Kinda glad to be standing around in the rain and not rolling around in the dirt doing bear crawls, seal drags, or any of the terrible shyte dreamed up Cadre Brian Squared”
And yes, that’s exactly how I felt at the time. I was feeling nostalgic for my last 2 events as I watched the cadre push the participants through lunge walks, low crawls, and other evolutions, but watching them also made me wince in pain from the memories alone. I felt a little guilty, but honestly not much. (I’m signed up for the Goruck DC Jedburgh in a month and 9/11 Memorial Light in NYC so I’m sure I’ll be hurting soon enough).
Being a shadow is a unique experience, and I really, really enjoyed shadowing a portion of Goruck Challenge Class 1475. I’m coming back from some knee issues and wasn’t feeling confident enough to participate in the event, but I also wanted to be part of it. This was a Jeff Proietti memorial event and was happening almost exactly 1 year after his death. Those of you that have read my previous AAR about Jeff’s death and the first Memorial event know that class 1224 was a meaningful event for me and I didn’t want to miss 1475, so I decided to be a shadow.
Being a shadow is simpler and easier in a lot of obvious ways. A group of prior and new participants and shadows (Cadre Brian Squared also joined us) met for dinner before the event at a pub near the start point. It was a great time to talk to new and old GRTs. I noticed only a few of us were eating, most people participating in the event didn’t want to chance throwing it up later. Me, I had a burger and tater tots. There are benefits to shadowing…….
Jokes aside, I learned a lot being a shadow – I’ve distilled some of it down a few bullet points.
- Know your cadre, and stay out of the way.: Due to the nature of the event there were literally dozens of Jeff’s family and friends watching the welcome party. Cadre Brian Squared was fine with background chatter and came over to talk occasionally, but I think it is important for shadows to remember that this is not your event and to be sure not to intrude. Don’t be in the way, and interact little with the those doing the suffering They paid for the pleasure, you didn’t, and for the most part they should be left alone to figure things out on their own. Different cadre have different tolerances for this, and it was my working assumption that Cadre Brian Squared was good natured and fine with us being there. I also knew that we would be put in our place if he didn’t like what we were doing. Cadre Brian Squared was very good to us, letting us know the different objectives and where we could meet up with the group. It was great to be able to drive alongside the group or to meet them at their stop point after a ruck run. Some shadows walked, I drove when I could and was glad to have the option.
- Prepare: Shadowing is an event in itself and you need to be ready. If you’re walking the whole way you need to be ready to travel the same distance by foot. That means having the proper conditioning, hydration, food, and clothing. Remember they are physically working very hard and you are not, so you are much more likely to get cold. We were rained on and I was glad to be ready for this. This also means being prepared to stay the course if that is your goal. Be ready to stay up all night, in my case I scoped out a few coffee shops in advance of the event. I had my food, hydration bladder, and clothing in my ruck just as if I was a member of the team. It was downright pleasant not to have bricks.
- Bring a camera: Charge your battery, make sure you have SD cards or other media to store the photos you are taking, then take as many as you can. I don’t have a great camera rig like some folks, we actually had 3 other guys who shadowed the whole time with great equipment. Still, I had a niche. On my end, I constantly took pictures on my phone and posted them online to the event Facebook page, and the Goruck Tough page. This allowed family members to follow the event in real time, and allowed the GRTs themselves to see some photos immediately after they finished. Later, I posted a link to a public Dropbox folder of all the photos I took so if anyone wanted them, they could just download them on their own. People appreciate this and while I’m sure the pros got better photos, no one had to wait for these and I got some decent shots throughout the night.
- Be helpful: Cadre Brian Squared had tasks for us occasionally. At one point, we simply couldn’t find a water source and some folks were running out of water. The solution was for me to drive to an all-night grocery store a mile away and to buy a few of those monster sized water bottles so participants could fill their bladders. Offer to get coffee or a snack for the Cadre and other shadows. One shadow drove a med drop back to his car. Shadows can play a role logistically and in my opinion, should support the event when they can. Keep your eye out for opportunities. I know some cadre don’t like shadows. I’d love to see that opinion soften and the only way it will is if shadows show we are willing to help, and know what not to do.
- And now, what not to do: Don’t get in the way. No one should trip over you. Speak little to participants, if at all, it’s their event. Pay attention to your Cadre and make sure you’re following their spoken and unspoken preferences about shadows. A beer isn’t a big deal, but being wasted is. An event is not an opportunity for a shadow to party in my opinion. Do that at home.
I think everyone should take an opportunity to shadow if they can. It was painful watching the welcome party, the misery of my own welcome parties came right back to me. But it was great to watch the team as they learned to work together at things like buddy carries and managing an absolutely monster telephone pole that had been used in my Challenge (#1224 – For me that was like seeing an old friend, since during #1224 it hit me in the head). I learned the most from watching the team when they were suffering, and as the team leaders struggled to motivate and direct the group. There is a difference between the talkative leader and the leader who doesn’t communicate enough. There is a difference between the leader who yells and people jump to attention and the leader who is to some extent, ignored because they seem like a jerk. As a shadow, you get to see it all, and to evaluate what works and what doesn’t without the gut kick of another 30 burpees every time you mess up. As I watched the group drop their telephone pole, be punished for this infraction, and try to get their act together I realized they were very capable of moving it both effectively and quickly. But they weren’t. Why not? They were tired and hurting, and struggling to work together as their leader tried to find the best way to motivate them to work together as a team. The team members were stuck in their own pain, which caused them to be even less likely to work with their peers. A Challenge event is all about a group breaking down and then learning to be a team, and this theme repeated itself throughout the night. While watching this, I understood why all the AAR advice says, “don’t focus on yourself, focus on your neighbor, and be positive”. If you’re stuck in your own head and are negative to boot, you aren’t participating with your team and you all suffer. This lesson really hit home for me, and it dawned on me in a new way that this happens multiple times in every challenge until participants learn. It gave me a lot of insights into how I can improve and be of more value to my team in future events.
I strongly recommend shadowing to anyone who has the opportunity. You don’t have the stay the whole night if you don’t want to, you can if you if you’re up for it. Either way you’ll have a great time and learn a lot, even without the bricks. I guarantee it.
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