Spring brings the season of road races, 5Ks, 10Ks, all sorts of competitions. The Partnership for Public Service holds a 5K every year as part of Public Service Recognition week. These inclusive events pull in everyone from the local elite club runners to the casual joggers hoping to shed a little winter flab.
A one-time boss, and former Marine, was once chided in the office about why he didn’t like to go running or otherwise indulge in the Great American Workout pastime. His reply, “I did enough running in the Marines — in combat boots.” His tone implied the question, “Why would anyone in his right mind want to exercise anyhow?”
The last 20 years of my life have been caught up in that fitness boom. I wax and wane, but have done my share of marathons and other foot races. A couple of years ago I ran in one of those obstacle course races where you step across squashed cars, jump over a burning log and slosh through mud at the end. It seems preposterous in retrospect. I must’ve been the oldest guy doing it, because I won my age group. But I had to pay for my roasted turkey leg.
I say fitness boom. More accurately, the boom is in working at being fit.
But some people operate at a fitness level that is tough to imagine even for dedicated weekend warriors. Even those on the $10,000 bicycles playing Lance Armstrong. Or the ladies arriving in splendid SUVs and expensive yoga pants who spend hours a day at the gym. I’m talking about people like Army Rangers types. In a couple of weeks, they hold their annual Best Ranger competition, open to those with the Ranger ribbon and those who have Airborne Ranger qualification. That is, not even the average Army shlub gets into this race.
Sgt. Gerald Nelson explained the competition admits 50 teams of two. The buddy system increases mental pressure not to drop out.
At least in a marathon, you’re done in three or four hours. The Best Ranger runs from 6 a.m. on a Friday morning until sometime around 4 or 5 Sunday afternoon. No rest or sleep — at least none scheduled. The competitors get water and a half dozen MREs for the duration. Nelson said competitors don’t get quite enough calories to cover the burn.
Videos of the final race to the finish show pairs of men in boots and fatigues with loaded vests and gripping rifles in one hand. No lightweight running shoes or carrying only a 1-oz. packet of Gu. That’s after 60 hours of marching (20 miles with a 60-pound sack), climbing, swimming, rappelling, shooting, blowing up things. Sometimes the Rangers jump in the water or start running, not knowing the eventual distance.
It’s almost like a mini Ranger School course all crammed into a couple of days. During the competition, though, Fort Benning, Georgia, draws families and other service members, even a nearby member of Congress, to watch and cheer on the competitors.
Best Ranger does reward finishers with what Nelson described as a gigantic picnic. This year’s competition starts April 15.
A word about the prize for the winners. I’m envious, having won a few sweatshirts, mugs, small trophies and a gift certificate for chicken wings. The winning Best Ranger team members each receive a badass something I’ll bet no other competition awards: an engraved model 1911 Colt .45 caliber pistol.