August 5-7, 2022
Ian Lai (DNF)
The first Cerberus Series event in Cleveland was my first attempt at an event over 12 hours, so I was pleasantly surprised that I managed to make it to the end. The second event in Sarasota proved more challenging with the heat and a sprained ankle at roughly the 18-hour mark. So coming into Colorado Springs I had some idea of the activities and conditions we might encounter. The big unknown here was altitude and I handled that by arriving a couple days early to acclimate.
There were a total of 17 signups and 9 of us ultimately showed up at CrossFit SoCo with our rucks, kit bags, and sandbags. Four of us (me, Don Bulgrin, Ian Ashkar, and Troy Diggs) had been to a prior event, while the other 5 were new to Cerberus (Kyle Crutcher, Liz Dahlmann-Pillow, Curtis Goldensoph, John Silva, and Mike Vaughn).
We started off with introductions with Gregg McLeod and Bryan Singelyn, weighed our bags/rucks, and got warned not to put our hands on our hips, which set the tone for the rest of the event that I observed. We proceeded to a PT test consisting of pushups, situps, burpees, prisoner squats, and pullups, along with two rope climbs. Before we started doing our 5 minutes of burpees we were already getting hammered with 2 sets of 20 burpees for a couple violations of the hands-on-hips rule. One person (John) quit after the PT test.
We did shuttle runs to get an idea of the standard for passing at the end of the event. We also had to relinquish all our food (minus electrolytes) so that it could be rationed out later on.
Workouts and More Workouts
The next order of business was the first set of Heavy Drop Training workouts (Lower, Upper, Core). I knew at this point that I might have trouble with hydration, since I was drinking so much water to keep myself from overheating, and indeed my stomach started reacting during the lower and upper workouts. I did not manage to puke which was a great disappointment to Bryan 😉, but he placed before me my own trash can so that I could at least keep things contained just in case. The final workout, the Core soul-crusher, lived up to its name: after a couple other exercises we were to do 100 sandbag getups, 50 Carl Fredricksens, and 100 sandbag situps. I managed to knock out a few situps before the time ran out. It was at this point when I noticed some cramping in my forearms and in my legs.
We were then instructed to fetch our snorkels, and if we had brought a mask we had to use that as well. Several of us had masks, including one that covered the entire front of the face. The idea here was that we would do the HDT SandDoom AMRAP for 20 minutes, all the while breathing only through our snorkels. I found this particularly challenging since I could not breathe through my nose with the mask on, and my snorkel’s stopper would prevent air flow at various angles. This meant that I had to do overhead presses 5 reps at a time without breathing, take a moment to recover, and then finish off the remaining 5 reps. In the end I completed 5 rounds and 32 reps, which turned out to be close to the overall average.
After the penalty burpees and the workouts, Ian Ashkar quit, which brought our number down to seven.
Rowing to the Brewery
Our first movement was (fittingly) to ruck to the Cerberus Brewing Company with two rowing machines as coupons. We managed this in two teams, one for each rowing machine, and carried them on our shoulders two people at a time. Gregg noted that we were not going very fast so he challenged us to race each other to the finish. My team made an effort to shuffle but we weren’t able to catch up and ended up losing.
After we had rucked the 1.6 miles to Cerberus, we placed the rowing machines side-by-side in front of the restaurant. We did some more penalty burpees and found out that each of the machines was programmed for 5 km, and our goal was to finish those distances as a team. To make sure nobody was too fatigued we switched off every 200 meters, and then lined up behind the other machine to balance them out. Seeing us idle, Gregg decided that those of us waiting for a machine should get on the ground in a front-leaning rest (plank) position, which increased the intensity of the overall workout.
Now that we brought the rowing machines all the way out, it was time to bring them back to the gym, so Gregg had us race again in two teams to get back in 25 minutes. We didn’t quite make the time hack, but we did get the opportunity to row 5 km on each machine again. This time we had to hold 10# bumper plates overhead if we were waiting in line, and after a few minutes we had to start doing a “zombie walk” around the machines while still holding them overhead as well. After this, Don quit as well since he felt his cramping would not let him progress much further.
I don’t quite recall if this was when we finally did our admin phase, but we had to lay out everything we brought and show that we had all the required gear. I had noticed that the official list did not include a change of clothes (dry kit), but from prior experience I decided to bring them anyway. Then we had to fit as much of the gear as we could into our rucks, including our shovels, ropes, dry kit, white board (for tracking workouts), and emergency rations.
Red Rock Canyon
At daybreak we were transported to Red Rock Canyon for our next evolution. Before we started, we lined up in a row, and Gregg had us do a peer evaluation exercise. Each person was to step out of line, move everyone physically into the order of how well that person thought everyone was doing, and then step back into line. I was consistently placed next-to-last which made sense given my experience thus far.
Our next task was to carry three 60# sandbags on a litter around a 4-mile loop. We got a chance to secure all the sandbags with carabiners and do a test run in the parking lot before we set off on the trail. The way the sandbags sagged in the litter made our trek slowgoing, and after we had gone roughly a mile we were slowing down quite a bit. Gregg came over to investigate and dropped Troy, who was having trouble keeping up. In exchange he took one of the sandbags away, which lightened the load quite a bit. But we were still not very fast, and got 5 penalty burpees to motivate us to go faster, as well as taking a shortcut to get back to the start faster.
On a stretch of wider trail we set down the litter for our next exercise. Here we did uphill buddy carries with ruck, with me and Liz paired up as participants that were more matched in weight. After we were done however we were also each instructed to carry someone bigger, so I got to carry Kyle uphill while Liz carried Mike Vaughn. I was surprised that I could do this, although my legs were definitely feeling strained.
After the buddy carry we dropped our litter and rucks by a duck pond and submerged ourselves completely. I did not realize it at the time but my cap went into the water, so afterwards we had to go back into the pond to retrieve it (thanks to Curtis). Now that we were all wet we got another chance to do buddy carries as a race, this time on flat ground and without our rucks. Once again Liz and I carried each other, and then had to carry someone bigger in a second trial. Between the shock of the cold water and the second set of buddy carries my legs really started to cramp up.
We carried the litter down a little ways toward the starting point and set it down for a short break. Facing backwards Gregg pointed out a loop and asked us each in turn to estimate how long we thought we could carry the litter around the loop. Unable to comprehend the distance I answered one minute 30 seconds, which was quickly adjusted up by the remaining participants all the way to 5 minutes. In the end my estimate was way off and it took us 4:37 to go around. To assess who the weakest link was, Gregg had us run the same loop slick. It was during this run that my cramps came back with a vengeance, and near the end I was basically dragging my legs through the gravel downhill instead of properly lifting them up.
Gregg then ranked us by how well we performed in the run, and told us we had to do the litter carry again but under 3 minutes 30 seconds. He also gave us an option, whereby one member could drop and take away another 60# sandbag to help make the time hack. At this point I did not feel that the cramping would stop and also figured the rest of the team would do much better without either my presence or one of the sandbags, so I stepped up and (after a moment of equivocating) let Gregg know I was quitting.
After this I stuck around while the team beat the litter carry time hack and did their 5 mile ruck. Eventually I left with Don and Ian to pick up my car and gear from CrossFit SoCo, and went back to my hotel for shower and food. I wanted to come back and support the remaining participants in the afternoon/evening but ended up dozing off into a nap. After I realized I would not have the energy to head out later in the day, I started preparing for an early morning wakeup and hike up Manitou Incline with the other folks who were similarly out of the running.
Later on I found out that Kyle and Curtis had to be med-dropped, and Mike quit during the QMOD6 when it became apparent he wouldn’t be able to complete it in the time required. This left Liz our remaining champion until the end of the event.
There were a couple warning signs that I might have a pretty rough go during the event: At the beginning we had a weigh-in for the under 150 participants, and I found myself at 141# which was far lower than my expected average. Also, I was too tired to climb the rope a second time during our PT test. I felt lucky that I was able to push through the HDT workouts, and felt mostly fine through the rowing machine movement, but reality set in during the litter carry that my legs and hydration strategy were likely not up to the task. It’s possible I gave up a bit early and should have worked through the cramping, though there is no telling how that would have played out.
All in all I was grateful to have gotten a chance to put in some hard work with friends from the community, and to get a visceral sense for what the harder version of Cerberus is like. This newer iteration had shorter rest breaks and more intense evolutions back-to-back, and with the much higher standards it is quite a different beast from the prior two events. In the end only Liz made it to the 40 hour mark, and all of us returned to support and cheer her on. I hope that one day I can train myself enough to tackle another Cerberus event and get to that point as well.