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The Three Day Ruck Rule

Years ago a grizzled old special ops troop told me, “It takes three days to learn to carry an extremely heavy ruck. The first few days you’ll think you are going to die, but after that it is no problem.” I was green, and in decent shape, but had never carried more that about fifty pounds during my own backpacking treks.

A few months later I found myself water-logged and carrying one-hundred plus pounds through mountains covered with deep snow. The ruck was about two-thirds of my bodyweight at the time, and despite my best efforts, my gear never stayed as dry as I wanted it to. The problem was compounded by my inexperience with snowshoes, but I quickly learned to appreciate them.

As new troops we learned to see the humor in rescuing a buddy who had tipped over in a snow drift and was flailing on his back like an inverted turtle. Nothing to be embarrassed about, as it happened to all of us repeatedly.

The first three days of that trek I remember hurting to the point that I resorted to focusing on each footstep, one at a time. Nothing felt better than reaching the summit of a peak and taking a break.

As the third day drew to a close, my body started to feel numb. My shoulders and back felt the weight of the pack straps, but it was more of a dull, numb ache that it had been before.

On the morning of day four, after sleeping on a bed of pine boughs underneath an improvised parachute shelter, I strapped on my pack and prayed for the best. With surprise I noticed that I was a little sore, but the pack somehow seemed lighter. After walking for a few minutes, my body warmed up, and for the next several days I did not notice the weight of the pack, or any pain, whatsoever. In fact, my entire team felt the same way, and the synergy allowed us to almost jog from waypoint to waypoint. That old special operator had been right! The resulting confidence boost helped me to cruise through the rest of that phase of training, and I remember clearly the moment when I first realized that I was probably going to make it.

Three days appears to be a magic number. Whenever making changes in daily habits, the first three days require the most attention. After three days new habits start to become ingrained, and eventually they feel like second nature.

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-Excerpted from THE SURVIVAL TEMPLATE, Chapter 3

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