Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome like a Roman Legionary

Pre-dawn and I’m barely awake as I wind around LA’s Mulholland Drive to the trailhead for my daily sunrise ruck with my dogs. My introversion pushes me out this early. I love to “beat the crowds” and get my workout in while people are still dreaming about doing what I’m doing.

Somehow I’m a little more awake this morning and am taken aback at how particularly beautiful the day is starting off. Something feels like it’s changed and then I remember that it’s the first weekend of spring.  My mind wanders back to memories of those glorious dogwoods in bloom across the Carolinas and Virginia, and then to the newly-returned robins bouncing over remnant snow patches in the midwestern yard of my youth. It’s a new season, a rebirth! I’ve got Willie Nelson’s voice singing “Good morning, America! How are you?” running through my head.

I pull into an empty trailhead parking lot. I love this trail because of its off-leash policy (a rarity in LA) for my dogs, Greta and Lola, and it seldom has any people on it this early in the morning (even more of a rarity). I’m lucky it’s so close to my house, especially in this time of “sheltering in place.”  

This whole spring-thing has given me a boost of energy and I throw a 45 pound ruck plate into a black multicam GR1 (this is what Rule #1 was modeled on). I decided to do a little extra than just a ruck and add in a Roman Legion workout to this morning’s fun. It seems fitting given that the Roman Legion is known for their unparalleled ability to:

  • Improvise Roman organization was more flexible than those of many opponents.
  • Adapt to new environmentsThey gave up their own practices as soon as they found better ones.
  • Overcome adversityThe Romans were more persistent and more willing to absorb setbacks over time.

The Legionaries rucked with 45 pounds on their backs, but you can pick your own poison. When in doubt, start with about 10 pounds and add more if needed. There is a whole love/hate thing with me and this workout because it’s an ass-kicker, and frankly, it has a penchant for humbling me. 

The Roman Legion Workout

  • Ruck for 2 minutes
  • 20 Push-ups
  • Ruck for 2 minutes
  • 20 Lunges
  • Ruck for 2 minutes
  • 20 Squat Presses
  • Ruck for 2 minutes

Repeat the cycle until the end of your ruck or until failure. 

All of the movements, in addition to rucking, should be completed while wearing your ruck. You can adjust the number of reps as needed or extend the duration of rucking. Use this workout to fit your needs, but these classic movements are sure to get you feeling strong. Here are some quick demos just to remind you what your form should look like: 

1. Push-ups

2. Lunges

3. Squat Press

This morning’s route is a 1.5 mile out-and-back route. I do 20 repetitions per movement on the way out and 10 repetitions/movement on the way back (or until fail…which often happens on the way back – hence the “humbling” mentioned above).    

Big Greta, little Lola and I step off onto the trail as the sun peaks over the mountains to the east. The first two-minute ruck portion feels great. There isn’t a person in sight and I feel like I have all of LA to myself. 

There will be no shortages in signs of spring in this morning’s ruck here either. These LA hills are lush and green, from recent rain, and dotted with lupines. The air is clear, crisp and I’ve got 360 degrees views of snow-capped mountains one direction and breathtaking ocean views in another, 26 miles, all the way to Santa Catalina Island (as she waits for me).  A western version of “America the Beautiful.”


This beauty is my respite after the first 2 to 3 cycles of movements and it pushes me forward. I pass the first people hiking with their dogs. They stop to ask what I’m going in the middle of squat presses. I tell them about GORUCK through my panting and heavy breathing.  They’re wearing backpacks and are talking of putting weight into them the next time out (future GORUCK Nation, right there).

I reach the turn-around point. Although I have been concentrating on counting how many cycles I’ve done, without fail, I’ve forgotten the number AGAIN!  Was it 9 or 12 cycles???

The 10 reps per movement on the way back are welcomed but soon start to feel like 40. My rucking can now more accurately be described as wobbling. Was that 2 minutes I’ve been doing that “rest while you ruck” thing or just one minute?…It feels like one. 

I’m on cycle 15 or 500 hundred (I’ve lost all sense at this point) when I recognize an old friend passing by. He mercifully stops to briefly catch up. This has been my daily rucking trail for 5+ years and I’ve never seen him on this trail before, nor even thought of him being here because it’s not close to his house. He tells me he’s been in his house for four days straight during this “sheltering in place” thing and that he just needed to get out into nature. Don’t we all, brother?

I press on and my repetitions become so feeble they’re almost not even worth attempting, let alone counting. At one point I collapse during a push-up and my big dog, Greta, comes to check on me by licking my face. Two little cute pre-K kids who are passing by with their parents giggle at the sight.

It’s still really early in the morning for families to be out on the trail, I think. 

“We just needed to get outside! Cartoons weren’t cutting it!” the parents exclaim.

I pick myself up and turn to look down the trail. To my surprise there are many more families and small groups coming my direction. I stop my cycles of movements (I think I was on cycle 2,123 or so), and just ruck along greeting everyone with “Good morning! Happy Spring!”  as we pass by. Even though we’re practicing safe “social distancing,” there’s a special warmth in our greetings to one another, an outreach for connection. 

My fatigue melts away as I return to the parking lot trailhead. It’s been replaced by renewed energy. Winding down Mulholland this morning in the dawn’s early light, I loved my favorite ruck trail because of the solitude it promised. The sun is now shining in all of its springtime glory and I love my favorite ruck trail because of all the families, friends, and neighbors out here on the trail with me — our shared need to be connected to nature and to each other. 

I suspect we all have our favorite ruck trail out there in our beautiful country (may they all be close to you). And I’d wager they’re all a little bit busier BECAUSE of this “shelter in place” thing. 

There’s been a lot of talk about the “new normal” and questions of what lies ahead for us. I hope I just got a taste of what that is here this morning on this trail. More community. More rucking.  

About the Author

Jason Mayo is a Marine Corps Veteran who has been rucking for a long time. He has been sheltering in place in LA with his wife, children, and dogs since early March.

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