Ask Stew: How Non-Runners Can Prepare for Military Running Tests

Find Your Running Pace

If you join the military as a non-running athlete (or even as a non-athlete), your first experience with running timed events makes the stereotypical running journey and progression a little different for you. Most runners would have no issues with 1.5- to 3-mile timed runs used by the branches of the military and would likely call them “sprints.”

Non-runners, however, may have issues getting into the military or even staying in the military because of the timed runs. You cannot address run training for the non-athlete or non-running athlete the same way as a running athlete would. Timeline, overuse injuries and bodyweight can all become issues. Here is an email considering different workout methods to improve your running.

Happy New Year from the Fleet. I have some questions about running timed runs and longer runs in selection (1.5-mile for PST and 4-mile timed runs at BUDS). Running for a competitive time has always been my biggest issue as I am trying to lateral transfer into SpecWar. I have spoken to a few running coaches. Several have told me that I need to keep my heart rate in an aerobic zone when I do cardio and wait for my body to improve over time instead of constantly being in an anaerobic state during the entire run. Also, soft sand runs; any soft sand options if no good running beaches available? Thank you for your time, instruction and programs for equipping people for success in these endeavors.

That process of coaching is not wrong. It is good to build some cardio base. But if you are not used to running, you should alternate running with aggressive non-impact cardio (bike, rowing, elliptical or swimming) especially if you have a bigger body type (aka not a runner’s build).

The average non-running person should try to stay in the aerobic zone, maybe at a pace just faster than walking (11-12 minutes per mile pace). Doing that for many miles is possible, but the activity will lead to impact stress issues in bones, tendons, and joints. That kind of injury will derail a timeline that is already pretty tight. You may have not 6-12 months to build that kind of base. If you do have time, under supervision of that coach, that is an answer that works: a long steady progression into running.

Aerobic vs Anaerobic

There is nothing wrong with going anaerobic in your running. During a PST, you will swim hard (likely an aerobic/anaerobic combination), then do push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups (all anaerobic), then run 1.5 miles. You just need to train for both states and fuel for them as well.

You will need to sip on carbs in between events so you can have enough fuel to push yourself into that anaerobic zone if needed. If you can do 6-7 minutes per mile pace in an aerobic state, that is fantastic. And you could go much faster than that if you push yourself into that anaerobic zone. Often, these tests require very competitive scores, whether you get there on aerobic capacity, anaerobic threshold or beyond is really based on how much time you have to prepare yourself.

Of course, better conditioning will make these runs much easier, but you can get specific with your training and avoid those slow 10-mile runs at each running practice. Focusing on fast 4-mile timed runs (seven minutes per mile pace) and faster 1.5-mile runs (six minutes per mile pace) can be done in an aerobic state, but most people are well served by mixing the aerobic and anaerobic state and can pull off this pace and distance all the time. It takes strategy and training at these distances to figure out what works best for you. For most people, mastering the goal pace for these events should be the goal for most of your workouts.

Training Ideas

If you run 5-6 days a week, keep the mileage limited to 2-4 miles per day, depending on your current progression of weekly miles. Make these runs a combination of goal pace runs, sprint intervals, hills and leg PT and a steady-paced run to learn your heart rate when holding a steady pace for 2-4 miles.

See the following articles for weekly training structure options:

For answers to running in soft sand without soft sand, try running hills and mixing in lunges on your leg days during the run workouts. Run and Leg PT is a classic. Find a big hill, stairs, incline treadmill, high resistance stationary bike or bleachers and work the legs harder than normal running .

If You Are NOT A Runner

Training a running athlete typically starts off with building volume (high miles). Most of these athletes are built for running (lighter body weight and less upper body mass) and do not suffer the impact injuries a typical tactical athlete may. If you’re not built like that, high running volume is not necessarily a good idea without a logical 10-15% progression of miles per week.

It can take a significant amount of time to build up to the kind of volume that allows for better cardio conditioning. So, I do not think that only the long slow distance approach is right for you and your short distance running goals. Besides, too much practice running slow just gets you better at running slow. You have to learn your goal pace.

A good plan is to use logical progressions with your goals. For instance, if you can run a 12 minute 1.5-mile run (eight minute mile). A good future goal pace would be to start to strive for a 10:30 1.5-mile run (seen minute mile pace). This takes practice at that pace doing 400-800 meters at seven minute mile pace (not a sprint), but a pace faster than slow jogging.

The more you do it, the easier it is on you, and you will be able to be in a more aerobic zone (lower heart rate) vs having to be anaerobic (higher heart rate) the entire time which is less sustainable for most people.

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 starting a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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