Breaking Point: SISU Iron 2015


This is one of the events that, even as I type these words, I don’t know how to describe. It pushed me past my limits, showed me the mental weaknesses that I can usually hide (even from myself). While most events show me where I am, this one showed where I need to go.

I flew in the morning before and used the day to acquire gear locally that I could not bring in (food, basic medical supplies, bucket, drop bin, water, gatorade). The first physical challenge occurred when the wheel fell off of my cart. Load everything into the drop bin and hand-carry roughly 70 pounds to the car.

Pre-registration was that evening. We spent some time meeting new and old friends, having dinner and checking our required gear. There were two challenges: Death by Burpees, doing one burpee the first minute, two the second minute, and on until you can’t keep up, prizes for who can keep up the longest.


I managed 9 in the 10th minute, then sat out. Next was the bucket-head challenge. Blindfolded, with a bucket over your head, you must determine when 15 minutes have passed, penalties for each minute over or under. During this time you must be absolutely silent, any speaking results in elimination.


Add to this people tapping on your bucket, children asking questions, yells of “Cornfed!” (and having to fight off the conditioned response of calling it back). At one point I found myself forgetting about keeping time and thinking very nonsensical thoughts. Not sure if it was due to the bucket making normal breathing difficult, or if I actually fell asleep. When times were revealed, I found I was nearly 8 minutes over. My punishment was 8 rounds of 10 pushups, 10 squats, and 10 situps.

We took care to rest up and hydrate as much as possible before the main event. First challenge was to eat a donut suspended from a string without using your hands.


Yay, free calories.


We then moved to a concrete amphitheater for the official start of the event. The race directors explained the basics of what was going to happen and offered some rousing words of encouragement. They then pulled out some athletes to serve as assistant directors and had the rest of us stand in formation. I had a pretty good idea of what was coming, I know a welcome party when I see one.

We were marched into the pond, and one of the directors tapped random people on the shoulder, saying “You. You. You.” When we were all in the water, we were told those people needed to crowd surf on the rest of us, as though we were at a rock concert.


We failed to get them as high as was requested. There simply were not enough of us to put that much weight overhead. Out of the pond, divided into groups for PT. Squats, duck walks, the tunnel of love.



Some of our group were shivering from the cold water, so we penguin-huddled around them, making jokes that we were keeping the Californians to the inside and the more cold-resistant Midwesterners to the outside. Then we were ordered to move the entire group, in our current formation, to the other side of the pond. We grabbed each others shoulders and moved as one, making it much less difficult of a movement than we had feared.

New instructions: Grab all of your gear, go that way. You have 3 minutes to find Darren, he’s down there somewhere.


Down a creek bed, through a culvert, into a pond, and around and around a circle, bobbing and head-banging to the blaring music from the shore.


Tennis balls marked with names were thrown into the middle of the circle, and it was up to us to each find the three with our own names.


Next was to carry all our gear up a mountain and come back down with a concrete block. I strapped the block into my ruck, which was great for carrying it, but sucked when I got back to this:


Hold your block over your head until the last person joins the formation. If it is in your pack, hold your pack over your head.

We were then separated into two groups. One would take 2 blocks each back up the mountain, while the other moved out for a bootcamp workout. I was in the block-carrying group, and as we moved out I heard one of the directors yell that there were two blocks left behind, and the entire group would be punished if they were not taken care of. I and one other went back for them. I loaded two in my pack and hand carried the third, he strung the extras on a rope and dragged them.


Something went very wrong with my mind during that climb. I was pushing my body to the point that I was about to be sick, and my mind gradually changed from one step at a time, keep pushing, you can do this to…


When we hit the next checkpoint, the only way I could take off my pack was to fall down with it and then unbuckle it. Still fighting back being sick, I found the next test was an eating challenge. Roasted crickets and mealworms (popular snack foods in Asia, not a problem) and some variety of hot pepper (big problem). At that point I lost it and told them I was quitting. They talked to me and convinced me to try to get through it. As expected, bugs were no problem, and the pepper left me as an eye-watering, nose-running, gag-reflex mess.

As soon as I was mostly recovered from that, my right wrist was tied to my left shoe and I was told to move a block down the trail without using my hands. Kick the block, butt-scoot up to it, kick it again.

Toward the end, we were given the option of taking off one shoe and carrying the block the rest of the way, then moved as a group back down the mountain, still with only one shoe.

By the time I made it to the bottom, I had my mind right again, but this had taken a lot out of me.

Next was “Chasing the Squirrel,” a group movement to collect mathematical equations that were posted somewhere along our route. When we got back they would be used to solve a coded message. Along the way we had to go up a culvert pipe that had to have been at a 75-80 degree angle.


The race directors then noted that the tail end of the formation was moving far too slowly, and that steps would be taken to cut the slowest members within the next two hours.

Randomly divided into 5-man teams and told to bring in exactly 500 pounds of whatever we could find from the chapel area. 7 concrete blocks, 6 buckets of water and a bit of broken block made 490 pounds. Penalty for under: 10 minutes of jumping jacks in the water.

Next: a group movement to a start point up the mountain, a race to the top (where an unspecified challenge would be given) and back, with the 5 slowest racers to be cut.


Flatlanders like me tend to have serious trouble making time in vertical country, and I soon found myself solidly in the last five. Kept moving, enjoying the views, encouraging the other stragglers along. First challenge was to learn to tie specific knots. The only one that I didn’t know coming in I picked up quickly (thanks to explanations that involved “the bunny goes around the tree, then says he forgot his car keys and goes back in the hole.” Silly but it works). I made up some time there, but lost it again on the constant uphills that followed.


Upon reaching the top, I was given a poem to memorize on the way down. I usually suck at memorizing things, but the poem happened to be one that can be sung as a marching tune, so I used that to force it into my brain.

When I reached the main camp, I knew there were only three people behind me, so I assumed that I was going to be cut. I ran into a teammate, said hello and told him I had to go check in to DNF. His eyes flashed and he barked at me, “Do not say that yet. Get your ass in there and talk to them!”

It turns out the deadline had been extended and I made it by three minutes. Delivered the poem flawlessly, and was given 7 minutes to refuel and rehydrate. Ran to the car, waving to my teammates that I was still in it, topped off my hydration pack and chugged a water and a nutrition shake while running back.

I was assigned to a group doing “community service,” basically cleaning up the campground. My group got the unenviable task of moving all of the heavy stuff that had been brought down for the 500 pound challenge back up the hill to its original location.

After several trips up the hill with concrete blocks, we were given a time limit to get ready for a run and assemble at the amphitheatre. Anyone late would cause all of us to do burpees before the next challenge started.


The sun on the concrete was the next best thing to a reflector oven. 49 burpees as a group before starting Victoria’s Challenge, a 7-mile run to Dave and Busters, collect 300 tickets, and make it back in under 4 hours. We were invited to drop out if we thought we couldn’t make it, but all but a few of us decided to give it a try.

It was in the high 80s, and the hills heading out of the park were too steep for the downhill shuffle that usually allows me to make up time on downhills. With each step I felt myself having to brake the full weight of my body.

Just outside the park I got confused about what road to take, and a volunteer stopped to show me the way, noting that there were several roaming around to keep an eye on us. She stopped to give me a bottle of water about half a mile later, and a few miles after that two guys pulled over to give me freezer pops. At that point of the run, that was the most awesome thing ever.

As I approached Dave and Buster’s, people who were on the way back showed me a shortcut in. Through the parking lot (confusing the heck out of some parking lot attendants) under a fence and up the back stairs.

When I got inside, I was informed that I had an hour and 15 minutes to refill water, get tickets, and make it back. On a flat course on my best day that is more than I can do, and this was not my best day. I accepted that I was not going to make it and got a ride back with two other DNFs.

A DNF at a road race is handled with a rather cold, matter-of-fact attitude. Yep, got you down as a DNF, dismissed. This was something else entirely. The man who had talked me down from quitting the night before congratulated me on how far I had made it, handshakes and hugs as I turned in my vest. Rather than just recognising that we hadn’t made it, everyone there seemed to recognise and respect that we had given it our best.

I got a quick shower and stuck around to cheer on and hang out with the rest of the team, ended up randomly doing an interview with Athlete on Fire, and took notes about what I was missing so I can prepare for next time. Shooting, fire making, a beyond-brutal bootcamp workout with Coach Hell Yeah.

I watched the remaining contestants move out for their last challenge then caught a few hours of sleep in the car. I slept a bit longer than intended, and everyone was back by the time I checked in. They were required to sew patches from each of the challenges they completed onto their vests, and between cold hands and scattered minds some were having trouble, so I took over for two of them.

I picked up my vest after the awards ceremony the next day. It will be my long-run motivation until I return to do this again.


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