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I first heard of the Star Course following the GORUCK announcements over a year ago. Never did it cross my mind that I would actually be doing one. Although crucible experiences are nothing new to me, or the BUBS team, this one event was definitely noton the radar to complete. Years ago, Sean and I both completed SealFit’s Kokoro camp. In the back of my mind, I honestly thought nothing would compare in difficulty to that. Well, I was wrong.
On January 4th, 2019, an email came through our BUBS customer support line inviting us to do the 2019 GORUCK Star Course 50 Miler in Washington DC. I must have got caught in the moment, because my first reaction was, “Sure. How hard can it be?”. The answer: hard; Very hard. However, I failed preparation miserably. So for the sake of this being something that you, the reader, can gain value and knowledge from, I’ll let you know what I did - and how to correct it.
Let’s start with the major component to prep, which I neglected fully: Rucking. Looking back, after finishing the event, I’ve realized I should have rucked, a lot. My general training for the event was CrossFit-esque workouts and a lot of strength training. I knew my heart rate wouldn’t be pinned during the event, so I avoided cardio for the most part, aside from the random Metcon. In hindsight, it wasn’t a terrible idea. Not only was it not ideal for the event and what it dishes out, but my physical durability was significantly less than needed. I would consider myself marginally fit, and capable, but nothing prepares your joints and body for walking under load more so than...walking under load. I would highly recommend working up to 20-30 miles with 30# in your ruck. Your body will thank you after.
Gear choice and familiarity is probably the next most important. I’ve heard/said a thousand times, you’re only as good as your gear. This could not be more true for this event. Since you actually get to choose your gear (some events issue it), do yourself a favor and be meticulous about what you’re wearing and carrying. Although everyone will have personal preferences, the main guidelines are a comfortable ruck and great shoes. For me, I brought a Stone Glacier Avail 2200 and some Hoka One One Challenger ATR 5s. Some of our crew had GORUCK Ruckers and the Macv-1 Boots. All options seemed to work well.
Regarding the actual event, our crew included me, Reid, James, and Mark. Everyone but myself lived in the DC area and was incredibly familiar with the route. I can honestly say, if it wasn’t for the planning of our crew, we wouldn’t have made it. We had a few GPS systems running to keep us on pace and on course. Roadwarrior Pro was the navigation app of choice and it was great.
After the safety brief and start, we decided to walk ‘backwards’ to mile marker 0 first, then head out on to the long walk along the C&O canal path to hit Lock 11 and Swain’s Lock. This is roughly a 32-mile out-and-back hike that takes you through most of the night. The original goal was to make it back to the district at 0700 to start picking off waypoints during the daylight hours. I think this was probably the best decision because your legs and body are still fresh, so the overall suffer-factor is low. Mentally, you just need to be comfortable making it to each checkpoint on pace, knowing that it’s game-on when dawn hits. Our crew made a tactical decision after Swain’s Lock to take River Road back to the district instead of the canal path. This saved us an hour and a half overall. Although the road is undulating, this was a much better decision than going back the path, as it dumped us out right at the Cathedral around 0630 allowing us to hit that checkpoint, as well as the Exorcist steps immediately after.
From approximately mile 35 after checking in at George Washington University, we were a bunch of shattered souls. It was daylight and we had to ‘fall forward’ for the remaining 15 miles and check off waypoints. Our navigation had us going through a few memorials (FDR & Lincoln), then Arlington National Cemetary, on to Hain’s Point picnic area. At this point in my life, I’m totally cool never seeing that stretch of road to Hain’s Point again. Long and lonely is the best way to describe it. If it wasn’t for the group young recruits rucking with us, and the conversation of my crew, I would have happily caught a Bird scooter back to the hotel and put my feet up. Thankfully, that moment of weakness passed and we pressed on after shuffling back 2 miles from Hain’s Point. From here, any amount of uphill or memorial steps hurt - bad. The steps were slow and the pace was slower. For the remaining checkpoints, we’d stop for 5 minutes and regroup before we marched out again. For me, personally, the hardest - physically and mentally - was rucking up Capitol Hill to the Supreme Court of the United States. As cliche as it sounds, minutes felt like hours. I coerced myself through everystep, knowing that it was one closer to a Bud Heavy and a patch that I was now determined to get. From SCOTUS, we headed back down the hill to hit the Washington Monument, the WWII Memorial, and the White House. After our final checkpoint at Thomas Circle, we were home free… almost. The sick and twisted minds at GORUCK deemed it necessary to climb 6 more flights of stairs to get your beer & patch combo at the gym. Suffer Factor: 11.
Looking back on it, I’m incredibly impressed with the event. From a team standpoint, I was able to slot myself in with a group of strangers and finish with a new family. I’m beyond impressed and thankful for Reid, James, and Mark. Without them, I would have been lost, starving and likely dead. Our crew finished in 18:45 with approximately 50 miles clocked in. My ruck at the start weighed 35lbs, and 30lbs at the finish.
I think the most important focus of the After Action is the recovery. I took 3 days completely off to let my Heart Rate Variability move back up to a healthy level. I’ve also increased my collagen dose from 20 grams per day to 60 grams. I’ve upped my fish oil to 6 grams per day, and have increased Vitamin D/K2 as well. That said, I was able to complete Murph a week later on Memorial Day, almost pain-free. Reiterating my earlier recommendation. Train for the event, and the recovery will be 10x better. For me, pure stubbornness coupled with a great team was what got me through, but the recovery was a bit of a battle.