26.2 mile ruck march with a 42 pound pack… why not. We do things the hard way for a reason.
The day before the Boston Marathon 1000 Military, First Responder, and Civilian ruckers gather in Concord Massachusetts to tackle the annual Tough Ruck Marathon. The ruck is sponsored by the Boston Athletic Association and is the only way to earn a Boston Marathon Medal outside of running the Boston Marathon. Bonus, it is also a massive fundraiser for the Military Friends Foundation, a charity that supports the families of fallen military and first responders. This year the ruckers raised over $800,000!
My trip started on the 10th of April with a flight from Tokyo to Baltimore. I’ve made this trip a numerous times a year for the past couple of years so I had a dread sense of what my body would be feeling like on the other side of the cramped flight and bad airplane food. Knowing How rough I would feel, I decided to head out early so I had a couple of days to adjust to the time change, prep my ruck, and meet some members of our team “Ruck You!”
After we got our gear squared away we drove to our team house out in the lovely Massachusetts countryside we stayed in the vicinity of Brookefield and quickly found one of the cornerstones of our trip, The Clam Box.
Cindy and her crew at this great little bar and restaurant completely adopted our team for three nights! Not only with great food and drinks, but they also stayed open for a few extra hours the night before the ruck so we could be together as a team and prepare the yellow ribbons we were going to carry along with us. They even came and picked us up from our team house… ubers weren’t really a thing out where we were staying. I think living overseas for so long I sometimes forget how amazing places like this can really be.
A late night lead to an early morning… and the next thing you know we are off and rucking.
The ruck took us through Minuteman National Forest and parts of Concord. One of the best (and hardest parts) of the ruck was the routing. The course took us out of Concord and onto an out and back trail loop that we completed twice. This gave us the chance to see and interact with almost everyone rucking along with us…. And it was uphill both ways. Passing face to face with the rest of the ruckers was an absolute highlight and motivated me through the majority of the miles.
On the course we also had a massive amount of support from the local community and the Gold Star Families of the fallen we were rucking for. It was incredibly humbling and rewarding to feel the outpouring of support and appreciation. It certainly helped inspire a quicker step and a big smile whenever they were around.
At mile 26 I hard broke. I had been experiencing muscle cramps for a few miles and new that I was at my upward limit for my legs. Mentally everything was good, I had trained hard for the weight, I had solid foot care and zero blisters, my spirits were up… my legs just had other plans. After each swing of my legs they slowly and steadily revolted against the strain. With the finish line in site the cramps in my legs reached a crescendo and I “decided” I would just need to sit and reflect for a few minutes. I was in a decent amount of pain, but nothing that needed medical attention, so i just leaned back on my ruck and ate some peanuts to try and replace some of my depleted salt reserves.
This ended up being a powerful point of reflection for me. It was one of the only times in my life that I had taken my body to an absolute physical stopping point. My legs refused to function and were seizing into knots in waves that swelled up from my feet and rolled into my hips. This physical barrier was an uncommon sensation… but it was familiar territory in other ways. You see I have run myself down mentally pretty frequently in the past. Taken on too much, let my emotions fuel my decisions… lots of crazy things… but in this moment of being physically stopped I was mentally clear and focused and found a better understanding of how hard I have been on myself mentally and emotionally over the years.
To get my legs back on track I ate some salted peanuts, drank some water, and stretched as best I could. I forced myself to my feet and slogged my way less then the quarter mile I had left to across the finish line. Two of my teammates met me and helped me stumble over to the rest of the group where I plopped down on the ground… eventually someone put a beer and a sandwich in my hands and everything started getting better from there.
Would I do it again? Absolutely plans are already in the works for Tough Ruck 2020!!
Interested in doing the Tough Ruck? Here are some pointers and lessons learned along the way.
Don’t be a tough guy, stop and take care of your feet before they become a problem. These two points of contact have to carry you through the day. For me, the majority of foot care starts in training. You have to put your feet under stress to toughen them up and prepare them for 26.2 miles of load bearing. I started off in running shoes then switched to minimalist shoes, and finally spent about three months rucking in my boots.
Let me mention gear real fast. I used Injinji Toe Sock Liners for the first time preparing for this ruck and went through two pairs during the ruck. The only thing I need to say is ZERO friction blisters.
I’m not going to go too far into this because it really is a personal choice and I am sure there is plenty of advice out there on what gear to use and how to pack it. The only thing I want to add, is use a bag that you have some sort of connection too. I used a Blackhawk day pack that I have taken on all of my deployments. I know that’s pretty sentimental, but hey… there was no way I was going to leave it on the side of the road. Also, keep the weight lof and towards close to your back. Be careful using water bottles if they start sloshing around it can be a real pain.