The Heavy Rucking Mile
A heavy one-mile ruck is a good way to explore the edges of what you’re capable of.
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I spent last Friday at GORUCK HQ in Jacksonville, Florida. We:
Planned some future 2% and GORUCK product collaboration.
Did a ruck run with the Neptune Run Crew (shoutout … great people).
Held a killer workout and fun book signing for Scarcity Brain.
When I visit HQ, Jason McCarthy, founder of GORUCK, points out, “Because you wrote The Comfort Crisis, anytime anyone asks you to do something uncomfortable, you can’t say no, or else you’re a fraud.”
Then he acts accordingly.
And so it was that on Friday evening I found myself with 150 pounds on my back and surrounded by fifty or so people who had come to GORUCK HQ to do a heavy mile.
Today, we’re diving into:
The origins and evolution of the heavy mile.
Its mental and physical benefits.
How to find your heavy mile weight.
Eight best practices for heavy rucking.
The point isn’t to use 150 pounds for your mile. It’s to find your “heavy weight” and learn something about your capabilities as you carry it for one tough mile.
The Heavy Mile: Origins and Evolution
The heavy mile began to pass the time during a hurricane, and has evolved into a legitimate physical challenge.
In the fall of 2022, a mild hurricane hit Jacksonville. Only Jason and a couple of other GORUCK employees were at GORUCK HQ. Strange situations can sometimes incite strange ideas—a cheap thrills, good times kind of deal.
“We decided we wanted to do something really hard before the worst of the storm hit,” Jason told me. “So we invented the 100-Pound One-Mile Challenge.”
That challenge was straightforward: Load a ruck with 100 pounds and cover one mile as quickly as possible. Simple, sinister.
Jason and the GORUCK crew became fond of this challenge. It’s a full on-effort that is as short as you make it.
So GORUCK included a 100-pound Heavy Mile in the GORUCK Games.
Some athletes didn’t do so great. But some did well. Really well.
The best time in training was 6:23.
Imagine that. Most people couldn’t run a 6:23 mile wearing carbon fiber Nikes and with the wind at their back, much less with 100 pounds weighing them down.
But it’s not so out-of-the-ordinary for regular humans to finish quicker than they’d think (more on that below).
When Jason and I did a 100-pound mile back in February, we could both jog it. So Jason wanted to find the point at which a person can’t “run” the mile.
He texted me as much, quite eloquently, days before I arrived.
“I’m trying to find a weight where some skinny f*ck can’t race his way through it quite so easy.”
He was, of course, joking and referring to me. Which … fair enough.
The Benefits of the Heavy Mile
You learn that your limits lie in your brain, not your body.
Occasionally doing something vastly more challenging than you’re used to can be a great teacher. It can show you something about your physical and mental edges.
You can’t see where an edge is from afar. You must get close to it. And in getting close, that edge can expand, changing what you can do from then on.
Acts like the heavy mile are a great reminder that we’re capable of more than we think—a realization that alters our future abilities, perspectives, and resilience. From then on, "just enough" is more.
And this isn’t psychobabble.
Research shows that our thoughts and emotions regulate many of our limits.
Consider, for example, my own perceptions about my abilities.
When Jason first asked me to do the 100-pound mile, I thought I might finish in 18-ish minutes. I finished in less than 10.
When Jason told me we were now upping the weight to 150, I thought it would be a long death slog. It wasn’t that bad, and I again finished far faster than I had anticipated.
Humans evolved to be under-confident yet over-capable. We avoid risk and undersell ourselves—yet we usually rise to the occasion when thrown into the fire.
Getting thrown into an appropriately hot fire—one slightly hotter than you thought you could manage—steels you.
My brain now sees 150 pounds and all the weights below it differently. And that changes how I approach those weights and move under them in the future.
This idea of our thoughts impacting what we’re capable of also applies in the moment.
The Central Governor Theory, for example, suggests that our brain uses “the unpleasant but illusory sensations of fatigue” to convince us to stop or slow down physical effort before we’re close to true exhaustion. Our brain tells us our tank is empty when it’s still half full.
I can cite studies about the psychological tricks our brains play all day.
But you won’t understand the nature of that governor—and how you reframe your relationship to it and, in turn, perform better—unless you occasionally put yourself in a position to watch the governor kick in and push through no matter what.
It’s an act of seeing the sensations of fatigue as just that—sensations rather than an emergency.
I’m not saying you can “think” your way into fitness. You still have to put in work to improve your fitness level. But in the moment, as you begin to waver, you can recognize that you have more gas in the tank and push on.