On May 18th, 2013, a group of 38 Master’s (40+) descended on Washington, DC to participate in a custom Goruck Heavy.
David Pearson (almost 47) was one of those masters who participated. I sat down with Dave to go over his experience at Goruck Heavy 006 (24+ hours of Good Livin’).
Jarie Bolander: Thanks Dave for agreeing to be interviewed on your experiences with the Master’s Heavy.
David Pearson: No problem. Glad to help
JB: How many people signed up for the Master’s Goruck Heavy.
DP: 40 signed up, 38 showed up, 36 started and 29 finished. The two who didn’t start had a good reason as they were a couple and just found out she was pregnant.
JB: Why did people drop?
DP: Two were definitely medical. One a shoulder and one a back. One person dropped out pretty early. He was in his 60’s and did two challenges in a row and basically said he had no business being here.
He said, I’m too beat down and I’ll just slow you guys down, which is not fair to the team.
The other four dropped after 4 or 5 hours. One could not keep up with the pace, one because a buddy said they would drop if their buddy dropped. One of them looked medical and the fourth I never had a chance to talk to but may have been a med drop.
We started on the mall with a smoke session, then to the Jefferson memorial and got photo bombed by some Japanese tourists. Then we went to Arlington and watched the changing of the guard. That was pretty good.
We missed both time hacks getting to Jefferson and Arlington. Cadre Devin said he would extract punishment from us later.
After that we went to Roosevelt Island and that was were we lost the four before going to the island.
Before crossing to the island, Cadre Devin gave us a speech about this being a custom challenge and we were all masters. If we wanted the Heavy patch then we had to meet the standard.
You either step up and perform or go home now or tell me you don’t want this to be a heavy and we can change it to something more fun. If you want a Heavy patch, you’re going to earn it.
After the speech, another person was ready to drop out but a teammate convinced them to stay.
From that point, we lost two other people who had med problems. The one with the shoulder problem (he had surgery a couple months prior) and another one, his back was giving out.
Everyone else finished. We did have two pretty serious medical problems that we treated during the event.
JB: What were the two serious medical problems?
DP: The first guy went down for dehydration. He was throwing up and could not hold anything down. Thankfully, a teammate treated him with meds and got him going.
That took about 15 minutes and all of us had to lay down and not say a word. Most people fell asleep but I stayed awake because I just knew that Cadre Devin would pull some sort of surprise, which he did.
The other guy had an epileptic fit. It scared the crap out of me since me and another guy watched it happen. I thought he was having a heart attack since we could not get him up.
Luckily, we had an EMT in the group and he and Cadre Devin came over and got him going. It was scary.
JB: Was he a known epileptic?
DP: He was known to himself but no one else knew about it.
JB: He did not tell anyone. Oh my God!
DP: Every thing that we were doing in a Heavy are the things you are not supposed to do if you have epilepsy. Every bad thing you are not supposed to do, we were doing.
JB: But in the end, he made it too. Wow, I guess he should have done more or maybe, I don’t know.
DP: Yeah, stuff happens. The only time I came close to dropping was when my right knee started acting up and feeling funky with shooting pains. I thought that if this keeps up, it’s serious and I would have to med drop but after about a half an hour, it just stopped hurting and I was fine.
JB: Okay. So, what was the most grueling part? Was it the physical or the mental? What was it that you had the most problems with?
DP: It was a combination. After we left Roosevelt Island, we went to Georgetown to do a rest and refit. From there, for the next 13 hours, Cadre Devin gave us sandbag babies.
So we had 1,400 pounds of babies we had to carry, which is 22 sandbags.
At one point, because we damaged some of his babies by dropping them, Cadre Devin decided that we needed some sturdier babies and gave us two additional concrete babies to carry.
And then because we missed a headcount, he gave us a big log that one person could carry but it looked like a big recoilless rifle and then we had to carry that.
We had like 31 people which later dropped to 29 and 27 items to carry. So no matter how bad off you were, you had nobody to trade with.
We were basically walking from lock or bridge to the next lock or bridge, dropping our load and taking 3 minutes off since that’s about as far as you could go without taking a break.
JB: Right. that’s because of the weight.
DP: Yeah, because of the weight and you had no one to trade off with.
Most of us, at any given time, we carrying between 70 and 110 pounds on our back for 13 hours.
JB: That must have wore you down.
DP: Yeah, it’s just a long way. If you have any kind of injury or whatever it starts to get exacerbated. That’s what happened with the guys with the shoulder and bad back had to go out on.
But everyone, including Max who was one of the young babies we let do it, by the end was injured. Both of his knees were in bad shape and his back. All of us were struggling and it’s just a matter of pushing through it.
JB: So, did you guys have to lift any logs?
DP: Yup. We lifted a log on Roosevelt Island that the ROTC kids put there a couple of weeks before.
JB: Nice. I love it how they seem to find logs like “Gee, where did this log come from?”
Cadre love logs and I just don’t get it. Every Goruck guy I know hates them.
DP: Well, that’s because it builds the team. If you can’t work together as a team and get a system going, then you can’t move the log.
Luckily we had one guy who stayed under the log the whole time and he had a huge booming voice. He got everyone moving in the right direction and got the log moving.
At one point Cadre Devin got pissed because we were not moving very far before we would drop it. He said that if you don’t get this 100 feet in the next 4 minutes, you are going to carry it all the way to the Potomac River.
JB: I’m sure the motivation was pretty high. Those are the worst possible things. I hate them [logs].
DP: I was under it twice and it crushed me.
JB: Lifting the log is a tough, tough thing to do.
What were some of the gear changes that you did between a normal challenge and a Heavy? What did you add or take away?
DP: I read everyone else’s reports and what Cadre recommended. I switched from tennis shoes to boots for ankle support. I was glad for boots especially when we crossed a pond before the Potomac River. There must have been a foot of muck on the bottom. I don’t know how people did not loose their shoes. As I said, I switched from tennis shoes to boots and I also went from a kilt to long pants and knee pads and that helped tremendously.
One thing I did not consider was what would happen when you wear compression shirts for long periods of time. Chaffing is an issue and I should have brought some Body Glide. That was a mistake.
JB: So if you ever did it again, it would be Body Glide for sure.
DP: Definitely. Body Glide over 24 hours when you are wearing the same clothing and going through all the stuff, you definitely need to get some Body Glide.
Heavy means that you are going long distances with lots of weight. So you are getting stuff rubbing all over your body.
While a compressions shirt might be good for 6-12 hours, after 18 or 20, you need something to be between your skin and that shirt or shorts.
JB: Yeah because it’s going to start to chafe. Chafe for sure.
So, how soon after you guys started did you guys realize that this is a different event — more than a challenge? It seems like more weight. Did it pretty much start out the same? Was it just a challenge with more weight and time?
DP: It pretty much started out the same and most of us did not know what to expect because this was a custom event. We were all in DC. We were thinking we’ll see some monuments, move a log and that it would be just longer time.
Cadre Devin started out with the normal PT and that kind of stuff which we all expected no big deal. And then he started to set time hacks that younger guys could have made but there was no way our group was going to make it especially with a couple of 60 year olds. It just was not going to happen.
We were fine. We accepted the punishment. It’s not a big deal. We know we are going to miss the time hack. Who cares?
So it really did not get real until his speech at Roosevelt Island where he said you guys are missing your time hacks. It’s not going to get any easier — it’s only going to get harder. That’s when it started to set in. He started to wail on us and then he gave us the sandbags.
When you have 80 pounds on your back and he’s like I want to do 60 miles which is more than any prior challenge has ever done, it gets real.
JB: That’s a lot of miles. How much did you end up doing?
DP: About 45 is what he calculated. The longest so far was New York at 50. We were just shy of New York and our average age was probably double theirs.
JB: Yeah, Cuz I mean going 60 miles in 24 hours with 80-110 lbs on your back. That’s pretty brutal. That’s not going to be fun. Not at all. No fun.
This is no joke. It’s more than a challenge or a double challenge. It’s like a challenge plus.
DP: It way beyond a double challenge. If you look at past classes, they have a 50% drop out rate where ours was more like 20% for a Masters so Cadre Devin was impressed as hell by that.
JB: Well Masters — guys over 40 — are crazy anyway.
DP: We are used to pain. We wake up with it everyday so we are used to it. We’re too stubborn to know any better.
JB: Or too stupid. Wow. So the typical Heavy has been a 50% drop out rate.
DP: If you look at the prior ones that have been run, they have been a 50% or higher drop rates out of 6 Heavy’s that have been run so far.
JB: That’s pretty up there. I mean a typical challenge has a 98% pass rate. You have to put out and all but that’s a huge disparity. You’re like doubling. Wait way more than doubling the fail rate.
DP: On ours, it’s like we had no relief. If you had trouble with your sandbag, you had no one to give it too because everyone else had one. You just had to suck it up.
At some point, people were asking to switch sandbags for a lighter one.
JB: That’s just the way it goes. I mean it’s funny when someone says, can I get a lighter sandbag. That’s when you are embracing the suck. Can I just trade with you for a little bit to get a lighter sandbag just to recover? Amazing.
DP: You would be shocked. We would stop every mile or two for maybe a couple of minutes but that couple of minute break was great. By the time I got there, I was sweating profusely, ready to throw up but after that break, I was good to go. That break provided a tremendous amount of relief.
You get to the next stop and you are in the same broken down condition.
And the other thing that I learned because I was watching the other guys do it was every time we stopped by a tree or a ledge or something to get your feet up in the air for the swelling. And that’s a big thing when you are on your feet with that kind of weight for that length of time.
Anytime when you can take a rest, get on your back and get your feet up.
JB: Aw. Okay. So just to reduce the swelling.
DP: Yeah, that worked great.
JB: So some of the things that you learned. Get your feet up to reduce the swelling and to reduce the stress. Body Glide is a must.
DP: The other thing is know your equipment. I did the half-marathon on Mt. Diablo with my boots and ruck. So I was doing that under 45 pounds of weight while you guys were running by me.
That helped teach me where the hot spots were going to be on my feet. So before I even started I had blister pads on, moleskin over that and rock taped it down or the moleskin will move as soon as it gets wet. So the KT tape will hold everything in place when it gets wet.
I had only one place on my feet that erupted and that was below my ankle. Everything else was perfectly fine. Never blistered. It hurt like hell and I thought my feet would look like sausage but they were perfectly fine in the end.
JB: So you handled the hot spots by really just beating your feet up. Knowing where the hot spots were going to be and taking care of them ahead of time.
DP: Yup. You need to be out using your equipment under tremendous amounts of weight and time so you can figure out what’s going to break where and fix it before you get there. Because if you look at some of the Selection reports, a lot of guys dropped out because of their feet got in their head.
JB: Yeah. That’s why Dan had to drop from NorCal because his feet. I saw his feet after. You were there and saw them too. They were pretty bad. That was pretty awful.
So, what about training? What did you do to train for this? Is it different than a challenge?
DP: I started lifting a lot because I wanted to put on more muscle because I knew I would have to carry a lot more stuff for a lot longer. Doing longer rucks under weight was what I did. That’s why I did the half marathon, under 45 pounds on Mt. Diablo. It was something like 2,500 feet of elevation.
So, I wanted to see because I never wore boots for a challenge before to see what would happen for that kind of elevation gain.
Going back to DC, it’s pretty flat so you don’t have to worry about hills. If I could do the hills out here, then I knew I could do DC.
JB: So basically, longer duration rucks, with the equipment to understand where things are going to pop up like hot spots, how your equipment is either going to fail or pass or whatever.
DP: Yep and getting used to once the weight is on my back just to continue to walk forward with it. So, it depends on where you are mentally. On the mental part, I’m always pretty strong. It’s the physical that I’m more concerned about breaking down.
I stopped doing spinning and running and focused on the lifting so I had more muscle mass.
JB: Okay. So for you, what were some of the mental things you went through or the mental toughness so to speak. I mean, how do you condition yourself for the mental aspects?
DP: I think part of that comes with age.
JB: Ha Ha. Age. I guess we are just too stupid. Ha Ha.
DP: Doing Diablo a year ago and failing at it told me where my body was breaking and recognizing how to fix it.
As you know, doing the ultra running, you are on your own. You are in your head the entire time. There is no one next to you to talk to. That’s what makes you mentally tough.
JB: Okay, so basically going out and doing things where you rely on yourself, maybe even fail, understand where that failure is, adjust and just keep on going. Really building that mental endurance.
DP: A Heavy is still a Goruck Challenge where you can talk to the person next to you. If you can keep a positive attitude, then that’s good.
People were smiling, telling jokes. We had one guy from the south who talked the whole night. It was awesome because you had someone to listen too. You know, that helps.
In Selection, people get into their own heads because they can’t talk to anybody. So if you can’t manage, like Paige said, learn to mediate so that you don’t get into your own head.
You need to be able to control that and what you are thinking when you do these kind of events.
But the Heavy is not Selection and in a Heavy you have a team that can pull you through it.
JB: So, Okay, that sounds good. It seems to me that the general summary. You have to get physically conditioned and more muscle is important. Cardio is important but muscle because you are carrying a lot of weight.
DP: We had to move fast in the beginning because he was setting time hacks that we were not going to make. I don’t know if it would have made that much difference.
JB: Okay. So mostly focusing on the muscle mass, obviously cardio is going to be important. Second thing would be knowing the equipment and making sure that it’s all right, understand how to use it and actually knowing where the hot spots are on your feet are going to be and the chafing. Lesson learned on chafing was invest in some Body Glide.
DP: I never had chafing like that before ever.
JB: Oh yeah. I don’t even want to image how bad that can be.
DP: The benefit of having pants is that if you sometimes only have a 2-3 minute break. During some of the longer breaks, I would stuff food in the pockets.
So on a shorter break, I would lay on my back and I could reach into a pocket for food. There would be no way I would have time to reach into my ruck to get food out before we were up and moving again.
So the pants were a benefit from that standpoint because I had all these pockets I could stuff food.
Over 24 hours, you are burning like 1,000 calories an hour, which is 24,000. That’s a lot of calories.
JB: Did you think nutrition was a factor for you?
DP: I had plenty of food so I was eating regularly. We were reminding people to drink and eat. We had a resupply point during the night as well.
Cadre Devin was really good about getting us water and making sure we had it.
Normally during a challenge, I don’t eat. For 12 hours, it’s no big deal but for 24, I made sure I was eating a bunch of food throughout the event.
Having pockets for that food was a big plus.
JB: What kind of food? Was it the normal kind of food that you would eat? Like bars or what?
DP: Bars, gels some dried fruit (bananas and apricots). I brought some chocolate covered Acaci fruits. I had a chocolate bacon bar which was one of my rewards.
We were sharing food. A couple of people brought potatoes cooked with salt. People were sharing that. Jerky. Easy finger foods to eat.
A bunch of people brought MRE’s. So on a longer break, they were breaking out MRE’s and eating them.
[MRE’s] are easy food to carry. Light.
JB: Yeah, that’s true. So nutrition was a factor and so was hydration and all that was important. Did you feel that you hydrated enough? Was there ample time to hydrate?
DP: There was plenty of opportunities to hydrate. The one guy that went down for dehydration I don’t think was paying attention to his food and water.
That was on him for not paying attention to that. Everyone was reminding people to drink, drink, drink.
We had plenty of stops for water and the weather was perfect. Low 70’s. Cloudy. Warm but it was not humid. Heat, from that standpoint, was not a factor.
It never really got cold at night. We really did not need a lot of clothing.
If we would have started 2 days before when it was in the 90’s, half of us probably would have dropped due to dehydration.
JB: Yeah. Dehydration is a killer. When I did that ultra-marathon, Mt. Diablo. I was like every water stop I would fill up. I must have gone through 8 or 9 liters of water. That was a 7.5 hour race and I was constantly drinking and going to the bathroom. It was sweating out as well.
DP: Someone brought one of those marshmallow rollers, he said that was his M4, he would break that out and people were rolling their calfs and thighs and that was a pretty good idea.
JB: Yeah, Yeah. You will definitely get your calves seizing up if you are under that much strain for that period of time.
Any closing thoughts? Do you plan on doing it again?
DP: Yeah. I would not mind shadowing one or helping out with one but I don’t know if I would actually want to do another one. It does a lot of damage to your body.
My legs and hips are still sore. Both shoulders have bruising on them. I’m not nearly as bad as some of the guys I have seen. It’s a lot more damage than a 12 hour challenge.
It was fun to do and it was a great group of people because everyone had done multiple challenges. There was no new person that you had to teach how to form a team, so that was cool.
JB: So that was good that a least there was that knowledge of what to expect.
DP: There was no one there that did not know what to do with a log for example. We knew how to move sandbags. We knew how to do all the different workouts. When to cheat and when not to cheat.
JB: That’s so important. That is really important. Okay. Any final words? Like advice if someone is going to do this kind of thing?
DP: Take it seriously. If you have an injury or mental reservations, then don’t show up or drop out early. Don’t hurt the team by making them carry your weight just because you want to be there.
You need to be putting out for the team because it’s going to be miserable during the event. If you have an injury, it’s going to get worse if you have that much weight on your body over that distance.
Don’t do a challenge the weekend before like some of the knuckleheads did. A lot of guys were regretting that they did that.
JB: Sound advice. I mean it beats you up. It takes me like a week to feel normal.
DP: Even Mark Webb was ready to throw up.
JB: It really beats you up. Yeah, and Mark’s a vet at this stuff. He’s done like all of them.
DP: He’s done the most other than the Cadre.
JB: Okay. Great. Dave I appreciate your time and letting me interview you for my blog.
DP: No problem.