Welcome Back to the Suck: The Suck 2017

I had completed the Midwest Suck in 2014, and it pushed me to my limit to such an extent that I knew I wanted to do it again. I attempted and failed in 2015, then volunteered to get a closer look at the event in 2016. Adjust training based on my observations there, then come back to try again this year.

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We assembled at the start point with required gear for the national anthem and a pep talk from Joe and Nicole. The first movement was ordered: Take your buckets down to the pond, you will receive further instructions when you get there.

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At the pond, drop the buckets, run back to the start point. Once there, 25 squat-curl-press with a 50# sandbag…

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25 hand-release pushups…

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And tossing an Atlas ball over your shoulder.

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Next we moved through a patch of trees to a pond that we had to swim across, out of the water, through more trees, up a steep incline (so slick with mud that I joked I was winning the Swamp Thing costume contest), then back to the strength challenges. Three logs that needed to be flipped various numbers of times…

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Complete a rope climb…

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10 burpees while breathing pepper spray (applied to the room, not to the racers)…21369526_1313639688765146_662282516020799579_n.jpg

Then over or under a fence to swim across another pond to where we had left our buckets earlier. Fill them with water, carry them halfway back to the start point, shoot a shotgun…

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And cover the rest of the distance back to the start by burpee frog leaps.

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This circuit would be repeated two more times. I had some equipment failures on the first round (zipper on my hydration pack broke and my headlamp stopped working) so Nicole gave me five minutes to refit and get back to work. As usual I was the slowest racer there, but managed to complete all of the required tasks.

After the third round, I was given 20 minutes to refit and return with the rucksack, one bucket, both sandbags, life vest, and food/water for 6-8 hours.

Staggered up to the checkpoint with roughly 120 pounds of gear to check in with Nicole and get instructions for my next movement.

“How are you feeling?”

“At this particular moment, I hate you.”

*Laughter* “Love it. Take this road down to the creek, you will get more instructions there.”

Let me just say, any time you are carrying more than 100 pounds for distance, it is really easy to start questioning life decisions that lead you here. Carry it as far as I can, drop it, recover, realize that there is no way to do this that doesn’t suck, pick it up, repeat. Finally made it to the creek and got the welcome instructions to drop the heavy stuff, as we only needed the bucket and life vest for the next movement.

Pausing here to note a screwup on my part. When I had refitted for this movement, I put all the food and water in the ruck and left the hydration pack behind, meaning I could not separate my supplies from the ruck if I needed to. The hydration pack itself is about a pound, just go ahead and throw the whole thing into the ruck.

The next three movements were variations on a theme. Take your bucket, follow the creek bed, through or over multiple fallen trees, until you find a chem light, touch the chem light, follow the creek back to where you started (at the intersection of the three creeks that we were sent down), fill the bucket with water, complete some sort of exercise with the bucket without spilling it (overhead press, squats, and bench press were the respective exercises for each round), then move on to the next creek. Several people complained about the bucket being clumsy to carry, but I found it made a decent improvised walking stick when climbing over logs.

The next movement was probably the most taxing for me: leave one sandbag here, take the ruck with the other sandbag and the bucket, and go to that chem light that you can just see in the distance. When you get there, you will see another, keep following them until you are met with further instructions.

Everything was up and down steep hills and valleys, and in the dark I couldn’t find any better way through it. This segment is officially called the Snake, but while doing it I referred to it as the Soviet Spider. Spiders kept falling out of the trees onto my neck, and I started chuckling, “In Soviet Russia, spider step on you.”

Another group of racers passed me at this point, and we all hit the next checkpoint at about the same time. 50 pushups, 50 situps, the news that we were close to being pulled for time hacks, and moved out down another creek bed.

Since I did not have my hydration pack with me, I dropped the sandbag out of the ruck and used the ruck to carry my food and water. This movement crossed a number of fences and fallen trees that would have been much easier to get through without the added bulk of the ruck.

At one point I tripped and my lead foot came down hard enough to drive a piece of wood through the sole of my shoe, just a scratch on my foot, but it lodged in my shoe so that I couldn’t walk in it. I sat down and spent 10-15 minutes wiggling it until I could get it out. (I keep a Leatherman in my pack for GORUCK, why didn’t I think to bring it here?)

Racers coming the other direction made it easier to follow the trail back to the HQ. More log flips, then climbing 3 ropes, a chain and a suspended ladder. I completed the first rope without problems, but couldn’t even get started on the second. The ladder was tough to get onto, but once there it was relatively easy to climb as long as you kept it close to your body. Penalty was 25 concrete block burpees for each climb not completed, 75 total. At this point I was weak enough that I was doing them one or two at a time, but got them done.

Next task was collecting 10 bales of hay from the fields around us. We were supposed to give the volunteer a number for him to direct us to what bales to pick up, but the volunteer there had just gotten there and was not up to speed yet, so he did not know what bales to give us.

“Umm, that is one of the bigger ones. Can I take that one?”

“Yeah, that works. Go.”

I had gotten one bale and was heading out for the second when I got orders to grab food and water and go talk to Nicole. I thought that I had gotten far enough behind that I was being pulled, but was pleasantly surprised to be given instructions for my final movement: Follow the path that you took to get here backward, pick up all of the gear that you left at checkpoints, and get it all back to the start point. Hurry, you’re on a time hack.

First segment of this movement was great, moving fast and excited to still be in the game. Picking up the first 50 pounds and carrying it through water that ranged from ankle to chest deep made it much less exciting and more of a trudge. (Along the way I learned that putting the sandbag inside the bucket and strapping them both into the ruck is a BAD IDEA. The positioning makes it feel twice as heavy. The first dry place I found to put the pack down, I stopped to refit and strap the sandbag solidly into the ruck.) The last two miles, carrying both sandbags, were absolutely horrible.

I finally made it to HQ and was greeted with a joyous shout of “THOMAS! You made it! You are done, drop your gear at your camp site.”

I carried everything to my campsite, fell on my side, unbuckled the pack, squirmed out from under the pile, and hobbled back to join the last few finishers in receiving our challenge coins.

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I am happy to have completed this, and happy to learn that I can do more than I thought I could. That being said, I seriously want to do better. Some notes on what did and didn’t work this year.

I seriously need to improve speed over ground, both loaded and unloaded, and speed in the water. My current pace is eating time that I need for other challenges.

While my practice on rope climbs made a huge improvement, I need to work on climbing more than one in a row.

I need to test some gear more severely than I have thus far. A headlamp that works fine being occasionally dunked can fail when it is held under water for five minutes.

Having primary and secondary setups of everything helped a lot. I was able to quickly grab the backup for what broke and get moving again.

Having straps in the MOLLE webbing of the pack to position the sandbag worked extremely well.

The search continues for a headlamp that provides adequate light without going dim at 3 AM or drowning along the way. Also need to switch to a life vest that can be worn with the ruck more easily.

Hoping I can make some improvements on these before 2018.

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