In February when GORUCK announced the Star Course in Washington, DC my son and I both jumped at the idea of participating. We registered and watched the initial registration limit get smashed and GORUCK added more spots. For those who don’t know what this event entails I’ll use GORUCK’s specific wording
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?
In JFK’s time it became a national craze, a challenge accepted by people of all walks of life despite claims in those days of the growing softness of the American people. Claims not too dissimilar to those made these days.
We believe those doubting the generations of today are looking in the wrong places. Many of us are not only up to such a 50 Mile Challenge, but we’re starving for some way to push ourselves to those new limits, and beyond.
Plus Some Special Forces Inspiration: The Star Course
Rucking is the foundation of Special Forces training and the “Star Course” is the culminating rucking exercise of Special Forces Selection. You show up with your ruck and you get a list of waypoints. You plot your route, then you start rucking: point to point, mile after mile.
For a lot of miles.
Sounds fun, doesn’t it?! We thought so too and a lot of our spring prep work was geared towards this goal. 50 miles is no joke and I knew I didn’t want to fall short. One of the requirements is that at least two of the people on the team must be together to complete the course and earn the patch. No solo attempts for Star Course. With that in mind many miles were rucked in prep, my son did the New Jersey Spartan Race Ultra, among other local races and events.
TL;DR – It rained we started and med dropped after 5.5 hours and 16.2 miles. Read below for more details.
Friday 5/18 and we were in a plane on our way to DC. We had a hotel for the weekend though we knew we wouldn’t need it Friday night/Saturday morning as we’d be on the course grinding miles. It was raining when we landed and that would be constant the whole time we were there. We checked in to the hotel, double checked our gear especially after finding TSA went through our bags. This was our first time to flying with ruck plates and I guess the TSA has to open the bag and see what’s up with the 20lb piece of steel in the bags. We’d heard mixed results for people who have tried to carry them on so opted to check them. The TSA took his out of his ruck and then put it back in the suitcase after emptying his ruck (not cool). I guess they did his first as mine was opened but not rifled through like his was. We grabbed lunch and hit CVS for some moleskin and scissors. There is always something forgotten it seems.
We chilled in the room for a while, watched TV and finally 6:30 came around and we got an Uber to the start point, Georgetown Waterfront Park, a few miles from our hotel in Crystal City. We knew we were in the right place when we got closer and saw all of the rucks, reflective bands people hanging around. We checked in at registration, got our cool Star Course shirts that we’d ordered before the event and hung around talking about what the event might entail and what the next 20 odd hours would bring.
The team captain meeting was at 8PM and we listed to Big Daddy give instructions. Initially there was going to be a choice to do the city portion of the course first and then the long out and back or vice versa. With the rain the DC area the Potomac was high and portions of the C&O canal trail were washed out further out. In the interest of safety and getting people through this part of the course ASAP we all were doing the 32.4 mile out and back first and then could hit the city course. A few other words about the aid stations, medics and general rules. Big Daddy handed out the hit list of waypoints we would need to visit and check in on Instagram to claim credit. There was no particular order we had to hit them and it was up to us to find the best path for our team. He made it a point to mention that we would be doing at LEAST 50 miles and if your navigation skills were less than optimal, you’d be doing more.
My son and I plotted our course and discussed the overall plan while we waited. Since it was still raining we put the waypoints into the notepad on his phone and the order we planned to tackle them in. Here’s a picture of the hit list and maps.
Our plan was to hit them in this order:
Lockhouse 11, Swain’s Lock (both on the C&O towpath trail) and then head back towards the city. Once we got back in the District, we’d cut our way to the Washington Cathedral then make our way to the Exorcist Steps. Next would be Canal Mile Marker 0 then over to Theodore Roosevelt Island and then down to the Women in Service memorial at Arlington. From there we’d hit the Lincoln Memorial, FDR Memorial and Thomas Jefferson as we headed towards Hain’s Point Picnic Area. From Hain’s Point it was back to the Mall and the WWII memorial, Washington Monument then onwards to the Supreme Court. After there, we’d visit the White House before making the final push the end point, Balance Gym on 14th St. Sounds like a good plan, huh?
A little before 9PM we headed to the starting area where Jason (founder of GORUCK) talked with us and got everyone hyped up with some chants of GORUCK and Running Sucks. LOL. Big Daddy sounded 3 blasts of the air siren and we began. 700 weirdos all carrying at least 20lbs of steel plates, water, chem lights and plans for 50+ miles of fun grinding. It was pretty crowded as we filed onto the bike path and it took a few miles before everyone settled into their personal pace and spaced out a bit – just like any race or event it is always a bit crowded at the start. Of course it was still raining and my Marmot raincoat kept me dry.
We got into a nice pace and transitioned from pavement to crushed gravel. The rain was non-stop and would alternate between drizzle to a bit heavier to some good spots of harder rain. It was never a downpour but was constant. We found one of our Corn Fed Spartan buddies, Mark McKennett and talked with him for a bit. He shared some funny stories about his experience the previous weekend at the Spartan Race in Boston and the HH12HR, 2 laps of the Sprint course with the HH12HR weight (30lbs) followed by the HH which was an unofficial gathering of endurance people called the Quad Shot organized by Rob Barger. We’ve had the privilege of meeting some of the neatest people in the last few years doing this stuff.
It was heads down rucking and watching your footing as some portions of the trail were rocky. We could hear the Potomac roaring on our left side and as we passed canal lock after lock we could hear the water rushing through the gates. It was very cool and I would have loved to see it in the day! We talked and passed the time with some times in silence. We made it to the first checkpoint, Lock House 11, took a selfie and uploaded it to Instagram. I wish I had practiced a bit more with it before the event. Instagram isn’t my social media tool of choice (Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn) I really don’t need another so fumbled around with a bit to get it tagged properly and out there. A quick pit stop and we were off.
We passed under I-495 and kept on trucking. Did I mention it was raining?! It was. We made our way down the dark trail and it was neat to see the chemlights of the ruckers in front of us when we’d hit a curve. We saw Jason out rucking with us which I was impressed with. I wondered if he would do the event of just kick it off and let us goobers go do it. Nope, he was out there grinding with us, too and talking with people. Major cool points for that! We kept going and could hear the falls at Great Falls but couldn’t see them. I bet they were really raging as they sounded loud.
We were chatting and killing time while grinding. I practiced counting my paces as we’ll need it for a Heavy we are doing in a month. Counting really takes focus. I hope I get better at it with practice. My son had mentioned after last week’s 25k trail race that his IT band had flared up during the race and forced him to walk a bit. He had spent the week resting, foam rolling and stretching. I asked him how he was doing and he said it was not comfortable. He’s a tough kid so for him to mention it was noteworthy. He said is started acting up around mile 7. He said he could keep going, which was good since we were in no-man’s land. We agreed to do a no-BS assessment at the next waypoint, Swain’s Lock.
We kept moving and my left ankle, which had been giving me grief since the Cinco de Mayo Light was making it’s displeasure known. We kept grinding and it was maybe mile 14 or so that the first leaders passed on their way back. These dudes were running and making good time. I had wondered if some ultrarunners would sign up and crush the field and now had my answer. Side note, they finished in 12h30m! That’s a good pace, especially considering the conditions, having to stop for checking in, etc.
We plodded on and finally reached Swain’s Lock. We took our picture and added it to Instagram. I asked my son what he thought we should do. After a long, thoughtful pause, he said we should drop. I knew this was a tough call for him to make but also very smart. We’ve got a lot of events lined up this summer and after he watched me struggle with my IT band last fall, I think he knows it’s not a short fix. My ankle was happy that we dropped as well though I know I could have kept on going but would have paid for it later. We notified the lady working the checkpoint that we were dropping and she notified the right people. I called for an Uber and while waiting another team of two asked if they could ride back to DC with us. The guy was getting hypothermic and couldn’t continue. Of course I let them and they were kind enough to split the bill.
While we waited EMS rolled in for someone who needed more serious medical attention than we did. I wasn’t sure what was going on as the patient walked to the ambulance but they took him away so it wasn’t a small deal. There were Ubers coming and going while we waited and I think a lot of people were dropping. The weather was taking its toll on many of them. It was around 2:30AM and it was in the mid 50s and raining so no surprise people were tapping out.
We rode back to the hotel and the warm showers felt great and dry clothes were really appreciated. While walking from the elevator to the room, my boots were squishing out water with each step. It was particularly funny at 4AM. I was thrilled to have only one blood blister on my right foot and none on my left. The boot I used were new and didn’t have as many miles breaking them in as I had planned to put on them. They worked great and will get a lot more punishment in the future. I sent my wife an email letting her know we dropped and that my phone wasn’t working as it detected moisture in the charging port. Ha, imagine that! We hit the hay hard. My son woke around 10 and I got up close to 11. I was able to get an earlier flight home and checked out of the hotel a day early. We made it home and once again, TSA went through our stuff but not as disruptive a before. On a side note, my checked bag with wet clothes, boots and ruck weighed 3.5lbs more on the way home than it did on the way there. Did I mention it rained?
I am happy we got to participate in the first GORUCK Star Course and while I certainly would have liked to finish it, I’m glad we stopped when we did more or less injury free. There are a number of other Star Courses happening this year and I can’t wait to try another go at one. We have to finalize our plans for the fall and see what we can fit in. Obviously, this is unfinished business (I have a lot of that around the US) and I’d like to get one under my belt.
- GORUCK Black Rucker
- CamelBak Crus 3L Bladder
- Nalgene 1L bottle
- 20lb GORUCK Plate
- Columbia SilverRidge Convertible Pants
- Russell Athletic Dri-Power Performance Crewneck Shirt
- Grunt Style Outdoors Heathered Long Sleeve
- Rocky RKC050 Military and Tactical Boot
- Smartwool Hiking Socks with inner socks that I’ve had for years
- Gasden & Culpepper Operator Boonie Hat
- Marmot PreCip Jacket
My Garmin Map
Our next GORUCK event is a custom Heavy in California mid June so keep an eye out for that AAR.