Becoming a Royal Marine might seem like a noble and virtuous undertaking from afar, but serving your country isn't something that you can just choose to do. Far from it.
It takes some kind of person to become a Marine. More than that, any recruit will be rigorously tested to determine just how special they are and to see if they have exactly what it takes. It’s a State Of Mind.
Royal Marines recruit training is the longest basic modern infantry programme of any Commonwealth, or North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) combat troops. It's no walk in the proverbial park (although, they may march in some) and the tests put in front of the recruits are designed to find those who are are not only suitable for the Marines, but those who truly want it.
The endurance course is a major part of that. Recruits have 73 minutes to navigate a six-mile (9.65 km) course which begins with a two-mile (3.22 km) run across rough moorland and woodland terrain at Woodbury Common. That run includes tunnels, pipes, wading pools, and an underwater culvert. The course ends with a four-mile (6 km) run back to the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines. All whilst carrying 21 pounds of kit plus a weapon. This is followed by a marksmanship test, where the recruit must hit 6 out of 10 shots at a 25m target simulating 200m - all while exhausted from the activities they have just undertaken.
It's a real test of will, desire and teamwork. For some recruits, the daunting prospect of the test can get inside their head before they have even begun, but that is where the Royal Marines state of mind is developed and harnessed.
Recruit Davies of 240 Troop told GiveMeSport about his first encounter with the draining test and he gave a detailed account of what every marine goes through during the process.
"The first time I came in contact with the endurance course was on our Potential Royal Marines Course (PRMC). So that was about three months before I joined and we did it on the second day of our PRMC So, before doing the actual test itself, we walk the four miles up to Woodbury, with full kit and rifle, have a full warm up with the PTI and then crack on with the endurance course. Everyone goes flat out at first. Yeah, it's quite an experience going through it for the first time after seeing all the videos and pictures of everyone doing it - the sheep dip and tunnels. Yeah, it is an experience”."
The sheep dip, as Recruit Davies briefly touched on, is all about courage and trusting your fellow recruits - or oppos as Marines like to say. This part of the course takes three men to complete as you're forced to trust your fellow recruits while making your way through a tunnel fully submerged under water. If you're thinking it's some clear, clean glass tank - it is not. Recruit Davies explained the difficulty of the sheep dip, but also how good it made all of the recruits feel afterward.
"I think it was January I did it, so I knew the water was going to be freezing! Especially the sheep dip where you fully submerge yourself and going through the tunnels under water and then obviously you've got your teammate pulling you out the other side. Yeah, that was a bit of a cold shock! But once you get it done you're thinking: 'blooming heck, that's alright that is'. It's an experience, you think 'how many people have been through that same tunnel?' Obviously, everyone has been through it to get their green lid so it's quite nice, yeah it's good."
When one thinks of the Marines, chances are you think of a big, strapping lad in the best shape of his life. Of course, fitness plays a huge part in earning your green lid and indeed, overcoming the endurance course. But anyone who has exerted themselves beyond a trip to the local shops knows about the mental battle that ensues with any extended exercise.
When it comes to the Marines and the endurance course, having the right mentality is absolutely mandatory for anybody to succeed. By the same token, embracing teamwork and unity helps everyone prosper, something the Royal Marines pride themselves on.
Recruit Davies insists that the endurance course, whilst extremely challenging, is a brilliant way for new recruits to get an early taste for the values the Royal Marines hold so dear. While Marines are focusing on getting through the course themselves, being unselfish and helping their fellow man is just as important.
"Fitness, I have to say, is a big part of my lifestyle before I joined anyway," Recruit Davies said. "But during the actual PRMC itself, you don't know anyone around you so you have no one to push you. But, during your actual test, you're running with lads you have spent nine months with and during your test, everyone is egging each other on like 'yeah, go on, go for it!' But as I say, on your PRMC no one knows each other. So it's kinda, not awkward, in a way, but you're trusting someone else with what you're doing. So leading up to it, it was quite an experience."
But once he got to know his fellow recruits, their help was invaluable. Recruit Davies is convinced that building camaraderie with his oppos and having them alongside him pushed him to produce his best performances.
"I think it's a lot," Recruit Davies said on the importance of camaraderie in the Royal Marines. "The lads you set off with in your syndicate, you're rooming with them till about halfway through and if you can keep with them, you stay with them until you get back to Commando Training Centre (CTC). So you're running and spending 70 minutes either chasing the guy down in front of you or the guy behind you chasing you. When you get to set off, you have to stay as a three man team so when you get to the Sheep Dip, it's obviously a three-man effort..
"So, the first man jumps in on one side and the second man jumps in on the other and a third man gets pushed through. The third man gets brought up, the second man pushes him back through - so everyone has to go through. From there, you're chasing or being chased all the way to CTC. So, again, that's something you're egging the chap on in front of you and behind you, so it's an experience doing that."
Even when others were failing around Recruit Davies, his mental outlook helped him to keep on track. Whether that be his courage, determination, unselfishness, or showing cheerfulness in the face of adversity, his values and state of mind helped him through.
"I have to say, it helped quite a lot," Recruit Davies said on the state of mind required. "We lost quite a few lads on the PRMC as well. So you see lads dropping off and not being able to do it, but you're there in yourself thinking 'yeah, just round this corner and I'll be done'. And then you get to that corner and then think 'just round that corner and I'll be done'. Just keep setting yourself little goals, smashing those little goals, set yourself another one and then just crack on. Just keep going. I have to say [the state of mind] is a big part of it."
Still, some friendly competition never hurt anybody, right? While plenty of enthusiasm and encouragement always go a long way, for Recruit Davies, he loved being pushed to his best - even if he doesn't always come out on top.
"I’m quite competitive with one of my best oppos . So as soon as he finished I was like 'what time did you get? What time did you get?!' He got the best time of our troop with 64 minutes - which is a mega good time - so it's kind of like a weight off your shoulders. That's the first of our four commandos test, so we're like 'one down lads, three to go’. That's all you gotta do, set yourself goals, concentrate on that, smashing it and then set yourself another goal. Set a goal for the endurance course - get through this, don't worry about anything else - smash that and then that's it, onto the next. "
The camaraderie that is built goes a long way when faced with the toughest of tasks. While each recruit is trying their best to help those alongside them, sometimes that's not enough. However, in true Royal Marines spirit, if they do fail their teammates don't allow them to wallow in the disappointment. Recruit Davies opened up on how tough it can be to see someone fail.
"It's disheartening. Obviously, you've spent 32 weeks with the same lads and when you see one of your mates fail something it's really disheartening. He does get another chance, obviously, that's the first test. So you can retake it on the Friday. So we do the endurance course on the Saturday, have a rest on Sunday, nine miler on the Monday and the 30 miler on the Wednesday. On Friday, you can re-take the endurance course we so we're like 'don't worry about it mate, you're gonna' smash it on Friday' so you have another chance to achieve it.
"I've got a Cheshire cat grin on my face because I've just passed my first commando test and, on the other hand, he's down in the dumps because he hasn't quite passed. So, it's a strange feeling. You're happy for yourself, but you feel sad for him so it's weird in a way."
So, after 73-odd minutes of gruelling runs across difficult terrain mixed with obstacles that will push you to your limits, what's the hardest part of the endurance course? While you'd be forgiven for thinking the home straight was the light at the end of the tunnel, that wasn't the case for Recruit Davies.
"The run on the way back," Recruit Davies said without hesitation. "It's just getting into a rhythm. The endurance course itself, probably takes 20 minutes of mega-hard phys, like, you're constantly sprinting between each obstacle. So you finish the course and you crawl through the last tunnel and then you're pretty much there on a run back to camp and the hardest part is getting out of that tunnel and then off Woodbury Common itself. When you get onto the roads, you can just get into a nice little rhythm, but as I say, getting off Woodbury itself, that is the hardest part. It has a really steady incline and obviously, you're blowing out from the endurance course. Yeah, it's hard."
Overcoming the endurance course requires a combination of great physical fitness and mental strength, but what's the one piece of advice Recruit Davies would give anyone who was about to undertake this exhausting challenge?
"Stick with it, honestly. Set yourself little goals. Get to one obstacle, then smash that obstacle before going onto the next; It's only 73 minutes, that's all I can say. 73 minutes. And then it's all over. Stick with it, that's all I'm saying - stick with it!
In short, don't give up is the message. Considering the course is designed to test a soldier's a Royal Marine recruit’s dedication, Recruit Davies is the walking embodiment of a man that passed that test with flying colours. It's not just about making it to the finish line, the course helps the would-be Marines learn about what is needed when they finally receive their green beret. The unity they require to help and trust a fellow man. To be humble enough to accept that help. To be adaptable in situations that fall far outside of their comfort zone. To show the fortitude to tackle anything in their path during the course head-on. To retain the ability to adhere to professional standards and, just as important as anything else, be able to crack a smile through it all.
Recruit Davies didn't just endure the endurance course, it helped mould him. He had the State of Mind!