Well, this sounded like a good idea at the time… “Somebody” had the bright idea to conduct and then write about a 12-mile ruck sack march and then putting the results in our training blog with the whole encouraging headline for our prospective Special Operations readers, that it is STILL a piece of cake.
After all, since starting at SpecialOperations.com and SOFREP, I’ve had the pleasure of writing the “SOF Selection PT Prep” pieces every day. And not just writing them. It has been fun to strapping on a ruck again and doing some shorter distances with my fat bulldog keeping me company in the cool, pre-dawn air. It brought back many pleasant and some not so pleasant memories of carrying the pain pill while a member of a Special Forces A-Team and as a cadre member at Selection. And after following my friends and SF brothers doing the length of the Appalachian Trail, in a fundraising effort for the Green Beret Foundation, it got my motivation up to as high as it can get and I thought, a 12-miler for time with a 45-pound ruck shouldn’t be hard for this steely-eyed ole snake eater right? Hindsight can be a mother…
I had a couple of advantages that you kids in Selection do not. Number 1 is I knew where every mile marker was so I had instant feedback as to my time and distance. I had mapped a trail on flat ground along railroad tracks and a bike path so there was none of the element of the unknown as to time and distance. Which, is a part of the mind-fuck the course plays on you.
My second advantage is I wasn’t carrying a weapon on this, just a walking stick, my staff of Ra if you will. If someone had seen me in town carry a rifle down the road at my 3 a.m start time, you’d have read about the old SF guy being shot by the police for doing something shady, because no sane person goes out rucking at 3 a.m. for fun.
And my third advantage was having my iPod charged up. Having music blasting in your ear is a great motivator. And nothing kills the boredom of a long hike like music. Loud, metal. Metallica is a good choice, We’ll start off with S&M and then the Black Album.
Of course, I had a couple of disadvantages as well. Having blown my back out in SF, and having two surgeries that ended my career is never a plus, the resultant arthritis that crept in there is always a joy early in the morning. That and having two knees that the same. Two surgeries, arthritis…ain’t life grand? So things kind of evened out. Plus it has been ….. Ok, it has been a very long time since my days as a cadre member at Selection so that isn’t a plus…at all.
I got up, put on an old pair of fatigue bottoms from my days as a contractor with that god-awful ACU camouflage pattern. Whoever thought that shit was good? Stretched well and got ready to head out. My bulldog lifted her head and sensing it was much too early for this, looked at me with a “WTF” look and literally flopped over and went back to snoring. Maybe this was an omen…
The first mile wasn’t great as my knees were barking a bit with the cool, damp temps and they were a little bit stiff, but the last bit, I started to get loose and was feeling good. So far so good. Miles 2 and 3 were much better, I was loosened up and had a good sweat working and my stride was getting back to that nice, long, lope that eats up the distance and allows for a quick time. Going down one of the few downhill areas of the course, I stumbled for a second but kept my balance and turned it into a jog for a quarter-mile until the terrain flattened out. Those two miles went by quickly and a quarter of the way in, I had a very good time going, around 40 minutes which was better than I expected.
Having much more energy than I expected, I felt like it was a good time to kick it up a notch. Having nice flat, hard-packed terrain for the next few miles I set a pace that would have sufficed back in the day for the entire march, but for about two and a half miles the ground was falling by the wayside easily and I was making terrific time. Knowing where the mile markers were helped a great deal and having “No Leaf Clover” one of my all-time favorite Metallica songs made it a breeze.
Trying not to burn myself out too quickly, I backed off slightly in Mile 6, but at the halfway point, I still had a lot of energy and was feeling great. Hitting mile marker six, with “Until it Sleeps” blaring in the ears, I finished off one of the water bottles I was carrying. I took the time to do a bathroom break, take the rucksack off for a minute, and stretch out some more. Time at the turn around point was 1 hour 17 minutes and 40 seconds… I’ll take that all day long. That wasn’t a bad time back in the day, so I’ll take it.
Having a ton of confidence now and energy, I kicked it back into gear for the trek back.
Hitting the good hard-packed terrain for the two miles going back was another easy leg of the trip. I hit the eight-mile mark with still an excellent time, well under the standard and the weight of the 45-lb ruck, which was fitting nice and snug was negligible. That’s when things began to get tough. Stopping for a moment to catch my breath and taking a long pull from my water bottle, that old familiar ache in the knees began to kick in. Not good. Doing a couple of stretches with the ruck on didn’t help so I just continued to drive on.
The energy level was starting to taper off quickly, so to keep up the time, I lengthened my stride some more in an attempt to keep my time up. Between miles nine and ten, that downhill slope was now an uphill one. Going uphill the pace began to slow considerably. My energy was waning fast but I still hit Mile ten in excellent shape time wise. Between Miles ten and eleven, a couple of coyotes crossed the railroad tracks ahead of me about 75 to a 100 yards to my front left. They stopped and did a long take in my direction. After about ten seconds they bounded off into the woods near the highway.
Now it was a slog rather than a speed march. Knees aching, it was an effort to keep going. I was never so happy to see our town’s cemetery which meant I was a mile from the finish. The sun was coming up and I could hear the traffic picking up on the road to my right. After crossing the railroad trestle (thankfully no train was coming) I was on the downhill side. My feet were getting sore but no blisters (thanks, Merrell) but by now my pace was almost a crawl. I finished 12 miles (sans weapon) at 2 hours 48 minutes, 36 seconds to the perfect ending song of the Black album, “Wherever I May Roam.” Not bad for a former action guy, but a good 28-30 minutes off my old times, albeit many moons ago.
So for you young guys considering the course, many have asked questions concerning the 12-miler and other long range movements and have voiced concerns over them. If the old guys can still do it at this point, you can do it too. You may even see us out on the trail, look for the old greybeard with the big staff bouncing along to Metallica.
The biggest difference between now and then was back in the day, after putting my feet up for an hour or two and getting something to eat, I could do it all over again. Today, I’m beat and not embarrassed to admit it. The thought of crossing the room for the remote is a debate in my mind to which, as my wife leaves the room, sure Dr. Phil is fine. I think I’ll just nod off here for a while….who’s bright idea was it to do this stuff again anyway?
Featured image courtesy of DoD