GORUCK Chicago Star Course 50 Miler AAR

Team: Rucking Idiots
Members: Me, S, C, T (names lightly anonymized)

I parked at 19:30 a short walk from the start point. Of course I took the long way, but that’s how it goes. I was first of my team on-site. S showed up a little while later, maybe 19:50, while C and T showed up a little after 20:00. Not quite ideal, but how it goes. Original fifth member didn’t even make it. S had completed the DC Star Course, and we were glad to have his experience on the team. C had apparently goaded his work buddy T into joining him. T had done endurance events when he was younger, so he was hopeful. Both were paramedics and coming off 24+ hour shifts, and this turned out to be a poor choice.

One thing we did during the admin phase that was valuable: S had C log into the team account on his phone. It meant both S and C could post the required photos. As it happened, S ended up posting all the updates. Much like in a Scavenger, your progress was scored by posting a selfie to Instagram at the designated place w/ the specified content and hashtags.

I think our missing team member was the only one who dropped before the event, so we started with a headcount of 41 and 13 teams. It wasn’t DC-big, but folks have said Chicago events are a bit small, and this not being the first Star Course probably added to it. Plus, some folks might have read those DC AARs and not signed up. Who knows? It was, however, a manageable size of event. That was good, because a bunch of the field at the start point had been roped off for something else, so the smaller size still fit easily in the available space.

Briefing started at 20:30 and we received the first three points. From the start at Arvey Park (south end of Grant Park, down at Roosevelt), we were to walk up the Lake Shore Trail to the north terminus, about 9 miles. From there we were to turn around and head 18 miles south on the trail to the South End Cultural Center. Mocha Mike would be set up near there, and he’d give us the rest of the points. So, not unlike DC, it started off with a long, simple walk.

@goruckstarcourse #goruckstarcourse

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We set off in good spirits and were making good time. A couple of teams passed us fairly quickly and stayed there. S took the role of local guide, as he’s lived in the city for nearly 30 years. That turned out to be incredibly valuable. We made decent enough time to the water station they’d set up about 4.5 miles into the course. That seemed a short distance for a refresh station, especially kicking off about 21:00, but it was welcome when we saw it on the way back. On the downside, it also represented a bit of a trap, and it was easy to end up taking 5 or 10 when you should have been taking 2 after covering so short a distance.

We made it to the first point about 23:48, covering 9 miles in a bit under 3 hours. 3 miles per hours is not a fast pace, but it was pretty sustainable. However, T and C were hurting a bit, and I took the opportunity to throw some friction tape on my feet. That was a bit late, as I already had a couple hot sports forming. Ah well. We took time for food and water, but it was probably double the time we needed. Reviewing the Instagram photos, you can see a marked difference in the enthusiasm of some of our team. They say attitude is everything, and to keep yours positive, and I made it a point to put on a smile (or something similar) for every selfie. It’s not much, especially early on, but I think it helped a little.

@goruckstarcourse #lakefronttrail

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Heading south, we were making good time for a while. We did suffer pace a bit as by this point, T’s feet were starting to really get to him, but he didn’t want to stop and check on them. We were also suffering on pace because T and C would get distracted trying to figure out whey his phone charger and his phone wouldn’t play nice together. They were still walking, but it was clear that any time they were distracted by that, they walked slower.

We made another stop at the water station, and that ate more time, but not too much.

We continued south, but somewhere around the Oak Street beach, the weather turned on us. While we’d been forecasted to stay dry, we’d started seeing lightning well north of the city on our way up. We thought it was heat lightning, but the rain component finally caught up to us. It was light at first, but got heavier when we finally ducked into a pedestrian tunnel to get out our rain gear. Busted drainage pipes made that a less dry experience than we might have hoped, and we had the fun experience of watching a flood of nasty water surge towards the rucks we’d grounded. We relocated them to a relative high spot and considered the situation. Another team joined us about that time and seemed to settle in to try and wait it out. We never saw them again.

From there, S lead us into the city to try and use the lower levels as a way to get out of the rain. At about Navy Pier, we finally managed to get to the sub-surface streets and took Lower N Lake Shore South to Randolph, then cut over to Columbus. A short jaunt on Columbus and we dropped into the Millennium Park garage and cut across it. I’m not sure where we popped up, or where exactly we rejoined the trail, but it worked out to keep us out of the rain and weather for a while.

Eventually, we were back to the museum campus. An actually-quick break in the ped tunnel, and then we continued to basically follow LSD past the Field, through some parking lots at Soldier Field, and then through the tunnel under McCormick. That, too, was a nice break from the weather, and supported a good breeze. We took about a 15 minute break near the south side of the McCormick Center tunnel. That was a nice rest, but it was really the beginning of the end for C. He made the mistake of sitting down and not really moving, which meant he froze up.

We benefited from S’s experience doing races at various events around the city for this portion of short-cutting and using garages as rain cover.

From there, we took a long walk south on Ft Dearborn drive, appreciating that it was not a well-used road, but straight and saving us from a few steps where the Lake Shore Trail preferred to meander. We stopped to chat briefly with a curious security officer, and marveled at a woman who rocketed by us twice w/out her lights on. Given that she drove by in the same direction both times, we’re not really sure what she was up to.

At 31st, we rejoined the trail (reviewing the map, it wasn’t much of a difference, but it did sort of keep us from seeing any other teams, which I think was kind of nice). Unfortunately, we hit a few snags w/ the trail being under construction, but this was more of a distraction than a delay.

We found BD and his refresh station around 5 in the morning at the Burnham Park Outdoor Fitness Station (or thereabouts; it’s the only place in the zone that matches my memory of the layout).

We met up w/ C’s girlfriend just a bit south of where we met BD. There was a convenient pulloff northbound on LSD. Hot coffee and a few light snacks, plus some water was a welcome pick-up. We lost a fair bit of time to some dispute over what exactly we should take vs. what she was asked to bring us, but they worked it out.

A key benefit of the stop was that it provided us an opportunity to talk T into handing off his ruck. I took it as we set off, and we were able to pick up the pace for a while. This is where training w/ heavy rucks and sandbags really felt beneficial, as I slung his ruck on top of mine and set off. We kept up a much better pace this way for a while, and S and I traded T’s ruck back and forth. C initially wanted to get in on that extra-weight action, but he seemed to realize quickly that it wasn’t going to be a good idea.

We kept going, but the pace started dragging again. Eventually, between the 57th and 63rd St beaches, C came up and told us he and T were dropping. I think they realized they just didn’t have the gas left to push on through the more than half the course remaining at a finishing pace.

We traded coffee containers back and then S and I set out at a relatively brisk pace. There were still some miles to cover before we hit the turnaround, and we wanted to make up time. Plus, without the extra ruck on, I certainly felt a lot lighter.

S navigated and we went more or less waved at Mocha Mike as we passed by his checkpoint. Course instructions said we had to hit the South End Cultural Center and get our photo before we got our points. So we did a quick walk-by check in and kept on. Turned out our team mates who dropped hadn’t called ahead yet, so we let cadre know they’d dropped. They’d planned to keep on until they hit Mocha Mike, but I suspect they gave it up. Can’t blame them, as smoked as they looked. Important to let folks know if you’re dropping, though, and since Cadre were at checkpoints and not following the group, it was extra important that folks called it in. S sent in an update just to round things out. Accountability, you know? It felt like about three-quarters of a mile each way. It had since gotten plenty light, and we logged the South Shore Cultural Center at 06:37, 27 miles in.

@goruckstarcourse #southshoreculturalcenter

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We rolled back up to Mocha Mike, got the list of the next points and took 20 to reset feet, chow on food, and plan. This was a huge benefit. I cannot emphasize how much value we got out of fixing the feet, swapping in new, non-wet socks, fresh tape, and a having a short sit w/out the ruck. On top of that, taking the time to plan the route was very smart; it meant we didn’t have to think on our feet later in the event, and we could make sure we weren’t wasting any steps. Here again, we leaned on S’s experience — he did all the route planning, since he had ~ 30 years’ residency and a lot of local race-running experience to lean on.

Once we were done w/ our feet, our fruit, and our plan, we refreshed our water and moved on. First stop was Statue of the Republic, and we logged it at 07:33, with about 29 miles behind us. Heading out from Statue, I was able to contribute my ability to read maps & navigate to keep us on track. Go SAR, eh?

@goruckstarcourse #statueoftherepublic

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We set off to the Fountain of Time, and, while waiting at a crosswalk, were randomly asked to for directions on how to get somewhere nearby. I think our guidance was mostly sound, though, frankly, we weren’t much better off than they were. At least they were driving.

We hit the U Chicago campus and took a slight detour to north side of the Waverly Park to see if any of the buildings up there were open so we could hit the head, but no. Saturdays. Passerby said campus was all locked up, but up a few blocks to 57th and the shops would be open.

We finally hit the fountain, just about 30 miles in, taking our photo at 08:14. As we were sorting out how we’d get to Promontory Point, R from 1811 joined us, on account of the last of his team dropping at the Fountain.

@goruckstarcourse #fountainoftime

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I was very glad of R’s company: he had great attitude and provided a good buffer between me and S in terms of someone extra to talk to, someone extra to help buoy mood, etc.

We went up to 57th (again, yay SAR land nav at key intersections), stopped in a Starbucks for 10 to hit the can (finally) and grab a pick-me-up. I was so tired that I ordered a tall when I was thinking a veinte, but at least it was just a refresher tea. I love caffeine, but didn’t need much to keep going and didn’t want the diuretic effect.

We hoofed it over to Promontory point (57th turned out to be about the perfect road to make it a straight shot), grabbed our photo at 09:08 (~ 32 miles) and kept going. We were keeping our stops short at this point, just a photo and move on, and I’d maybe drop my ruck for the couple minutes it took S to type out the required stuff in our post.

@goruckstarcourse #promontorypoint

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From there, it was a long, hot slog north to Adler Planetarium. For much of it, there was no breeze and the sun was cooking us. I started really feeling the heat and was feeling a bit out of it, so I started pulling in more water (hadn’t been having tooo much before then). We stopped around Oakwood/41st and used the outdoor shower things to cool off. Between the shower-drench and and some cooling cloths that S broke out and shared around, I felt a lot better. It didn’t hurt one bit that the breeze started picking up again, too.

From there, we continued our slog to Adler. Insult to injury, we had to head east to a point where we could get the dome in the shot, but we got it at 11:08 (~ 37.5 miles). We took a slightly longer stop here to get S the coke he was craving (said it always gave him a boost), while R and I enjoyed getting our rucks off for a few.

@goruckstarcourse #adlerplanetarium

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We struck north again, taking a short stop across the street from Buckingham to get our photo and keep moving (11:47, ~ 38.5 miles). Stupid traffic took forever to clear, so we probably should have gotten it on the way back to save 5, but whatever.

@goruckstarcourse #buckinghamfountain

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Heading north to Navy Pier, my feet were giving me grief again, but we kept on. I found I had to keep to the flat surfaces, as the uneven surface of grass was really hurting; some of the tape had rolled w/ the sock and every step felt like it was pulling at my skin. Earlier, I noticed a hotspot/blister under that spot, so it was probably a bit of everything. Any way you sliced it, it sucked.

Somewhere in here, as we were heading to Navy Pier, S realized we should swap the order we hit the Water Tower & 2nd City, getting Tower first, then up to Second city, so we wouldn’t have to double back east after going west of it, and having more points west of it still. This was the only change to the plan we’d made down at the halfway checkpoint, so overall it was very solid.

I kept up a pretty steady slow-sip of water from here, and somewhere along the way, I’d drained my Nalgene, which had been spiked w/ caffeinated Nuun tabs. I took my last sip of water about as we hit the outdoor pedestrian-only area at Navy Pier. From there, it was an impressively long slog out to the anchor at the end of the pier. We cut indoors, which meant weaving a bit through crowd, but that wasn’t so bad, and the shade and AC were made up for it. We grabbed our photo at the anchor at 12:33 (~ 40.5 miles), you can tell I’m hurting pretty bad.

@goruckstarcourse #usschicago

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We slogged back inside Navy Pier a little ways, dropped our gear on a set of steps that seemed to lead up to a movie theater, and I took the opportunity to use the head and refit my feet again. I shuffled food around to where I could get to it, while I was in there, since I felt like I should have taken calories on the way east on the pier, but didn’t. It was a ‘quick’ stop for a foot refit, but even kinda pushing it, that takes a while. Still, I got it done quick as I could and went to refresh my water. Of course I went to the bottle refill station that was busted and had to refill from the water fountains next to it. Even only refilling my Nalgene (adding more Nuun tabs, of course) and about half of my hydro bladder, it took what felt like ages. Teammates took their own little break and were hanging out at a non-broken bottle refill station. I simply hadn’t spotted that on the way in, and I feel like it might have saved us a few minutes. Oh well.

On my way out of Navy Pier, I pulled down one or two of my Clif blocks and a Tanka bar, and I felt far better; I had a real lift in my step on our way out. The power of fixing your feet and refueling, I guess. Might have been a serious mental component there, too.

From there, we had about 10 miles left to cover across a bunch of relatively short hops, so it was easy to keep our moods up. We hoofed it quick as we could up to Water Tower (13:36, ~42.2 miles), got our photo, and rocked on up to Second City. We grabbed our photo (14:05, ~43.6 miles) and then set south.

@goruckstarcourse #watertower #fixingmispost

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@goruckstarcourse #secondcity

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That walk south felt long. We were going as fast as we could, because it was the return trip, but at every light we couldn’t cross immediately, we stopped to stretch and get a little weight off. I’m sure it looked ridiculous, as we ended up sorta bending over pretty far in front of whoever was around. Who cares? We were tired and sore as hell at that point. It was an extra nice bonus if we could find something like a window sill to take the weight of the ruck for a bit.

We struck south on Wells to Wacker and struck West to the old post office plaque, which felt like quite a slog. We had some disagreement about where exactly it was, but from what we’d heard and what info they gave us, I was pretty confident the location was about where the map apps said it was, or damned close. The other guys were less so, but I managed to sort of keep them going for it, anyway. When we got close, we settled on, “Let’s spread out and do a quick search.” I spotted it hiding behind a wall after about five seconds. Sneaky thing, but we got it at 14:48 (~ 45.5 miles).

@goruckstarcourse #oldpostoffice

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It took me a little while longer to notice, but I think somewhere around here, the rest of the team was fading mentally. I’m not really sure why I felt like I was doing better, but I felt pretty sharp, my confidence was up, and I felt generally aware of my surroundings. I was doing a big chunk of navigating at this point. I was dragging earlier, so it was good to be able to contribute here. Teamwork and all, rah.

It was a pretty quick shot over to the bean, where we grabbed our photo in the reflection, per the spec (15:11, ~46.5 miles), and then hit up the Art Institute. Here, I dragged the team over to a place where we could get a good Lion selfie w/out being in the way of sidewalk traffic. Again with the awareness. We grabbed our photo at 15:21 (~47 miles), and then waited. The other guys didn’t want to go until they’d gotten the like from HQ (this is how they were scoring checkpoints). The wait cost us quite a few minutes, and while I appreciate the desire not to do any backtracking, at that point, we had no reason to think HQ wouldn’t credit us, since they’d done the rest. Still. Eventually, R got a like on his post for his original team, and I managed to talk S into getting moving again.

@goruckstarcourse #thebean

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@goruckstarcourse #artinstituteofchicago #ithinkwearedone

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Once we were moving, I was keeping an eye on the GPS to figure out how best to get back where we wanted to go. S was definitely fading, ‘cause at one point I had to go “Left left left” to keep him from trying to go straight across a light. Again, I felt pretty solid, so I’m glad I could help. My feet were hurting, but whatever, we had about a mile to go

We got ourselves over to the far side of Columbus Ave eventually, and then we just hoofed it on down to the finish. We got passed by another team in this process, but at that point, we were finishing and we didn’t really give a fuck about pace. We just kept going at a pace we could sustain.

Eventually, we slogged into the finish, about 2 minutes behind the other team. We were clocked at 18:44 for Rucking Idiots and 1811, and then we were done. We were the last team to finish, but we still finished, and nobody was rolling in late — looks like in Chicago, people could tell they weren’t going to make it and dropped as opposed to trying to trudge in late. I ran all my distance numbers w/ Google Maps, and that jives w/ the pedometer on my phone; both come up with about 48 miles for the distance. I don’t know where the other two miles came in. Maybe they revised them out? Maybe they were there and my remembered routing missed something, and the pedometer app miscounted. It could happen.

The after-party was pretty chill. It was a hell of a feeling to finish. We got our patches, I grounded my gear, and there were celebratory hug-handshakes all around. I grabbed a couple of sandwiches and someone put a beer in my hand. I’m not a huge fan of Bud, but it was the perfect thing at that time. I pulled my boots off and pretty much sprawled out on the grass. I left my socks on — not like getting them dirty would matter, but I knew I didn’t want to go through having to resock until much later. Not until I wasn’t trying to put my feet back in the boots.

We hung out for a while, and then eventually we all rolled out. I slogged over to a Starbucks to get some coffee and a refresher tea, ‘cause I needed a lot of caffeine for the drive home. I wanted to use the head, but of course it was a standing-only, no restroom Starbucks. Thankfully, a bag of chips at the Subway next to the garage I parked in was good enough to get me a restroom.

I took my time at the car to relax, get my stuff off, and change into other clothes. It felt very good to have changed, even if I couldn’t shower yet. I switched to flip flops, also very good, even w/ socks on. I think I went back to shoes for the drive home, since I wasn’t taking my socks off yet, and they weren’t quite playing ball with the flip flops.

The drive home was rough. It was about 45 minutes w/ traffic, and I was not as awake as I should have been. I got away with it, but that’s one of the biggest issues w/ coming back from those overnight events: not being awake enough to really drive safely. I probably should have napped in the car first, but of course I felt fine at that point.

Overall, it was a great event. I’d do one again, but not for a while.

I didn’t really train for the event. I had been training for the D-Day Tough/Light two weeks prior, and I feel like that ended up being good mental prep and adequate physical prep, though it definitely didn’t cover some of the extent that 50 miles is. The Tough-Light was about 25 miles total, but broken up w/ PT and breaks and the like, so it was a good distance to know the feet, but not enough to really appreciate the length of the slog that is 50 miles.

Afterwards, walking really sucked for about two days. Sunday was awful, but I dressed my feet and crammed them in some soft shoes to go out and put my feet up at a coffee shop for a while. Monday was less awful. Tuesday was pretty bad, partly because I had to tape up my feet to get them in formal-ish shoes for an interview. That process took maybe 20 minutes, all for 30 minutes of driving and a one-hour interview. By Wednesday morning, though, my feet had finally reached “damned uncomfortable, but not painful.”

A lot of the issue was just keeping weight off the blisters. The heel blisters kinda sucked, and under-the-toe blisters made it tough to find a place to put my feet or to walk decently. I soaked my feet a bunch between Sunday and Wednesday, and that seemed to help. I only had one blister need to be cut off for a while, though several wept a few times. It took a while until the blisters on my right foot went down enough that I could flex my big toe properly. I had one very proud blister on the outside of the right big toe took a while to go down, which was tense for a while, as it was thin skin, and kinda reddish — I didn’t want it to burst, because it felt like it had a high chance of infection if it did. Everything healed up nicely, thankfully. By the next week, a lot of the skin over those blisters had to be trimmed off, but things under them had healed.

My legs were basically good to go on Sunday. Not great, but good to go. I am very impressed with how much high-rep, low intensity can wear you out, but not burn you up.

You can kind of see it in the photos, but my hands started to swell a lot in the latter half of the course. Right hand was worse, since I was wearing a wrist brace to keep it under compression for a while, but both were suffering from having the ruck straps on my shoulders the whole time. Not a _huge_ issue, but I’m glad I didn’t have my class ring on, and you can see that I left my watch unstrapped after a while. Hand-swelling is one of those things I hadn’t though about before the event. I don’t know if there’s anything to do for it.

GORUCK News Post On Chicago Star Course: http://news.goruck.com/event-news/star-course-50-miler-chicago/
Instagram for Rucking Idiots: https://www.instagram.com/ruckingidiots/

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