Ruck BEAST Squad features interviews with members of the community to highlight their lives, training, gear, and insight. Hopefully as you read through this you’ll be able to take away advice that will help you train better and perform better that upcoming events. In this issue of Ruck BEAST Squad we get to hear from Alicia Tomlinson!
Q: Tell us a little about yourself to get us started.
A: I’m 43, married with 3 kids (a boy – 14, and two girls – 10 and 6). I live outside Athens, GA where I went to college but I grew up in North Carolina (the Charlotte/Matthews/Mint Hill area). I was a high school Agriculture teacher before I left teaching and started my own business creating curriculum materials for Agriculture and FFA. So now instead of teaching teenagers about where their food comes from and how to run a miter saw without losing a finger, I spend an inordinate amount of time on font choices, email wording, and wrangling various web platforms. (glamorous, I know.)
I was a swimmer in college and have a deep love of bagels and lasagna to prove it. I’m not fast, especially on land since the mile was my event. But being a distance swimmer means I’m used to long workouts in my own head. I think that experience and my endurance make me well suited for GORUCK events.
Q: Where did your GORUCK journey start? What was your first event? What stands out from that event?
A: I was introduced to GORUCK by a trainer at my gym that had participated in a local Tough (through the coercion of some friends). I told her “I hate running. I just can’t do it anymore for cardio.” and she said “You should try this GORUCK thing. I think you’d like it.”
That was in the spring. I got a backpack out of the closet, added some textbooks, and went for a walk around my neighborhood. I was blown away by how much of a workout it was (and I’m in decent shape). So I started rucking more that summer, bought a Rucker 1.0, and signed up for a local Tough coming up. I joined the Pathfinder Training program (Class 13) and got to training.
My first event was the Athens 9/11 Tough and it was amazing. I was totally hooked. I was also really glad I’d been doing Pathfinder or I would not have been prepared enough. When the Tough was over, Cadre Montreal encouraged the class to come back for the Light if we weren’t already signed up. My new buddy, Will Brown, said “Come onnnn! You’ve GOT to!” So my first event went from a Tough to a T/L just like that. The next day my husband asked “So when are you doing another one? Because I know you are.”
Q: What was your most recent event or events. What would you like to tell us about it / them?
A: I kicked off 2020 with The Great Raid Tough with Cadre DS and rolled right into Constellation the next morning. We had a small class for the Tough but that was good because I like groups with less than 20 people. I feel like you reach a level of team cohesion faster and I get to know everyone better than in large classes. DS always makes sure you get a good workout during an event while also bringing the knowledge. I love how he incorporates the historical information, his own experiences, and an immersive element to his events. We did some POW simulations and they were both memorable and educational.
Maybe half a dozen of us, stayed for the Constellation event. Retaining the information after having been up all night made it even more real. This was my first Constellation and I enjoyed the curriculum very much. As with Expedition and Immersion, I had to remind myself to relax and not constantly be worried about subjecting the class to a beatdown because of a dumb question.
We learned everything from getting free of zipties and duct tape to escaping a building using a firehose to conducting surveillance during a working lunch. Yes, we made our own gas masks for the tear gas during the culminating activity. No, it wasn’t horrible and anyone with issues could play a different role in the simulation. Overall the entire event was phenomenal. I felt that I learned a lot of skills that could actually apply should a dire situation arise and also help me protect my family if things really do hit the fan.
The Bragg Heavy was my most recent event. (I was supposed to reunite with my Sisters of Steel Star Course team for the NOLA 50 miler in March but COVID hit the week before.) This was my third Bragg and Cadre Dan did not disappoint. Bragg is such an awesome stand-alone Heavy because it continues to be fresh and different but the things that stay the same are why I keep doing it.
Each time I’ve done Bragg I get to meet cadre that don’t do lots of events (usually because they are still active duty) and that makes for a unique perspective. What I love most about Bragg is the level of camaraderie you achieve with the team and how many GRTs travel to get there. So I get to meet people from across the country. Bragg is loaded with PT and lots of suck (February in NC is guaranteed to be wet and cold) but you get SO many great stories out of it like singing during picnic table overhead holds and massive mud covered penguin huddles to hiding from a train conductor in the middle of the night. (Since the writing of this Alicia and her teammate Shannon Bass passed Team Assessment. Links to their AAR’s at the end of this article).
Q: Favorite Ruck?
A: The Rucker 2.0 (20L), hands down. I use it for training and all my events. The weight sits up high so I don’t have that lower back ruck rub problem I had with my first one. I also like that the plate stays nice and snug in the velcro pocket and you can put your water bladder in the other elastic pocket.
Don’t let anyone tell you that it isn’t big enough. I’ve done HTLs as well as multiple Bragg Heavies in February with it and can fit everything I need. You just have to know how to pack and be decisive about what you will actually use.
(And if they ever come back out with the wolf gray/black molle combo, I’m buying it no matter how many rucks I have.)
Q: Proudest accomplishment as a GRT?
A: That’s a tough question. Every event is an accomplishment but there is a different sense of pride after finishing a 50 Miler than there is on finishing an HTL. But I’ve also had some brutal Heavies that rival the feeling of finishing Bragg.
Overall, I’m most proud when I get to stand beside teammates and friends finishing an HTL because that is such a big mental hurdle. The Hard Hitter HTL in November was probably the best because so many of my friends got their first bolts there. The Hard Hitter HTL was unique in so many ways with the individual evolutions tying into the overall theme and event objective.
It was also my third HTL in three months. I didn’t set out to make that an accomplishment. I just happened to have several HTLs in the same area and different buddies that wanted to do them. So I did. And it was awesome. (Author’s Note. I got to watch Alicia get her Bolts by doing the 9/11 light. We were on a small team together and I enjoyed getting to know her. The next month I was back working beside her at the Mog Mile Light, where she again finished an HTL. The fact I signed up for my first Tough, the Hard Hitter (her 3rd HTL in as many months) was largely in part to her positivity and promising me that, if for some reason I tried to walk away, she absolutely would not let me quit. She’s a BEAST and I’m lucky to have done several events with her)
Q: How many events have you done? What’s your favorite event or type of event? Why?
A: I’ve done well over 50 events since I started 3 years ago. I’ve been told that I have a GORUCK problem. Usually I like to/get to do about an event a month. I’m fortunate that there are almost always several events within driving distance most weekends.
HTLs and Heavies are definitely my favorite events. There is so much more time to really get to know your teammates (and yourself) at the longer events.
Q: Why do you continue to do events? What keeps you coming back?
A: The people. I can’t resist an event with weirdos that like to do sucky things. My motto truly is “Sounds awful. I’m in.” I’ve met people from all over with such interesting backgrounds. I’m a chatty person so I like rucking through the night hearing about people’s lives. The challenge of an event creates a bond and it gives me all benefits of being on a team again.
I also enjoy the various cadre. Each one has a unique perspective on historical events and on how a challenge plays out. I love hearing their stories and learning a lot in the process.
Q: How do you train for events?
A: For “regular events” like Heavies, Toughs, and Lights, I love Heavy Drop Training. I started out using it because I knew I needed to get better at ruck PT (that was a definite weak point during events) but I suck at making my own workouts. I end up just doing the same things over and over again.
Heavy Drop not only keeps it fresh, it pushes me to do things (like running) that I wouldn’t normally choose to do. My husband has joined me for some workouts and I think he said it best: “Heavy Drop doesn’t just make you strong…it makes you tough.”
I stay with Heavy Drop because Bryan Singelyn programs every round and adjusts based on group feedback. But most of all, I stay for the community. Everyone is super supportive and pretty darn funny too.
For Star Courses, I highly recommend Pathfinder Training. I’ve done three 50 mile Star Courses now and I see so many people underestimate what it takes. The Pathfinder Horizon program helps you get the mileage you need, but more importantly, it prepares you mentally. The Course Advisors do a great job answering questions and helping people tweak the sequencing based on when their event is.
Q: Best Rucking and / or GORUCK event advice you have gotten?
A: Don’t think ahead. One evolution at a time. People quit when they start saying to themselves “I can’t do this for another ___ hours.” Just take it one mile, one exercise, one rep at a time. Don’t worry about what’s coming next.
Q: Other than packing list items, what is a must have in your ruck for events?
A: Nylon straps. About 18″ with a loop on each end. You can get a pack of them on Amazon for five bucks (search for “tie-down straps”). It’s the only thing I keep in the front pocket of my ruck.
If you’ve ever done an event with Fagan and his infernal ammo cans, you’ll appreciate having straps to carry them. I can carry a lot of crap for a lot of miles if I can put it up on top of my ruck and these straps help with that.
I like the shorter ones because you can daisy chain them together if you need them to be longer. You don’t have to untangle them like longer straps. And they are easy to pull out or stuff back into my ruck on the move.
I’ve also used them to make improvised stretchers for casualties, hand holds for weighted flags, to make a team weight more manageable, and I put a pair on my shoulder straps during Heavy 12 Milers and Star Courses to keep my hands elevated and prevent swelling.
Q: A book or a few that have impacted your life? Why?
A: “Crush It” by Gary Vaynerchuk. My side hustle was becoming a real small business when I read it. It helped me see that it’s okay to niche down and be passionate about one thing…as long as you do it really well.
“Dark Horse” by Todd Rose is my most recent favorite. I liked it so much that I listened to it again as soon as I finished it. It’s about mindset and taking a different path while also redefining what we think of as success and excellence.
Q: What other hobbies do you have?
A: I’m a voracious reader. Fantasy and Fiction is my preferred genre. (Any Six of Crows fans out there? Come geek out with me at our next event.)
For audiobooks, I like a good autobiography, personal development, or business book.
I grew up water skiing and still enjoy being out on the lake (in or behind a boat) whenever I can.
Q: What’s the best purchase under $100 you’ve made in the past 12 months.
A: The GORUCK windbreaker. Seriously that thing packs down small and cleans up like new every time. I pack it for all my events because at 1am when we stop between evolutions for story time I get chilled.
It’s a layer that doesn’t add a lot of bulk or soak up water and I can wear it on the move without sweating to death. I’ve even mastered taking it off on the go once I warm up again. It holds up to low crawls and wicks water well without being waterproof which would be like living in a ziplock bag – not ideal. It also makes a good seat cover when you are covered in mud or sweat after an event.
Q: How has rucking changed or improved your life?
A: It’s given me so many friends that “get me” and a community that I can tap into whenever I need help or an emotional boost. I’ve regained the strength and endurance I had in college that the gym just wasn’t getting done. Most of all, it’s allowed me to be on a team again. Working out and going to events is like my therapy.
Q: How do you recruit new people to ruck, or do events with you?
A: People at my gym see me working out with sandbags and rucking around town. For the right people, it sparks an interest and I invite them along. I also have an Instagram account dedicated to my GRT shenanigans (@ruckingfordonuts) that I’ve had people say they are inspired by.
Right now, I’m raising new GRTs. My son has completed a couple of events and the whole family has done Santa Ruck two years in a row. My 10 year old did Heavy Drop Kids and says that “push ups in PE aren’t hard anymore”. The 6 year old is a mini cadre during workouts and came up with the “Burpee Snowflake”.
Q: Best Beer to drink after a ruck?
A: Whatever they hand me. I’m more of a whiskey girl.
Q: Advice you would give to someone before their 1st Light?
A: You can do more than you think you can. So many people get intimidated by the weight or the PT or the miles at a Light. Your team is not going to leave you behind or let you down. Give the sandbag a go. If it’s too heavy, we will take it back…but you may surprise yourself.
Q: Advice you’d give to someone before their 1st Tough?
A: It gets dark at 2am. The best way to not give in to the demons is to talk to someone. And if someone starts talking to you, it is either because they see you turning inward or they need someone to focus on. Pay attention to your inner dialogue. If you are telling yourself how much this sucks, you are missing out. I love looking at the stars during the night and watching the sun come up.
Q: If you get overwhelmed during an event how do you refocus on the task at hand?
A: I develop this little mantra in my head where I repeat tiny things that are going right. During the 9/11 Heavy we were down to five people, everyone had coupons, and the sun was beating down on us. It was crushing. So I started saying things like “You get the team weight next. Now we are going downhill. 40 more steps until a switch.” ANYTHING that was the smallest win.
At Bragg last year, we were doing a force march back to base at the end of the event. We were still caked in mud. There was some serious accordion effect going on down the line so you’d end up flat out running for awhile and then walk 50 paces and then start running again. I was pissed. I mean really mad (I HATE running). And I finally said to myself “Why are you mad? You’re doing fine. You’re not carrying one of the water cans. You are keeping up. You’re fine.” It was an enlightening (and funny) experience.
Q: What’s the next event or events on your calendar?
A: Cadre Reunion is on the docket. I’m looking forward to a new experience and seeing some of my Florida people. I’m also signed up for the Cloverleaf event with my son (aka “The Patch Monster”) in Atlanta. I like trying new stuff so it should be fun to do that with him.
Q: Any parting shots? Things the community needs to know?
A: No two events are the same. Even if you have the same cadre. Don’t assume you know what is going to go down because when it changes then you’ll be focused on what you thought you should be doing. No matter what they throw at you, just say “Let’s go.”
Oh, and yelling at your teammates when trying to make a time hack never works. Just saying.
If you know someone (or are someone) who would be a good fit for an upcoming episode of Ruck BEAST Squad please reach out to Derek Hill (derekhill1 AT gmail DOT com).