HCL Explained: Mark Webb


GORUCK HCL (Heavy, Challenge, Light), explained.
By Mark Webb

What is a HCL?
For those not familiar, GORUCK has 3 team building events loosely based around SFAS team week. The Light is a 5+ hr fun fest based team event, The Challenge is a 10+ hr more challenging (and the original) team event and the Heavy is a 24+ hr suck fest  with less rests, more movement, more weight, and more reward.

I don’t have to describe these as goruck.com does a much better job than I could.

So again. What is HCL? Well imagine doing a Heavy, being incredibly sore, hungry, dehydrated, stiff, blistered, etc. Then you have just a couple of hours to collect yourself and get ready to do a Challenge. After the Challenge, that post Heavy feeling pales in comparison. Now everything hurts, you are delirious from lack of sleep and you may just want to pass out and die. But instead you have just a couple of hours to collect yourself and do a Light. The Light finishes, but you probably didn’t. 40+ hrs of fun, a great tester for a Selection wannabe, and definitely not easy. Heavy + Challenge + Light = bragging rights for a select few.

The first HCL has yet to be done, but I have done enough events (3 Heavy, 35 Challenges, 3 Lights) and enough B2B events that I feel I can talk about strategies to help you survive this physical onslaught. A while ago I wrote an article on how to survive a back-to-back Challenge (no longer on the calendar except as Challenge+Light) that I have gotten a lot of great feedback on.

But HCL is definitely much more than a CC/B2B. The big issues to deal with are muscle soreness and stiffness creeping in during the short break, sleep deprivation and sheer motivation to keep going when you just want to curl up and rest.

Heavy Preparation
Some key things to do before you start the Heavy

  1. Train hard.
  2. Mostly ruck a LOT with weight, become familiar with your shoes and socks and toughen your feet. Test products such as Trail Toes (my personal favorite), come up with a foot care strategy and strengthen those knees and ankles. The GORUCK website has some great articles for this on the training page.
  3. Become caffeine sensitive. If you are a coffee fiend like me, take at least 3-4 weeks prior to your event to wean yourself off caffeine. That way you can use caffeine pills or coffee beans during the events to wake you up a bit.
  4. Toughen Your Feet.
    Lots of rucking and/or alum powder and/or Tuf Foot.
  5. Hydrate.
    Start hydrating a day or so before the event. In the hour prior to the Heavy start, gulp down a full Nalgene of chia water. This will keep you hydrated for longer than regular water.
  6. Carb up. 
    I personally follow a low carb diet most of the time, and you may too. The day of the Heavy though you will want to top up your glycogen reserves as much as possible. Carb up as much as you can, but be careful to avoid anything too sugary or high-glycemic and foods that might upset your stomach.

Heavy Event
Keep hydrating all the time. Do not wait to feel thirsty. Every 2-4 hours pop a couple of electrolyte or salt tablets (I love Hammer Endurolytes). You should be pissing a lot, and never feel thirsty.

During the Heavy it is CRITICAL that you take care of yourself. At ANY rest stop, priority one is your feet. If you feel no hotspots, look anyway. Take off your socks add a light dusting of powder, add lube on any small hotspots (Trail Toes product is, as mentioned, my favorite), dress larger hotspots with moleskin, duct tape or band aids. Maybe use some benzoin to help the dressing of choice to stick. Do the worst foot first, and attack the second only once your footwear is back on the first. If you have a large blister, pop it (use a sterile lancing needle, carry several) and apply some New Skin or benzoin. Trauma One kits make a compact footcare package that I carry to every event.

Next eat something if allowed. Keep it low glycemic. I love Quest bars (low sugar) and home made coconut oil rich energy balls. There are a gazillion recipes online. Fat and protein are your friends here, NOT nasty gu gels.

Take care of inflammation. I usually take an Ibuprofen 800mg 8 and 16 hours into a Heavy as a preventative measure with LOTS of water and hopefully a little food.

The most important thing here is don’t feel sorry for yourself when the team rests and actually rest yourself – if you do sit down while eating, elevate your feet to reduce swelling. Otherwise pick your priorities of work, get them done. If you have time left over, help others. Its important that you keep your mind in the game.

As always, I use Wisps to keep my breath fresh… I can’t emphasize enough how much this helps keep you motivated.

Above all DO NOT grey man the Heavy (or subsequent events). You want to finish with pride. Be a good team player and do as much as you can.

Heavy Endex
The Heavy is over, everyone is happy, you want to verbally AAR right away and high five each other. Do that but make it quick and don’t drink alcohol no matter how tempting. You may have 2-4 hours before the challenge starts so its critical that you get your priorities of work together. In order for me, these will be

  • Feet.
  • Fix your feet. Get on dry socks and shoes after powdering your feet, or even better flip flops, and take care of blisters and maceration. Hopefully with your prep and care during the Heavy this should be a minimal affair. The tips above have kept me maceration and relatively blister free in Heavy events.
  • Body.
    Add body glide, desitin or lube of choice to any chafed areas. New Skin any lacerations, burst blisters, etc. Take another Ibuprofen 800mg to keep inflammation down and drink lots of chia water enriched with LOTS of BCAA.
    Get changed into the clothes you will wear for the challenge. Keep your feet open to the air as long as possible.
  • Fuel.
    Eat GOOD food. Get in plenty of good fats (coconut oil, butter, eggs) and low glycemic carbs. A big ass sandwich for example. Personally I’d eat a couple of breakfast burritos or similar.
  • Sleep.
  • Have a plan to sleep, but also a contingency if you cannot. Have a friend drive you to the challenge start so you can nap in the back for example. If you have a chance to get to a real bed, all the better. Aim to wake 60-90 minutes before the start of the Challenge depending on travel time and if you cannot sleep, use your favorite wake aid a few minutes before the next event starts – coffee, pre-workout drink, cold water to the face etc.

Challenge Preparation
Again we have priorities of work here.

  • Fuel and hydrate.
  • Lots more food as above, and lots of chia water with BCAA.
  • Recheck body and feet.
  • Apply body glide/etc everywhere you think you need it.
    Use a different style of clothing, socks and shoes if possible to prevent hitting the same hot spots as the Heavy. I always have 3-4 different styles of sock in my dry bag for events to modify how my feet get impacted.
  • Stretch.
  • Do some basic yoga stretches, and make sure you hit the hip flexors, hamstrings, calves and shoulders. Also foam roll if you can. This will get rid of a lot of the stiffness and soreness and get blood flowing where you need it. If you are still a little stiff or sore at the start of the challenge, don’t worry. It will pass once you get moving. DO NOT let that pain make you quit. It WILL get better I promise. The worst part of a B2B was always the first 15 minutes or so.
  • Energize.
  • Drink a strong coffee, eat some chocolate covered espresso beans OR my favorite – take a pre-workout drink. My favorite right now is Honey Badger drink… this will energize you beyond belief and set you up well for the welcome party.

Challenge Event
The rules are the same here as they were for the Heavy. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Challenge Endex
Again the post Heavy rules apply. The only difference is you only have a Light left. Anyone can grunt through 6+ hrs so don’t give up.

Light Prep, Event, Endex
Again, same as before. The only difference is you can collapse, drink beer, do whatever the hell you want. You did it!! (most of you though probably didn’t get this far)

Anything Else?
There are some mental tricks to beat down any demons – and you might have some others.

If a demon does pop up, find a distraction. For example, look for someone else having a hard time and make it your goal to bring them back. That will kill your own demons quicker than you can imagine. Alternatively chant a mantra, repeat a song, tell the class a dirty joke (another favorite of mine) or if the timing and the evolution allows start the class off with a “When I say GO you say RUCK” chant to turn your demon hunter into one the entire class can use.

Also smile a lot. Even if forced, a smile will often turn things around. I like to laugh at the ridiculousness of what I am doing and it always feels better.

So that is it! That’s the plan of attack I will use for my HCL events and I recommend you try something similar. Good luck and let me know how it goes.

Next article I will talk about packing strategies for the HCL to make life a little easier for you, and give you everything you need.

Original article provided courtesy of Mark Webb at http://overld.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/surviving-a-goruck-triple-threat/


  1. Seamus says:

    Great article! 

    Does anyone know how many people have successfully completed an HCL thus far?

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