On a recent Sunday morning, 10 people created a pool of mud in Ballenger Creek Park and did pushups, rolled around and crawled in it. Their sole aim to get as muddy as possible. That mission accomplished, they set out to hike 4 miles with weighted backpacks — or rucksacks.
This is just one of the many creative ways the Torch Ruck Club of Frederick engages in rucking, a form of exercise gaining popularity across the country, with clubs in places ranging from Colorado to Illinois.
Rucking is “a quintessential soldier task,” says Danny Farrar of SoldierFit, a fitness organization with centers in Frederick and elsewhere in the Maryland, Virginia and Washington area that combines military boot camp-style exercises with fitness training. “You have to carry weight and live out of the rucksack.”
People place weights inside their rucksacks, a military term for backpacks, depending on what they can bear. “You can use rocks or sand or [weighted] plates,” says Farrar. “If you’re less than 150 pounds, you use a 20-pound plate. If you’re more than 150 pounds, you use a 30-pound plate. The rucksack is used like just another piece of gym equipment.”
SoldierFit has a rucking group, and Torch Ruck Club was formed by a group of Frederick CrossFit members in January. They wanted to launch a club that would create a way for families to engage in outdoor activities together and, because the founders had roots in the military, rucking was an appealing answer.
Debby Fair, gym consultant and one of the leaders of the club, came up with the Ruck Club idea and decided to name it Torch after her father, Sgt. Ken Musgrave of the Montgomery County Police Department, who died in 1994.
“He was nicknamed Torch because he was a leader, had a big number of arrests,” said Geoff Rand, a co-leader of the club, who, like Musgrave, is an officer in Montgomery County.
“Police ID numbers and badges are recycled, but they retired his badge number. It was a great honor,” Fair said.
The logo of the club includes “OD 550” in honor of Musgrave’s badge number.
The Torch Ruck Club, which has the words “blue line strong” as part of its name, has many police and ex-military members. Its third leader, Craig Ciccarelli, is a Maryland State Police trooper.
In April, the club was asked to become an affiliate by GoRuck, a company that specializes in manufacturing rucksacks and holding rucking events, founded by an Army Special Forces member.
Clubs affiliated to GoRuck are eligible for monthly callouts, or themed rucking events. July’s callout was the mud ruck, requiring at least four members to make themselves completely muddy and then ruck for 4 miles.
For their July 28 ruck, the club members carried containers holding four gallons of water to Ballenger Creek Park to create the mud.
“It opens the group up. ... A group of strangers bond over a silly thing like crawling in the mud,” says Neivy Read, a member of the Army National Guard who participated in the mud ruck and regularly rucks and hikes in the region. “It was fun.”
The Torch Ruck Club has participated in other callouts.
“We did the one where we needed to carry a cooler. Then there was an elevation one, where you needed to ruck to a particular elevation,” Rand said.
Some rucks are fitness events; some are held for a specific, usually commemorative purpose. This weekend, the “31 Miles for 31 Heroes” ruck in Washington, honored the 30 members of the American military and a military working dog killed when a CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan on Aug. 6, 2011. Many were Navy SEALS. Three members of the Torch Ruck Club, including Rand, were scheduled to participate.
“It’s the longest distance I’ve rucked outside the military,” said Rand, who was an officer in the Army Reserves for 10 years.
Terry Ford, who served with many of those who lost their lives, started the annual event in 2012.
“I just got the idea to ruck a mile for each of the people who died and to read a bio of them along the way,” Ford says.
On Oct. 25, a 15- to 20-mile ruck will be held in Frederick by Goruck to honor Marines who fought in the Second Battle of Fallujah, a military operation against insurgents in Iraq at the end of 2004.
But rucking is not just for long distances. As Farrar points out, all you need is a backpack.
“If you’re in horrible shape, you’ve never done anything, just throw a water bottle in that bad boy and start walking.”