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Team Assessment AAR: Alicia Tomlinson (F-04)

This After Action Review (AAR) is part of a series of blogs sourced by the finishers of the inaugural Female Division of the GORUCK Team Assessment event that took place from September 17-19, 2020 in Bellbrook, Ohio.

Everyone:

GRTs: “Team Assessment?!”

Me: “Well quarantine…so…”

For the last 6 months, I’ve struggled. Some days I didn’t want to get out of bed and felt a sense of apathy I’ve never experienced before. Other days I felt like I would crawl out of my skin and was so stressed I couldn’t think straight. I had not appreciated how much of an outlet GORUCK events were for me. 

I missed my people, my weirdos, my “Here’s a Bad Idea” junkies. I hadn’t gotten to do an event in 6 months. I was still sad that our NOLA Star Course plans were the first casualty of COVID. But most of all, for 6 months I hadn’t gotten a break from being Mom, CEO, Keeper of the Schedule, and Juggler of Responsibilities. GORUCK events are when I get to be just Alicia. 

At events, I get to checkout and go off grid where my biggest concern is making a time hack or carrying something stupid heavy. So a 48 hour thrashing with one of my closest GRT friends sounded like just what I needed. The fact that it included a road trip with another battle buddy was an added bonus. 

I chose Shannon Bass as a partner because she is the perfect compliment to me. We are about the same build and body type, both in our mid-40s, raising families, working remotely even when there isn’t a pandemic, and don’t take ourselves too seriously. Shannon and I have taken on a lot of GORUCK challenges together including Bragg Heavy, 50 Mile Star Courses, HTLs, Expedition, Immersion, and Land Nav Heavy to name a few. In the almost 60 events I’ve done, Shannon has been at about half of them. So she was the obvious choice as a partner. Plus we both like smiling. Smiling is our favorite. 

Team Assessment is a different beast than any event we’ve ever done. Since it was only the second time GORUCK has run this event and the first time with a Female Division, we truly didn’t know what to expect. We felt that we prepared as best we could both physically and mentally but did not know we would be challenged to the level that we were. 

A week later, I am still sore and am still sorting out all the emotions. Words that come to mind:

Grueling

Brutal

Humbling

Surreal

Our lowest point came during the 12 miler. I’ve never been more smoked by a Welcome Party than I was at this event. 6 hours in and our legs were done. I’ve had muscle fatigue before but I’ve never felt like my quads were going to shred right off the bone or that my glutes were going to lock up the next time I did a squat or lunge. And lunges kept coming up in evolutions!

 

Shannon and I can knock out a sub 3.5hr 12 Miler at any point during an event. It is something we are comfortable with through training and multiple Heavies. But when it was announced that we would have to climb The Hill at the end of each lap to check in, the wind went out of our sails a bit. We looked at each other and said “We can do this. Even with The Hill.” The first two laps went great. We were on pace and enjoying a break from carrying stuff. But eventually our glutes started cramping and we had to slow the pace. 5 laps in we had The Discussion. In our minds, we were on the verge of injury and just didn’t see how we could finish the event. In retrospect, I kept thinking we had 24 hrs to go but we had just over 12. We definitely got in our own heads. 

At our lap check in we told Cadre Hand that we were done. I am so grateful that instead of marking us down as Voluntary Withdraw and directing us to the Quitters Fire, he called Mocha Mike and Jason over. After expressing confusion and hearing us out, all three had words for us. What happened next is still mind blowing to me. 

Mocha said “We know that you aren’t here to win, and that’s fine. We know that you want to be middle of the pack, which you are. We know that you just want to finish, which you can. We know that you want to inspire people by showing that middle age moms can do an extreme event like this, and you’re doing that. So what’s the problem?”

This was crazy. Those were the EXACT words that Shannon and I had used when discussing our goals and motivations for showing up and completing Team Assessment. Those. Exact. Words. But we’d never said them to anyone else at all. Ever.

When I said “Yeah, but we are sucking at everything. We are missing time hacks and struggling to finish evolutions.” Jason replied “Well, that’s just ego.” 

That struck home. I realized that we wanted to quit because we weren’t as good at this as we thought we ought be. Shannon and I are used to being some of the more capable GRTs at events through sheer experience. And here we were: wanting to quit because we were struggling like a new guy at a Tough. Dang. That was an eye-opening, slap-in-the-face moment.

So we headed back out and the rest of the event when things got dark and seemed impossible, we’d say to each other “we’ve come this far, let’s keep going”. And we did every evolution bit by bit. Counting steps and switching holds and just moving forward. I thank God that Hand, Mocha, and Jason basically said “Nah.” when we tried to quit. They told us what we knew but needed to hear from someone else. 

Our fellow Star Course teammate and Shannon’s sister-in-law, Amy Troutman, asked us on the way home “At what point did you know that you’d make it? That you had it in the bag and were going to finish?” Honestly, not until that patch was in my hand. We truly went from evolution to evolution knowing that it could be the last one. We could do down with an injury or get our third performance strike and get dropped. I felt some relief going into the CulEx evolution knowing that it was almost over but I didn’t feel that we were going to finish for sure until we did. 

On one of the last parts of the Culex evolution, we were buddy carrying an 80# sandbag up the hill which was now muddy and slick. Towards the top (the steepest part) my foot slipped and my leg gave out. That sandbag drove us both face down into the mud. I couldn’t catch myself and my IT band twanged like an over-stretched rubber band. Mocha, JC, and Hand ran over to check out the situation. I knew I wasn’t injured but my leg was on fire. To Shannon’s immense credit, she didn’t think for one minute that we were out. Instead she started planning how to drag the remaining 80# sandbag to the top of the hill by herself. That’s a solid teammate for you. 

I was able to get up and help carry that final sandbag and finish the rest of the event. I fell apart during the final “you gotta earn your finish” PT session because I couldn’t bend the leg I’d hurt which made us fall way behind the class. I hate that. I panic when I can’t keep up. Shannon and I had a running joke that if they called for Crab Walks at any time during the event then she was quitting right there. The next to last exercise was Crab Walks. She said she didn’t quit only because we were allowed to scoot on our butts due to my injury.

I’ve never been more emotional at an Endex than this one. Standing there knowing we’d finished such a grueling challenge with so many of our friends watching on live feed was nothing short of surreal. I loved seeing everyone gut it out and conquer their demons. I’m so damn proud of every man and woman that finished that event. I’m grateful to the cadre for recognizing that there were Competitors and then there were those of us that Shannon dubbed “The Rec League”. That the cadre let us continue showed their belief in the value of doing the work without giving in, even if we were doing it slower than the top teams. 

I’m so happy the Cadre didn’t let us quit. I’m so proud that Shannon was my partner and we lived through this together. And I’m so grateful to everyone that affirmed our motivations and goals by saying we inspired them and that they knew we would finish.That patch means something different to each person that finished. In some ways, it might even mean more to some than others. For me, I’ve never actually lived the “when you think you’re done you’re only at 40%” so completely. I’ve given birth to three kids (two naturally) and I can safely say this event is the only thing that has come close to that – both in pain, endurance, and pride when it’s over. 

Hasty Q&A with Alicia

Why did you decide to do Team Assessment and how did you choose your teammate?

When it was announced that the price was $25 and there would be changes to the PT test. My original partner asked me to sign up but injury and personal challenges took her out of the event. So when the SB cleans were changed to a 60#, I immediately messaged Shannon and asked her to join me. In a moment of weakness, she agreed.

How long did you train for Team Assessment specifically, and what was your training like?

I’m always training for events even though COVID had me in a kind of holding pattern. So my training didn’t change that much. But I didn’t focus on TA as a training goal except for the 6 weeks leading up to it. I’ve done all the Pathfinder Training levels and find that really helps when I need to pound out some miles. But for day-to-day training, I’m a Heavy Drop Training disciple. I do much better when someone tells me what to do and I love the accountability and support of the HDT facebook group each round. Bryan Singelyn programmed in a lot of the PT test elements into each round and I even did a few rounds of the “Plus” version for added suck. Heavy Drop proved very helpful on several evolutions during the event simply from sheer muscle memory. When you’ve done almost 20 minutes of sandbag tosses or drags while wearing a ruck in training, then it’s easy to fall back on that during the event. I’ve steadily gone up on weight during my 15 rounds of Heavy Drop and love that I started with a 40# sandbag and now regularly use a 70# for a lot of the exercises. Most of the time my workouts would be an hour to an hour and a half. If there was a coupon ruck after, then they went as long as two hours. I knew that the miles wouldn’t be as much of a factor as the PT and coupons so I didn’t change from my standard 10 to 15 miles per week. My Strict Ruck for HDT is 4 miles so I’ll bang that out several times a week along with a 12 miler every 4 to 6 weeks.

Tell us what you wore and the gear you used.

I used a 20L Rucker like I have for all my events (Bragg Heavy included). If you are smart about space and know what you need it is possible. FAQs on my Ruck: Yes, I fit everything in a 20L Rucker. Yes, I passed the ruck dump portion of admin. No, it wasn’t a problem to fit everything back in during breaks. No, I don’t wish I had more space. I will grant that I did not pack extra shoes and I don’t need as much food as most people pack. Head: GR Tac Hat and Smartwool headband to go over my ears when it got cold. I packed a beanie because it was required but I didn’t use it. I also used hairbands to roll my extra clothes in case I needed extra (I didn’t). Smartwool buff: packs down small and is a game changer when the temp drops and/or the wind blows. Definitely needed it during breaks on the second night. Base Layer: Under Armor heat gear. Light enough I can leave it on for PT, but tough enough that it holds up on low crawl. T-shirts: A4 Men’s Performance Crew (small) – wore one, packed one. I found this on Amazon and liked that it was lightweight and felt like my base layer but wasn’t too see-through. Windbreaker: GR Women’s Windbreaker, Midweight. I have this windbreaker in the lightweight version too but when I saw temps were going to be in the low 40s at night I switched to the Midweight. I love everything about this layer. It keeps me from getting too cold at breaks and is easy to get off when I’m on the move and warmed up again. It packs down really small. Best of all, I’ve put it through hell and it still looks brand new. Extra Outer Layer: Northface Venture 2 jacket. When the temperature drops close to freezing or it’s going to rain, I pack this layer. I wear it when we have a break to keep from getting too cold. I take it off again once we are on the move because you can work up a sweat. It’s a great rain jacket and packs pretty flat. Best of all it has a hood to help hold the heat in. Pants: GR PowerLine Pants – wore one, packed one. I normally wear GR Simple Pants but am not a fan of the skinny legs (can’t change my tall socks because of my calf muscles). I was ecstatic that the PowerLine ones had much more room. I just wish I’d gone down a size because once they stretched out they were a little baggy. I love how fast the GR pants dry, how well they hold up to abuse, and how flat they pack down.

What was your most challenging moment during TA and how did you get through that moment?

The Litter Carry evolution was the most challenging moment for me. Our arms and shoulders were trashed from the Wheelbarrow Mile and the Farmer’s Carries. I’d brought my nylon runners to help but grip wasn’t the only issue. We ended up making more of Skedco kind of contraption. We put the poles into a V with the sandbag near the front. We each took a front side and let the back of the poles drag. Then we’d count 40 steps and switch sides. Shannon rigged up a pull bar with a stick which allowed us to drag it better. It took several tries to find one that wouldn’t break. That was the longest evolution. We only got through it by counting steps and reminding ourselves, that we’d come this far so there was no point not finishing. We only made it 1 out of the 3 miles that was given to us. Looking back it’s still crazy that we managed to haul that thing a mile. The weight of the poles is what made it so challenging for us.

What did you feel at Endex?

Even when I’ve finished challenging HTLs or Star Courses, I’ve never felt as emotional as I did at Team Assessment Endex. Mocha Mike’s speech had me fighting tears. I was relieved and overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe I’d finished something so grueling and brutal. Going in, I had no doubt I could do it but there were many times during the event that I just didn’t see how my body was going to be able to keep going. When we were patched, I was so proud and so happy for everyone that had completed this elite level challenge. I kept saying to Shannon “Holy S%#! We finished Team Assessment!”

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