About six months ago in our SFAS training tips, we hit the trails with our rucksack and were hitting the hills as they present issues that as a Selection candidate that you will encounter in the various courses that the services will offer.
With the rain, we had in the area as the remnants of a hurricane dumped some needed moisture in the forest, what better time is there than to get out in the rain and mud and carry a rucksack? The one good thing is that the trails would be empty as most people that time of morning decided that hiking in the rain and muck isn’t the most fun way to start the day.
It should be noted, that my erstwhile training companion bailed on me. My bulldog took one look outside at the rain and wind and gave me a look like, “you’ve got to be kidding me?” and flopped, not rolled over, flopped on her side with her back to me. Sigh. I was on my own.
On another side note, besides the training value of rucking for those of our readers who are aspiring Special Operations candidates, going out on an early morning hike/ruck is a great stress reliever for a bit. For those who need to clear their head and decompress, it is a wonderful tonic for the cluttered brain. And there has been plenty of that lately…Nuff said.
In getting the weight right for the rucksack, which should be a 45-pound minimum, I went back to using a sandbag that I placed in the top radio pouch of the rucksack. Back a few months ago, we got several questions about using bricks, which you can and for the purpose of that one exercise I did. But to me, and it is just my personal opinion, bricks are bulky and it takes quite a few of them to get the weight right.
For the purposes of training and just for the plain ease of getting it right, a sandbag is much easier and foolproof. But there is no right or wrong answer here, whatever works for you is fine as long as the weight is correct. And that is what it is all about…
We’ve posted some tips based on our experience that we feel will be of good value to you. I don’t claim to know it all, but after many years in SF, these tips and techniques worked for me and hopefully, they’ll work for you as well.
So, the weight, in this case, the sandbag should be packed up high between the shoulder blades as much as possible. The ruck that I’m using has radio pouch up high, that is where the sandbag was placed. And it bears repeating that I prefer sandbags because it will mold to your ruck and back and doesn’t have any sharp edges that can rub you on a long-distance ruck march.
On this particular ruck march, I once again used the waist strap on my rucksack, that way, the weight rides more on your hips and not on your shoulders. This way you can loosen your shoulder straps just a bit so that the weight isn’t all on them.
We covered boots in a several of our earlier pieces. I have several favorite pairs that I take on hikes depending upon the conditions. Since I had recently purchased a new pair of the Merrell MOAB2 boots. As we’ve stated before, these are great boots.
They are comfortable right out of the box, very stable, have excellent traction in all kinds of conditions (this day would be a mix of wet forest and rock) and the new footbeds fit better with improved arch and heel cup design. I almost went with the heavier Sawtooth boots but I’m putting them on a pitch count so to speak so that they last as I can’t get any more of them.
Someone emailed me a while back and asked what boots I rucked in back in the day. It is a very good question. I answered my issued jungle boots. Why? Because that is what I was going to use when I was either at home base or deployed and had several pairs broken in. Use what you are going to wear down range.
The closed loop trail in my favorite “Purgatory” hike gives plenty of varied terrain so it was up and down some steep hills. As it is a short trail I went back and forth (twice) to get some distance in which is guaranteed to get you some strange looks from any other hikers that you come across. But on this rainy, wet morning I was alone anyway.
I took my SFAS Cadre walking stick (The staff of Ra) on the course. But unlike Mr. Indiana Jones’ medallion, mine has a large snapping turtle skull attached. It makes for an attractive topper and a good weapon for the occasional dog that decides to attack the crazy person walking in the woods alone. Usually, all it takes is to point it and Fido thinks better of it. Of course, that is what the bulldog’s secondary (implied) task is for.
So, with the Apple iPod in place, some soothing Metallica in my ears, it is off to Purgatory. When hitting the upslope of the hills, I like to lean forward just slightly and lengthen, not shorten my stride. Some people do the opposite, whatever works for you. Try it. I’m not talking a big difference, just an ever so slightly longer one which keeps your momentum going. The walking stick will definitely help here and when you reach the downside of the slopes.
Running: This is a touchy subject with a lot of people and you’ll get 100 different answers from a 100-different people. But when it comes to increasing speed, I don’t recommend that you run with a rucksack on your back while in training. Learn to increase your speed without resorting to running.
Running with a rucksack puts an incredible amount of stress on your knees. On this trail, there are some steep downhill slopes where it is easy to pick up a shuffle for a short distance, and it can speed things up but there is a difference between doing that and for running a longer distance.
From one of our earlier articles on rucking while preparing for selection, “They’ll be times in your selection course or the qualification course that you’ll have to make up time or want to pick your pace, especially on the downhill slopes. At those times, you’re going to have to do what you must.”
I can’t stress enough as someone who now has two arthritic knees and a back to boot to learn to increase your speed without running. Lengthen out your stride and generate power with your legs and your speed will come naturally without resorting to running. But while in the course…do what you must, to pass. When I was becoming a SFAS Cadre member, we had to go thru the course before working there. I was one of the “dinosaurs” who went thru the SFQC before there was SFAS. And on one of our long-range rucks, I jogged the last mile and a half, almost two, just to get it over with as I still had plenty of time (why do people who give advice, never take their own?).
The standard is a 15-minute mile pace to pass the course. That is the minimum. You should be aiming much better than that. I used to keep about a 12-minute per mile pace. It is plenty fast enough for where you’ll finish a 12-mile with just over 30 minutes to spare and is a pace that you can keep up for an even longer distance.
Water and hydration are very important as we keep harping on in every PT piece every morning. On this day, despite the rainy, raw conditions, I drank quite a bit of water, close to 36 ounces. It is a good habit to get into during training to continue to push water all the time. If you get into the habit now, you’ll keep it up during the course.
Happy Rucking…now I have to have a word with a bulldog about abandoning me.
Photo courtesy of US Army, author