50-Mile Ruck: ‘Embracing Discomfort’
By Joel Donato
On November 5, 2022, myself & one of our members, Rick Lopez, participated in a 50-mile Ruck event hosted by GoRuck in Jacksonville, FL. Start time 9pm and to be completed before 5pm the following day… I know, What the Ruck is this all about!?
What is Rucking?
Journeys, Wars, Hunting. These are all things that have been a part of our civilization, and what do they have in common? Carrying heavy loads over a long distance, or a period of time. Something that we, as a human race, have done for many centuries up until the past few.
Rucking is something that has always been around for centuries within many militaries throughout the ages. Simply marching with standard issue gear over a set distance. As an example, Army rangers in basic training are required to carry a 35-pound rucksack over 12 miles, maintaining a pace of, at most, 15 minutes per mile to do so.
The Benefits of Rucking
- It’s a great form of low-level cardio (Zone 2 – Zone 3), while maintaining the benefits of Strength training. This is great for individuals who aim for fat loss and want to maintain or even build muscle. Rucking makes that possible due to load being used.
- Rucking is low Impact in nature. Running can apply forces up to 7-12x your bodyweight throughout your body (Which is fine, our bodies are robust if we train them to be), but if you’re in need of a low impact source of training, Rucking will satisfy.
- It’s scalable for anyone of any background or age group.
- Manage your loads, from as low as 10lbs, up to a general 1/3 of your bodyweight (Any more than that isn’t necessary unless you’re training specifically for the military, first responder test, etc.).
- Manage your Pace, anywhere from 13:00-20:00/mile is a common range, and you progress your speed as you get better and better.
- Manage your Distance, with that common pace, a common Ruck can be 3-4 miles in a given hour, but by all means start shorter than that (1 mile; Walk your Dogs; 20 min; etc.) or eventually challenge yourself beyond 1 Hour!
The scalability is easy for anyone to get into Rucking!
- It’s an easy & great step in the direction of what you’re probably lacking in. If you love lifting weights and hate cardio, Rucking will give you the cardio you need. Hate lifting and love running, Rucking will satisfy your joy for endurance while dosing you up with some much-needed strength training.
The 50-mile Event
The criteria for the event was fairly simple, but a little more intricate than your average marathon run event. Participants were to complete 50 miles in under 20 hours with a 20lb minimum Rucksack per individual (Rucksacks averaging ~30-35lbs depending on the amount of water, food, gear carried on top of iron weight). Those 50 miles were to be completed by hitting predetermined waypoints issued by the Cadre (event coordinator) at the start of the race. Each waypoint was either a Veteran memorial, city landmark, or a local hotspot. Rather than running one predetermined track, we had no clue of where we were going, only our waypoints and routing what we believed to be the most efficient way to tackle them.
At the end of it all, 17 ½ hours is how long it took us. There were feet blistered, toenails lost, swelled knees, & destroyed hips. Our mental sanities were questioned, and our motives for this challenge were not only tested, but were evolved.
There were many lessons learned that a simple blog post could never do justice in expressing. The amount of physical endurance, mental strain, camaraderie made, & honor given are mere highlights of the 17 ½ hours spent in misery. Spend enough time in pain/misery and you’ll start to discover more about your own psychology. How well do you handle, or even endure pain? How do you talk to yourself? Do you give in to doubt? Are you self-motivating? Or do you break as soon as the going gets tough?
These are just a scratch of the surface of what you discover when you intentionally embrace a discomfort with an event such as this.
The following are some takeaways from both Rick & I on this adventure.
I am always up for a challenge, so when Joel started talking about a ruck march event this past summer, it sparked my interest – a fifty miles ruck in Jacksonville. I told him I was in. This seems like fun. I grabbed a backpack, loaded up some weight, and started walking three times a week every morning throughout the summer. My middle son was doing a running camp at Boone High School, and since I am up at 6 am, I can add rucking for 1 to 3 miles throughout the summer. Which eventually led to 20-26mile rucks on the weekend five months later. Along with my usual three times a week at Spectrum, I was ready.
Fifty miles over 17-hrs on your feet is hard, very. But, I felt confident and prepared and thought I was ready to rock this event. I had trained for over five months to meet this goal; rucking long miles in the odd hours in the early mornings each week and cross-training with Joel made me feel ready. This event changed my perception of what is difficult, the mental piece of an event this long is not something I had trained for. Sure, I had done multiple long rucks over the last couple of months. But, all were never this long or the paths this straight. The insanity of walking down long stretches of the straightest roads in Jacksonville, Florida, I was not prepared for. My long rucks were always done through snaking routes throughout Orlando. When I trained, I worked hard never to put myself on long straight stretches. This event was the opposite, and the long straights tested my mental. It was as if I were on the Flintstones, with the background moving but the scenery not changing.
Tell me who you walk with, and I’ll tell you who you are.
~ Esmeralda Santiago
The quote above is one I always tell my four children. Keep good people around you, and good things come. You learn a lot about people when you spend almost 20 hours next to them. I knew I was capable and prepared and that having a solid community of good people next to me would help me achieve big goals.
I’m grateful for Joel; having him by my side kept me motivated, we pushed each other, and I’m happy we finished the way we started – together. We traded motivational blows to each other throughout the night as if we were boxers sparing. We went 12 rounds, bloodied, bruised, and tired but came away as winners.
I got into rucking in the summer of 2021. With my father and my sister being Army veterans, I had somewhat been familiar with what Rucking was, or at least the term. At the same time, I had been seeking a new form of cardio, but I was never inherently fond of running.
I couldn’t get the fact that rucking had become a recreational form of cardio in the civilian world, I never fathomed that a possibility. I mean, weighted vest workouts sure, but weighted walking for distance? As a form of cardio?
People say it’s “for the Weightlifter who hates cardio, and for the Runner who hates the gym”, it all resonated with me! So, I had to try it. I put a standard 25lb plate from my gym, and went out for a walk. After several weeks of finding my groove, I fell in love.
Fast Forward to Summer 2022, a friend had presented the idea of a GoRuck event. I was intrigued, but the catch was that it was a 50-mile ultra-distance Ruck, 4 times the distance I had ever done. It was a stretch… But at the time, I was eager for a challenge like that. Something seemingly unreachable, inconceivable, mentally challenging, and being an endurance event, something out of my comfort zone.
I said ‘Yes’ immediately.
Throughout the training, the event, and reflection, I have found a new perspective and another practical experience in ‘embracing discomfort’. There were many doubts during it, delirium in the twilight hours of 2am-6am, managing the inevitable pain, but all was worth the experience of embracing discomfort, the new perspective it brings, and sharing that with great company. Rick was a key component in our success, we challenged each other when we thought were at our perceived limits. We shared laughs, pains, misery, & wins.
“Ask any Special Forces guy: Doing physically hard things is an enormous life hack. Do hard things and the rest of life gets easier and you appreciate it all the more”
― Michael Easter, The Comfort Crisis: Embrace Discomfort To Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, Healthy Self
Embrace discomfort everyone, you’ll be surprised at what you learn about yourself.