Ask Stew: How to Train for Timed Runs

Airmen run to prepare for an upcoming PT test.
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Ryan Chatterley, 312th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, and U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Marshall Freitas, 312th AS flight engineer, run to prepare for an upcoming PT test April 3, 2019, at Travis Air Force Base, California. (Airman 1st Class Cameron Otte/U.S. Air Force photo)

If you think 1.5 miles is long distance, this article is for you. Or if you need to get better at the 1.5- to two-mile timed run, you can do this week of running workouts. Here is an email that reminds me about my transition from a powerlifting/football athlete to joining the military and later spec-ops prep:

Stew, I am preparing to take a run and agility test for a police department in my state. I must run 1.5 miles in under 15 minutes. I played college football and currently powerlift as a hobby. Distance training is foreign to me, and I need to ascertain an idea of what I need to be doing to prep for the test. I know 15 minutes for 1.5 miles is slow, but I am terrible at long distance. The most running I do is 2 x 400-meter sprints. A friend of mine in the Army Q Course told me to run one-mile and half-mile repeats on a treadmill with a 2% incline or on a track. He also said I can run 400-meter and 800-meter sprints to prepare. I'm basically lost. I can show you how to deadlift 600 pounds, but I sure can't show you how to not suck at running. Any help would be welcome. Thank you, Robert H.

Robert -- funny. I was a powerlifting football player, too, and once considered 1.5 miles "long distance."

Your run times luckily are much more obtainable (at sub 15 minutes) so this will not take long. You just need to do it and drop the weights for a cycle so you can get better at running.  A 600-pound deadlift workout in the middle of a running cycle will not help you with either optimal strength or endurance/running. Mix in some calisthenics, too, to work on your muscle endurance (squats, lunges, steps).

Your buddy is not wrong. Running 1-1.5 miles to get used to timed runs is a way to prepare for the test. Maybe consider a day of the week where you progress up to and do a steady three- to four-mile run to build your endurance. But you should work on your goal-pace running and have a "sprint" day in there to break up the monotony of running training.

Consider this for a Classic Training Week for 1.5-mile running tests:


  • Warm-up jog a quarter-mile/light stretch
  • Do a 1.5-mile timed run (assessment)

Tuesday: (I prefer using a track with this one)

  • Quarter-mile run at goal pace (two minutes). Rest with one-minute walk. Repeat six times.
  • Half-mile at goal pace (four minutes). Rest with three-minute walk. Repeat twice.

*(You say you need a 15-minute, 1.5-mile run. That is a five-minute half-mile or a 10-minute mile pace. To be blunt, that is just a little faster than walking. You can do better than that minimum standard. Shoot for at least an eight-minute mile and go for a 12-minute, 1.5-mile goal pace during your training. That means running your quarter-miles at two minutes. Keep your maximum allowable time of 2:30 quarter-miles or five-minute half-miles (nothing slower than that).

As this workout gets easier, keep the time the same, but add in 20 squats and 10 lunges (no weight) each set to build your leg endurance/muscle stamina.

Remember: "Exceeding the standard is the standard."


  • Steady pace of running for 15-20 minutes or, if you feel you need a break from running, do bike, elliptical or rowing workouts that are tough on your lungs and heart.
  • Try Tabata intervals where you sprint for 20 seconds, then rest by going slow for 10 seconds for 10 sets (five minutes). Do that 3-4 times for a good cardio workout.

Thursday: Run and Leg PT -- Sprint Day -- Open it up and run hard. The goal is to build your VO2 max on this day and progress so you need as little recovery time as possible over the next several weeks:

  • Quarter-mile as fast as you can, squats 20, lunges 10/leg. Repeat 6-8 times
  • Rest the time it takes you to run your quarter-mile each set (1:1 rest/work ratio)
  • Over the next 5-6 weeks, try increasing the number of sets and decreasing the rest ratio to 50% of your work time.

Friday: Same as Wednesday or take a mobility day off, if needed.

  • Do non-impact cardio five minutes (bike, elliptical, rower, swim, etc.). Repeat five times.
  • Foam roll and stretch five minutes.

Saturday: Long run day.

  • Try to do two to three 1.5-mile runs back to back with 5-10 minutes of rest in between.
  • Stretch well.

Read more at Take 2 minutes of PFT Run.

You also should be preparing for the PT test, too (push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups). Maybe even consider obstacle courses that will be done during the police academy. More ideas -- See PFT Bible or Classic Week of PT

Hope this helps.

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

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