The GORUCK Star Course 50 is no joke. Ruck 50 miles with 20+ pounds in under 20 hours.
It ranks right up there with some of the hardest events I’ve done, my Heavy and HTL included.
Below, I will share my thoughts on gear, training, my experience on the course, and post-event thoughts.
In addition, I’ve put together videos. They include my loadout, recordings from when we were actually out on the course, and my final takeaways.
I hope this is all helpful for the community. If you have any questions, drop them in the comment section below.
The big confession here is that I didn’t train for this event. My regular training consists of CrossFit and occasional rucks with friends, usually doing the Monthly Rucking Challenge.
But, as far as preparing for a 50-mile ruck… I did nothing specific. That was a mistake.
(I’ll add the caveat here that I know my abilities. I can go out and do 20 miles with little or no prep and be generally fine. What I discovered is that 50 miles is a whole different story.)
In addition to not training, I did not prepare for the event. Two weeks out my buddy, RJ, reminded me that we only had two weeks. It was the first I had thought about the event. That was not good.
Up until the day before I didn’t know how I was getting to DC or getting back to Richmond. I didn’t know what shoes I was going to wear. I didn’t have my food and supplies sorted out.
I was utterly unprepared.
As I explain in my full DC Star Course Video, I even bought a pair of new shoes the morning of the event.
I was a mess.
Want to see all my footage related to the Star Course? Got 30 minutes? Here ya go:
Here is my loadout video.
Here’s my gear:
- Recycled Firefighter 12-hour (my full review) – This ruck worked perfectly. I absolutely LOVE the vertical zip pouch on the front. Make getting snackies super easy when on the move. I will say that I was sad to not take my Red GR1. I’ve used that bag for every GORUCK event I’ve done. But, I do think this was the right ruck choice for me on this event.
- 3 Cliff Bars + 1 Kind Bar – Ate all 4 bars. In addition, I ate a few oranges and some gummie bears that Ryan shared.
- 4 Packs of Energy Jelly Beans – Ate 2 packs. They are amazing. Gave one pack to the team. Found the other pack when unloading my bag at home.
- 1 Northface Shell – Didn’t need and didn’t use.
- 1 Getihu Backup Battery – For less than $20, this thing is a beast. Offers 2.5 full charges of an iPhone. Weights about 1/2 pound.
- 3 koozies – For the beer we ended up not drinking (more on that later)
- 20# Ruck Weight – Cause, weight.
- 3L Low Profile Source Hydration Bladder – This is different than what is in the picture. Made a change at the last minute as I prefer the low-profile over the normal bladder. Just sits better in the ruck.
- 1 change of socks – Did no use. In fact, I never took my shoes off.
- 1 Small Container of Trail Toes – Came in hand when some chafing started to happen at mile 38.
- 1 Small portion of leukotape – Did not use.
- 4 bandaids – Did not use.
- 1 Small Neosporin – Did not use.
- 1 Petzel e+lite headlamp – Still really like this little guy. Though, would have liked a little more output on some section of the night, but it was fine.
- 20 Salt Stick pills – Used most of these. Took every hour +/- after about 15 miles.
In all, I am happy with the loadout. I don’t think there is anything I would change except investing in some small trail toe packets as opposed to a jar.
- Underarmor Heatgear Shirt – Perfect.
- Nike 5″ running shorts – Sky’s Out, Thighs Out. Unless it is below 40, I ruck in shorts.
- Athletic Boxer Briefs – Just some no-name brand I wear all the time.
- Injini Toe Socks + Smart Wool Socks – The system works for me.
- Brooks Ghost 11 – I was back and forth on doing this in my MACV-1s or in running shoes. Every event I’ve done has been in shoes. I’ve done up to 20 miles in my MACV-1s. I didn’t decide to do shoes until the day of the event. I just didn’t feel like the MACV-1s were the right choice that day. No reason except a gut feeling. I had to go buy new shoes though because my old Brooks had a huge hole in them. I wasn’t too worried because I know Brooks and I knew they’d be fine on my feet right out of the box.
I don’t think I’d change anything about my selection. Everything worked just fine.
Tracking and Route Planning
For the event, we used Road Warrior to optimize our route. We entered the waypoints and trusted the report.
I will note two things here.
First, the app optimizes for driving. I suggest that at each waypoint you pull up the next waypoint in Google maps. The advantage here is that Google Maps will allow you to select “walking” as an option. It will then optimize your route for walking, which can include trails and shortcuts that cars can’t take.
Second, two is one. We usually had two maps tracking at the same time. There were a few time when it came in handy for us to compare the routes and catch mistakes before (or right after) they happened.
Pace and Breaks
At the start, we decided to just take the event as it comes to us. No “planned” pace or breaks.
To begin, we went out hot. Sub-15 ruck with shuffle/jog across all intersections. Check out those first 6 miles!
This went well and we kept it up for 15 +/- miles.
After that, the pace was all over the place. Mid-morning was probably our worst. Break were longer and walking was miserable.
We got our crap together towards the last 8-10 miles and pushed back to around a 19 +/- minute mile.
Breaks were only taken at waypoints. We tried to assign a time limit to each break, but we almost always went over the allotted time.
The biggest time suck is addressing feet. If you’re taking shoes and socks off, you’re gonna be there at least 10 minutes.
If we were to improve anything from this event, I would like to figure out the best approach to breaks. But, honestly, I’m not sure what the best approach is for this.
The DC 50
Here is a video that follows our team from start to finish on our DC Star Course.
The start point was great. Over 100 teams. There was a safety brief and a team leader meeting. We got our waypoints and started mapping. We got our route and headed out.
First stop was Women’s War Memorial at Arlington. We were moving fast and feeling good.
From there, we headed to the Exorcist Stairs. Still feeling good.
Then, off to the National Cathedral. It was pretty much all uphill to get there. But, the pace was good. At the Cathedral we took our first break. Ryan and RJ did their first foot check. I (as would be the case for the whole night) did not check my feet. I felt like they were ok.
From the Cathedral, we started on the first long walk. It was 12 miles to the next checkpoint. It was a dark and lonely walk out to Maryland. We freaking walked to Maryland. This checkpoint was a refresh station and the cadre were there and they had oranges. The oranges were amazing.
At this stop we said, “let’s shoot for 5 minutes.” It ended up being 30. There we did footcare, stretching, replenish water.
From here we began the worst part of the event. A total of like 16 miles on the C7O trail. I hate that trail.
We hit the waypoint on the trail, taking a break. By this point, we were all in some significant pain. Everything hurt. The break felt great, but starting back up was miserable.
We finally made it to the final checkpoint from the trail.
It was great to be back in DC. We were starting to see a lot more ruckers. But, by this point, I was worn down. I could tell my pace and everything was suffering. It would be for the next couple of hours that I was in the worst place mentally.
This picture sums up how we feel about the C&O Trail.
The next point was GW University.
Then on to Lincoln. Here, we took another break. This one was a bad one for me. I was getting lower and lower mentally. Everything was killing me. Every step sucked. If you watched the video above, it actually makes me laugh how bad I looked and sounded at this point.
Next was the WWII memorial at the gold stars. Every star marks 100 lives lost.
This memorial makes me cry every time.
To see those stars and read “HERE MARKS THE PRICE OF FREEDOM.” simply wrecks me.
We took off our hats and paid our respects. This was the most moving stop of the trip for me.
Then, a quick step up to Washington. Here, I discovered that my inner thigh was starting to chafe. I applied trail toes to it. It was better after that. We also replenished water at a fountain. I was dragging bad.
Pushing off to the FDR I got a side stitch. I couldn’t breathe in without significant pain. It was very, very bad. If felt like that time I broke a rib.
I pushed on as best I could, but our pace was pathetic. Along with my issues, RJ was dealing with really bad cramping (which he’d been battling for several hours and would only get worse over the remaining 15+/- miles).
At FDR I told the team I had to break. I laid down and tried to get rid of my side-stitch. Miraculously, it went away. This was a major turning point for me.
After FDR, though I was still in a lot of pain, I had recovered mentally and was able to push my body better than I had for the previous several hours.
From FDR we went to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.
From Jefferson went to the Hains Point Picnic Area which was WAY further than we thought. The trip out was slow and painful.
At the waypoint we took a break. We were bad, but RJ’s cramping was just getting worse. At that point, we had an assessment. We were 8-10 miles out from end-point. We had to really get ourselves together in order to make the 20-hour cut-off.
As we started to the Titanic memorial we agreed that we needed a sub-20-minute pace through the next 2 stops (about 6-8 miles) with no breaks.
Everyone dug in, but RJ no-doubt was pushing himself harder than any of us. You could see the cramps in his legs. I knew how horrible my pain was and I knew his was worse.
He was digging deep. A quick pic and we immediately continued to the Supreme Court.
We stopped here for an agreed-upon 5-minute break. Here, RJ was really starting to concern us. He was still moving, but the heat was breaking him down even worse. We were now just a few miles from the end. But we couldn’t waste any time. We had to move out.
We headed to the White House trying to stay in the shade of the building as much as possible. Crosswalks were our enemy. We just wanted to keep moving.
One block from the White House we officially hit our 50-miles. RJ collapsed. (and, yes, I took a picture because there is clearly something wrong with me).
It was super scary. We rush over. Heat exhaustion was setting in. We moved him to the shade and assessed his condition. He was coherent, able to answer questions. But, he was is a pretty bad place. We gave him all the water we had. We gave him electrolytes. A passer-by gave him coconut water.
At this point, we had a heart-to-heart. We had about 1.5 hours to finish. We were 1 mile away. We had to get a pic a the White House and one by a statue near endex.
It was here that we realized how much this was a team event. RJ wasn’t going to quit and we didn’t walk 50 miles to come up short. With much protesting, I took RJ’s ruck and Ryan grabbed him under the shoulder. We were finishing this thing as a team. Beaten and bruised, but not broken, we were going to do this together.
At the White House a guard said the area was closed, so we moved on. I ran up and bought some water from a street vendor and passed them out to the team.
Half a mile uphill… sucked. We pressed on.
We snapped a questionable pic of the last checkpoint and made it over to the endex.
RJ took his ruck back and under his own will power, climbed the 10 flights (or however many) under his own power.
We got to the roof and expedited our patch and picture.
We then quickly got RJ down one level to some A/C. He laid down, got some ice, and began an hour-long recovery.
We did it. As a team.
Finishing as a team was amazing. I could not be more proud of what we did TOGETHER.
How Far is Too Far?
While we are all happy to have finished the Star Course and earn our patches, it is here that I feel it is appropriate to talk about the reality that our team really pushed the limits.
RJ was in a bad place and it was our decision to either let him continue or to call it quits.
If you’ve been in this community for a while, you know that we’ve lost a few of our own at events. And that reality weighs heavily on us.
But, we are also a group of people that “embrace the suck” and “DFQ.”
So, where is the line? When do you say “I know it is only 1 mile left, but we have to stop.”
It is a tough call and one that none of us “want” to make.
For us, there were a few things. One, RJ was coherent enough to answer questions, even joking at times. Two, he agreed to lighten his load and let us carry his ruck the last mile. Three, we were constantly monitoring him on that mile to make sure he wasn’t showing any signs of getting worse.
Even still, I’m not sure we made the right call. I mean, sure, we finished and RJ is doing just fine. In fact, on Monday he texted that he went to work and then to the gym for a scaled workout. So, in that regard I guess we were ok.
But, could things have turned a different direction? Maybe. I’m no doctor, so I don’t really know.
I guess, my point here is that when we’re on that razor’s edge, it is hard to know what to do. I’m glad RJ finished. I’m glad he’s ok. But, if anything really bad had happened, it would have been on our watch. And that’s a hard pill to swallow.
Just a quick note here. Emily McCarthy was absolutely amazing. Our area in the gym became a place for all the heat exhaustion people to come recover.
While Emily could have easily delegated the care of these folks to other people while she was up on the roof with all the other finishers, she personally came down regularly to check on everyone, bring ice and supplies, and make sure that everyone was ok.
As I said to her in an email, it speaks volumes of both her and of the culture that GORUCK has created that truly puts others above self.
So, to Emily again, thank you!
And so much more…
I didn’t tell you about the German flag RJ carried for his Oma who recently passed.
I didn’t tell you about how Ryan helped me to focus on the positive instead of the negative.
I didn’t tell you about a hundred moments and experiences that made this event so amazing.
The truth is, you just need to experience it yourself.
Conclusion and Advice?
All that said, here are my closing advice and thoughts on the GORUCK Star Course.
If you have any questions, sound off in the comment section below.
But, seriously, go sign up for your own Star Course and earn that patch!
8 Replies to GORUCK DC Star Course 50 Mile – AAR
Looks like RJ and I hit the wall at about the same spot. My breakdown was between the Titanic Monument and the Supreme Court. about a half mile from the Court (and less than 3 to the finish) I laid down on an AC intake in the sidewalk, because it was the only breeze I could find. Exhausted and in a really dark place mentally, my team get me water/electrolytes/salt and carried my ruck up to the Courthouse. From there I got in a better frame of mind and pushed on, but for those 10 minutes on the grate, I was a beaten man. I’m almost 300# so I don’t do the heat very well. However, I’ve done countless endurance events and am pretty in tune with my body…My teammate is an RN and an Ultradistance guy too so would have trusted his call had he said no more… That said, it is a hard call to make the right call sometimes. Especially when your judgment is clouded by the previous 50 miles.
Did you do that whole section on River Rd/190? We avoided that, per Cadre instruction at the start, and still ended up finishing with 51 miles. @sistersofsteeldc
Avoided River. Can’t remember the name of the road we took though.
Excellent story of your adventure! I think that the best way to see D.C. is on foot, but you might never want to see it again after this lengthy ruck. Keep up the good storytelling too!
Do you think you guys should have brought more food. I read your article on the teambalanceect guys and they had 200 calories per hour to keep them going
I was happy with my food. Probably took in 1100 calories +\-.
Hey Ryan, gearing up for my first Star Course and your AAR is great. One question i have: Does the clock start when you get your waypoints or when you set off? Said another way, do you create your route on or off the clock?
I honestly can’t remember. I “think” you get waypoints like 5-10 minutes before official start. Then, you have to get cadre to see your route. Then, you can go.
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