We present density functional theory modeling of time-resolved optical pump/X-ray spectroscopic probe data of CO desorption from Ru(0001). The BEEF van der Waals functional predicts a weakly bound state as a precursor to desorption. The optical pump leads to a near-instantaneous (< 100 fs) increase of the electronic temperature to nearly 7000 K. The temperature evolution and energy transfer between electrons, substrate phonons and adsorbate is described by the two-temperature model and found to equilibrate on a timescale of a few picoseconds to an elevated local temperature of ~ 2000 K. Estimating the free energy based on the computed potential of mean force along the desorption path, we find an entropic barrier to desorption (and by time-reversal also to adsorption). This entropic barrier separates the chemisorbed and precursor states, and becomes significant at the elevated temperature of the experiment (~ 1.4 eV at 2000 K). Experimental pump-probe X-ray absorption/X-ray emission spectroscopy indicates population of a precursor state to desorption upon laser-excitation of the system (Dell'Angela et al., 2013). Computing spectra along the desorption path confirms the picture of a weakly bound transient state arising from ultrafast heating of the metal substrate.