SGPT Interviews Michel Lavallee GORUCK Star Finisher

When you step up to the plate and take on a 50 mile endurance event in Canada you better come with your A game.  Michel Lavalee had a solid plan and had prepared diligently for this very event. As their team struggled during the night several members had to quit. But Michel kept going with his swim buddy teammate to finish the GORUCK Star 50 before the 20 hour cut-off time limit. 

Check out this after action report (AAR) as Michel breaks down what it took to train for the event and how he got the job done and finished.

SGPT: Tell us about yourself? Where are you from and where do you train?

ML: I grew up in a small town north of Edmonton, Alberta. I have lived in Fort St John, British Columbia for the last 12 years. Most of my training is in the garage, the driveway, playgrounds, and roads around town.

SGPT: Did you have an athletic background growing up?

ML: My family was very active outside; I grew up hiking, fishing, hunting, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. I guess on the more traditional athletics side, I was a competitive badminton player until I needed to stop due to injuries.

Athletic activity seemed to largely disappear during post-secondary years; my summer jobs were physically demanding but that was most of my activity until I started entered the environmental consulting field and spent most of my time hiking, digging soil survey pits, and operating off-road equipment.

SGPT: Tell us a about your recent finish of the GORUCK Star event?

ML: My first thought was I came, went for a walk, and finished. The longer answer is there isn’t a local rucking community in northern British Columbia; my teammates were from Oregon and I had only met one of them before the GORUCK Star 50 event in Seattle.

Our introduction happened at the start point during our final gear check before the Cadre provided the event’s instructions and checked each participant’s equipment. We started as a team of five and decided to tackle the longer legs at the start while we were fresh and leave the shorter legs for the end when we were more likely to be tired and mentally needing the shorter distances between each location. A couple of our members withdrew during the night; two of us reached the final checkpoint at the 20 hour cut-off.

SGPT: How did you take it when your teammates quit during the night evolution?

ML: With regards to team mates quitting – I knew 1 of 4 prior to the event, the others dropping for various reasons didn’t really bother me. They made a decision not to continue, were picked up, and were safe.

SGPT: How did you get the inspiration to try an event like this?

ML: I’m not sure if it was inspiration or I just read the description and thought a 50-mile self-guided tour of Seattle with people I hadn’t met looked like fun. I walk and ruck a lot, knowing me, I registered for the appeal of a self-guided tour in a new location with new people and a time hack.

SGPT: How did you train for the GORUCK Star event?

ML: I had been preparing for the GORUCK Star event long before I considered registering. My dog usually gets a 4-6 mile walk every morning; I usually take my ruck with me for the fitness side and to add the extra challenge.

The more structured side of the training was a mix of Ruck Strong for barbell and sandbag work to build strength, Pathfinder Ruck Training for the work capacity (lots of hills with 60lb ruck), and some SEALgrinderPT/SGPT workouts for a challenge.

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SGPT: What was the hardest part of the GORUCK Star event?

ML: The only part that was possibly a challenge was the last couple of miles knowing our current pace wasn’t fast enough to reach the final checkpoint within the time hack. I ended up carrying my team-mate’s weight plate to help her through those last couple of miles. Nothing in the event itself was hard; trying to get home seemed harder than the event itself – delays leaving Seattle, missed connections and standby flights all seemed worse than the previous day’s walk.

SGPT: What kind of trail running shoes did you use for the GORUCK Star event?

ML: I wore 5.11 Tactical Speed Dry boots for training and wore those for the event. I spent most of my working career in boots and I wasn’t going to change that for the Star course.

SGPT: Did you use body glide on your feet to prevent blisters? Trail running specific socks?

ML: I wore the same pair of Stance over-the-calf socks for the entire event. My feet have heavy callouses from the amount of walking I do every day. I wasn’t particularly concerned about friction but added a layer of Body Glide along the Achilles, outside of the big toes, and balls of my feet as a precaution. I was more concerned about the relatively thinner and softer skin elsewhere – lower back, shoulders, ribs – rucks can shift and chaffing in those areas can be unpleasant.

I was debating about upper body layers prior to the event and decided to add a thin, moisture wicking shirt under my main shirt to add a bit of extra skin protection. Ultimately it all seemed to work out, one callous split during the event but that wasn’t a surprise.

SGPT: What kind of ruck did you use for training and the actual event? Did you use sand bags in your training?

ML: I had been using a GORUCK Rucker with 50 pounds of plate plus water to make the 20lb event weight seem light or almost non-existent. Rucking is good for the stamina and work capacity but I used sandbags and weight plates to increase overall strength for the event.

SGPT: What is one thing you wish you would have done to get ready for the GORUCK Star event?

ML: My kids comment that I don’t do bendy-stretchy well. I wish I spent more time working on mobility prior to the event. I showed up to the start point with a tight hip and calf. I was confident that I could physically finish 50 miles in the 20 hour cut-off but there was also a lingering thought that my hip or calf could easily graduate from inconvenience to a problem.

SGPT: Any tips for up and coming athletes that want to finish a GORUCK Star event or start training for one?

ML: The challenge I made for myself was train to the point where the event seemed easy. I’m not sure that is good tip for new athletes but it is a consideration. GORUCK Star events range from 5km to 50 miles; I suggest aiming your training for the next longest distance to be physically prepared for the event. I find this helps with the mental side of the event. The mind can start to wander or cause problems with “I still have xx miles to go”; physical discomfort can aggravate the mental struggles.

Cycling distance, speed, and weight helps build speed and endurance; it just takes time. My training might be heavy rucks at a slower speed for shorter distance to build the strength needed for the weight before increasing the distance, then increase the speed. Walking my dog follows the same circuit most mornings; some days would be lighter rucks but at a faster pace to get used to the higher cadence, then slowly add weight and see if I could maintain that pace.

A GORUCK Star event is a long ruck, spend as much time walking and rucking as possible. Hills or stairs can be a struggle – find a fairly steep hill and spend time rucking up and down the slope to build the hip strength needed.

My challenge is remembering to spend time improving my mobility.

SGPT: What good book or audio/podcast are you listening to?

ML: I have been enjoying the Tools for the Toolbox podcast with Chance Burles and Hard To Kill podcast with Dave Morrow. Both podcasts look at different aspects of overall physical and mental health.

SGPT: Thanks for the interview Michel. Much appreciated.

ML: You’re welcome.

Are you interested in training for an endurance event like SEALFIT 20X, GORUCK or a Spartan Race? Do you want to increase your human potential so that you can move faster to your goals?

Do you have a big event on the horizon and you want to finish the drill?

Looking to get out of a rut and push forward to beat yesterday now?

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