By my twenty-third kilometer, I was reduced to a brisk walk across the gravel, rock and sandy terrain that was the back half of the course where visibility was reduced to just a few meters in front of me. It was at this lowest point of the ruck, that I remembered how God does not make us carry our cross, or in this case a ruck, alone. I felt far from the finish but my fighting spirit would not contemplate quitting. In order to experience the joy of finishing and earning the coveted “Marsjmerket” or March Mark Badge, I knew enduring the most difficult point of the challenge was vital. With my upset stomach at its worst, I was considering my options. Nobody would notice if I march the eight remaining kilometers, right? Despite being my most sensible option, this was not how the final 8km (4.96 miles) played out.
The Norwegian Ruck March dates back to 1915, and served to strategically maneuver large units swiftly over a great distance. It was also an endurance test for soldiers to be battle ready following the march in preparation of WWI. Then and now, an 11kg (25 pound) ruck is required to be carried across all categories, for the duration of the event. The requirements for a Norwegian ruck march are as follows; time Standard based on age and sex, approved military uniform/military grade boots, 25 pounds of dry weight, and a route certified by a member of the Norwegian Army.
This was my first Ruck event and the two practices rucks I had prior were critical to me finishing the 30k (18.6 mile) event. One of those practices were 99 degrees at the finish! Thanks to my Air Force friend who was In Special forces and many Army soldiers on base who were willing to help share critical advice from healing hot spots, to the best socks to use. One soldier even lent me her ruck bag for the event!
Those who complete it in the required times, generally 4 hours and thirty minutes for men and five hours for women, with exceptions made based on age groups receive a foreign Mark Badge. This decoration is authorized for wear in service dress for the entirety of one’s career. Ruckformiles is quoted “The success rate of the Norwegian ruck march is rather low”.
I began the event, in the middle of the pack and passed around 30 people in the first few minutes and found myself and a British Infantry soldier working together for the first nearly 3 laps. We were sitting solidly in 12th and 13th by the end of lap one. He and I separated as I moved from 9th to 5th in lap three, and to 4th in lap four just prior to lapping others at which time I no longer knew my position. I was gradually feeling the difficulty increase and at its hardest point after 20k. Where this write up began, at my lowest point during my 23rd km, a soldier caught up and joined my pace while I relaxed my mind and focused on the simplest aspects to give thanks for. By 24km, I gradually accelerated despite the pain and fatigue. Not even halfway through my seventh lap, I continued to move faster than most around me. My positive momentum outweighed my constant discomfort as I dedicated my final kilometers to others including my sons, as well as my gratitude for the stamina, resilience and mental fortitude to complete this challenge. A truly fitting exclamation point to my deployment!
As I turned left for the final 300 meters to the finish, I could recall ten years ago this month, the cheers and excitement as I outkicked my competition on the bell lap, in the world’s largest relay meet being the Penn Relays. This time it was Army Soldiers and fellow Airmen cheering me on to the finish. Shortly after crossing the finish line, it was clear I won the respect of my Army comrades who were complimentary of my performance as was the British soldier who was first across the line. These glorious moments help minimize the tidal wave of exhaustion and cold chills, as my body came to terms with the demand placed on it. I had one more mission after weighing my bag at 28.36 pounds. Holding up my “Mule team, Kickin’ ALS ass!” shirt, with a picture of a bucking donkey on it. This is to raise awareness for those battling ALS, which disproportionately afflicts veterans. Friend and Marine Veteran, Chris Mulholland, is the one who I dedicated this to. I later learned that I was the First Airman and third overall of 126 starters and 73 who finished and qualified for the badge. The badge gives you the opportunity to take on challenges above your typical fitness routine, especially since not everyone wants to spend their early morning, let alone Easter, to march 18.6 miles with a 25 pound ruck.