Ok, this is long. Grab a cold brew, sit back, and enjoy. This is my recap of GoRuck HCLS San Francisco Veteran’s Day, November 12-15th, 2015.
I don’t really remember the exact moment that I decided to sign up for HCLS. Probably on a whim, the way I do most things. Maybe because it gave me something frightening to look forward to, and that is an athlete’s dream. What can I do that terrifies the hell out of me? That? Ok cool, yeah, let’s do that. HCLS stands for Heavy, Challenge, Light, and Scavenger. Outside of GoRuck Selection, it’s the big daddy of events. You do the events in succession with about a 2-3 hour break in between each. 24 hours, 12 hours, 6 hours, then another 5-6 hours. The scavenger is really just a fun time walking around the city taking dumb pictures with the people you’ve just spent 60+ hours in the grind with. You deserve that puppy, trust me.
Ok, so I’m signed up, I’m in pretty good shape, but I gotta train. This “aint nothin.” So how did we train for this? We had a really great training plan – and when I say we, I am referencing the group of 6 of us from Sheepdogs who decided to take this on together. We followed along the Selection training plan – aka we trained harder than most, I imagine, because the workout days were NO joke – and honestly, it showed. Throughout the entire event, the Sheepdogs were really forces of power. We carried the heavy stuff. We Team led. We were “the rabbits” people tried to keep up with. We were in the front, we helped other people get through it, and we were the navigators. We sustained and we did it with really big grins, too. We were super ready and I’m so insanely proud of us I can’t even stand it.
Anyways, back to training…
Workouts consisted of lots of early mornings, 6am 3-4 times a week for about 3 months. We did a lot of durability work, an EPIC amount of step-ups, work with sandbags, etc. We tested our pushups and sit-ups constantly, we did long rucks, we ran, we did yoga, we lifted heavy, we did pull-ups and all sorts of crap – if you have any specific questions about our training plan, let me know – I’d be happy to share why we were just so awesome :). I felt insanely strong walking into the event. I had been really missing a focused event to train for, I think the last time I really trained for something was my ½ Ironman a few years back? It felt good to have a purpose! Overall I am pleased with my training, but in retrospect, I could have been better with hydration. There were some mornings I felt a little off and my system was out of whack, and I know for a fact it was because I needed more h20. And ok, maybe less beer too.
About 4 days before the start of the event, which was a Thursday at 5pm (we didn’t finish “work” until 6pm on Saturday so chew on that for a second…), we had to rest for a few days. I’d like to call this the week of hell. I knew I hated resting, but maybe I forgot how much? I literally felt like I was on some upper meds because of how jittery I was for 3 straight days. I tried breathing techniques to get myself to relax a little but did that work? No. Re-channeling the energy you normally use for physical activity is really hard, when that is what your body is used to. Troy kept telling us to “trust the process.” I wanted to tell Troy to go fly a kite. But in the end, was he right? Of course he was.
Thursday came. I won’t lie, I was a nervous freaking wreck. I wavered between really really excited and pumped to terrified and confused as to why I was actively choosing to work out, and not just work out, like WORK THE EFF OUT, for 48 straight hours. We did a lot of thinking and discussing our “why” for this event. Facebook has a few event pages where GRT’s can share knowledge, info, jokes, etc. leading up to the event, and it was very fun to read why people were motivated to take this on. When you tackle something big like this, any big endeavor really, you really need to have your “why” dialed in. It’s what keeps you going when you hit the dark place (and I hit it hard. More on that later). What was my why? Sheepdogs. This family I have created for myself, they deserved to see me succeed. I owed it to them. I wanted to do it alongside them, I wanted to make them proud. I was also my “why”. I wanted to make myself proud. I am a tough woman, but this was going to really test me. I wanted to pass that test with flying colors. We also did this event over Veteran’s Day. I thought about all of the vets who I knew and were close to me, and then I thought more about the things they went through on a daily basis, for months on end, and here I was about to take on something a small fry fraction of what they experienced. If they could do it, I could absolutely do this.
The 4 Cadre we had for this event were Flash, Dan, Sean, and Mickey. All very different leading styles, personalities, and backgrounds. What’s beautiful is that yes, they do a lot for us during this event by pushing us, making us work, teaching us lessons, etc.,…but we also do a great deal for them. These guys have seen a lot, been through a lot as Vets themselves, and for them, being a apart of GoRuck is like therapy. They draw strength and joy from us, and after they are done absolutely obliterating us, they laugh and drink beers with us. It’s kind of this incredible and special symbiotic relationship. Now THAT is humanity. 🙂
Our start point was Crissy Field. The sheepdog team met at my house where we all took a van over together with all of our gear for the next 3 days stored with us. We had a great plan of attack for the transitions – basically treating it like a triathlon (well, it kind of was, just with insanely longer legs). Troy + support crew were to transport us, feed us home cooked meals, get our waters refilled, set up sleeping bags for us to take quick naps in, etc. between every event. We basically didn’t have to think. It was rather incredible.
We arrived at Crissy, and after a few minutes of reunion hugs (one of the BEST parts about this event, this group actually, was the amount of awesome people we got to be in the suck with), etc., we formed ranks and immediately started marching across the bridge. All I thought was ‘YES’. We were hoping we’d spend the Heavy in the headlands, as all of us had done so many challenges in SF already. We were a little underwhelmed by a whole 24 hour event doing the same stuff. This was a great surprise.
Heavy class start point! Here we gooooo
The next 24 hours went by in a blur. Highlight? That VIEW of the bridge from the vantage point where we did all of comms checks and part of the welcome party. Getting your ass kicked on a gorgeous San Francisco night with the Golden Gate bridge staring you in the face isn’t so terrible, right? Low point was absolutely the muddy water crawl. I think everyone who did HCLS would agree with me on this. The waves off the headlands shores were too rough for us to get in, so the Cadre ever so lovingly made us low crawl through some of the nastiest, foulest water I have ever seen. We smelled delightful after that, let me tell you. Another one of my favorite parts of the heavy (doesn’t saying “heavy” just sound intense? Ha) were all the skills training we learned. We had enough time for it, and it was a huge added bonus that really rounded out the event. We did bounding drills, how to clear a room…how to function on very little calories…did I mention they stole our food at the beginning and made us carry it in a sandbag? I brought a whole package of salami in my ruck. At a few points throughout the 24-hours, we got to take an item or 2 to eat. Well taking “an” item meant taking “a whole package” of salami. My fellow GRT’s were stoked on that life decision.
Cadre Dan telling us his story about Rocket, a lost friend on an Afghan tour
Learning to clear a room. Military tactic training
Ruckin’ along…33 total miles in the heavy
Just carrying heavy things…endlessly
Overall the strength, experience of everyone there, and dedication to each other was ever-present the entire Heavy. It ended with one of the most brutal ruck marches I have ever done, roughly 14 miles total, and at the end of it, people were towing others, holding hands, pushing folks uphill…we did anything and everything to get one another across to the finish line. We became a team in that moment. And although we were done with the heavy (woo!)…we were only halfway to the big finish. For me, surviving the transition between the heavy and the challenge was going to be the hardest part…
About 2 miles from the Heavy finish. What a view! (the bridge…not shirtless Oliver…)
Topographic map of our mileage/terrain covered in the Heavy
The support crew were rockstars. They took our rucks, made us sit down, shoved plates of pot roast, spaghetti, potatoes, pie, donuts, etc. down our throats, told us to take care of our feet, filled our waters, and set up an “elevation nap station” for us. I literally felt like a pro athlete. In what felt like 2 seconds later, I was dressed in a new change of clothes and standing in ranks ready for the challenge. I want to point out that the biggest piece of advice given to me before HCLS was “do not be left alone in between events, and have a plan.” I believe this to be 100% true. Without my team staying together, I would have absolutely talked myself out of going back out. The support crew not only gave us water, food, and rest, they allowed us to focus directly on what was in front of us and nothing else. This was absolutely key to success.
The “welcome party” of the challenge was literally the hardest one I have ever done. It was really nice to hear the Cadre say how brutal it was as well after the fact because I thought it was just because I had done, oh, you know, a stupid little 24-hour event like 5 seconds prior to that. Nah, it was brutal, but STRANGELY I had this insane amount of energy. I think it was adrenaline, it was us Heavy-goers sticking together and kind of laughing at how retarded we all were to be there still, I also had a coworker in the challenge with me, and it was his first GoRuck so I was excited to see him! The class was enormous – 89 people. 31 of us were HCLS folks.
PT during the Challenge Welcome party on Ocean Beach
After the brutal start, the adrenaline started wearing off and one by one throughout the course of the night, you watched every one of us do a 180 to the dark side. Exhausted and sleep walking, hallucinating, wanting to quit, not knowing what was going on, you name it. Hilarious. It’s truly a great thing we were laughing at one another. We would have been doomed. It’s where “DFQ” really takes meaning…
Sleep-Rucking. It’s a thing.
When the sun came up, we someHOW got a 2nd wind, raced to endex at the beach, got BACK in the water, were pummeled by waves, did more PT, and then it was over. All we had left was the light…let me repeat this in my head 12 more times…ALL WE HAD LEFT WAS THE LIGHT! Also, my mom surprised me! That was great to see her on the beach at the endex. Fresh smiling faces were some of my favorite parts of transition.
Transition 2 was maybe more epic than T1. We got a solid 45 minutes of actual sleep, breakfast burritos, more donuts, and warming sunshine.
Gypsy camp nap time
Tons of folks came out for the Light, more reunion hugs ensued, fun fitness activities instead of crazy PT stuff, and it turned out to be a complete freaking blast.
Silliness (and more pushups) at the Light
We went on a scavenger hunt across the city, and Flash let the HCLS folks stay together as one group. We had come this far together…we wanted to finish together. We drank beer along the way, laughed a ton, cheated a little (come on…), and ended back with everyone where we got to hear speeches of thanks, gratitude, and congratulations from the Cadre. More beer, some cake, some delirium induced funny moments, 2 dinners later, and we were passed out. I’m not quite sure I can describe how wonderful it felt to take a shower and sleep on something soft. Like, life changing.
Sunday morning marked the Scavenger event, basically a fun non-weighted trek around SF taking funny pictures and posting them on Instagram for prizes. What was the first thing my team did when we set off? Went to Kezar pub for beer, breakfast, and to see how fast we could collectively eat 9 pancakes. 1:41, for the record. Priorities, you know?
We all “endexed” at a bar in the mission, where we received our HCLS patches and got to hug the people we’d just been through hell and back with for the past 3 days. We were done. And honestly, I was depressed as hell about it.
To describe this experience is actually really hard. Emotions were all over the map, from the moment I signed up to the moment I finished. It’s kind of funny to think that the hardest physical/mental challenge I have ever done was also one of the best times I have ever had. And you know why? The people. My team. The fact we ABSOLUTELY CRUSHED the event, physically AND mentally. The pride I have both in myself and my teammates is infinite, and the enriched friendships we walked away with are incredible. I have so much respect for the Cadre who led us through this…not only are they amazing leaders but they are friends of mine now. What I realized, is that I belonged to a family. A very, very, special and unique community of people who just get me, and I get them, and together in our weirdness we have formed these unbreakable bonds. I feel lucky to be a part of this world. What we did was huge. 31 people finished HCLS. “The Stubborn 31” as we are now called.
HCLS Class 007, we came, we suffered, we CRUSHED (and if you are wondering why I keep saying CRUSHED in all caps, it’s because there’s a video floating on the internet of my fellow sheepdog and I being insanely delirious and crushing beer cans). I miss you guys already. I want to re-live the weekend. I have so much love for you and what we just did together. There’s this thing we have come to call “post event depression”…and it is very, very real.
Cadre Sean, Dan, Flash, and Mickey. Love these guys!
So…will I do this again? Are you kidding…do you even know me?