go·ruck [verb go + verb ruck] noun ruck is short for rucksack (aka backpack), it’s also a verb: to ruck is to move with a rucksack, and implies action, energy, and purpose.

It is 8:36 PM on Wednesday April 9, 2014. Seated at my bedroom computer, I type a few words before pausing to gulp down some water. My left hand is slightly clammy from an open window, but I am otherwise perfectly comfortable.

In approximately 48 hours, I will be cold, wet, hungry, and tired. My muscles will ache and burn. And at some point over the course of 10+ hours and 20+ miles, I will wonder why.

“The GORUCK Challenge is a team event, never a race. Think of it as a slice of Special Operations training where – from start to finish — a Special Operations Cadre challenges, teaches, and inspires your small team to do more than you ever thought possible. Leadership is taught and teamwork is demanded on missions spanning the best of your city.”

A rueful smirk forms on my lips. Sounds lofty and uplifting: a tip of the proverbial hat to the copywriter behind it. Leave it to them to describe choking on day-old rainwater and crawling through mud while carrying a backpack full of bricks as doing “more than you ever thought possible”.

I am speaking from personal experience. My first attempt at the Challenge was in May of 2013 as a member of Class 524. To say that I was arrogant would have been an understatement: an exaggeration to describe my training as minimal. I even downed five shots of vodka at a party prior to arriving at the start point. After all, how bad could it be? I had completed a marathon on sheer willpower the previous summer, I thought. Besides, 94% of participants pass the Challenge.

Bayes would have been amused by my error. 94% sounds promising until you take into account that the type of person who would register for something like this (affectionately known as “crazy motherfuckers”) probably represents 1% of Western society.

My lack of preparation was immediately apparent. Grit kept me in the fight longer than I had any right to be, but it wasn’t enough. My legs gave out completely after four hours, forcing teammates to carry me and my ruck up a flight of stairs while I recovered. The realization that I had become (a literal) dead weight to the team was greatly distressing. I was still too stubborn to quit, but I came close.

It didn’t matter. As I pushed myself to set pace on the subsequent mile run, I was taken aside by the cadre after vomiting violently on the track. I was so disoriented that I hadn’t even noticed. I accepted his offer to be medically dropped, knowing it wouldn’t be long before my body made the choice for me. Spending the next five hours in a hospital for hypothermia was the most humbling experience in recent memory.

It was exactly what I had needed. I grew up believing that raw talent sprinkled with a dash of mental fortitude was sufficient for success, a belief that was reinforced by years of scholastic achievement with zero effort. Lying on a bed wearing a backless hospital gown with a saline drip in my arm and a thermometer up my ass, I realized just how wrong I had been. That there is no substitute for hard work over an extended period of time.

I have a desire to help others understand, so I do my best when friends ask why I initially attempted the Challenge or why I signed up again. I tell them that I had once planned to earn a commission in the Marine Corps. I tell them that I want to test myself on a subject that matters and to pass that test. I tell them that the Challenge represents a brief instance of true hardship in a modern world largely devoid of it. However, I think this is one of those things where you either get it or you don’t.

Whether others understand my reasons, I hope that I do when I’m waist deep in water and starting to feel sorry for myself. To earn the Tough patch, sure. But more importantly, to help someone else earn theirs.