Training for Best Ranger: Guard team talks extreme PT
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FORT BENNING, Ga. (Army News Service, April 15, 2011) -- One hundred miles per week, two pairs of worn-out running shoes and luck.

That's what it takes to train up for the Best Ranger Competition according to Sgt. 1st Class Robert Hoffnagle and Sgt. Adam Sanford, who are representing the National Guard in the 2011 Best Ranger Competition, April 15-17, 2011.

Held at Fort Benning, Ga., the Best Ranger Competition is an ultimate test of fitness, endurance and grit for the Army's most elite Soldiers. Fifty two-man teams will compete for the title of "Best Ranger" by running, ruck marching, swimming, completing obstacle courses, airborne drops, land navigation, and displaying weapons proficiency in a three-day marathon-style competition without sleep.

Hoffnagle, who's competed twice before, said training for an event of this kind requires a lot of hard work and sweat -- something the team has been doling out since January.

Hoffnagle and his teammate, Sgt. Adam Sanford from the Indiana National Guard, said they believe this year their hard work will pay off.

"I think I honestly have the partner this year to at least be in the top three," Hoffnagle said of Sanford. "I just have a good feeling."

Hoffnagle explained that it's hard to find a good teammate, which can make a huge difference in training as teams often spend eight hours per day, six days per week together for several months.

"People on the outside that don't see us all the time don't realize how hard we work. It's a full-time job," Hoffnagle, a platoon sergeant at Benning's Warrior Training Center, said.

To select teams to participate, the National Guard held a Best Ranger assessment where Soldiers from throughout the country came to the Warrior Training Center to compete for seven slots. Sanford explained the WTC assessment was similar to the Best Ranger Competition with several grueling events, one right after another, for one day. Those who performed the best were chosen as the National Guard's three teams.

Hoffnagle, who competed in Best Ranger both in 2007 and 2010, had planned on being the coach for the National Guard teams this year. However, after the Guard sustained some dropouts, he had to step up as a competitor.

"I always knew I was going to compete at least one more time," Hoffnagle said. "It just ended up being this year."

Coaching and competing this year has been tough, Hoffnagle said, who has only had about two months to train. Ideally, on a competition year he likes to prepare a year out.

"If you want to be a serious competitor, you have to basically train for a year," Hoffnagle said, noting it's helpful for competitors to participate in triathlons and ironman-type competitions to get ready.

For the last several months however, Sanford and Hoffnagle have been logging some serious mileage. On "hard" training days, Hoffnagle said the team started in the pool, swimming at least 500 meters. Then they followed up will a long run, a long ruck march, and two hours in the gym.

On "recovery" days, the team would complete a light run of three to five miles, another two hours in the gym, and focus on technical skills like marksmanship and Rangering tasks they may face in the competition.

Proper nutrition is also an important part of the training formula, the team said, explaining that they burned an estimated 5-7,000 calories per day during training and had to re-fuel their bodies accordingly. Hoffnagle noted that during the competition it is important to eat, even if you are not hungry.

"If you don't eat at least two to three full MREs (or meals, ready to eat), on the first day, you are going to fall out," he said.

Hoffnagle estimated over the course of their training, the team put in an average of 100 miles per week, and noted that a rigorous training schedule is necessary to compete.

"Every day that you are doing this, we always knew that there was somebody out there training to beat us, and that's what gets you in the gym," noted Hoffnagle.

"The way I look at it is, I'm down here for a reason, and if I don't finish, I obviously didn't work hard enough in training," Sanford continued.

But the team thinks they had a slight advantage being able to train on Fort Benning, were the competition is going to take place. Hoffnagle called WTC a "Ranger playground," with excellent tracks, trails, rolling hills and an obstacle course to challenge them.

They also think they will be underestimated by the active-duty competitors.

"They look at us like we're only part-timers," Sanford said of active-duty Soldiers.

"The active-duty probably thinks that we're no threat," Hoffnagle agreed. "They're not going to take us seriously, which is fine with us. At the end of day one you are going to know the teams to watch."

Sanford, who re-enlisted in the National Guard last year after a seven-year break, has known for the past year that he wanted to compete in the competition.

"I grew up in Regiment," Sanford, who is a former active-duty Ranger said. "It's instilled in me to do the best I can."

Hoffnagle is lending his experience as a competitor to the team's shot at winning the title. He said a mistake many first-time Best Ranger participants make is trying to go 100 percent from the very start of the competition.

"Your body can only go 100 percent for so long before it crashes," Hoffnagle explained. "So you have to do this competition at a 70-percent pace and hope that your 70 percent is faster than the next guy's."

The Best Ranger Competition will conclude on Sunday evening with the awards ceremony planned for Monday. On average, only 40 percent of teams who enter the competition finish.

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