March 26, 2019

Interview with Author of Motivation for Creative People Mark McGuinness



I sat down to chat with Mark McGuinness about his latest book, Motivation for Creative PeopleYou can listen to the full audio below. The transcript of our conversation is after the audio. Make sure to check out Mark’s book if you want to get and stay motivated!

Jarie:   This is Jarie Bolander and today I’m talking with Mark McGuinness who has written a fantastic book called Motivation for Creative People.

Hey, Mark. How are you?

Mark:   Hey, Jarie. It’s nice to be back on Endurance Leader.

Jarie:   Wonderful. I really appreciate it.

For those of you that don’t know Mark, he is a creative coach, poet, and author. This is actually his second book, his first book was called Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success.

This next book, Motivation for Creative People, came out a couple of weeks ago and I’ve had the opportunity to read through it. It’s just a fantastic book that really takes a great amount of knowledge and information that Mark has accumulated over a long time. (I won’t say how long, but a long time.) It’s the perfect companion to Resilience.

Mark, what I’d love to do is talk a little bit about how you came about to write this book and give us a little background of it before I dig into what I think is some of the great content.

Mark:   Okay. I wrote the original version of this book back in 2008 as a blog series for managers and leaders of teams, it was called How to Motivate Creative People. It was really trying to explain to people in charge how to get the best out of creative professionals, say in a studio or an agency situation.

One thing I discovered when I did my Masters was looking into the research on creativity we think a lot about creative thinking and imagination and thinking outside the box, and all of that, but the thing that really stood out for me when I looked at the psychological research, what really makes a difference in terms of creative work, is the type of motivation. Creativity is highly correlated with what the psychologists call intrinsic motivation, that’s doing it for love to you and me.

Every time you bring in an extrinsic motivator such as money or a promotion, or fame, or opportunity, that’s actually proven to be a creativity killer because you’re focused on the result of rather than the work itself. They say consistently in a variety of different experimental context whenever people are focused on doing it for love or doing it for the hell of it then they’re more creative and more original than doing it in order to please the boss or get a pay raise or to please the client.

You can immediately see the problem with that in a business context, because business is driven by rewards and by controls and by consequences. I wrote the original book to help managers get their head around this and the fact that just offering more money, or alternatively more threats, was not likely to be effective at getting the best out of creative workers.

What I discovered was that the creatives themselves were more interested in the material than their managers, so when it came to running workshops on this I had a lot of creatives saying, “Can you run it to help us understand our own motive?”

Fast forward to a couple of years ago and I thought, “I keep saying I’ve really written this ebook for managers, but if you can imagine it from your perspective as a creative then you’ll get a lot out of it.” I thought that wasn’t good enough, I need to write this for the creatives. So I came up with Motivation for Creative People, I went back and looked at the material again afresh in order to turn it into a full length book.

That’s a slightly long answer, it’s been a long gestation for this book.

Jarie:   Sometimes those things happen. You get an idea and you put some stuff out there on the blog and lo and behold people are like, “We really like what you’re doing, why don’t you write a book?” I’m sure that happens to a lot of people.

Some of the things that I think are really great about this, which is a lot different than the Resilience book, is that you go through all the different types of motivation, the intrinsic, extrinsic, the personal motivations and social motivations. What I think is the best analogy and for me the thing that pulls it all together was on the front cover there’s this pinwheel that has these different colors. Can you explain a little bit about what the pinwheel analogy means for what you’re doing?

Mark:   Sure. There are basically two different axis, four different types of motivation. I’ve already talked about the intrinsic and extrinsic, that’s doing it for love and doing it for rewards. On the other axis you have your own personal values, your personal motivation of what drives you as an individual, versus social motivation, which is the influences from around you.

The short answer is to have a successful creative career you need to have all four. You need to be something you enjoy that is aligned with your own values, but also earns you sufficient rewards to keep going and you’re surrounded by people who give you enough encouragement, support, challenge, and competition to really help you take things through.

I went to my designer, Irene Hoffman, who is amazing and did the design for both of my books, and I said to, “I have this really complicated idea and I want you to express it in a single image. It’s about the relationship between these four different types of motivation. It could be a compass, but I’d rather it wasn’t because that’s a little bit boring.” She went away and she came back with the pinwheel. As soon as I saw it I said, “That’s it, you’ve nailed it.”

I guess I can take credit for the brief, but Irene actually came up with the concept. One of the things about a really nice concept like this is you can immediately start to see all of the implications of it.

When I thought about the pinwheel I thought it’s not just about aligning these four elements, but it’s about how they interact together. When the pinwheel spins then of course all of the colors blend together. That’s why we have a pinwheel, because we want it to spin because it looks nice.

Another aspect of it, the pinwheel spins when you blow on it so it’s your own breath, your own effort, or it could blow when it’s caught by the bigger breeze. I think that’s another nice metaphor for inspiration or any great project. Sometimes you feel like “I’m having to pull myself up by the bootstraps here,” but other times you really do feel like you’ve tapped into something bigger than yourself.

I think that’s one of the most exciting aspects of doing any kind of creative work when you’ve tapped into that. You can call it your own unconscious or the collective unconscious, the Ancient Greeks called it the Muse. Whatever it is, it’s really exciting and you really feel like you’ve gone beyond your original premise and ego.

Jarie:   That’s a really powerful concept. It is one of those great things when everything comes together and the pinwheel is spinning, the blur of color just melds into one so it’s this wonderful rainbow of intrinsic, extrinsic, social motivation and reward. When it all hits in stride, even when you’re running a race or doing an endurance event and you feel that energy and all the hard work comes together, you feel outside of yourself, which is great.

Mark:   Yes, right. I know you get that – I mean, you must get this to do what you do, because your endurance events are not easy by definition.

Jarie:   Exactly.

Mark:   But there has to be that love. It’s the same whether it’s athletics or entrepreneurship or artistic work, it’s not easy. There are plenty of days when we wonder, “Why on earth am I doing this? What have I got myself into it?” It’s those days, or even those moments, where it all comes together that you go, “Oh yeah, that’s it. This is why I do this.”

Jarie:   That’s wonderful, a great way to sum it up. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about it. It’s one of things I think everyone, whatever you’re doing in life you should get on reading this sort of stuff. If you’re an endurance athlete or in business, Motivation for Creative People is a wonderful read and has a lot of great ways to keep yourself motivated and it does dive into lots of different ways that you can apply your creativity to different aspects of things. It’s one of those books that I know I’ll be reading back and forth when I get blocked when I’m trying to do some sort of creative endeavor, which always happens (I don’t know why, you hit the wall).

Mark, I really appreciate your time. Good luck with the book.

Everyone out there in the blogosphere and the podcastsphere should go check it out and pick it up.

Mark:   All right. Thank you, Jarie. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.

Jarie:   Take care.


Reflections on Not Finishing The Endeavor Team Challenge

I really did not want to write this post. In fact, I had a whole other idea about what this post would be like – one where I detailed the glories and thrill of finishing.

Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Team 12 missed the Day Land Navigation time hack and could not continue on.

That just breaks my heart to say.

The Endeavor Team Challenge

The Endeavor Team Challenge is a fantastic event. It’s the ultimate test of an athlete’s physical and mental training. The challenge consists of several events starting off with a crucible ruck march through the beautiful Sierras followed by an assortment of challenges including mountaineering, obstacle course, land navigation (day and night), feats of strength and ends with a long run through the hills.

It’s challenging, well run and the competitors are first rate. The standards are high and the terrain is unforgiving. You have to come with your A+ game or you will go home.

Running Our Race

Our Endeavor Team Challenge started out great. As a team, we talked a lot about how we would pace ourselves, our overall strategy for events and what limitations we had. It was exciting to venture off into the beautiful Sierras on the noble quest to push us to be our best.

Crucible Ruck March + Battle Drill

The first event, the crucible ruck march, is meant to wear you out. It’s anywhere from 15–20 miles, up and down mountains, along sweeping vistas and deep into majestic forests. You don’t even get to start the skills portion until you get past the ruck.

Our ruck started out, as we wanted, with a warm-up pace to get the old injuries and joints warmed up. As the ruck progressed, I was progressively beating up my feet because I made a fatal flaw – wearing boots. Normally, boots for a ruck make a lot of sense but for this particular event, it was a liability because I did not train with boots as much as my trails shoes.

The first stop on the ruck march had us doing the Battle drill, which is 5 events that test your push, pull, lift, throw and carry abilities. These drills were a gut check on how well your functional training is. We fared well and ranked 27/40. Not blowing anyone away but good enough to continue on.

After finishing the crucible ruck march, we took a needed rest to take care of my feet. Even though I bathed in Trail Toes, I missed both ankles, which had two nicely formed blisters ready to be popped. Thankfully, I had packed my Trail Toes blister kit and within short order, I was good to go. Our crucible ruck rank was 30/40. Not great but still in the game.

Obstacle Course

The obstacle course is unique and challenging. Not as challenging as say American Ninja Warrior, but challenging enough that after I had black and blue marks all over my body.

There were a total of seven obstacles, including a refreshing swim. All were challenging and consisted of some sort of jumping, climbing up ropes, hanging from bars, sliding down rings and climbing up walls. Thankfully, all of my functional fitness training paid off and we completed all of them. We ranked 26/38 on this one and felt great to have completed all of them with only one penalty.


Thankfully, all the Gym Jones, GORUCK, SEALFIT and Dan John workouts paid off big on this. Functional fitness workouts are the best at preparing for these types of events because you just don’t know what you’ll have to do.

This event was about moving a bunch of odd shaped objects up a steep slope and then bring them back down. Some of the objects were just heavy enough that it required both teammates while others were just plain awkward. I’m glad that I have done a bunch of GORUCKs (my teammate as well) because the movements and weights were exactly what a Cadre would throw at you. We ranked 24/38 on this one. After this event, we were feeling strong and upbeat.


By far, this was the best event we did. There is nothing like the feeling of zip lining across a gorge. The views were spectacular. Even for a novice like me, climbing up the side of a granite rock face was exciting. I can see why people love to rock climb.

We could have done better on this if we had more rock climbing training. The climbing routes were ranked from easy to difficult and we choose the easiest simply because it’s better to complete an event than fail. We ranked 23 on this one with a lot of people tying for 23rd. I guess everyone had the same thoughts we did.

Day Land Navigation

Land navigation was our last event in the competitor field and the one both of us dreaded. We started off strong and generally knew where we were going. What tripped us up was not having the confidence to know that we were at the right point and that our counts were correct. Counts are the number of steps you take for a particular distance. It’s critical that you count correctly or you could be way off.

It turns out that we were close to the point we needed to hit because another team came up on us looking for the same one. They found it and we did not.

This was a real mental downer because we were so close yet could not close the gap. At this point the fatigue and teamwork fell apart. We struggled to loop around and around the place we thought it was to only be more and more frustrated. As darkness came upon us, we had no other choice than to make the walk of shame back to the rally point. That was a real bummer.

It Starts and Ends With Training

If I were to single out one thing that contributed the most to my team not completing Endeavor, it would be training. Everything starts with training. My training plan neglected a few critical aspects of Endeavor that really stacked the odds of success against my team.

Painful Lessons Learned

It’s painful to admit that I was not prepared to take on Endeavor. What will be even more painful is not to learn the lessons from this experience as well as sharing them with others. Endurance athletes tend to just post the successes and those are great to experience but just reading success will not prepare you for success. You have to also understand how things can go wrong and learn from those painful mistakes. Some of my lessons learned are presented below:

  • Select The Proper Footwear: I should have known to use my trail shoes instead of boots but I missed that. For an adventure race, boots are a liability. You need to be nimble and quick. To top it off, I trained little with boots and that cost me.
  • Train with your Teammate: My teammate and I live far apart and that made it hard to train together. We did come together as a team but that was not enough. We needed more training time to work out the kinks in our team dynamics.
  • Always Save Time: We started out at a leisurely pace to get used to the altitude and warm up nagging injuries. That was a mistake. We should have set a brisk pace to start in order to save time. Time is a cruel mistress.
  • Stick with Your Teammate: There were times when both of us were farther away than we should have been. We were still within eyesight and shout-sight but it was clear that as a team, we were in different places. One thing we should have done is connecting a bungee between us so we would always be close. This was another sign that we needed to train more together.
  • Pack Light: As I normally do, I packed way too much. In hindsight, this was also a training issue. The one thing I packed too much of was clothes and of course too many shoes. The packing list for the event was comprehensive and easy to follow. The trick is quantity and quality of the gear. In terms of food, I was happy with what I packed – at least I nailed that.
  • Practice Land Navigation Skills Ruthlessly: Land navigation can be tricky especially if you are tired and frustrated. This was our big flat spot as a team. We needed to practice navigation until it was automatic. The good news is that we did not get lost – we just could not find our point. I guess that’s better than nothing.

Overall, not finishing Endeavor came down to not being properly prepared. We clearly had the strength and drive to get it done – we just lacked the training to keep it all together. Like anything, if you are not properly prepared, anything that goes wrong will and that will make it a lot more challenging to recover from simple mistakes.

The Journey Forward

The Endeavor Team Challenge is the ultimate test of functional fitness. It’s a fantastic event with strong competitors. It’s also a ton of fun. I look forward to training harder for next year’s event and seeing if I have what it takes to finish the Endeavor Team Challenge. If you want to see the final ranks, you can click here

Conquering Kokoro: Post Event Interview

Jon (Left Front) and Jarie (Right Behind Him) learning how to march.

My good friend Troy Angrignon sat down with myself and Jon for a de-brief on our Kokoro 32 experience. Lots of laughs, lots of Scotch, Gin & Tonics with  some great advice on how Jon and I prepared and Conquered Kokoro.

You can listen to the audio below. It’s about an hour and 30 minutes long.

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Transcripts can be downloaded here: kokoro32_interview_transcript.

The picture above is from the Outside Magazines article on our class. The full story is here. The video is stellar. See if you can find Jon and I.

Special thanks to Coach Divine and the entire SEALfit staff for an outstanding event. I would also like to thank Coach Brad over at SEALGrinder PT for helping me train to conquer Kokoro 32.

Start Breaking Bad Habits Now With Help From The Habit Project

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All of us have bad habits (including me) we want to break or better yet, good habits we want to start. The hardest part about breaking bad or starting new habits is overcoming the inertia of starting. Thankfully, professional triathlete Sarah Piampiano has created a great site called that gives you weekly tips, tools and support to get going down the path to better habits.

Start Where You Are

Sarah’s story is not unlike most of us. She had several bad habits including smoking 2 packs of Marlboro lights a day and working 90+ hour weeks in the financial industry. Sarah’s transformation came about on a dare and that dare significantly changed her life. The big idea that Sarah’s new site puts forth is that the transformative weekly challenges are simple for anyone to start. These challenges are further broken down into three sections: fitness, nutrition and life balance. These sections make sticking with the program simple and fun.

Contributors That Inspire, Challenges that Motivate

Sarah has assembled a fantastic mix of people to help chart your journey to better habits. From professional coach Matt Dixon of Purple Patch Fitness to Zoe Keller from OneBeetWellness, the list of contributors grows weekly and all have a wealth of experience and down to earth insights that make the challenges fun and informative. It’s also inspirational to read how these experts inspire, coach and mentor clients to achieve the outstanding results.

Accountability Encourages Follow Through

As most of us know, when in comes to training and life in general, having someone that you are accountable too leads to better results. Accountability enables us to have more skin in the game and also builds a support network that is vital to keep us on track. Through accountability and encouragement, we can develop habits that will stick with us for a lifetime. Sarah’s site is meant to not only give you advice but also keep you accountable by building a virtual support network to encourage you through tough times.

Nice Steady Pace

A steady pace is vital to creating better habits. Even better would be to stack habits so that you can reinforce little habits that build into big habits. The Habit Project takes the same approach with their weekly challenges centered around Sarah’s mantras. Each week has at least 3 ways to build skills and habits. The best thing is that it’s easy to jump right in even if you are just starting out.

What Habit Do You Want to Change?

Change begins by first, wanting to change and second, doing something about it. Starting to break bad habits and create new ones can be scary but once you start on the path to building better habits, you’ll start to quickly see a big difference. Check out  The Habit Project and start building better habits today!

Conquering Kokoro: The Journey Forward


Kokoro 32 was a life changing event that pushed me and the team to our failure points. Without the help of my team, I would not have made it across the chasm. As with any endurance event, it takes a few days for the lessons to sink it. As I sit in the the Kokoro wing over at Days Inn Encinitas, I can’t help but get emotional as I recall what the last 50+ hours has taught me. Some of those lessons I have attempted to capture below.

Mastery First, Service Second

Coach Divine would stress that it’s important that we develop mastery before we serve others. The reason for this is simple — if you cannot take care of yourself or have the stills to help, then you might not be helping. This may appear selfish but I feel it’s more selfless since it’s important to be prepared to help yourself first and then help others.

Serve Your Team & Your Team Serves You

A recurring theme throughout Kokoro is to be a team player and do what’s right for the team. If you put out for your team, then your team will put out for you. It’s always those that give the most that get the most.

It Can Always Be Worst

There was a few times when I had to tell myself this because I was at the end of my proverbial rope. This mantra is a great way to stop feeling sorry for yourself and focus on the task at hand. Without this mind set, fear, uncertainty and doubt will set in.

Have a Sense of Humor

Humor is a wonderful thing. When used in the right circumstances, it can lift your spirits and the spirits of your team. Finding the humor in a stressful situation also makes the situation that much more tolerable. Humor is also a powerful friend when you are starting to get into a negative mindset.

Stay Focused and Feed the Courage Wolf

Focus is another important aspect that I learned at Kokoro. It’s vital to stay in the moment and not worry about what’s going to happen next. Feeding the courage wolf is another way of saying that you need to maintain a positive attitude even when things might be going south. A positive attitude is difficult in stressful situations. The best thing to do is pause, take a breath and get your head back in the fight.

Thoughts on Kokoro Training & Finishing

In addition to the life lessons above, below are a few thoughts on training and finishing Kokoro based on what worked and what didn’t work for me:

  • Get a Trainer: This was the best thing I did. Brad McLeod over at Seal Grinder PT did a fantastic job formulating a training plan that prepared me for Kokoro.
  • Know Your Why: I cannot stress this enough. Know WHY you want to do Kokoro. Without a solid WHY, you will have a hard time of it.
  • Exceed the Minimums: My biggest training mistake was not shooting to exceed the minimums. I think that my experience would have been more enjoyable if I had.
  • Ruck with Weight: Rucking is a vital part of Kokoro. You can’t just do Crossfit and get through Kokoro. Ruck with weight often.
  • Break In Your Boots: Make sure that your boots fit right and are broken in. My boots were broken in but the fit was not great. That led me to lose my entire left big toenail.
  • Practice Eating Food: Eating is an important part of Kokoro and you must practice eating real food even if you are Paleo. Note that they don’t have Paleo food available.
  • Get Wet & Sandy with Sandbags: I was glad that my GORUCK training has a lot of Cold, Wet and Sandy workouts since you’ll be in the water a lot at Kokoro.
  • Practice Nose Breathing: Coach Divine stressed the practice of nose breathing since it’s the best way to breath. Practice that often because it will help calm you down.
  • Be Present & Smile: Don’t get too ahead of yourself or the evolutions. Remember to smile and enjoy the experience.
  • Bring and Use the Right Equipment: You can never have enough t-shirts or socks. Make sure to change often. I actually brought too much food, which I really did not use. Don’t worry about food — they will feed you plenty.
  • Always Check Your Feet: My biggest mistake was that I did not check my feet often enough. This lead to damaged big toenails on each foot. If I had tightened up my boots more often, I might have prevented my toes from slamming into my shoes on the hike down the hill. Lesson learned.

What’s Next?

I think it’s going to be a while before I subject myself to another beat down as intense as Kokoro. I do want to continue to push myself to get better and my next challenge will be to hit double the Kokoro minimums. I did okay meeting the standards and with some more training, I’m confident I could achieve that goal. It’s vital to continue to push yourself to do better.

If you want to check out some of the photos from Kokoro 32, Bloomberg did a write up.

This post is the final in the series (there are 4 total) about my training and experiences at Kokoro 32 on June 20th – 22nd, 2014. Kokoro Camp is a 48+ hour team endurance event put on by SEALFIT. If you’re interested in taking on the challenge, then you can check it out here.

The first post was Conquering Kokoro: The Courage to Start

The second post was Conquering Kokoro: Front Sight Focus

The third post was Conquering Kokoro: Focus on the Task at Hand

Conquering Kokoro: Focus on the Task at Hand

Photo by Melanie Sliwka

Photo by Melanie Sliwka

Kokoro Camp takes place at SEALFIT headquarters in Encinitas, CA — 25 miles north of San Diego. By car from San Francisco, it takes about 8 hours — plenty of time to think about why the hell I’m doing this.

Sizing Up the Team

I arrived early to find my soon to be teammates hanging out on the corner. Apparently, being early runs in my team’s blood. There was a total of 16 of us from as close as down the street to as far away as Panama. The group was pretty diverse, ranging from 5’2” to 6’3” in height, 18 to 53 years old, and had a variety of backgrounds including military (Navy), Crossfit (including a gym owner), triathlon, and GORUCK.

At this point, it was hard to tell what any of us had in common except that we showed up to see if we could go the distance. It’s funny how people handle nervous energy. Some just walk around, stretch or remain quiet. Others like to talk about what they have done or how they will approach the next 50+ hours. For me, this nervous banter has a calming effect. I love to hear about what people have done, what they have heard about the event and why they showed up.

Keep Calm, Carry On and Know Your Why

As we checked into Kokoro, the nervous energy started to build. You can watch all the videos and hear all the stories about Kokoro, but until you are standing on the SEALFIT grinder, it really does not sink in that your life for the next 50+ hours is not going to be the same.

After check-in, gear stowage, ruck/weapon selection, we got briefed on how things were going to work and what was expected of us. We then set about getting to know our team and the reasons we were about to step off into the crucible of Kokoro. Coach Divine always stresses that your Why needs to be strong or you will not be able to cross the chasm when you hit the point where you want to quit.

You Will Have A Moment. In That Moment, Know Your Why — Coach Divine

Most of the Why’s were pretty straight-forward. Several team members wanted to go into the Special Operations Forces (SOF), some wanted to see if they could actually finish and others wanted to face their demons of not being good enough.

The one that struck me as the most inspiring was from FEER. He wanted to show his son, who was filming the whole thing, what it was like to commit and complete something. Truly inspiring. It just so happens that FEER was also the oldest at 53.

Remember You Paid for This

Most military style fitness programs start off with a welcome party — the first kick in the teeth of what is about to be your life for the next 50+ hours. Kokoro is no exception. Physical Training (PT) in BDU’s, last name stenciled on a t-shirt and boots (the official Kokoro uniform) is what we started out with.

Push-ups, burpees and the ever-present water hose are a constant reminder that you need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. These first few intense hours are where your Why gets put to the test. If you thought this was going to be easy, well, think again. As Coach “Taco” Dan was fond of saying:

Remember, you idiots actually paid for this! — Coach Dan

The Visor of Leadership

It’s a funny thing what people bring to endurance events. Some have their favorite comfort food, some bring lucky socks while others have a special shirt that inspires them. All of these things are usually unnoticeable to most of us but not to Kokoro coaches. They see everything.

The uniform is meant to make all of us look the same. We are one team and being an individual just means you’ll get “special” attention, which is what happened to CORDELL. She decided to wear a visor, which immediately singled her out as a “princess”. I also don’t think the brightly colored nail polish did her any favors. For the rest of the welcome party, the teammate leading us would wear the visor of leadership. The beat down was pretty intense and pushed one of our teammates out quickly.

Double Wet With A Dollop of Sand

No proper welcome party can ever be complete with getting wet and sandy. After getting nice and wet on the grinder, we ran off to the beach to experience some more PT and the Pacific Ocean.

I don’t really have a problem with getting wet and sandy since the cool of the ocean is actually refreshing after doing physical activity. What can get complicated or rather challenging, is when the whole team has to lock arms and stay together against the pounding surf. This is challenging to keep together, especially if you are on the end. Think of it like the tip of a dogs wagging tail — if you’re the tip, you’re getting whipped around pretty good. Unfortunately, this was just too much for one of our teammates and he had to get pulled out for evaluation. One more down.

Forging An Unbeatable Mind

After the beach PT, we made it back to HQ to clean up a bit and change into slick PT gear (t-shirt, shorts and running shoes) for some instruction from Coach Divine on how to build an unbeatable mind. This was a welcomed break from the intensity and a chance to regroup your mind and body.

Coach Divine took us through the basics of his 5 Mountain philosophy and the 4 principles that we will need to practice in order to get through the rest of Kokoro. A lot of what Coach Divine stressed was about controlling your breath and visualizing your end state. This “win in your mind” first is a powerful technique that makes it a lot easier to remain calm and positive when situations get tough.

Another important point was that there will be a moment, which will be the point when you’ll want to give up. When you hit this moment, several things can get you through it.

The first is knowing your why. If your why is strong, it can be enough to get you out of your private pity party and get back into the game.

Pull Yourself Out of the Pity Party — Coach Lance

The second is your mantra. Your mantra needs to be something simple that can snap you out of your negative mindset. My mantra was “Focus on the Task at Hand and Just Don’t Pound Sand.” The third is your team. Your team can really make a difference and every single person at Kokoro 32 needed a team member to pull them through a dark time. More on that later.

Physical Fitness Test

Out of all the events at Kokoro, I feared the PFT most, since if you fail the standards, you’re out. Each of us paired with our swim buddy (mine was MONORE) to start the sequence that went as follows (along with my score):

  • Pull-ups (minimum 10): 10

  • Sit-ups (minimum 50 in 2 minutes): 57

  • Push-ups (minimum 50 in 2 minutes): 51

  • Air Squats (minimum 50 in 2 minutes): 71

  • One Mile Run in Boots and BDU’s (maximum 9:30): 8:25

Overall, I met the minimums and was relieved to have that part over with. I cannot stress enough that it’s important to train to exceed the minimums. There were several points during the camp where having been more prepared would have made my life and the life of my teammates a lot easier. Remember, this is a team event and if you don’t pull your weight or lag behind, your teammates suffer.

Green Highlighter And Aspirin Bottle

After the PT test, we got briefed on what was going to be our night evolution — three separate stations along the beach. We were split into 3 separate teams (I was with Team GOLD) and we set off into the night.

The nights in Encinitas are beautiful. The air temperature is comfortable, the water is still warm and the night allows you to stay focused since you can only really see what’s right in front of you.

Team GOLD’s first evolution was to memorize a series of items and then perform rounds of Cindy. This is harder than it sounds since we only had 30 seconds to memorize everything (there must have been over 20 items) and then 30 minutes to perform as many Cindys as we could. After the Cindy rounds, it was time to reveal each item. Overall, we only missed two — a green highlighter and aspirin bottle.

Broad Jumps Really Suck

Our next evolution was with Coach David. He warmed us up with some stair runs and then it was off to the beach for some ruck throwing broad jumps. I’m really awful at broad jumps and it showed. I ended up finishing dead last and my team had to suffer through with their packs overhead until I was done.

Remember, Kokoro is a team event and you are only done when the team is done. After a brief warming at the beach fire, we were off to our next evolution.

Nothing Focusing the Mind Like Log PT

Our next evolution was Log PT. Earlier, we had learned the basics and now it was time to work as a team. Log PT is extremely humbling. Logs are awkward and you can tell right away if someone is not lifting the load.

Coordination is paramount when lifting a 200+ pound log since real injuries can occur if your whole team in not synchronized. Thankfully, Team GOLD worked well together and we quickly got the hang of it. We got to put our new skills to the test by carrying our log down the street to the T in the road. This was challenging but as a team, we formulated a plan of micro-goals that got us through it.


After the other teams got back and we completed some of our penalty push-ups, it was time to change and get briefed on our next evolution — Murph.

Murph is named after Medal of Honor recipient Lt. Michael P. Murphy, a Navy SEAL who lost his life during Operation Red Wings on June 28th, 2005. When Coach Dan read the official CITATION, it was hard to hold back the emotions. Lt. Murphy was someone who made the ultimate sacrifice for his team and now we are honoring that sacrifice.

Murph consists of the following exercises (all with a #20 pound ruck):

  • 1 mile run

  • 100 pull-ups

  • 200 push-ups

  • 300 air-squats

  • 1 mile run

This event is another performance drop event, which means that if you don’t get it done within 75 minutes, they can drop you from the class. Murph becomes even more challenging since this is like hour 24 or 30 and we must have done hundreds of push-ups by this point. Thankfully, our whole team made it through and it was off to the next evolution with a renewed determination to never quit.

Let’s Clean Up the Box

Kokoro Camp has a lot of team competition. I think the most fun was when we had to take every single thing out of the Box, carry it up to look out point and then neatly stack it on the grinder. For this evolution, we were split into two teams — Team Coach Dan and Team Coach Lance.

Now, this may sound like an easy thing but this is Kokoro so it gets a little more complex. As we are competing to move as much equipment up to look out point, the coaches around us are pulling us away to perform “special” movements. These special movements, which I’ll keep secret, really make you have to pay attention to who is giving you the orders. At several points, we all failed.

Carrying awkward equipment can be frustrating but it also gives you a change to rest and regroup — something a lot of us needed to get back in the game. We also learned how to eat as we were moving since lunch consisted of peanut butter bagels and sandwiches — a useful skill when you are hurrying from evolution to evolution.

Breaking Your Competitors Will

After we “cleaned” the box, we were briefed on our next evolution —  a mission to recon a house on top of Mount Palomar. We were separated into Team A and Team B and hopped in the Van to drive out. At this point, we’re 35+ hours into Kokoro 32 and all of us were pretty tired. It was so easy to nod off for a brief moment only to catch yourself and wonder did I fall asleep?

Once we arrived, we fell into our groups for the long hike up the mountain. The terrain was steep and heat of the day was still intense. My team, Team B, was determined to beat Team A to the top. Throughout the Kokoro 32 experience, all the coaches stressed that it pays to be a winner — this was no exception.

As we started off on our journey, Coach Derek, Team B’s coach, told us that none of his teams have ever lost the hike to the top and this team will be no exception. With that inspiration, we promptly hatch a plan to break our competitors will.

The plan consists of having several different speeds as we ascend the mountain. Speed 1 is a slow pace, speed 2 is more of a fast shuffle, speed 3 is a brisk pace and speed 4 is to jog. Our strategy to break team A’s will was to fine the right time to pass them at a speed 4 pace. This accomplishes two things. First, it would shoe them are resolve to win and second, it gets us ahead of them so they have to play catch-up. This is important because as Coach James constantly drilled into our heads:

It’s Better to Keep Up Than to Catch Up. — Coach James

When the time came to make our move, Team B had a fire in our guts. Everyone stepped up and we jogged right past Team A like they were standing still. It felt great and we continued to keep a brisk pace going from speed 2 to speed 3 throughout the whole hike. We beat them to the top and then settled into our mission.

The Woods Are Laughing at Me

Sleep deprivation is a curious thing. On the one hand, your body feels the stress and strain of the physical activity, wanting to rest and on the other hand, your mind is trying to sort out various stimuli that only gets harder and harder as you become more sleep deprived. Trying to think rationally during this time is a constant struggle.

Our mission for the night was to recon a house on top of the hill. This entailed two of us, myself and ISRAELITT, sneaking up on the house and recording the intel. This proved harder for me than I thought.

ISRAELITT and I started off together and quickly found that it’s really easy to make noise in the grass and leaves around our hiding place. One of the coaches told us to stick to the road and get the job done. One complication on getting the job done is that there were coaches out hunting us and we promptly found a few.

ISRAELITT was the bolder of us two and he quickly sprinted off into the night — leaving me in the rear trying to figure out how to not make noise and get closer to the house. At this point, was when things started to get weird. I started to freak out a little bit and heard the woods laughing at me.

I could not go more than 2 feet without hearing a snicker and a rustling that freaked me out. It took me 20 minutes to go 10 feet and then I had to go back to camp to recompose myself. Who knows if it was my mind or the coaches laughing at me? I’m sure it was a little of both.

The Team Gels

Once ISRAELITT and I secured the intel, it was time to head back down the mountain, now as one team. We set out on our journey down the hill. Since ISRALEITT and I were doing recon the whole time, we were still pretty warm. The rest of the team, having setup a perimeter, got to rest and got a little cold. Several teammates were starting to shiver and it was a good thing we started moving.

At this point, we are all moving slowly since it’s dark and we don’t want to trip. Unfortunately, one of us did and we then had to carry them down on a stretcher. This task proved to be a pivotal point for our team.

Carrying a stretcher at night, down a grade, creates all sorts of challenges. Couple this with our need to make quick time, led HOFIUS to recommend we rotate as we go. This proved to be a great idea and we proceeded to rotate front to back, left to right as the water van lit the way. This teamwork allowed us to make great time down the mountain and allowed our injured teammate to recover enough so that they could walk down again.

Of Pirate Ships, Snowmen and Jumpy Houses

Going down a mountainside at night, with little light, plays tricks on a tired mind. Most of us saw weird and strange things including a pirate ship, inflatable snowmen and those children’s jumpy houses. These hallucinations started to make some of us have to double check our sanity. Thankfully, CORDEL and others were there to snap us back to reality and keep all of us focused on getting down the mountain.

One of the most fun situations was when ISRALEITT wandered up to the front of the line, glassy eyed with a huge smile on his face. He kept saying, “the colors are so vivid … Is this what acid is like?” I’m not exactly sure what acid is like but I am sure that whatever he was seeing, it must have been spectacular.

At times, our paced slowed since the fatigue and grueling hike were starting to take their toll. This was when DIETRICH stepped up to inspire us to hurry up. The determination in his voice and the look in his eyes gave the whole team a renewed sense of purpose. We promptly picked up the pace.

As we reached the end of our hike, all of us were tired but in good sprits. The sun was about to rise and we had all made it to day 2. Who knows how much longer we’ll need to go but at least we conquered Palomar Mountain.

The Will To Live Rock

The next evolution was a mission to rescue a downed pilot. We were split into 2 teams, a security team and an assault team. The assault team (my team) set off on the  “will to live run”, which consisted of running up flights of stairs and climbing up on concrete platforms. We did this until we hit a river where we were briefed on our next challenge: wade across the river to pick a “will to live rock.”

The will to live rock selection process consists of picking an appropriately sized rock that represents your will to live. Of course, we all have a strong will to live but there is a balance to strike when it comes to how big the rock should be. If it’s too big, you will not be able to carry it across the river but if it’s too small, then is it really your will to live.

Most of my team picked great rocks and successfully made it across the river. Myself, on the other hand, I failed miserably twice to get my rock across. Most of my failure stemmed from picking the wrong path across the river and not fully using my brain to “work smarter not harder.”

Finally, with a little help from ISRAELITT, my rock and I made it across the river. The next part of the mission was to carry these rocks back to our security team without dropping them to symbolize our commitment to our team and ourselves. Once we arrived, Coach Divine gave us a quick speech on the spirit of Kokoro and all of us with “will to live rocks” arranged them in a K to symbolize our classes Kokoro spirit.

False Peaks, Plateaus and Resolve

The ride back to SEALFIT HQ was a struggle to stay awake. The rule is that every time a coach caught someone asleep, the entire team had to do 10 burpees. I think they caught all of us sleeping on that trip (except for maybe CORDELL. For whatever reason, she was bouncing off the walls). To be fair to us, I don’t think the heat cranked to high and the classical music helped much either.

Our lull of activity soon ended when we pulled up to the beach and promptly started a bear crawl to a nearby sand berm. If any of us had the slightest thought that this was over, that slow bear crawl to the berm quickly removed that idea. I will say that nothing wakes you up more than a dunk in the Pacific Ocean. After about 10 dunks, we formed up to run back to HQ to figure out what our next evolution would be.

As we ran, my thoughts went to when this might end. These are dangerous thoughts because once you sense that the end is in sight, you get false hope. This false hope is what leads peoples to quit so close to the end because their resolve wavered. The thing that snapped me out of this was my mantra and not wanting to let my teammates down if I quit.

That morning there were several plateaus and false peaks that tested each of our resolves. This also happens in life when you think you’re done and then something happens to delay the completion of a task. These moments are extremely frustrating and the ones that survive these delays are the ones that continue to be in the moment and focus on the mission until it really is done.

Gotta Love Log Burpees

Safe and secure back at HQ, we changed into our slicks for some more fun in the sun. Since we had about 450 burpees to make up, Coach Dan took us through the burpees, while the other coaches sprayed us with water, put ice water over our heads and separated us out for some “special” attention.

During this whole time, I kept thinking there is no way Coach Dan is going to make us to 450 burpees.

To my chagrin, Coach Dan would repeatedly tell us that we will do each and everyone and it was up to us if we wanted to work as a team or be individuals.

Being an individual was a lot harder than being a team since a team burpee (e.g. Log burpee) counted as 5 while a normal burpee only counted as one. Clearly, if we could get our act together, the log burpees would be much easier and quicker to drawn down our count. I would say that we started to gel as a team again after about 200 normal burpees and finished our count with precisely executed log burpees (well, at least it felt that way).

Kokoro 32 Secured!

When Coach Divine finally uttered those three simple words, Kokoro 32 secured, most of us were in disbelief. We had made it 55 hours as a team. The rush of excitement and relief was wonderful. To come so far, in such a short period of time, truly felt remarkable. To think that 55 hours ago all of us started out as individuals and now we were a team.


Photo by Coach Mark James

Photo by Coach Mark James

This post is the third in the series (there are 4 total) about my training and experiences at Kokoro 32 on June 20th – 22nd, 2014. Kokoro Camp is a 48+ hour team endurance event put on by SEALFIT. If you’re interested in taking on the challenge, then you can check it out here.

The first post was Conquering Kokoro: The Courage to Start.

The second post was Conquering Kokoro: Front Sight Focus

Conquering Kokoro: Front Sight Focus


Now that I decided to do Kokoro in June, it was time to figure out how to prepare. Kokoro is not just Crossfit on Steroids nor is it a pure endurance event — it’s a blend of the two. This lead me to strongly consider getting a coach. A lot of amateur athletes struggle with whether or not to hire a coach. I thought long and hard about the benefits and what I would actually get out of a coach. For Kokoro, you cannot do it alone and that’s why finding a good coach was on the top of my list.

First Things First

Finding a coach is a delicate balance between someone you get along with, someone that knows your weaknesses and someone that can push you to improve. I also wanted a coach that understood what Kokoro was all about and that led me to Coach Brad over at SealGrinderPT. I first found out about Coach Brad via my friend Troy and even got to interview him for my class The Endurance Habit. I found that he had a great attitude and had the experience to train me the right way for Kokoro. With a coach secured, it was now time to start training.

What the Heck is a WOD?

As most of you know, I’m a triathlete which means I spend most of my training time either swimming, biking or running. When you train for something like Kokoro, that’s not going to fly. You’ll need to do a little more variety. Enter the WOD or Work Out of the Day. I knew a little bit about WOD’s but never fully appreciated them until I started training for Kokoro. Coach Brad’s WOD’s are interesting, challenging and intense. Doing WOD based workouts was a big departure from my traditional workout since WOD’s are not so much time based but activity based although some WOD’s have an As Many Reps as Possible (AMRAP) in a certain time limit. What’s interesting about WOD’s is that they vary so much. One day you’re doing a yoga stretch workout and the next you’re doing Murph. It’s this variety of both movement and intensity that makes WOD workouts effective. I’m confident that all this work will pay off.

The Way of the SEAL Redux

As I mentioned in the last post, Coach Divine’s book The Way of the SEAL, really made an impact on me. One of the points that really stuck with me was having front site focus. This single concept makes doing these different WOD’s much more enjoyable. The concept of front site focus is simple — focus on one and only one thing at a time. When you do this, you can dispatch a task quickly and move on to the next thing. For the Coach Brad’s WODs, front site focus is essential since you can’t get ahead of yourself — you need to just focus on the movement you are doing and that’s it.

Training Journals

One thing that I’m not used to is keeping a training journal. Coach Brad stressed that this journal is an essential part of monitoring your progress and communicating with him. It took me a few weeks to really appreciate this. Normally, I’m used to following a training program and not actually writing down how I did. If you are thinking of training for Kokoro, then I would recommend keeping a training journal. Journals are a great way to capture those moments of frustration, growth and achievement so that you can learn from your experiences.

The Trough of Disillusionment

New skills can be challenging to master. It usually takes me a while to get up to speed on something new. For Kokoro, mastering pull-ups is my nemesis. For a triathlete, pull-ups just don’t make sense. In a single word, they suck! Thankfully, Coach Brad recognized this as my weakness and had adjusted my training to work a lot more on pull-ups along with air squats and push-ups. Training always has its ups and downs but for me, pull-ups were literally kicking my ass and that was my single biggest concern. This is why having a coach makes all the difference in the world. They can look at your progress and objectively give you guidance on what you need to work on.

Over the Hump

After about 4 months of training, I finally felt comfortable with the Kokoro standards. This was a major boost to my ego and self-esteem. I can’t begin to tell you how great it feels to see progress on something that freaks you out. I’m thankful that all the hard work is starting to pay off. Making progress feels great. The next big focus is to stay healthy so that when I show up to Kokoro Camp, I’m at my best. Thankfully, Coach Brad is big on rest and recovery days which means that I’ll be at my peak when the big day comes.

Ready for Kokoro?

I ask myself this question everyday. I don’t think you’ll ever know if you are truly ready for something unless you step up and try. I feel that this whole journey is about getting out of my comfort zone to do something that scares the hell out of me. By taking a risk, you truly figure out what you can accomplish. Am I ready for Kokoro? I guess I’ll just have to show up and find out.

This post is the second in the series (there are 4 total) about my training and experiences at Kokoro 32 on June 20th – 22nd, 2014. Kokoro Camp is a 48+ hour team endurance event put on by SEALFIT. If you’re interested in taking on the challenge, then you can check it out here.

The first post was Conquering Kokoro: The Courage to Start.

Another couple of posts you might be interested in is how Ben Greenfield of prepared for Kokoro.

Part 1 talks about gear and training.

Part 2 is his experience with SEALFit Academy.

Conquering Kokoro: The Courage to Start


I thought long and hard about my next impossible challenge since whatever I do next has to be at least as hard as what I have done before. In looking for my next challenge, I thought about the following:

  • Over 24 hours

  • Supportive team environment

  • Takes me out of my training and competition comfort zone

  • Explores my mental toughness

What I came up with was SEALFIT’s Kokoro Camp. What lead me to Kokoro Camp was my friend Troy who is heavily into SEALFIT and the Quantified Self.

Kokoro Camp is a 48+ hour team endurance event that is designed to “Meet Yourself for the First Time”. It’s run by a coaching staff of SEALs with over 125 cumulative years of Special Warfare experience along with a wide variety of coaches from cross-fit and professional athletics.

Kokoro is meant to push you past your limits so that you can truly know what you are capable of. It follows Coach Divine’s philosophy that you can achieve 20x more that you think you can.

The Way of the SEAL

What really cemented that Kokoro Camp was my next big challenge was not only my friend Troy (and later my friend Jon doing it as well) but reading Coach Divine’s The Way of the SEAL.

The Way of the SEAL is an excellent book on how to become a better person and a better leader. His words about building your stand, defining your values, discovering your passion and uncovering your purpose really hit home. It’s from these building blocks that I started to win in my mind and map out a path to Kokoro.

One of the most important aspects of Kokoro Camp is to understand why you want to do it. Exploring my why took me to a whole different level of thinking. This exploration further cemented my resolve to train as hard as I can for Kokoro.

My Why

Initially, it was a challenge to formulate why I want to subject myself to 50+ hours of physical and mental stress. After much reflection, my why started to gel. Here is what I came up with:

I’m an entrepreneur and that requires a tremendous amount of resolve and patience. I want to be a better leader and entrepreneur by pushing myself to stay committed to a course of action. Often, I struggle to stay focused and finish the task at hand. I feel that finishing Kokoro will allow me to manage that process better.

How I’m Training

I have to change my training methods to prepare for Kokoro. Most of the changes will be in adding more body weight and Crossfit WOD type workouts. I’m seriously considering getting a coach because I’m going to need a lot of help with any kind of Crossfit WOD type workout.

Another aspect of my training will be mental. It’s going to be a challenge to stay up for 48+ hours and still have a positive attitude. Most of my mental training will be centered around breathing and mediation along with some exhaustion workouts thrown in.

Training Challenges

It’s no surprise that the hardest thing for me will be the pull-ups and the push-ups. If you recall my last Impossible Challenge, I combined the BUD/S and Selection minimums and went to work. From those numbers, it was clear that I had my work cut out for me.


The Kokoro standards are widely published and are as follows:

  • 50 push-ups in 2 minutes

  • 50 sit-ups in 2 minutes

  • 50 air squats in 2 minutes

  • 10 dead hang pull-ups. No time limit

  • 1 mile run in under 9:30 with boots and BDU’s

  • #20 Murph in 75 minutes

The biggest challenge for me has always been push-ups and pull-ups. Those two, along with Murph, will be the focus of my training. I’ll also ruck with weight and get some runs in when I can. Kokoro Camp is about overall fitness so you can’t really skimp on any one thing.

Embracing the Suck on Steroids

GRT’s always try and Embrace the Suck. It’s in the nature of doing a GORUCK Challenge that the suck will come and it will come hard. Kokoro looks like the suck on Steroids. It’s going to be challenging and every bit of physical and mental toughness will need to be applied to it. I’m excited for the challenge.

This post is the first in the series (there are 4 total) about my training and experiences at Kokoro 32 on June 20th – 22nd, 2014. Kokoro Camp is a 48+ hour team endurance event put on by SEALFIT. If you’re interested in taking on the challenge, then you can check it out here.

The Search for Big Hungry — GORUCK Beached 004


A Guest Post by Matt Hammonds

What is Beached?

Beached is a 3-day submersion into the world of special amphibious operations taught by current and former Special Operations soldiers (GORUCK Cadre). You and your team will learn amphibious skills based on actual special operations and training exercises conducted by the GORUCK Cadre in their careers. Whether you are a professional diver or an inexperienced swimmer, your Cadre will ensure that you walk away with new skills and the ability to thrive in an amphibious environment. Beached does not make you into a special operator; however you will emerge with greater skills and appreciation for the underwater world of Special Operations.

More Than Just Getting Wet

I can tell you right now, the description does it no justice in preparing you for the amount of fun you are about to experience. If you have never done one of GORUCK’s expedition events, then you are truly missing out on an epic adventure. I can tell you that if you think it’s going to be days in the sun drinking beers and eating hot dogs then you are in for surprise. GORUCK has recently put a lot of effort into revamping their expeditions: Ascent, Navigator, Beached, and Trek.

During my time at Beached, I was able to have some lengthy discussions with the folks that are in charge of making these happen. They want these events to be something truly special. They want people to really get their money’s worth and feel these should be top notch events. I am familiar with some of the expeditions (formerly called Capstones) that have been put on before. I can say that starting with the Navigator expeditions that just took place in May as well; these expeditions are far superior to ones of years past. This is not meant to bash any of the prior events in any way. But with all of the trial and error with these events over the years, they have really transformed into something special.

It Pays to Arrive Early

I actually flew into Jacksonville the day prior to the start of the event. It was recommended to arrive the day prior to allow time to travel to the team house in Neptune Beach and set up your sleeping arrangements at base camp. I am glad I followed that advice because when I arrived, there were about ten other tents already pitched. I was lucky to grab the last real spot available. It was about to get crowded real quick.

The morning started off with a nice cooked breakfast. One of the big changes to the expeditions was having someone there to prepare high quality meals. Grant worked real hard to ensure we were fed with “high quality, good calories”. You work up a serious appetite swimming around in the ocean and lugging those Zodiac boats around. Grant always made sure food was ready when we came in and that the table was always stocked with the means to prepare you a snack.

From here the first day is a full day of activities well into evening. It started with introductions from the cadre with some back story about their military careers. For those of you in the GORUCK community, the cadres were: Big Daddy, Michael, Geoff, Chase, Joel, Garrett, Rick and Grant handling everyone’s food needs. As you can see, there were plenty of guys on hand to share their experience in every aspect of the course.

Keep Away from Big Hungry

Big Daddy went on to brief everyone on rough timeline of events. He shared a truly tragic story of a recent dry land drowning fatality. If you aren’t familiar with dry land drowning, I suggest looking it up. I was unaware of just how easy it is for someone to succumb to it. This led into our safety brief for the course and the importance of being a buddy team. Throughout the course the only real safety issues we faced were jellyfish stings, dehydration, and scared people thinking Big Hungry was going to chomp them in the ocean. I will say, we had a great time making jokes about Big Hungry lurking under the water waiting to eat one of us. Some people didn’t find the humor though.

We received classes on:

  • How to properly kick in the water with fins to maximize our power
  • How to perform buddy rescues in the water
  • How to wear our scout swimmer vests and the safety features included
  • How to perform an inspection of ourselves and our swim buddy prior to entering the water

We headed down to beach and were informed that we would be doing a 1000m open ocean swim with our swim buddy. We were instructed to swim out to a buoy, back in to surf zone, then back to the buoy where we were to show proficiency treading water and doing buddy rescues, and finally back in to shore. I can tell you now; if you are thinking about doing Beached you better start doing your flutter kicks and get some swim time in. It’s tougher than you think because you are getting pushed one direction by the current at the same time you are trying to hit your target so it makes for more work. I actually enjoyed the swims because the water felt so nice even early in the morning.

The day continued with a class on the Zodiac boats we would be using for the next few days. These boats weigh about 325lbs. without the motor. Think it was about 425-450lbs. with. We would be carrying these bad boys around for the next few days. They were not fun getting them up and over the sand dune at the start and end of each day. We learned about how to assemble them as well as positioning inside them. It was time to get wet again. We split up into boat crews that we would remain in for the remainder of the course.

Techniques to Flip Over a Perfectly Good Zodiac

We took them out on the ocean and learned a technique called “broaching”. This is the act of flipping your boat back over if for some reason you have been capsized in the surf. It entails climbing on top, grabbing the broaching line, leaning way back as one of your boat crew pushes the boat up. The combined weight of the boat crew leaning back will flip the boat back upright. We practiced this many times until we were able to do it easily. Part of being a boat crew is the ability to work together as a team. You have to be able to be in sync while paddling to maximize your power in the water. We had a friendly competition to see just how well the boat crews could work together. We were instructed to paddle our boats out to the buoy and back, broach the boat upside down, then broach it back upright and continue to paddle to shore. It was a fun way to implement the things we had learned to this point.

We headed in for a great lunch of big chicken breasts and veggies. I couldn’t believe how hungry I was. While tearing into that chicken, I thought about everything we had done so far. When you decide to head out to Beached, be prepared to put in some work. It was nice to be out there getting it on and having the ability to cool off in the ocean at the same time.

Practicing Speed Casting

After lunch came high speed casting. This was serious fun. Casting is putting the swimmers on the boat into the water quickly so you can deploy your whole boat crew in the matter of seconds. You start out by hugging one of the upper inflated sides of the zodiac. As you are cruising along the driver will yell “go” and you will push yourself up and out from the side of the boat. This action is to clear you away from the propeller in the back. In the process you actually can skip on the water for an added sensation. We practiced retrieving the swimmers from the water without stopping the boat. We did these two things a few more times until we got it down because we were instructed that we would be doing this at night as well.

After dinner we started our evening with a 1000m night swim just as we had in the morning. The Big Hungry jokes were in full effect and some people really weren’t pleased with heading out for an open ocean swim. I was proud to see so many push past their fears and get the job done. It was really cool to see all of the lights from that far out in total darkness. Little did we know that we would be going even farther the next night and Big Hungry hadn’t been fed yet.

After completing the swim we went into nighttime casting and recovery. If you thought it was fun during the day it was even more fun at night. Nighttime broaching was a blast as well. All of these events were so much fun at night under a clear sky with the beach lights so far inland.

Day one was over and it was a full day. We lugged the boats back over the dune and were able to clean up. Then it was time to relax and get to know everyone else over some beers. That was a nice end to an amazing day of ocean fun.

Respect the Neighbors

Day two began with breakfast and followed shortly by a 2000m swim by boat crew. For anyone that has never swam that far, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Since we were doing it as a boat crew we were able to chat and laugh along the way which made the time go by. Again it felt nice to hop in the ocean first thing in the morning to get the day started.

We were given a class on the different parts of the ocean and beach in relation to combat swimmers. Then we went into a class and presentation of scout swimmers approaching from the water to conduct a beach recon. We were told to pay close attention as we would be utilizing this on our “mission”.

The day took a crazy turn and we were instructed to pack up all of our things out of the back yard. We were informed that the police had been called on us due to some knuckle heads GRT’s using the neighbors outdoor shower the night prior. Should the police have been called, no. Should they have been messing with something that wasn’t theirs, no. So we were instructed by the police that we could not be outside any longer. Big Daddy never skipped a beat; he informed us that due to our mission we would have been out all night anyways so it really wasn’t a big deal in the whole scheme of things. We moved all of our operations inside for the rest of the day which consisted of  classes on survival and how to waterproof your gear. We were shown how to make our bags float even with our gear inside. Again, this would come in to play later. Learned about nautical maps and then were instructed about the night’s mission.

Stepping Off Into the Deep Blue

We were briefed on the overall mission and then each of the boat crews leaders were briefed on each boat crews separate mission that would contribute the overall mission success. We went into mission planning, gear prep, dinner, and leader back briefs on our individual plans to the cadre. I’m not going to go into anything that happens during the mission except that it uses everything you have learned so far and then some. The next twelve hours are a blast.

The next instructions we were given was to prepare our swim gear and to waterproof a bag with a change of civilian clothes for a follow on mission. We were instructed to paddle our boats from the team house down to Jacksonville Beach pier and then come ashore. That was a nice little paddle to the pier and riding the boats onto a beach full of onlookers wondering what was going on. Our next task would be to swim out past the end of the pier until the cadre told us to stop. This time it was like a 2000m swim as a class. Here we are all thirty-six of us, arms locked entering the surf zone and then swimming all the way out and back. It was pretty cool to see the look on everyone’s faces when we all came walking out of the ocean.

Each boat team was handed their mission instructions and went their separate ways. I’m not going to give any of that away either, but it was a cool way to end it all.


GORUCK has really put a lot of time and effort in planning these events so people can walk away and feel like they have done something special. As I sit here thinking about those days and writing this, all I can think about is the conversation I had with Big Daddy at the endex party about how he has even more ideas to make Beached even cooler. I can tell you that if he makes those ideas a reality, then Beached 006 will blow mine out of the water.

Photos Courtesy of : M. Beacon, K. Johnson, B.D.

Babes in the Woods: GORUCK Custom Lake Tahoe Navigator

Photo by Bryan Calo

Photo by Bryan Calo

If I could list a single thing that I learned from GORUCK Custom Lake Tahoe Navigator it would be this — it’s easier than you think to get lost in the woods.

GORUCK Navigator is a four day land navigation and survival training experience that teaches you the basics of handling yourself in the wilderness including a culex (culmination exercise) to test your skills. It’s vastly different than a normal GORUCK Challenge because it leans more towards skill development and mastery instead of let’s do 1,000 8-count body builders while sitting in your favorite ocean. Now, find a pole!

The venue was picturesque Homewood Ski Resort and Sugar Pine Point Campground in beautiful Lake Tahoe, CA from May 14th-18th, 2014.

Attention to Detail

GORUCK is one company that really listens to its customers. Past Navigators (as best I can tell only three others have been held — see here for an ARR (After Action Review) from Nav 002) had some anecdotal rumblings of being kinda random and not having a real blueprint. This navigator was none of that. It was well planned, wonderfully communicated and precisely executed right down to the excellent meals prepared by Chef Grant, the flow of the program by lead Cadre Joel, rock star photography by Tosh (who got patched for shadowing Team Orange) and the professionalism and deep knowledge of all the Cadre. Thanks for your service and putting on a fantastic event.

Everyone Needs a Den Mother

A special thanks needs to be extended to den mother Laurie who took on the challenge of setting up this event over a year ago. Without her tireless efforts, infinite patience and true care for whose who participated, this event would never have happened. Thanks Laurie for spearheading one of the most fun and well organized events I have ever attended.

Event Schedule

The Custom Lake Tahoe Navigator was a 4-day course (with an optional Firearms Day) that adhered to the following schedule:

  • Day 0 (Optional): Firearms Day.

  • Day 1: Navigation Classes. Map and compass skills plus a ~4km hike

  • Day 2: Skills Classes. First aid, basic survival, finding water and shelter building.

  • Day 3+: Skills Practice + Culex. Time to ask any Cadre questions and practice followed by a practical test of all the skills learned. Lasted well into the morning of day 4, especially if you were Team White. They got “owned” by the night.

  • Day 4: Brunch & Beer: Camp breakdown and After Action Reviews (AARs).

Each day had several lectures followed by the opportunity to practice the taught skills. Overall, the material was fantastic and the lectures were engaging even for those who might have been hungover from the night before and fell asleep during class. You know who you are.

One recurring theme that I heard from participants was that there was no handouts of the excellent material (Cadre Big Chris did offer to email it around) or field manual to keep with you (according to Cadre Joel, this is in the works). That might have helped most of us un-fuck ourselves when we got lost. Well, maybe not.

Go Shoot an Azimuth. A What?

The first course was land navigation using a compass and map. Cadre Joel did a stellar job getting us up to speed on reading maps and shooting azimuths. One of the hardest things to figure out is how the contour lines on a map translate to real terrain. This is a critical skill to master since it can really help plan a route that avoids thick brush and steep elevation climbs. Remember this point, it comes up later.

Along with terrain feature recognition, we got to practice looking up grid coordinates and correcting for declination, which is the degree difference between the map and the compass. All of this is important to remember when in the field since it’s these small errors that build up to big errors. nav_map

Let’s Try Not to Kill the Patient

No course on surviving in the wilderness is complete without a class on basic first aid. Cadre Dakotah and Cadre Bert did a masterful job of giving us the basics of how to treat common first aid issues (before attempting any type of first aid, make sure you get the proper training).

Basic wilderness first aid boils down to the handy acronym SMARCH which is used to assess a patient in the field. SMARCH stands for:

  • Situation: Is it safe to help. The only thing worst than one patent is two patients.

  • Massive hemorrhaging: Stop the bleeding quickly since lack of blood leads to all sorts of nasty things.

  • Airway: Check that the patients airway is clear before trying to see if they are breathing.

  • Respiration: Check the patients breathing rate and depth.

  • Circulation: Check the patients pulse.

  • Hypothermia: Check the patient for hypothermia by looking for shivering and blue lips. Blood loss can make you hypothermic even if it’s 100 degrees outside.

Each part of SMARCH has specific treatment techniques that are applied to stabilize the patient. A recurring theme was prevention since it’s 1,000 times better to prevent an injury than it is to treat one in the field. Being prepared was also stressed since it’s what you have with you and your training that takes over during a stressful situation.

What the Heck is a Swiss Seat?

Cadre Chris and Danny taught probably the most challenging and fun part of the whole weekend — knot tying and rope bridge construction. For the culex, we had to learn three basic knots (figure 8, alpine butterfly and bowline) along with two others (square and half-hitch) to construct a rope bridge across an obstacle.

These particular skills are critical to get right since it’s a major safety issue if your rope bridge falls apart as you traverse a 100 ft crevasse or you fall out of your Swiss Seat (which looks dam sexy if cinched with the proper force and determination as Dan and Amy can attest too).

Photo By Chris Way

Photo By Chris Way

The rope bridge crossing was an absolute blast and probably the single coolest thing we did during the whole weekend except for maybe seeing bears and Lake Tahoe at night.

Cadre Manzanita

Out of all the Cadre at Navigator, no single one inflicted as much pain, suffering and learning than Cadre Manzanita pictured below. This stuff is nasty and can really ruin your whole day. Manzanita is the reason why you need to fully understand your sectional maps and what the lines and shading means. This knowledge can help you work smarter not harder. Climbing up through dense brush is not working smart at all, it’s the ultimate in working harder and costs time and energy, which Team Yellow learned the hard way. ManzanitaShrubBranches_wb

Making it Home to Fort Living Room

Cadre Hawke and Cadre Big Chris took us through the basics of survival with death by a thousand Power Point slides. Honestly, it was not that bad since both Cadre Hawke and Cadre Big Chris were engaging, funny and told awesome stories based on real world experiences.

Cadre Hawke’s approach to survival is a mix of common sense, be prepared and do what the locals do. Everything he taught us just made sense. He even debunked some common myths such as you can’t drink seawater (you can if it’s diluted) and you can drink urine to a point (urine is sterile but you need to worry about the ureic acid concentration). We also learned that it’s best to always carry a mini-lighter in your pocket, have a fixed blade survival knife, the meat left after you shake a carcass is good and anything over 12-inches is just a waste. The field part of the survival class had us look at different kinds of shelters and how to build a solar still. Everyone enjoyed this part because we got to get out of the classroom and into the field.

Shelter construction techniques vary widely but the principle message was that a shelter needs to protect you from the elements you are in. If it’s windy, you would build it one way as opposed to if it was raining. A shelter also needs to be close enough to your fire so that you can reach over and stoke it but not too close that you set your shelter on fire. All common sense but good to have reinforced.

Construction of our solar still was a lot of fun. The basic idea is that you dig a hole, throw in a bunch of green vegetation in, place a cup in the center, put a plastic bag over it and wait for the sun to evaporate the water from the vegetation. This evaporated water then collects on the plastic bag and drips into your cup. We never did confirm that it collected any water but I’m sure we got some.

Photo by Alvin Louie

Photo by Alvin Louie

Aha. Look what I’ve created. I have made FIRE

Primitive man must have felt the same joy that my fire team felt when our magnesium shaving drenched pathetic attempt at a birds nest engulfed in flames. And I’m also sure that during their version of a touchdown dance they promptly blew the fire out just like we did.

Starting fire by means other than a match or lighter is thrilling. It’s also an extremely valuable survival skill since fire can warm you up, signal your location and generally improve your morale. Cadre Joel gave us some great advice about always looking for materials to start a fire. He told us to always try to gather up dry moss, birds nests, small sticks and anything that can easily be set ablaze. Another important thing was to over do it on the magnesium shavings — you can never have too much of that. During our culex, our team found a functional lighter that we got to use to start our end of culex fire. It pays to have your head on a swivel and to be always looking at your surroundings.

Photo by Capt. Paige Bowie

Photo by Capt. Paige Bowie

Babes In the Woods

The range of skill sets and experiences of the participates (60 total) ranged from “I hike in my city park” to “I volunteer for mountain search and rescue.” Of course, all were GRT’s which meant we were used to rucking 12+ hours while hungover.

Even though everyone came from different backgrounds, we all felt like babes in the woods when it came to the culex. Human nature is fascinating especially when you have a bunch of GRT’s who are used to action. When a person or group is under stress, a lot of strange things happen. Logic and reason fly out the window and the “gotta get there” mentality takes over. Out of all the potential hazards in the wilderness, the one that posses the most risk to you is you! The reason for this is simple. We tend to over inflate our abilities, rely on “this feels like the right way” and get fixated on easy to do tasks. If you can control that, you’re a lot better off.

Learning by Failing Safe

The method of teaching at navigator was to fill our head with a lot of information and skills and then send us out in the wilderness to fail safe. This may seem cruel or even counterintuitive to most people but as Team Yellow’s Cadre Chris Way put it, “you have to experience getting lost in the woods before you appreciate how easy it is and how hard it is to get un-lost.” This is spot on. I could tell you a 1,000 times what to do when you are lost in the woods but until you are tired, hungry, stressed, second-guessing yourself, melting down, bickering with teammates and in the dark, it will never fully register.

Even though you must experience this for yourself to appreciate it (I highly recommend you sign up for one if you are interested), here are some of the lessons Team Yellow (and most other teams) learned by failing safe:

  • Trust your equipment over yourself: Your equipment will not lie but you will lie to yourself.

  • Humans make mistakes: Never assume that something is correct on a map. Double and triple confirm.

  • Verify your assumptions and be data driven: Don’t just assume something is correct. Look at the data you have collected and adjust your thinking if that’s what the data says.

  • Altitude is your friend: Get as high as you can so you can see the terrain.

  • Remain calm: Being calm will allow you to make better decisions and will reduce the anxiety level of the people around you.

  • Know the strengths and weaknesses of your team: Give tasks to people that cater to their skills especially during stressful situations.

  • Have a plan and a backup plan: Always have a plan when you enter the woods as well as a backup plan if things go wrong.

  • Follow the terrain contour not just the straight line path: Don’t hard charge up a hill because it’s a straight line path. That will just tire you out.

  • Map bearing and compass bearing are different: Your map is what you are walking on. Your compass is wrong and needs to be adjusted.

  • At night, constantly check your location: The night makes navigation extremely hard. You can drift a lot easier with no frames of reference.

This may seem like common sense to most of you (frankly it is) but when you are in a survival situation, common sense is not so common and our experiences and training (or lack thereof) take over quickly.

Team “Just Go South”

My team, Team Yellow, learned the above lessons the hard way. We were doing great right until it got dark. Once the sun dipped down below the horizon, our pace slowed, we got disoriented and we started to make simple mistakes. One mistake was not properly correcting for declination (e.g. The different between the map and the compass). Our mantra was to “just go south” when we really need to subtract the declination and go more south-east.

Another simple mistake was that we never picked a close by landmark to navigate too. This meant that as we zigged and zagged around obstacles, we just kept a southerly bearing, which is kinda like walking while drunk. We may have been going “south” but we more like drifting south-west, then south, then south-east and back again.

All of this added up to Team Yellow getting lost and hacking our way through Manzanita grove after Manzanita grove. At one point, we crested a hill with a beautiful view of Lake Tahoe, which as Cadre Chris put it,“”Well, you can still see the lake so you aren’t THAT hopelessly fucked.” Yes, it’s always good to know that it can always get worse.

Photo by Chris Way

Photo by Chris Way

A Deep Sense of Camaraderie and Respect for Nature

For me and a lot of my fellow participates, the whole navigator experience boiled down to being in nature with a bunch of great people that are as weird as you are. From the pre-nav birthday BBQ (hosted by Dan and Amy) for Amy and Cynthia, seeing bears above Quail Lake, Rebecca “One Pole” trying to set up her tent, the tragic news of fellow GRT Jeff Proietti’s passing, Rocco’s insistence on hydrating, the funny and touching moment when John helped Laurie wash her hair and rockstar photographer Tosh barking out “I need 4 people to move this table in 10 seconds. Hurry up!”

Everyone I talked to about their navigator experience felt it was wonderful and they learned a lot about themselves and others. The lessons learned go far beyond how to survive in the wilderness because anytime you get a bunch of good people together, you share priceless moments that no social media feed, picture, tweet or blog post can reproduce. As Cadre Bert says, GORUCK makes Facebook friends real friends. It’s these bonding experiences that allows us to grow towards being the best people we can be. For that, we should all be eternally grateful.