A group of candidates for Army Special Forces recently beat out out teams of cops, firemen, other service members to take first place in the Public Service category of a recent Ragnar relay race that stretched from West Virginia to Washington, DC. The team of IODA 9424 finished sixth overall, out of 282 teams.
Even more surprising, they’d had just a month to train for the 200 mile race and were the very last team to sign up.
“Most people train for a year or more,” said a captain on the team. “We signed up one month out.”
Ragnar — the name refers to a 9th century Norse king best known for being an explorer and an all-around wild man — races take place in locations around the country. Teams of 12 runners compete against other runners, making it an ideal choice for the Special Forces candidates, who had already been divided into their 12-man team for Special Forces training purposes. (Special Forces soldiers operate in 12-man “A” teams and students learn how to work on an “A” team during training.)
The race is conducted relay-style across varying terrain, day and night. Each runner completes three legs of the course with each leg ranging between three and eight miles long and varying in difficulty, with only one person running at a time. While one is running the other 11 members ride in vans and cheer the runner on. A full day and a night later they make it to the finish line.
Another member, who goes by Michael, was the first to suggest they enter in the race.
“This was my 4th Ragnar Relay and I wanted to be a Captain of my own team this year,” Michael said. “So, I recruited guys that I was training with and knew we would be competitive in the race.”
Michael convinced his 12-man team of candidates to run the race with him and their instructor in the Special Forces course agreed that it sounded like a good idea. Their instructor said the short one-month training time didn’t seem like an obstacle because their regular military training had already prepared them for the race.
“Our PT programs have a lot of variety,” the instructor said. “We focus on long rucks and do six to seven-mile runs regularly.” He said that many of the team members already had PT scores of 300, the highest score possible. “They did PT on their own. I knew they had it covered. It really helps to have guys show up with a solid base of fitness.”
The team members assessed each other’s running styles in preparation for the race.
“We looked at who would be better at the faster, shorter runs and who would be better at the longer, harder runs,” another member, Connor, said.
Michael said that for him the craziest part of the race was at the beginning, on legs four through six. “It rained very heavy that afternoon and we had to drive up and down some very muddy and steep mountain roads. Other teams went off the road and got stuck in the ditch. Some teams turned around cause they couldn't make it up the hill. My team jumped out of the van and pushed me up the hill while I drove. They ended up closing that portion of the race down after we made it through.”
The team members all agreed that the most difficult legs of the race were through the mountains in West Virginia.
“The altitude was a big surprise,” said a specialist on the team. “I don’t think we realized how different running at that altitude would be.”
He said the team’s military training undoubtedly gave them the edge that pushed them over the finish line and to the head of the pack. “Our no-quit attitude and competitive edge helped us run a little harder to pass the runner in front of us. The jeep push in SFAS (Special Forces Assessment and Selection) was good training for the van push,” he added.
The team received some help from sponsors like the Ohio Fit Club, Rick Sofia, Spartan Polymers, Sniper’s Hide and Wiley-X, who donated money and products.
Michael said he definitely plans to run another Ragnar in the future and one team member, known as Aaron, said he has already signed up to run a Ragnar relay in the Adirondacks.
Their instructor agreed that the experience was a valuable one. “I think events like this are good for team building and they give us an opportunity to represent ourselves,” he said.
The winning Ragnar team members consisted of twelve men.