In summer of 2013, I volunteered at the The Midwest SUCK where I had the honor of meeting Joe & Nicole Decker. They are the owners of Gut Check Fitness and creators of The SUCK.
Joe is the World’s Fittest Man according to Guinness World Records. He’s a two-time
Summer Death Race winner, along with a slew of other accomplishments after surviving alcohol and drug addiction, even a suicide attempt. Nicole is an ultra runner herself. She seems to be the organization behind her husband’s “madness” at events.
During The Midwest SUCK, I walked through the woods in complete darkness on a narrow trail. I was alone with my headlamp hiking back and forth between checkpoints and encouraging the racers. I’d never had the courage to be alone outside in the darkness, especially not in a heavily wooded area. After watching the participants do hundreds of overhead presses, push ups with their rucks, burpees, bucket carries and much more during the event… I decided I had to try it in 2014.
Following my elbow break in February 2014 and the resulting surgery, I wasn’t ready for the Midwest Suck in early May. Instead, I looked toward The Northeast SUCK in Pennsylvania at the end of May. It was more than double the travel of the trip from Michigan to Indiana, but I was set on having my shot at The SUCK. I already committed myself to The Ultimate SUCK over Labor Day weekend, which is 36 hours as opposed to 12 hours and far more demanding. I knew I needed to have one of Joe’s endurance events under my belt to even have a shot at being successful for that challenge.
Over several months, I worked on gathering my gear. The initial investment in endurance racing is quite pricey and I wanted to have majority of my gear early enough to test it. The SUCK has a mandatory gear list and I added some things of my own through research and recommendations.
I traveled with my boyfriend, Dion, and our friend, John. The drive to Pennsylvania took about 9-10 hours with some stops and one last hot meal around 4:30pm before we’d be fueling with finger foods and supplements all night.
The closer we came to The SUCK, the more anxious I became. I hadn’t been that worried leading up to the event, although maybe feeling a tad under prepared in training. I was a little worried my elbow would hold me back or that I’d injure it again, but mostly I felt pretty good.
The three of us talked about just taking The SUCK one task at a time. That’s all you can do. Don’t worry about what’s to come, how long is left, how you’ve lacked in training… just take each challenge individually and finish it.
Or in the words of Joe, “Don’t think. Just fucking do. Become robotic.”
This was only my second time meeting the Decker’s and they greeted me with hugs and smiles at the race site. One of the great things about the endurance racing community is the tight knit feeling. It’s such a small group of athletes compared to something like the triathlon community, that you become familiar with each other quickly.
After registration check in, gear check and introductions with other racers, the Decker’s gathered everyone (with life jackets in tow) for a pre-race meeting and the National Anthem.
Joe and Steve Noviello (Gut Check Fitness affiliate owner in Williamsport, PA) also went over some of the strongman lifts we’d be doing throughout the night.
Some people like to hide details from endurance events like this to not spoil it for others. However, every SUCK event is different. I don’t think a detailed post will ruin the experience for anyone. I took notes throughout the night on a weatherproof notepad that I purchased so that I wouldn’t forget all the tasks for the recap.
The SUCK isn’t about messing with your heading or trying to get you to quit like the Death Race. There are no mind games. You are given tasks and you keep going until a specific ending time. There’s a clear beginning and end. Joe and Nicole encourage you and try to empower you to finish. They want you to get that challenge coin, to push through the pain and fatigue, to realize your own potential… to achieve greatness in the end.
So here we go…
7:00 P.M. – The Suck Begins
- 100 Swimmer Burpees: Begin with a normal burpee, chest to ground, but then bring hands above head to touch then back to side, push and hop up with clap above head.
Began these with life jacket on since we needed them in the beginning. Ended up removing it because it was bulky and hard to move.
- Pond Swim: Run up trail, through swamp, up trail farther, jump in pond via cannonball and swim counter clockwise around edge.
FYI, I freaking HATE open water swimming. I hate not being able to see what’s in the water. I hate things touching me in the water. I just HATE it. I knew that Joe usually likes to do a swim in the middle of the night and I was completely dreading it. Thank goodness it was in daylight. At least I get to put off night swimming for another day.
- Log Carry: Run back down trail to base camp with a log.
Part way down the trail, Joe pulled a log out of the grass and gave it to me to carry back.
- 100 Sit Ups
- Pond Swim #2: Repeat previous trail run, swim clockwise around edge of pond.
During the previous swim, I was going so fast, I caught up to the other swimmer’s (they were halfway around when I jumped in) so I wasn’t alone. This time they were nearly done swimming by the time I made it in the water. I was panicking being in the pond alone. Even Steve, who had been on the dock for the first swim, was now on the opposite side of the pond away from the dock.My chest was hurting from breathing too fast. I knew I needed to calm down and get to the dock. I pulled myself up and laid there, trying to catch my breath. Steve yelled over to ask if I was alright. I snapped out of my panic, hollered back that I was okay and took off for base camp.
- 100 Hand Release Push Ups:
Another fun thing about the Decker’s, they get into the race with you. Nicole dropped down and did the last 10 push ups with me.
- Hike Up to Checkpoint #1: Load ruck with 30 pound sandbag, sledgehammer, food and water for at least 3-4 hours.
Same trail as before, but continued past the pond. By this time, darkness was beginning to fall. I could hear animals off the path. I just kept hoping none of them were the bear cubs and mama bear we were warned were somewhere out here. Even though the trail wasn’t difficult to navigate (wide enough for cars to drive up) and there are other racers around, you’re quite often alone.
- 100 Tire Hits w/ Sledgehammer: Drop the pack and beat that tire.
- Back Down to Base Camp Carrying 30# Sandbag:
Brought my hydration bladder in it’s own small backpack for trips like these where we didn’t need our rucks.
- Farmer’s Carry Up to Checkpoint #1: Grab the 2 buckets and second sandbag that were left at basecamp. Put a sandbag in each and carry at your side.
I wore Mechanix gloves, otherwise no padding on the handles. My method for the farmer’s carry is to take 30, 40, or 50 steps (however many I decide I can handle) and to keep my pace steady and strides even. When I try to run with the buckets, they hit my legs more and the weight shifts too much for my liking. Pick up, counting and fast steady walking, drop buckets, short break… REPEAT.
- Run Down to Base Camp: Drop the buckets, leave your gear and book it to base.
- Leap Frog Burpees Clockwise Around Driveway: Burpee, hop, burpee, hop… until you go from one side of the horseshoe shaped driveway to the other.
- 25 Fingal Fingers
- Pick Up Heavy Awkward Shit: Pick up objects from ground to chest, straighten legs and put down. Tractor tire rim 10 times, atlas stone 10 times then a big rock 5 times.
I was reppin’ these out fast. The volunteers were excited for me and saying how awesome I was doing. I still felt really good physically.
- Ground to Overheads: 10 reps with 30# dumbbell, 10 with 40#, then 5 with 50#.
Again, flew through these. Felt awesome.
- 25 Pull Ups/Dumbbell Rows:
The women were suppose to do negative pull ups. I tried one and my elbow couldn’t handle my body weight hanging off of it. Thankfully, Nicole let me do a modification. I did 25 reps of 30# dumbbell rows with each arm.
- Leap Frog Burpees Counter-Clockwise Around Driveway
- Chop Wood: Split a log into 4 pieces.
I was thankful that Dion had taught me how to do this on a weekend camping trip a few weeks prior. I didn’t know there would be any wood splitting at this event since an ax wasn’t part of the gear list.
- Back Up to Checkpoint #1: Pick up ruck with 30 pound sandbag, sledgehammer, food and water then…
- Hike Up to Checkpoint #2
- 100 Front Thruster to Back of Neck w/ Sandbag: Sandbag at chest, squat, stand up and simultaneously push sandbag above head, then squat down bringing sandbag down to back of neck. That’s ONE rep.
Whoa. Basically we were doing 200 weighted squats. This one started wearing me down. I had to break it into sets of 5 with mini breaks.
- Back Down to Checkpoint #1 Carrying 30# Sandbag:
At this point, my lower back is really throbbing. I’m beginning to wonder if I can physically hold up to finish this event.
- Farmer’s Carry Up to Checkpoint #2: Same as before.
Dion and I were working our way up the mountain together now. His method was slightly different than mine, but we stayed together. I was breaking down mentally. Continuing to question if I could do the next tasks. The leaders were well ahead of us, so we knew some of the challenges to come. I think this is when my first tears came. Dion just told me to stop thinking about what was next. Stop thinking about the pain in my back. Stop worrying we might be cut from the race. Just go. Our current task was to carry the buckets. So, we carry the buckets. Nothing else matters.
- 100 Tire Hits w/ Sledgehammer
- Run Down to Base Camp: Drop the buckets, leave your gear and book it to base again.
I started off slow walking down the mountain. Then I started to jog. Then I felt a burst of energy and started running as fast as I could until I reached base camp. I think I hit my second wind! That feeling didn’t last too long though…
- Leap Frog Burpees Counter Clockwise Around Driveway
- Pick Up Heavy Awkward Shit v. 2: Pick up various logs from the ground, stand up, heaving it up onto a shoulder. Three different logs with 10/10/5 reps.
The tears flowed again. The logs were hurting my back. I finally decided I needed to know what time it was. I had been avoiding it all night, but I broke down and asked a volunteer. He asked if I was sure I wanted to know. Yes. I needed to know. It was 3:00am. Only 4 hours left. I could make it. Somehow, I would make it. I was trying to pick them up quickly just to get it over with but the last one was so heavy, I could barely get it off the ground my first try. Nicole came over and encouraged me. She told me I just had to get it up to my chest and put it down. Thank goodness, because there was no way this one was making it onto my shoulder.
- 25 Cinder Block Burpees: Hold onto a cinder block while doing burpees. Instead of jumping up to clap, raise cinder block above your head.
I’m a snail right now. STILL crying from the logs. I lost count of how many I’d done at one point and a volunteer finished counting for me.
- 25 Deadlifts 135#
Even before elbow surgery, my weak back had prevented me from deadlifting heavier than 155#. Three and a half months post surgery, 135# was the max I had been able to do… for probably 2 reps. Now I was doing 25 reps and my back was far from fresh. Absolutely sobbing now. I’m not even trying to hold my emotions together.
- 25 Pull Ups/Dumbbell Rows:
Again, I was able to modify with 30# dumbbell rows.
- Chop Wood: Split a log in half.
- Leap Frog Burpees Clockwise Around Driveway
- Back Up to Checkpoint #2
Nicole sent me back up the mountain, telling me I needed to hustle. I was still doing well, but was close to being cut off. I did what I could. Every time I breathed, shooting pains spread through my lower back. Breathing was hurting and I was only carrying my hydration pack now. I didn’t want to think about putting over 50# on it again. I kept trudging up.
- Bushwhack to Checkpoint #3: Bring ruck with 30# sandbag.
I looked bewildered into the small opening off the trail. It was steep and covered with leaves and sticks. There was no path. I couldn’t really walk up the incline with the weight on my back. I felt like I would fall backwards. So I crawled. I wondered if there was poison ivy. Oh well. I’ll deal with it later if there is. There was a brief section that lead back on the road a little ways then pink ribbons took me back into the woods for more bushwhacking. I was crawling from tree to tree. I’d reach to the next trunk and pull myself upward. Some of the trees were too small to handle the weight and snapped back in my face. I kept losing the pink ribbons. I stopped worrying about finding them and just kept going up. I figured I’d get there eventually.Finally, I heard Joe call my name. I called back asking if I was almost there. Steve yelled no. Ha. I laughed. That was better than crying at least. Knowing they were close enough to hear made the last bit more bearable.
- Back Down to Checkpoint #2
- Back Up to Checkpoint #3: Carry tire, sledgehammer, 2 buckets and 30# sandbag.
The first incline up from checkpoint #2 was so steep, I was taking 2-3 steps and stopping. Carrying the tire without strapping it onto my ruck was awkward. I put my head and one arm through the tire so it rested on the opposite shoulder. I kept stopping to switch which shoulder it was on, or switch the bucket to my other hand. I saw other people heading down the mountain with every bit of gear we carried to the top checkpoint. I thought this is it. I just have to make it to the top with all of this and I get to go back down.
- Run to Base Camp: Leave everything.
Oh, I was so wrong. It’s not over. Sobs. The sun is rising though, which brought new hope. I can finish this. I’m in pain, but I’m so close to that challenge coin.
- Back Up to Checkpoint #3:
Nicole encourages me to hurry. She says it’s 6:00am and I have an hour to get up and back down. I laugh. I don’t see how that’s possible. I’m worrying a little that I may finish the tasks, but I won’t get the coin. I’m not quitting though. Even if I don’t get the coin, I will leave with the knowledge that even when it hurt and felt impossible, I didn’t stop moving. After Checkpoint #2, I pass Steve and Joe heading back down to base camp. They’re smiling and I kind of want to punch them for it. I also want to cry and tell them to come back to the top with me. I don’t know if I can get my heavy pack on or get off the ground once I put it on. Oh well. I’m on my own.
- Carry ALL Gear Back to Base Camp: Ruck loaded with gear, both 30# sandbags, 2 buckets, sledge hammer and tire.
Up to this point, we hadn’t had to bear the entire weight of our gear all at one time. Now I’m doing it 12 hours into the event doing down a mountain with some very steep areas. Oh boy. Dion was just getting his ruck on as I reached the top. I thought about asking him to help me, but he was already bearing the weight of his gear. I’d figure it out myself.Luckily, I was able to fit both sandbags into the middle section of my pack, so I didn’t have to carry one of them in a bucket. I stuck the sledgehammer in a side pocket and used some flexible gear ties to attach the buckets to the back of my ruck. To get it on, I sat on the ground to put my arms in. I rolled sideways from my back, easing onto to my hands and knees. Then slowly pushed up with my hands until I could plant each foot to stand. For the tire, I had pulled out a bungee strap to drag it, which worked perfectly.
I was walking at a fairly steady brisk pace until I caught up to Dion. He was having some trouble situating his gear and things were starting to break on him. I stayed with him a little while until he told me to just go. My back was hurting and he didn’t want me taking longer than I needed to finish.
I got into a rhythm. Kept my feet moving. Left. Right. I could take this pack off soon. Left. Right. I didn’t quit and the end is coming.
8:00 A.M. – The Suck Ends
Hunched over from the weight of the pack with the tire in tow behind me, I walked into base camp to cheers and encouragement from the finished competitors and volunteers.
I dropped to the ground with my pack still on my back. Nicole helped me loosen the strap so I could finally be free of the weight. I was an hour over the 12 hour mark, but I was a finisher.
I had the honor of receiving the first coin. Joe said a few words about each individual. He brought up my volunteering experience and how I said I would be back to compete. Here I was, receiving my challenge coin today.
Completing The SUCK is an unreal achievement for me. Looking back at who I was, I never imagined I could do something like this. The physical aspect is daunting enough, but mentally overcoming the barriers I’ve built in my mind is on a completely different level.
We aren’t born with filters, boundaries or “can’t do” attitudes. We learn limits. You start really living when you figure out unlearn those limits.
You can do things you only dream of doing. You can climb mountains if you let yourself try.