While the vast majority of U.S. Army Soldiers prepare for the new Army Combat Fitness Test, Soldiers from Fort Eustis are redefining what it means to be physically and mentally tough.
With the starting line lightly illuminated by white floodlights, 225 Soldiers from across Fort Eustis gathered early Thursday morning to participate in the 18.6-mile Norwegian Foot March.
"The Norwegian Foot March is something the Norwegians started back in 1915 as they were preparing for WWI," said Sgt. Major Todd Brown, Operations Sgt. Major for 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary) and noncommissioned officer in charge for organizing the march. "It's a 30-kilometer march and was designed to create a level of toughness in their new recruits."
To compete, participants must carry a 25-pound ruck while wearing their boots and uniform. While time requirements are determined by age and gender, most Soldiers were given just four hours and 30 minutes to finish, averaging roughly 14:31 per mile. The course, which is composed of four 4.8-mile loops, kicked off at 2 a.m.
In addition to bragging rights, participants who complete the ruck within their respective time limit receive a foreign award pin to wear on their dress uniforms.
"There's the spirit of the Warrior Ethos in everyone here, but I think the majority of people are just out here to compete against themselves," Brown said. "That's something that the Army Chief of Staff has mentioned in his remarks: Winning matters. Doing something like this, where you're competing against yourself and against the clock to "win", that's why they're out here."
While exercise is an integral part of the Army, some Soldiers went above and beyond their typical fitness routine to prepare for the march.
"I started training for this with short distances to ensure my body could keep up with the pace needed to finish in under four hours and 30 minutes," Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Duncan said. "About a week ago, I did three laps on my own to train my body. I know what it feels like to be on pace, so as long as I maintain about an hour per lap (pace), I should be able to finish with a few minutes to spare."
When asked what he struggled with most during the march, Duncan talked about the mental toughness that went into completing the grueling 18.6 miles.
"Training your feet to withstand 18.6 miles is tough, but mentally getting over moving for four hours and pushing through the aches, pains and utter exhaustion -- that can take a toll," Duncan said. "But I knew that if I trained for this and if I pushed myself to never give up, I'd be able to accomplish this."
For Duncan, pushing beyond his comfort zone is nothing new.
"I signed up because I'm always looking for ways to challenge myself," Duncan said. "The Army is challenging, of course, but I want to see what I'm capable of and the only way to do that is to put my body to the test."
"In doing this, you learn what you're made of and that if you train hard enough you can accomplish anything."
At any 5k finish line, you will find a crowd of cheering friends, family members and spectators, encouraging competitors to finish strong. For this race however, finishers were met with Soldiers and civilians driving into work--some even rolling down their car window to shout words of encouragement or to play the Army Strong theme song.
Duncan, who hoped to simply finish within the time limit, finished the foot march with nearly 15 minutes to spare.
When asked how he hoped to challenge himself next, Duncan talked about races which would not require a ruck sack or boots.
"I think I'm going to try a half-marathon," Duncan laughed. "It might take a little training, but if I can ruck for 18.6 miles, running for 13.1 shouldn't be too difficult."
To learn more about all-things Army fitness, visit https://www.military.com/military-fitness/army-fitness.