fine. When we got to the platform and the train approached the conductor of the train told us we couldn’t bring it on the train.

All of the sudden everyone on the train car started chanting to let us bring it on and he eventually gave in. We made it to the start point and it was the end of the Heavy and we earned our patch.

Imagine bringing this onto a train…
Why am I here?

The Challenge

This is the most difficult part about the HCL. It’s just showing up to the challenge. You finish the grueling 24 hour event then get a luxurious 4 hour break until the next event. Planning ahead, Harrison and I got 2 rotisserie chickens, avocados and baked like 6 potatoes that we kept in a hotel room nearby the start point. This was a meal purely for calories and protein. Eating a plain baked potato like an apple never tasted so good.

Harrison and Jason opted to take a nap. I couldn’t sleep. I’m not much of a napper anyways so I cleaned myself up and mostly just pondered things. Honestly, I don’t even remember what I did during those 4 hours. I know I didn’t sleep but I think the sleep deprivation damaged part of my memory for that time period.

We took an Uber to the start point of the challenge with me hobbling there in probably the worst physical shape I had ever been in at that point and all I could do was smile. I don’t know why but I was just giggling with this Joker like laugh. What is the matter with me?

The challenge was much larger than the Heavy. We probably had about 30–40 people in this event. Which was good for us because that means more rotations for carrying any of the team weights.

After doing wind sprints at a baseball field, I was certainly burnt on the challenge. There were times where I wanted to quit and was falling behind in the group. I made it through the PT, getting soaked in water but I was struggling.

When you go through things like this, you have some really weird thoughts. The subconscious mind starts to rationalize every possible avenue of quitting. You start thinking about rolling and ankle, faking an injury or just hoping you get injured so you don’t have to do this anymore.

One of guys in the event offered to carry my ruck for a little bit and that was my savior. All I needed was about 1 or 2 miles without my ruck and I was back at it.

The final exercise of the challenge was bear crawling backwards up hill. It eventually turned into bear crawling with a teammate and laughably turned into this weird 69 bear crawl. The challenge was finally over and we earned our patch.

69 bear crawling….

The Light

Harrison and Jason took another nap. I opted to go to get a real breakfast and sat down at a diner nearby. No more meat and potatoes for me… until I ordered eggs, meat and potatoes for breakfast.

As soon as we got to the light, I knew we had this. I knew I would finish this thing. The light event had massive class of probably 50–60 people of hardly any PT and mostly rucking.

The event was coming to a close and we thought we had it…

Cadre Chad announced that there were 6 people in this class that did the Heavy and the Challenge. Before they earned their patch they had to do one more thing. 110 eight count body builders. An eight count body builder is basically a burpee but more technical. You do a full push up, move your legs out and in and then jump up from a squat position.

Me deep in the tunnel of love

The group circled around us and we did them in sets of 15. We reached the last set and decided to do 20 straight and finish it off. Everyone around us was cheering as we finished and then Cadre Chad had us do the tunnel of love where we army crawled underneath each other as he dangled the HCL patch in front of us and then he gave us the patch.

I teared up and gave Harrison and Jason a hug. We did it.

What This Taught Me

I’m writing this from the perspective of doing this event five years ago and it still has stayed with me. Doing this event led me to doing ultra marathons and trying to push myself even further. Seven or eight years ago, I never would have thought that doing something like this would have been physically possible for me. When you push yourself physically, you find out who you are. You find out if you’re the person who will move forward despite all the voices in your head saying not too. You find out if you’re the person who will won’t quit because you can’t let others down. Regular life seems easier when you do things that are difficult.

I did this all for a patch. A velcro piece of cloth that probably costs less that a $1 to make. My ankles were swollen for days after doing this but I wouldn’t trade that experience for any other.

All this for these pieces of cloth.