Written by: Virginia Nickelson
To start this all off here is the basic definition of the event.https://www.facebook.com/events/2016401788682514/?active_tab=about
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.
Echoing Teddy Roosevelt and JFK and adding in our own Special Forces inspiration, here’s a challenge for those of you who seek such things – The
GORUCK 50-Miler Star Course:
Teams of 2-5
10 lb Ruck Plate (for under 150 lbs) on your back, it’s called rucking
20 hours to complete
Finishers earn the GORUCK 50-Miler patch, which will never be for sale.
Let me start this out by saying I still consider myself in a lot of ways a go-ruck rookie. The star course was my 3rd full event with my first two being a tough and light back to back in March with Cadre Mike Rock.
Ever since finishing on Saturday night a million thoughts have gone through my head but with each passing moment or thought one word comes to mind each time. Humbling.
The GoRuck Star Course rocked me to my core to say the least.
I had never fully planned on doing this event. I thought I was going to be in CO attempting the Breckenridge Ultra but after the aftermath of Kimberley I was nowhere near ready to see another mountain anytime soon. I had been doing small 2-3 mile rucks on Fridays while Alvin was in OT but that was it. So the week of the event I asked if anyone would have me on their team and someone said they did so I signed up 48 hours prior to the event starting.
So the time comes and I sleep/hydrate all I can on Thursday and Friday to get ready. Thursday I tell a couple of coaches at Engineered Sports what I am going to do and they point blank tell me I’m nuts. Friday night gets here and I meet up with my team and many others from the overall Travelsquad team and we anxiously await what is next.
See the thing is we had no idea what they way points were that we would be rucking to. We didn’t get those until 9pm on Friday night. It was at that moment we had to work with our team to figure how best to accomplish the mission. Our team took the approach to hit the farthest points out first then make our way back into Seattle. To give you an idea of our route just look at the map. We started at Gas Works park, then proceeded to UW, then across the 520 bridge to Bellevue, out to Mercer Island and from there we proceeded down to Renton. Just the start of this was grueling. The first couple of checkpoints went well but after coming back from Mercer Island things started to fall apart. My other two team members decided to call it quits around 0530 on Saturday morning. At that point I sent a text to our Cadre informing him of my progress and that I wasn’t giving up. Soon after that I found that I couldn’t keep up with the other guys and that is where things started to fall apart for me. I told people via FB messenger and text that I was done. When I got to Renton I had every intention of texting the Cadre and throwing in the towel. I was on the verge of throwing up from too many electrolytes in my hydration pack and just felt like I couldn’t keep going.
What happened in Renton though changed everything. Ron A. Brothers Jr. and his wife Jenny Young showed up at my waypoint. I had been talking to Ron that morning via messenger and told him I was done. Not just physically but also mentally. When they showed up I absolutely lost it. I cried so hard. I was mentally done. The demons of self-doubt had me well in their grasp and were not letting go. After some hugs and talking through things I agreed to continue on but I decided to not go it alone anymore. It was in my best interest to wait for another team behind me then move with them. After more hugs and reassurance I could get through this Ron and Jenny left and I chugged 2 bottles of water and had a banana which helped the nausea completely. I was able to keep food down and by the time team Old Dog made it to the check point I was mentally and physically ready to go.
From there we made the trek to the museum of flight and then after a quick break it was on to the gum wall in Seattle. We knew we may not make it but decided to push on. A short time after leaving the museum of flight we got the news. The time cut off had been moved to 1800 instead of 1700. With that information we gained a new sense of life and moved forward. Then we knew it was going to be tight again and the second piece of news came, we had to make the 50 miles by 6pm and we no longer had to hit every check point. At two more points during the trek to the gum wall I told both Will Nickelson and Ron A. Brothers Jr. I would be bowing out soon. My left calf felt like it was about to pull/tear and I was in a ton of pain. Both of them of course told me to knock it off and just keep moving. At one point I told my team I was holding them back. This was immediately met with resistance that I was never too far behind them and wasn’t holding them back at all. We would finish this together.
This is where things got better and we continued to push on. We mapped out the check points we could hit knowing our current pace and went off. At first one of my team members saw how bad I was hurting and asked to take my weight. Pride got in the way and I said no. My left calf felt like it was going to pull completely at any minute, my left inner thigh felt like it had a knife in it and my right hip was on fire. I was at the time on the verge of breaking down yet again and didn’t want to finish weak. That’s when things eventually hit. One of the team members Geoff Dirks told me this in the end was a team event. We were going to finish as a team and he was going to make sure of that. I eventually gave up and asked if he would still take my weight. He took it and I gave him the last full clean water bottle I had and we made the trek back to Gas Works park.
We officially checked in and finished at 4:56pm. We made the 50 miles in 20 hours. The cadre came up to us one by one and gave us our patches then had us take a finishers picture. At that point we all just kind of fell down. Shoes were taken off and relief set in. As I laid in the grass next to one of the guys I met earlier in the morning that day he told me he was glad I pushed through and finished. In some strange way that moment meant a lot to me.
The rest of my time in that park is a blur. I know at one point I started shivering and put on my sweatshirt which had one of the cadre come check on me to be sure I was ok. Teams continued to come in slowly and there was an atmosphere of relief and accomplishment of everyone there.
As I got up to leave I went to the 3 guys that made the difference in me getting through and told them all goodbye and thank you yet again.
The next 24 hours a ton of things hit me mentally. How in the world did this happen? How with three other people did I ruck 50 miles in 20 hours? I found myself upset because we didn’t hit all the checkpoints. I contemplated the reality that 82 people started and only 43 finished and I was one of them.
Its honestly all surreal as I sit here. I have ice on my legs for the 3rd night in a row I know that I fought many a mental battle during that 20 hours. I fought constant self-doubt at every single turn and sometimes step. I fought pushing my body to new limits when I was convinced I could go no further. I saw my “spirit animal” as Cadre Mocha Mike said we would and had a lot of thoughts about what I was doing in so many aspects of my life and why.
This is going to sound corny of course but those 50 miles changed me in a way that I can’t describe at this point. It’s really hard to explain what happened in the times of silence, messages with friends and comments from a couple of random videos that I made to document the process not only meant to me but also my friends and family. The whole experience left me more humble than ever. Having to rely on others to get through an event. Not being able to control everything around me or the amount of pain in my body. I had to ask for help on multiple occasions and it was really humbling to see friends and team members do so much to help get me through the 50 miles.
In the end I don’t regret a thing. I am very glad I did this and proved to myself and even people that I don’t always talk to that honestly anything is possible as long as you learn to be humble, trust the people around you and just DFQ!