A Light in the Black: Midwest SUCK 2014

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This was one of a very few events that I have signed up for recently that truly frightened me. I remember staring blankly at the computer screen for a few minutes after I registered, thinking, “What did I just do? I think I just went full rucktard. NEVER go full rucktard…”

The day arrived and I brought the 130 pounds of required gear to the staging area. Joe and Nicole Decker, two of the most motivating and badass individuals that you are ever likely to meet, explained the event to us and checked all of our gear.

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We stood at attention for the national anthem, then started our warm up with a jog along the trails that we would become good friends with later in the night. We reached a campsite near a bridge and were given the rest of the warmup: Go through the stream:

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Up the far bank, across the road, through the stream on the other side of the bridge:

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Then go back to your assigned table, do 50 pushups with your feet up, 50 situps, and 50 dips.

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Then go through the stream again and do 40 of each, then 30, 20, 10, through the stream one more time and back to base camp.

By the end of this I was solidly in last place. I knew I was going to be one of the weaker athletes but didn’t think it would be that blatant. I put it out of my mind and shuffled back toward camp. Along the way was a series of logs that had to be lifted before you could move on.

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Back to base camp, load up the ruck with 50 pound sandbag, sledge hammer, and a car tire, and off to do a lap around the lake and back to camp.

I would later find out that the car tire was included in the packing list for one reason and one reason only: It is ridiculously clumsy to carry. Add to that that the terrain around the lake was your choice of sucking mud or nearly impassible brambles, and it soon got dark enough that I couldn’t see well enough to tell how bad the brambles were.

Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention that this is an overnight operation, for no other reason than to make a grueling event that much harder. The lack of visibility messes with your head, with your ability to gauge time and distance. You will be given a new task to complete as soon as you finish the task before it. Everyone works at their own pace, so the leader may well have completed twice the number of challenges as the last finisher. There is a minimum number to get through to be considered a successful finisher, but no one will tell you what that is. You can’t slack off knowing you have enough, you just have to push like hell and hope it is enough.

After slogging around the lake and finding out what it is like to fall on your face in deep mud with 80 pounds holding you down (twice), I made it back to base camp. OK, drop your ruck, go that way, you will see the volunteers and they will explain your next task.

I can’t tell from the dark what the distance was, but I figured out from the racers ahead of me what the next task would be: Cover the entire distance back by burpee frog hops. 

Grunted that out, back to camp, and was given the strongman circuit. 25 each: Sandbag squats:

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Tire flips

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Log flips

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And kettlebell swings

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Then I was sent on the longest farmer carry I have ever seen, heard, or thought about. Buckets unevenly weighted and one of them full of water, so I had to be careful not to spill it.

It is an individual, not team event, but there is still the camaraderie and encouragement as racers pass each other. That helped a lot through the night.

Drop off buckets, go back to do the strongman circuit again and bring my ruck back. At this point the volunteer informed me that I needed to step it up if I wanted to stay in it. I have no idea how to step it up with 80 pounds of gear over rough terrain, but I did my best.

Was then given 3 exercises with the sandbag, to do 50 reps of each. Joe and Nicole were manning this checkpoint, so I inquired how narrowly I was still in the game.

I have to confess here: I am not as mentally strong as I am often thought to be. The shorter version of the Suck, called the Gut Check Challenge, was scheduled for the next morning but had been absorbed into the 12-hour event. The one runner still in it simply got done before the rest of us and got the 4 hour medal instead of the 12 hour challenge coin. I honestly considered asking them to drop be down to the 4 hour challenge, try to go home and not have to take the DNF.

But Joe and Nicole encouraged me on, told me if I knocked out the sandbag exercises well that I could continue, so I went after them for all I was worth.

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More insane carrying distances in the dark. Memories get fuzzy, all sense of time and distance goes away. Just keep moving forward.

When I reached what I was told was my last checkpoint, I was told to help another racer get his gear loaded up, then to haul ass and get myself and all my gear back to base camp.

The other racer was in rough shape, having major back problems and just generally worn out. I figured that I was risking my shot at finishing, but if he fell forward with all his gear on, I doubted if he could get back up on his own. I stayed with him, encouraged him on, at one point prayed with him. The tire on his pack was the main thing causing him trouble, so I talked him into letting me take that until we got back to my ruck (at this point, due to having completed different challenges during the night, he had all his gear and I only had my bucket with sandbag).

We got back to my ruck, loaded everything up, and quickly found that there was no good way to do this. All the gear was too heavy, too clumsy, and we were too worn out. The best solution we could come up with was we each had our pack, one would hand carry both tires, and the other would hand carry both buckets. When the guy carrying the buckets couldn’t go anymore, we switch out or take a rest.

Another, more experienced, racer stopped and encouraged us on. Some of the things he said along the way will stick with me.

Some are here to race, and some are here to push themselves. You’re running a different race, and that’s okay.

It doesn’t need to be fun to be fun.

Dude, this is hard. You don’t have to be embarrassed about how you are doing. This is a tough race.

We were met by the wife of one of the racers about a mile from base camp. She also encouraged us on, and told us not to stop the buckets in the last stretch where we could be seen. The other racer took both buckets as far as he could, I did the quickest tire hand off of the night and took them the rest of the way.

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We were then told drop your gear, one challenge left, follow me, don’t think about it. About 5 minutes later we were covering 100 yards by burpee leaps.

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And yes, they gave us a pretty pink finish line ribbon.

Crossing the finish as a group, knowing we had made it. Lots of hugs, glow of accomplishment, and beer and bagels around the campfire, and the challenge coin ceremony.

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This was without a doubt the toughest event I have ever done. And most certainly I will be doing it again.

ALWAYS go full Rucktard.

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2 thoughts on “A Light in the Black: Midwest SUCK 2014

  1. Man Michael, reading this brought back such a huge rush of emotions for me. It’s been tough for me to put into words how I felt that night but I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one that had the same thoughts you talked about. Congratulations on your finish brother! And welcome to The Suck family!

    Paul Almanza
    The Suck Southwest Finisher ’14

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