From Friday Sept. 17th 9am through Sunday Sept 19th 12pm, I participated in and secured Kokoro 58. Kokoro is a crucible event led by former navy seals that lasts 50 hours and participants are given no sleep. I have wanted to challenge myself in this event for some time now and 40 seemed like the perfect age to give it a go. In this post I will do my best to describe the experience but my words will fail to capture the difficulty and significance of the event. When I decided to take on this challenge, I knew for certain that it would be the most difficult event that I had ever done…it was much more difficult than I thought. I trained harder than I ever have for nearly 3 months leading up to Kokoro. By September 17th, 2021, I was ready to go. What started with 13 teammates ended with just 8 (Mike Yirilli, Matt Corrin, Jim Kunkle, Mark Mahony, Jaesh Dave, Michael Oliveros, Michael Crafton, and Me).
When we finally secured the event on Sunday, around noon, my teammates and I celebrated as a family knowing that we would leave Kokoro better human beings than when we arrived. Below is the account of events to the best of my recollection. Note, if you happen to notice any gaps in time, rest assured that those gaps were filled with push-ups, flutter kicks and a wide variety of misery. The timelines are only an estimate as none of us had access to what time it was at any moment. One thing is for sure, the only rest time was for eating, listening to instructions and a short bus ride while soaked in sweat, sea water and sand…we, quite literally, never slept for 50 hours straight.
Friday, Sept 17th 8:30am Arrive to meet up with my teammates and wait for the coaches. We are dressed in combat boots, BDU pants, and a white T-shirt with our last name stenciled on the front and back.
9:30-9:45am Coaches arrive and brief the team. They also give us the option to quit now if we feel we aren’t up for the task. Then they start us off with a few dozen push-ups. Not too bad so far.
10:00am Jog up hillside trails to overlook grinder, or battlefield (outdoor workout area at the base of the hill). Coach Rob (head coach) gives a speech about warriors of past centuries and how there were no guns during ancient warfare. Soldiers fought with swords on open battlefields and the odds of dying were extremely high. Coach has us summon the courage to step forward with victory on our minds. Though we were not fighting for our lives, this moment gave us a boost of strength to start the event fully alert and focused.
10:30am Commander Mark Divine (founder of Sealfit and former Navy Seal Commander) meets us on the grinder. This will be the only time we see him until the end of the event. He, along with the other coaches walk through and introduce themselves…well, sorta. They use this time to mess with our heads and intimidate us. They also find out what we do for a living. One coach, alongside another coach asked me in a rather serious tone, “Tooke, who do you think is cuter, me or him?” What is important to understand here is that there are no right answers when the coaches decided to mess with you. It’s best to adopt a very healthy sense of humor. I looked back and forth at them both and said, “Well coach, he’s got a much nicer beard than you so…I gotta go with him. But you’re still super cute, too”. “Okay Tooke,” he says in a stern and serious tone “you’re one of those guys, huh? You like checking out the coaches? You wanna grapple with us, I bet. I’ll keep my eye on you Tooke”. LOL!
11:00am Breakout session on the grinder. A siren sounds off and coach Rob orders everyone into the push-up position where he begins to count off. He then proceeds to switch commands among pushups, squats, sit-ups and flutter kicks. The only break from this is when we are all ordered to bear walk toward the ice baths (2 of them). We have to fully dip under the first bath, exit and repeat in the second bath where we return to line and continue with more pushups, squats, sit-ups and flutter kicks. Oh yeah, we are being sprayed in the face with water hoses this whole time and told what a terribly, shitty job we are all doing. If I didn’t know better I would think the coaches didn’t like us very much. But I do know better…they love us 🙂
12:00pm By the time we end the breakout session we are all pretty exhausted. I remember thinking, “how on earth am I going to do this for another 48 hours?” I quickly remove this thought from my mind and I’m careful not to ask that question again. From now on, it’s one step at a time until we secure this thing as a team. We are instructed to grab a ruck sack (We were not allowed to bring our own. Lucky for us, their rucks are specially designed for discomfort), an empty sand bag and a weighted baton aka “our weapon”. We jog (for a good while) to a length of sandy terrain. But, we make some mistake as we have been doing since breakout and are forced to low crawl through the sand with our weapons. The sand is not the small grained beach sand either. It’s gritty rock sand and it’s very abrasive on the skin. Fortunately, it only gets into every private crevice of my body. We proceed with some racing challenges (sprints, bear walks, frog leaps). My favorite was the “it pays to be a winner” somersault race. 24 years of daily Jiu-jitsu made me the best somersaulter of the bunch. In fact, I did so well that the kind coaches insisted I go twice. This was the first (but not last) time I felt like vomiting. One thing we all learned very quickly about the “pays to be a winner” drill is this…kicking ass and winning in one event is going to make you suffer for the next one. We fill our empty bags 1/3 full with sand (about 30lbs worth) and place them into our rucks along with our 1 gallon water jugs. We then ruck (light run with weighted back pack) toward a shaded area for our first break.
1:00pm Lunch. This was our first break and we were rewarded with a delicious MRE (Meal Ready to Eat). These “meals in bags” are what you would get if astronaut food and dog food had a love child. They give you the calories you need (and we needed lots) but the items either lacked taste completely or possessed a stale, gross taste. Occasionally you might find a less than terrible item…but those were rare gems.
2:00pm We Ruck back to the battlefield to get ready for the PST (Physical Screening Test) but not before more verbal abuse (aka “motivational love commands”) and lots of body weight exercises. The requirements for the PST are 50 pushups in 2 minutes, 50 squats in 2 minutes, 50 sit-ups in 2 minutes, 1 set of max pull-ups (10 minimum), and a 1 mile run in under 9:30 min. Easy day. I have hit these numbers and then some plenty of times…but never when I was this tired. We had already performed countless push-ups and plank holds and my arms were shot. We split the group in two with one side starting the pushup test and the other counting while making sure our chest touched our partners fist on the down motion. I focus my breath and prepare to get through these 50 push-ups. Then a teammate rests his hands on his hips (a big no-no) and we all have to drop down and do a quick 20 pushups. Immediately after, the test begins. I do my best but fail, completing just 36 pushups. I pass the 50 count on sit-ups and hit nearly 90 reps on squats. For pull-ups I get 12 reps and I complete the mile in under 8 minutes. But I’m really upset that I failed the pushup test, even while tired. At the end of the PST, all but 4 teammates had failed at least one requirement. We learned quickly that this was pre-test exhaustion was made intentionally. The coaches completely striped us of our physicality early on to see how we would respond. We hydrate and prepare for the next evolution.
2:30pm Hill Runs. Coach asks a teammate how long it will take for us to run to the base of a nearby hill, ascend it, run around its woven path, descend the other side and then return to formation. He replies, “4 minutes coach”. “Okay,” says coach. “You’ve got 2 minutes…GO!” We scramble, panic and run like hell! We are starting to work as a team but we still have much to learn. We fail to make the 2 minute mark and our reward is more pushups, squats and flutter kicks followed by another 6-8 attempts to run the hill. We begin to realize that the coaches don’t expect us to make the time. The time limits are always laughably low. What they are looking for is improved communication and teamwork from one task to the next. Whether we were filling our water bottles, changing clothes, taking a head break (bathroom) or any minor task, the time limits we were given were almost always not attainable. We started to accept this and we began working together to make sure that, as a team, we would strive to achieve the best outcome.
3:00pm Field Gurney Training
This drill is designed to mimic a rescue mission. We break into teams of 4 and we place our ruck sacks and weapons onto the gurneys (cots with handles for carrying). The track that we must walk around is a lumpy, rocky, gritty terrain with drop-offs, ridges and a several holes. And the gurney is super heavy. We begin to march with no real instruction other than “keep walking”. We find out right away that our grips only last for about 30 paces before giving out. So we improvise a strategy of switching hands on every 30 count. This makes the process manageable, but still very taxing on the whole body. We march for…EVER!…Or, at least, a super-duper long time. The only rest was when the coaches would hide behind bushes and surprise us when we didn’t see them. This let us know that had this been a real combat situation, we’d all be dead for not keeping our awareness on high alert. Our reward…you guessed it, more pushups on the rocky track. Eventually, we return to the grinder where we remove the sand bags from the gurney’s. In another “pays to be a winner” drill we have to race in teams with the now sand bag free gurney’s up the hill. The losing team had to run laps around the nearby bike track. And, to top it off, they are required to impress the coaches with acrobatic displays of jumping and twisting. My team lost so we got to do the extra runs. I added in a few hill jumping cartwheels for good measure.
4:30pm More Push-ups, Squats, Fluter Kicks, Plank Holds…just because.
MURPH: 1 mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, 1 mile run all while wearing the 35lb+ ruck sack and wearing combat boots and pants. After the first mile run, the reps are broken up into sets of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 squats for 20 sets. The coaches brief us on the MURPH and remind us that this particular workout is named after Michael Murphy, a navy seal officer who was killed during operation red wing. The story of Operation Red Wing was made famous by the book turned Hollywood blockbuster, The Lone Survivor. Though exhausted, the story inspires our team as we visualize what Michael Murphy, the Operation Red Wing team and so many other soldiers have sacrificed for this country they loved so dearly. Then comes the fear. “Listen up. If you failed any part of the PST and you do not complete the MURPH in under 75 minutes…you’re going home”, says Coach Rob. I had previously failed the push-up portion of the PST and now I was tired, sore, cramping and ready to sleep. No time for pity. I take several slow, deep breaths and focus my mind. We all line up on the track (another rocky, bumpy, sandy, ridgy track) to prepare for the first mile. “Ready…GO!” I set a solid pace and am able to finish relatively quickly and without exhausting myself. I start the rounds of reps. 5 Pull-ups (kipping allowed), 10 push-ups, and 15 squats. “Tooke…One”, I should out to an assistant who is keeping tabs on everyone’s rounds all the way to 20. My pace is strong and pretty soon I’m ahead of everyone. I chip away and eventually finish the last round. “Tooke…Twenty”. I jog over to the track and begin my last mile run. I finished first coming in at 54 minutes, 11 seconds. I’m relieved that I’ve passed this portion of the event and I’m pretty happy with my time as well. But remember what I said earlier? Winning one event will make the next one that much worse LOL.
By now, 2 teammates have dropped from the event. One guy was suffering from Rhabdomyolysis (a breakdown of muscle tissue that releases a damaging protein into the blood). The warning sign for this, besides feeling like pure death, is that your piss looks like coffee. Another teammate was a performance drop when he couldn’t complete the MURPH.
6:30pm More Push-ups, Squats, Fluter Kicks, Plank Holds and Hill Running Drills
8:00pm Dinner Time. Up until this point we had only eaten MRE’s 🤮 . But now we were in for a treat, mediterranean kabobs 😋. We also considered catching a quick nap if we had the time. This was a mistake as we all realized that any breaks required lots of stretching or risk cramping up too badly to continue onto the next evolution. We scarf down our meals, stretch our muscles and prepare to move on.
8:45pm 20 minute ruck to nearby bus. We enter the bus for a short drive to the base of Palomar Mountain where we will begin our first extended ruck. We look for the opportunity to catch a quick nap on the bus but our hopes are dashed. The bus is fit for elementary school children and we have to share seats. We spend much of the time dealing with cramps and checking our feet for hot spots.
9:15pm Arrive at the base of Palomar Mountain. We begin our ascent not knowing how long we have until we reach the summit. The average incline for the ruck is modest but quickly begins to take its toll…especially with a ruck bag full of sand and a full water jug on our shoulders.
(Unfortunately the photographer was not around for this portion fo the event so no pictures)
In the beginning of the event we were reminded of the 4 Laws of Mental Toughness for Sealfit:
- Breath Control: To control our mental state and emotions
- Positive Self Talk: To keep ourselves mentally strong during low moments (and there were many)
- Visualization: To visualize a positive outcome and conquering the goal
- Micro Goals: To break each evolution down into bite sized chunks and chip away at them one step at a time
These concepts really came into play during the mountain ruck. For the first few miles I would look off into the distance to try to find the highest peak I could see thinking that it was the top. I would say to myself, “it’s right there, we don’t have much longer”. Then we’d turn a corner and the new view would reveal a new, higher peak. This became demoralizing. After about a dozen times doing this I quit looking for the top of the mountain. My legs, back and shoulders were really feeling it by now and cramping was becoming a challenge that I had to manage. I remember both groin muscles trying to seize up during one stretch. I had to walk with high knees like a circus clown for about 80 paces while doing some deep focused breathing exercises. I looked like a madman but it totally worked. The groin cramps went away. We were not permitted to speak to one another during this time (except during breaks to rehydrate and stretch). So we had to keep our Positive Self Talk to ourselves. I long stopped trying to guess how close we were to the end but would just try to visualize the feeling of accomplishment upon reaching the top of what seemed to be a never ending mountain. Micro Goals came often. I remember the fatigue of the steeper inclined parts of the path followed by relief from a flatter stretch of road. My micro goal became, “just get past this incline and a flat stretch of walking will be coming soon”. We had about 6 breaks during the uphill ruck where we would rehydrate, sometimes snack, stretch and, if needed, take a salt tablet or 2. Eventually we reached the top where we celebrated our glorious feat with another bountiful MRE 🤮 . The good news now was that we were permitted to put our rucks away in the back of the vehicles that had come up with us. The bad news was that we had to descend the mountain we just walked up. Which meant another 9+ miles walking downhill in boots. No fun for the feet ankles and feet. I remember starting to have some real hallucinations…but not nearly as strong as I would eventually have.
5:00am (Now Saturday) – We arrive at the base of the mountain after a dreadful hike downhill. My feet and ankles are killing me. We hop on the bus back and head back to camp at the Lake Vail Resort.
5:45am We arrive back at base, take a quick restroom break and ruck our way back to the grinder. For the first time, we change our clothes into shorts and running shoes. I remember cramping badly at this point. When I tried to change my shoes, my abs cramped and I couldn’t get them to release. I thought for a moment that I had 2 instant hernias. This was scary and quite painful. Once it went away I tried again but I couldn’t bend down to change shoes without cramping up. So I asked my nearby teammate if he wouldn’t mind helping me put on my shoes. It was some next-level Cinderella style bromance. Of course, we are given a time limit to complete this task and we all fail. So, as per tradition, we get to celebrate our failure with more push-ups 🎉
7:00am Pool Training. This was both one of my favorites and certainly my least favorite parts of Kokoro. Our medic (a navy seal himself), mentioned that this portion wouldn’t be too bad and would actually be a bit of a recovery session. That was total B.S. but I’m sure he meant well. We enter the pool and are made to perform a variety of swim strokes across the pool (width wise). At the end of the laps we would often do Pool Push-ups (pressing our weight up at the pool’s edge) or we would exit and do push-ups, flutter kicks or swimmers. We performed several laps where the goal was to not come up for air until reaching the end. These sent my heart skyrocketing. We then moved to a new end of the pool so we are now facing it length wise. We form teams and play a few “pays to be a winner” games. These are mostly lap races down and back with a variety of commands in between. I felt really strong during the laps and was ahead of the others much of the time. But this would really cost me for the next portion.
(The photographer was not present for this part of the event)
Treading Water. We complete the lap races and exit the pool where we are quickly led to a new pool. This one is not made for laps but it is 7 feet deep. From there we enter the pool and begin to tread water for what seemed like an eternity. It was probably only 30-40 minutes but it was miserable, for me at least. I confess, I was the biggest bitch-of-the-bunch. Never have I wanted out of a situation so badly. I’m dense with low body fat so I sink like a rock. Staying afloat was not easy for me. The coaches have us each take turns in the middle of the group as they all simultaneously splash the middle person with water. Then they command us to tread with one hand out of the water. Then the other. Then both. Then they blow the whistle and we have to swim down, touch the bottom and resurface. As soon as we’re back, another whistle blow, then another…then another. One teammate has to exit because he’s cramping too much. My brain tells me to follow his lead. Except, I’m not cramping. But I am super tempted to lie just to get the hell out of there. Just when I think I can’t go any longer, the coaches hand us a plastic pipe and tell us to organize together to keep it out of the water. I want to grab it for support but I have to help push it upward. This pushes my head under water where I panic and release of the pipe. “What the F%*k is that Tooke?!? Get back there and help your teammate!” I am miserable. I try to assist with the pipe but am little help to the team as a whole. Eventually, they order us to exit the pool…while keeping the pipe out of the water.
9:00am Breakfast and medical check. A delicious and hearty breakfast burrito helps to quell the personal pity party I’m still feeling from the water treading evolution. I recover and stretch in preparation for the next challenge.
9:45am Soldier Rescue Training. This next evolution involves partner carry drills around a frisbee golf course. We engage in solo partner carry drills (one person carrying another, fireman’s carry style). And, “2 carry 1” drills. These drills are about as difficult as the Log PT (more on that later) but instead of a stout, firm log it’s with a limp and lumpy heavy human being…so it’s much more awkward. We clumsily stumble from one frisbee golf net to the next and back to our eventual finish line where we are made to do it all over again but with a new carry style. Losing teams get the repeat the journey one last time. When we eventually finish this part, we arrange into teams for races designed solely for the coaches amusement. Each runner runs to a marked cone, places his forehead upon the top and spins in a circle for 5 reps before sprinting back to tag his partner. Of course, this makes the runner mega dizzy and no one can keep a straight line on the return. Everyone bursts into laughter as we each run like we’re caught in hurricane force winds…hilarious!
Sealfit 20X and 20XL
12:00pm There were 2 additional groups participating in separate challenges that started after we began. They were called 20X and 20XL. 20X is a 6 hour challenge and 20XL is a 24 hour challenge. As we return to the grinder we change back into boots and pants to join the next evolution alongside them. In no time flat we get busy with more grinder session misery. Push-ups, Squats, Sit-ups, Flutter Kicks all while being sprayed with water and repeatedly ordered in and out of the ice tubs. This part of the event is a bit hazy to my memory because we did so many different activities together. We did more hill run races along with the grinder work and eventually set up for more gurney training. Only this time, we placed double the number sand bags on the gurneys. So it’s literally twice as heavy as before…which was already far too heavy to carry for very long. We had teams of 8 but there are still only 4 handles. We worked together as a team to find the best rotation schedule. It was only about 10-20 paces before we had to swap all 4 members out. The teammates not holding the handles had to guard the weapons as coaches would try to take them. If this happened the penalty for for the group was 50 push-ups. I know because a coach snagged mine and had it for over 5 minutes. No one knew until the coach stopped us to count our weapons. “Tooke!, who let their weapon out of sight?” says coach while holding a sand filled pipe. “Uh…um…let me find out. Guys…who lost their weapon? It’s okay, don’t panic but let’s figure it out so we can keep moving forward.” “Tooke, it was you dummy!” says the coach. “Now lead your team in 50 push-ups”.”Yes coach”, I utter back as I prep my team to do the 50 push-ups together. Another 45 minutes or so go by and we complete the gurney training. We return to the grinder for some more shared hell. A small team takes the lead of the count at the front of the group. They sound off 1-10 for several series of push-ups, sit-ups, squats and flutter kicks. Just when the group really started to fade the head coach calls us all to attention. “20X” he shouts. “You are secured!” We all erupt in cheers. The 20X group (6 hour challenge) had completed their event. The moment was bitter sweet. We are all very happy for them and proud of their accomplishment. But we knew that we still had at least 24 hours to go.
1:30pm Lunch – Jimmy John’s subs. I’m not a big Jimmy John’s fan but compared to an MRE this was gourmet dining
2:00pm Log PT
Log PT presents its own special type of hell. For starters the log is really, really heavy. And, we are made to lift and carry it in a multitude of ways, none of which are not uncomfortable. But the real challenge is in getting the whole team to work in sync to lift and move this giant shaved tree. The coaches take us through a training using our sand bags. This session alone is exhausting but necessary to teach us the safest and most efficient way to lift these logs. Now that we’ve had enough practice and we’re now thoroughly trained…but too tired to lift any damn logs…it’s time to lift some logs!
As a team we work together to lift the log on the coaches count:
“Prepare to Up Log!” shouts the coach.
“Prepare to Up Log!” we all repeat
“1” We Kneel beside the log to prepare to lift
“2” We lift the log to our side at waist level
“3” We load the log onto our near side shoulder
“4” We press the log into an overhead hold
“5” We lower the log onto our other shoulder
“6” We lower the log onto our other hip
“7” We lower the log onto the floor
“8” We return to a standing position and count the rep…“1”
This first part wasn’t too bad actually. What we didn’t know was that this would be the only time that a coach would count straight through “1-8”. Here’s what the next half hour sounded like:
Coach: “Prepare to Up Log”
Team: “Prepare to Up Log”
“Coach: 1,2,3,4 (The Overhead Position) 5,4,5,4,3,4,5,4,3,4,5, 4,3,4,5,4,3,4,5,4,3,4,5,6,7… 6,5,4,3,4,5,4,3,4,5,4… now count to 50! 5,4,5,4,3,4,5,6,7,8…”
We all stand up after “8” as we had trained but no one speaks. We forgot to count the rep which means…push-ups! Only this time with our feet on the log. We complete the push-ups and get back in position.
Coach: “Prepare to Up Log”
Team: “Prepare to Up Log”
Coach: “1,2,3,4,5,4,5,4,3,4,5,4,3,4,5,4,3,4,5,4,3,4,5,4,3,4,5,6,7…6,5,4,3,4,5,4,3,4,5,4,3,4,5,4,3,4,5,4,3,4,5,4,3,4,5,4,3,4,5,4,3…now count to 70! 5,4,5,4,3,4,5,6,7,8…”
We return to standing and count the rep…“TWO”. But this is incorrect. The rep count is “One” because the first one didn’t count. Back to push-ups and more log work. We eventually sort it out as a team and remind one another what the rep count is before each new set. We screw up a few more times but eventually finish the 8 sets in order before completing this evolution.
If the log lifts weren’t miserable enough, this next part certainly was. Now it was time to carry the logs around the track. After propping the log onto our shoulders we need to walk with the log pointing diagonally. Otherwise our feet will trip over our teammates feet. We figure it out and move around the track…the lumpy, gritty, ridge infested track.
The next carry drill is the worst in my opinion because we have to hold the log in front of us (like doing arm curls) as we pace forward. 6 men would hold it while 2 would stay back in a plank hold. The coach would blow the whistle and the 2 in plank position would have to run to catch up with and swap out 2 teammates. Every second of the curl position was terrible as the log is constantly slipping back to earth. We learned how to hike it up a bit higher for better control. But after 2 or 3 of these we would lose the energy for another. This was just in time to load the log onto our shoulders for the teammate swap.
5:00 pm We join back up with 20XL group who had been doing the MURPH while we trekked the track. We continue with a more grinder work (push-ups, sit-ups. squats, flutter kicks, ice bath) as well as more hill runs, only this time it was much more crowded.
6:45pm Dinnertime-chicken/bean bowls – Delicious 😋
After dinner the teams (Kokoro and 20XL group) break into 2 groups, Alpha and Bravo. By this point, our original group of 13 has dwindled to just 8 as medical concerns, injury and physical standards have taken out 5 of our teammates. Our total count when combined with the 20XL team is 22.
7:30pm We hop on a bus to ride to the ocean in Carlsbad, CA with the crew
8:00pm We arrive at Carlsbad beach (near lifeguard tower #21) for a 5 mile ruck south. We begin the ruck down the beach and I remember thinking that this part might not be so bad…I should have known better. The temperature that night was about 55 degrees. Pretty chili, but we’d stay warm so long as we were rucking. We ruck for only a short time before reaching the first lifeguard station which is empty by now because it’s night time. Our first task; get our ruck sacks up into the station (which is elevated about 9 feet off the ground), get ourselves up into the station and put our ruck sacks back on. Oh, and we are not allowed to use the ramp. “How long will that take?”, asks coach. “2 minutes” we reply. “You’ve got a minute, fifteen…go!” By now our communication as a team has improved tremendously. We run to the station, remove our rucks, place them atop the station, climb the sides like Planet of the Apes and get our rucks back on just in time to be 15 seconds late. “Oh, bummer” says coach with way too big of a smile. “You barely missed the time”. Now we get to run out into the surf (65 degree water), dip under and return for a second try. The ocean water felt like the ice batch we’ve grown accustomed to. Only now there is no sun. Just a nice 55 degree breeze that slowly sucks our souls from our pruny, wet bodies. When we get back we try it again. This time, to the coach’s surprise (and disappointment) we beat the time. We repeat similar drills with the lifeguard stations over the next couple of miles. I should add that this is most certainly illegal. But it was late and the only people that saw us were late night, beach dwelling, marijuana toking hippies. We gave them one hell of a show.
At this point I’m beyond sleepy and my brain is trying find a way to sleep while marching. Of course, every time I try, my foot hits a rock and I nearly stumble to the floor. I take some deep breaths to keep my eyes from shutting. The only relief from the insomnia is the fact that we are made to ascend and descend every single staircase we pass which all go straight up to the top of a cliff. We must have walked 25 staircases, each averaging over 100 steps in one direction.
As the ruck continues my hallucinations start to mimic those of a full blown psychedelic trip. I asked my teammates and they each confirm that they, are were seeing lots of things that are not really there. I remember at one point feeling certain that the teammates marching in front of me were walking backwards while staring at me like some creepy scene from a horror movie. I also kept having the feeling that the teammate to my right was reaching his hand out to my face to show me something. I would flinch and look over to realize that nothing like that was occurring. I remember seeing raccoons, bears, snakes and little girls dressed in white waving off into the darkness. In reality, these were nothing more than rocks and flowers that my sleep deprived brain could not interpret until I was up close to them.
We finally get back into some faster paced drills including more ocean dips into the freezing water. Every time I went into the surf I was eager to get back and get me some good ‘ol push-ups, sit-ups and squats just so that I could warm my now freezing body. When we finally break to eat another wretched MRE, we decide to huddle together like penguins to warm ourselves. I remember falling forward into the group in a sudden onset of sleep. I wake up quickly and apologize in laughter. One teammate gets some real hypothermia and cannot stop from shivering uncontrollably. He has to be warmed in the vehicle before returning to training…I was jealous. We continue on with our ruck only stopping for more work outs, more stairs and the famous sugar cookie drill (run into the surf, come out and cover your entire body in sand. If any part of you is not covered, including your face, you try it again until you get it right).
5:30am (Now Sunday) We arrive at the end of the ruck and are informed that a bus is waiting for us. Relieved, we all enter the bus and take a big relaxing breath. The bus rolls away but then stops abruptly. Coach stands up. “Listen up, we have not secured lifeguard duty training, everyone out of the bus and back on the beach.” We all suspected this would happen since we knew this was a well known part of the event. But we hoped that maybe coach just forgot. We enter the surf facing the beach. We link arms and form a line . We take a seat in the shrinkage inducing surf and lie back as the waves crash over our heads. After a few minutes the coach gives us the next task. Sing the National Anthem together as a team. We proceed to shiver sing our way through the National Anthem with frequent interruptions of salty waves crashing into our mouths. We finish the song and exit the surf. Now we get on the bus and actually leave to head back to base.
6:30am The team arrives back to Vail Lake resort. I take my one and only bathroom break (number 2) of the event. I guess I was burning all those extra calories because I just never had to go LOL
7:00am We make it back to the grinder for some more work with the 20XL team. This group is finishing up the last moments of their challenge but we still have several hours to go. We all push through more work, more Log PT and more shared suffering before the announcement finally comes. “20XL…You Are Secured!” The team bursts into celebration and the Kokoro guys are cheering them on. 24 hours of non-stop training was one hell of an achievement. No, it’s not the same as 50 hours but it’s incredibly difficult. We watched as they are given a short graduation celebration. As we cheered, reality set back in knowing that we were not finished ourselves.
9:00am Breakfast Ihop. This meal was delicious. Eggs, hashbrowns, sausage, bacon, biscuits and lots and lots of pancakes. We all got pretty full and there were loads of pancakes left “Eat all your f*&king pancakes gentlemen, you’re gonna need those calories!” our coach reminded us. “Yes, Coach”.
As we ate, our medic, Charles (a badass navy seal himself) checked our feet and the rest for any medical issues. My feet held up pretty well throughout the journey but others weren’t so lucky. Several teammates had blisters the size of quarters completely peel off from their toes and heels. I can only imagine the discomfort they felt as they had to walk for mile after mile with those awful, sand filled ruck sacks. We finish breakfast and change our socks and pants for the final time.
9:30am By now I can see that the sun is closer to vertical than it is to horizontal and I know we were nearing the end. The coaches line us back up on the grinder. They let us know that, should we decide to quit now we can still receive the same credit as the 20XL group. It wouldn’t be Kokoro but it would still be pretty damn special. We smile at this suggestion knowing full well that at this point, they are going to have to kill us before we will quit. They also tell us that we have another 12 hours left just to mess with our heads. But we know what day and approximately what hour we’re on. We will secure Kokoro very soon!
The 20XL team is eating, smiling and basking in the glow of their achievement. And us, well…at least now we have dry socks …”Bear crawl to the ice baths, right now! GO, GO, GO!!!” . So much for dry socks. We double dip in the tubs, return to the grinder and get back to work.
This short grinder session doesn’t last long before we are told to get our sand bags out from our rucks.
10:00am Pays to be a Winner We all have to race to the base of a nearby hill and race to the top. This short race was one of the most exhausting moments of the entire event. I try to push forward but can’t keep up with the 3 guys ahead of me. We reach the peak where the top 2 winners get a short rest and the non-winners get to do a little extra work. Now we begin to march in circles around a path atop the mountain. One part of the path is uphill, the other part is pretty level. We are told that we can hold the bag at our chest on the uphill portion but must hold it overhead on the level part…pure torture.
10:30am After dozens of laps around this short track, coach Rob leads us to a peak that slopes evenly downward in 2 directions. We keep our sand bags in our hands “gentlemen, turn around and look behind you” he says, “what do you see?” It’s the parking lot where this all began. He has us recall how we felt when we arrived. The nerves, the anxiety and the courage to press forward. We all begin to get a little emotional here. “Now turn around and look down this side. What do you see?” It’s the grinder. The battle field. The flat, gritty base where we all suffered together as a team. Where we failed countless times but never gave up. The past 2 days on the battlefield were agonizing. But when viewed from above, it was a beautiful sight. Coach reminds us of what we are already feeling. That we are capable of so much more than we believed. And now that we have proven it to ourselves, we will take these lessons home with us and apply them to our lives and to the lives of those we love. “Now listen closely. I want you all to take every self doubt, negative feeling, every grudge, every pessimistic thought and every emotion that does not serve you…and put them into this bag”. We can hear the emotions of one another as we fight to hold back the tears. Then our coach does something I’ll always remember. He flips open his knife and one by one slits open our sand bags. We feel the weight of the sand release from our grips as it falls to the floor. “Now leave all that here on this mountain”. Words can’t describe my emotional state but I felt like I had arrived in heaven after spending 50 hours in hell.
Also, I knew the time was nearing to an end and we’d be done soon. Commander Mark Divine (Sealfit F0under and CEO) had showed up right around this time. He had not been with us except at the very beginning. Now, here he was to announce that we had secured the event…so we thought.
11:00am We weren’t quite done yet. We head back down to the battlefield but the mood is more relaxed now. The other coaches step away and it’s just Coach Divine and the 8 remaining Kokoro warriors. We go through some yoga stretches together to loosen up our muscles. I remember laughing at how ridiculously sore I had become. It became a game to try to find a spot on my body that didn’t ache to the touch. I didn’t. After the stretches Coach Divine has us do some focused breathing. In and out of one nostril. Then the other. This breathing helped us stay alert but calm. He taught us about the meaning of the word “Kokoro” and how it is an ancient Japanese word that translates to “the merging of mind, body and soul”. Moments earlier I was thinking that the top of the mountain with the sand, and the speech and the knife would have made for the perfect ending. But this, this was even better…
11:15am Sirens blare, water hoses smash our faces and coach Rob yells, “Down on the floor!” We essentially start the breakout session again, only this time with more speed, intensity and way more ice in the ice baths! “Down, chest, back, feet, push-ups, squats, sit-ups, bear walk to ice bath!” Maybe the coaches were serious about another 12 hours. I couldn’t believe my body was still moving at this point but I didn’t have time to ponder why. I needed to focus on the next bucket of water that would be poured in my face.
11:30am “Bear Crawl to the logs! Go!” My 7 teammates and I move quickly to the log station where we are ordered to do more push-ups with our feet on the logs. We then transition standing next to the log.
Coach: “Prepare to Up Log”
Team: “Prepare to Up Log”
(Remember the count sequence from earlier?…)
“1,2,3,4…long pause in overhead press position…5,4 …long pause in overhead press position… ,5,4…long pause in overhead press position… 5,4 …long pause in overhead press position…,5,4 …long pause in overhead press position…5,4 …long pause in overhead press position… 5,4 …long pause in overhead press position…,5,4 …long pause in overhead press position… 5,4 …long pause in overhead press position… ,5,4 …long pause in overhead press position…5,4 …long pause in overhead press position…5,4 …long pause in overhead press position…5,4 …long pause in overhead press position…5,4…long pause in overhead press position…5,4 …long pause in overhead press position…5,4 …long pause in overhead press position…5,4 …long pause in overhead press position…5,6,7,8″…we all f*&k up the count and do it again a dozen more times with pushups in between.
I should mention here that the battle cry for Navy Seals is a load and proud “HOOYAH!” We have all been using it throughout the event and it became a bit part of our Positive Self Talk. But at this point the coaches take it to a whole new level. During one overhead press hold coach Rob must have yelled it over 40 times in a row as we all repeat each one of them. I’m losing my voice. We bring the log down just long enough for Coach Divine to take over. His count pace is even faster than Coach Rob’s and we have trouble keeping up. He pauses on the overhead hold and begins with the “HOOYAH’S” which we once again repeat over and over.
“HOOYAH!” “HOOYAH!” “HOOYAH!” “HOOYAH!” “HOOYAH!” “HOOYAH!”…and on and on and on and on…for about 75 HOOYAH’S!
“5,6,7,8…We lower the log to the floor and return to standing
“Kokoro 58…YOU. ARE. SECURED!”
We erupt into celebration, powerful hugs and a few tears of joy as we have now secured (completed) the event. We then line up for a short graduation ceremony where we received a commemorative coin, a shirt and a “can’t buy it online” Kokoro Hat. The joke afterward was, “dude, check out my $3,300 hat”. All jokes aside, this was perhaps the best money I have ever spent. I’m happy and thankful that we ended as murderously hard as we began.
It. Was. Perfect.
LOL’s and COL’s
After an hour or so of celebrating and cleaning up I checked into my hotel for a long awaited shower. As I stood under the water a strange energy came over me suddenly. Uncontrollably, I burst into laughter like the Joker himself. Had I been in a public setting you would have been right to call the authorities because it was the sound of a mad man. The laughs were quickly replaced by tears of joy and balling like, well, also like a mad man. Then back to laughing…then crying. A few more rounds of this insanity ended with a few deep breaths and my catharsis was complete.
It’s hard to describe all that I learned from my Kokoro experience. In many ways it was a complete spiritual journey and words fail to capture just how meaningful it all was. So for practical purposes I’ll narrow it down to 2 basic takeaway’s:
We are all capable of more than we think
The fact that my body withstood more stress in 2 days than is ever has in any previous 2 weeks is a testament to how resilient our minds and bodies are when we demand more from them. It’s true that I trained physically harder than I ever have in my life and without that I likely would had become injured or had to drop. But training is about building up and recovering. Kokoro is a crucible and it’s about what you can take when you feel you have nothing left to give. Through breath control, positive mental thinking, positive visualization and micro goals, my team and I pushed far beyond what we thought possible and were still going strong through the end.
Teamwork is EVERYTHING
Nearly every task we were given in Kokoro was designed to make us fail. The coaches were not hoping that we would get things right, necessarily. They wanted us to work as one cohesive unit. To better communicate, to help one another and to lift each other up when we were down. And we were all down many, many times. We understand so well now that the power of a team is infinitely greater than the power of any individual. I’m excited to implement what I have learned with my business, my team and my family.
I’m beyond grateful for this opportunity and I want to thank you for reading about my journey. If you have enjoyed this, please share with a friend.