PB: Hi. Thanks for the interview. I live in Oakland, CA, and I’ve been a firefighter with the Alameda County Fire Department for nine years. I consider being a firefighter one of the best jobs in the world; it feels like I was hired only yesterday. Every day is different, and getting to help people on a daily basis is pretty rewarding. I am also a member of our regional FEMA Urban Search and Rescue team, California Task Force 4. (USAR CATF 4).
I’m currently a Deputy Plans Manager, having served previously as a Technical Specialist and Rescue Specialist. I take a lot of pride in my job as a firefighter and USAR team member. Otherwise you can usually find me traveling, taking classes outside, or every once in awhile signing up for crazy events like GORUCK Selection.
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SGPT: Did you have an athletic background growing up?
PB: Yes. I grew up in Fresno, CA, and sports were a huge part of my life. I played either competitive basketball or softball (or both) from 9 years old all the way through college (UC Berkeley). I also played professional basketball for two years in Europe (Holland and Portugal) before I became a firefighter. I held a leadership position on several of those teams, and now find myself in a teaching role as a firefighter. I say this because I want to emphasize how rewarding it is to be a part of a team. Whether it’s in sports, a GORUCK event, at work with my crew, or with my family, people are what matter. If it weren’t for the support of my friends and family, I never would have completed Selection….Outside of that I love anything adventurous and outdoors – biking, swimming, skiing, backpacking, etc.
SGPT: How did you train for the GORUCK event?
PB: Where to start? Once I made the decision I dedicated myself 100% to Selection for two months. Physically, mentally, emotionally, etc. I was in pretty good shape going in, but I knew my weaknesses and areas I wanted to improve. Specifically I knew I needed to get stronger and increase my work capacity. I followed Mountain Athlete’s Ruck Based Selection Program (I don’t think they have that anymore.) I modified it and also added to it. I added more push ups, more running, and also increased the weight and distance of my rucks. I supplemented it with yoga. I had a lot of confidence in my ability to run, and got to the point where I could handle pretty heavy loads and ruck all day.
The mental training was crucial. I give credit to SEALFIT and SGPT. I devoured every bit of information I could about what I was about to do. I watched Kokoro videos, read about and practiced visualization, meditation, and breathing. I looked up everything – foot care, inspirational videos, mantras, blogs. I was focused.
I also wrote an AAR that’s up on the GORUCK website.
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SGPT: Tell us a little about the event? Where was it and what did you do?
PB: GORUCK Selection is billed as a 48+ hour endurance event meant to mimic Special Forces Assessment and Selection. Essentially Hell Week crammed into 2 days. They advertised a pass rate of 10%. After Selection Class 001 had only 3 people pass, I started to seriously consider it. I wondered what in the hell they were doing that so many people dropped out. I was curious. I think I mulled it over for another day or two, and then committed. I was going to be a finisher of Class 003.
My event was in San Francisco. Six of us showed up for the start at 6 pm on a Thursday in late February. After the initial pep talk, “Most of you will get seriously injured,” the two cadre took away any food we had packed and weighed our rucks to ensure they met the 45 lb weight limit. One guy had to add a few stones to his ruck for failure to meet weight. We were immediately driven across the Golden Gate Bridge to the Marin Headlands. The entire event took place in and around Muir Woods, Mt Tamalpais, and Stinson Beach.
Being from the Bay Area so I was fortunate to do some of my training rucks in the area. I was both exited and nervous when we arrived up in the Headlands. Excited because I knew the area – it was gorgeous and felt like my home turf. Nervous because the hills are brutal and the water is cold. We did exactly what I expected and then some. You prepare as best you can, and still the nature of Selection is that it will always push you to the breaking point. I rucked for miles, I ran for miles, I did the Army PST (twice), did endless hours of surf PT. “Pays to be a winner.” A favorite cadre game. The first night three people dropped. By the 24 hour mark I was the only one left. I was stunned to be alone, but it only hardened my resolve to finish. I carried heavy logs and stones. Did rifle PT. Eventually I got to eat an MRE. Did more surf PT. More rucking and running. All the while the cadre took turns trying to get me to quit, trying to get in my head, to break my will. They had a bullhorn they used to try and wear me down. “Hurry up. Move faster.” By the middle of the second night I could feel myself starting to lose focus, I was just so exhausted and cold. But I had complete trust that they wouldn’t let me die, so I just did my best to stay present and stay positive.
SGPT: What was hardest part of the event?
PB: That’s a tough call. The second night was terrible. I was out on the beach, cold, doing PT, in and out of the water. At one point I had to bear crawl what seemed like an impossible distance. My ruck felt like it was all over the place, hitting me in the head, weighing a ton. If my knees hit the deck I had to start over. Or go get in the water and start over. I remember thinking, this is impossible, no way. I hung in there, and eventually, it ended.
But the hardest part was probably the long walk at the end. Truthfully I had been looking forward to the long walk all day, knowing it would be last long evolution before a final smoke session and, eventually, that patch.
But I think that’s part of the mental game – they want you to look forward to it, knowing just how hard it is to hold on and grind out those miles. I’m not sure how long that last hike was (25-30 miles?), but it was brutal. The weight got heavier, the sun never seemed to move fast enough, and all I wanted to do was stop. Eventually I just started counting my steps to 10, and repeated that over and over again. I must have done this for the last 5 flat miles on Highway 1, with the cadre behind me the whole time, telling me to move faster. My mental training really paid off here – I stayed present (one step at a time, focus on my breathing) and positive (it’s beautiful outside, I’m lucky to be here!). At that point we reached the base of Mt Tam. The sun was setting and I was told to head up the trail, at which point the cadre ramped up the intensity even more. And by then I was in the zone, I owned that mountain. I was thankful to be off the road even if I had to climb. I just moved up the trail, pushing pushing pushing. I was at maximum effort, the cadre were relentless, but I didn’t care. When I finally popped out at a staging area it felt like coming up for air after being underwater. Except that I wasn’t done. I can’t describe the endex, it’s just wicked and something you truly appreciate once you’re done. They make you earn your patch, right up until the very end.
SGPT: What is one thing you wish you would have done to get ready for GORUCK Selection?
PB: There is honestly not any one significant thing I would change. I really wanted to finish Selection and that desire led me to prepare extensively. Some small stuff – like perhaps using fewer, larger dry bags to hold my gear (I used a lot of smaller ones) might have been more efficient. I also recall wishing I had packed one more Rash Guard to change into. My one rash guard turned out to be my favorite base layer. You could argue I should have worn sturdier boots (more on that later), but I had no way of knowing my body would start to wear down when it did due to my footwear. I also had a plan in case it did (extra shoes). But overall I was pretty happy with how I packed, my training, my diet, and my mental prep.
SGPT: Any tips for up and coming athletes that want to do the GORUCK Challenge or Selection?
PB: The Challenge (and Light, especially), are great introductions to GORUCK events. A key to remember is that all of the GORUCK events, with the exception of Selection, are team events. This is an important distinction, and my advice for anyone considering these is to remember it’s all about the team. When you are tired, irritated, and in pain, think about your buddies and what you can do to help them. The cadre are focused on this as well, and the sooner the group comes together, the better the experience.
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As far as training, you need to put in some miles with a weighted ruck on your back, and be comfortable doing grinder pt. Also expect to be put in the water, no matter how cold or dirty it is, you will most likely go in!
Selection is a different animal, you really have to have the desire to complete it, to know that there is no way you are going to fail. It’s not an option. You also have to rely on yourself. This can be very difficult for some people, especially if you are used to deriving energy from a team environment. The mental aspect is just as important as the physical, and both are crucial to success. In all of these events having a positive mindset, being able to reframe whatever comes at you, and staying present are huge factors. I prepared as much as I could, left nothing to chance, and yet had the mindset that nothing would surprise me (even if it did). I would not be rattled. I would also suggest to anyone considering Selection to sign up for GORUCK HCL and/or SEALFIT Kokoro.
HCL (Heavy/Challenge/Light) is a trio of GORUCK events, back-to-back-to-back, and probably the closest thing to Selection you will find. It’s fairly new and didn’t exist last year, but the early feedback is that this event brings the pain. J And I don’t think I have to explain Kokoro.
SGPT: What kind of boots did you wear? Double socks? Bodyglide?
PB: Haha, the infamous footwear question. I wore Oakley LSA water boots. They are minimal-type boots, and they were awesome for ¾ of the event. However, about 36 hours in I was getting some major achilles pain in my left lower calve. I began to limp as the pain intensified. I had packed a spare set of Nike running shoes and switched to those when I got the chance. It mad a huge difference.
Having a back up set of footwear is not an option. No double socks for me, just a lot of Vaseline, Gold Bond, Kinesio Tape (I used it as blister prevention), and Thorlo military socks. I wore compression tights under some lightweight northface pants, and didn’t have any real chafing issues. I tested all of this stuff out in my training, and it paid off. No blisters, no critical injuries. Success in Selection is also about being able to prevent or delay injuries/pain for as long as possible. Blisters, shin splints, foot and leg injuries do a lot of people in.
SGPT: What about your pack – what did you wear and how did you like it?
PB: I used a GORUCK GR2. The packing list at the time called for a 40L ruck. The rules have changed a bit and now the size of the bag does not matter, as long as it weighs 45 lbs dry and holds all your stuff. In retrospect I might have opted to use a smaller pack with a hip belt. 50 lbs on your back really starts to strain your shoulders without a belt (and slides around during bear crawls). But it’s what I went with and once I had chosen it, I never gave it a second thought. It may not have been the smartest choice, but it’s bombproof and I love it. Whatever ruck you use, know it inside and out. Get it wet, beat it up, make sure it’s up to the task.
SGPT: Many thanks for the interview
PB: Thank you!
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About the Author:
Brad McLeod knows first hand about mental toughness after being kicked out of a top tier Spec Ops training unit. He failed out of BUD/S the first time after failing a math test (made it through Hell Week and Dive Pool Comp). He came back a year later and graduated and served as an operator on the Navy SEAL Teams.
Today, he helps Veterans and athletes achieve their goals. What is your goal? Lets work together to accomplish it.