#WTF is the 12 Hour GORUCK Challenge?

Photo: www.goruck.com

It all started with a backpack. After leaving the Special Forces, Jason McCarthy wanted to recreate the top-notch gear he used while in service for anyone back home. What started as testing prototypes in military-like scenarios turned into the GORUCK challenge: a 12-hour, 15-20 mile guided city tour with a heavy pack on your back. But this is no leisurely hike or tourist attraction: It’s a way to test and overcome physical and mental limitations, learn the importance of team building, and complete a freakin’ epic challenge that comes with some well-earned bragging rights.

What It Is

Since its start in September 2010, 400 GORUCK challenges have taken place all over the world. The majority of participants are men, with women making up just 20 percent of competitors.

The challenge is led by a “cadre” (basically a team leader with actual special operations background) and is a nightlong venture with 30 or so other people around the host city. Participants are given problems and missions to solve, like getting to specific city landmarks in a certain amount of time…while holding a tree log. Oh yeah, and everyone is wearing a backpack full of bricks. (If you weigh less than 150 lbs, you take four bricks, over 150 lbs, six bricks.) Throw in a mix of push-ups, bear crawls, carrying giant logs, and wading through freezing rivers, and you have yourself a GORUCK challenge.

Participants range from military vets to those who are simply curious about the adventure. (Seventy percent of participants have no military background.) And while some sign up because they are interested in joining the military, a majority take part simply to push themselves in a way they haven’t before.

Why It’s Different

The goal of completing a GORUCK challenge goes far beyond the 12 hours of marching, calisthenics, and problem solving missions. The experience is designed to push people, help them surpass perceived limitations, and apply what they’ve endured to other areas of life: from relationships with family and friends, to work, to any other life-goals.

“The challenge is only 12 hours, but the way it can change the rest of your life, big or small, is what matters,” said Sophie Pollitt-Cohen, GORUCK’s director. Need even more positive reassurance? For the team at GORUCK, the challenges are never about what you do, but rather to show you what you do.

And what separates GORUCK from a 12-hour stint in the military is the appreciation for your surroundings and an unexpected calm. While the challenge can certainly be physically challenging, there’s also ample time to stop and take a breather throughout the night. Over the course of the 12-hours, the cadre will encourage people to stop and take in the surroundings of exploring a city in the wee hours of the morning. Walking on the Brooklyn Bridge as the sun is rising? The group will take five and soak in the sights.

Want In?

GORUCK hosts challenges all over the world, so if you’re interested, it’s pretty easy to find one near you. One downside: It comes with a price tag, with challenges averaging out at around $100.

For those who don’t want to jump in chest-deep, there is the option for “GORUCK Light.” (Nope, that’s not a low-cal drink.) This challenge has a similar concept, but lasts only five hours and is a little cheaper, too. A toe in the water, if you will. And if you’re looking for an adventure even more intense, there are other options like GORUCK Heavy that’s 24 hours long, to GORUCK Beached, where people complete missions on land and sea like beach landings and shelter construction.

Just remember, GORUCK comes with a few potential downsides. The challenge is physically and mentally demanding. In fact, it's noted that past injuries have been minimal, yet physical strains can be extreme. Be smart, and know the trek can be gruesome.

Even though Pollitt-Cohen gave me a passionate, detailed description of the GORUCK challenge, it was still hard to picture what the challenge was really like. “It’s hard to wrap your mind around it since there’s nothing like it,” Pollitt-Cohen explained. So perhaps it’s best we go out and experience it ourselves.

Have you done a GORUCK challenge or are now considering it? Tell us in the comments below or tweet the author @lschwech.