Event: GORUCK D-Day 75th Memorial HTL
Location: New York, New York, USA
Dates: Friday, May 31-Sunday, June 2, 2019
Cadre: Michael S and Daniel S
Written by: Erin Turowski
Proud member of Beantown Ruck Club (Boston, MA)
Taper/Yoga – I covered about 30 ruck miles with 30-40# in my ruck during the week leading up to my HTL. My standard weeks before that were about 40-50 miles with 40#, 2-3 ruck workouts, and a yoga class or three. I also did an unweighted Murph six days before and did a couple of easy yoga classes during that week.
Hydration – This should be a week-long effort leading up to your event. I aimed for a minimum 64 oz per day of plain tap water, in addition to whatever I wanted as far as diet sodas/coffee/sparkling waters. I think I maybe had one alcoholic beverage during that entire week – I really wanted to avoid alcohol due to its diuretic effects and (more importantly) the potential for hangovers. I limited my caffeine intake for about 2-3 days prior to my HTL so my intra-event supplements (Nuun tabs, Bloks, etc.) would be a little more effective.
Nutrition – In general, I ignored macros. I ate when I was hungry and tried to avoid huge, greasy meals. I upped my carbs for 2-3 days prior – pasta, sandwiches/bread, some french fries. I made sure to take a multivitamin, a glucosamine supplement, and a probiotic daily as I usually do. I preloaded with 600 mg of ibuprofen the morning of the Heavy and took another 400 mg about 2 hours prior to the event (the maximum prescription dose of ibuprofen is 800 mg every 8 hours). It’s important in pain management to recognize the phenomenon of windup and prevent pain before it starts to develop.
Toenails – Cut them. Don’t forget. Make them short and smooth the corners/edges a bit.
I took three rucks on my trip – a GR1 for the Heavy and the Tough (with padded hip belt and sternum strap), a Bullet for the Light (sternum strap only), and a second Bullet for my non-event stuff (makeup, travel gear, etc.). Pics below. I traveled by train and took all of my weight and sundries with me (hydration bladders empty for travel). This was a bit easier because I only needed to bring 20# and 10# ruck plates – if you need to bring 30# and 20# ruck plates, you may want to bring 20# + 10# for the Heavy and Tough instead of bringing a single 30# ruck plate, although this can make weight/balance issues during PT a little more challenging. In general, it’s a personal preference. Items in pics are listed roughly top left to bottom right, in descending columns.
Heavy/Tough Loadout – GR1, morale patch of choice, sternum strap, padded hip belt, work gloves, climbing carabiner (now on the required list for Heavy events), reflective bands, Velcro plate for displaying patches after I earned them (got it from an army surplus store), nylon webbing and green paracord (didn’t use, YMMV depending on coupons/team weights), extra socks, microfiber towel, extra tank top, buff/headband, lightweight jacket (definitely appreciated it after water PT in the East River), dry bag, 20# ruck plate and ruck plate cradle, beer coozy, Nalgene, Body Glide, Pelican case, sunscreen, Band-Aids, antibiotic ointment, ibuprofen, cetirizine, Nuun tabs (with caffeine and electrolytes), headlamp and extra batteries, perforated first aid tape, Stinger stroopwaffels, $20 cash, ID, debit card, subway pass, phone, hydration bladder and hose, giant bag of food (which I surprisingly ate most of – Bloks, Rx bars, Sport Beans, Quest bars, beef jerky, Gu, and mustard/relish packets), candy popcorn (morale snack – it’s called Unicorn Food), and ball cap with patch of choice.
Light Loadout – Bullet, morale patch of choice, sternum strap, flip flops, reflective band, hydration bladder (I brought one for each ruck in case there was a failure), work gloves, 10# plate, Unicorn Food popcorn, Pelican case, sunscreen (used it and passed it around!), Band-Aids, antibiotic ointment, ibuprofen, cetirizine, Nuun tablets, headlamp and extra batteries, perforated first aid tape, Stinger stroopwaffels, $20 cash, ID, debit card, subway pass, Bloks, Sport Beans, Gu, and ball cap with patch of choice. I think I actually ended up leaving the Pelican case (and its contents) and the popcorn out of my ruck during the Light event to save weight.
Combined – Everything together, plus cat tax. Not shown – my travel Bullet Ruck.
DAY OF EVENT
I live in Boston, so I took a morning Amtrak train down to NYC and arrived about 4 hours prior to the Heavy start. I used the train ride to nap a bit, hydrate, eat some yogurt and granola, and generally just calm my nerves prior to the event. I highly recommend avoiding driving to/from an HTL if you can avoid it – mostly because driving immediately after the Light is not a great idea. If you have a low tolerance for risk, you might want to arrive the day before and get a hotel room if needed. About 2-3 hours prior to the Heavy, I had a single slice of NY-style pepperoni pizza and a Corona. I wanted something substantial in my stomach during the welcome party, and I figured 2-3 hours would give it adequate time to digest. I suggest something lighter if you need to eat closer to the event start. Also, especially if it’s hot and dehydration is a risk, don’t drink too much. I figured (correctly) that one small bottle of light beer would be okay as a quick source of carbs.
Event time points in this section are derived from my Google Location History and my GPS watch, both of which were stowed and running (unseen and un-looked-at) in my ruck for as long as their batteries allowed. (Pro tip – disable the heart rate monitor on your fitness watch and it will last a LOT longer, even with the GPS going.) Our Heavy started at Fort Totten Park at 1800 sharp. Our roster had about 3 dozen people on it; I believe 33 showed. We started with a combined yardsale/dump your bags/admin phase which turned into a welcome party when people couldn’t repack their bags in time. It probably took a bit less than an hour. Next, we went right into a modified Robbie Miller hero WOD for the PT test. Instead of a 3-mile ruck on either end, we did a mile slick run and a mile ruck on either end. The exercises were 12 sets x 6 reps each of ruck thrusters (subbed in for ring pull-ups due to lack of required equipment), burpee squats, 4-count mountain climbers (hard ones, with the hips WAY open and the feet coming up just lateral to our hands), and rucksack getups. I finished in about 1:15 and was one of the first ones done – Cadre sent the early finishers out to the run/ruck lap to “motivate” (run with) our slower teammates. We had 3 or 4 voluntary withdrawals by the end of this WOD. My ruck club had been practicing Robbie Miller as a team, so I felt pretty prepared for it.
Next came the coupons. Our team weight was an ammo case filled with weight and beer (a little over 50#), suspended on a metal pole padded with pool noodles and duct tape. I’ve definitely had worse; it was creative and not too bad to carry – lots of handles. Our coupons were 2x 150# sandbags, 2x 100# sandbags, and 2x 70# sandbags. Again, not awful, although the sandbags were carabinered together for the first few miles of movement. We weren’t making great progress, so they were disconnected after maybe five miles or so. We also had seven flags on pretty reasonable (non-weighted) poles.
We rucked a bit, and I think we lost some teammates to voluntary withdrawals on the way. Around midnight, we started what most people felt was the most grueling part of the event – some god-awful hydro PT. First, we laid on our backs, rucks held over our chests, flutter kicking our feet, as Cadre generously sprayed our rucks, bodies, and faces with fresh water from a hose. But wait, there’s more! We entered the water at Fort Totten Park, which was cold, salty, pretty fast-moving, full of rotting seaweed, and bottomed by large slabs of slippery, crooked, craggy rocks. Cadre Michael was on the horn at this point (Daniel was on a rest plan for the night). We entered the water gingerly and immediately started to freeze. Once we were balanced on the rock slabs and in a single file line about 5 meters from shore, in chest-deep water, Cadre explained that we had incurred 8 infractions for a total of 80 reps of super special “hydroburpees.” Each rep involved us holding our rucks at our chest, smashing them down into the water to the bottom (submerging ourselves in the process), standing up and military pressing them above our heads, and then returning our rucks to chest level for one rep. Some chuckleheads decided they didn’t want to get their pretty faces wet, so we had a few dozen no-rep reps during the course of the exercise and probably did about 100-120 reps in total until we made 80 that were to Cadre’s standard. I think a couple of people quit here. People kept falling on the rocks, not submerging their heads, and/or not finishing with an overhead press. Finally, after about 30-45 minutes in the water, we were allowed to exit, and it was freaking COLD. I think our group was down to about 25 by then. I remember pulling my pullover from my ruck once my skin/tank top were a bit drier. I think I ate something about every hour or two during this time. The details about rucking/location/PT are a bit fuzzy, I mostly just remember being cold, dark, and tired and eagerly awaiting a Cadre change. I should also add that almost EVERYONE’s dry bag failed due to the multiple forceful submersions of our rucks into the drink. One guy had diabetes and had a blood glucose sensor on his arm, and the sensor came off in the water, which was not inherently a problem, except that when his dry bag leaked, it also soaked his glucometer, so he had to rely on his physical state and sensations instead of his absolute blood glucose reading to determine his condition/need for nutrition.
We made our way over to Queens and Kissena Park, following some mucky, winding trails. I remember running some laps for time around a crescent-shaped water feature near Citi Field and doing some PT when we missed our time hack (but really didn’t, because Cadre misread the time on his watch, haha). Cadre cashed in on a few hundred reps of various exercises for infraction penalties due to missed road crossings, missed time hacks, flagpole tips touching the ground, etc. Someone puked pretty violently. We made some wrong turns on the muddy trails and doubled back a lot, which was demoralizing. We lost a few more people here due to lack of morale, and I think someone rolled an ankle in the muck. At around 0400-0500 Saturday morning, Cadre Michael started his rest plan and handed the reins to Cadre Daniel, thankfully taking the sandbags with him. We were all a bit happier to have the “good cop” in charge.
We rucked through Jackson Heights and stopped for a rest break at Woodside, in a large industrial parking lot across the street from a McDonald’s. Cadre explained that we had made our time hack and earned a 30-minute rest, during which we were to address four priorities of work in this order: feet, hydration, food, and rest. We gratefully attended our needs, changing our socks, chowing down on hash browns and Egg McMuffins, and moaning about the time spent in the East River. At the 30-minute mark, Cadre randomly audited people to make sure that they had attended to their feet and hydration, and when he found two teammates who had failed to care for their feet, we were assigned some infractions. We left the parking lot at about 0800.
The next few hours were rucking with occasional stops for historical D-Day stories and some PT. At some point in the early afternoon, we stopped in a park to perform the APFT so we could evaluate how well we could perform after about 16 hours of exertion. We were held to the 17-21 year old male standard of 42 pushups and 52 sit-ups (strict form). Everyone passed. We didn’t do the run per se, but we ran somewhere else at another point for a little more than a mile, and that was deemed sufficient.
The last major movement we did was a small-group timed ruck. By this time, our merry band had been whittled down to 13. We were tasked to cover about 9.5 miles in 3 hours. We started together but fragmented as people traveled at varying paces and we worried that some would miss the time hack. We started at First Ave and 102nd St in Manhattan and were routed down First Ave, down to the UN building, over to the East River Promenade, and down to Battery Park and the Staten Island Ferry terminal. Our group of 5 finished first in just over 2 hours. We got about 20 minutes to rest and recover before the next group arrived. Some of the last 8 folks were in rough shape, so we guided them to water, helped them to redistribute their gear and care for their feet and bodies, and generally rallied everyone into pre-endex mode. Cadre Michael was flabbergasted when he learned that Cadre Daniel allowed us to have breakfast at McDonald’s. We made a short ruck to the Brooklyn Bridge walkway and took a group photo, and everyone was sure this would be the end. Nope. We heard a few words about the Rangers and D-Day and headed off again, this time to the 9/11 Memorial for another false endex. We spent about 10-15 minutes taking in the fountain and statues and packed up one final time, back to Battery Park. This time, we were finally rewarded with a few reps of PT, some words of congratulations, and our Heavy patches. We had a total of 13 finishers, including a 19-year-old woman in the reserves who thoroughly impressed me with her grit. I ended up going through about 6L of water and almost every bit of food I’d allocated for the Heavy. Time of endex: approximately 1800 Saturday, about 37 miles covered. I had a small blister brewing on each foot due to the time spent in wet socks after water PT and the pace push during the timed ruck, but was otherwise feeling pretty good, happy to be patched after the longest part of the weekend.
We had about 4 hours between the Heavy and the Tough. I chose to nap in the car to and from the end and start points (about half an hour each way) and no more. That’s a personal choice. If I do another HTL, I might sleep a little more between the Heavy and Tough and see if I do better during the Tough. I was hit pretty hard by a combination of sleep deprivation and probably a little bit of hypoglycemia during the Tough (more below). Back at the hotel, I took a shower and changed clothes, ate some food (a Caesar salad with two grilled chicken breasts, some fries, a bagel with peanut butter, and another Corona), hydrated, took some more ibuprofen and another cetirizine, and knitted and caught up on social media a bit. We headed out for the Tough about an hour before the listed start time, which was 2200.
I sleepwalked, and there was some PT.
Well, not quite. But there were definitely large swaths of this event that I just do not remember. Most of the locations and distances are pulled from my Garmin GPS data, not my memory. Start point was Battery Park at 2200 on Saturday. Temps were in the 60s, fairly comfortable initially. I think there were about 40 folks who showed up (out of about 60 on the roster), including only 5 folks from the Heavy. The welcome party was hard. We had some people who just would NOT do proper jumping jacks or sun gods, including the two team leaders. We had a bunch of no reps and “start from zeros” for many of the exercises. I think our base number for jumping jacks was 100 reps, and we probably did 150 by the time we were done. As our TLs failed at sun gods, Cadre Michael had the rest of us doing dozens of overhead claps, so everyone’s shoulders were pretty smoked. I also remember a TON of upright ruck rows, and some mountain climbers, and a bunch of ruck squats. A few people quit during the welcome party, as was to be expected. The welcome party probably took about an hour and a half, maybe a little more, and then we got underway. We had the same coupons and flags as we did for the Heavy, although I think our team weight was a little lighter. We had a rally call, “Rangers!” – when the Cadre shouted this, we were to run to the nearest elevated surface, put our feet up on it, and do ten elevated push-ups, plus one for “the airborne Ranger in the sky”. We probably did a hundred elevated push-ups in this fashion during the event.
We left Battery Park at about 0100 and rucked 2.6 miles to City Hall Park and then to Brooklyn Bridge Park. I *think* Brooklyn Bridge Park was where we went into the water again for 60 more reps of water torture hydroburpees/manmakers. We had a couple of people drop here. I remember getting out of the water and being cold enough that between that and the fatigue, I was worried about hypothermia. We sat on some wide stone steps for a while, freezing, while Cadre told us some more D-Day history. We rucked another 3-4 miles through Brooklyn, stopping along the way for PT and a minor police encounter, and reached Domino Park at 0500, and I think that’s where Cadre Daniel took over. At some point, the coupons went away, and we rucked some more, and we ended up in East River Park at about 0700. At this point, I think I realized that I had not had nearly enough calories between events and that my weakness and fatigue seemed to improve with each handful of seawater-soaked peanut M&Ms I was eating, so I took ten minutes and basically stuffed my face with most of the carbs remaining in my ruck. We spent about two hours hearing some more history and practicing casualty carries – fireman’s carries, buddy drags, and two-person carries – and did some more PT drills, including low crawls, high crawls, and buddy covers, and then we had a bio break before heading out. We left East River Park at about 0900 and rucked about 3 miles to the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, where we endexed at 1000 sharp, as planned. I can’t remember how many people finished; probably about 2 dozen. We covered about 18 miles.
I’ll take a few moments here to underscore how much more difficult this event was than the Heavy for me, personally. The sleep deprivation really took its toll. During the Heavy, I felt like I was in pretty good shape the whole way through, but fatigue, cold, and low morale really started to grind on me during the overnight part of the Tough. The water PT during the Tough was almost my breaking point – my only solace was thinking that if the water PT was the worst part of the Heavy (and it was), then once it was finished during the Tough, then the rest of the Tough should be manageable. I kept that thought in my head and it was enough to get me through to endex. I changed socks at some point. Finished this event with the blisters from the Heavy a little more pronounced but still manageable.
The Tough endexed at 1000, and the Light started at 1300 (NOT 1400, as we originally thought, haha). Basically just enough time to shower, change clothes, drain my blisters, apply sunscreen, minimally pack my Bullet for the Light, and eat some McDonald’s before we needed to leave for the start point. Everyone was in pretty good spirits – the hardest part of the weekend was finally over.
Whoever says “Light does not mean easy” has never done an HTL. I freaking BLEW through this, it was a fun five hours of sunshine, PT, buddy carries, and gentle hazing of some folks who had never done an event before and had WAY overpacked. I only brought weight, my hydration bladder, gloves, ID/cash, a buff (which I soaked and used as a swamp cooler), and maybe two packs of Gu in addition to the rest of the Light required packing list. We started at Battery Park again, probably 40 folks strong (including the 5 remaining H/T finishers), at 1300. I think the roster had about 60 people on it initially, so about 20 no-shows. It was HOT – about 80F, clear, and sunny. We had a scaled-down version of the Tough welcome party – similar exercises, but about half the total reps, and I don’t think we had any no-reps. I don’t remember if we had any drops or not. The “Rangers!” elevated push-up rally cry was continued for this event. I didn’t bring my phone or watch for this event, so the route is totally from my recall (which is not good). We had a (mostly empty) team weight, no coupons, and the seven flags with us.
I want to say we went over the Brooklyn Bridge and did some drills at Brooklyn Bridge Park. I remember some buddy carry drills with fireman’s carries, bear crawl carries, and maybe a third type? We made frequent water stops and somehow nobody went black on water. Speaking of water, there was (thankfully) no water PT during the Light. I remember stopping at one point to do some foot care and was happy I’d tucked a safety pin into my ruck for blister poking. We did a little more PT, rucked some more to a different area of the park, and then we did some tunnel of love/low crawl drills followed by a human conveyor/crowd-surfing activity. I think at this point it started to drizzle a little. We rucked back to the 9/11 Memorial and again observed the fountain and the statues in the memorial garden. It poured rain with thunder and lightning for a bit. Cadre had the HTL folks perform 37 ruck thrusters while the rest of the class held elevated ruck planks. We endexed at 1800 in the memorial garden, and the five HTL folks received our bolts. It was incredibly humbling to receive my patches in such a significant location, and it was tough to keep the emotion bottled in during endex. We covered about 8 miles for the Light. After endex, we headed to Chipotle for some refueling, and then we parted ways, and I went back to Penn Station to await my train back to Boston. I did come out of the Light with some soreness in my left calf and some not insignificant blister pain; I was limping a bit, mostly from the blisters, but no major injuries overall.
I had taken Monday off from work, so I took it easy. I went for a brief unweighted walk and did some yoga and pressure-point massage with a tennis ball. I was a little sore but not unmanageable. I took about 600 mg of ibuprofen a few times during the day and chugged water, keeping off of my feet for the most part. I got pizza for dinner and watched Netflix for a while before going to sleep in my own bed, my first full night’s sleep in three days. By Tuesday morning, my blisters were about 75% better, and I had no trouble working a full day on my feet at work (I’m a veterinarian), plus two more hours for an emergency surgery. I had little to no muscle pain on Tuesday and even felt good enough to do a brief Heavy Drop care package workout with 30# in my ruck. I did another Heavy Drop WOD on Wednesday. By Thursday I felt 100% again, ready for the Boston 50 Mile Star Course on Friday. No, I’m not kidding. Star Course five days after an HTL – good living. (Shameless plug – stalk my team @BRC_DreamTeam on Instagram!)
At no point did I ever feel physically unprepared for any of these events. My ruck club had practiced Robbie Miller and many many buddy carries, and I’d done several sub-3-hour timed 12-milers with 30# in my ruck (my best time is 2:37 for 12 miles solo). I’ve done two Pathfinder Forward and two Pathfinder Endure classes and regularly ruck 40-50 miles per week, so my feet and ruck PT are pretty solid. By far, my biggest difficulty during the whole weekend was mental – I’ve never done well in the cold, and the cold water, late night PT was almost unbearable for me. Also, the Tough after the Heavy was much harder for me than the Heavy by itself. I must say that Pathfinder did an incredible job of preparing me for this challenging weekend. I can’t recommend those programs enough, and I’m currently enrolled in Pathfinder Advanced as well as Horizon Beta (the new Star Course training program). I had also watched some YouTube videos and read some other AARs of other folks’ HTL experiences. A common theme was that the first half of the Heavy was the suck – if you could make it through the first 12 hours, then the second 12 hours would seem much more manageable with more focus on education and self-care than on beatdowns. I found that to be consistent with my experience, too.
It was a physically and emotionally demanding weekend, but I still can’t believe that this woman, who was almost unable to walk for two days after her first Light with Cadre Heath in 2016, was able to finish her first attempt at an HTL less than three years later. I came out of this a better person and learned some valuable lessons about myself, as well as my new friends. I’m on the fence about whether or not I’ll attempt another HTL, but the answer is probably “yes.”
Hat tip to Nicole, my battle buddy for this awesome weekend.