Training

Team Assessment AAR – Caitlin Eiben

Team Assessment 001 AAR
Foxtrot Zero One 
Who: Caitlin Eiben and Jackie Rothman 
When: 17 Sep 2020 1500 to 19 Sep 2020 1500
Where: Bellbrook, Ohio 
Weather: Sunny, high 79, low 41

Summary:

I signed up for Team Assessment on a whim in October. I signed up with my friend Kristi basically just to experience the atmosphere. At the time, there was a 2 mile run listed for the PT test. Due to a congenitally deformed/dislocating knee, I can’t run. I have a gimpy little trot, but can barely break a 12 minute mile due to the biomechanics of my knee. We were ok with going, doing the ruck dump, the PT test, and then failing the run and just hanging out and watching. 

Kristi found out she was pregnant a couple weeks later, so I just figured TA wasn’t going to happen. I wasn’t going to try to find another partner to make that trip with me just to DNF at the beginning.

Two months later, mid January, the PT test was announced and they clarified there was no run. A switch flipped in my head and I knew I wanted to find another partner and actually take the event seriously.

I ran through my head for a new partner and recalled Jackie Rothman from Canton Ohio. We did a Heavy together in October and she was a beast. I asked her, she made sure it fit in her schedule, and almost immediately said yes. It was game on after that.

Initially the goal was to do our best and just try to finish. Once we got more confident, we established we are “finishing or dying” with a new goal of winning (gotta reach for the stars, right?). Now winning to us, or anyone at this event, is obviously totally dependent on who else shows up. This isn’t the Super Bowl. There’s no knowing who you’re matched up against. You don’t know their stats, their strengths, their weaknesses. It’s all figured out on the fly. Obviously we were at a significant disadvantage with my knee when it comes to speed, but we were going to give it hell. 

We placed a huge emphasis on our PT test in training. We wanted to make sure we ensured a safe spot for the rest of the event. We nailed the PT test and felt good. Now all we had to do was the unknown portion…..easy. One movement at a time. Don’t think ahead, just focus on the task at hand. 

We arrived Wednesday night and met at the hotel. We slept as much as we could, checked our gear, ate as much as we comfortably could, and then checked out of the hotel. We had plenty of time, so we drove to an outlet mall to see if I could find a thicker 2nd baselayer. I struck gold at the clearance section of UA. From there, we headed to the start point. We had about 3 hours, so we set up blankets and laid in the shade and relaxed. 

People started filtering in. We stayed in our little corner behind our Jeeps. We said hi to the few people who we knew well, but mostly kept to ourselves. Game faces on. 

Time to line up. No one was moving to get to the start of the female division line, so off we went. We checked in. Team F-01 or Foxtrot Zero One. We sat in the grass and waited for the other teams to join us.

Admin phase. Jason introduced himself and the event. The Cadre introduced themselves. Cadre Cleve, Cadre Barbarossa, Cadre Hand, and Cadre JC. Mocha Mike, who came up with the torturous outline of events, was also there. I’ve seen 3/4 of these Cadre in events, one of whom, I saw last week at the Shanksville Light. JC, I only had for my 50 (58) mile Star Course, so there wasn’t a lot of interaction there. Cleve I had for Tun Tavern and will have again for Pittsburgh Zombie weekend next month. Hand was completely new to me. 

They started doing gear inspection, it was going smoothly. That is, until, I couldn’t find the last item, my ORS packets. Then I remembered I shoved a couple more in there right before we left the parking lot and put them in a different pocket. Never move your gear! 

The ruck dump started. I was one item away from getting it on the first try. Damn you @goodwerks and your ripcords! 

Second dump started, Jackie and I both got it easily. Time to sit back down and reorganize while most others got their nerves rattled some more. 

Ruck dump was over. Time for the PT test. Since Jackie and I were F-01, we got to go first, which I vastly preferred. The Cadre gave a demonstration of the expectations and off we went. We both crushed it. 

Time to refill water and get this show on the road. 

The Welcome Party started with a bang. A bang of knees hitting the grass, weighted down by sandbags and rucks. This knocked out many Open teams who had 80# bags on top of 55-60# rucks. All the female teams survived with their 60# sandbags and 35-40# rucks. 

The Welcome Party continued with a bunch of coupon and PT race style movements with a 1 mile 60# sandbag ruck mixed in. Then there was the Deck of Cards…..

Once it was over, we had a timed 5+ mile ruck back to Jason’s dad’s house. This was fortunately the only time our feet hit pavement. Jackie and I shuffled for intervals and kept a good pace. We had 75 minutes to finish. 

Once at the house, we were introduced to “the hill” with various movements, starting with a 1 mile wheelbarrow, switching partners at the half mile. We lost our only female team during this movement.

Photo Credit Adam Gercak 

As I’m writing this, I can’t really tell you what else happened that night. I know we went up and down that hill maybe 3 million times, throwing sandbags, lunging, bear crawling, carrying buckets of water, etc. It’s all a blur. We ended the night with 30 hydroburpees and a bear crawl back up the hill at daybreak. Keep in mind the temps were low 40s.

We got to the top and took a rest. Suddenly feeling rejuvenated as the sun came up……until we heard Cadre Cleve’s voice. Time for fresh Cadre! Cadre JC and Cadre Barabrossa took their spot at the fire and Mocha Mike offered us a Pumpkin Spiced Latte if we wanted to join them. Fortunately, I hate pumpkin.

We grabbed two 40# sandbags per team and were told we have to do 3 laps with them, Farmer Carry. Cleve called an audible after the first lap due to how slow everyone was. He knocked out the hill and he also allowed shoulder carries for the final two laps. Phew. We picked up the pace and met the time hack. 

Cadre Cleve came at us with his Cadre Cleve energy. It was time to do stupid stuff up and down a hill. Good thing I literally just had an event with our ruck club with that same description. The movement was a mile loop with just ruck, 50 sandbag clean and toss to your partner, 1 mile loop, bear crawl sandbag drag, 1 mile loop, low crawl, 1 mile loop, ruck get-ups, then repeat until the time was up. We made it back to the low crawls before we ran out of time. Darn it. I really wanted to do those for a second time. This was the one and only time I was ok with not finishing the movement and maximizing our points. The low crawls up a steep hill were literally a one inch movement towards the end.

Next on the docket was a 5 mile movement. Women had buckets first, then sandbag, bucket, sandbag, bucket. Open had sandbags first. The most challenging part of this movement was keeping the water above the line. You really slow down when you’re worried about sloshing, especially when you walk with a funny limp. 

We finished all of our laps in time and had a nice long rest break. We have reached the 24 hour mark! 

We were encouraged to take our shoes and socks off. We were inspected for blisters. Jason questioned my injinji socks. We dug into our MREs, being instructed to shovel the food in instead of tasting it. Overall, Jackie and I were feeling good. Jason asked team 03 and us who was going to win. At this point, we had no slashes, thanks to modified Deck of Cards. I say modified because they let us organize the deck how we wanted. We knocked out face cards and aces first, then grouped together the lower numbers to minimize transitions between exercises. Hearts were 8-count body builders, Spades were 60# sandbag thrusters, Diamonds were 60# 2-count lunges, and Clubs were ruck swings. Jokers were 800m ruck. 

Rest was over. They asked us all to get together. They brought out a whiteboard and explained again that this was a competition. They had the rankings from the 1st 24 hours. 

They flipped the board over and F-01 was in 1st place. We were in disbelief. Obviously not getting slashes were key to major points. Ok, let’s keep this lead. No slashes.

Next movement was announced. 12 mile timed. Start and end of each 1 mile lap was “the hill”. Dammit. Start time was twilight, meaning most of this would be done in the dark, in the woods with plenty of uneven terrain. Double dammit. My knee was not going to be a fan of this. Whatever, let’s do our best. 

I’ve done enough 12 mile timed rucks to know we were keeping an awesome pace in the woods, despite the darkness setting in. The downhill was the issue, I held Jackie’s arm each and every time to try to better control my knee. 

The sun went down. We had our headlamps on early. I had my head down the whole time and learned where every rock, root, monkey ball, divet, sand patch, and hole was to avoid them for the next lap. One misstep and my knee can go out and we’re done. We talked a bit, but 3.5 hours is a lot of time, especially when trying to speed ruck. It leaves you a lot of time in your own head. I just kept going through all the encouraging messages that people sent me along this journey. It kept my spirits up. So if you sent me anything, even a simple “good luck”, just know that I specifically thought of you during this movement and I thank you. 

My feet were burning, but otherwise I felt good. When we got to the top of the hill after each lap we had to call our team name and our lap number. We shouted F-01, lap 11 and heard in return, “alright, priorities of work”. Ugh. We didn’t make the time cutoff. We weren’t allowed to attempt the 12th lap because we wouldn’t finish in under 3:30. I never asked how close we were, oh well. Cadre Cleve came over to us, bent down with his marker…..SLASH. 

Photo Credit Adam Gercak

We knew we were well behind teams 03 and 08 during the 12 miler, but we were hoping to at least make the cutoff. Life goes on. At this point, it seemed like 3rd place was our home. We were consistently pretty far behind 03 and 08, yet still had a good gap between us and the remaining 4 teams. We didn’t get comfortable though. We continued to push as best we could. Not wanting to miss any points. You never know what could happen. 

I estimated the time based on when the sun went down. It was probably close to midnight after our post 12-miler break. The whiteboard was back out. What now? 

Cadre Cleve explained we would be doing a 9/11 WOD. We would start with a 2001m run, followed by 11 reps of the following exercises: tire step-ups, ruck swings, thrusters, sumo upright row, HRPUs, V-sit ups, ruck cleans, push-press, and bent-over rows, followed by another 2001m run. We had 2 hours. It didn’t seem bad at all. We were shuffling in the dark when I hit a divet and my knee was as close to going out as it could possibly get. No more shuffling. Speed walking it is. No sense in knocking us out of the event to go only slightly faster than our speed walk. We get to the top of the hill and finish the WOD. We start on our 2nd “run”. While we are climbing the hill, we notice O-01 is coming back down. Obviously we are doing this again. Our assumption is confirmed when we reach the top. We repeat the WOD and then run again, only to do the entire thing one more time. Cleve warns us that we are the last team to go out on their fourth and final run. The rest of the teams who were behind us were held due to not being able to make the time hack. We speed up, as we don’t want to miss these points. We hear two separate packs of coyotes, one sounding not very far away. We speed up literally as fast as we can. Getting eaten by a pack of coyotes is not the way we want to get knocked out of this event. We make it back in time. Everyone else is doing priorities of work. We join them.

We were never sure how long the breaks would be, so during each movement, I would organize in my head what I needed to get done and in what order. Eat, drink, refill water, change socks, go to the bathroom, lube up, elevate feet, ruckwrap, try to close my eyes (always the last priority). You rarely had time to do it all, so you have to plan, well, according to your priorities. 

If my memory serves me correctly, the next movement was litter carries. Jackie and I researched litter techniques and knot tying prior to the event, based on last year’s challenges. This year, however, they had a fancy Rogue set up. Only drawback was the poles themselves were already pretty heavy. We took our litters to the bottom of the steep part of the hill, then went back up to get our 40# sandbag. Thank God they weren’t making us complete each lap with “the hill”. We did pretty decent with the litter carry, thanks to the fact that I brought nylon runners that we wrapped around the poles and our wrists to save our grip. 

We had a very short rest before the next movement. 3 miles of 40# sandbag bear hugs. At this point it was very early morning. We were hallucinating and just trying to bust it out. Jackie was seeing people with blue writing on them. I saw kids playing basketball at a park. Oh and 03 and I both were convinced a dead tree stump was Barbarossa each time we made our lap.

Bear hugs were over. We made a little camp around our litters with our sandbags and rucks. I took my shoes off, broke out my pocket blanket (clutch), curled up under it, covering my head, and fell asleep on the wet sandbag. At that time, it was so incredibly comfortable. 

I’m a very light sleeper in these situations. I could hear noise around me, so I uncovered my head and looked around. I could see it was almost daybreak. Jon was there doing his live feed on the Tough page. Cloverleaf should be starting soon.

I stood up. Damn, was I tight. The temps were in the low 40s, my feet were wet from the dew, completely numb. I guess that’s better than pain.

Cleve greeted us again, welcoming us to the 2nd morning, but giving us a firm warning that it wasn’t nearly over. He instructed us to climb the hill and get a slosh pipe and a bucket. The next movement was for an undisclosed amount of time. Go to the water. Fill the bucket past the line. Fill the slosh pipe. Bring them both back to the pipeline marker and repeat. Over and over and over again. We did it for a couple hours. The Cloverleaf participants were mixed in on the path, giving us words of encouragement. I knew some of the personally from Steel City Ruck Club. It was great to see. 

We could sense the CULEX was coming. We were instructed to bring our litter, sandbags, slosh pipes, and buckets back to their spots at the top of the hill. We were given a rest period and encouraged again to eat and take our shoes off. We sat in the sun on the hill and warmed up. Morale was high. Jon came around and took our pictures. Jackie told me to look mean. I tried. It didn’t work. 

The Cadre brought the litters, wheels, washers, and locks to the front of the group and told us to pay close attention. They set up the litter as a sort of two wheeled wheelbarrow. Obviously this was going to come into play very shortly. 

The last rest period was over. We were instructed to line up behind a pole according to our current place. We were 3rd (imagine that!). There wasn’t a huge gap between us and the 2nd or even 1st place teams. Points were doubled. We could possibly pull out a win with a lot of work and a lot of luck, but it definitely wasn’t impossible. The instructions were simple. Go to the piles of sandbags across the yard, bring back as many as you can behind your specified pole. If you drop them, they stay where they are and you have to go back. You get more points for the heavier bags. Jackie and I went for a 60# on each of our backs and farmer carrying a 40#. We brought back the first 3 with ease and returned for the next round. While cleaning the 60# bag to place on Jackie’s shoulders, I felt a pop in my right quad. It didn’t seem terrible, but I definitely tore something. I ignored it and continued. We finished the movement. While the Cadre were counting the bags, we were instructed to do burpees on Cadre JC’s count. I went down, but on the way back up, I tried to step up on my right leg. I was stuck. I couldn’t get up. My right quad just wasn’t working. I switched to bringing my left leg in front and Jackie helped me up. JC asked how my knee was. I explained that my knee was fine, it was my quad, but I’d be OK. We finished burpees and some other PT until they finished counting.

On to the next task. Continuous double water bucket fill-ups. Up and down “the hill”. For 1 hour. As usual, the water must stay above the line. Jackie and I moved as fast as my quad let me. Going down hills especially, I rely heavily on my right leg. Between that and the weighted lunges, lack of stretching, likely dehydration, and well, everything else, it was just done. I think we got two reps in an hour, the last of which, Cadre Cleve so nicely sprayed us down and filled our buckets up more while we climbed the, now slick, hill. 

Next task: each grab an 80# sandbag and drag it down and up “the hill”. I was moving nice and slow, so Cleve took that as an opportunity to spray my bag down, turning it into 80++#. Once we got down the super steep/wet part, I broke out my nylon straps again and got some momentum. On the way up the hill Jackie and I resorted to a teamwork approach. Each getting a strap and doing a “1-2-3 pull”. We leapfrogged the bags, slowly getting them to the top. 

Time to build our wheelbarrow litter. Our washers were not fitting, we messed with them for far too long, assuming they were all the same stubborn plastic-coated material. We got new ones, these ones were smooth metal and slid right on. Ugh. Oh well. We took our contraption to the bottom of the steep part of the hill and returned for our sandbag. We dragged it up and down the path, returning to the bottom of the steep part of the hill. We were instructed to bring our sandbag up first, then return for the litter. We did just that. I farmer carried the front of the litter with my straps and Jackie pushed from behind. We got to the top and saw the top teams doing PT. We had 2 minutes to get our stuff taken apart and join them.

Photo Credit Adam Gercak 

They were finishing crab walks when we arrived. Just in time for low crawls. Yay! I forget the order of PT. All I remember is low crawls, overhead presses with holds, push-ups, crab walks, more low crawls, overhead lunges, maybe more? It’s all a blur. Then they told us to all turn left. Bear crawl, following the person in front of you. We went around the yard and then we were instructed to stand up once we hit a certain point. Squat. Squat lower. Lower. My quad was dead. I may not be getting back up. Once everyone was in line they told us to stand and put our arms out. “Close your eyes. Keep them closed”. Your balance is tested after 48 hours of strenuous activity and malnourishment.

“Open your eyes.” Jason is in front of us. Could it be? Yes! We have completed Team Assessment 001. 

7/8 female teams and 2.5/10 Open Teams are still standing. 

Jason gives a speech, followed by the 4 Cadre and Mocha Mike, the creator of the madness.

Photo Credit Adam Gercak

Jason patches the Champions, F-03 and O-01. Very deserving candidates. We came in 3rd as expected and we were thrilled. I turned to Jackie and we exchanged a fist bump. We came and did exactly what we intended to do. Mission accomplished.

The Cadre patched us and each took turns expressing their congratulations. I pointed out to Barbarossa that I came a long way from doing his Light in Shanksville the week prior. 

Beers were handed out. Budweiser never tasted so good.

Pictures were taken. Smiles, hugs, and even some tears were part of the celebration.

Photo Credit Adam Gercak

My SCRC people came up and congratulated me. I felt like a celebrity. They were asking if I needed anything. Yes, another beer. 2 minutes later a fresh Clarion River Brewing draft was in my hand  and Jackie and I gave a short interview with Jason.

Photo Credit Adam Gercak

I had a celebratory bottle of Three Rangers Whiskey that I have been saving since my friend and fellow TA participant, Cullen got for me for my birthday in July. I got some cups and a bunch of us shared in a toast given by Patrick Mies. 

Jason’s dad offered their shower. My friends, Cullen and Dale went and got my Jeep from the start point. I rinsed off, changed, and joined the party. 

A fire was started and some of SCRC and I hung around for awhile with Jason, his parents, Mocha Mike, Barbarossa, and Hand. 

We expressed our gratitude for GORUCK and this opportunity, especially for the female division. Jason and I wholeheartedly agreed that I’d never be able to do Selection, and Jason’s dad gave me the award of “Longest Person to Hang at the Fire Post Selection or Team Assessment“. An award I’ll cherish forever.

I drove back to my hotel before I ran out of energy and fell asleep in a warm bath while eating Skittles. Perfect ending to a great adventure. 

Analysis: 

Training:

I’ve been training specifically for TA since the PT test was announced in mid-January. I think I went home and tested that day, just to see where I was at. My training is very disorganized. I do what I want, when I want, but I’ve been working out long enough to know what works for me and what I need to do. I do something every day, whether that’s stretching, rucking, lifting, grip work, cardio, etc. I have no coach. I don’t belong to a gym. I don’t follow a training plan or program.

I owe so much to our ruck club in Pittsburgh, Steel City Ruck Club. I constantly create terrible rucking events and there’s constantly people joining me. The whole pandemic thing put a pause on big group events for a bit, but a small group of us (the Rona Ruck crew) continued to train together while things were weird. 

Some of the more memorable events included the Goggins 4x4x48, back to back 20 miles with a 3 hour workout in between, 4,000 stairs in Pittsburgh’s South Side Slopes, a 65 miler, 8 hours of coupon hill repeats, overhead ruck miles, an event that was just appropriately named “stupid stuff up and down a hill”…oh and the Chumbawumba ruck. 

I practiced the ruck dump multiple times. We had an event where three of our club members took us through a mock ruck dump and PT test. They were assholes. It helped a lot. 

The only thing I would have added to my training is more heavy endurance PT days. Think 200m 100# lunges followed by, oh say, 400m 100# lunges. My overall mobility can also always be improved, although it’s much better than it used to be. 

Nutrition:

My hydration was good throughout the event. I switched between Drip Drop in my Nalgene and water in my bladder. I added in two ORS packets to sip on when I felt more depleted. Cadre Hand emphasized the importance of sipping on them and only having 2 every 12 hours, max. Electrolytes are a balance. You can have too many. You can have too little. 

Food consisted of part of my shredded beef MRE (dessert was dried cranberries, which was perfect), PB&J on whole wheat, jerky, dried fruit, pickles, mustard packets, and life saver mints (highly recommend). There were times I felt that my energy levels were low, but a small snack fixed those situations.

Gear:

I spent a lot of time (and money) figuring out what gear to use, but it was all well spent, because I had no issues. 

I definitely recommend a custom GR2. My partner and I both had one, she’s a shorty and she had no issues. The space you have is key for both the ruck dump and to bring any extras you may want/need. Jackie and I both added neon 550 zipper pulls to make seeing the zippers much easier during the ruck dump.

I had @goodwerks ripcords to hang from my straps and keep my hands from swelling. They can also be used for sandbag handle extensions, and farmer carries to save your grip. I brought @ruckwrap for some quick compression during rest periods. No joke, it almost immediately took the burning out of my feet after long iterations. 

I wore a UA men’s compression shirt. I wore this multiple times in training to make sure it worked for me (dried well, didn’t cause chafing under the arms, etc). For the PT test, I wore Simple Shorts. I changed into Simple Pants with a belt after the PT test. I brought Tough Leggings, but unfortunately didn’t get to test them out, simply because the Simple Pants were so awesome. I had a midweight GORUCK windbreaker and I bought two baselayers (we were only required to bring 1, but since the temps were so low at night, I wanted to make sure I had a dry one each night). I wore wool underwear called Icebreaker (found on Amazon). My sports bra was from Fabletics, chosen because it had thicker straps. On my feet were Injinji socks liners with Darn Tough socks. I had a pair of Altra Lone Peak mids and lows. My feet were taped and lubed pre-event according to where I have had blisters in the past. I used a product called Gooch Guard on, well, my gooch, pre-event and intermittently throughout the event. I used Combat Ready Tape on my shoulders under my bra straps and on my low back. It stayed in place the entire event. I had no chafing or blisters. Gloves were 5.11. I’ve had the same pair since I started GORUCK in 2017 and they still look brand new. 

Mindset:

I think most challenging moments from these types of events come from mental breakdowns, and fortunately Jackie and I did not experience any. We kept our cool the entire time. There was never a moment of thinking about quitting or snapping at each other out of frustration. Our communication was on point. We knew what we were there to do and we did it, one movement at a time.

Once we reached ENDEX, it wasn’t an overwhelming sensation, it just felt like that’s where we were meant to be.

I’m not a very emotional person, but if I really think about it, I’m very proud of how far I’ve come. I used to avoid any group physical activity because of my knee. I know I can’t do everything as good or fast as others, so for me to be able to come to this event and actually be competitive for some of it, that means a lot to me. I owe that all to my partner Jackie. I think I pre-apologized to her for being slow countless times before the event and then during, but she never expressed any frustration. She helped me down that hill dozens of times, like I was a little old grandma trying to cross a busy street. We stayed in constant communication for 9 months, sharing workouts, gear, advice, motivation, etc. You can’t do this event without a partner that is a match for you and Jackie was a perfect match for me. Down-to-earth, tough, motivated, and no bullshit. 

Conclusion: 

I’ve learned and gained so much through this experience. I’ve always known it takes hard work to achieve your goals. You can’t just decide you want to do something big and not take all the thousands of tiny steps it takes to get to that pinnacle. It takes sacrifice. It takes heart. It takes earnest and truthful communication with your partner. 

What I think I took for granted was the amazing support I have from others. Sure, it’s fully possible to be successful without people in your corner. Oftentimes it’s incredibly motivating to prove people wrong. On the contrary, sometimes it’s even more motivating, not to mention much more positive, to prove people right. Reflecting on my training I went back and thought of all the rucks and workouts I did with other people. How, with no hesitation, so many members of our ruck club would jump to join me doing stupid things. How I had so many people confidently tell me that I would finish Team Assessment long before I ever thought it was a real possibility. That was easily my favorite part of this journey. Proving them right. 

Advice: 

Have big goals, but also a specific plan and realistic timeframe to achieve them. Ask for help and advice. Research and test what works or doesn’t work for you. Most importantly, though, enjoy the process! 

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