GoRuck is a different animal.
Where other fitness brands bolster a culture that speaks to people wanting to be better, GoRuck mandates it as a standard. That’s the one thing that really influenced me and pulled loose that thread of curiosity in 2016.
You don’t ask for a lighter rucksack – you build up stronger shoulders.Jason McCarthy, founder of GoRuck
Goruck is a company that builds backpacks. Fundamentally, that’s all a ruck really is. A hard-use bag that you put some weight into and move it over a distance. In military circles, rucking is a mandated exercise the way pursuit courses can be in policing or the FPAT test is in the Canadian fire service. It’s not always an extra-curricular.
I was introduced to rucking in 2016 after bumping into GoRuck on a forum. It was mentioned as a company that built ‘indestructible’ bags. They were looking to prove that claim by means of a challenge issued to anybody willing to pay the price of admission. For the few on the forum who had done so, it was said to be truly grueling and pushed the bags themselves well past the point where other brands would fail.
But I mean, it’s the internet. Of course that’s what was being said.
I first made the decision to try the GoRuck Tough Challenge in 2016 when I was flirting with the idea of joining the armed forces as a reservist. I figured putting on a ruck and shaking it out with a bunch of hardchargers for an evening would be a good spot to start. A taste, maybe, of what was to come as far as the physical requirements were concerned. At the time, I was functionally fit and started to hike around with a 5.11 bag. I put some bricks in it per the GoRuck original requirements and hit the road.
After a good stint of training for it – including rucking after BJJ classes to really make sure I could get it done when I was ‘tired’ – I showed up in a park in Toronto on Canada Day of 2017. What followed was a test of my leadership skills, physical fitness and mental fortitude all backed on a team-building event with people I’d never met.
Read that last sentence again and try not to sign up for an event.
When we started the Welcome Party that evening, the Cadre asked for somebody to step forward as Team Leader. More specifically, somebody who had not participated in a GoRuck event before. Nobody did. Pushups and squats and bear-crawls continued.
“Can’t make a decision?” Cadre Jake asked. “That’ll change.”
He asked again. I stepped forward. If we’re going to be working, it might as well be toward something.
After my stint as Team Leader, ushering the group on a movement to the lake, I was relieved to hand-off my role to another person. Some time after that, Cadre approached me to ask why I had stopped urging the group forward. I thought that since I was no longer Team Leader, I didn’t want to step on the toes of the person that was. Cadre Jake would tell me something that imprinted on my brain; leadership happens from within the chain of command as much as from the top.
At the end of the day, we were awarded our patch for completing the given standard. More specifically, Cadre Jake came to each one of us, shook our hand and put the patch to our left chest. He gave it a good thump with a closed fist.
It wasn’t until well past the completion of that event that I would reach out to GoRuck admin. I wanted to know more about that gesture. For some reason, it stuck with me. I sent an email out to the customer service people at GoRuck and asked if I could send a few questions out to Cadre Jake.
To my surprise, he responded.
Thank you for your question. The ceremony of finishing an ‘act’ (a military exercise that is considered extremely difficult and is engraved in the historical curriculum of a units training) is considered a mile stone in a journey. When it is all said and done you have earned you right of passage to this point. Now you are ready to enter the next stage. This is emphasized either by receiving a pin, beret or some item of memorabilia from a commander or someone that has done it before you.Cadre Jake, GoRuck Tough Class 2347
This ‘act’ we had finished, I would say, is among the more difficult that any civilian could sign up for. Save for the extreme racing events – 100k trail runs and the like – GoRuck is very difficult. Where thousands sign up for Tough Mudder, our class had 29 people ready to take on the burden of, literally, carrying the heavy load as Jordan Peterson would have us do.
Historically the fist to the chest was used to push a units pin slightly into the muscular portion of soldiers chest. It stings a little, but at that moment your on such a high you don’t really feel it. This has since been reduced to a firm fist to the chest and handing of the pin to the soldier, however the meaning remains the same.
‘Acts’ are obvious stages in military training and just like finishing a tough or a heavy or light it is just 1 event, preparing you for future events. The mental endurance required to finish an event or an ‘act’ is more then the average day to day life experience and this is why they are done. What do I mean by that?
The idea of a ‘false finish’ was used almost weekly in my training. One would finish a week of navigations walking 25-30km every night get on the bus with his team mates and pass out. Everyone would assume they were rolling back to the base to do an equipment check and prepare for the weekend, only 20-30 minutes later would the bus stop at the bottom of the largest mountain in the Jordan valley and the commanders would blaze the horn through the bus: “2 minutes everyone off the bus, stretchers open, 2 casualties and face “The Sartaba”. Squinting into the unbearable heat of the morning sun, the silhouette of the mountain slowly becomes apparent and your crusty body begins to move with words of urgency and encouragement from the commanders.Cadre Jake, GoRuck Tough Class 2347
Something deep inside told me that the action of punching my chest had come from some lost tradition. Buried behind political correctness and the softening of our heritage, a long line of those before me had endured hardships through labour, long winters and not least of all, war. Not at all to compare GoRuck to combat, obviously, but somehow, I felt like I had some fractal piece of that history through that tiny moment. When I received my congratulatory punch, I was brought into some fold of hard working men by a hard working man.
An ode is a poem of praise. Not to keep my lips too firmly pressed to the keister of GoRuck LLC, I wanted to do a little write up on my experiences in an event I attended. Years later, I’ve almost got to the point where I can actually grab one of their bags. In the meantime, I’ve been humping a Rush 12 with a bunch of bricks and cool patches.
So, maybe not the company itself but the community it has undoubtedly fostered has certainly impacted me. To get started in rucking, you just need a decent backpack and a pile of bricks. It’s cardio without feeling like cardio and you should absolutely give it a shot.