AAR Team Assessment - Part 01: Preparation
I remember when the first Team Assessment event was announced I was intrigued by the concept of an event a step or two below Selection that could be done by a partner. But the dry weight and PT test requirements took it off the table for me. I didn’t even watch a lot of the live feeds like I would have for Selection. But when that Beta Team Assessment was over there was talk of a scaled division for women.
When it was announced there would be a Female Division for Team Assessment and the entry fee was super low to incentivize sign ups, a friend hit me up right away. We decided that we are always up for bad ideas and signed up. Some personal challenges and injuries eventually took her out of the event. I was fine letting my registration ride and seeing how the universe might conspire for or against me doing this event.
For awhile, I thought I was out because a work conflict came up for the June date on top of the fact that the 80# sandbag cleans in the PT test kept being a No-Go for me. (The weight wasn’t the problem. It was the floppines of the two filler bags that kept me from being able to flip my wrists.) When COVID pushed the date to the fall, I kept up with my usual training with a “Wait and See” attitude.
Choosing a Partner
Team Assessment is a unique situation. You not only have to endure 48 hours, but you also have to find someone that will commit to that with you AND be able to handle each other's highs and lows. It’s one thing to train and plan for an event. It’s quite another for it to be dependent on someone else being able to do the same. For regular events if something comes up that’s a conflict or if you get injured or if you simply fail to prepare, then you just don’t go. For Team Assessment, you have someone else depending on you. That puts a whole new twist on who will make it to the Start Point and who won’t.
By that same token, it was funny to watch the lead up to the event. A lot of people signed up first and found a partner later. Many of us signed up with it being a goal or aspiration. I think being an athlete all my life has made me slightly superstitious. I like to fly under the radar and not really tell anyone what I’m working towards. It feels like a jinx to announce my intentions. So like many others I did the work and only let close friends know I was headed to Ohio right before the event. It was fun to speculate who would show up since many people were lurking on the event and training in the shadows.
Team Assessment ended up being almost exactly on my three year anniversary with GORUCK. My first event as the 9/11 Tough in 2017. Since then I’ve done nearly 60 events and over half of them have been with Shannon Bass. I knew her as a Pathfinder Course Advisor and we met in person at my second event. Shannon is an amazing teammate and I was always happy to hear she’d be at an event. We hit it off and were soon planning our event sign ups together.
Shannon and I make a good pair. 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. I’ve been Assistant Team Lead to her TL position more times than I can count. She’s a great leader and we have identical mindsets about challenges. We both smile even when things suck and laugh a lot. So Shannon was the obvious choice as a partner...I just had to convince her of it.
So as soon as I heard that the Female Division would get to use a 60# sandbag for the PT test, I messaged Shannon, and in a moment of weakness, she agreed to do this terrible thing with me. That was July 31st. We basically had 6 weeks to ramp up/prepare to actually do this event in Mid-September.
Training and Preparation
My pitch to Shannon involved saying: If I said “Let’s do an HTL in 6 weeks, would you be ready?” For both of us, the answer was yes. The training we do is a part of our regular life. At any time we could drop what we are doing and show up for a Tough. So ramping up for something that was, in our mind, equivalent to a Double Heavy wasn’t too far fetched.
Part of my motivation for signing up was that I need an audacious goal to train for. I like working out and prefer to ruck or do a sandbag workout 6 days a week BUT I need something to keep me accountable otherwise I find myself on cruise control. Shannon wears a patch on her ruck in honor of Kirk Deligiannis that says “Pick a goal you cannot achieve then plan for it, train for it, and destroy it.” I can’t think of a more fitting quote for taking on Team Assessment.
Another part of my motivation was, to be honest, some FOMO. I didn’t want to be watching the live feeds of the event and thinking “I could do that. I should be there.”
I’ve done all the Pathfinder Training levels and find that really helps when I need to stay on track for high mileage events like Star Courses. 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 that the HDT facebook group provides each round. Sandbag training doesn’t just make you strong, it makes you tough too. There is a large mental fortitude element to the Heavy Drop workouts that I find very beneficial.
Heavy Drop Training is Bryan Singelyn’s baby and he started programming a lot of the PT test elements into each HDT round since they were announced. I even did a few rounds of the HDT “Plus” for added suck. The Plus version essentially adds some extra before and after the “regular” soul-crushing workouts. This is how I ended up carrying buckets of water around my neighborhood or dragging my sandbag through the yard on multiple occasions over the summer.
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 during training, then it’s easy to fall back on that during an 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 especially like that a lot of the workouts will have a run, ruck, or coupon ruck as a finisher. When you’re smoked or your legs feel like jelly and then you have to go pound out a mile, it builds up your suck tolerance and is very much like what you experience at an event.
For Team Assessment, 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.
[Shameless Plug: If you are interested in signing up for Heavy Drop Training, send me a message and I can give you a discount code.]
PT Test Prep
For months, I tested repeatedly on each of the PT Test elements. I struggled to make the standard 40 reps on the ButterFly Sit Ups. I didn’t get fatigued. I just simply couldn’t move fast enough. After sending videos back and forth with Shannon and my other NC buddy, Jennifer Lee, and getting some feedback from Bryan Singelyn, I found a form that worked for me. As Jen says “you have to be violent going back down” so I adopted a technique from my swimming days and visualized doing a backstroke start to get my hands back and behind my head as quickly (and violently) as possible. I started out in the low 30s and by event time, I was consistently going over 40 reps.
The Sandbag Cleans were an issue with the 80#. I couldn’t manage to flip my wrists because the two filler bags kept flopping to opposite sides. I have an overfilled 60 that weighs in at 70# and I can clean it no problem so I knew the weight of the bag wasn’t an issue. Two filler bags makes it a No-Go for me no matter how much I worked on it. But once the change was announced, I worked on getting lots of reps with my 70# so the 7 reps wouldn’t be an issue. Some people try to get as many reps as fast as possible, but since I knew I had plenty of room I like to set a pace and just do consistent reps. I could usually hit 16-17 reps without a problem.
I’m not awesome at regular push ups but I can usually pass the test at a Heavy on the first try so the Hand Release version was not a problem for me at all. When I sent a video to Singelyn for review, I realized how much I was letting my back sag and how high my feet were coming off the ground in a rocking motion. So I concentrated on making my back straighter and keeping my feet on the ground. Even changing my form like that, I could still hit high 30s for reps which put me well over the 25 rep standard.
Research and Recon
One of the training elements I did for the month leading up to TA is based off an All Day Ruckoff Podcast interview with Mark Jones where he talks about training with the full load out. Normally I ruck and train with 40# of plates which is ten pounds heavier than my ruck usually weighs loaded for a normal event. So it was weird to go down to just shy of 30#. However, when it is fully loaded the ruck sits on your back differently and it changes how it feels during exercises. Since the load out made the ruck super full, I’m glad I got used to how boxy it felt on my back.
I also watched all the live feeds from last year since I tuned in very little during the actual event. It was helpful to see the terrain and types of evolutions but most of all I gained a lot of confidence hearing the cadre say over and over again “This isn’t Selection.” I also got excited because there were a lot of scenario driven evolutions which I find really fun.
I practiced ruck dumps endlessly. Shannon, Jen, and I even traded videos showing our methods. The people at my gym got a kick out of watching my training partner Alan Ward harass me while I practiced. It even made some of them curious enough to come over so I got to tell them about GORUCK. I also practiced on my own at home and developed a system for both when everything was packed into place and when we were doing the “Scoop Method” to make it under 45 seconds. Even with the 20L Rucker, I got my system down and was confident with it.
I played the live stream of the ruck dumps and did it repeatedly with the audio of the cadre shark attacking the ones that struggled. My kids enjoyed it when I put it up on our TV. Every time Cadre DS would come on screen, they’d say “I know him!” They also asked me lots of questions which helped me work through distractions.
All the practice paid off big time at the event. When everyone else was struggling to cram stuff in and sweating under the pressure, we were sitting down with lots of time to repack everything how we wanted it. Jason even pointed at us and told another team “That’s what winning looks like.”