It's been almost a week since I finished the 8th annual SISU Iron, and I'm still trying to wrap my head around what transpired during those 44-ish hours. There was running. LOTS of running. There was also rucking, hiking, walking, and…OK, maybe a little crawling. There was water. Cold water. At night. There was lots of PT. There was wood chopping, knot tying, fire-starting, and archery. There were guns and yoga (not necessarily in that order). There was teamwork, and there were individual challenges. Let me tell you what there wasn't: Sleep. Or any breaks longer than 20 minutes. Sound like a good time? Then this might just be the event for you.
The Iron is a 40+ hour event put on every year at the beginning of May by Daren de Heras and SISU Endurance here in Southern California. Other than that, not much is set in stone. The Iron is constantly evolving and changes every year, so as to keep the participants guessing. A gear list, usually minimal, is emailed to all registrants a few weeks beforehand, outlining what they'll need to bring in order to successfully complete the event. Chances are good it will involve many miles on foot, heavy carries, and at least several tasks that require mental sharpness, which can be a challenge when you've gone 24 or 36 hours without sleep. This is the kind of event that challenges both body and mind, something that sets the Iron apart from many other endurance events. The truth is you can train for this event an entire year, and still not finish. Though athletes travel from around the Country and the world to compete in this event every year, only an average of about 30% will finish and earn the coveted Iron Spike.
As any past Iron participant will tell you, the people involved in this event are special. From the Iron staff to the many volunteers, to the athletes themselves, there is a sense of selflessness that prevails throughout the weekend. No matter how many times you may get barked at, or fall short on a specific challenge, there is an undeniable sense that everyone involved truly wants you to succeed. The staff and volunteers give freely of their time and energy. And, more often than not, a competitor who drops out of the event, or is forced to turn in their race bib, will stay and continue to help out in whatever capacity they can. This is the true spirit of the Iron, and what almost every participant will say stayed with them long after the weekend was over. It's also what keeps most of them coming back year after year. The Iron is not just an event, but a community of like-minded individuals who come together once a year to push themselves and each other to their limits, and beyond.
Part of the beauty of the Iron is that everyone will get something different out of it. Some will finish, many will not. But, hopefully, everyone will learn something new about themselves, what they can accomplish, and where their perceived limits are. For many Iron veterans, it's not making it to the end of the event with their vest in tact that is important, but simply being able to push past the point where they may have envisioned themselves failing.
As Ryan Tworek, a six-time Iron finisher, puts it: ‘I know I'm going to be pushed to my limits. I want to push through those limits and finish'. Greg Golin, who finished two previous Irons, but dropped out of this year's event, says ‘I love the evolution every year. I love that you can't truly train for this. It's about breaking through your breaking point'. Steve Selting, a two-time finisher, adds ‘What makes this event special for me is the unknown. You train for anything and everything, but, when it's done, it still comes down to the best organ in the body. The Iron is part mental and part physical, but 100% heart'. And the participants are not the only ones who are inspired. Andé Wegner has served as the Iron race director for the last two years, and is an accomplished athlete herself. Regarding the Iron staff, she says ‘We're there because the racers inspire us to be better people. Witnessing you all grow through the event, to endure the struggles and persevere…well, that's some pretty amazing stuff'.
The Future of the Iron
With this year's event, De Heras brought on some endurance event heavyweights in former Death Race staff member Don Devaney, and GORUCK Selection finishers Alex Stavdal (who also happens to be a 2018 Iron finisher) and Patrick Mies. Both individually and collectively, they helped push the participants to a new level, demanding nothing short of their absolute best. De Heras has promised at least two more Irons (2019 and 2020), with the tenth-anniversary event promising to be something special. Beyond that, there are no guarantees, though he has said ‘If the desire is there, we will march on'. Here's hoping they, indeed, march on.
Anyone seeking additional information regarding the Iron or any other SISU events should check out sisuteam.com, the SISU Endurance YouTube channel, or the SISU Endurance page on Facebook. The 9th SISU Iron will take place May 1-3, 2020 at Camp Eaton in Pearblossom, CA.
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