Monday, April 18, 2016

Tough Ruck 2016

April 16, 2016
After my 2015 Obstacle Course Race season, I knew that I had a lot of work to do. I felt that in spite my finishing seven OCRs in 2015, and improving a little bit over the journey, I still had a long way to go. By no means did I feel "in shape," so I was determined to do 2016 better. On Veteran's Day 2015, I saw an announcement for Tough Ruck 2016, which was a charity event to raise money for families of Fallen Servicemembers and First Responders. In addition to raising money for a great cause, it would be good motivation for me to train.
A marathon is a big undertaking, and even more so when you have to carry a 30 lb. ruck on your back the whole way. I was asking for it, but hopefully fear would force me to get ready for it. I started off well, using Tough Ruck's suggested training plan of rucks where the distance and weight gradually increase.  I started off the training on track, but of course, real life got in the way, and my last training ruck was 16 miles with 22 lbs. on March 7, five weeks before the event. In the end, I was going to have to suck it up and slog my way through it as best I could.

The anxiety ramped up as the date was closing in, and I thought how sore I was after my 16 mile ruck. Would I be able to go another 10 miles while carrying 1/3 more weight? Much of the weight of my ruck was water, so I rationalized that if things just got too hard, I could always dump some of the water to lighten the load.

April 16 arrived. The weather was supposed to be good, but the morning was cold, so I dressed in layers. After taking the bus from the parking area I arrived at the Old Manse in Concord. Registration was organized and easy, and soon I met up with some other New England Spahtens and we took the team picture.
Part of the New England Spahten contingent
There were a lot of people there. While awaiting the start, I stood by a charity group called 22 Kill, which is a support group for veterans, named for the statistic that on average, 22 veterans a day commit suicide. From their website:
22KILL is a global movement bridging the gap between veterans and civilians to build a community of support. 22KILL works to raise awareness to the suicide epidemic that is plaguing our country, and educate the public on mental health issues such as PTS.
While one person read off names of lost veterans, the rest of us did 22 pushups. It was a poignant reminder of why we were all there that morning. I heard it many times that day: We ruck for those who cannot.
The four ribbons I carried on my ruck
The ruck was to start around 7:00am, and I was worried about time, as they were supposed to close the course at 4:15pm. I needed every minute because I am glacially slow, but if I could manage a 3 mph pace the entire way I would be ok. At about 7:10, we were called to the starting line. There we heard the national anthem, heard a few words from some speakers including a survivor from the Boston Marathon bombing, and then observed a moment of silence.
The starting line at the Old Manse
At about 7:20 the ruck started. Spirits were high and we set off at a brisk pace. Soon we crossed the Old North Bridge, where the Battle of Concord began 241 years ago. Some groups of ruckers who started towards the back of the line double-timed it so they could get towards the front.
Just past the Old North Bridge and the Minuteman Monument. In the distance are the first ruckers.
We did a loop around the field north of the bridge, and then headed south on Monument St., passing the starting point again. As we did so, several ruckers who regretted not using the bathroom ahead of time broke ranks and ran for the bathrooms. We headed into the center of Concord and turned east onto Lexington Rd.
On the way to Meriam's Corner
We passed Meriam's Corner and headed north on Old Bedford road to do a loop to add some distance, and then returned to the beginning of Battle Road. We would have to travel the length of Battle Road four times during the ruck. Meriam House was also the location of the first hydration station. We had gone 4.5 miles in 1:20, and already people were sitting down to rest. It was warming up, so I shed my outer layers and got some food out of my ruck. I stopped for four minutes to do this, worrying about the lost time, and even that short time with my ruck off my shoulders was a relief, as my right shoulder was already aching. The short rest helped, and I was quickly on my way again.
Meriam House, 4.5 miles in.
The trail wandered through fields and a significant amount of swampy land over which we had to walk on a boardwalk. The trail itself was pretty and the weather was beautiful, and at times I felt I was just taking a casual walk along the trail rather than participating in an event.
The boardwalk
Also along the trail were plaques and informational signs that told the story of the Battle of Concord, and how the British soldiers retreated under fire back to Boston. There were also several colonial houses along the trail with some reenactors there to interact with the public.
One of the many houses along the trail
The historical sights definitely made the ruck more interesting.
Captain William Smith House
There were several grave markers at various points along the trail, commemorating British soldiers who were killed during the battle.
Near Here Are Buried British Soldiers. April 19, 1775.
There were also spectators along the trail with water and snacks there to support the ruckers, which provided a morale boost. I was still keeping a good pace, but now the leaders, who had finished the first of four legs along Battle Road, were passing me going the other direction. Eventually I made it to Fiske Hill, which was the turnaround point at the end of the trail.
Fiske Hill, 9.23 miles in.
Again, there were lots of people sitting and laying down on the ground, seemingly far too comfortable and looking like they were planning on having a picnic. For myself, I was worried about not finishing in time, so I paused only to get more food out of my backpack and in 3 minutes I was off again, back along the trail towards Meriam House again.

This time it was easier, as I knew what to expect, and I knew there would be supporters along the way. My pace was slowing down, but I was still ahead of the curve. I was still feeling good, and there were sights along the way to make you smile.
A Minuteboy keeps an eye out for Redcoats from atop a large rock
It was getting closer to noon, and more reenactors were showing up in preparation for the reenactments of the Battle of Lexington and Concord.
Colonial Militia reenactors drill outside of the Captain William Smith House
My feet were starting to get some hot spots, so I resolved to change my socks and take care of them when I got back to Meriam House, which would mark the halfway point of the marathon.
Back on the boardwalk
I returned to Meriam House and took care of my feet, taping them up. I stopped for almost ten minutes, which ate into my time cushion a bit, so I was in a hurry to get back up and keep moving.
Back at Meriam House. 14.13 miles.
I was past the halfway point, I knew what the rest of the course would be like, and I felt good, so it was all downhill from here.

But I screwed up in taping my foot. I put it on wrong, and with every step I could feel the tape pulling at the bottom of my foot. If I wasn't going to get a blister before, I knew I would now. I stopped on the trail to take some Tylenol, and kept going. Before long I was back at Fiske Hill for the final turnaround. I took off my shoe and found that yes, the tape had given me a blister. I put more tape on, taking care to do it right this time, dumped my trash, and was on my way again in a few minutes.
Fiske Hill, mile 18.96. I look more tired than I felt.
Now I was on the homestretch. I just had to make it back to the start line, a little more than seven miles to go. My feet were aching, my shoulders were sore (although not as bad as I thought they would be). But the knowledge that I was on the last leg gave me a mental boost, so I was able to pick up the pace again. Fortunately there were some interesting things going on now that it was later in the day, so it helped to keep me distracted.
A Colonial Militia Officer rides forward to look for the British.
There they are!
The Regulars are out!
British Light Infantry load their muskets.
I was confident now that I would finish in time, so I felt more able to take sightseeing pictures along the way.
Dawes * Revere * Prescott
1:30 a.m.
April 19, 1775
But not everyone was doing as well as I could. Earlier in the ruck, I have to admit I felt a little intimidated by all the 20-somethings in uniform blowing by me on the trail, sometimes double-timing it. But now...I was passing more ruckers than were passing me, and those that were still on the third leg of the trail looked worn out. Some of them were limping, other looked beyond fatigued--they had looks of defeat, and in one case fear, on their faces. 

I kept going.

I took some more pictures of the trail, which I can only imagine looks beautiful in the summer and fall.
Battle Road
It's strange to think that over 200 years ago the British were retreating under harassment fire from the colonials here.

I got back to Meriam's Corner, and then it was the real homestretch, the roughly two miles to the finish. My feet were really starting to hurt now, but honestly I was getting used to the pain and so I just kept it up. The rest of the ruck would be on pavement, which wouldn't be fun, but so what? Only two miles. Two miles are nothing.

The Concord River, a short ways south of Old North Bridge
Back into the center of Concord, where some cars passed by and honked to show their support. Then it was back up towards the Old Manse. 
The final leg. Minuteman Monument, and just beyond the Old North Bridge
I crossed the bridge and then there was a path lined with American flags up to the finish. When I saw them I broke into a jog and ran the rest of the way to the finish line.  
At the finish.
My GPS read 26.45 miles, and my official time was 8:38:49. I was proud of the fact that I didn't dump any water along the way, that is, except for what I ate and drank out of my supplies: 3 granola bars, some Slim Jims, some Shot Bloks, and maybe 80 oz worth of water. So by the end my pack was probably less than 30 lbs. but I didn't deliberately dump anything to make it lighter.

The finish area was crowded, and several vendors were serving free food and such while everyone mingled, but never much of a social creature, I just wanted to go home. 
My Bib, patches, and Boston Marathon Medal.
But the real reason I did this was to honor those would could not ruck, and whose ribbons I carried:

And one more: very early in the ruck, someone's ribbon was ripped off their ruck and blown away by the wind. I chased it down and grabbed it. I wasn't sure which rucker had been carrying it, so I carried it the rest of the way myself to ensure it got across the finish line.
SPC Sarah O'Hearn

To all veterans and first responders: Thank you for your service and your sacrifice.

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