GORUCK Selection 015 AAR (Voluntary Withdrawal)

GORUCK Selection is a 48-hour endurance event that will test the physical and mental limits of those brave enough to attempt it, and it is without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever done. The fact that only one person out of the eighty-four who showed up actually finished it speaks volumes of Selection’s difficulty and the physical and mental tenacity of that finisher, Jon Eytchison. I was candidate #042 in GORUCK Selection 015, and I made it one hour into the welcome party (about twelve or thirteen hours into the event) before I voluntarily withdrew. My intent with this After Action Review is to help others better prepare for Selection and avoid the same mistakes I did that eventually caused me to quit.

Selection 015

Photo credit: goruck.com

I signed up for GORUCK Selection in January 2014, giving me about ten months to train for the event (which was held on October 9th, 2014 in Jacksonville Beach, FL). I already had a good base of fitness from training for a GORUCK Challenge, a GORUCK Light, and a few obstacle course races in 2013, so my goal to be ready for Selection appeared achievable. This was my training plan: do a five-week “Challenge” training plan before doing a GORUCK Challenge, recover and then do do a six-week “Heavy” training plan before doing a GORUCK Heavy, then recover and do a ten-week “Selection” training plan before GORUCK Selection. I intended to use the Challenge training and event to strengthen my body before the Heavy training, then use the Heavy training and event to strengthen my body further to prepare for Selection training. My plan deviated a bit as I ended up doing a GORUCK HCL instead of a Heavy, but it worked such that I was strong enough to handle the training volume of the Selection plan. As you’ll read later, however, it didn’t prepare me for all aspects of GORUCK Selection.

The Selection PT Test

One of the most talked about things about Selection 015 was the surprising number of people that failed the PT test (55 push-ups in 2 minutes, 65 sit-ups in 2 minutes, and a 40-minute 5-mile run). It compelled Cadre Bert (see “1730 Thursday / Cadre Recap: PT Test” in the Selection 015 recap) to talk about aiming for numbers much higher than the Selection standards (the suggested goals are at least 80 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, and a 35-minute 5-mile run). This is to ensure that you’ll still make the Selection standard when you aren’t at 100%. In fact, there’s a good chance that you won’t be at 100% when it’s time to do the PT test, whether it’s because of nerves, getting smoked by the cadre for not listening to directions before the PT test, or (in our particular case) standing out in the sun for a long time while waiting for other candidates to finish their PT test.

I attribute my success on passing the push-up and sit-up tests to Cadre Tyler’s advice and tips on proper form during the GORUCK HCL earlier in the year. Getting specific feedback on my push-ups and sit-ups helped me train properly in the following months leading up to Selection. If you want to ensure your success in those tests, ask a cadre to review your form. It’s one thing to do 80 push-ups and 100 sit-ups; it’s another to do them correctly.

Regarding the 5-mile run, train like you fight. If you’re doing GORUCK Selection in Jacksonville Beach, run on the beach. If you’re doing Bozeman, run on steep hills. If those options aren’t available, then find a way to make your runs tougher. I didn’t have a beach nearby when training for Selection 015, so I ran in boots. I also used a GPS watch to track my running pace and constantly push myself to run under a 7:00 minute/mile pace. That training helped during my PT run as I tried my best to avoid running at a slower, more comfortable pace that would have made me miss the cut-off time.

My training plan also incorporated a lot of rucking sessions, so I was confident about finishing the 12-mile ruck in under 3 hours & 30 minutes (which was also part of the PT test). I discovered during my training that counting every right step kept my mind occupied during long rucks, so that helped me stay focused during the PT ruck. If there was one thing I would change from my ruck training, it would be to find a better rucking technique. I used a constant fast shuffle to maintain a sub 15:00 minute/mile pace, but I noticed that other candidates were moving at a faster pace and seemingly moved with less energy.

The Welcome Party

After the PT test was the welcome party.  It was the most intense exercise session that I have ever done, and it exposed some weaknesses that were unfortunately glossed over during my training. Shoulder strength was an issue as I was having trouble holding my ruck over my head, but it was my lack of shoulder and leg mobility that really got to me as I was having problems doing overhead squats and duck walks with my ruck. I started performing poorly as the welcome party progressed, which led to getting special attention from the cadre (and you really don’t want special attention from the cadre during Selection).

Making matters worse was my gear set-up: a brick bag attached to a GR0 via carabiners. I went with this set-up because I had a hard time fitting my boots in my GR0 with a full water bladder and other items, so I used the brick bag to store my boots and later my running shoes. I realized too late that it unnecessarily added more weight (compounding my issues with holding the ruck over my head), and made a bunch of exercises more difficult than they needed to be. Furthermore, the reflective belt for my ruck kept coming off, giving me even more special attention from the cadre.

GORUCK Selection is about maintaining a strong mental focus so that you don’t quit, and I couldn’t maintain that focus because of my mobility and gear issues. Performing poorly and coming in last in most events made me convince myself that I wasn’t ready and needed more training. Right before I quit, I felt that I would be better off addressing my weaknesses, learning from my mistakes, and coming back stronger rather than suffering through the rest of Selection in my perceived weakened state. Was that really true? It’s debatable, but once you have thoughts that you’re not ready, you’re done.

Lessons Learned

Here is how I would have trained differently knowing what I know now: my two biggest mistakes were that I didn’t do enough ruck PT and I didn’t fully test my gear set-up. My training plan had a lot of strength work, but should have incorporated more sessions of working out with a ruck. If I had done more ruck PT, I would have realized that I had issues with my overhead ruck squats and needed to address my mobility problems during my training.  I also would have realized how terrible my GR0 + brick-bag combination was to do those exercises. If you have attach something to your ruck to carry all your items, you are packing too much.

GR0 with brick bag attached with carabiners

This was a bad idea. Don’t do this.

Testing your gear is advice that is extremely obvious in retrospect. Unfortunately, working more days and longer hours around the same time as my Selection training became more intense didn’t leave much free time to address things that should have been no-brainers. Learn from my mistake and really test your gear until you are supremely confident that it won’t give you any issues. And make sure you use a reflective belt that has a buckle and is secured in such a way that it won’t fall off your ruck no matter what you do.

To prepare yourself for the shock of the welcome party, view the last fifteen minutes of Selection (see “1300 Saturday / Final Shark Attack and ENDEX / Congratulations 025” in the Selection 015 recap) and observe all the exercises that the cadre made Jon do. Do those exercises, and if you have an issue doing any of them, then you know what you need to work on. GORUCK is planning to do more Selection teasers in 2015 (like the one before the 2014 Labor Day JAX HCLS), so if you are serious about doing Selection, make the effort to attend one of those sessions. It will demonstrate how ready you are for the event.

Selection was a valuable learning experience that was very brutally honest about my limitations. I underestimated just how all-around strong (both physically and mentally) you need to be to finish the event. If you are planning to do Selection, you absolutely must address and strengthen your weaknesses; otherwise, Selection will exploit them and make you quit. I hope that my experience has provided valuable insight to those who are brave enough to attempt this crazy event.