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In March of 1906, in one of his final acts as Chief of Staff of the United States Army, Lieutenant General John C. Bates signed into effect General Order No. 44 which dictated, “Throughout the year all companies, troops, and batteries will make at least one practice march each week, which for the infantry shall not be less than 12 miles.” Bates retired from active service in April 1906 having reached the mandatory retirement age of 64. He was the last Army Chief of Staff to have served in the American Civil War.
In subsequent historical documents, there are numerous attempts to decrease the mileage requirements of War Department General Order No. 44, citing that it was essentially too hard and “discouraged enlistments.” Fortunately, for those of us who yearn for a challenge, the 12-mile ruck march remains the standard in Special Forces and in the military on a whole. (From https://www.goruck.com/12-miler/)
The timed 12-mile ruck has been part of GORUCK Heavies from the very first Heavy event and remains part of the PT test. It has also long been an option for a PATHFINDER Challenge in Forward and Endure, and a requirement in Advanced and Horizon.
Why is the 12 miler so important for PATHFINDER? Lots of reasons!
The first reason is pace. It’s a ruck of decent distance, with a prescribed time limit. This forces the roster to evaluate pace, keep track of it, and observe how pace changes over distance. After doing several 12 milers, the roster eventually knows how fast they are walking without using a watch or any type of app. It also prevents excessive breaks, as the time keeps running until you complete the distance.
A timed event of any kind creates a bit of stress. It’s important to learn how to deal with this stress while remaining physically active and making decisions about route and breaks. Even if the event you are training for will not have a timed 12 miler, there will be some sort of stressor applied at the same time as physical activity, so this is great practice.
We advise you use the timed 12 miler as a full gear check, using the kit you plan for your event – socks, shoes, underwear, pants, shirt, ruck set up (including waist belt and sternum strap) and load-out. If you have gear, skin, or foot issues during the 12 miler, you will have those issues at your event. You need to seek out solutions to those problems, and repeat the 12 miler to see if they have been addressed.
Honest words here: if you can’t complete a 12-mile ruck in 3.5 hours, you are not ready for a GORUCK Tough event or Star Course 12/26/50 miles. “But,” you say, “I have 5 hours to finish a 12 mile Star Course.” When you consider the planning time to plot the waypoints, the time to take pictures and post them, and the cushion for navigation errors or other unexpected issues, you still need to be able to pace at 17.5-minute miles. How do you feel at the end of 12 miles? If you are truly smoked, you need more training before you attempt longer distance or a Heavy. If you feel tired, but after a brief rest are good to go, then the 12 miler was a good indicator you are ready for your event.
GET YOUR MIND RIGHT
The fifth reason is mental training. 12 milers can be boring, especially if you do them solo, or in a location that is not interesting. Regardless of whom you’re with or where you are, around mile 10 you are just ready for it to be over. But, that’s the same time you may need to push a bit in order to hit a time goal. If you have minor discomforts due to gear issues, you will have to work on pushing through those as well. All of this is good mental training.
Want more info? Cadre Dan talks about the 12 miler on the All Day Ruckoff Podcast (GORUCK Heavy Updates with Cadre Dan, Feb 14, 2019, Episode 88). He talks about the gear issues, the mental issues, and why he uses it in training and in events. If you don’t have time to listen to the whole episode, start at minute 27. “It’s a shock, bro” is his description of a 12 miler!
Bottom Line, the 12 Mile Timed Ruck is good stuff, so get out there and do the work!