At 9 p.m. Friday night, May 1 at an undisclosed location, much of the the Almost Abs Crew and three other willing participants came together to meet our Cadre. He was was going to lead the eight of us and some 25 others for the next 12 hours.
We each had the required equipment: a backpack, 25-45 lbs. of weight, a headlamp, 2 liters of water in a hydration bladder, $20, and an I.D. This was required equipment for our event. Some, like myself, who have a tendency to over prepare (see the Solcana Throwdown post) carried the 45 lb. packs. I had an added 1 liter of water, 3000 calories of food, extra socks, a wrapped yoga mat to raise up my weight for comfort, a dry shirt, tough gloves, epipens and my magnesium pills (I tend to cramp after about three hours of exercise without taking magnesium).
Don’t call me sir
The Cadre had us line up to check our packs for the required equipment. This was the last time our packs could touch the ground for the next 12 hours. He explained that he was not an officer in the military and only officers are to be addressed as “sir.” We were to call him Cadre. If we called him sir, we would get punishment, or as he called it, “get strong as shit.” This direction seemed simple enough to follow, but as we were to learn even the simplest instruction can be hard to follow when fatigue sets in. When the Cadre finished checking our packs we put them back on while he came to the front of our lines and called on one of the group to join him. The Cadre explained that this individual had left his I.D. in his car and as the man sprinted off to get it we were to hold a plank position until he returned.
This was the beginning of what turned into three punishing hours of intense Physical Training where the Cadre challenged our strength and endurance. We worked on:
Movement – jumping jacks, crawling, duck walk
Strength – push-ups, lunges, thrusters
Agility – sprints, burpees, bear crawl
This is just short list of the movements we did, all with our packs on our back or in our hands or over our heads.
This section produced the most dropouts, four in all. Even two of our group decided they had had enough. The rest of us continued on. The punishments were unrelenting. Time after time, one or another Rucker called the Cadre sir—usually one of the people from a military branch; we had a large complement of Air Force in our class. The Cadre would bark a command and we would respond as a group, “yes Cadre” with an occasional “yes sir.” “What did you say flyboy?” the Cadre would ask. The Airman would try to deny it, which probably only made things it worse, but soon would relent. This meant he had to stand in front of the group and yell out commands the Cadre whispered to him for us to do: man-makers, burpees, or something else that would make us “strong as shit.”
We worked our way through downtown Minneapolis while the bars let out. When we got to the river we turned northwest. The routine, although grueling, had become manageable. We stopped occasionally to get strong as shit, or the Cadre would catch us drifting too far apart and give us punishment. I estimated it was about 3:00 a.m. My crew and I had prepared with miles of rucking, and I for one was preparing mentally for 10-15 miles of rucking.
That is when we found her: A log 15 feet long and weighing as least 1000 lbs. This was going to be our constant companion and would only touch the ground twice over the next three hours. We carried this dead branch up and down the river. If we dropped it, punishing exercises would come our way. We carried that half-ton log over three miles. Half of us were under that log at any given time. We relieved each person who looked tired or requested a break. If you were walking along this was a good time to drink or retrieve food from your pack.
Walking southeast, we reached the DeLaSalle athletic field. That is where we left the big stick in the dirt and headed for the soft grass.
Carrying the wounded
The Cadre explained that in war when there is a casualty you can not rely upon an ambulance to evacuate your wounded. Therefore, we were going to learn and execute two types of casualty carries: the three person carry and the fireman’s carry. As Ruckers got tired, we would switch off with another team. The Cadre gave us 10 seconds to get the casualty into the air or another person would become a casualty. More casualties few people to carry them. You get the picture. But we prevailed! No added casualties.
A mind game
The day ended as it began in the park across the street from the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Friends and family gathered on hillsides to watch the Cadre lead us through the final 45 minutes of work, including the “Tunnel of Love,” and bring what was left of us home.
Was this a physical challenge or a test of resilience? My fellow Ruckers and I agreed this was a mental test. Yes, a certain level of physical ability is necessary to participate there is no shortage of advice out on the web on how to prepare your body for the challenge. But once we had done enough burpees, push-ups and bear crawls, the greatest obstacle was not the physical challenges before us, but our desire to continue.