“In 1908, Teddy Roosevelt issued an executive order to members of the military, later echoed by JFK: ‘Do 50 miles in under 20 hours.’ Pretty straightforward, eh?” - GORUCK
Find and register for GORUCK Star Course 50 Miler Events here.
AAR for Team Unattractive Nuisances by Kevin Gaunt (@unattractivenuisances on IG)
When GORUCK first announced the Star Course back in February, I signed up for it right away and figured I’d sort out the whole “find a team” thing later. Somehow, though, over the next few weeks I managed to cobble together a team made up of other dads from my neighborhood: Jon (who’s been rucking with me for the past two years and is a past PATHFINDER Endure finisher as well as a current Class 016 roster); Evan (also a past PATHFINDER Endure finisher); and Matt (sometimes joins us in the morning to ruck, but also a multiple Ironman finisher and general endurance sicko). The team probably wasn’t fully formed until mid-April, so we didn’t have a ton of time to prepare, but we did what we could.
For train-up purposes, in addition to our standard morning ruck WODs and distances of 4-6 miles on weekday mornings, I also did a few longer rucks to prepare. Specifically, about a month before the Star Course, Jon and I did a timed 12-miler on the C&O canal. Three weekends before, Matt, Evan, and I did a 20-miler overnight ruck. Then, two weekends before, all four of us met early one Friday morning to do a timed 12-miler, then that same night Matt and I went back out again for another 10 miles (“train on tired legs,” as Matt said).
"So, going into the event, I felt pretty decent about having a fair volume of miles under load. The big wild card in my mind was the weather forecast, since it rained the entire week beforehand and more rain was called for during the event."
Friday night before the start, the team met at my office in DC (we are all from Potomac, MD, so we have an advantage in knowing the area pretty well). We took an Uber to the start at Georgetown Waterfront and got checked in with all the other teams. I was surprised at just how many people were there – I ballparked it at 500+. I found out afterwards that 654 participants showed up out of 680 who had registered; there were 188 teams at the start.
We checked in and got our instructions from the GORUCK cadre, Big Daddy. He gave us the safety brief and then we got our maps and list of 17 mandatory waypoints around DC. He told us that the minimum shortest possible distance was still 50+ miles and that it was up to us to plot a smart route. He also emphasized that every team had to have at least two members to continue at all times.
For safety purposes, all teams were required to start the event doing an out-and-back leg on the C&O canal path that parallels the Potomac River leading north out of the city. There were two required waypoints to hit on the canal path; one at Lock 11 and one at Swain’s Lock, which is about 16.5 miles north of the city. After completing the 32-mile canal path portion, the teams were then free to hit the rest of the waypoints in DC in any order they chose.
Once we got the maps, we had about 30 minutes to plot our routes and do final gear checks before the SP at 2100. We were fortunate to have a pretty good idea of where all the waypoints were, how we could cut through the city, etc., so I think we put together probably the most efficient route possible.
At the start, it was drizzling as the 650+ ruckers lined up at the foot of the canal path. The airhorn went off, and everyone set out. For the first few miles, the route was pretty congested with all the teams jockeying for position until everyone got strung out. It also started to rain pretty steadily within an hour or so – and the rain didn’t let up ALL NIGHT.
"Our team fell into a pretty steady pace once we got some space to maneuver. I tried to make sure we didn’t jackrabbit off and go to fast right out of the gate, so we were holding somewhere between a 17:00 and 18:00 minute/mile pace."
The crowded path and the rain also limited the pace somewhat; at least initially, people were trying to skirt around puddles to keep their feet dry(ish), so that caused some starting and stopping.
By the time we reached the first CP, at about mile 7, it was pouring rain. Quick Instagram check-in, then saddled up to get up to Swain’s Lock at mile 16.5. At this point, we were still fairly chatty and feeling good, though getting steadily wetter. My shoes and socks were fully soaked at this point, but fortunately draining well and not causing any blisters or hot spots.
By the time we hit the turnaround at Swain’s Lock, there were lots of poopy faces on the trail. The constant rain was hard on morale, as was the sheer drudgery of trekking along a trail without much variance to look at. Another quick IG check-in, then we turned to head back into the city.
We took our first real rest stop at the Great Falls visitor center, which has a covered porch area that allowed us to get out of the rain. I wrung out my socks, threw on a long sleeve shirt under my rain shell (the temp was in the mid-50s at this point), and dug out my glove liners and buff to throw on to stay warm. The team was holding up pretty well at this point; no foot issues, no major issues with the cold, and no major pain points just yet. Evan’s wife had made us a batch of amazing peanut butter and M&M ‘energy’ cookies, so we each slammed one of those before we stepped back out into the rain.
"The leg heading back towards the city was pretty rough. At this point, it was in that dreaded period of the middle of the night between about 0200-0500 when you’re tired and the dawn seems really far away. Our heads were down and we just kept grinding. The constant pounding of the rain didn’t help matters any either. There was no point in going around puddles, since we were already fully saturated."
On this portion of the route, Evan’s calf started to bother him to the point that we had to slow our pace and make sure he didn’t fall out. As we got closer to the city, he told us that he wasn’t going to be able to do all 50 miles, but he wanted to at least hit 26.2 so that he could claim his first ever marathon! He gutted it out to about 28 miles when we could get him off of the trail and up onto MacArthur Boulevard, where we called him an Uber and sent him home. He sent us on our way with the bag full of cookies.
After texting in the drop to GORUCK HQ, the three of us remaining set out toward our first DC waypoint, the National Cathedral. We figured we wanted to get this out of the way early, since it’s at the highest point of all of the waypoints and involved a hell of a climb to get to. We knocked it out at around 0800 on Saturday morning and headed back down into the city. Fortunately, we passed an Einstein Bros bagel shop and decided to stop in there for some real food and to warm up for a few minutes. That 30 minute stop was our longest of the event and was a real lifesaver. We each had a cup of coffee and a bagel sandwich, and got to put on dry socks and generally reset our mental states for a few minutes. It’s amazing what some real food can do for morale!
From the Cathedral, we dropped back down into Georgetown to hit the C&O Canal mile marker 0 and the Exorcist Steps. We were feeling a little bit perkier after getting some chow and caffeine, plus the rain had finally decided to stop. From Georgetown, we looped over to Teddy Roosevelt Island, then up to Arlington to the Women in Military Service memorial. We weren’t moving super fast at this point. Matt’s knee was bothering him, and Jon’s hip flexors were tightening up. We knew we had enough time left to still finish, even if we weren’t going to be as fast as planned, so we kept trudging on.
From Arlington, we crossed back into DC and hit the Lincoln Memorial (steps!) and then the FDR memorial. After that came one of the hardest stretches by far – the trek down to Hain’s Point picnic area. It was about two miles down to the tip of Hain’s Point, and by this point in the day (maybe around noon?) everyone was in a mood. Seriously – Hain’s Point can kiss my ass, and it’s fine with me if I never go there again. The other teams around us looked as rough as we did, so I took some comfort from knowing it wasn’t just us feeling that way.
From Hain’s Point, we then slogged two miles back up to the Jefferson Memorial. By this point, every time we stopped to take a picture and log it on Instagram, we ended up resting for 10 minutes or so. And every time we stood back up, it got even harder to throw the ruck back on.
The two miles from the Tidal Basin to the Supreme Court was probably THE hardest leg, mentally. We knew that every step towards SCOTUS was taking us away from the end point, AND it’s all uphill to the courthouse. I could hear Jon cursing the course, his legs, GORUCK, and me as he shuffled along behind me; Matt was in rage mode a few feet ahead of me with his head down and his jaw clenched. It felt like we were never going to get to SCOTUS.
"From SCOTUS, we dropped back down the hill to hit the Washington Monument, WWII Memorial, and the White House. We’re averaging about a 25:00 minute/mile pace by this point – at this point, tourists on the mall are starting to ask us what we’re doing / what’s wrong with us, because we look like shit."
After hitting the White House a few minutes before 1600, it was about .5 miles up to the end point at Balance Gym. We knew all we had to do was stagger that little distance in less than an hour and we’d be done! Matt and Jon were both really hurting at this point; I could tell from their gaits that they were not far from being 100% cashed out. Fortunately, we were able to limp to the gym and hit our final checkpoint – only to discover that the after party was on the 5th floor of the gym! The elevator ran to the 4th floor, at least, and we weren’t too proud to take it up that far before dragging ourselves up the flight of stairs to the finish line.
When we checked in with BD at the finish, it was about 1615, and he told us that we were the 32nd team to finish. My ruck weighed in at 36.3 lbs on the finish line scale (Jon’s was at 36 lbs, Matt’s was at 26 lbs). Patches, pizza, and beer, in that order, and we were done!
According to Facebook afterwards, the official stats were:
- 680 individuals registered
- 654 individuals showed up
- 173 individuals finished (11 women)
- 188 teams started
- 72 teams finished
- Personal preparation: PATHFINDER Class 016 is my 8th class, and I think that the volume of miles with a ruck on from doing those classes was instrumental in completing the Star Course. The ruck weight was never an issue; my shoulders felt fine the entire time. And while my legs were tired, I never felt that I didn’t have anything left in the tank.
- Mental fortitude: the distance and the rain were hard on the brain. Just knowing when we came off the canal path that we still had 25 miles to go was really tough; I focused on taking it one checkpoint at a time and trying not to think about how much was left. PATHFINDER again helped in that regard; having done 20 mile overnight rucks and marathon rucks, I knew what it was like to have to dig deep mentally, and that helped get me through the Star Course. Jon and Matt did a great job as well with not letting their bodies talk their brains into quitting.
- Team preparation: I felt badly that Evan wasn’t able to finish. Unfortunately, the team came together a little too late to leave us a lot of time for much training, but I wish we could have gotten him across the finish line with us. Next time, I’ll try to get a team together with enough advance notice to fully train up.
- Ruck chafing: My lower back is trashed from where my ruck rubbed on it all night. I’ve had issues with this before, and I thought I had solved it by wearing compression shorts and two shirts to create layers, but with the rain and constant movement, my back got shredded. I need to figure this out.
- GORUCK GR1 26L “American” w/ Hip Belt
- GORUCK Ruck Plate 20 lbs
- Source 3L Water Bladder
- GORUCK Challenge Pants
- GORUCK Performance Tee
- GORUCK Tac Hat
- Brooks long-sleeve running tee
- Mountain Hardware Gore-Tex rain shell
- Buff neck gaiter
- Altra Superior 3.0 trail running shoes
- 2 x Darn Tough hiking socks
- 1 x RX bar – chocolate & sea salt
- 2 x Honey Stinger gels – mango / orange
- 1 x granola bar
- 3 x Evan’s energy cookies
- 2 x endurolyte salt tabs
- 1 x Einstein Bros chicken / hashbrown bagel sandwich
- 1 x cup of coffee