Training for your First Run and Gun Competition

So… you’ve decided to try your first Run and Gun.  Now what?

Training for a Run and Gun event is not hard, but it’s also not necessarily easy.

At a high level, we can compare the training philosophy of Run and Gun to the sport of Triathlon (swim/bike/run).

In Triathlon, the athlete may enter the sport with a background steeped in one of the three major elements.  Perhaps the athlete is a runner or a cyclist, but has never swam competitively.  That athlete will need to learn the fundamentals of the unfamiliar sports while combining training for all three sports into a program that may or may not emphasize the things he/she is already good at.  There are technical aspects of each sport that may be counterintuitive to the one-sport athlete; for example, the things that make a runner fast on his feet do not make him/her a fast swimmer.  Quite the opposite is the case.  Add to the training schedule the need to master one’s equipment: imagine being a novice cyclist and having to deal with your first flat tire on race day, or being a new swimmer and having never experienced leaky goggles, or having never been kicked in the face in the water (it happens).   With a little thought, it becomes easy to get dazed by all the things there are to know.  It can be discouraging to the new athlete.

DO NOT ALLOW YOURSELF TO BECOME DISCOURAGED!

Nobody ever starts a new thing as an expert, and no matter the talents brought to bear on the field of competition, the athlete ALWAYS has room to improve.  This applies in every sport, and most certainly applies to Run n Gun Biathlon.

Now what about Run and Gun? How do we train to be the best we can be?

During a typical Run and Gun, the athlete will be faced with three categorical challenges:

  1. ) The athlete will need to make fast and accurate shots with both rifle and pistol, from unusual firing positions, at targets of varying shapes and sizes at potentially unknown distances.  Some of those distances can be upwards of 500 yards;
  2. The athlete will need to cover ground efficiently engaging diverse terrain and/or various obstacles while carrying all gear needed to complete the course – this gear will add bulk and weight of a nature that may be unfamiliar, especially in the context of trying to quickly cover large distances and make accurate shots; and
  3. The athlete will encounter opportunities to problem solve – perhaps you experience an equipment or gear failure that demands attention in the middle of a stage, or maybe you are expected to engage a target in a manner that you have never attempted.

 It’s all there, at nearly every Run and Gun.  And it’s fun, trust me!

In the sport of Triathlon, there are thick books written by professional coaches that try and make the whole game digestible to a wide audience.  I’m not going to make that type

of play here, but rather I hope to give the reader a nudge in the general direction of seeking specific training or planning your own training path to become a solid RnG athlete.

Before we get too far into Run and Gun training, a word about equipment:

You will require, at a minimum, a rifle and a means to reload it quickly, a pistol with secure holster and at least two magazines, and a means to safely carry all your gear and sufficient ammo to complete the course.  That’s it.  Don’t overthink it.  Don’t let your gear decisions or availability delay your entry into the most awesome sport you will ever experience!  After competing in a couple Run and Guns you will make observations of other shooters and begin forming your own opinions on what will work best for you.  If you really don’t know what to use or get, most of us experienced Run and Gun folks have tried different things and can give mostly good advice.  Enough said about equipment.  More on equipment in a later article.

Now let’s break down RnG training into three main aspects:

  • The Physical Component
  • Marksmanship
  • Putting it all together

The Physical Component

Let’s face it, not every participant in Run and Gun is going to run the entire distance.  In fact, it is the rare athlete who will truly run the whole course.  This is sure to change in time, however, as the sport becomes more sophisticated and participants engage in more specific, focused training.  As it stands today, most athletes employ a mix of running/walking and many participants openly plan to walk entire events.  Regardless of where you are today in terms of your cardiovascular capacity, we will all have a need to safely and efficiently cover ground and engage obstacles.

Training for this portion of the event should focus on regularly covering a distance over ground.  One really good way to do this, in my opinion, would be trail-running three or more times

per week while wearing a weight vest for at least one of those runs.  But maybe you don’t have access to trails.  Maybe you can’t run due to an old football injury or some such thing.  On the other end of extremes, maybe you are an experienced marathoner with a training base of 50-plus miles per week.  No matter – there are things we can and should do to improve our RnG performance.

On game day, you will need to carry 15-30 pounds of gear over 3 to 7 miles.  There are a plethora of resources giving guidance on how to train to run, or walk, your first 5K or 10K.  Because of the vast, general availability of these resources, I am going to oversimplify my training advice here by making some broad summations.

First, cover ground.  Just get out there and move.  Some folks run, some folks hike, some folks ride a bike or paddle a kayak.  Whatever your thing is, get to a point where you know, without

question, that you will be able to safely complete the course. Please do not show up and place yourself at serious risk of overexertion on some remote piece of ground with limited access to rescue.  Trust me, nobody wants to tell cool stories about the helicopter evacuation they got to watch.  So, get out there today and cover ground.  Do it often enough that you can measure improvement.

Next, get stronger.  This may mean hitting the gym, doing a bunch of body-weight exercises (think: push-ups), or it may mean just moving heavy things around.  The point here is to be able to climb the tree, fence, or walls that are presented to you along the Run and Gun course.  Your chosen event may also require you to carry something heavy during a shooting stage, or drag a huge weighted object, or maybe flip a tractor tire.  You get the idea – we are talking functional strength here, not a beach-body pursuit.  You may want to designate at least one day per week to core exercises.  Remember, even if your chosen Run and Gun is light on obstacles, you still must carry all that gear.  And even though your burden might get lighter towards the finish line due to burned-up ammo and chugging your water, it will remain a fact that you are carrying more weight than you are probably accustomed to.

Finally, get flexible Stretch or do yoga.  Do something.  The payoff here will be in your range of motion and your ability to navigate unusual or unconventional shooting positions.  Secondarily, you will see an improvement in your ability to apply your strength through a longer/wider range of motion.  This will pay dividends at the obstacles.

For all the above, I’d give the usual precaution – check with your doctor, yada, yada, yada.  And get fit.

Marksmanship

This is the common denominator that brings us all here, right?  We all love to shoot.  It is the rare Run and Gun athlete that signs up for one of these events and has also never fired a gun.  But these unicorns do exist, and we WELCOME you into our fold!

Pistol and rifle, rifle and pistol…  Because we all grew up watching John Wayne movies, we are therefore all expert shots, right?  Wrong.  Sorry, the truth is, most of you have a long way to go before you can claim to be expert marksmen.

I will not go into the intricacies of how to shoot in this article.  Like running, there are a gazillion resources for quality marksmanship training.  But I will make one vigorous recommendation:

go participate in an Appleseed weekend (sign up at www.appleseedinfo.org ).  The marksmanship processes taught during an Appleseed will be applicable to almost any shooting endeavor.  Over the fast-paced two days, you will learn the steady-hold factors as they apply to shooting a rifle standing, kneeling, sitting, and prone; you will learn the six steps of firing a shot; and you will learn how to find and use your Natural Point of Aim (NPOA).  The methods taught at Appleseed will carry over to any rifle-based sport you can think of, and also happen to play quite well into pistol shooting.

By the way, it is uncanny how many of the top shooters at RnG have an Appleseed pedigree.  Just sayin’.

Marksmanship is a perishable skill.  As a result, there are some relative absolutes to incorporate into your overall Run and Gun training plan.  In no particular order:

Climbing Fence

Dry Fire This is where you go through the steps of firing a shot but you do not use any ammo – the firing pin/hammer/striker is allowed to fall with a “click” while you are focusing on your

sight picture, trigger press, and follow through.  The advanced dry firer will incorporate magazine changes, target transitions, and movement.  You can do this comfortably at home, in the living room, in your garage, whatever.  Also, you should do some of this at the range incorporated into your live fire training.  There are some high-speed training gizmos that can make dry fire more productive.  For example, there are pistol magazines that allow you to make successive dry shots with your handgun without having to rack the slide each time.  One tool I recently acquired, and am thrilled with, is called the Mantis-X.  It uses very small accelerometers to measure the movement of the gun before, during, and after the shot to provide measurable feedback on the quality of your shot.  It’s pretty slick.  There are also devices that incorporate lasers and other gadgets that are all designed to help you get better.

I cannot overstate how valuable Dry Fire is to your training.  As a case in point, I have a very good friend who has been doing RnG for about ten years.  He scarcely fires a live round, like almost never, unless it is at an RnG.  Seriously, he maybe gets to an actual range four times a year besides at RnG’s.  But he is a zealous Dry Fire practitioner.  This allows him to stay sharp, and when it comes to making good hits, accuracy is his strong point.  Dry Fire works.  You should do it.

Live Fire.  Everybody loves range days.  Unfortunately, not every Run and Gun athlete has access to a private range where we can set up diverse targets, draw from the holster, or make rapid-fire shots.  Lots of good folks are limited to their nearby public range, and however, as they are excellent venue to verify your rifle’s zero or test the accuracy of the ammo you want to take to Run and Gun.  So, what’s a guy or gal to do?

WTF Biathlon

How can you get in meaningful, fast-paced training to get ready for Run and Gun?

My answer:

Compete.  Find the action-shooting sports that are available within a reasonable drive of your home.  This may take the form of IDPA, USPSA, 3-Gun, Precision Rifle, Steel Challenge, or a variety of hybrid events that incorporate moving and shooting.  Almost all of these matches take place at private ranges that the general public may only access for the purpose of competing.  Additionally, these matches force you to shoot with other people, some of whom are going to be darn good.  There is a lot to be learned by watching and listening to those who know their craft well.  It’s also a good way to form opinions on what gear you may wish to take to your Run and Gun.  Don’t know where to begin?  Again, the web is your friend.  Go to www.wheretoshoot.org, a product of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.  The site will allow you to search by radius from your location or zip code, and it will provide you a list of almost all the shooting venues, public and private, in existence.  Drilling down into each range/venue, you can find out what events take place there, if any organized competition exists.  Incidentally, there is a corresponding mobile app by the same name downloadable to your smart phone, so you are never using the excuse of range availability even when you travel.  Good stuff.  Download it.  Find a range, find a match.  Go compete.

Perhaps you do have access to a private range or you have access to land where you can pop caps to your heart’s content.  That’s great!  Now let’s get down to important lists of things to do when you do get

range time.   The idea is to make best use of your range resource, and refrain as much as possible from simply turning money into noise.

Number one, get off the bench.  The bench is only useful to us for zeroing a rifle or testing ammo.  One does not learn or practice marksmanship from a bench.

Next, establish some training Standards and Drills.

 Standards are going to be the shooting you do to work on a specific skill or a limited set of skills.  There are some specific Standards that I recommend you get good at, and exercise often.  For instance, you need to be able to shoot a rifle well in the unsupported standing, kneeling, sitting, and prone positions.  From standing and kneeling, you should strive for groups of 8 MOA or better; for sitting, 6 MOA is a good standard; and for prone you should be able to consistently shoot 4 MOA.  Remember, this is unsupported shooting – just you, your rifle, and perhaps a sling.  No bipods, no sandbags.   Exercising your Standards can be done at a leisurely pace with your RnG rifle, or you can do it with a .22 rimfire or a good air rifle.  The point here is to develop yourself as a rifleman and become a better, more consistent shot.  We do this through practicing the steady hold factors, executing the six stages of firing the shot, and developing an enhanced sense of our NPOA.  (Remember your Appleseed training?  Ah ha! See what I did there?)

Notice, the accuracy expectation above is expressed in Minutes of Angle, or MOA. The distance to the target is mostly irrelevant when we are practicing the Standards.

Drills are where it gets to be more fun, but take caution – this is where we risk introducing bad habits, particularly with respect to our trigger control.

Training with a partner can help with this, especially if your partner is an accomplished shooter who can observe you and give real-time feedback on your drill execution.  Even video can help, to allow you to evaluate your moves and what worked or didn’t work.

What kind of drills are we going to do?

Great question.  The list is as endless as your imagination.  Some simple drills will be setting up target scenarios that mimic stages, or portions of stages, at Run and Guns or 3-Gun events.  If you have a vacuum of ideas, look up the websites for some recent events and try to imagine the stage descriptions – then build yourself a stage to run drills.  Common drills will involve shooting from barricades, shooting under an obstruction, shooting from your weak side, learning how to shoot from rollover prone (both sides), and engaging multiple targets at varying distance.  Literally, your imagination is the only limiting factor for these kinds of drills.  However, I would limit your drill scenarios to perhaps two or three per training session.  The idea is to run these drills over and over until you get comfortable doing the uncomfortable; to become familiar with how your equipment performs when shooting in awkward positions; to understand what your sight picture looks like as you recover from recoil for the second and subsequent shots when engaging a steel plate 300 yards away.

On to the pistol. The same training methodology applies to the pistol as it does to the rifle. Standards and Drills.

For pistol Standards, there are a lot of different ideas advanced by folks with all range of authority.  Suffice to say, use the same approach as you do training with the rifle.  You need to be able to stand and deliver – to make accurate shots under mostly ideal conditions.  I suggest that being able to hit an 8” circle at 25 yards, using both hands “freestyle”, is a good place to start.  You should also practice shooting one-handed, both with your strong hand and your weak hand.

Pistol Drills are another matter altogether.  I find a terrific resource is at http://pistol-training.com/drills.  If you can run yourself through “Dot Torture” every few range sessions and pick a small handful of other drills to master, your RnG pistol stages are going to go pretty darn well.

Additionally, I have a few thoughts for the aspiring pistolero to chew on.  Conventional pistol training is good, some of it even great, and going out to compete in IDPA or USPSA (you need to do this) is a fantastic way to develop your handgun skills.  However, the majority of pistol shooting you do during this training is going to be with arms fully extended, while standing on your back two feet.  What about when the stage requires you to go prone? Or if the stage puts you in a position where you cannot extend your arms, and you now have to focus on a front sight that’s only 12” in front of your eye?  Can you do it?  Can you make a 100-yard pistol shot on a standard IPSC torso?  Can you make a one-hand shot while the other hand is holding your body-weight by a rope?  Consider these things when developing your drills.  Think outside the box of convention.

Putting it all Together

Ok, so we have chiseled our bodies into sleek, strong, flexible running machines and we can zap a gnat at 100 paces weak-hand-only with our trusty pea-shooter.  Now what?  Simple.  We have to train like we fight – and our fight is on the field of Run and Gun.  “Putting it all together” means setting up opportunities to do “practice” Run and Guns, or otherwise test ourselves and our gear in ways that has not been thus far discussed.

This is a good place to circle back to gear.  Not the fun stuff (guns) but the necessary stuff.  Do you know if the shoes/boots you plan to wear for RnG will work?  Are they the same ones you’ve been covering ground in?  Or are they going to give you ridiculous blisters before you get to the first shooting stage?  And if they do, are you prepared to deal with blisters or other foot problems?  How about your underwear?  Does it chafe when you sweat?  Does your gun belt chafe?  Can you even run in your gun belt for more distance than the 20 yards offered at the local 3-Gun club matches?  Do your pistol and mags stay secure?  How does your hydration pack ride? What kind of traction do you get from your shoes/boots when running on wet rock?  Or when the tread is loaded with mud?  Does your rifle sling keep your gun tight when running?  If using a backpack for extra gear, how quickly can you get into it and access what you need?  Does it bounce around excessively when you are covering ground?  What about ear protection?  Can you quickly access and insert your plugs?  Or do your muffs ride comfortably when not in use?  How will you carry them?  Do you know how to use the stopwatch function on your watch, or phone, or whatever you will use to record wait times?  How does everything perform when it is soaking wet?

This is the time we need to look at the totality of our gear and make sure we can comfortably use it for Run and Gun.  Again, not just the guns, but everything else.

If you are lucky, you can find a place where you can kit up and run.  If you are like most of us poor souls, the neighborhood HOA might frown upon us prancing about the neighborhood with 5.11 pants and a loaded chest rig.  But you need to do it.  You will need to find a place to do it.   The good news is, if you have been competing like you should be, you probably already know some places to go.  If not, you can probably drive out to some lonely country road and give it a go.  I suggest you do this with a partner or two, who are not kitted up.  Have fun.

But putting it all together is more than just running in our kit.  We need to develop an idea of how our marksmanship will suffer when we are exhausted.  We can do this at home in conjunction with Dry Fire training or at the range by running laps between Live Fire Drills.  One thing I’ll do when I can’t get to the range is run a lap around the neighborhood, lift some dumbbells, shoot an air pistol in the garage, and repeat. Over and over and over.

Practice topping off magazines while on the move.  Rather than having six rifle mags with random fillings between zero and 12 rounds in each, peel off the rounds from those partial mags, consolidate, and hit the next stage with two full mags.  Practice this while speed-walking or running.  Same with pistol mags.  You can do this in your neighborhood or on the treadmill at home.  Get good at it, this is a skill you’ll use.

Walking on Bridge

Practice gun handling skills that the local IDPA match doesn’t test.  For example, how is your low crawl?  Do you know how to do it while keeping sand out of your rifle’s mag well?  Can you pull fresh mags from your kit while lying on your belly?  Do you know how to top off your rifle with a fresh mag, bolt closed on a loaded chamber, without dropping the fresh magazine at your feet?  (hint:  most folks don’t, you need to practice this.)

“Putting it together” is a catch-all phrase that encompasses all the little things that will make your RnG go smoother.  It is best done with friends, if you can manage it.  You can encourage each other, challenge each other, and critique each other.  Use your imagination, and make it fun.

Summary

Run and Gun is one of the most fun, challenging sports you may have the opportunity to enjoy.  You may certainly have a solid experience by just paying your entry fee, showing up, and doing your best.  For many competitors, that is the totality of their plan, and that is completely ok.  Some athletes want to get better from event to event and test themselves and their gear.  Still others want to perform to the peak of their capacity and see how well they perform against their peers in competition.  Whichever RnG participant you are, a thoughtful approach to your training, dare I say a training plan, could be just the thing you need to maximize your Run N Gun potential.

In finishing, let me offer a sample 8-week training plan.  This plan layout is nothing special, and you should consider ways to improve upon it for yourself.  It is pretty close to the actual plan I attempt to follow.

Run and Gun Training Schedule

Good luck! Look forward to seeing you at the range!

Tom and Sarah Thornton

Written by: Tom Thornton

December 2017

Pictured: Sarah and Tom Thornton

About the Author

Tom Thornton grew up in Orofino, Idaho, and has been a competitive shooter for over 30 years.  In high school, Tom competed in Trap and in a local Hunting Rifle steel target league.  He was a member of the US Naval Academy Smallbore Rifle Team and Highpower Rifle Team from 1988 to 1990; he was also a member of the USNA Trap, Skeet, and Sporting Clays Team from 1989-1992.  From 1994-98 he dabbled in Smallbore Metallic Silhouette in South Texas.  In 1997, Tom earned a spot on the US Navy’s East Coast Highpower Rifle Team.  Tom holds a Master-class rating as a Service Rifle shooter and also a Master in NRA Long Range.  He was the 1999 Michigan Service Rifle State Champion and earned the CMP’s Distinguished Rifleman Badge in 2002.

From 2002 through 2014, Tom was an endurance athlete completing 30 marathons, 46 ultramarathons, and numerous triathlons including one Ironman.  He spent almost ten years as a volunteer “pacer” at marathons in several states.  Injuries accumulated from these activities have limited his ability to continue in those sports.

Tom currently competes in IDPA and Outlaw 3-Gun matches at his home range, The Impactzone in Monaville, Texas.  Tom is a current Instructor for Project Appleseed and is an enthusiastic Run n Gun Biathlon participant.

Tom’s teenage daughter, Sarah, is his best shooting buddy and frequent partner at the range.  She can often be found on the podium at Texas Run n Guns.