JAX BEACH STAR COURSE-50 MILER-NOVEMBER 13, 2020
SIGH – I clicked on the link and registered…for the third time in three years.
When the Star Course came out in 2018, I immediately jumped on the bandwagon. I had done 35+ events, some with nearly that many miles and a few with more. So, in November 2018, I paired up with another GRT from Florida and 22 miles later, withdrew due to excruciating back spasms. That was the first of a few hard lessons: not all training surfaces are created equal. I had rucked plenty of miles with plenty of weight in preparation, but I had not rucked on CONCRETE, which is what the majority of Jax Beach is. I had done nearly all my prep on blacktop and trails. This was also the first GORUCK event I had ever quit.
In 2019, I went on to finish the Tampa Star Course 50 miler with a GRT from Virginia and the Normandy Star Course 75K with three other GRTs, so I knew I could do the distance. As the 2nd annual Jax Beach course began looming, I put the call out on Facebook for another partner. Stephanie Zeiser, an amazing GRT and good friend, decided to join me. We went into the event feeling good despite the freezing cold rain and wind. 33 miles later, we made the joint decision to withdraw for several reasons.
So here it was again. The Jax Beach 3rd Annual Star Course. After registering this time, I thought to myself, “I’m doing this solo.” I don’t think I really meant it at the time, and I did post a few times on Facebook about needing a partner, but I didn’t try that hard to find one. As November 13 approached, I figured I could just piggyback with a team once I got there.
When I arrived at HQ, Bianca signed me in and asked if I was really doing it alone and I said yes. She smiled and said, “You go girl.” Once outside, Cadre JC called the four solo participants over, with me being the only woman. He gave us explicit instructions that we were to text his cell phone every hour on the hour to let him know we were okay and still moving forward. This was in addition to sending texts to COMMS when we hit each waypoint.
We then spoke privately. Cadre said, “Tina, I would really feel better if you found a team.” I showed him the two devices I had for personal protection and said, “What if I have the same route as another team and just kind of be in the area with eyes on occasionally?” Cadre agreed to that and we moved on.
Once we received the waypoints, it quickly became clear there were only two routes from which to choose. One went north and looped around to the west, back south and east, passing back by HQ and then down to the long walk of Mickler’s Landing. The second was simply that same route in reverse. I talked to Cadre and decided to go north first. I knew what Mickler’s Landing was about, and I felt comfortable saving that for last. Little did either of us know I would be only one of three people to choose the northern route, with the other two people being a team. All of the other 50+ participants chose to do Mickler’s Landing first.
The first couple of hours were no problem. Points were along the beach, I was familiar with the area, there were a lot of people around and I gathered waypoints quickly. I got into an easy rhythm, took in the surroundings and felt good. It was between the “In Search of Atlantis” Sculpture and the City of Atlantic Beach Water Tower points that I started to realize I was alone, I had not seen another team yet and it was DARK. A little voice inside my head said maybe I should have gone the other way but I immediately shook it off. I was going to do this. I walked down very dark neighborhood streets in complete silence. Fortunately, my trek to the water tower was uneventful and I started plotting the next point, which was 13 miles away.
By this time of the night, my senses were on high alert. I did not play any music, did not have any headphones on. I highly advise that anyone who does this course alone maintain the noise and light discipline Cadre have imposed during many events. Not only does it prevent you from drawing attention to yourself, but it also ensures you can hear what is happening around you. Pay attention to EVERYTHING. Look behind you. If you are approaching someone while walking, cross to the other side of the road so there is no direct interaction. Walk with confidence. Keep your head up.
This 13-mile portion is where I found myself doing things to keep my mind busy. I sang to myself. I wondered how many Ring Cameras I had set off. I wondered what people thought when they drove by me and then made up stories in my head about what they might say. I noticed how creepy garden statues look in the foggy darkness. Most of all, I noticed there are a heck of a lot of people in this world who don’t realize that when it is dark outside and you leave all the curtains open and lights on inside, people on the street can see EVERYTHING going on in the house.
I passed by bars where people were arguing in the parking lot, heard two or three homeless people fighting over who stole the other’s cigarettes. I saw an owl perched on a fence and we stared at each other for several seconds in the dark silence. It was like I was a ghost; I could see everything but no one could see me.
One thing I did not do was constantly look at my Garmin. I have it set to vibrate every mile, so I would see how far I needed to go until I was due to turn onto a different road, then I would count the vibrations. I was amazed at how quickly the miles passed when I distracted myself; sometimes my watch would vibrate and surprise me. I didn’t think about how many miles I needed to go until I was finished, only how far to the next point I had selected. I also learned that distance is deceiving when you are looking at lights in the darkness. When you think that traffic light is a mile away, it probably isn’t. It’s a lot closer.
I took my first break at the 12-mile mark. I had been looking for a safe place to stop since the 10-mile mark and finally found a fire station. I sat down under a tree out front, took Motrin, had a snack, changed my socks and stretched. Updated my status for my friends and family and let the Pathfinder ruck training community know how I was doing. I didn’t look at my phone often while rucking, I needed to pay attention to what was going on around me and I noticed that looking at my phone slowed me down quite a bit.
I became bored with sending Cadre just a thumbs up emoji to let him know I was okay, so I started to send random emojis that reflected how I was feeling. I don’t know if he was amused, but I was.
I made it to the next point which was the Beach Blvd boat ramp. This is a pretty sketchy area and I really wanted to get moving. As I walked towards the sign to take a picture, three feral cats came out of nowhere and scared me half to death.
The good news: I was back on Beach Blvd and there was more activity. The bad news: I was back on Beach Blvd and there was more activity. I stopped at a convenience store to get something to drink and go to the bathroom. I noticed immediately that I got “a look” from the cashier and I knew right away she thought I was homeless. It’s something the GORUCK community laughs about, and I had several experiences during this event that were funny, but also made me sad when I realized how people treat those who are homeless. I walked up to her and said, “I am doing a 50-mile endurance event and need a break. I’d like to buy this but can I use your restroom first?” She immediately relaxed and I started using that phrase every time I went into a store. It worked fine until an employee coming on for a new shift saw me sitting outside and said, “You need to pack it up and move along.” When I tried to explain that I wasn’t homeless, she wasn’t interested. Looking back, sitting on the sidewalk with my shoes and socks off, rucksack open and food spread around did look like I was planning to stay a while.
A short time after I moved on, a car passed me, then did a U-turn and came back. The man driving said, “It is wet and dark out here, would you like a ride?” I thanked him and said, “Actually, I am fine. I am part of an endurance event and there are about 75 of us out here all spread out.” He said, “Damn, well keep kicking ass!” and went on his way. Never let them know you are completely alone.
Around mile 22, the sun was coming up and FINALLY, there were GRTs ahead! I was so happy to see them! It turned out to be a team who was looking to win the whole thing and to whom I had been talking prior to the event start. They said they were thrilled to see me and had been wondering how I was doing. I told them I was feeling great and we kept moving.
I stopped again for another break. My feet were starting to blister and it’s here I realized I’d made a big mistake. I train in both MACV-1 boots and running shoes. I wore boots for the other Star Courses but decided to wear my running shoes this time around. In my effort to keep the concrete from beating up my hips and back, I walk a lot in the grass. This was always fine in boots because they are water resistant, but running shoes absorb water like a sponge and the grass was wet all night. Earlier I had noticed a pretty significant blister on my pinkie toe, so I put a Compeed on it (if you don’t know what those are, look them up, I discovered them in Normandy and they are pure magic). When I stopped for this break, not thinking, I tried to pull the Compeed off, which tears all the skin of the blister off. Compeeds are supposed to stay on until they fall off on their own. Now I had a raw bleeding pinkie toe in addition to what was looking like a good case of trenchfoot. I wrapped, taped and bandaged, changed into my last pair of Lola Gams performance socks and went on my way.
I was headed to my last point, Mickler’s. This point is a beast because it is all concrete, has little shade and traverses through one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the area. I had been rucking for 35 miles in the Florida weather, and I KNEW I smelled and looked terrible. I tried to smile and give a little wave when I passed people but usually they looked the other way. To be honest, it was embarrassing.
Then, at mile 39, something happened I’ll never forget. I heard a couple walking up behind me. I was sweating, could smell myself and the wind was blowing towards them. The woman said, “Oh my God, that smell is disgusting.” As they passed me, the man held his nose. I cannot begin to express how embarrassed, mortified and ANGRY I was. There were a hundred things I wanted to say, but I didn’t say any of them. I was basically a walking billboard for GORUCK, as I was wearing their pants, a shirt, their hat and their ruck. I was doing one of their events. I don’t believe in making another person or company look bad by having bad behavior. So instead, when they turned around and started coming back toward me, trying to give me a wide berth, I stepped right in front of them. I said, “Hi. I am (looking at my $300 Garmin) 39 miles into a 50 mile endurance event and I have been walking since 9pm last night. Im so sorry if I offended you.” The depth of my sarcasm was epic. The woman blinked several times, then said, “Oh! Well…you’re doing GREAT!” I started walking around them before she even finished the sentence. I can only hope she thinks twice next time before saying something so nasty…but somehow, I doubt she will.
By this time, my feet were squishing. I could feel blisters everywhere. Motrin was keeping the muscle pain away but nothing keeps blisters from hurting when they break. I was out of clean socks so I was just going to have to suck it up. I saw one more team and found out they were the other two people who had gone north. They were on their way back to HQ.
I made it to Mickler’s Landing and took my last photo and sent it to COMMS. Then I received that text that makes every GRT doing a Star Course smile. I had earned that patch!!!! After three attempts, I had finally done it! Now I just had to ruck nine miles back to HQ to claim it.
I will spare you the details of that final push. Every GRT reading this knows how difficult those last miles can be, how painful. What I will say is the constant text messages, DMs, and Facebook encouragement helped me finish. I was doing barely 2.5 miles per hour at the end, but I still finished the course with an hour and a half left before the cutoff time. Crossing that finish line was one of the best feelings in the world. The beer was pretty good, too.
That night back at the hotel, I ordered my favorite post event food-Chinese. As I groaned and leaned back onto the pillow, I grabbed my fortune cookie and cracked it open:
“If you want to win anything — a race, yourself, your life — you have to go a little wild.”
I recently turned 50 and I just rucked 51.82 miles, about half in the dark. I later found out I am the first female GRT to do a 50 mile Star Course alone. It was also my 40th completed event. Personally, I think that is pretty wild.
About the Author
Tina Streeter is a child welfare crisis counselor, former law enforcement officer and Army Veteran. She enjoys hunting and exploring the wilds of Florida with a ruck on her back.