Here is a recap of this past weekends GORUCK Star Course 50-Miler event held in Washington, DC.
I teamed up with Travis Kazmierzak to embark on something neither of us had done, ruck 50 miles. I have an extensive background in ultra-endurance MTB events (100 mile, 12-hr, 24 hr, and multi-stage races), however, Travis has never competed in any endurance event. He does have a military background serving in the Army so I knew this would seem appealing to him.
We left Thursday afternoon and spent the night at my relatives house in Maryland (approx. 1 hr away from the start venue). We arrived in D.C on Friday afternoon after picking up Travis' wife Nicole at the airport and since Thursday is had been raining non-stop.
Looking at the forecast there was no clearing in sight, so we knew (along with everyone else) that we would be soaking wet from start to finish. People were posting not to wear running shoes, but we were going to stick to our plan and go with running shoes so that we could jog every 5 min.
The event started at 9pm on Friday night, and around 6:45pm everyone began showing up to check-in and pick up the American Flag wristband. There was a team meeting at 8pm in which we would receive our briefing from B.D, a map, and the "Hit List" of checkpoints to navigate to.
Nicole was going to volunteer at one of the First Aid Stations between 12-5am (at least that was the plan). We got one last quick selfie and then we headed over to the underpass for the final few words from Jason.
With the use of a megaphone, Jason began shouting "GO" and having all of us shout "RUCK". This went on for a few minutes. The mixing in the words "RUNNING" shouted by Jason and "SUCKS" by all of us. Then it was back to "GO" "RUCK", and then B.D gave the official start by blowing a horn three times.
We started training for this event 10 week ago and it was finally here. For the first 2 miles we kept it chill to let the adrenaline settle in and help loosen up some of the joints. We didn't warm up too much with the exception of some dynamic stretches, lunges, pushups, karaoke and some ankle circles.
There were a few teams that started running right from the start, and we would find out that one Team of 3 ran most of the 50 miles. They went as minimal as they needed, not carrying much more than the required 20lbs of dry weight. Apparently they were using this as a training event for their upcoming 200 mile race...badass!
The route started off on a paved trail, similar to most Riverwalk paths. After 2 miles my plan was to have us walk at a 14:30 min/mile pace and then jog every 5 min. We practiced this during the last 4 weeks of our training and felt confident we could manage this for the majority of this event.
We began to pass several teams around mile 3, some already have some feet issues, others taking some layers of clothing off. We kept up this pattern and noticed another team doing something similar, walking for 15 min and jogging for 5 min. We played yo-yo with them for a while. We got into good rhythm and things were going as planned.
Around mile 7ish the trail came to an end and we noticed there were a few other teams looking confused about where the trail was. A few minutes later I asked a man walking on the streets and he said we had to go around a few streets and we could pick the trail back up. Cool, all of us (roughly 10 of us) started heading over to what we thought would be the trail. Once we got there it was a different trail and not the one "we thought" we should be on...following me still?
So Travis called Nicole and asked her to see where we were as she could pull it up on a computer from the house we were renting for the weekend. She told him that we were in Bethesda, MD and way off the "trail" we should be on. After a few minutes of navigating a route to get us back on route we were off, and now on a mission to make up ground we had lost. We continued our 5 minute fast walk and 30 sec jog, while those who were with us decided to stay with us. In retrospect, having several of us together helped make this less frustrating.
After several miles of rucking through urban neighborhoods and a few busy highways we were connected back to the trail we should have been on. We had a few miles to go to reach the first of many checkpoints (in which we had to take a selfie of each member of the team to prove that we were there).
Now keep in mind, this entire time it has been raining, some times lightly and other times very hard, but honestly I don't even remember it raining during the time we got off trail until we got back on.
We finally reached the first checkpoint, Lockhouse 11 (officially checkpoint #2 as the start location was considered #1). It was pouring rain and trying to use a phone in the rain is not easy, especially when trying to take a selfie, at night, with your headlamp on. Good Livin'!
Our next checkpoint would be the turnaround marking the 1/2 way point on this trail. We were told it would be 16 miles out and 16 back. We were already at close to 12 miles (over 3.5 miles more than we should have).
We lost a few teams that were not able to keep the pace while another team of two kept with us. We began to pass several teams on the trail (ones who didn't miss the turn we did), and a few miles further the Team of 3 that was running was already heading on their way back. They were setting a blistering pace as the next team behind them was several miles back.
At about mile 19, Travis said he wouldn't be able to keep up the 30 sec jog every 5 min, so we nixed the jog but continued to keep a 14:30 min/mile pace. We finally reached the turnaround point, Checkpoint #3, and refilled our hydration bladders and took our selfie of Swain's Lock. It was still pouring rain at this time
I was using a product called Spiz, a powder that you mix with water and was designed to be a meal supplement for cancer patients. I used this during my cycling career and helped me through many 100-mile, 12-hr, and 24-hr mountain bike events. Travis was using only water along with some Lara Bars.
We began to head back and Travis had to pee every 5-10 minutes. What I think he did was over hydrate with water (not getting enough electrolytes) and get the onset of hyponatremia. This continued for several miles. I figured there was no way he was going to make it at this pace, so we stopped at another First Aid Station so that I could give him some of the Spiz I had packed.
Within 20 min he began to feel better and he wasn't having to pee as often anymore. Our pace definitely slowed down significantly during that stretch, but the goal was to finish.
He was going through some dark places and fighting with his inner demons. They make you say, "I'm tired", "I don't have the energy", etc. I did my best to keep him focused on good things, like seeing Nicole soon, playing with his dogs, having a shot of whiskey (although that one didn't help).
I was impressed by his effort. He was experiencing some if the issues I had during my early ultra-endurance MTB races, so I knew how to help get him over that hurdle.
After many more miles we began to slowly get closer to getting off this trail and the daylight was coming up. We eventually realized where we had missed a turn; going down the stairs just before a bridge rather than going across the bridge. We reached the Fletchers Cove Boathouse Aid Station and I had to change my shoes. My feet had been really starting to hurt bad 5 miles back and I needed a change if anything.
Rather than staying on the paved trail back to the start we took Nicole's advice and ventured out on the streets in pursuit of the Washington National Cathedral. We hit some hills along the way (Travis' favorite) and saw several other teams heading to the same location. Travis got a text from Nicole saying she had donuts and coffee waiting for us...for some reason our pace began to pick up again.
After a donut and a couple swigs of warm coffee (thank you Nicole) we were off to the Exorcist stairs.
Next we headed down to the river to hit the C&O Canal Mile Marker 0. Wasn't quite sure what this was because it was hard to search for a mile marker, but the guys went easy on us as we were a little far from this one looking back at other teams photos.
Travis' energy level seemed to be getting a little better at this point and after taking some Ibuprofen my foot pain was temporarily gone.
We had a bit of a distance between the next checkpoint, the Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial. We had to cross the bridge over the Potomac River and the cross another bridge getting on/off the island.
With a little help from Nicole, we devised a plan to help save some time/distance on our next point on the Hit List, the Women in Military Service Monument. Rather than following the paved path like most were doing, we hopped the small wall and crossed the freeway (thank Frogger) knocking off about 1/2 mile.
From here we hit the Lincoln, FDR, and Thomas Jefferson Memorials and I think we took some more Ibuprofen somewhere in between.
What comes next is what required some mental toughness. We had about a 4 mile walk to this picnic area; long, flat, straight road just to see a damn picnic area. This I'm sure was planned by GORUCK to add insult to injury. Now 4 miles may not seem like a long distance, but trust me it seemed like 14 miles at the time.
You'll notice in Travis' expressions that we are wanting to get this over with. The end is near, but every .5 mile or 2 mile stretch is taking between 18 - 40 minutes. Because it is now Saturday afternoon, there are people and police everywhere, they must have looked at us like we were zombies (which we might as well have been considering what we just went through the last 15 hours).
Now making our way back the 2nd half of the out/back from the picnic area, Travis got a text from Nicole saying she wanted to join us for the final few checkpoints and add a bit of camaraderie, because at this point neither of us were in much of a talking mood.
She met us at the WWII Monument, in my opinion one of the coolest attractions.
Next we crossed the street and were at the Washington Monument, one of the most iconic sites in D.C.
Two stops left before heading to the finishing location. First it was the Supreme Court building and then Trump's House. More meandering through people, waiting at stop lights and street crossings. It's insane the number of security and police around this city, but for good reason.
OK, that was the final of all the monuments/memorials checkpoints, now we just had to make it to the Balance Gym. At this point we had just over 1 hour left to complete the 50 miles in under 20 miles.
When we got to the gym, we had 6 flights of stairs left to climb to finish off what was truly a memorable 19 hours. We weighed our ruck at the "official weigh-in, and B.D checked us in and told us we were only the 18th team to have finished at that point of the 180 teams that had started. Mocha Mike greeted each of us with a handshake and a palm full of one GORUCK Star Course 50-mile patch.
The after-party was a chance to relish what had just happened, chat with some dudes/dudettes from other teams, and say thanks to Jason, Bomber, and the rest of the GORUCK team for putting on another great event.