On Friday, October 4th I set out to complete what would be the toughest, most grueling, most frustrating test of my physical and mental limit to date - the Goruck Heavy. It is described as 24+ hours of special forces training and although I had completed two 12 hour Goruck Challenges I knew that no mater how well-trained I was, there was only so much you could do to prepare for the unknown. Saturday morning, October 5th, 15 hours into the event I decided to call it a day - being the fifth and final person on a team of 16 to earn the three letters "DNF" that will be attached to this moment in my memory.
I've read a variety of "Did Not Finish" stories over the past year and always believed that it would not be me. There's no way I'm going to start something and not finish it - no excuse too heavy to crush my motivation. Well, kids - this is my attempt to articulate the goings on in my life that led to that moment, what I learned in those 15 hours, and why I stand with head held high in my decision.
I knew this was going to be an interesting week after my first (I don't know how many of these I will have) Chalazion Removal surgery on Wednesday morning. The doc confirmed that I have a chronic skin disorder in my eyelids that produce debris that take on a form of dandruff appearance that causes styes and may develop into chalazions, or a small bump in the eyelid caused by a blockage of a tiny oil gland. She cleared me immediately after the procedure for normal activities, but the seed of doubt, the speck in my eye was already developing into a log that I would not want to carry. Big metaphor in the making.
The small distraction in my eye led me to be a lot careless about my planning for the heavy. I am normally meticulous about what I wear and how I pack for these sort of events. Although I took some time off to rest up leading into the 8PM start time, I wore a pair of shoes I hadn't trained with in some time, paired them with the wrong socks, and neglected to wear some trusty compression gear that would have provided some comfort to battle the little distractions that would only add to my misery. I also forgot a belt.
The wrong shoe choice led to a barrage of pebbles and rocks being stuck inside my socks and around my toes, making it very difficult to ruck around NYC, let alone sprint when the team needed me to. The wrong clothing led to some serious chafing in my thighs and ankles that would also impede my ability to move the way I know how to. The top button on my pants (I never wear pants to these things) popped and I had to hold them up with my back brace. Silly little decisions would cause me to alter the way I move, change my gait up and down the streets as we rucked, and aggravate an ankle injury that I sustained in January of this year.
The ankle injury was a tendon tear along the outside part of my right ankle, one that I fought through and dealt with throughout the year. I neglected to rest the way the doc told me to, logging over 300 miles of running since the accident that caused the tear. I chose to lay off of running much over the last month of training leading into the Heavy because I wanted it to be strong enough to last the entire event. 15 hours in, I knew I was causing more harm to myself than good - and no patch was worth being on the shelf for who knows how long.
Despite knowing that my team would have carried my ruck, carried me for the next 10 hours - despite knowing that I could have completed the event without really perceiving that I was earning it (that's lettuce for another salad) I had a lot of time to think about the benefits of my experience and why leaving the group was the right thing to do for me.
Like some of my teammates, I have a wife and kids - three boys who I thought of often while we rucked. In fact, I had nothing much to do but think and pray, think and pray. Cadre didn't let us communicate with each other for approximately 8 hours. I prayed I wouldn't get injured because next week my wife and were doing a silly 5k obstacle course with some friends and I really wanted to be able to enjoy it, not be hobbling around like an old man. I prayed I wouldn't let my pride in accomplishing something on my own hinder me from seeing my wife complete her first Goruck Light in a couple of weeks. Being injured would most certainly affect my ability to ruck with her. The more I prayed for my family, the more I realized that I had neglected to make my team, the guys I had been toiling with for 15 hours, my new family. It may seem like an obvious thought to have, but I was more motivated to be with my family than I was to be with the 11 other guys I barely knew. The only thing I could sense was frustration in their eyes when I didn't move as fast as they wanted me to or carry what they could carry. I could tell we were never going to make the time hacks that were designed to make us fail and I saw no sense in giving 100% of myself to a losing effort only to exasperate my injury. And so, after pushing myself harder than I had for the first 15 hours and helping the team sprint across the 59th street bridge into Queens with one of my shoelaces undone I decided to end my tour of NYC. The team was enjoying it's first 10 minute meal break (with the stipulation being that you could only enjoy one food idem you brought) during the event when I decided to make the speech I had already scripted hours prior. I stand by the words I first spoke to Cadre Jason and then to the team.
"I sign up for these events not for the patches, but for the experience. I value the time we spent together more than you know. I'm grateful to have seen some guys I've rucked with in the past, and I'm grateful to have made some new friends."
I said something like that to the team that I know would work smarter and faster without me, but I stand proud of what I helped to contribute within the 15 hours I was there. I had never been called to be a team leader for any of these events. I helped lead twice, and both times my team succeeded in the missions we were was assigned. I completed 75 manmakers (with proper form) in the East River at 3AM. I got to visit four different boros (Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn (I even got spotted by a colleague of mine who was riding his bike early on Saturday morning), and Queens, took the Staten Island Ferry, crossed two bridges. Ironically, I got to be one of the guys who encouraged two guys not to quit - two gents who ended up finishing. By far, my proudest moment was seeing the development and maturity in a young man I've trained with for over a year now. I initially signed up for the heavy first, and convinced him to join me for the ride. He helped push the team, literally pushed and pulled me across the 59th street bridge, and was a constant motivator for me. His will carried him to the finish line, where mine carried me home.
It took all but ten minutes after I left the team to start wondering what would have happened if I let them carry my ruck for a few hours, how much longer I could have sustained my minor ailments and then it hit me. I was standing by myself in Queensboro Plaza on a Saturday morning and I could barely walk from the counter to the seating area in Dunkin Donuts - without my ruck on. There was no way I could have made it out of that thing without causing myself to miss a day of work on Monday and possibly some great moments with my family later this month. I needed to lick my wounds, learn from my mistakes and move forward more complete and more satisfied with myself for doing something I never would have dreamed of doing when I started training for obstacle courses in May of 2012.
Thank you to everyone who wished me well and for the 11 guys who took care of each other to make it through to the end. I owe you a big hug, Chris Summa. Thank you to Cadre Jason, who thoughtfully prepared every movement to break us down and build us up as a team. Apologies, again, for breaking one of your rules and sitting down to fix my ruck. We had to inch-worm low crawl over five or six sprinklers across the lawn at 3AM in Brooklyn Bridge park because of my selfishness. Enough of that.
Now I get to make sure our 4 year old finishes his breakfast and be thankful I have the strength to discipline him if he hasn't.