This is an update to an article I published here in 2016. Since I’m now training for my 13th JAG 28 Memorial Birthday Walk, I’ve learned a few things, made some modifications to how I train and what gear I use. Some of it is based on necessity, some on preference and experience, and some may be that my body is changing ever-so slightly (I’m now 46 years old).
When do I start training?
The JAG 28 Walk is every May. Even though I ruck very often all year, I start my longer distance training in late January. This is where I may try new socks, shoes, underwear, belts, etc. I start out my low mileage using 30 lbs in my rucksack. Once I get into March or April, I lower to 20 lbs, then by late April, I’m not adding weight, just focused on mileage.
As of today, March 11, I just finished my last training ruck with 30 lbs (at 6 miles). I’m now going down to 20 lbs for about a month, then will remove all the added weight for training for this specific event.
I never get as many miles as I’d like b/c of limited time, however, it’s important to get up to at least half of what the official walk will be (this is a very bare minimum). Since I’ve done the walk for 12 years, I know what to expect and can follow my suggestions above. If it was my first time, I’d get more than 14 miles before the actual event. 14 miles is half and is normally enough distance to know if my feet will blister, socks and shoes will work, and that my legs and hips are ready. This is also enough distance to test out food and drink (if other than water) to see how my stomach reacts.
Don’t let there be any surprises pop-up 10-15 miles into the event. DO NOT show up day-of with untested gear or you will regret it. *It’s important to note that this 28 mile memorial walk covers mostly rural areas, including a 6-mile dirt road in a national forest. This means it’s not easy to “drop out” of the event. Therefore it’s critical to be prepared so there are no surprises with your body or gear.
How often do I train for the walk?
From January until May, I walk at least two times/week. I usually get one long walk on Fridays or Saturdays, and then a minimum of 1-2 smaller walks during the week. Sometimes we go out as a family after supper and get in 20 mins of walking. This may only be 3/4 to 1 mile, but it’s great for the family and a great post-meal activity. Another great benefit of rucking–it’s a family affair. I’ll also take a break during the day from working and ruck one mile in neighborhood. It does the body and soul good.
My training terrain
I walk on terrain that is similar to the actual memorial walk. Our route in Haleyville is mostly on paved roads and a somewhat hilly area. The elevation is on average 950 feet, with an elevation gain of the entire 28 miles being 1,194 ft. The terrain is important for a few reasons: 1) if it were off road, I would wear the MACV-1 boots since they are high-tops and I want the ankle support and more aggressive sole for traction, and 2) being prepared for hills or elevation, if applicable. This event is a fairly predictable environment, but weather could change that quickly.
Speaking of weather; if you have the chance to train in rain, do it. Rain will not stop our event. One year it was in the 40’s and rained for the first few hours. It’s important to know what you’ll wear in that instance–poncho, jacket or nothing different. I put on a jacket that year, but that’s it. My pants covered the tops of my shoes, so my socks and feet didn’t get too wet (obviously they weren’t skinny pants).
Although I’ve never had problems with this, it can be tricky. With training being in the winter and spring, most of my walks don’t require much water, but come May the heat and humidity will demand it. I like a mixture of Gatorade and water. I’ve seen very healthy and active people drop out due to cramps b/c they didn’t get enough salt (coming from me as a non-medical professional, I know). We tried hard to ‘revive’ a young guy last year, but it was too late. We were 23 miles in and he was done due to dehydration. He was okay, just his pride hurt and physically couldn’t walk any more.
Also, I don’t recommend trying new energy drinks or gels without testing them out. Seen this happen too–someone’s passing out energy drinks and samples, people take it for the first time and get sick or dehydrated. On the day of the walk, only use what you’ve tested.
Gear I use
Here is what I use to give you some ideas. Hopefully it’s helpful to others.
Shoes: GORUCK Ballistic Trainers (previous years I used the MACV-1 and other hiking boots, but now I like these shoes since it’s mostly paved roads for this event)
Socks: Balega Hidden Comfort (previous years I used Smartwool, but these new ones work well with the Ballistic Trainers). Note: GORUCK just released some new socks that I will be trying.
Backpack: GORUCK Bullet Rucker 4.0 (previous years used the GR2, but the Bullet Rucker is smaller, which is more appropriate for this walk).
Underwear: SAXX. Laugh all you want, but for me, this is very important. I don’t really need to elaborate here, but since I don’t have 4% body fat, my inner-thighs will rub together, therefore I must have something to prevent that friction. SAXX does the job very well, and doesn’t hold too much moisture. I will not use cotton for this event.
Shirt and pants: Dri-fit or tri-blend shirt with thin, fast-drying pants or shorts. Of course, I use GORUCK shorts or pants.
What I do at each rest area
We have designated rest stops every 4-7 miles. This allows us to sit, eat and recharge. I also take this time to change into fresh, dry socks (that I’ve kept dry in a zip lock bag). Normally, I put some body powder/talc on my feet to help dry them quickly. I also use Body Glide on my feet–heels, ball and any high-friction spot. In addition, I use this on my inner thighs.
My priority at each stop is to get my feet dry, socks changed, address any hot spots, compression therapy on my achilles, refuel, pee and get ready to go as quickly as possible. We aren’t in a huge rush, but time is of the essence at each stop. Sitting too long, especially later on in the day, can make it more difficult to get up and move again. So, figure out how to be as efficient as possible at each stop.
Since my achilles rupture and surgery, I’ve started using compression therapy on my achilles/ankle. Last year I used it at the rest areas during the 28 mile walk. This helped with swelling and inflammation (had zero swelling last year). I plan to continue this year. It’s also a big part of my recovery after my training walks/rucks.
Other tips/blister kits
Since we’ll be outside for about 10.5 hours, don’t forget sunscreen. Most years I wear pants just to have less skin exposed. Last year I wore shorts, with a long sleeve, dri-fit type shirt. I like that combo too.
Put together a simple blister kit with various sizes of moleskin, band aids, possibly scissors and tape. I’m not an expert on doctoring blisters during the event since I’ve never had many. The ones I’ve gotten, were small and we got moleskin on them quickly. I’ve seen many big ones and some participants have popped and drained the puss mid-event, while others left the bubble until the walk was over or they popped it if they had to drop out.
Also, clip your toenails. It’s amazing what pain or discomfort this simple act can prevent.
Previous Years Surprises
Fortunately, I’ve had only a few surprises over the years. What stands out the most is for a few years my ankles swelled pretty big and I had to elevate them for a couple days after.
Also, every year until 2022 I used Smartwool trekking socks. They felt great on my feet, but by the end, my ankles broke out in a rash that lasted a few days. This happened every year. Not a big deal, just itched a little for a few days. Once I switched to the Balega Hidden Comfort socks, no more of that issue.
Some years I’ve gotten severe chills after the walk too. I’ve not researched why, but it’s never been a problem, just noticeable.
It will be different for all. The goal is to be so prepared that you’re good after the event. Of course you’ll be tired and sore, but you should be able to go about more normal activities the following day. This is usually my experience. After the 2022 walk, I felt better than I ever have. I attribute that to the Ballistic Trainer shoes and the Balega Hidden Comfort socks. Getting plenty of miles in before the event was pretty crucial too.
Train, train, train. As Mark Lauren always says, “you only get good at what you do.” It’s important to mix in some weight training too. Those legs will get tired. And when we do Memorial Push-ups at the end, you want some gas left in the tank. Training only by walking will not prepare you for that.
Too many times to count participants have shown up to the event and told me they didn’t train b/c they workout regularly or do CrossFit. Also, I’ll never forget the face of a walker as her husband removed (aka yanked) her toenail at about mile 27. She was not happy. So, training by walking is the best preparation.
For additional tips on training for the ruck/walk, a former combat controller Matt Mueller provided these to me years ago, which are absolutely spot on (scroll down under the first picture in the link to read the add’l tips).
I’d love to hear how you train, what gear you use, tips on preventing or treating blisters, etc. And I’d really like to see you at the Mark Forester JAG 28 Memorial Birthday Walk this year. Come on and just do it! It’s a unique event with a great spirit about it. How many events can you exercise and spend many hours with others, while being able to talk?
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