Recently I was part of a team of 5 which completed the GORUCK Starcourse challenge in NYC. The Starcourse is a 50-mile ruck during which teams of 2-5 people have to make their way around the city to find 26 way-points in 20 hours or less. Out of 60+ teams our team finished 24th—finding all our way-points and completing the course in just over 17.5 hours. We logged 59.6 miles! We saw the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Harlem, Queens, and much more. And I have to say it has to be one of the best ways in the world to see New York. The only drawback was that we had to keep moving. Rucking, well, how do you define that? Simply enough it is going for a walk while carrying a weighted backpack (a ruck). The Starcourse was one of the most difficult challenges I’ve taken on in my life.
The ruck started at 9:00 PM Friday and teams had until 5:00 PM Saturday to finish. I have to admit that I hit the proverbial wall at around 20 miles, between 3:00-4:00 in the morning. Where was I going to find another 30 miles was the question echoing inside my head. Everyone on our team hit the wall at one point and questioned whether they could go on. That’s why it was great that we all worked together to make up such a strong team. We encouraged each other to keep moving even while we ourselves weren’t sure we could. The Starcourse Challenge was very hard physically, but it was even harder mentally.
The question that people have repeatedly asked me since completing the Starcourse has been, “Why?” “Why would you go walking around carrying a ruck with weight in it?” “Why would you go 50 miles, just to earn a 2x3 inch patch?” “Why would you do something so hard?”
That answer to all the questions is found in the answer to the last one: The main reason my team members and I did something like this was simply because it was so hard. There is something rewarding in doing hard things. That patch represents the discipline of training, it represents enduring, it represents not giving in to the desire to give up, it represents the bond of teammates who wouldn’t allow you to suffer alone, it represents knowing you came through for them in their time of need, it represents knowing that you’re capable of a lot more than you’d previously thought, and it represents achieving a high goal—together. Too often we trade what we want most for what we want in the moment. It's never a trade up. NEVER do that!
Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “Do the hard thing!” It’s actually a bit counter-cultural. By that, I mean that doing the hard thing tends to go against the prevalent culture surrounding us every day—that which offers the quickest most convenient way to a life of ease. It’s a culture that’s even invading the church as it teaches us to pursue personal peace and affluence, instead of what pleases our Lord. I don’t know about you, but I serve a God who says that we are to “consider it all joy...when you encounter various trials [hard things]” (James 1:2), and I serve a Savior who teaches His followers to “not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you [hard thing], which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share in the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing…” (1 Peter 4: 12ff). Embedded in these and many similar passages is the very thought that we will face hard things; we must endure them since they’re for our good.
I workout with group of guys who regularly embrace the idea that instead of following the so-called path of least resistance (easy), we must be counter-cultural to the world and not only embrace, but “do the hard thing.” Our workouts revolve around that idea—the idea that real life more than offers the hard thing to do before reward is beheld. The converse is that the easy way rarely, if ever, grants growth or satisfying strength. It rarely offers anything of genuine value, lasting reward, or eternal benefit. The reason we encourage and even entice one-another to “do the hard thing” is not just for the sake of doing the hard thing; it is for the purpose of training ourselves. The belief is that doing the hard thing in training gives you the confidence to face and embrace and do the hard thing when it does come your way in life.
The Bible mentions repeatedly how the physical training of an athlete correlates to the spiritual training of the follower of Christ. In other words, these places in Scripture speak a language we can relate to. One example is in 1 Timothy 4:7 where Paul wrote, “Train yourself to be godly.” He was talking about the discipline it takes to be godly—repeated discipline, I might add. The Greek word used in here is gumnos. From it we get our word for gymnasium, a place we’ve all known from our time in school where gym class was part of our weekly schedule. It was a place where we trained, got sweaty, built stamina, and perhaps we could say in many instances we learned to do hard things. What Paul was saying in this verse is that godliness is the result of regularly having some spiritual sweat dripping from your brow. Here’s something you probably didn’t know about the word gumnos that will take you a little deeper: It also means “naked.” Ancient Greek athletes trained, exercised, and then competed naked (i.e. without clothing). This wasn’t some perverted practice, instead it exemplified discarding everything that could impede them from performing at the very highest level of competition. Paul used that word to tell you to do the hard thing, to get rid of every encumbrance, every association, every habit, and every tendency that might impede you from godliness. I summarize: godliness requires training; it is not the easy path.
Our rucking team was made up of 3 guys from South Carolina (actually 2 from NC & 1 from SC) and 2 of us from Delaware. If any of us had decided to simply show up and try to complete the 50-mile Starcourse without any training, it would’ve resulted in epic failure. That person would not have completed the course. It took training to do so (and earn a really cool patch :-). For months we rucked 3.1 miles every Friday, carrying much heavier loads than required for the Starcourse. Then we mixed in several rucks that were 5, 6, or 8 miles. After that we did a few that were 17.5 miles long (that’s to Georgetown and back, or from the State Park to Grace Church). Point being, it took repeated discipline (doing the hard thing over and over and time and again) to prepare for the challenge. Paul said it takes the very same kind of training (gumnos), repeated discipline, without encumbrances, to develop godliness.
What will doing the hard thing look like in the year to come? Talking to spouses, it may mean staying when you’re ready to call it quits. Getting help for your marriage is the hard thing, walking away from your spouse and family is, in most cases, simply the easy way out. Maybe you’re struggling with an addiction. What’s the hard thing there? Coming clean with those around you whom you think you’ve fooled. You’re not fooling anyone but yourself. Before it’s too late, do the hard thing and tell someone that you need help. If you’re honest and genuine about it, it just might be the hardest thing you’ll ever do but it’s reward toward godliness is far beyond measure. Maybe doing the hard thing will be cutting loose from some toxic friendships? Of course, as far as training in godliness, it might simply come down to developing some new spiritual habits (repeated disciplines—not legalistic, but Christ-centric—practices) like praying, reading your Bible, journaling, fasting, giving, serving, etc. Doing the hard thing may mean sacrificing the time necessary to develop these repeated disciplines instead of watching TV or playing video games. What do you need to throw off? THAT will be the hard thing, and until you do it, and do it regularly, you’ll remain in the ruts of the easy road. And guess what…from what I read I’m not too sure that’s the road on which the way-points of godliness are found.
Carol and I recently saw this quote on the Mission BBQ wall, it insinuates a lot about godliness: “Choose the harder right, instead of the easier wrong.” The hard thing in many instances is simply the choice between right and wrong. At times it may be just to do what's right, like helping someone, or helping your spouse, or for young people, just doing some chores without your parents hounding you. It could be the small things that you REALLY do not want to do...do them anyway.
Look around you and you’ll find that most people have surrendered their willingness to do the hard thing. Why? (There’s that question, again!) The answer is that they have not allowed themselves to be trained by the hard thing. Neither have they trained themselves to embrace it. The hard thing, whatever it may be… Do it, you’ll reap its rewards. Do it, you’ll be the leader/example others can follow. The hard things may be small choices, or they may appear to be enormous. The year ahead will offer opportunities to do hard things at home, at church, at work, and in your community. Choose now to do them! Why? Because they’re a part of training yourself in godliness.
Here's how the GORUCK website describes it:
In 1908, Teddy Roosevelt issued an executive order to members of the military, later echoed by JFK: “Do 50 miles in under 20 hours.”
Pretty straightforward, eh?
In JFK’s time it became a national craze, a challenge accepted by people of all walks of life despite claims in those days of the growing softness of the American people. Claims not too dissimilar to those made these days.
We believe those doubting the generations of today are looking in the wrong places. Many of us are not only up to such a 50 Mile Challenge, but we’re starving for some way to push ourselves to those new limits, and beyond.
Echoing Teddy Roosevelt and JFK and adding in our own Special Forces inspiration, here’s a challenge for those of you who seek such things - The GORUCK 50-Miler Star Course, the first rucking ultramarathon of its kind. Finishers earn the GORUCK 50-Miler patch, which will never be for sale.