Before hitting the gym this morning, I went back out on the rucking trails and hit the woods among the hills here in Central Mass. We have a small state park called “Purgatory Chasm” nearby that has some shorter hiking trails that we could take advantage of rucking the hills before they fill up with the hikers in the area. Rucking in the hills shouldn’t be something to be feared, just another chance to excel for the aspiring Special Operations candidate.
The trails were still muddy and slow from the severe thunderstorms that wracked the area in the past few days…but not climate change, right? The mud actually adds to the workout, and while it will slow down your time, it builds leg muscles for the long haul. The trails are short enough that we had to do a couple of loops to get the distance in that we were looking for.
In Special Operations, and especially in Selection, training doesn’t stop when the weather turns to crap. And the standards remain the same, so rather than wait until the trails are dried up, our candidates for Selection should get out and get some experience rucking the muck and mire. It is good practice and you’ll either experience rucking in the mud or the soft sand of Camp Mackall if you opt for SFAS. In many classes, you’ll get to experience plenty of both.
I was going to take my bulldog along for the company but my wife, who is the smart one in the household, pointed out that the dog just had a bath and taking her out on a muddy trail would just make more work for us when we return. The dog, watching the conversation, seemed to understand just fine and after I said I’d leave her behind settled back down in her bed, belched, farted and promptly went back to sleep.
Rucking in the early morning is therapeutic for your brain, most especially after a very long and stressful week. Back before the arthritic knees, I used to love doing it all the time, now I have to pick my spots. But a couple of days in a row is the best medicine for relieving the stress and leaving the B.S. behind for a while.
My 45-pound sandbag is packed up high between the shoulder blades as much as possible. The ruck that I’m using has radio pouch up high, that is where the sandbag was placed, just like we pointed out in our Monday morning post. But you can pack anything you want in there as long as the weight is correct. My Camelback was full of Gatorade again….tsk, tsk. The hills here are rolling but pretty steep on both sides of the ridgeline, much steeper than anything you’ll find in Selection, so it is a really good leg day workout.
As we also mentioned on Monday, I cinched the waist strap on my rucksack, so that, the weight rides more on your hips and not on your shoulders. I find this especially effective when rucking in the hills. This allows you to loosen your shoulder straps just a bit so that the weight isn’t all on them and your lower back, the weight will ride more on your hips. Ensure that the waist belt is snug but not tight nor too loosely.
So, I popped my iPod in place, listening to Eric Clapton this morning, I hit the trails very early. When trudging on the upside of the hills, I like to lean forward just slightly and lengthen, not shorten my stride. Some people like to do the opposite. I will say this…try both ways and whatever works for you, stick with it.. There really isn’t that big of a difference, just an ever so slightly longer one which will keep your momentum going.
Back in the day, we once had to accompany some intelligence types into the mountains in Central America to put in trail sensors to monitor the level of traffic the bad guys were using in the area. It was rumored they had a trail network and basecamp on top of this steep peak. We were already high up in elevation and the nights were cool to the point of putting on sweaters or Gore-tex jackets. This peak was nearly vertical of about 700-800 meters and it was almost as steep as climbing a ladder. With about an 85 pound ruck, my thighs felt like they were going to burst by the time we reached the top.
It was and still is amazing, that that much vegetation could grow on such a steep peak. Leaning forward wasn’t only preferable but necessary. I think if any one of us had lost their balance, that person would have tumbled a long way before being able to stop. The view was spectacular, the trail and Basecamp? Not there.
We covered boots in a several of our earlier pieces. I have several favorite pairs that I take on hikes depending upon the conditions. I normally don’t ruck anywhere without my Merrells anymore. But today I wore my Army issue boots from Bates. Digging thru some old boxes and duffel bags full of Army shit, I found my favorite pair of jungle boots. The ones that I had worn down to nearly nothing and fit like a tennis shoe. Those boots had more frequent flyer miles than you could imagine and had hundreds of take-offs of C-130s back in the day. Not many landings…from inside the aircraft. I half thought about wearing them but the boot was beginning to come apart from the sole on both pairs. We had to say adieu to those selfless companions on so many rucksack marches and jumps.
So you should use what you are going to wear in the course and ensure that you have at least two pairs broken in and ready to go. Once you graduate and become a member of the various units, the opportunity to wear what you want will be there for you. Until then, go with the issued boots.
The walking stick I made for my son I took with me and it will definitely help here and there on the trail especially when you reach the downside of the slopes. And it can help for the pesky wildlife and occasional stray dog that attempts to get froggy with you out there in the dark on the trail.
Speed, Speed, We All Want to go Faster:
I don’t know how many times I’ve said this but will keep repeating it because it bears repeating. Learn to increase your speed without resorting to running. It is like any other skill you acquire and hone, it requires practice but it can be done.
Running with a rucksack puts an incredible amount of stress on your knees. You will find on any course you ruck on that there will be some steep downhill slopes where it is easy to pick up a shuffle for a short distance. However, although it can speed things up there is a difference between doing that and for running a longer distance.
Now, as I’ve also said many times, while in the course, that has to be tempered with the reality of your situation. “They’ll be times in your selection course or the qualification course that you’ll have to make up time or want to pick your pace, especially on the downhill slopes. At those times, you’re going to have to do what you must.”
I can’t stress enough as someone who now has two arthritic knees and a back to boot to learn to increase your speed without running. Lengthen out your stride and generate power with your legs and your speed will come naturally without resorting to running. But while in the course…do what you must to pass.
Back when I was assigned to be an SFAS Cadre member, we had to go thru Selection before working there. Why? I was one of the “dinosaurs” who went thru the SFQC before there was SFAS. And as I admit, on the long-range movement rucksack march, I jogged the last mile and a half, almost two, just to get it over with as I still had plenty of time (why do people who give advice, never take their own?).
The standard is a 15-minute mile pace to pass the course. That is the minimum. You should be aiming much better than that. I used to keep about a 12-minute per mile pace. It is plenty fast enough for where you’ll finish a 12-mile ruck march with just over 30 minutes to spare and is a pace that you can keep up for an even longer distance.
Hydrate Constantly: Water and hydration are very important as we keep harping on in every PT piece every morning. On this day, despite the cooler rainy, wet conditions, I drank nearly all 36 ounces of Gatorade. It is a good habit to get into during training to continue to push water all the time. If you get into the habit now, you’ll keep it up during the course.
The hardest habit to get into is hydrating during the winter months when your body won’t trigger your thirst as quickly. But it is still imperative to keep drinking and staying hydrated. When you are even a little bit dehydrated, it affects the cognitive aspects of the brain. It can adversely affect mood, energy levels and the ability to think clearly.
The body doesn’t trigger the thirst reaction until the body is approximately 2 percent dehydrated which means dehydration is already setting in and will have negative effects on cognitive testing. Since you know you’re always being evaluated, keep your mind as sharp as your body and stay hydrated.
Learn to love rucking and practice it just like you would your shooting skills, they are that important. Hills won’t be a problem…now I have to ward off a bulldog that didn’t want to ruck with me but is wide awake and intent on sharing my bacon.
Photo courtesy of US Army
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