A while back, I hosted a guest post from Erik about Tactical Biathlon competition. It’s been a murmur of a topic in our own community, and a few folks have gotten out and started signing up for them. I’m planning on doing one at the end of April over in West Virginia, and the guys over at Waco Tactical Fitness (WTF) have built a name for themselves hosting events around Texas and other states.
Today’s episode is a bit of a sit down discussion with three fellow marksmen who competed in these events. Dave at the main Waco event, along with Alex and Al who both did a recent WTF event in Arkansas. Selfishly, my goal was getting a bit of an inside scoop on what to know before going to my own event next month.
During the discussion, we talked about equipment selection, fitness requirements, and lessons learned. What’s interesting about these events, to me at least, is that they resemble something much closer to traditional light infantry work. You’re on your feet and carrying a combat load the entire time as you hump it from stage to stage over a several mile course. Your score is your final time to completion, less any deductions for missed targets.
Al, Dave, and Alex all ran fairly similar configurations of 16″ AR-15 rifles paired with magnified optics. Alex elected to use a 3x ACOG while Al and Dave both used LPVO optics. None had any real complaints about the rifles they ran, but some minor “nice to haves” were noted in the after action review.
For example, Alex ran into blooming issues with the fiber optic reticle of his ACOG on one stage that was looking into the direction of the sun. Dave would have preferred a first focal plane optic to manage holdovers throughout the match.
Everyone ran some variation of belt and chest rig, with varying strategies for reloading and administratively managing ammunition. Alex declared definitively that he’s done with trying to make chest rigs work for him, and plans to commit to a dedicated belt system in the future.
Al did run out of pistol ammunition later in the match, which cost him several Did Not Finish (DNF) events. Everyone suggested bringing about two times the stated ammunition count in the event rules.
From a marksmanship preparation standpoint, nobody seemed to do anything particularly special with their training. Al attended a carbine class not long before to work on a customized zero for his rifle and ammo configuration. Dave studied the stage plan and worked some ballistic calculations to practice different sight pictures with his optic for each range.
Alex was loud and clear that a major failure he had was not practicing with his rifle firing from the support side shoulder. Some extra practice doing this would have gone a long way towards success.
Every competitor stated the importance of cardio conditioning. The Arkansas event started with a two-mile uphill run before getting to the first stage. Combined with an approximate 30 lb competition loadout, this was very taxing on the legs as well as energy systems.
I tried to dig into whether endurance-style training or high-intensity burst training would have proven more useful, and every competitor said that it’s a combination of both.
Dave relayed a story about how difficult it was to complete a series of obstacles and then hold his rifle steady against a support structure. He suggested practicing by exerting yourself and then trying to run a VTAC barricade in between rounds of exertion.
Everyone said that they needed better leg strength to help be more successful. What wasn’t clear to me was whether this meant raw leg strength or improved strength endurance to keep working for extended periods of time. It’s probably both.
As an aside, the comment about leg strength reminded me of something S.L.A. Marshall published for the Operations Research Office (ORO) in 1951. General Marshall did a review of soldier feedback and performance from the winter of 1950-1951 during the Korean Conflict.
“The chief physical weakness of American infantry is in the legs, due in part
to underemphasis on the importance of the road march in the training schedule.”
I already built a fair bit of running, rucking, strength, and strength endurance work into my training plan, and this just further solidified the importance of it. That last two weeks leading up to the event are going to be painful.
So what am I taking away from this conversation? Well, the first thing is something that I already knew: fitness matters. Max at MVT always preached the importance of “cardio” but rarely gave examples of what the right kind of “cardio” would look like. From listening to Dave, Al, and Alex talk about WTF Biathlons, I have a better sense of what that means. I’d like to think my training plan already covers what I’m going to need, but that gets me to the second takeaway.
While I have a plan to prepare physically for the event, I was probably neglecting the marksmanship issue. It’s difficult to execute even simple marksmanship tasks when you’re completely gassed and sucking air. On top of regular try fire training from both strong and support side, I should plan to do at least some of that training in conjunction with conditioning workouts to simulate the challenge.
Third, everyone I talked to ran their load bearing equipment in a “go-to” configuration as they would in an emergency. Everyone also said that they would consider assembling a separate Run & Rig for future such competitions. I’ve already got a rig set up for just such a thing, and I’ll make another post about it, but until I get to wring it out then I don’t know what I don’t know.
That’s it for me, see you next time!