With the winter months upon us, the cold, wet weather has been a frequent visitor. If you are preparing for one of the Selection Courses, you have to prepare for the conditions that you’re dealt with. It is what it is. And when it involves rucking, it can be challenging, but actually, if you look at it, really good training.
We have had three back-to-back-to-back nor’easters up here in the past couple of weeks. The latest storm dropped between 20-22 inches of snow on us up here in the Northeast. The night the snow started, I did a late-night ruck march, as I knew I wasn’t going out in the morning in blizzard conditions. It was more of a safety issue. Rucking along the roads here is always a bit dangerous because we have so many god-awful drivers. During a blizzard? It isn’t recommended.
The morning after the storm was a bright, beautiful day. The near hurricane gusts were gone, the temps were cold but not oppressively so, in the sun, it felt almost warm…almost.
So, yes, I hit the trail wearing my heavier boots and wool socks. But first, some thoughts on the gear you should wear. Many of the tips I post are nothing more than guidelines. I post things that worked for myself during my years in Special Forces, these tips and techniques worked for me and hopefully, they’ll work for you as well.
But I don’t claim to know it all, far from it. There are plenty of people out there and I encourage you, during your preparation to try different things, read plenty (there is a ton of information out there) and find out what works for you. Then go with it.
My weight (45-lb sandbag) was packed up high between the shoulder blades in the radio pouch. If your ruck has radio pouch up high, that is where the sandbag or weight plates belongs. I’ve said many times that I prefer sandbags because it will mold to your pack and back and doesn’t have any sharp edges that can rub you on a ruck.
But I am intrigued with the plates the guys from GORUCK have come up with. I’d be interested in hearing if anyone else has used them and what their thoughts are on those. I had my Camelback system in there as well. And it is important to talk hydration. When it is cold like this, you aren’t normally as thirsty as, say in the dead of summer, but the need for water goes on. Make sure you drink (a lot) water while out of the course. And once this particular ruck started, I wished I had brought a second.
On this ruck march I made sure that the waist strap on my rucksack was buckled, that way, the weight rides on your hips and you can loosen your shoulder straps a tad so that the weight isn’t all on them.
I wore poly-pro leggings covered with just thin workout pants. I wore a moisture-wicking Under Armour t-shirt and a lightweight wool shirt. My old black watch cap topped things off. At least when starting off, you should wear a hat. An awful lot of body heat will escape through your head. Once you get going, especially on this one, you’ll be sweating up a storm and can take it off. But if you stop for any reason, make sure you pop it back on your head.
We covered boots in a several of our earlier articles. I have many pairs that I take on hikes depending on the conditions. For the purposes of this practical exercise, I wore my heavier duty Merrell Sawtooth boots. For slogging on thru the snow and ice on parts of the course, these were the good, smart choice.
Part of the trail I used goes near or next to a road that is heavily traveled, and then it forks off to the railroad tracks. I have used these railroad tracks plenty of times before and this time was a perfect training scenario. I’d slog my way thru knee deep (in places) snow which of course slows down your pace considerably.
But when it comes to getting a great workout, this was superb. I wasn’t worried about the pace at all. Soon I was drenched with sweat, the wool shirt is perfect for this as it still keeps you warm when wet. After slogging thru the deep snow for about 20 minutes I’d hop on the tracks which were cleared due to the trains that pass by several times a day.
My thighs caught a break and I picked up the pace a bit on the tracks. And my breathing would return to normal without having to break trail thru the snow. My erstwhile training partner, my Bulldog wasn’t pleased a bit to be out in this and thought it insane to be walking in the deep snow, she stayed on the tracks the entire time, and would turn and stare like, “WTF is wrong with you?”, when I’d slow way down in the deep stuff.
When it comes to increasing speed, I’ve said too many times to count that I don’t recommend that you run with a rucksack on your back while in training. It puts way too much stress on your knees, ankles, and your lower back. That rule should especially apply to chugging along on slippery and snow-covered railroad ties. I wiped out a few times, slipping on the wooden cross members slick with snow and ice.
As I said, don’t worry about the standard, which is a 15-minute mile pace to pass the courses And, yes you should be aiming to go lower than that. Our pace, however, was much slower, and because my training partner had enough, we cut short our ruck as well. But it was among the most challenging we’ve done, just because of the deep snow. My thighs were burning by the time we finished up.
I can’t stress enough that water and hydration are very important as we’ve been harping on for a year now. I drained my water before I finished and could have probably put another half of a Camelback away easily. Stay hydrated and stay the course.
Don’t let the snow, slow down your preparation time. However, like anything else, temper your desire to excel with common sense if the conditions prove to be too dangerous. But rucking in the snow is some great exercise, it will build your legs up like doing a ton of squats and pushing a heavy weighted sled across a fitness center.
Photo courtesy of US Army