To me it seems obvious that a tough workout should sound tough.
I can’t be alone in thinking this, since the names of many exercise regimens imply that they’re hardcore. For example, Shaun T’s “Insanity” workout is insane, as advertised. Or the Spartan Race. When people hear that you’ve done it, they’re like, Dude, you’re a Spartan?!? That’s craaazy. Or my personal favorite, “Monkey Knife Fight,” the name of a particularly cruel 70-mile bike ride that includes 6,500 feet of climbing. Tell somebody you did that this weekend and they’ll be impressed.
So I guess that’s why it’s particularly disappointing that the single hardest workout I’ve ever done in my life doesn’t sound tough at all. In fact, it includes the word “buddy,” a word commonly associated with comedy, Buddy the Elf, or perhaps Pauly Shore (“Hey buuuuudddee…”).
The name of this workout? The Buddy Carry.
It’s exactly what you think it is: You find a friend, pick him or her up and attempt to walk as far as you possibly can with the person on your back. Here’s what it looks like:
The author performing a Buddy Carry with his friend Damion. Is that a smile or a grimace? Your call.
In my case, the distance could be described as “not very far.” But of course at first I didn’t know that.
The prescribed workout was for you and a friend to cover three miles total. Three miles? I thought. No problem. I’ve run marathons, for gawdsakes. Three miles is a warm-up. My training partner, Damion—a good friend who also plans to take on the SEALFIT 20X Challenge at CrossFit Honor this June—is also a marathon finisher, so I figured we were good to go. We agreed to perform the workout on the next Sunday.
The first sign of trouble came a few days before the session. It had been a snowy winter here in Ohio, and during the week leading up to our scheduled Buddy Carry, we got pummeled by a seemingly continuous blizzard. By the time Sunday rolled around, somewhere between a foot-and-a-half to two feet of snow covered the ground.
Problem number two? There are relatively few places in the suburbs where you can walk around with another human lying prostrate across your shoulders without a concerned citizen spotting you and calling an ambulance and/or the cops. Knowing this, we decided to perform the workout on the town’s high school track, where we’d be set back far enough to avoid raising concerns among the neighbors and we’d be able more easily to keep track of our distance.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. But when we arrived at the track that Sunday morning at the tail end of yet another snowstorm, we immediately saw that the combination of problems 1 and 2 would make our attempt at the Buddy Carry far more difficult. As you can imagine, there aren’t a lot of outdoor track meets during the winter in Ohio. Appropriately, the high school does not clear the snow off the track. So upon entering the stadium turnstiles enclosing the track, we were greeted by a vast field of unbroken snow, a foot deep in most places with some drifts on the track far deeper than that.
Damion surveys the landscape.
We’d have to perform the workout in cold quicksand.
I picked Damion up and, thinking that the best way to get the workout done was to go faster, attempted to run with him on my back. Within about 10 steps, I felt a powerful “holy crap I’m going to throw up” sensation come over my entire body. My heart rate spiked. I gasped for air. My legs simultaneously tingled with sensation and struggled to find something to push off amid the deep snow. My opening carry was not inspiring. I had covered 60 meters. Maybe.
Dude, no way. I thought. Noooo way.
Damion did a little better on his first attempt, wisely opting to trudge rather than run. He covered a bit more distance than I had, and he seemed to be feeling pretty strong—until he set me down, put his hands on his knees and made noises that made me think we might see his breakfast a second time.
“I’m going to throw up,” he said.
The author threatening to lose his breakfast as Damion looks on.
He didn’t, thankfully. And eventually—15 minutes and nine seconds later, to be exact—we made it all the way around the track, completing lap no. 1. Since the track was a quarter-mile long, we were on pace to cover one mile an hour. It didn’t seem like we’d be able to finish the Buddy Carry within the 90 minutes of training time we had allotted before we lost babysitting coverage at home.
But a funny thing happened during the second lap. It sucked slightly less than the first one. Our carries got a little bit longer. We were able to cover more ground without stopping, and when we did stop, we spent less time doubled over in might-puke mode. Lap three was a bit better still. Some time on our fourth go-round, a thought hit me.
“It’s like this workout comes down to two challenges, really,” I said to Damion, who was draped over my shoulders. “First, you have to get past the panic you feel when you realize how hard it is. Once you’ve done that, all you have to do is be OK with the persistent suckage of the whole thing.”
It was an epiphany for me. To achieve something that seemed impossible, all that’s really required is: 1) The ability not to freak out at the difficulty, and 2) the willingness to persevere in spite of said difficulty. If you can do both of those things, eventually the task stops feeling quite so difficult.
In his book The Way of the SEAL, SEALFIT founder Mark Divine indicates that he learned this lesson during his attempt to become a Navy SEAL, and he seeks to help others learn it as well. He writes:
“Each time the instructors at BUDS [The SEALS’ six-month training program] pushed me beyond where I thought I could go, the pain at first caused a sensation of fear, which I transformed into a focused determination. After my mind and body regained balance (and I noted that I wasn’t disabled), the experience made me stronger and wiser. There was nothing to fear from the pain but the fear itself.”
Clearly, what Divine underwent at BUDS was much, much, much more difficult than what my friend and I were going through on that snowy high school track. But maybe how much you are capable of isn’t what matters. What matters is learning that you’re capable of more than you thought.
Full disclosure: We didn’t cover all three miles that day. As I mentioned, we only had about an hour and a half of babysitter coverage for our kids. But we made it around the track six times—far more than we thought possible after that first lap. And each lap was slightly faster than the last. While any loser can say they woulda or coulda done something, I sincerely believe that if we’d had more time, we would have gone the distance. But, you know, family first.
Anyway, I came away from the workout feeling both physically and mentally stronger. I felt I’d gained a new perspective on perseverance and how to attain it. I felt more willing and able to take on long and difficult tasks—even though I didn’t finish the entire workout as prescribed, and yes, even though the name of workout doesn’t sound all that cool.
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 1: What Happened When a Regular Guy Tried to Train Like a Navy SEAL
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 2: 3 Ways SEAL-Style Workouts Change Your Life
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 3: The World’s Hardest Workout Has a Ridiculous Name
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 4: Inside the Devil’s Backpack: The Only 5 Things You Need to Get A Hellishly Hard Workout Anywhere
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 5: How Not to Hurt Yourself (Like I Did)
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 6: Finding the Silver Lining
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 7: The Question That Tells You Whether You’ll Succeed
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 8: Meet 3 Guys Who Might Kill Me
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 9: The Dress Rehearsal
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 10: What a SEALFIT 20X Challenge is REALLY Like
This is the third installment of SURVIVING SEALFIT, STACK Executive Editor Brian Sabin‘s account of his quest to reach elite military grade fitness, take a SEALFIT 20X Challenge and (hopefully) live to tell about it. He’ll publish weekly accounts of his ups and downs here at STACK.com. You can also find him posting daily updates on Twitter and Google Plus.