62 Miles - The One Day Hike AAR - ITS Tactical

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62 Miles – The One Day Hike AAR

By Mike Petrucci

They say that the One Day Hike (ODH) may be the mid-Atlantic region’s oldest long distance hike. Even though The Sierra Club has been hosting this popular adventure since 1974, I just found out about it last year.

They have two distances for hikers to choose from, a 50K and a 100K. All but 1.5 miles of the hike is on the C&O Canal tow path as it winds from Georgetown, Washington, DC to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Hiking 62.14 miles in a single day is not what some people consider a day hike, but this is exactly what they are asking people to do.
Being a guy, my ego is in need of a constant check. Luckily I was able to subdue my testosterone enough and made myself promise that I would take this one slow. The mission is to complete the hike; that is all. No speed records, no bricks, just finish.

To complete the hike in the allotted time, you need to average 20 minutes per mile (approximately 3 mph). If you miss the cutoff times at any given station, they bring you in. It’s part of the rules you have to agree to but ultimately it’s for your safety and I understand that.

Note: They throttle the signups and don’t have a waiting list, so you just have to wait until they open registration periodically and grab a spot as quickly as possible.

Since this is a supported event, there are strategically placed aid stations with food, water, medicine, etc. I planned on carrying everything I could to move as fast as possible and keep stops to a minimum. I did however take advantage of the aid stations for food and water resupply when I really needed it.

Gear Loadout

The conditions for this hike could not have been better for me. I operate best in the cold and rain doesn’t seem to hurt my morale at all. In fact, for some reason I tend to welcome the rain because I feel as if it becomes a mental barrier for others. So with a low around 39 and high in the low 50’s, I was excited.

I met the organizers in a dark parking lot in Georgetown to check-in. I haven’t experienced this “feeling” in a while and it’s fun being wide awake and geared up for an adventure at some crazy hour (2:30 AM) surrounded by similarly crazy people. We are setting out to hike 62.14 miles in less than 24 hours. I think that’s crazy.

0300 – A Dark Start

After a brief chat about safety and more on what to expect, we were off. My start is fast but I’m feeling good. I’m cranking out 13-15 minute miles and listening to music. Some songs get me feeling pumped and allow an even faster pace. But the miles don’t exactly fly by and even with a slower than running pace, I’m starting to get hungry.

I keep moving as I swing my backpack around and pull out some snacks. I plan on eating as much as I need but I also don’t want to burn through all of my food before I reach the first food station. Something I noticed was that when people around me had to get something out of their bag or maybe pick a new song on their iPod, their pace slowed down. I made an effort to speed up during those times I was distracted.

Arriving at the first station I decided to adjust some things and only stay for a minute. I was good on water and feeling fresh so I wanted to get moving to the next checkpoint. Breakfast was waiting for me there and it was about 10 miles away.

Breakfast is Served

I rolled into the breakfast station at mile 22 in just over six hours. To be honest, I kind of was expecting eggs and sausage but happily scarfed down the bagels, muffins, oranges, and yogurt they laid out. I also took time to get some blisters drained by the first aid crew. The volunteers at this event are downright saints. One person will pop your blisters and bandage you up while the other is asking what they can get you from the food table, all while being as chipper as can be. Saints.

I started off slow as I left the breakfast stop but soon picked up pace. I decided to use my trekking poles and push like I was skiing and they really helped a ton. Somehow I snuck a 14 minute mile in there but eventually had to slow down as my legs began to tighten up. Also, my feet were feeling incredibly tender. Almost as if I were stepping on thumb tacks.

I blew through the next aid station at mile 30 to save time and preserve my feet. Stopping seemed to make it worse. After all, it’s only 5.6 miles to the next station which is the lunch stop.

I eventually slowed down as I neared the next station. Things are starting to get worse. I arrived at Whites Ferry (mile 35.6) at 2:05 PM. Sat for a minute until I could muster up the strength to rise and hobble to the food table. I downed a PB&J and took another as well as some trail mix for later. I left the station at 2:23 PM because it closes at 3:10 PM and I didn’t want to be out of the running just yet.

Painful Truths

About a half mile down the trail, I was by myself as I started to realize the gravity of it all. Things were hurting too bad. My pace was deteriorating. My body was shutting down. At this realization, alone on the trail, leaning on my trekking poles for support, I broke down.

I did the math and realized I wasn’t going to make the next cutoff. My goal was to finish and certainly not quit. I won’t be able to finish but at least I’m not quitting. I gave it everything I could. It was extremely difficult for me to reach that conclusion but soon I was ok with it.

It started to rain and lasted for my last 2 miles. I arrived at what was to be my final station at mile 42.5, 20 minutes beyond the cutoff. I was forced to end my hike there. To be honest, if allowed to go on, my pace would have been so slow that I wouldn’t have made the finish in 24 hours anyway.

I didn’t earn a patch but that doesn’t mean I won’t go back. I’ll return to hike the full distance and I’m still proud of myself for covering 42.5 miles in just over 14 and a half hours.

A Look Back

Now that I’ve had time to rest and reflect, I realized a few things I did wrong and what I need to do for next time. I forgot about this event up until a few weeks before I could sign up. That didn’t leave a lot of time for training and honestly, you really have to train for this. I did one hike that was about 18 miles but they highly recommend you do at least a 35 mile hike if attempting the 100K.

Looking over the OneDayHike.org website, it’s full of great advice that I’ll follow to the letter for next time. Building up your feet and legs during long days of walking will go a long way when you do the real thing. I was ill prepared and thought that a general level of decent fitness would get me through. It did not. This wasn’t something I could muscle through even though I tried.

Even though I failed to reach my goal, do I recommend others attempt this hike? Yes. It’s an amazing adventure that you should try if you have even the slightest interest. Visit the ODH site and follow their training program. You know I will.

I want to say a huge thank you to everyone that volunteered and manned the aid stations. Being greeted by a complete stranger who is more than excited to get food for me or pop my blisters while I rested did wonders for morale. The volunteers make this event what it is and I plan to reciprocate and become one sometime.

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  • Great article, and definitely very inspiring. I’m taking part in the OXFAM 100km Trailwalker event next month. The big difference is that we get 48 hours instead of 24. My two biggest fears are blisters and flat out just running out of energy. I’m a winter boy and 100km in the summer heat is a pretty scary thought for me. Moleskin and more training will hopefully get me to the finish. Thanks again! Next year, Goruck.

    • Thanks for the kind words! If you are worrying about getting blisters, start hardening up your feet. Go on tons of long (hours and hours) walks. Check out the Training page on that One Day Hike site. A month may not be enough time to avoid all pain but you have a shot. I also agree with you on the heat, it just saps my energy completely.

      There were people that followed the training schedule and wore just regular running or trail shoes and had no feet issues at all. I also think that my boots (which are awesome) were a poor choice for this specific hike. I’m going with shoes next time (but that’s mostly because the terrain is extremely flat and very easy to walk on).

      Have you done a GORUCK Challenge too?

    • Luckily I’ve been training with my team since January. We just haven’t pushed past the 35km mark yet. However I plan to do just that this weekend, and hopefully the week after that I can do close to 50km. It’s just hard to find the time to do… 50km!

      I haven’t done GORUCK yet, but I plan on signing up next year for Toronto’s march!

    • I know exactly what you mean. The time it takes to cover the distance is something that can’t be crammed or faked. It’s tough. Signed up for the Toronto Challenge? Awesome!

  • Jeff Chan

    Hey Mike, great article. Thanks for sharing this experience.

    • Thanks Jeff, I’m glad you enjoyed it. It was a real gut check but now I know what to expect.

  • Cathy P

    That was a good read, and very insightful. Am sure it will be helpful to people wanting to do the wallk. My friend did the 3 day 60 mile breast cancer walk, and training was a big commitment. She loved it!

    • Thanks Mom! I’m going to make sure I’m trained up for next time, really need to get those feet conditioned.

  • Very cool man, great to hear about your adventure. I know you will get it next time!

    • Thanks man! I’m toying with the idea of getting out there and doing it solo and unsupported. But it will came down to training if I can get “acclimated” enough. Mostly because I’m dying to knock it out but also this way I could work as a volunteer for the next one.

  • This is just awesome. I’ve been thinking a bit about how far I could hike in a short period of time, maybe over a weekend when the wife works. I’m inspired. Gotta think about some routes where I could do this on my own, but I could totally see this being worth a trip since it doesn’t burn much vacation (and altitude advantage of going lower from Denver).

    • Thanks for the kind words! Finding a supported event certainly made it easier but I’m sure you could still get out there and lay down some serious miles. Being alone with your thoughts for that long is also very refreshing.

  • casey

    Great article, sounds like fun! I am always curious about what people have on their playlist for stuff like this. What starts them out and what keeps them going on the long, slow stretches. Especially since it is so different for everyone.

  • Bryce

    Great article and advice! Thank you for the good read Mike!
    ~Bryce G.

    • I appreciate that Bryce! I wish I was able to report that I covered the full distance but I’ll get there.

  • Very respectful march.

    || Gear Loadout || – plus pants, plus waterbottle, isn’t it? 😉

    • Thanks man. The pants were just some old generic REI zip off pants. I’m in the market for something newer and the rest of the gear I truly love so I shared it. And no waterbottle because I just used the Source Hydration bladder. Hold 3 liters and allows easy drinkin’ on the go! (you can’t see the hose from the bladder; it was in the ruck but I guess I should have pulled it out)

  • Just wanted to leave a note to say how awesome this looks. It is always inspiring to see someone give something their all, finish or not. You inspired me with this for sure.

    As a former avid hiker in my youth, I would love to do this myself someday.

    • Thank you so much Patrick for sharing your comment. I’m flattered that you found inspiration in this and I can’t wait to hear your experience of the hike. Actually, have you rescheduled your GORUCK Challenge?

  • boat

    The only shakedown hike you did was a ~18 mile? You thought you could go 3.4 times that distance without any training?

    For someone that runs a blog that’s more or less about being prepared, you did a terrible job.

    • Hey boat, I can see why you say that and I don’t mean to mislead you. Let me try and explain.

      18 miles was my previous “distance record” but like I said in the write up:

      I forgot about this event up until a few weeks before I could sign up. That didn’t leave a lot of time for training and honestly, you really have to train for this.

      I don’t pretend to run this blog and was allowed to write this guest post because after sharing with Bryan (founder of ITS), he thought that a lot of people could learn from it.

      Not being properly trained for this hike was an oversight, yes, but is it still a valid lesson for others? You bet. If I had signed up earlier and followed the training hikes that the One Day Hike people posted, it wouldn’t have been a problem.

      I poured over their site as soon as I remembered about the hike and saw that they suggest a person should complete at least a 35 mile hike if attempting the 100K distance. Distance isn’t something you can cram for and with the time allotted, my only real option was to get something close to 20 miles in and rest to be fresh for the actual event.

      If you had 3 weeks to prepare, what would you have done differently? I didn’t want to back out all together because it looked like a ton of fun. I’m really curious as to what other people would do if given that time frame.

      Also, it’s worth noting that I’m totally pleased with myself that I still attempted it even though I fell short of my initial goal. I’m just an average guy that was looking to test myself.

    • boat

      Leaving the cap off the toothpaste is an oversight.

      ‘Forgetting’ to train for a 62 mile hike is something else entirely.

      There is much too learn from your blog post (mainly, don’t be foolish, forget you signed up to hike 62 miles in one day, be foolish enough to think you could complete it anyway.) So thanks for the blog post. It is an interesting event.

      If you are wondering what to do differently, perhaps talking to people that actually completed it would be a start.

      (I’d suggest that rather than asking me or anyone else on this blog. You’ll get a bunch of random answer from people that have never hiked 62 miles in one day either.)

  • Adam

    I JUST now read this article and this hike sounds insane! Good hustle though!

    I used to live in the Smoky Mountains and would go hiking quite a bit (I HIGHLY recommend doing the Alum Cave trail to Mt. LeConte BTW) but the most we ever did was about 10-12 miles in one day, however there is a LOT of elevation changes there, and some of the uphill sections can be relentlessly brutal, so the pace varies.
    Hiking is one of those activities you can only really prepare for BY hiking. I would like to do this one though!

    • I totally learned my lesson with this one! Even though I wasn’t sure I would get in, I should have been prepping the entire time. I’ll certainly look into that Alum Cave trail!

  • Rick

    Great article and I have never heard of this walk. I did the Bataan in 2011 (Military Heavy) and finished in a little over 6 hours. Have also done some goruck’s this looks like it is going on my list of to do.. Thanks for a great write up and inspiration to do this…

    In my prep for Bataan I never did more than one 18 mile hike. Most were 13 miles or less but intensity and weight were higher then the required 35 pounds, was using the CrossFit Endurance principle to train. In events like these and others the feet conditioning as you point out is the biggest thing to remember…

    Putting this one on my reminder to sign up…

    Oh.. looking at the results they only had 96 people actually attempt it but the sight says it’s limited to 350?

    • Glad you enjoyed the write up! I didn’t properly condition my feet at all and paid the price for that.

      I just downloaded the 2012 results (.xls) and don’t see the 96 you see… Oh wait, I think I may see it. For the 100K hike, they had 94 people start it. There was still the 50K entrants and combined, it gave a total of 283 people starting. I guess they had a good bit of no-shows.

      Maybe I’ll see you out there! I really want to volunteer too…

  • Jesse

    Great post, Mike. This inside view does wonders. I’m fortunate enough to have signed up for this ODH for 2013. I’ve been rucking weekly getting ready for selection, so I’m hoping my feet are good and battle ready. I think I just need to lay down a few good long hikes and pack some beers for some mid trail rejuvination.

    • Thanks Jesse! Yeah, the key takeaway is allow proper time for training, which I would have if I knew I was going to get in. I guess I should have been preparing the entire time and that’s my fault for being caught off guard.

      Are you wearing boots (for the ODH) or shoes? Since the terrain is pretty flat (with some gravel), I’m going to ditch the heavy boots and go with running shoes. If you are used to boots for long distances, I would probably stick to that but my feet just aren’t there.

      I actually signed up as well (somehow got in before they closed registration) and really need to go on some long rucks. I think a mixture of weight (light ruck and some heavy ruck) will be good as well as varying the distance. Another guy mentioned doing just loads of air squats and then adding some weight in your ruck. Really do whatever you can to get your legs prepped. Getting my feet ready is my ultimate goal this time though.

    • Jesse

      That was intense.

      I finished at 8:30. My biggest concern was my body shutting down on me, and it almost did. At mile 40, my quads would cramp when I straightend my leg and my hamstrings would cramp when my knee bent. I’ve had muscle cramps before, but nothing this intense. I had to ease my way to a tree and take a few minutes of serious stretching.

      This event takes a long time of physical preparation, but you will only succeed if you are mentally determined to not give up. The support stations are great if you know what your body is needing. Don’t get comfortable there. Fill your water, slam some bananas and nuts down and keep trucking. One first aid worker asked me if I was ready to quit, and my reply was only pussies quit.

      It was a good time. I can’t wait to see everyone else’s results.

    • Well done Jesse! Yeah with it filling up so fast, I didn’t think I’d get in. I should have been training the entire time just in case I did get in but again, that’s a mistake on my part. You can’t cram for this kind of test and getting miles down is the only real way to prepare.

      I’m glad you got to do it! Hopefully you got a good bit of rest afterward, it was well earned!

  • Mike, I wanted to let you know that your article put the idea in my head to try this incredibly challenging hike. A friend and I tried to make the 60 miles yesterday but only reached 50. I put together a little article about it here:


    Thanks again for the inspiration!

  • Melina Oberlander

    I read your article at the beginning of the year when I was contemplating singeing up for the 100k. Did you manage to complete the 100 k this year? I hope so! I finished the 100k at about 10 pm, I still can not believe I did it. What a feeling.

    • Melina that’s awesome! Congrats on the 100k! I was signed up to go this year but ended up having to leave town last minute so I didn’t get to do it. Any tips or tricks you’d like to share? Did you wear boots or running shoes?

      Again, that’s great that you got to do it and you pushed through. I know it’s not easy but I’m sure it was incredibly rewarding. I’ll be back!

  • JefferyPHamilton

    No need to be so rude here, ‘boat’.
    Mr. Pettruci has more than owned up to it, and shows a fair amount of intestinal fortitude to be willing to air his laundry here for all to see.

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