Preparation is key. If you do not conduct a few training ruck marches, you miss the opportunity to iron out some of the common mistakes people make.
1. Toughen your feet.
Make sure you take time to break in your boots. You need to identify friction points that can lead to blisters. Additionally, if your boots are too small then your feet will rub as they swell and can lead to injury.
Even with the right boots, you may still develop hot-spots. Cover these with moleskin to prevent friction from blistering your feet. If you over pronate or over supinate your feet (rolling outward or inward) it will show in how your boots wear, especially on the heel.
This wear pattern can tell you if you are at risk of developing plantar faciitis or iliotibial band friction syndrome. Both conditions are painful, and will sideline you fast.
If your feet are used to rucking and you have broken in the right pair of boots, you should be able to ruck with only one pair of socks on. Too many layers will cause your feet to sweat. This will soften your feet and cause blistering.
Bring several pairs of socks, as well as extra moleskin. Be prepared to change socks as your feet sweat. Additionally, you can use spray-on anti-perspirant to keep your feet dry.
Foot powder is fine for after a ruck. Putting it in your socks will only lead to muddy socks, and your feet will suffer for it.
3. Start light.
Even if you have rucked before, you will want to start at a comfortable level for self-assessment. If you have any trouble-areas, they will come out. Pay attention to your load-out. If the weight is not well distributed, it will put stress on your back and shoulders.
Additionally, if you have flexibility issues that can lead to knee, hip, or groin injuries it will become apparent after even a short, light ruck. Shin splints are also common, as the heel-toe style of walking puts the tibialis anterior (forward muscle; shin) into what is called dorsiflexion. Just imagine how you would feel if you flexed your biceps as hard as you could for several hours . . .
4. Boot lacing.
There are three main techniques that Infantry Soldiers use to lace their boots for comfort and support: The Army pattern, the Ladder pattern, and the Straight Bar.
Try each of them to see which one works best for you.
5. Gym Prep.
There are a number of exercises that can help prepare you for the arduous task of carrying heavy weight over a distance. Squats, deadlifts, lunges and split-squats will built leg, back, and knee strength as well as flexibility.
Standing calf raises will build the gastrocnemius, the powerful muscle at the top of the calf. Seated calf raises will focus more on the soleus, which runs from knee to ankle. Lastly, reverse calf raises will help develop the tibialis anterior and prevent shin splints.
6. Recommended Items.
- Hat: Soak up sweat, keep the sun out of your eyes.
- Extra Socks: Dry socks will keep your feet in fighting shape. Fox River and Darn Tough are two recommended brands. They may seem pricy for a sock, but I can vouch for both as worthwhile investments.
- Spare T-shirts: You will want a dry shirt or two, and a change of underoos. Consider bringing a small mesh laundry bag to put your wet clothes in.
- Sun-screen/Chapstick: Spend enough time outside in the sun and wind and you will chap and burn.
- Baby wipes: You’ll want to wipe the salty sweat off when you’re done to prevent rashes and chaffing.
- Water source: There will be water points along the course, but you will want a Nalgene bottle or something that you can secure to your gear. A 100-oz bladder is recommended. You can get them cheap on Amazon.
- Reflective Belt: Soldiers hate wearing them, but it’s a good thing to have for visibility on the course.
- Body Glide: No one likes chaffing. Vaseline also works in a pinch.
- Flip Flops/Shower Shoes: Once you finish, your feet will be swollen. Let your feet air out.
- Chewing Gum: Trust me on this one. Never ruck without it.
- Energy Source/Electrolytes: Experienced endurance athletes can attest to the awful feeling of hitting the wall. In addition to water, you will want to carry a little back-up energy. Your body will burn through your glycogen stores first, the sugar in your muscles, before switching to glucose and bodyfat.
Gatorade makes gel-packets and chewable gummies that can help you going. HammerGel is another favored by tri-athletes and distance runners. Emergen-C makes powdered drink mix packets that will add flavor and electrolytes to your water source. Mio makes something similar in a liquid form.
7. Prepare for the weather.
If the forecast calls for rain, make sure you water-proof anything you don’t want to get wet. Roll t-shirts and socks into gallon-sized zip-lock bags. Pack a light wind-breaker, poncho, or other waterproof cover just in case.
If it seems unseasonably cold, be prepared with layers you can remove. Once you’re moving, your core temperature will rise. The optimal temperature for endurance events is around 55 degrees (in the dry). If you over-insulate, you will sweat faster, overheat, and dehydrate.
September 23rd is right around the corner!
We look forward to seeing you out on the course!