So, you signed up for your first GORUCK event, or maybe you are leveling up to a harder event than you've done before, and you are NERVOUS! When you think about your event, you feel a pit in your stomach and a big, nebulous feeling of overwhelm, or even fear, overtakes you. Maybe you doubt your ability to complete the event or ask yourself why you made the dumb choice to sign up in the first place.
First of all, congratulations! You have chosen a big, lofty goal that you know will challenge you. In making this choice, you have already proven that you have something that most do not - the courage to dream big and the desire to test yourself and find out what you're really made of. You are about to embark on a journey of self-discovery and that is AWESOME!
Second of all, that crazy, nervous feeling of dread? It's normal and it's OK to feel that way! Even athletes that have competed hundreds of times before and singers that have been performing on stage for years feel that same feeling. The key is to manage it - to take it from a big cloud of crazy feelings looming over you and turn it into something more tangible so that you can own and control it and make it your bitch.
By the end of 2014, I had done 3 GORUCK Tough events and 1 Light. I felt ready to push myself further and decided that the Normandy D-Day HCL (now called the "HTL") in June of 2015 was the way to do it. Holy crap did this seem like a daunting goal - certainly something that would take a lot of training to work up to! I'm going to share some of the tactics that I used in my training to prepare for that event as I give you some strategies for how to grab control of fear and make it work for you. Let's dive in!
1. Commit to Being an Event Finisher
Your belief that you can do something is the biggest determinant of whether you will be successful in doing that thing. You are not going to "attempt" this event. You are going to FINISH it! You can decide that right now - "I am doing this event. That patch is mine and I'm going to go get it. Dead stop!" Decide today that you are a finisher of your goal event! It's harder to be nervous about not finishing an event that you are absolutely going to finish than an event you are going to "attempt".
Visualization is a great way to reinforce this determination to finish. See yourself standing at the end of your event with your hand out, as the cadre places your patch in your hand. If you know who your cadre is, imagine them saying to you, "Congratulations! Nice work!" and placing the patch in your hand. Think about what it physically feels like to have that patch put in your hand and see yourself look down at it. Think about the emotions that you will feel at that moment. Live the moment in your head! You can do this while you're daydreaming during a boring meeting or you can do this at moments in your training when you are pushing through a hard workout or long, challenging ruck - do it and do it often to keep your focus on the goal!
2. Define Your Fears and Concerns and Control the Ones that are Controllable
When you think about your event and you feel this overriding "Holy shit, I'm nervous!" feeling, it's really hard to do anything to make yourself feel better or take action to control it. Instead of stewing in this feeling, ask yourself, "What exactly am I worried about?" and write it down. Likewise, anytime you think, "I hope they don't make us do X!" or "What if X happens?" or "I'm really bad at X and worried about that" write that down too. If you can turn that big blob of emotion into actual things that are concerning you, you then have a concrete list that you can systematically attack and take out during your training leading up to the event.
Here is the list of fears that I came up with leading up to the Normandy HCL and how I dealt with them during training:
Being cold and wet - I had just done a Light in which I made some bad gear choices and froze my ass off all day so I was nervous about this happening again and during a 48-hour event. I did some research on gear options and then tested them out by doing an event in much colder conditions than I was expecting in Normandy in June. (This actually resulted in me writing my Winter Gear Recommendations for GORUCK Events blog post.)
Having Ranger Jason J as the lead cadre - For those that don't remember him, Cadre Jason J was notorious for having black classes and being one of the hardest Cadre. Having him as the lead cadre for the HCL really worried me so I went to the GORUCK website, found the closest Tough event near me that Jason J was leading, signed up and did it so that I would have an idea of his style and expectations before doing an HCL with him. He was definitely shockingly tough on us during that Tough but I felt much better going into the HCL having some prior experience with him as a cadre.
Managing the rest periods between the Heavy, Tough and Light events - I was genuinely worried about how to handle the transitions between events. Should I eat, change clothes and then rest or do it in another order? What if I feel like hot garbage and don't want to go back to the start point for the next event? I needed to know what it felt like to be that tired and still go back for another hours-long bought of rucking and getting my butt kicked. To knock this off my list of fears, I did my first Tough/Light a few months before the HCL to work on my strategy and take the unknown out of what the rest period would be like and how it would feel to go back.
Getting rubbed raw from sand burn and being in pain the whole time - When you're already doing a 48-hour event, you don't need extra problems or pain like a big, chafing sand burn across your back where your ruck hits. Since my part of Maryland is lacking in sand, I connected with members of the Tampa Bay rucking community and asked them how they handled sandy situations in terms of gear, preventing sand burn and overall sand management so I would have a better strategy than just guessing what to do 18 hours into the Heavy.
Failing the PT test and sucking at select PT movements - To knock this one out, I simply put these movements into almost all of my ruck workouts and did some additional practice on them throughout the day. For instance, to get better at push-ups, I did Stew Smith's Pushup Push program in addition to ruck workouts. By focusing on and practicing what I was bad at, I became good enough at these things that they were a non-issue to me well before my event.
Water PT - Having now completed two Ironman races, I have no clue what the hell this fear of going into the English Channel to do water PT was all about but nonetheless, it was once a fear. Since I didn't have access to open water during my training, I did this hippie shit instead - I decided that I would go into the water and, rather than fear that it would toss me around like a rag doll, I would ask the water to be with me, to let me roll and flow along with it, for it to surround, embrace and support me. (This worked and I actually still go to the water before an open water swim and thank it for the privilege of allowing me to experience it and ask for it to flow with me once again. And when it gets choppy and doesn't seem to be very supportive, I take those waves in the face as the water just saying hi and I enjoy the interaction.) Hey, whatever works!
Losing strap privileges and having to carry my ruck in unconventional ways for long distances - I work about a mile from the nearest restaurants. At least once a week, I would walk to lunch and back with my ruck. Sometimes, I'd hug it and carry it that way. Other times, I'd make myself carry it in one hand and refuse to let myself put it down no matter how awful it felt. This paid off because I did have to do it in an event at one point and it sucked but I was already familiar with the suck so it was no big deal.
The unknown and unknowable aspects of the event - More on this in Point 3 below.
Once you have a list of what's making you feel nervous, you can address each one of them - train them until they aren't a big deal anymore, figure out things you can figure out ahead of time, find ways to create experiences that will simulate or allow you to practice things you are worried about, research your cadre, read AARs. Control the things that are controllable! You can take a lot of your fears off the table before your event by identifying them and working through them during your training period.
3.The Unknown and Uncontrollable
If you take all of the controllable factors out of the equation by addressing them, it clears the path for you to better handle the uncontrollable and unknowable aspects of your event. While you can't know every demand that will be placed on you during an event, there are things you can do to help handle nervousness about the inevitable uncertainty of events, such as
Engaging in a well-rounded training program to help you build confidence that you have the skills to handle whatever physical task you are asked to do, even if you didn't directly train that given task. (I recommend doing Ruck Strong in combination with PATHFINDER Ruck Training to give you the strength, endurance and PT skills to conquer any event!)
Acknowledging and accepting that there will be unknowns and some of them will suck. In fact, the unknown factor is probably part of why you signed up and the suck factor probably is too! You didn't chose a big, hairy goal because you wanted it to be easy or fully predictable. Practice saying to yourself, "I know that there will be unknowns. I know that there will be hard moments. I will welcome these moments and roll with them rather than fight them. I have prepared myself as best as I can and I will do what is required to get my patch."
Prior to the Normandy HCL, I reached a point in my training where I had knocked out all of the controllable factors that I had identified as concerns. On top of that, I decided that I would relinquish myself to those moments of unknown and flow with them. I repeatedly said to myself, "I don't care if all four of my limbs fall off during this event. I will literally roll my body across the French coastal countryside and finish this HCL." One of the things that I hadn't trained at all was running. I hated running and figured there probably wouldn't be any in a GORUCK event anyway. At the moment during the PT test that Cadre Jason J said, "5-mile beach run! Be back in 45 minutes or else!", I could have totally freaked out but because I had already resolved to do whatever was asked of me, I easily said, "Fuck it! This is what I'm here for! Put me to the test!" and off I ran. That was the first time I ever ran more than 3 miles in my life and it was awesome!
Final Note - Are You Nervous or Excited? You Decide!
Being nervous and being excited are both forms of arousal. The two emotions seem different in your mind but create the same physical sensation in your body. Some of the nervousness you may feel about your event may actually be excitement that you've put a negative spin on by calling it nervousness. When you feel nervous, try reframing it. Turn "I'm nervous about my event!" into "I'm excited for my event" and from there, try listing the things about the event that you have to be excited for. That physical sensation that you feel in your stomach may not change but your mindset just might!
Stay up-to-date with the latest from Ruck Strong. Click here to sign up for email updates.