SGPT: Tell us about yourself?
Ryan Burns: I’m just a normal guy with the worst hobby ever. I have one kidney, 3 kids, and an amazing wife. I work at a church in Richmond, workout at a crossfit gym in Richmond, and get worked-over by bunch of little kids that I coach in soccer. I run the website Ruck.Beer where I write about rucking and other nonsense.
SGPT: Did you have an athletic background growing up?
RB: I played soccer growing up, but stopped in college. After that I lived a pretty sedentary life. It really wasn’t until my mid-30’s that I started working out. I joined a Crossfit gym and found myself running Spartan Races. That eventually led me to GORUCK.
SGPT: How did you train for the GoRuck event?
RB: My most recent GORUCK event was the 9/11 GORUCK Heavy in Washington DC. For those who might not know, the GORUCK Heavy is a 24 hour team event that covers about 40+ miles, carrying anywhere from 40-100+ pounds, and is lead by one or more Special Forces Cadre.
In reality, I was actually trying to complete 3 events that weekend. The Heavy, Tough, and Light (HTL). It would have been 48 hours and over 60 miles. However, I ended up dropping from the HTL. It sucked to quit, but I learned a lot and will take that experience into my next event.
All that said, my HTL training plan focused on several components: Strength, Work Capacity, Rucking, and Mental Toughness. I outlined my approach in more detail on my site, but the gist is below.
For my strength training I primarily relied on the strength programming at my CrossFit gym. I focused on deadlift, back squat, bench, and overhead press. My goal was to keep a well rounded approach, increasing strength across all the lifts.
For work capacity, I’m lucky that my gym has relationship with the local Navy recruiters. They send us some of their NSW candidates and we have a special class 2x a week with those guys. The workout is much longer than a traditional Crossfit wod and requires me to really push through a grind that feels like it will never end.
When it comes to rucking, the goal was miles; lots of miles. In my 12 weeks leading up to my event I managed to put in just over 200 miles. Some days I did “light” rucks at 40#. Other days I would take an additional 60# sandbag or my 35# water canister. On most ruck days I’d be sure to throw in a hundred push ups and flutter-kicks for good measure.
Finally, I prepared my mind by reading a couple books. In particular I read Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer and Alone On The Ice. Both were great accounts of people in adverse situations that didn’t quit.
If you want to see what every day looked like, I chronicled my training in detail. In concert with the above, I also used the Team Spearhead Pathfinder Training Program. It is a great resource and I highly recommend it.
SGPT: Tell us a little about the event? Where was it?
RB: The 9/11 GORUCK Heavy was a memorial event. There were similar events going on in several cities, but I participated in the DC one. Obviously the events of 9/11 had a direct impact on DC and the Pentagon. Built in to every aspect of the event was remembering and honoring those lost during the events of September 11th.
The Heavy, like most Heavies, started with the standard PT test. This includes a 12 miles timed ruck (3.5 hour max), 2 min max push ups, 2 minute max sit ups. Our Cadre threw in 2 minutes of max burpees for good measure. Of course, before we started any of this, the Cadre warmed us up with about 50 push ups with our rucks on (mine weighed in at 42# at the start point).
We pushed off for the PT test around 6pm. It was 95 degrees.
For me, as I discuss in my 9/11 GORUCK Heavy AAR the PT test caught me off guard. It should have been an easy day for me, but whether it was the extreme heat or improper fuel/hydration, I was really struggling and it caught me off guard.
I eventually recovered and the team headed on our long ruck to DC. Oh yeah, did I mention that we started in Maryland?
Of course, we managed to pick up some extra coupons (weight) in route. We added a number of sandbags, water cans, and miscellaneous heavy things.
Long story short, we walked a lot of miles, did a lot of PT, walked more miles, and did more PT. Then, there was the last hour of pain, pressure, and stress.
While the physical challenge was great, perhaps the best part of the GORUCK 9/11 Heavy was the stories. As part of the night, every team member carried the picture of a 9/11 victim on his or her ruck. Throughout the night and day we would stop and 2 or 3 people would get up and share their stories. I carried LCDR David Williams. It was tremendously emotional to hear the stories of love, courage, and loss.
Our event ended at the Pentagon Memorial. To say it was emotional would be an understatement.
SGPT: What was hardest part of the event?
RB: This is, of course, a highly subjective answer. In any event like this everyone has their own dark places. For me, it was the PT. For whatever reason, any time we had PT the voice in my head relentlessly told me I couldn’t do it. Ironically, post event, I looked back and realized that in most cases I actually did do all the PT required. I fell off rep count some, but at the end of the day I was in the mix on all the PT.
So, for me, the hardest part was pushing on, despite the voice in my head saying that I wasn’t going to be able to do another PT session.
SGPT: What is one thing you wish you would have done to get ready for GoRuck?
RB: I feel like a lot of my training was spot-on. I was super strong on the rucking, even under the heavier weights. One area that I’ll add more emphasis on in the future is more body weight exercises (push ups, man makers, flutter kicks, etc). This is more for the purpose of having stronger muscle memory during PT sessions.
Also, after further reflection, much of my difficulty during PT had to deal with the pressure of an outside rep count. My workouts at the gym are long and grinding, but it is up to me to do the reps and get them done. During a PT session at 4 in the morning, the event Cadre is calling out the up/down for each rep. I’m at his mercy, not allowed to rest or catch a breath at my own pace.
I’m not sure how to replicate that in training… but, I think that is something I want to try and figure out.
SGPT: Any tips for up and coming athletes that want to do a GORUCK challenge?
RB: Get comfortable being under weight. If you’ve never rucked, get started. Throw 20-30 pounds in your pack and start getting miles under your feet. Once you’re comfortable, start adding more weight (like a sandbag). The more comfortable you are carrying weight over distance, the more help you’ll be to your team.
Also, use your training to dial in your feet. If you’re doing a GORUCK Tough or Light, you’ll be in the 8-15 miles range. At some point, your feet are going to get wet. So, figure out how your feet react to long periods of time in wet shoes and figure out how to avoid blisters. Everyone is different in this area, so you just need to test things out for yourself.
If you’re thinking about doing a Heavy an HTL, you are going to need to have a serious training plan. You need to put in a lot of miles at heavier weights while still focusing on overall strength and durability.
SGPT: What kind of boots did you use for the event?
RB: I’ve never been a boot guy. So, I don’t wear boots.
For the shorter events (Tough and Light) I usually ruck in running shoes. They work well and feel good.
After much shopping, I settled on the La Sportiva Wildcat Trail Running Shoe.
They are a great shoe and I’ve put in over 250 miles in this pair and they are still trucking. They are light, drain SUPER quick, and are built to take a beating.
SGPT: Did you use double socks or body glide on your feet to prevent blisters?
RB: I’ve never had blisters during any events. This event, however, was going to be much longer. More miles, more time. So, I decided to take some additional steps in order to be safe. Like I said earlier, you need to dial in your feet way before your event and train like it is event day.
After some testing, I settled on the shoes I just mentioned and a dual sock option. I wear Injinji 2.0 Toesocks and SmartWool PhD Ultra Lights.
The logic of the 2 sock system (with toe socks) is that it decreases the friction rubs against the skin and transfers it to sock-on-sock. During the event, it worked great. I had a couple hot spots towards the end, but only 1 blister appeared at the very end.
SGPT: What kind of ruck did you use for training and the event?
RB: I ruck with a red GORUCK GR1. I’m 6’2″, so I have the 26l version. It is pricey, but it is a beast and comfortable over long periods of time. And, GORUCK warranty is amazing. I sent them one of my (very well used) bags that had some issues and they shipped me a brand new one.
SGPT: What is your next big event?
RB: I’m running my first marathon at the end of October. I hate running.
Outside the marathon, I am already fixing my eyes on redemption after my failed attempt at the GORUCK HTL. I am looking to go for my next HTL attempt in May of 2017 at the DC Memorial Day Heavy, Tough, Light.
SGPT: What book are you reading now?
RB: Rejoicing in Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ.
I’ve got a buddy that was recently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
Shed a lot of tears with him already and just trying to get my head right to be a good friend.
SGPT: Many thanks for the interview, Ryan
RB: Thank you for the opportunity to share my story and shamelessly plug Ruck.Beer.
GORUCK interview with JJ Wellemeyer