A Logical Way to Build Up to Running Longer Distances and Preparing for Timed Runs

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Soldiers conduct the two-mile run portion of the unit’s Army physical fitness test.
Soldiers with the 461st Human Resources Company conduct the two-mile run portion of the unit’s Army physical fitness test Jan. 20, 2018, at a school track in Decatur, Ga. (Sgt. 1st Class Gary A. Witte/U.S. Army photo)

Sometimes we think we are in shape because a "test looks easy" or "you were in shape in high school," but many people fail to prepare for a fitness test and wind up realizing they need to change their training and thinking. Check out this email:

Stew - I run 4-5 days a week and usually get 25-30 miles a week, so I have a runner's body. I just tried out for the FBI fitness test for special agents and thought that the calisthenics and the run would be a joke. Well, I was wrong. I almost failed the 300-meter and the 1.5-mile runs and did fail the sit-ups. What gives? I thought I was in shape.

You know I get this often from people in sports -- athletic shape, too. Training for a fitness test is just a different way to train. It is not any harder, just different. But basically to get better at taking a fitness test, you need to practice taking fitness tests. Otherwise, you are filled with unnecessary physical fitness test anxiety before the test, and you do not know how to prepare for the transitions of the PFT.

The fundamentals of taking a fitness test are the following:

1. Add speed/pace workouts to your running so you are prepared for a timed run at a faster pace than a jog. Good goals for men and women are seven- and eight-minute mile paces, respectively.

2. Prepare muscles by stretching prior to push-up, sit-up and pull-up type exercises.

3. Most importantly, prior to running/after calisthenics, get the blood back to your legs by warming them up by jogging and stretching your upper body and legs. (transition training)

4. Practice, practice, practice: You should take the test once a week to mark progress and see where you need to focus your next week of workouts. This will help you with the anxiety of the unknown of the test, and the only butterflies you will feel are from good competition adrenaline that will enhance your performance on test day.

Here is something to consider.

Runner's body: You have a great foundation of distance, but if you have not pushed your limits of speed, just jogging several miles a week is not going to prepare you for timed runs where six- to seven-minute mile paces are likely the competitive zone. Add speed work like this:

Repeat 6-10 times.

  • Quarter-mile run at goal pace (not a sprint)
  • Rest one minute

The goal here is to learn the pace you need for the run event. After you can do quarter miles, build up to half miles for 3-4 sets, then miles for 2-3 sets. The next thing you know, you are hitting a sub-six- to seven-minute mile pace, no problem. The goal pace is to teach you the pace to train and to get comfortable at that pace for whatever distance you are being tested.

Many football players and other athletes think 1.5- to two-mile runs are long distance. This is an adjustment as well. Not only do you need a foundation of some distance running, but you need to slow down your 100-meter running pace to a slower pace suitable for standard timed runs. The same workout above works well, but you typically have to slow down to reach 1:45 quarter-mile runs for a seven-minute mile pace.

This is easy at first, but after 6-8 sets of this, it will challenge most of this body type. Also building up to 3-5 miles runs over a few months is going to be helpful to transition from a football/power athlete to a military endurance tactical athlete. Check out Spec Ops Prep.

But for both groups, here is a great running plan that has helped many in the past to prepare for 1.5- to two-mile run tests: 6 Week Running Program

For those of you who are just beginning to run after a long period of time of no activity due to injury or lack of motivation, here is where you need to start:

Beginner running chart for people seeking to start an exercise plan and/or need to lose 20 pounds (always start run a workout with a quick five-minute walk and light leg stretch). I highly recommend the run/walk method when you are learning to run.

Important: Get running shoes, not some old shoes you find in the back of your closet. Check out www.bodynsolesports.com; they are a great shoe store (great prices), but you will learn about good running shoes.

Each run workout is to be done three times a week.

Week 1 Walk 20-30 minutes/stretching entire body daily  (monitor weight loss*)
Week 2 Run 1:00/walk 1-2:00 for 20-30 minutes
Week 3 Run 1:00/walk 1:00 for 30 minutes (listen to your body as injuries occur this week**)
Week 4 3 Sets of Run 1:30/walk 1:30 | 3 Sets of Run 2:00/walk 1:00
Week 5 3 Sets of Run 2:30/walk 1:00 | 3 Sets of Run 2:00/walk 30 seconds
Week 6 4 Sets of Run 3:00/walk 1:30
Week 7 Run 1 mile/try nonstop/walk 1 mile fast
Week 8 Run/walk combo 2.5 miles (from weeks 8-10 -- try to run as much as you can)
Week 9 Run/walk combo 2.75 miles
Week 10 Run/walk combo 3 miles

** Typically injuries occur during running programs the third week if you're too aggressive with initial training.

I hope this helps you with your running fitness testing but also help you learn how to build up to running longer distances, faster timed runs and especially getting healthier.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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