Monday, December 30, 2019

2019 Year in Review

As 2019 comes to a close, I decided to sit down, pull up our family calendar and jot down some notes from the past 12 months. It's easy to lose sight of what has happened in one's life as current life happenings can easily overshadow the past and in my case, my memory is horrible so this reflection really helps me appreciate the year.

I like to categorize my life into 3 major categories, those being Faith, Family and Fitness. Yes, my career doesn't fit anywhere in there nor does my military service but aside from a few things, there isn't much to share for public consumption. My time in uniform did, however, afford me my first trip to Japan in May which got me gliding in the air adjacent to Mt. Fuji and also a trip to participate in a wargame exercise in July. Other than that, all went well. 

FAITH: My personal faith journey is a huge cornerstone in my life and my marriage. Every decision whether it be small or large is prayed on and we lean heavily on His leadership in our lives as well as how we parent. We seek to be authentic in how we live, accept all regardless of their faith, but stay true to what we believe. We also feel called to serve other marriages and continued in 2019 to lead our church's marriage ministry. Those events spanned from studies to date nights to large in-house events. We even had our first ballroom dancing lessons offered at the church! I also continued as part of the Scripture Reader team and occasionally read on stage on Sunday mornings. In July, the senior pastor approached me and offered me the opportunity to become an Elder at the church. I accepted that position and serve on the Board today. All in all, it was a great year in terms of my relationship with Christ and letting Him lead me as a husband, father and leader in my church. I honestly wouldn't change a thing!

FAMILY: It was a year of transition as our oldest graduated from high school and pushed forward into college life. Senior photos, prom, dating, "identity" ... all issues we all worked through together. We are blessed in the area of our daughters. They are strong, beautiful women that work hard, love hard, and know what they believe and stand unashamed of it. They also both have servants' hearts and give back to others. As a couple, we went on our annual Marriage Cruise with FamilyLife in February and then took the girls on their first cruise in June. Our younger daughter joined National Honor Society as an incoming junior and quickly became president and our oldest flew for the first time on her own, bound for London with her cousin and aunt. Both girls work, manage a bank account, put gas in their own cars (that they paid for) and continue to learn how to navigate "adult" decision-making while still under our "wings." Heck, they even wandered into the garage a few times to workout... and since we're talking about fitness, let's go there!

FITNESS: While I only give 60-75min a day to this, I'll admittedly say that it does take much more space in my mind and thoughts. It's something I love to do, and I don't just mean "CrossFit" but overall fitness and health. That includes CrossFit, rucking and nutrition. My bodyweight is about 4-5lbs higher as I type this from 12 months ago but my clothes all fit the same. (can we just all agree it's MUSCLE?!?!) The holidays have wreaked some havoc but I'm quickly fixing those things and am already back on track. 

CrossFit: Since May 2018, I have been a member of CrossFit Linchpin and follow their programming "religiously" in the garage. In 2019, I teamed up with the owner/founder, Pat Sherwood, and we launched a closed Facebook group for CrossFit Linchpin which has over 1000 members in it spanning the globe. From Australia to Europe to Canada to the U.S., it is a GREAT community free of ego, bashing or anything negative at all. Inside the garage, I ran some analytics today and here are some interesting tidbits I found:
- I averaged 5.16 days of working out per week which is perfect. I take Thursdays and Sundays off but occasionally can't help myself and need to do something more. :)
- Programming: 41% weightlifting, 39% gymnastics, 20% monostructural
- Durations: Sprints 6%, Short Duration: 24%, Medium: 44%, Long: 24%
- Schemes: Singlets 33%, Couplets 20%, Triplets 27%, Chipper 17%. 
- Fitness Level: went from 59 to 63 over the span of 12 months per Beyond the Whiteboard

I also handstand walked for the first time just a week ago! That was a major victory for someone who is extremely gymnastically-challenged. Olympic lifting and gymnastics are my chief weaknesses and bodyweight movements and movements that thrive on an engine are in my wheelhouse. I also participated in both the 2019 CrossFit Open and 2020 CrossFit Open in October. 

Rucking: It was another good year! My wife and I lead local rucks every month and sometimes it was just us in the summer months and in the colder months, we normally had 5-10 others join us. We continued our Ruck-n-Brew series and just hosted our 11th Ruck-n-Brew this past Saturday. The concept is simple: we start about 2 hours prior to the craft brewery opening and then enjoy lunch and brews after. We normally cover about 6 miles under weight. We almost always have someone totally new show up which is awesome! So many new friendships have been forged as a results of us stepping out and doing this. For official events, we did two together this year when going in, the only plan was for one. In April, we headed to Columbus, OH and did the 50 Mile GORUCK Star Course and took 2nd place overall! TOTAL surprise! Then, we signed up for our 2nd 50 Mile Star Course and headed to the Big Apple in September. We took all the lessons learned from Columbus and put them into play for NYC and we walked away from that even unscathed. Not a blister, sore spot or anything. We absolutely crushed it! We also had the opportunity to be interviewed by Brian at All Day Ruckoff Podcast after the Columbus event to share our story. You can find that in his June 2019 archives. Solo, I headed to Philadelphia over Veterans Day weekend for the GORUCK Tun Tavern 13hr Tough event that celebrated the Marine Corps Birthday and birthplace of the USMC. It was an EPIC event! This and the Star Course events were all summed up in written After Action Reports that I posted to my blog. Other than that, my ruck goes everywhere with me. I ruck my breaks at work and often, you'll find us rucking on a date night prior to grabbing something to eat. It's just something we love to do...TOGETHER!

Lastly in the fitness arena, I had the privilege of traveling to Madison, WI at the very end of July to volunteer on the Gear Team at the CrossFit Games. While there, I moved tons of weight and was witness up close and personal to many of the world's elite athletes and the chance to be a part of the "machine" that makes this annual global event happen. While there, I also finally got to meet Pat Sherwood that I mentioned earlier along with Dan Bailey. Truly, an awesome time volunteering and immersing myself in a world I love and that has done so much for me and my life trajectory.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one last stop I made...that being to an Orange Theory Fitness class in Chesapeake, VA. I was down there for the military in August and a great friend of mine invited me to one of his classes. I spent the bulk of my active duty years there and have not ever lost ties with Chuck who has made EPIC strides in his fitness journey. I truly was honored to join him for a class and then relax with him and his wife for the evening. 

All in all, 2019 was a pretty good year and one I'm thankful for. I have struggled back and forth with my social media presence and every time I lean towards shutting it all down, someone messages me with an encouraging note that something I posted either encouraged them or motivated them. I have always said that if only one person is positively impacted, it's all worth it. I try to be as "real" as possible and not live out a fake life. There ARE some things that don't make it online but for the most part, it's for security reasons and heck, some things are just personal! As I named my new podcast this year, "Living with Intention," I'd like to encourage you to do just that. Do everything you do with intention. BE INTENTIONAL. Love those around you hard, serve others, and BE YOU.

Happy New Year!
Nick

Friday, November 15, 2019

AAR: GORUCK Tun Tavern Tough - Nov. 2019

Philadelphia Museum of Art
I had no plans for future GORUCK challenge events after my last one in the Summer of 2018 at the GORUCK Heavy in Columbus, OH. Since then, it's just been recreational rucking and a few 50 mile Star Courses. The Tun Tavern Tough, though, caught my attention several months ago when I saw the when/where/who of this event.

  • When? Veterans Day weekend AND the Marine Corps Birthday.
  • Where? Philadelphia, PA. The birthplace of the Marine Corps and location of Tun Tavern.
  • Who? Cadre Cleve was set to lead it. He and Cadre Mocha Mike led my last Heavy event and I have mad respect for him and how he leads an event. Classy dude who doesn't even need to raise his voice yet brings the pain all the same. I can definitely respect that. Humility and hard work are sure to follow his lead.

As a 22+ year veteran and still going, I was really looking forward to this and all the "Hoorah" a sailor can handle over 12+ hours. I expected an all-Marine led event and that's what we got. North of 150 signed up for the event and 110 showed up at the Rocky Steps in Philadelphia. In terms of class size, that's a BIG class and hence why GORUCK sent four cadre.

I left Saturday morning for my 6hr drive to Philly, I found a parking garage about a mile from the start, and grabbed some dinner and a brew a few hours before the 9pm start. The start was lively by 8:30pm with GRTs everywhere (a term for anyone who has completed a GORUCK event).

Admin Phase
What I brought and wore:

GEAR

  • OG Rucker
  • 30lb GORUCK plate
  • 3L Source water bladder
  • Nalgene bottle full of water
  • One pack of beef jerky in ziplock bag
  • 2 GUs
  • 1 Rx Bar
  • Headlamp
  • Dry socks and gloves in dry bag
  • $20 cash, ID, debit card
CLOTHING & LUBE

As 9pm arrived, we formed up on the steps and quickly the admin phase began as we came off the steps into 3 ranks. Required items (ID, cash, weight, water) verified via open rucks and the standard roll call to see who actually showed up to the Steps on this cold, 33F evening. In the distance, a clock ticked away on a building for all to see. Watches/phones/Fitbits/etc. aren't permitted during events but this building gave us some sense of the time. Nearly an hour later around 10pm, the Welcome Party began. Common sense dictated that if the event was starting at the infamous Rocky Steps, those steps would become intimately familiar for all of the GRTs who showed up. The very first thing we did was reverse bear crawls up the steps. Bear Crawls are one thing and can quickly torch your shoulders with a ruck on...or not. Trying to go UP stairs BACKWARDS makes it all the more spicy...and quite difficult, actually. Whether it's doable or not, it's just an awkward movement to do. Add in the cadre yelling at everyone, it just adds to the mass chaos that quickly ensued. Thus began about 3 hours of our Welcome Party. 


We'd be at the Steps until nearly 1am. In that time, one GRT's phone recorded 2 MILES up and down those steps. 2 miles!!! That's crazy! Plus, we made several sprints up and down those steps while our rucks were in a tangled mess at the bottom so that distance isn't accounted for. Speaking of that mess: After rucking up and down those steps and doing varying physical movements at the top and bottom like lunges, thrusters, flutter kicks, 8 count body builders, etc., the cadre told everyone to pull out their carabiners and link the rucks via the molle on the sides of the rucks. I, and I'm sure others, assumed we'd be doing some movements together, side-by-side, via this link up. We were wrong! Once we had them linked up, we were sent back up the steps and given a chance to sit down in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and listen from one of the cadre talk about the reason for the event, the camaraderie amongst Marines and to stop the whining and learn to work together as a team and accomplish the mission. After our talk, we were sent back down to the foot of the Steps where we found our rucks...in a pile.

The cadre took those linked up rucks and essentially made a spaghetti pie out of them all and we were given SECONDS to unhook and put on. Of course, that didn't happen. So began our sprinting up and down the Steps until those rucks got unhooked. Many, MANY trips made! After, we lined up for more sprinting up the steps, 3 GRTs at a time while the next GRT weighted with ruck pushups. After at least half of the class made it through this line, Cadre Cleve grew tired of the amount of time this was taking and sent the remaining GRTs sprinting up and back with one caveat: the final 4 would be linked together in sets of 2 GRTs for the remainder of the event. Slow? You'd be connected to another GRT to get real friendly for many hours to come! I ran fast so no link up for me.


Time to head out around 1am. This would be the last time in sight of a clock until we returned to the Rocky Steps. Due to the class size, we split in two and the cadre split themselves as well. At the foot of the steps were only a few sandbags brought by GRTs as well as 4 "logs" disguised as Crayons. Red, blue, yellow, and the beast....the green one. A local GRT made these as a play on the endless memes created about Marines and their love of Crayons. We first crossed the street to a parking lot where a truck held a LOT of empty GORUCK sandbags and filler bags. Here comes Classic Cleve, that being lots of weight to move. We quickly moved towards the water across the street where we found a sandy trail and told to quickly fill the filler bags with gravel or sand. There weren't any piles around so we ended up on our hands and knees scraping as much as we could to fill the filler bags. We couldn't skimp, either, as every filler bag was checked for fullness before being loaded into the sandbags. Hard, firm fillers quickly became matched up with other fillers in sandbags and created weights that ranged from 80lb to 140lb. HEAVY. There were plenty to go around, too, combined with those Crayons.


Now began time just rucking through the night along the bike-n-hike trail that bordered the Schuylkill River. In two columns, we kept the weight up front and moved with a purpose. As GRTs got tired under the weight, they'd call for relief and switch out the weight. That was challenging most often as moving sandbags north of 100lbs from one set of shoulders to another is not easy...especially given the height differences. Our team leader and assistant team leader did a great job orchestrating it all and keeping us moving. It was about 2.7 miles from the Rocky Steps to where an innocent dock appeared at the waters' edge. The cadre has us hold up while they investigated and the next thing we heard was "ground the weight!" We were getting wet. We headed on down to the dock and it wasn't your traditional dock where the surface is a few feet above the water. Instead, it was level with the water and was dipping in a little more as all 50 of us, with rucks, came aboard. The order then came to ground our rucks behind us and get our butts on the deck with our feet hovering out OVER the water. Yep...flutter kicks were coming! As we all took a seat near the edge, the dock only dipped more into the freezing water and hence, started getting everyone's backsides wet. As we held our legs out there, many just wouldn't scoot to the edge so the suck just got worse as the flutter kicks didn't begin. Eventually, we began counting out 244 flutter kicks (Marine's 244th birthday) but we were failing as a team so on to singing it was...the Marine Corps hymn that we were supposed to memorize for the event. By this point, I just laid back flat and embraced the cold water on my backside. It was far better than getting in head-to-toe, right?! We wrapped up the hymn and up we went, grabbed our rucks, and back to the weights. Time to move on. Butt, legs, shoes, and back wet...but that was not too bad. We got the sandbags and Crayons up and got moving.


It wasn't even a few hundred yards later and we were held up again. The cadre were walking back down towards the water's edge. It looked like a boat ramp they were looking at. Turns out, our new team leader made a comment back at the dock that he'd rather just get in the water completely vs. just hang over the edge of the dock. Cadre Cleve heard him say that. Thanks, buddy. We were told to ground the weight again. We were going in...one at a time, totally underwater. We were given the option to strip down as far as we wanted and most went down to their underwear. I opted to strip off everything up top but leave my pants and shoes on. Prana pants dry super fast and my feet were doing awesome so I didn't want to disturb them by removing my socks. Wet feet, even though I hate the cold, aren't really an issue. I made my way on down and was passed by shivering and frozen GRTs coming up out of the water. I just got down there about knee deep and dropped down face first in the water, burpee style, then ran my tail off up out of the water hoping to leave as much water as I could behind. We all got dressed and before you knew it, we heard a countdown for getting that weight back up on our backs and begin moving again. There was a time not too far after this where we were given a few minutes to go to the bathroom and take a brief rest. Coming off of that break yielded a sluggish start so after getting the sandbags up, they were coming down again and we were doing PT along the highway. We kept doing that until we could get ALL of the weight up and moving before time was up. If that did anything, it helped warm people up. I, for one, appreciated that. An increasing body temperature would only dry my feet and clothes via the technical gear I had on.


At this point, the sun was beginning to crack the horizon and First Light wasn't too far off and we were heading towards the Rocky Steps to meet up with the other half of the class who was already there. As we got close, we could see the clock again: 6am. So, it's been 9 hours since the start and 3-ish hours to go. Often, Tough events are around 12 hours long but that's nothing more than a guide. It could go short but often goes long. Once back, we grounded our rucks and were sent off on a short walk to fill up our water bladders as many were black (empty). Once back, we formed up as one class and all of the GRTs who served as Marines and/or currently serving were called up front to introduce themselves and tell everyone their job as a Marine and where. One note: ALL of the sandbags disappeared while we were gone filling up our bladders. The only things remaining were the Crayons and the logs that the other team was carrying around all night. Now...time to head to the original location of Tun Tavern where the Marine Corps was founded in 1775...as one huge class. From my estimates today while writing this AAR, it was about 3 1/2 miles. Only 3 1/2 miles?? But wait...

The disappearing of the sandbags was an indicator. Things never get easier during an event, so common sense dictated that soon we'd have something to replace sandbags. Or, we had time to make up and the sandbags would slow us down too much. We headed on out towards Tun Tavern and eventually through the historic district. Places like Independence Hall were along our route where the Declaration of Independence was signed. As we made our way, we had a rule given to us during the admin phase about crossing the street. Essentially, there would be punishment if we didn't get the entire class through an intersection before the walk signal said STOP. Well, with 100+ GRTs, it happened and more than once. With that came "casualties." AKA: GRTs "killed" or "wounded" and now had to be carried. For one person, it takes 3 GRTs. Plus, someone needs to carry their ruck as well. I believe we had 4 or 5 casualties and one was put in a litter that took 6 GRTs to carry. This stretch could've been worse. The casualties could've kept on being added like they were when I went to the Detroit Tough in the Summer of 2018. Now that was bad.
Heading out towards Tun Tavern


That's me in the blue rucking in front of Independence Hall

One of our casualties...and ironically, the team lead who wanted to get in the water!



Not many photos of me under weight but I assure you, I carried a LOT of those sandbags overnight. This was me in the early steps towards Tun Tavern.

Eventually, we arrived at the original sight of Tun Tavern which is located on the east side of Philly along the Delaware River. Looking over the Delaware was New Jersey. As we arrived, we grounded the logs and gathered around for one of the cadre to speak to us.



He went on to tell us a tradition that is always carried out at Marine Corps Balls. They take a sword and cut the cake and with a piece of cake, call up the youngest and oldest Marine present. The tradition says that the oldest takes a bite and then hands it to the youngest, like passing the torch from the older generation to the younger. Generations apart...both Marines. Since no cake was present, they picked up a donut from Dunkin' and used that. The oldest Marine present was someone not even involved with our event but rather just visiting Tun Tavern. The cadre called him forward and one of the GRTs was the youngest. They cut the "cake" and carried out the tradition. Pretty cool moment! Right after this, another cadre took over and quickly let us know that the Marines believe in tradition and one of those is hazing. So....it was time to Endex and earn our patches. He referred back to those missing sandbags. They were in the truck bed of a truck parked on the street just around the corner. He sent us all out there to get them and bring them on in and then formed us all up in two long ranks of GRTs.


That's me on my back in the middle leading flutter kicks.
Given the 244 years of the Marines, the cadre came up with 4 exercises we would have to do...together as a team. 61 reps of each that would then equal 244. Given how stretched out we were and how we needed to stay together as a class, I volunteered to lead the movements from my far end. We needed to do this right and do it right the FIRST time. The movements were:
  • Ruck Thrusters
  • 4 Count Flutter Kicks (ruck locked out overhead)
  • 4 Count Ruck Lunges (rucks on front)
  • Overhead presses (with logs and sandbags)
After, we're done! Right?! Not exactly. We gathered around again and together, sung the Marine Corps Hymn. This time, some of my fellow GRTs had the words printed out so it was far better than along the river overnight. Still grossly out of tune but still awesome. After we finished, we lined up as two ranks again facing each other and out came the patches. Each of the cadre took a quarter of the GRTs and shook their hand, patch in hand, and gave a big 'ol bro hug. After, the rest of the cadre made their rounds doing the same. Once done...just one more ritual...our class photo. It was quite the squeeze but we got it done in one take. 105 of 110 GRTs completed the inaugural Tun Tavern Tough and in 13 hours flat.


To date, I have done two Heavy events (my first event was the June 2016 Heavy in Detroit), 3 Toughs, 2 Lights, 2 Scavengers, and 2 50-Mile Star Courses. I'm not the GRT that seeks out event after event after event like I did in my running days when I had multiple marathons and ultra-marathons on my calendar. I'm way more selective. When I show up to one of these events, I REALLY want to become a ghost in terms of a name or anything. I just want to be part of the TEAM. I want to pull my fair share of the weight, plus some. I want to lead by my actions. I don't want my service on display or even pointed out. I want to just blend in and help the TEAM accomplish the mission. This event really drew out our best GRTs. There weren't a bunch of complainers all night and people avoiding the weight. This class REALLY came together from the outset and worked hard. Sure, we needed pushed and told to shut up quite a bit in the beginning but we operated well, in my opinion. That made it very worthwhile for me and enriching. Further, I loved witnessing the camaraderie of the 4 Marine cadre who led the event. Joking with each other, reminiscing about old times...and never demeaning towards the class. Yes, they held us to the standard, pushed us, and got us comfortable being uncomfortable...but they did it right. Classy. Professional. Human. Combine that with participating in some of the Marine Corps birthday celebrations was just icing on the cake....er...donut. I loved it. I really, truly did. After Endex, I made my 1.3 mile trek back to my car and stopped for a few photos along the way before heading back west to Ohio. After all, I had to get home for Veterans Day on Monday.

Thanks, GORUCK, and to Cadres Cleve, Matty, Dustin and Andy. Happy Birthday and Semper Fi! 

Thanks for reading!

My one money shot! Ha!


Photo Credit: Tim Galloway and GORUCK

On my way back to the car...

Independence Hall

Philadelphia City Hall 





Thursday, October 3, 2019

AAR: GORUCK 50 Mile Star Course New York City

This AAR is a follow-on to a podcast AAR that we did together the morning after the event in Central Park. You can access my podcast on multiple platforms here. The AAR is Episode 21.

Earlier this year in April 2019, my wife and I traveled a few hours south to Columbus, OH and tackled our first GORUCK Star Course 50-Miler and second 50 mile ruck together, the first being in the summer of 2018 at the Eagle Up Ultra in Canal Fulton, OH. That was a very different event that was 10 flat 5-mile loops on crushed limestone whereas the Star Course involves sidewalks, hills and every kind of surface you can imagine in a big city. Columbus beat us up pretty bad physically so we had a handful of lessons-learned to make things right this time around. While my wife had vowed not to do another 50 mile ruck, we just couldn't say no to NYC, a city we love to visit together. It would be very different than Columbus where "normal" people sleep overnight. NYC would be sure to be alive throughout the night...and it was.

Logistics:
we didn’t know the Start Point location until close to the event date but thanks to the public transportation on the island, we opened up our aperture for where to stay and opted for an Airbnb a good bit north in the little village (~ 7800 in population) of Hastings-on-Hudson. We found a Tiny House in someone’s backyard and since we’re fans of this way of living (at least up until this trip!), we decided to capitalize on the the opportunity and stay there. We left for the 6 ½ hour trip to NYC on Friday morning of the event, leaving plenty of time to get into the city and make our way to the 9pm start.

We got to the city in plenty of time but my stress level quickly shot through the roof as our location wasn’t near (or so I thought) any major train or subway station. We ended up leap-frogging a few Lyfts to get near the Start Point which was just south of the Bronx, on Randalls Park Island, east of Manhattan. I found a brewery, Bronx Brewery, a 1 mile walk from the start and we decided to get a Lyft there, enjoy a flight together and a pizza. This was a smart call as it got us close to the start with plenty of time to spare. Around 7pm, we walked over to the Start Point.

Training: We do CrossFit together in our garage 5 days a week under the leadership of Pat Sherwood and his affiliate, CrossFit Linchpin. Outside of this, we ruck on our own here and there and occasionally go long and by long, I mean 12 or so miles at the most. We feel that our ace in the hole is our background covering this distance twice before as well our dedication to the CrossFit methodology. Overall, we’re in the fittest condition of our lives at 46 years old and felt that together, nothing would keep us from finishing this and finishing it well. That’s really it. We didn’t follow any GORUCK training plan or any training plan, for that matter. We just do CrossFit and regularly put those rucks on our backs, even if for a few miles on a date night.

In our Rucks: Here is one change we made in comparison to Columbus…how we loaded out our rucks. The weight requirement is 20lbs for those 150lbs or more which we both are. That’s non-consumable weight so food and water can’t count. At home, I grabbed a 10lb plate from the garage and some 5s and 2.5s. This allowed us to build our weight slowly AND distribute that weight around the ruck instead of all in one spot… e.g. on our lower back. So what would I want at the finish? Flip-flops and a dry shirt. I packed them. I also had my waterproof pelican case with my wallet, headlamp, and replacement batteries. That’s about it before the consumables. For that, I carried a full 3L water bladder that weighs 7lbs, a bag of beef jerky, 6 or so gels, lubricant, some salt tabs, a handful of grapes, Triscuits, and 5 or so Cuties. I carried all the food and she carried only her weight, about 6 small bottled waters, Nuun electrolyte tabs, plus her flip flops and a few fresh shirts and a sweatshirt if it got chilly. I weighed in at 22lbs before the consumables. So with it? Probably around 30-31lbs. In Columbus, my fully loaded ruck weighed 37lbs. Once we were all weighed in by the cadre, I took a 5lb plate from her which bumped me up to near-Columbus weight but lowered her burden. This is completely permissible as the Star Course is a TEAM EVENT vs. individual.

Navigation: Here’s another big one. First off, we used the Road Warrior app in both cities and upgraded to the Pro Version for $5.00 then canceled it after the event to prevent another charge after a month. This is one of many apps in the app store where you can add in waypoints/coordinates and have the app “optimize” the most efficient route to take. I was totally unfamiliar with the app prior to using it in Columbus. This time, I made up routes using the app in the week prior to the event to play with the settings because how the settings are set has a HUGE impact on the data it gives you and thus, a monumental impact on your event and the miles covered. The overall point of the event is to hit every waypoint in the fastest way possible and on foot, that’s going to be the shortest as well. In the app, we set it as follows: Round Trip, Avoid Tolls, Avoid Ferries, Shortest Distance (vs. Fastest).
Road Warrior App

Navigation #2: 5 min prior to 9pm, the Cadre gave us the hit list (see images at the end of this AAR)…. Or the way point list. They were listed in random order, all included a required hashtag, and any specifics about the waypoint and if required, what exactly had to be in the photo. At each waypoint, all team leaders had to text a photo of the team, at the waypoint, with the required hashtag. This text went to GORUCK HQ who responded each time, confirming receipt. Just recently, GORUCK transitioned to this from using Instagram...a very welcome change! It was great to get those confirmation texts and I’m sure, much easier to track for HQ and bring more integrity to the event. So back to the Hit List. We went and found some good light to sit down and go through it. It is CRITICAL to know your route before you take one step. Double/Triple check it. Make sure it makes sense and you agree on it. So she read off each way point and I searched for it in the Road Warrior app and added it to the list one at a time. Sometimes, the app won’t find what the list says. That’s where Google Maps saves the day over and over again. Take St. Patrick’s Cathedral, for example. Neither app found an address for it. So to take out any possibility of plotting another cathedral in the city (yea, there are just a few churches in NYC), I grabbed the address of Florsheim Shoes next to it and used that address in Road Warrior. BOOM. The same went for the Charging Bull at Wall St. That bull has no address…but the Planet Fitness right next to it sure does. Never, ever guess when plotting the route. Take the time to do it right the first time. So once we input all 20 waypoints, we hit “Optimize.” This orders the route and if we set it up right, it’s a circle of sorts as it’s round trip. And right here is the BIGGEST lesson learned from Columbus: identify the longest stretches and do them first. In Columbus, we had a LONG 12 mile stretch after we had already rucked 30 miles and it was along a busy highway in the heat. It was absolutely miserable and felt like it would never end. This time, our goal was to chop off big miles early while we’re fresh. That route took us north into some very shady areas but would take us south in the morning when we’d enjoy the awesome sights of Manhattan and Brooklyn in the daylight. We had our plan! We then numbered the waypoints on the Hit List (don’t forget a pen!) and double/triple checked we hadn’t missed anything. A sanity/gut check is necessary from everyone to make sure nothing is missed. So we were off…at 9:27pm.

The early miles went very well. We first headed north to Yankee Stadium, then further north to Inwood Hill Park before heading south to General Grant’s Museum. In those 3 waypoints alone, we had passed by the benchmark 12mi ruck distance and felt great. The cadre were all camped out at the Museum checking folks in and supplying water, Gatorade and cuties. In that 12 miles, we smelled more marijuana than either of us had ever smelled, saw countless street parties, one barber shop after another packed out well past midnight, one skunk, men playing dominos on folding tables in the middle of the sidewalk, and plenty of seemingly mischievous things going down and all we did was move smartly by and avoid eye contact. After saying our goodbyes to the Cadre, we moved east towards the northern part of Central Park and rucked across the top of it. This is where we found the first homeless in great numbers on the benches and a few fat, nasty raccoons giving them a hard time. At the opposite end, the NE corner of the Park is Duke Ellington’s statue, our 4th stop. It was then we broke a few laws. Little did we know, but Central Park is closed from 1am-6am. Our route took us through it and dang, it was DARK! By the time we emerged from that darkness, New York’s finest rolled on by and asked us to leave which was no problem! The exit was just ahead as was the Firemen’s Memorial near the Hudson River in the back of a residential neighborhood. After that, we moved on back towards Central Park and about halfway down on the west side of it where the Museum of Natural History is...think "Night at the Museum." Out front is a statue of President Theodore Roosevelt on his horse, our next waypoint. Moving on from there to the southwest corner of the Park, opposite Duke Ellington, is Columbus Circle. Nothing really special about this, except a super busy intersection, just not in the middle of the night. Our next waypoint was one of my favorites, the USS Intrepid museum. As a Navy guy previously stationed on aircraft carriers, it was amazing to see her lit up in the wee hours of the morning. Absolutely beautiful!


Firemen's Memorial


President Roosevelt Statue at the Museum of Natural History


At this point, we made a bee line east towards the center of Manhattan...Times Square. If you've ever been there, you've seen the neon flag at the Armed Forces Recruiting Station. That was our next waypoint. Talk about a quiet Times Square. Never have we seen so few people! Still, though...totally lit up! From there, it was time head on south towards the financial district and Washington Square to find the massive arch that graces it's northern entrance, a clear copy of the Arc de triomphe in Paris, France. We had a friendly homeless guy try to befriend us but we had a mission to accomplish so south we went out of there, headed towards Ground Zero which is more on the western side of lower Manhattan. Unfortunately, the memorials where the twin towers once stood were blocked off and guarded in the middle of the night so we couldn't even get close. Just past them, our waypoint was the American Response Monument that was up on a walkway above street level...blocked off. So, a photo of it in the distant background had to do. We passed a few teams here who were taking a breather. This waypoint is a horse statue and dedicated to the first U.S. Special Forces who responded to the attacks of 9/11 and went forward to hunt down the Taliban. After this, we headed do the southern waterline at Battery Park. If you've been to NYC and caught a ferry over to Lady Liberty or Ellis Island, there is a good chance you picked it up here. In Battery Park was our next waypoint, the World War II East Coast Memorial. It is a series of giant tablets with the names of fallen service members who died in the western Atlantic during WWII. In its center and in the back is a giant eagle. This memorial looks over the water towards the Statue of Liberty which, let me tell you, was absolutely breathtaking. She was fully lit up, there was a light breeze blowing, a ripple in the river, and the ultimate feeling of peace. There was no one but us. All we really wanted to do was to take off our rucks, take a seat, and just soak it all in. But...we had to get going. This was definitely my wife's favorite waypoint. On to the Charging Bull of Wall Street!

Times Square

Washington Square Arch

Statue of Liberty
East Coast Memorial
Charging Bull at Wall Street
After a short jaunt north to the Bull, we quickly set off on one of our longest stretches south into Brooklyn. Daybreak was coming soon and it couldn't have been better timed with our crossing of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. Bustling with runners, bikers, photographers and even a few brides in their dresses getting photographed, we just loved crossing into Brooklyn at sunrise. Of course, we took lots of photos, too. I had just picked up the iPhone 11 Pro Max and it did not disappoint! This stretch was about 4.2 miles which normally, is easy. However, at this point of our event, north of 30 miles, definitely took its toll. We were blessed to have the surroundings we did, though. This was yet another reason why we went north first. We'd rather be here in daylight vs. up north in the daylight.


Sunrise from the Brooklyn Bridge looking over to Manhattan Bridge
My bride getting her ruck on!!!
Chick-Fil-A Brooklyn
Once we finally passed over the river into Brooklyn, we bee-lined it to the Soldier-Sailor Monument which was yet another arch! BUT FIRST....about halfway down the road that led there, we passed a Chick-Fil-A on our right. Snacks only take us so far and as HUGE fans of CFA, we very quickly made the executive decision to enter, order, and sit down for breakfast together. A real meal! Wow, it was incredible and so appreciated! We rucked out of there with a reborn pep in our step! We also appreciated clean bathrooms. They really are a premium in NYC. So shortly after 7:30am, we continued on south towards the arch. 

While we hadn’t seen any teams in a while, we ran into two teams at the Arch but once we turned around and headed back north, we never saw them again. 2.4 miles after our turn, we made a stop at a fire station where a GORUCK flag hung over their ladder truck, we snapped our pic and moved on towards Jane’s Carousel, a short 0.7 mile away. Jane’s Carousel has a pretty cool history and one that is somewhat personal. It’s an old-school restored carousel with 48 carved wooden horses from Northeast Ohio, specifically the now extinct Idora Park. It was an amusement park in Youngstown, OH from 1899 to 1984. My parents rode that carousel when they were dating. I’m not sure if I rode it as a child but I definitely went to Idora Park. The carousel was built in 1922 in Philadelphia and later installed at the park. On our last trip to NYC with our girls, we visited the Carousel and rode it. Not today, though! A pic, check-in with HQ and we were on our way back to Manhattan, this time via the seemingly never-ending Manhattan Bridge.

Jane's Carousel


This is a photo I took while crossing the Manhattan Bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge, One World Trade Center…I just love it. I also took on my wife’s ruck for the trip across the bridge. She needed a recharge and I was happy to provide it. Plus, we could move faster when we did this, even if for a short period. It mixed things up for us and kept the pep in our step! Once over, we landed in China Town and kept moving toward’s McSorley’s Ale House, NYC’s oldest continuously operated saloon…since 1854! This is when the end started coming into focus. TWO more waypoints and it’s off to the finish. First up…the incredible St Patrick’s Cathedral which recently finished a major facelift and restoration. This journey north was much more NYC-like in terms of moving in massive throngs of people through intersections that NYC is known for. Hopefully we didn’t stink too bad! Our visit was quick at St Pat’s but we’d return the following day for a more relaxed visit.


Now…this big final push was one I had told my wife that was around 4 ½ miles long. I plotted it in Google Maps and I was off. It was 5.1 miles. From there, it was 2.4 miles to the finish…so 7.5 to go. We were nearly out of water and she was beat down. I told her “There is no shame in letting me take your ruck. We’re a team. We move the weight together and do it together. Let me help you and you can recharge. Just keep up with me.” And that was that. For the next 3.5 miles, I cranked it up a notch with about 50-ish pounds on my back, and we charged over the Queensland Bridge into Queens. Now that felt like a bridge that would never end. Plus, it was a squeeze on the pedestrian bridge over. Runners, bikers…and us. I sucked every drop of water I had out of my bladder on the way over and once over, we dropped into the first convenience store we saw and spent a worthwhile $3.80 on a gallon of water. We were both out and we’d nearly polish that off on the way to the finish. Shortly after, I shed her ruck and we were off headed north in the hot sun. Our final waypoint was in a northern Queens park with Randall Park Island to the north over the water and the Hellgate Bridge to the east. Our photo had to include that bridge so we had to go deep enough in to get it. Once we did and we did our final check-in, we were off to the finish. But first…

We had to summit yet another bridge to get onto the island where our Cadre waited with cold Budweiser’s and patches…and pizza. By the time we reached the pedestrian path, we had 1.7mi to go. We put smiles on our faces and charged on…together. “Get to the top of the bridge and then it’s downhill to the finish.” My wife says often: “Just do the next thing.” That was more appropriate now than ever. Break it up into pieces, crush them, and move on to the next. Once off the bridge, we passed on through a few parking lots before walking just past Icahn Stadium where we spotted the GORUCK pop-up tent. The island was hopping with sports events and lots of fans…and thus, the smell of marijuana returned. I didn’t miss that! Mocha Mike greeted us back at the tent, shook our hands while giving us our patches, and most-welcome hugs for another Star Course finish. He also greeted us at the finish in Columbus where he lives…but he grew up right there in NYC. We finished in 16hrs, 39min, 40sec. 87 people and 31 teams started. 70 people and 28 teams finished. We were the 10th team of 28 teams and she the 4th woman out of the only 8 female finishers. We were also 30min+ faster than Columbus but since we don’t know exact mileages for the two cities, we don’t compare the two as it’s apples and oranges.

At the highest point of the bridge, heading to the FINISH. Hellgate Bridge behind us.

FINISHED!
Removing our shoes for our beloved flip-flops, we were thrilled to see zero blisters. Not one. Our foot care worked and it worked on mostly concrete walking surfaces having never unlaced our shoes once. Even better is that we felt no chafing on our bodies. I mean..we were sore. Sure. But we were far from broken and scarred. We didn’t just finish, we CRUSHED it and did it right…TOGETHER. After laying around a bit, enjoying some pizza and the company of fellow finishers, we began the slowest walk of our lives with our rucks 1 mile to the Bronx Brewery for a normal glass of that Imperial IPA I had the day prior. So good. From there, we grabbed a Lyft back to our Tiny House up north.

Key Takeaways:
  • Do nothing new on event day. Nothing. Nutrition, socks, underwear, lubrication, shoes, shirt, shorts…practice it all prior. I wore my trusty and old Inov8 Roclite 290s, a very old pair of Darn Tough socks, Born Primitive athleisure underwear, Prana shorts, and a tri-blend Rogue Fitness t-shirt. On my feet, I lubed them with Body Glide and one baby teaspoon of my lubricant powder. I also used “nip-guards” to prevent bloody nipples and the Body Glide anywhere skin would rub together or the ruck would rub…shoulders and lower back. I never once reapplied Body Glide or the powder.
  • Download the app and practice with it. Know the settings and make sure you’re confident in its functionality.
  • Know your role on the team. Who’s the navigator? Not everyone is good at navigating and some are experts at it. Decide who is doing what before you even show up at the event.
  • Eat Well: garbage in = garbage out. We didn’t carry much food but what we did have was quality and fueled what we were doing. Again, don’t introduce new things. You don’t want stomach issues during the event. It is very poor planning to carry nothing. This isn’t a 5K and your body AND mind needs nutrition in order to function and function well.
  • Enjoy it! We don’t take for granted this opportunity to do something epic and do it together. We’re closing in on 27 years of marriage next month and crushing this together AND walking away from it unscathed just sweetens it all. We actually ended up in Manhattan the next day covering lots of miles doing touristy things. We really felt amazing.
Thanks for reading about our journey in the Big Apple! Keep scrolling down to see images of our Hit List.

Note: If you’re on Instagram, I have archived the many IG videos I posted throughout the event on my profile page as a “Highlight.” Simple click on Star Course NYC to watch video and check-in posts from throughout the event. IG: garageboxnick