SGPT: Tell us about yourself?
Chad Smith: I am a 34 year old married father of two daughters. My “why” for participating in Kokoro is to build character through self-imposed suffering with the goal of being a better husband, father, son, brother and employee. I’m trying to build a lifestyle for my family and I that fosters personal ownership and a strong work ethic.
SGPT: Did you have an athletic background growing up?
Smith: I played lots of different sports growing up but nothing really stuck. I was more of a band nerd in High School. While sports were not the focus of my childhood I did grow up in a house that placed a high value on being fit and taking care of your body. I learned that even if I was not involved in organized sports that was no excuse to not be fit and take care of yourself.
SGPT: How did you train for the Kokoro event?
Smith: I’ve been indirectly working toward Kokoro for the past three and a half years. In 2013 began doing GORUCK events. I approached each event like a fighter approaches an upcoming fight. I’d begin working with my trainer every other week 3-4 months before each event, training specifically for the challenge – whether is was a 6, 12 or 24 hour event the training plan was tailored to the needs of each event. GORUCK does lots of different specialty event so the demands are never the same. Each ramp-up period I would get stronger and have more endurance than the previous.
My coach and I would come up with ways to expand my physical and mental toughness. I would also critique and improve my diet. Initially I made small dietary changes. As the demands on my body grew I needed to change my diet in turn. I tried full on nutritional ketosis in the summer of 2015 to prepare for a GORUCK “pre-selection” event. I reached a point in 2015 where I felt I was within reach of something like Kokoro. I was either going to do GORUCK Selection or Sealfit Kokoro.
I chose Kokoro because the focus is on coaching and integrating your mind, body and soul into a focused tool. GR Selection to me looks like someone is slipping a pillow case over your head and beating the crap out of you until you quit. I have nothing but love and respect for GORUCK and the community but to me, Selection looks like an event I would struggle to pull meaning out of so I have no reason to attempt it.
Kokoro specific training began November 2015 (7 months out from Kokoro 43). I began ramping up for a memorial GORUCK Heavy event that I was going to use as a Kokoro training event. That training consisted of 6 workouts/week – a weekly long ruck, strength endurance workouts, plyometric workouts and work capacity sessions with 20-30lb weight vest and kettlebells. I was about a couple of weeks out from the Heavy when I hurt my back. I was on the shelf briefly and we made the decision to pull out of the Heavy.
My overall goal was Kokoro and I didn’t want to risk aggravating my back during the Heavy that would set back Kokoro training. I had done a Heavy previously so I knew what it took to get through and the toll that carrying really heavy stuff for long periods of time took on your body. Looking back, pulling out of the Heavy was the right decision for me. I do regret not coming through on my commitment to participate in the Heavy but I had to look at the long game and the ultimate goal – Kokoro.
As soon as my back felt right again I started full on Kokoro training. This was similar to the previous regimen but we added in running days and beefed up the strength endurance/durability. Running workouts consisted of a tabata like format – either on a hill or a treadmill at 15 incline 20 seconds full on sprint (7.5 on treadmill) 10 seconds off. 5:00 is one set. I would work up to three sets then mix it up with mile runs between sets. This simulated hill sprint work also pays off while rucking up a mountain. You use the same energy systems and I found that as I ramped up my hill sprints, I could recover faster during rucks. If you are reading this and thinking “treadmill training – how hard could that be?” I challenge you to do the workout I described above – 15 incline 7.5 speed 20 seconds on 10 seconds off with feet on the sides of the tread. 5:00 sets x 3 with :30 rest between sets. Heck, start with 3:00 sets. I don’t have hills readily available so this is the next best thing.
In April 2016 I came down with a knee injury – softening/degradation of the cartilage behind my right kneecap. I became desperate. My training camp was put on pause while I rehabbed the knee and took as much glucosamine and fish oil as my body could handle. My team (wife and trainer) stepped in big time to help keep me focused and not mentally stress the injury. We broke my recovery and ramp-up into MICRO GOALS and ticked the milestones off one at a time. Finally in mid/late May I found myself doing a 5 mile run in boots and UTES at an 8:15 min/mile pace and thought to myself “Easy Day – you got this”.
Once I was fully back from the injury I did two-a-days for three days a week and two long depletion type workouts. On the days I did two workouts one would be 30: focused on specific skills – plank, pushups, pullups, situps, mile run etc. Things that I thought I would be doing a ton of in Kokoro I would beat the heck out of during the first workout. The second workout would be more strength endurance. For instance I’d do a 17:00 tabata type sprint workout followed by 150 burpee pullups and 150 reps of 4-5 different exercises. My coach had me mixing these elements up so it was never the same workout. My coach had me going to a local beach volleyball court and practicing sprints, sandbag carries, lunges, low crawls with a sandbag and anything else we could think of that one would be doing in Kokoro. I did the “frog hill” workout 2-3 times with a 30# ruck and 40lb sandbag for three hours minimum. Each time I did this workout it was pouring rain and cold and I was thankful for God smiling on me those days. When I visited friends in VA over Memorial Day weekend they were kind enough to drop me off on the side of a country road to let me ruck up to the Appalachian Trail for a few hours. That taught me what hills really are and prepared me psychologically for the Palomar ruck. If I had not done that training ruck, it would have been a hard learning curve going up Palomar but instead I knew what I was going to have to sacrifice physically to get through and was mentally and emotionally prepared to pay the price.
To wrap up “training” – I tried to think of the most likely scenarios and replicate that in my training. That way during the event no matter how tired I was I could say to myself “you’ve been here before…this is no big deal”. While I was not 100% prepared for everything, I was 75% prepared for most things and I was good with that going in.
SGPT: Tell us a little about the event? Where was it?
Smith: Kokoro was held at Vail Lake resort in Temecula California. The place is like a post-apocalyptic country club. At one time it may have been nice and it is now overrun by nature and the elements. It is a perfect setting for an event like Kokoro.
SGPT: What was hardest part of the event?
Smith: For me the hardest parts where when I felt I had let my team down. I hit the wall a few times but I’d been there before and I knew I just had to wait it out and I’d bounce back.
SGPT: What is one thing you wish you would have done to get ready for Kokoro?
Smith: I wish I had more time for longer movement endurance training. My knee injury cut down my running ramp up time and limited the distance I could run before the event so I was as prepared as I could have been given the circumstances. If I had a magic wand I would have done multiple runs of 12-15 miles and rucks of 15-20 miles. My longest training run was 10 miles and longest ruck was 12 miles.
Grip strength – my grip strength was a liability for my team. During litter carries my forearms began to give out before my teammates’ and I should have done things like towel pull ups, farmer carries and stress ball squeezing to build up my grip strength.
SGPT: Any tips for up and coming athletes that want to do Kokoro?
Smith: Get a coach – IMHO, a coach doesn’t need a bunch of certifications but they do need to have “been there, done that” in some capacity and know what it means to have the heart of a warrior. They will tell you when things need to ramp up and when you need to back off. A good coach will help you build physical and mental toughness. It is up to you to do the work and cultivate your spirit. An inexperienced athlete cannot approach something like Kokoro on their own and expect to make it through a training ramp up of at least a ½ year plus the event without injury or serious training deficiency. If you are serious about completing Kokoro on your first shot, I highly recommend a coach. My team consisted of my Wife, Janessa Smith and trainer, Liz Loik. Both women have hearts of lionesses. Liz is a GRT and former Gold Glove boxing champion and Janessa is an all-around bad *ss Mama.
Know your body – Test yourself in training and in other events before you show up to Kokoro. Temecula is sunny and hot in the daytime and breezy and cool at night. Know how your body will deal with those conditions while putting out next to max effort for long periods of time. I’m 5 foot 9 and 170lbs but sweat like I weigh 250. I know this is a liability in the heat and needed to stay way ahead on my hydration and electrolyte replacement plan. I cramped big time during Murph but knew how to pull myself back because I’d been there during my training and in previous events. On the flip side running hot has its benefits. While others were shivering in the surf and in Vail Lake I was “playing in the bath” and able to make a game of it. Work out hard for long periods of time in crappy conditions. If you’ve never tested yourself like this before, grab a swim buddy and do it together. If you are alone, go to a public place with people around. This will help push you with accountability and also provide a safety net if things go wrong.
SGPT: What kind of boots did you use for the event?
Smith: I used Blauer Blitz Boots – I had inserts that needed to fit and these were the only boots I could find that had drain holes and fit my insert.
They are funky but did the job. They were 100% broken in weeks before Kokoro.
SGPT: Did you use double socks/compression socks or body glide on your feet to prevent blisters?
Smith: I used double layer of merino wool socks and Trail Toes: Anti-Friction Foot Cream for lube. I removed my boots/socks and dried my feet whenever possible. I had no blistering issues. Blisters sent one of our participants home. I don’t know what he did or didn’t do for blister prevention and my heart broke for him when he was forced to drop out before the Palomar ruck. You have to know your body as best you can going in. Kokoro is not the time to test new feet/blister prevention strategies. If the coaches think that your performance is materially suffering from blisters they will drop you from the course out of concern for everyone’s safety.
SGPT: What kind of ruck did you use for training and the event?
Smith: The same crappy ruck issued to us during the event. That ruck is an evolution unto itself. The suck factor of the ruck was reduced when we doubled up on Tshirts for the Palomar ruck. Our entire team did this and we are all glad to have done it.
SGPT: What book are you reading now?
Smith: I just finished Damn Few by Rorke Denver and am looking for my next read. Damn Few was a good read to keep me focused on Kokoro and minimize distractions gong in. I started reading it on the flight out to San Diego and finished it the night before the event began. I’ll be consulting sealgrinderpt.com for my next book recommendation.
SGPT: Many thanks for the interview, Chad.
Smith: Thank you for the soap box Coach Brad! I want to echo what Hunter Mcintyre said during a video made for Kokoro 42 – anyone can do this. Once you truly commit to Kokoro, a GORUCK challenge, Ironman or whatever, then you become able and willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve your goal. The hardest part is making a true commitment in your heart. After that, the training takes on a life of its own. HOOYA!