PATHFINDER Horizon | The "Whys" and "How" Behind the 10-Mile Conditioning Ruck

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The 10-mile Conditioning Ruck is part of the PATHFINDER Horizon group of challenges, devised to prepare you for your long-distance ruck event. At least 50% of this ruck should be done on uphill and downhill concrete surfaces. The ideal area for this ruck would be a concrete parking garage if you can gain access to one for this challenge. There is no time hack. Concrete is preferable to asphalt for this challenge, due to concrete's density. Consider this challenge the equivalent to mountain ruck challenges in our other PATHFINDER programming.

The “WHYS”

The primary goals of the 10-mile conditioning ruck are to prepare your feet and legs for two things: Hills & Concrete.  

Hills:

Even in a city that seems relatively flat, you’re likely to discover hills. Both the uphills and the downhills will challenge your quads, hamstrings, glutes, knees, and calves. The downhills may be harder on your legs than the uphills, because you’ll be landing with more force, and absorbing the shock with your legs. Get your muscles used to those forces. Practice good form, and figure out what stride length works best for you. Smaller but more rapid steps can be more efficient, and help to lessen the impact, both on the uphills and on the downhills. Your speed will naturally slow down a bit on the uphills. Try maintaining even effort across the uphills and the downhills, as opposed to an even speed.

Moderate downhills are also a good opportunity to incorporate some shuffling.  You don’t need to shuffle for long. Even 100 meters of shuffling will allow you to change up the muscles that you’ve been using, giving the normal rucking muscles a break. Assuming you’re not rucking with excessive weight, shuffling on a downhill can even let you and your ruck feel almost weightless. With the slightest step, you can let gravity do the work of moving you forward. Try to minimize vertical movement of your center of mass, so that each step you take while shuffling is soft and quiet. Use your feet and your slightly bent knees to soften each step. Again, you don’t have to do it for long or very often.  Even one bout of shuffling per mile can be beneficial and help you inject some speed.  

Concrete:

In almost all Star Course cities, you will be on sidewalks most of the time.  Sidewalks are hard on your feet and legs. Think about the difference in softness between asphalt and trail, and the amount of extra cushioning that you get from rucking on dirt or grass. If you think asphalt is hard, did you know that concrete is 10X harder than asphalt? (Source: https://www.hillrunner.com/jim2/id27.html)  Over the course of the 211,200+ steps you’ll be taking during your 50+ mile event, that’s a lot of force on your feet. Bones require time to adapt to stress. Progressively mix in rucks on concrete to build up to the 10-mile challenge, so that during the event, your feet won’t hate you as much. During the event, by all means, take softer ground whenever possible if it is smooth enough not to twist an ankle. But prepare for the inevitable miles of concrete with this challenge.  

Don’t cheat yourself out of the opportunity to prepare your feet and legs for these two sources of stress. Sweat more in training, bleed less in battle.

The “HOW”

If you can get to one, use a parking garage. It may be more difficult for your GPS to function in the garage, but you can use a single loop on the top level, MapMyRun.com, or a similar tool to gauge the distance of one circuit, so that you can judge and extrapolate your total distance. If a parking garage is not available, find a good set of hills on concrete, or a single, long concrete hill that you can repeat.  

This challenge is very likely going to feel monotonous, but that’s good mental training for the Star Course.  The Star Course will test you as much mentally, as it does physically. The proportions will vary from person to person, but you may find yourself rucking the first 25 miles with your legs, the next 15 miles with your mind, and the last 10 miles with your heart.  Figure out which techniques help you get through the mental grind. Is it setting smaller goals, like getting to see a nice view at the end of each trip to the top of the parking garage? Is it through dissociation, by steering your mind towards something else like the occasional song on a Bluetooth speaker (not headphones, so that you can hear and avoid cars)?  Is it through association, where you pay close attention to your form and your body’s response to changing conditions during the ruck?

As always, use the challenge as an opportunity to practice with your event gear.  You may find that your shoes hit and rub your toes differently on hills vs. on flat ground.  Find out what gear works best for you.