The 3,200-meter (or two-mile) run was my main event when I was in high school. I began running the event as a freshman, running 11:30 the first time I attempted it as a 15-year-old who knew no better.
I had no idea what I was doing -- how to run, break the race up or if I was even able to finish the distance. My brother was a shot put and discus thrower and talked me into trying out for the track and field team, and 20 years later, I still credit him for guiding me into the sport. I lowered the time down to 9:46 with not a lot of mileage, but a great deal of speed and trial and error along the way.
I didn't know how to pace myself in high school. I hit the first mile in 4:44 when I ran 9:46, so I had a major slowdown the second mile. What I see with a lot of military runners is that they make the same mistake I made years ago. Totally normal but dial down your pacing, and your second mile will be run much faster and your finish time will be where you want it.
We call this "negative splitting" in the marathon world. It is normal to want to get out fast and measure up to your colleagues, but proper pacing is essential to this event. Now, at 35 and with many hard lessons learned along the way, I can provide a few key tips I have learned that will help you in getting that two-mile time down as you prepare for your PT test.
Soldiers and service members are highly motivated as it is. It is very easy to get carried away during an all-out effort. I have read a great deal about race strategies, and probably the most important is relaxing. The key to running faster is running relaxed. Don't get running so relaxed confused with dropping 2-3 minutes off your two-mile time.
What it will do, provided you have trained well, is to keep your body functioning as efficiently as possible during maximal efforts.
Focus on Your Effort
It is you against the clock. Focusing on how someone else is going out is a total distraction and not worth your energy. Remember, it is your overall finish time you want. Who cares if they go out too fast for their own good? Not your problem. Run smarter, and you'll, more than likely, get to the finish ahead with a much faster time than if you had gone out at someone else's pace.
Holding back the reins is the hardest thing to do as a runner. Failing to do so is the quickest route to the hurt locker. Don't do that.
Do Additional Training
It's a hard thing to do when your buddies are living it up. Guess what? If you want to drop significant time off that run time, invest more in actually doing rather than talking about it. I wanted to break 2:22:00 for the marathon and got drilled to the ground by runners far better than me before I did.
It was only a dream, a long-term goal I set. I had to get humbled by members of the Army's world-class athlete program when I was still at my first duty assignment at Fort Carson, Colorado. I saw the differences between the guys wanting to run at the world level real quick, fast and in a hurry.
I took the constructive criticism I received from my fellow brothers in arms to heart. I'll tell you what I was told, "You want to improve. You had better seriously take the initiative to make it happen." Enough said.
The military workweek is sometimes far too busy. Go out for a run, distress and let off some steam. Trade a beer for a run. Improvements in running come from sustained, boring and repetitive work. It isn't fun, but I can guarantee you it is fun to run fast and drop time off your previous best.
Gear Your Workouts Toward the Pace You Want to Hold
A few examples:
Goal time: 15:00
Average pace: 7:30 per mile
One-mile warmup; 8x400 meters, running each 400 rep in 1:52 with a three-minute recovery between each rep (dropping your recovery time and maintaining the same goal pace effort as you gain fitness); one-minute cooldown
One-mile warmup; three-mile run on the track, sprinting the straightaways and jogging the corners; one-mile cooldown. It is a simple fartlek workout that works. You are running a total of 1.5 miles far ahead of goal pace.
Think of how easy a two-mile effort is going to feel when you already have adapted to sprinting nearly the entire distance. What does it translate to? An enormous improvement on your run time.
That being said, these are just two very simple workouts, but it takes time to build into fitness. The first workout is very similar to the one I have used training for the marathon (only greater volume used). Obviously, early on, your pace is going to be slower and your rest is going to be longer. As you gain fitness and your body adapts, the idea is to increase the pace of your speed sessions and decrease the recovery time needed between each rep.
An example of a workout I use to prepare for marathons would look like this:
Goal marathon pace: 5:10 per mile
10x1,000 meters (2½ laps) in 3:12 (5:10 mile pace), with a 600-meter recovery at a seven-minute mile pace. Three weeks (21-day adaptation period) down the road. I would do the same workout but run the 600-meter recovery jogs at a 6:30 mile pace.
No changes are made in the goal pace. The hard reps are still hit in 3:12, but the recovery time drops. This is key. In preparing to drop your two-mile time, you want to do workouts where you not only are maintaining and practicing the pace you want to run the entire distance at, but also teaching your body to handle less rest.
Keep in mind you don't get rest breaks in the middle of the PT test, so train in such a way where you have handled paces at or above your goal pace with little rest, and you will destroy your two-mile time, guaranteed.
Your running will become more automatic, and your easy runs will be run at a much faster clip without you even realizing it. As you gain anaerobic fitness, you run farther at a much lower heart rate. Your heart doesn't have to work nearly as hard as it did when you were first starting out.
The more workouts you do at above your goal race time, the easier your recovery and easy run efforts are going to be and the more efficient you are going to run. You go out and run a five-mile morning run in 40 minutes, and six weeks down the road, you're running at the same perceived effort in 34 minutes.
This is the beauty of training. Yes, it is boring at times but you forget all that when you run a huge personal best. The work has paid off, and your buddies are stoked about what you have done. It isn't rocket science, but there is more to running than just putting one foot in front of the other.
Take a few of these tips to heart, and I can assure you of some dramatic drops in time off your two-mile run time. Learn to lengthen the distance of your easy runs gradually and, without question, relax on your recovery days.
Some of the world's fastest Kenyans run as slow as a 12- to 14-minute-per-mile pace on their easy days. These are men who are running well under five minutes per mile during their marathons. Take that to heart. If they are humble enough to back off in order to recover from their hard sessions, why can't you?
You can't run hard every day, and there is nothing wrong with running as slow as your grandma on your easy days. Remember, run smarter, not necessarily harder, and you will be well on your way to running far faster than you ever thought you could. Plan well, take your time and watch the results fall in your lap.
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