The Green Beret Challenge is a unique OCR experience because it offers three main types: The Operator, The Commando, and the XII. While most race series offer multiple race distances, which may also include additional obstacles and miles on the trails, each GBC experience is completely different. The operator is a standard OCR, which includes trail running, heavy carries, and other type of obstacles. The Commando is a four-manned team race, where your team will be assigned certain challenges to accomplish together. Lastly, the XII is a twelve hour, multi-phase endurance challenge which combines both the Operator and Commando challenges, plus whatever craziness Mark Ballas feels like adding.
I will tell you, this article is related to a twelve hour endurance event, so, I have a lot to say. If you aren’t particularly excited about reading a lot of information, go ahead and skip to the “overview” portion at the bottom.
One thing that I greatly appreciated was the communication. It started with a gear list, which was sent out about a week ahead of time, which allowed us all ample time to supply ourselves for the feat ahead. In addition he sent us the address, which was the same location as the Atlanta Operator, so most of us felt as least a little comfortable with location. We also were assigned a team leader, Lara Baker, who was in charge of making sure that everyone was good to go. Additionally, we were given lines from the Ranger Code, and split into groups where we had to memorize portions of the code. We were not told what we were going to be doing ahead of time, we just knew that it was going to last from 7 pm until 7 am the following morning.
The only GBC that I had completed before this time was the Atlanta Operators back in May. The arrival for the operators was a little intimidating; the event took place on someone’s land, but the area itself didn’t have it’s own address, and we had to use the large GBC signs for navigation. Since there were only 13 people registered for this event, the signs and posters were not there. I actually ended up calling Mark Ballas to ask him if I could come in since I was three hours early). He made an effort to stop what he was doing to personally greet me and talk to me about the event. This event felt much different from the Operators. There was no DJ. No port-o-Johns. No swarms of people. Just silence. You could listen to the bugs chirping and relax by the water, but, it was silent and almost eerie. I suppose it was meant to be a foreshadow of what was coming.
Before we got started, our team leader, Lara Baker (if you race in the South East you probably know her, she is a tough cookie who always wears her hair in blonde pigtail braids), gave us our roster numbers and lined us up with our Rucks. We were lined up by a post that had on it a “missile,” an Army uniform, and an American Flag. We knew right away that these three things were going to be carried with us throughout the night.
A few minutes later, Mark comes out. He gives us our introductory speech, talks about his extensive experience with Green Berets, and informs us that there is going to be some swimming throughout the event. So, to get started, we have to get started with a water confidence test. Weaker swimmers were instructed to grab life vests.
We head over to the dock, one by one we climb the stairs to the second level. He tells us that we are going to stand at the edge, and he’s going to push us in one by one. Granted, the fall wasn’t huge: probably less than ten feet. He only pushed each person a little bit, so it would be more of a jump. Every person was able to land feet first, and again, the weaker swimmers were allowed to wear life vests. But, the scary thing was standing so close to Mark, paying attention to what he was saying, and knowing that the fall was coming. Luckily the water was warm, and Mark provided a rope to guide us back to the shore.
When we get out of the water, we all line up by our rucks again. Mark explains to us that phase one is going to be similar to the Operators course, only it is not a race. Rather, we have a period of time where we are going to complete this two-mile course, and we will try to complete multiple laps. He has us split into three different groups so that we can be more spread out, as some of the obstacles were built for only one at a time.
Before we were off, he informs us that many volunteers backed out last minute, which was not ideal for some night obstacles, specifically, the cargo net. He was more concerned about safety than difficulty, and let us know that if we were not comfortable completing the obstacle, he would rather skip it than risk falling.
We get going, at a reasonable pace because again, we were informed that it was not a race and we were going to be running for a certain period of time. It wasn’t until I hit the first obstacle where I realized that Mark definitely did not tell us how long that period of time would be. Sigh.
The first obstacle was one that we had seen before: the sled pull. The only difference this time is that the sled either felt heavier, or I have gotten a lot weaker. The grass was longer. But overall, not difficult, I was just slow.
(Photo from GreenBeret Challenge: Atlanta Operators)
The next portion included a short run to a creek where we had to crawl underneath some wire. In between the two, there was some wire out that could have (and did) trip some people in transit. By the second round, all of the wire had been covered. The next piece was a trail run up a pretty rocky hill, and then, the worst f***king yoke carry I’ve ever seen. That yoke was absolutely terrible. The beam of the yoke was a bar rather than the standard wood beam. The bags were really far apart and low to the ground. You may laugh at this, but I’d be lying if I told you that my bags didn’t drag on the ground. Not only that, but it was around a dirt biking course. Which can only mean one thing: lots of little hills. Man, it was tough. I turn around and I see Lara Baker again, and she is just FLYING by on the obstacle, and she confesses that she was able to move her bags in a little bit closer, which helps a TON.
Almost immediately after was the cargo net. During the day, the volunteer moved in between the yoke and the cargo net. At night, he stationed himself and a few lights on the obstacle. I don’t think anyone opted out of completing it. It was very sturdy.
The next obstacle was a rig that was extremely well lit and attached to some trees on the side of the course. It was a little difficult to see initially, but it was very fun. I actually ran right by it the first time.
Following the obstacle was a short trail run, and then back into the water where we were initially pushed. The followed the rope back to the dock. Once we got to the dock, we were greeted by Mark Ballas.
And then, we had to turn around and do it all again.
After about three laps, it was time to be done. Some of us were sitting down, when Mark informed us that we weren’t done. It was time to go back to the dock.
Remember how earlier I said that we had to remember lines from the Ranger Code? Now was time to show our stuff. We got back onto the dock, and stood on the edge like we had when Mark pushed us in. He asked us which portion we had to memorize, and if you got it wrong, well, you can guess what happened.
Once that was done, it was time for phase 2.
It was time to move on to the next portion. Now that we had completed the Operators portion, it was time to move on to the Commando.
We started with the rucks, and we gathered the flag, the uniform, and the Maverick Missile. First task: follow Mark. Easy enough, right? Wrong. That man can move. Some of us had to jog in order to keep up with him. Our friends with the maverick missile fell back quickly. Then it was on to our next task, where we met back up at the same bags.
One of our group members was assigned a team lead. Our next team lead was given instruction to lead a task. After Mark was done talking with him, he turned around, so that the new group lead could take command. We were instructed to take the sandbags from the sled carry earlier, put three in a bag, and put the bag on a different sled that we had to tie up. Here was where we had to use the first tool in our rucks: rope. Most of us used rope to keep the sled tied together. Then, it was time to carry the sled underneath the wire that we had to crawl under in the creek, and up the hills. This took maybe two hours, and was very challenging.
The next event was a lot of fun. Mark picked a new team lead (surprise: it was me), to lead the next event: the Bunker Build-Off. This may have been my favorite part of the entire event. I had to split up the entire group into two different teams. The task was simple: use the resources around you to build a better bunker than the opposing team. Mark Ballas and I then judged each of the bunkers. It was awesome.
Following immediately after this was another task that you may have been somewhat familiar with if you follow @greenberetchallenge on instagram. Mark had chosen another person to be the team lead, and we met by the edge of the pond where we were greeted with barrels of “goo” and logs. The mission? Create a raft that can transport your barrel. Then get in the water with the raft and move it on down to the other end
Now, I will say, Mark puts a lot of emphasis on safety. I feel like several endurance challenges are just like “whoa, look at how tough I am, I’m going to see how many people quit muahahaha” while Mark actually puts thought into what he does and makes it fun and safe at the same time. Yes, we were swimming in the dark. Yes, we were swimming with this big old raft. But every single person had to rock a life-vest with a fat glow stick attached to make sure all of our heads were above water. Mark was also in the water, making sure to swim around in order to maintain a visual on all athletes. I wasn’t worried for my safety for one second.
Granted, our raft fell apart, and we were stuck in that damn pond for what felt like forever. But. I’m here to tell the tale.
Once we were done we had time to reflect, and then it was time for the next challenge.
If you did the Alabama Commando, you’re probably familiar with this one. Create an apparatus to move said barrel using your rope and the bars from the yoke carry. Easy enough right? Except you’re wearing your rucks the entire time.
This was painful. So so painful. Probably my least favorite part of the entire night. The worst piece of it, was that I am so small, that it was extremely difficult for my team to transport it. I felt weak, and a little embarrassed. But everyone else killed it. I was so proud of how willing people were to work with people who they have not met before. It honestly felt like our group became a family. We walked them over to base camp, and at this point, we knew the sun was going to rise soon.
This phase was supposed to be super short and fun, but this honestly felt like it was the longest event that we did. With one hour remaining and sunrise on its way, knowing the end is near, makes it feel so much further.
Mark called my friend Jennie and I to let us know we were selected to be team captains for a relay race. The task: farmers carry down a portion of a dirt bike course and back. Each person goes. This was then followed by bringing down one of the longer sleds with two sandbags in it. Easy enough right? Well, for added difficulty, he turned the sprinklers on.
Now I know what you’re thinking: so what? Didn’t you spend a fair portion of the night swimming? The answer to that is yes, but the way this dirt was made it so slick. Almost everyone fell, and people were coming off looking like they just completed a GoodWill MudRun.
This was a lot more difficult than anticipated. The hardest part of this, in my opinion, was waiting for your turn. Now the sun was really coming up, and we all just realized we’ve been awake for freaking ever. The realization for me was difficult, and I caught myself closing my eyes in between sets. Both teams finished, with only a few minutes to spare. Everyone cheered for each other, whether they were on their team or not, and then Mark lined us up. He came around and individually shook each of our hands, placing a coin in them. And just like that, it was over.
Going into this event, I was terrified. Not because of the event itself, but because I am not a creature of the night. I was worried that the sheer thought of being out so late was going to completely destroy my spirits, and make it difficult to function for several days afterwards. Much to my surprise, I really enjoyed the fact that it was at night. Sure, there were times that I fell on my face when maybe I shouldn’t have, and I freaked out because I assumed that every stick in the creek was a snake about to eat my brains. The thing about it being at night rather than in the day, yes it’s not as hot, but you don’t have to watch the day proceed without you. Because the sky didn’t change once it got dark, you didn’t think about time. It made it easier just to focus on the task at hand. It was enjoyable. Another really great thing about being at night, and in the middle of nowhere, was that if you were in pain, you could just look up at the stars. I live in a city, and so this is something that I don’t get to see very often. It really makes you think about how lucky each of us are to be on this planet.
One of the lessons that OCR and endurance events have taught me is that the things that scare the total shit out of you tend to be the ones that leave the biggest impression. Mark Ballas has grown really great at this. I will probably end every GBC review I do with some kind of blurb of my appreciate for Mark. He has created an event that, well, is scary. Twelve hours is an extremely long time. But, in those twelve hours, he does a good job of making everyone there feel like someone. So much of his heart and passion are being shown right in front of your very own eyes, and you get to experience his world first-hand. He puts so much thought and effort into every single event that he hosts, that you can’t help but feel a little giddy when you know one is coming up. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to participate in this event. Through his leadership and passion, twelve hours isn’t much time at all, even if it’s at night and carrying big rucks. He smiles (sometimes maniacally) and makes an effort to get to know people’s names. You definitely won’t see this from every OCR CEO.
I recommend this event for people who are looking to challenge themselves, but want to do endurance events that have a purpose. Through this event I had an opportunity to learn more about the Green Beret and Army Rangers. Mark Ballas explains how what you are doing is relevant to those special forces. Some of the other endurance events I have done have come off as very “do this because I told you to,” but that isn’t the case for this event at all. Every movement has a purpose. People don’t get cut for the sake of getting cut. Again, everyone who is there is seen as someone, and that’s extremely important. Just make sure that you are fueling properly and stay confident.
I know I wasn’t the strongest person out there, but I definitely plan on completing more events with the Green Beret Challenge. I hope to see you there too.
RANGERS LEAD THE WAY!