Ruck Cancer – AAR (After-Action Report)

Ruck Cancer Pond Crossing 2

Ruck Cancer Patch

Over the last couple of years, I have gotten more involved with endurance events. I’ve done some GoRuck events, the SISU Forge and Iron, a Spartan  HH12hr event, and multiple other fun rucks and Spartan hurricane heats. But this was going to be very different. As part of a group pledge to raise $10,000 for cancer research, it was time for me to take a step to the “dark side” and actually plan and lead my own event.

With considerable help from my partner in crime, the winner of this year’s SISU Ironman award and master motivator Kenneth Herzog, I was able to recruit over 20 people to this event, which was to start at the awkward time of 4 am at a local park in San Diego. After going through a number of possible locations, we picked this one because it was convenient, had some fantastic natural features and we knew the area very well. In designing the event, we borrowed heavily from others, but also wanted to add in our own twists and make it different and memorable for all involved. The litmus test was whether or not it was something we’d want to do if we were participating.

Once everyone had signed in and turned in their waivers, we quickly separated the group into two teams and had a challenge to pick the initial team leaders – a water balloon toss in very poor lighting. The two teams then competed against each other in a simple relay: bear crawls out and crab crawls back. It pays to be a winner; the losers got to carry both teams’ rucks to the next challenge. Before we left the park, we reminded them why they were here – each and every one of them had been touched by cancer during their lives so far; they had lost someone to this scourge, or knew people who were fighting it or who considered themselves survivors. Using a sharpie, they wrote the names of people in their lives touched by cancer. When things got tough, and they were sore, tired, or felt like giving up, I wanted them to look at the names on their arms and use that as a source of strength to keep fighting.

We gave them three team weights that had to be carried throughout the ruck and were not permitted to touch the ground or the water – a 50 lb wreckbag, a 40 lb wreckbag, and a ~20 lb battlerope.

Ruck Cancer Flutter Kicks

Part of this event we wanted to be a “choose your own adventure”, and at a few points during the ruck we asked the leaders to decide “rucks on or rucks off” without knowing what was coming. The first of these took place right before the first water element, a shallow creek. Leaders chose rucks on, so into the stream they went, then linked arms, sat down, and did a minute of flutter kicks. After this, we soon came upon some hay bales used by a local church group for archery. Here we had another team competition; everyone lined up on one line, and similar to the popular youtube video, we determined their throwing distance based on their “privilege”; in this case, we started light with some questions relating to the Spartan spear throw, then switched to more serious questions involving cancer risk and how much it had impacted their lives (eg. For each friend/family member they had lost to cancer, they took one step back).

The team that scored the most hits chose the path (A or B); A went steeply up the hill to the nearby ridge, while B went further and involved a long switchback. Both teams made the sunrise time hack we’d set, even though the day dawned overcast so we didn’t really get to see the sunrise. It would have been spectacular though.

At the top of the hill, we did a short little ab burner group workout, then had another relay race; this one a sprint partway down the hill and back up. Winners got to choose the punishment for the losers; they chose a paltry 5 pushups, which they decided to all do together. When asked to pick a punishment, make sure you pick something reasonable, or it’s our job to make it “better”. Instead of regular pushups, they got to do them in zigzag fashion, with each person’s legs resting on someone else’s shoulders. 5 pushups felt like a whole lot more when done in this fashion.


On the way down the hill to the next feature, Ken tagged 4 people as casualties who were not allowed to touch the ground until we got there. The next stop was a small local pond, surrounded by reeds and home to a number of ducks. After working some partner squats using a piece of rope to help support their weight and get into a good squat position, it was time. We had planned a trek across the pond, with them holding each other’s ropes for safety. Luckily for them, the team leaders had chosen “rucks off” for this part, or it would have been much tougher. As the line began wading into the pond, the thought crossed my mind that we probably should have checked the depth first, but it was too late now. Lead by one of the tallest of the group, they carefully picked their way around the perimeter, and it never quite got over people’s heads, although a few people were bouncing on their tiptoes or getting help from their team-mates on this one. As they went, they also inevitably stirred up the bottom, releasing trapped gases from rotting vegetation, and imparting a lovely scent over the entire group. Many described this as the worst and most disgusting part of the entire event, and there was some grumbling and complaining during a break until one of the participants spoke up about watching her mom die of cancer and having to clean up after her. In comparison, this pond was nothing.

Pond Crossing
About another mile lead to the biggest challenge of the day; something that Ken and I thought would likely not be possible. Embedded in the ground of a nearby empty lot was the grand-daddy of all tires. It had been there for decades, and a previous attempt by 8-10 friends had been completely unsuccessful. Nonetheless, this was their task. They surrounded the massive (over 7’ diameter) tire, with all the big guys and most of the ladies getting hold of it. One, two, three… heave. And nothing. Not even an inch. Ok, try again. One, two, three… no movement whatsoever. One of the moms with young kids even tried the Hulk Smash first, but it didn’t really help.

Ruck Cancer Tire Leverage

Then the group started looking around. They started digging out a little under the tire. A group found a 12’ long, 4” wide steel i-beam that was also abandoned and partially buried nearby, and others got rocks from the stream to use as a fulcrum, then to wedge underneath the tire as the lever was able to raise it a little. Soon they had one side elevated at about 20-30 degrees and switched tactics, with several lifting directly while the rest now pushed up on the lever. And they did it; they got the tire vertical and stabilized it, then were able to roll it a hundred yards or so to a new location.

The impossible task had met the unstoppable team, and using brawn, brains, and bit of luck, the team triumphed. One of our shadows googled the tire stats later and came up with an astonishing weight of 1970 lbs.

Ruck Cancer Tire Success
Rucks back on, time to move out. The next part was a hike across the street and up a long hill for about a mile. Here we paused at a lookout rock, and had what was the most important and the most meaningful part of the event; story-time. We encouraged everyone to tell the stories of the people written on their arms, with Ken and I starting. The timing was important on this; if we’d tried it earlier, I suspect that far fewer would have opened themselves to the kind of vulnerability that we saw on that rock, but these people had already forged strong bonds; through team activities, traversing the stinky pond, and moving the monster tire. So we had the privilege of hearing their stories of inspiration, of valiant fights and of devastating loss. I won’t share them here because they aren’t mine to share, but many tears were shed. Not everyone shared their stories, and that’s ok too; sometimes things are just too raw or personal.

Ruck Cancer Storytime
We continued up the hill to an old foundation at the top. Things had gotten a little dark on the rock, and we didn’t want to leave them there, so it was time to lighten the mood again. What better way than another team competition? This time, it was a yoga challenge. Each person on each team had to demonstrate a recognizable yoga pose and hold it for ~10s, with no talking or coaching from the rest of the team. Once someone was stumped or repeated a pose, they were done.

The rest of the hike went by pretty quickly, and soon we were back at the starting point. One last task before they could receive the custom patches; they added up all the names on their arms to get the magic number of 63. So we ended with 63 synchronized burpees to remember those who would much rather be doing this than battling (or losing the battle to) cancer; this was one part of the event in which both leaders gladly participated.
It was an honor and a privilege to lead this group of fantastic people through this event, which lasted 8h and covered a little over 10 miles. Our goal was to make it fun, challenging, and meaningful, and I think we succeeded at all of these criteria. In doing so, we raised nearly $1100 for cancer research. This was the first event of this type that I’ve lead; based on my experience with it, it definitely won’t be the last.

Ruck Cancer Group

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Chris Cow

Chris is a research scientist for Novartis Pharmaceuticals, but on weekends he is an avid runner, endurance athlete and OCR junkie. He runs mostly with his wife, Anne. He is a 45 year old father of two gorgeous teenage daughters, and wants to help them adopt a healthy outdoor lifestyle.
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