I don't complain as much because I've become so grateful of the things that I do have, and I've learned that "it could always be worse."
Many of you who follow this blog will remember that when I was training for Selection with my friends at the RRL, we met a friend, online, through this blog who trained virtually with us. His name was Jonathan Hurtado and he was in Selection Class 015 with us. Jonathan is a great guy. We have stayed in touch since Selection 015 and Jonathan has gone on to complete some really amazing challenges. We have sat down to talk a few times since. Read those interviews here:
This time, we are going to discuss a recent event that Jonathan and a few others took on and completed. This event is called a Triple Heavy or HHH and it is put on by Goruck. A Heavy is 24 hours of work and many train for a long time to be able to complete one. Jonathan decided to try to do 3 of them...back to back to back. Something like this is going to be a crucible experience and it is only going to be completed by someone who is physically prepared and mentally for everything that is to come.
I asked Jonathan about gear, preparation, training, his "why" and much more. Thanks so much to Jonathan for doing this here. Enjoy
Tom Rowland: Hey Jonathan- Great to catch up with you. I am so excited to hear about your HHH experience. Because a lot of other people will be reading this, lets go over a few things to make sure everyone understands just what an HHH is. Can you give us a little background on the different Goruck events and the difficulty of each? Cliff Notes version is fine.
JH: The GORUCK Challenge is a team endurance event based on Special Forces training where participants undergo a variety of boot-camp exercises and team-building challenges while wearing a backpack full of weight. It tests your physical and mental abilities and is designed to make you work as a team, usually with people whom you never met before. There are three types of Challenges that vary in length and difficulty. There's the GORUCK Light which lasts about six hours, the GORUCK Tough which lasts about twelve hours, and the GORUCK Heavy which lasts at least twenty-four hours. There's also Selection, GORUCK's hardest event, that's forty-eight hours and is not a team event like the Challenges. The pass rates for Lights and Challenges are above 90%. The pass rate for Heavies is around 50%. The pass rate for Selection is less than 5%.
Tom Rowland: How many Goruck events have you done?
JH: Including the Triple Heavy (HHH), I've completed twenty-nine Challenges.
Tom Rowland: So a Heavy is 24 hours and at one time the hardest event in the lineup outside of Selection and you decided to do 3 of them back to back to back? Why?
JH: After failing to complete GORUCK Selection 015 in 2014, I was going to attempt it again the following year. I tore my calf during training in early 2015, which ended my hopes to attempt Selection that year. However, an opportunity came to do a new event called the Triple Heavy later that year. It sounded dangerous and unprecedented, but I ultimately signed up because I'd figure it would be good prep for Selection in 2016. I was also curious to meet the other people who were crazy enough to attempt three consecutive Heavies.
Tom Rowland: Has anyone ever done a HHH before? What is the history of the event?
JH: The Triple Heavy is a custom GORUCK event created by Doug Otte. Previously, the GORUCK HTL (which is a GORUCK Heavy, a GORUCK Tough, and a GORUCK Light done consecutively) was the hardest team event GORUCK offered. Doug was inspired by the HTL to create what he considered to be the ultimate team event, the HHH. Seventeen started the first GORUCK HHH in 2015, and seven (including myself) made history by being the first team to complete back-to-back Heavies (GORUCK HH). The third Heavy was canceled due to low participation numbers, as only four were willing to continue and five were needed. I was the swing vote to determine whether the Triple Heavy would continue, but I decided not to proceed because of a thumb injury I suffered near the end of the second Heavy.
We all vowed to come back for HHH02 and finish the event.
Tom Rowland: Did the reason for doing the second HHH change from doing the first?
JH: Yes, it did. I did the first HHH event for Selection prep and a desire to meet the other HHH teammates. For the second HHH, there was a feeling of unfinished business after how the first HHH ended. But my primary reason for doing HHH02 was to inspire others by showing them that what is considered impossible may not actually be so. Finishing three consecutive Heavies had never been done before, and I strongly felt that it was indeed possible and the HHH02 team would be the one to do it.
Tom Rowland: Since the HHH is a team event, how did you decide who you would do the event with?
JH: The first HHH accepted anyone who signed up. The second HHH had an application process, with input from the GORUCK HH finishers if needed. Finishing an HTL was an important requirement, but exceptions were made if a person had similar experience (like finishing Kokoro).
Tom Rowland: Who were your team mates?
JH: The team was a mix of people whom I have done previous GORUCK events (including the first Triple Heavy) and some I had never met before. One was even a cadre from the first Triple Heavy, Chris "Soul Crusher" Sanchez!
Tom Rowland: So now we understand the motivation and the events, this is where the rubber meets the road…how did you train for the event? How long did you train for it?
JH: After the first HHH ended in late September 2015, I took October off to recover. I started my training for the second HHH in November and I already had a major event coming up. The calf injury I mentioned previously also took me out from doing Kokoro (a 50-hour endurance crucible based on Navy SEALS training) in early 2015, so I rolled into the 41 class in February 2016. Thus, from November through February, I trained to get ready for Kokoro 41. I mostly followed Stew Smith's Complete Guide to Navy Seal Fitness during that period, although I wished I did more running.
After finishing Kokoro 41, I took March off to recover. A good friend of mine, Troy Angrignon (also a Kororo finisher), helped devised a HHH training plan for the rest of the year. I followed variations of Strong Swift Durable training programs, specifically Fortitude, Valor, GORUCK Selection, and SFOD-D Selection, but I didn't follow them too strictly. For example, the SFOD plan had 80# ruck training days, which I felt were too excessive for HHH, so I scaled them to 60#. I also did a bunch of GORUCK events throughout the year, including the GORUCK Triple Light. However, I didn't do any HTLs this year, as I felt that finishing Kokoro in February was enough in terms of big events. I was worried that not doing at least one HTL before the HHH would be a mistake, but it ultimately worked out.
Tom Rowland: What kind of communication did you have with your team during the training? Did you ever get to train in person with your team?
JH: We used Facebook to communicate with each other for the big things like getting the correct items for the event and hotel accommodations. For those whom I knew prior to HHH02, I either communicated via Facebook Messenger or on the phone. I would see some of my HHH teammates at other GORUCK events, so we'd talk about the event then as well.
I mostly trained alone, although I did a few workout sessions with a good friend and HHH teammate, Roman Hunt, since we lived in the same area.
Tom Rowland: How did this training differ from SealFit Kokoro?
JH: It was less running and more rucking. Pull-ups weren't a big concern, although I still worked on my push-ups since the Heavy does have a PT test. The goal was to get used to rucking a lot of miles with heavy weight. One of the modifications I did that wasn't in any training plan was a heavy ruck session that I did once a week, where I did three rounds of one mile with a 45# (and later 60#) ruck and a 60# sandbag. Ruck PT was also important, and one of my "favorite" sessions was to bear crawl with a 45# ruck around a basketball court for a few laps.
Tom Rowland: Tell us about the event? Where was it held? Temperature, weather?
JH: HHH02 took place in San Diego, CA from September 29th, 2016 to Octobet 2nd. It was sunny and hot during the day and not too cold at night. We visited a variety of places, such as downtown San Diego, Coronado Island (including the North Island Naval Air Base), a Crossfit gym, Fiesta Island, the desert in Anza Borrega, and ended at the USS Midway.
Tom Rowland: What did you choose to wear? What about socks and footwear?
JH: I wore a cheap Champion athletic shirt, Triple Aught Design recon pants (which sadly ripped during the second or third Heavy), compression shorts, and a Columbia windbreaker when it got cold. My footwear consisted of Injiji toe socks, Darn Tough Merino wool socks, and Brooks Beast '14 sneakers. I was considering boots for this event, but I would develop issues with my right ankle whenever I trained in them. I ultimately decided to go with what I was comfortable training in, so I used the same brand of sneakers I wore for the first Triple Heavy.
Tom Rowland: Walk us through some of the highlights.
JH: 1st Heavy - Taking a ferry to Coronado Island and enjoying good old surf torture at the beach. Later on, while walking in the surf, I got stung on my right toe by a stingray or some other animal. My foot hurt like hell, and I remember Cadre Brett Vernon sarcastically asking me if I wanted to med drop. I was temporarily a GORUCK causality where I had to be carried on a tarp for a bit, but thankfully my foot got better and I could move on my own again.
Later on, we were granted access to the North Island Naval Air Base in Coronado and got to see the SERE school. I'm grateful that we had the privilege to visit it (and also grateful that no SERE interrogation techniques were used on us).
2nd Heavy - The PT test for the second Heavy took place at Crossfit ATR, and we did the "Doc" Hero WOD (in honor of Charles Luke Milam). Afterwards, we were surprised with a bonus memorial WOD for Kirk Deligiannis, who was an amazing member of the GORUCK community and sadly passed away after finishing Kokoro 45 a week before the Triple Heavy. Teammate Kim McGrath was instrumental in having the HHH team do a WOD in his honor, and we both were given an opportunity to talk about him before we started. The class yelled, "For Kirk!" before we started his WOD.
We also were honored to have a veteran from Operation Gothic Serpernt, Steve Lycopolus, speak to our class. This was significant since the HHH was also Mogadishu Mile themed, and to have someone who experienced the event we were commemorating made it extra special.
We ended the second Heavy at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Unlike last year's HHH, my thumb was still intact at the end of the second Heavy, so I looked at Kim (who finished the HH with me last year) and told her I was ready for Round 3 while wiggling my thumb.
3rd Heavy - We began in the desert of Anza Borrega. I was worried about how dry and hot it was, but the third Heavy didn't start until the sun was already going down (making the temperature thankfully cooler). Nonetheless, that start was intense because we were expected to work strong and hard despite having done two consecutive Heavies. We were nearly ruck running up a mountain and we lost three teammates in the first 90 minutes of the event.
Near the end of the event, we had to do peer evaluation of our other teammates. It was really interesting to hear what your teammates had to say about your performance throughout the event and provided an excellent learning opportunity on how to improve as a team member and leader.
And obviously, the endex, which I'll talk about later.
Tom Rowland: On an event like this, there are going to be some major highs and some major lows. Can you describe the darkest moment and tell us what you and your team did to overcome and get back on track for success?
JH: The darkest moment for our team came during the second Heavy. We were supposed to infiltrate the San Diego Challenge class that was happening at the same time, but we kept failing for a variety of reasons. We were exhausted (this was probably around Hour 40 or so into the event) and weren't gelling as a team. The repeated failures put a damper on our mood. The end of this evolution provided a nasty gut punch with the loss of two team members, including Cadre "Soul Crusher" who had to be med dropped. We were given an opportunity to nap for about 15 minutes or so. The combination of a brief rest plus the sun coming up allowed us to recharge and essentially start with a clean slate for the next evolution. We worked better as a team afterwards.
We had another rough patch around Hour 70 during the third Heavy. Our team was down to eight and we were having troubles working together as the cadre put a lot of stress on us and our team leader. It took a while for me to realize that the cadre were actively trying to make us turn on our team leader. I wished I had realized this sooner, and I'll discuss this more in detail when I get around to writing my After Action Review for the event. We eventually rallied around our team leader to get past this evolution, but I look back at this moment as a failure of leadership in my part and an unfortunate learning experience because I could have done better for my team.
Tom Rowland: Now that it is complete, what do you see as the most challenging thing to completing a single Heavy…how was it different to complete 3 back to back to back?
JH: If you never completed a Heavy before, you wonder if you can survive putting in work for twenty-four hours straight. Sometimes your food gets taken away and you have no idea when you'll have a chance to refuel. The long grind and sleep deprivation create a daunting atmosphere, but it's one that can be conquered if you trained hard and have the right mental attitude.
For the HHH, food wasn't an issue since there was an expectation from the Cadre that we would never be denied food since doing endurance rucking for three straight days required a lot of calories. After finishing one Heavy, the major issue is whether you think you have enough will power and strength to continue for another 24 hours. To combat this feeling, I essentially treated the HHH as one long eventAlthough I still celebrated the victory of completing each Heavy, I considered those ends as breaks rather than the end of one event and the start of another.
Tom Rowland: So you had a short time between each event…What did you do during that time? How did you prepare for these “commercial breaks”
JH: The first break between the first and second Heavy was tough because I was unable to sleep. I don't know if it was because of the food I ate, or my inability to be comfortable in the outside grass, but I couldn't take a nap and ended up laying with my eyes closed until it was time to go. I presumed that the cadre would warn us before the second Heavy start, but that didn't happen and it was stressful to collect all my unprepared belongings before we had to move to the next location.
We all learned our lesson at the next break between the second and third Heavy. We made sure that our packs were ready for the third Heavy before we took our naps. I was able to rest a bit, and sure enough, our prep paid off because we were told to immediately move once the third Heavy started without notice.
Tom Rowland: How did you feel when it was over?
JH: The HHH endex was an amazing experience. We finished near the kissing statue outside the USS Midway. Members of the GORUCK community and teammates who had dropped from the event were there to cheer us on and congratulate us as we finished. Seeing that support as we arrived lifted our spirits, especially since it signaled to us that we were finally about to end. Getting the HHH patch was one of the best moments of my life. First, the accomplishment of completing something that I was unable to do the year before provided a great feeling of vindication. Second, being able to show people that nothing is as impossible as it seems was satisfying. I truly hope that our HHH victory would inspire people to pursue their goals.
Tom Rowland: Tell me about the recovery process
JH: I slept a normal eight hours after the event, which was surprising. When I had to walk around the following day, I limped. The day after that, I stayed in bed. When I went back to the gym, I avoided using any weights and mostly kept to stretching the first two weeks after HHH. Unfortunately, I have a lingering injury on my right leg that was exacerbated by the HHH, so I'm still not at 100%. I've mostly been doing upper-body bodyweight work and swimming to stay off my leg, and I'm about to start physical therapy to rehab my right leg.
What did you eat?
JH: One of our HHH teammates, Kelli, who dropped during the second Heavy brought Jack in the Box burgers and fries to the endex. She is a saint for doing this, and I will be forever grateful for her generosity. The Chipotle run after the event was also fantastic, and I appreciate Pete Silver for driving the team there and then back to our hotel. I joked with my friend and HHH teammate, Patricia, that Chipotle was the food of champions since we ate a burrito the day before our Kokoro and HHH events and we finished both events.
Is there a Quad Heavy in the future?
JH: No. The Triple Heavy was already on the edge of excessiveness, and anything that goes beyond that is too much in my opinion. I wouldn't be completely surprised if someone comes up with something dumb like GORUCK HHHHHell Week in the future, but I won't take any part of it if it ever exists. You would have nothing to show for it except for some really stupid injuries.
Tom Rowland: So now you have done a number of Goruck events as well as completing SealFit Kokoro and HHH. What lessons have you taken back to your everyday life?
JH: Mental attitude plays a big role in how you will succeed or fail. You have to be absolutely confident in what you are doing. When I first attempted the HHH, my attitude was that I would finish two Heavies and see how far I could go for the third. Lo and behold, I only made it as far as two Heavies in HHH01. For HHH02, I changed my attitude and repeatedly visualized myself finishing the third Heavy with my teammates. One of the main reasons why I completed the HHH was because I absolutely believed that I could finish it. I used the same visualization techniques to see myself completing Kokoro, and that played a role in becoming a Kokoro graduate.
I don't complain as much because I've become so grateful of the things that I do have, and I've learned that "it could always be worse." Completing those events also warped my perception of what is difficult. Any challenge that stands in my way doesn't seem as scary as the stuff I've been through in Kokoro and HHH.
Tom Rowland: I am a graduate of SealFit Kokoro 30 and I attempted Goruck Selection 015 in your class. I saw great similarities between the two events, but I also saw them as almost the opposite of one another in so many ways. Successfully completing Kokoro gave me great confidence and I brought tons of lessons home and became better for it. Failing after around 20 hours in Selection 015 also taught me a ton of lessons. In so many ways, I learned and gained more from the failure than I did from the success. Can you give us some insight to how you would compare and contrast the HHH to SealFit Kokoro?
JH: Reliance on your team members is a big factor in both Kokoro and HHH. I would not have completed either event if it wasn't for my teammates.
In terms of difficulty, the Triple Heavy was harder than Kokoro. It seems obvious saying that because the HHH's 72 hours is greater than Kokoro's 50 hours, but I'll never forget how intense it was to be expected to perform again during the third Heavy when you already had done so much in the previous 48 hours.
Kokoro was more than just a test of your physical and mental limits--it was also designed to provide lessons that allowed you to find or reflect on the purpose of your life. The Triple Heavy, on the other hand, had no specific goal other than to test its participants to work as a team and endure to the end.
Tom Rowland: Now…the big question…what is next? Is Selection in the cards for you? If so or if not….why?
JH: That's a good question, but it's one that I won't answer at this moment. The injury on my right leg hasn't fully healed, and it's put into question whether it's worth going through Selection again. After the Triple Heavy, I feel that I don't have to prove myself to anyone ever again. If I ever decide to do Selection again, it would have to be for a very good reason.
Thanks so much Jonathan. Congratulations on being a great American and challenging yourself daily
Jonathan is currently working on writing his AAR for the second Triple Heavy, but you can read his AAR for the first Triple Heavy at the links below.