How Sprinters Can Slow Down for Military Fitness Test Timed Runs

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Cpt. Samantha Dimauro runs the 2-mile event of the Army Combat Fitness Test at Darby Field on Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Cpt. Samantha Dimauro, a public affairs officer assigned to the 319th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, runs the 2-mile event of the Army Combat Fitness Test at Darby Field on Fort Jackson, South Carolina, April 23, 2022. (Spc. Jabari Clyburn/U.S. Army photo)

Running athletes can often have a tough time with timed runs in the military. If you have run marathons, you may not be used to a faster pace to be competitive on shorter runs like the 1.5- or two-mile run tests. Holding a slower pace for longer distances can also be challenging if you were a sprinter during high school or college.

Here is an email from a sprinter who needs to get into slower running shape to prepare for a running test when he joins the military:

Stew, do you have any advice on getting better at the 1.5-mile run? I was always a sprinter in high school and ran 200m, so I am fast, but not for long. I can keep a solid pace for the first half-mile, then the rest of the distance, I feel like I can't catch my breath and run slower. I think you write about goal-pace running, which I am trying to do. How do you determine a goal pace?

Getting into timed-run shape is different than running marathons and running short distances at full speed. It's similar to a degree, though. Running and building resilience to impact forces will help you with the typical injuries that those new to running tend to incur. All you need to do now is get in shape to run your goal-mile pace for the distance tested.

In the military, you tend to have the 1.5-mile timed runs (Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force), two-mile timed runs (Army) and three-mile timed runs (Marine Corps). There are four- and five-mile timed runs as you advance your training into the special ops training pipelines, but focusing on the 1.5-mile timed run is the first step for pre-military training.

Learning Goal Pace

Take your current 1.5-mile timed run. Let's say you are currently running it in 15 minutes. This is a 10-minute mile pace. You will want to get that time down to pass with above-average scores. Even though you can run 400 meters (a quarter-mile) in under 50 seconds as a sprinter, you need to slow your pace down to two minutes. If you can run a two-minute, 400-meter pace and string together five more, you will score a 12-minute, 1.5-mile run. That's an eight-minute mile pace. Try this workout to build up to that:

Repeat 6-8 times.

  • Run 400 meters in two minutes
  • Walk 100 meters (rest)

Try this workout every other day. You can add more running, biking or other cardio activities on the days between if you wish. However, you want to limit running too much, too soon, as you can get overuse injuries from running different paces (faster or slower) than you are accustomed to.

The next logical step is to add more distance at that pace and push the 800-meter and one-mile distances. These workouts look similar but maintain the pace longer.

Repeat 3-4 times.

  • Run 800 meters in four minutes
  • Walk 200 meters (rest)

Try running an eight-minute mile nonstop once you can string together a few sets of the 800-meter runs at your goal pace. You can do this as a warm-up or cooldown to a workout on any day of the week.

Once you have progressed to the 12-minute, 1.5-mile zone, the next progression of goal-pace running is to take this eight-minute mile pace and turn it into a seven-minute mile pace by running 15 seconds faster every 400 meters.

Now the workouts look like this progressively:

Repeat 6-8 times.

  • Run 400 meters in 1:45
  • Walk 100 meters (rest)

Repeat 3-4 times.

  • Run 800 meters in 3:30
  • Walk 200 meters (rest)

Try to run a seven-minute mile as a warm-up or cooldown to a workout once you improve enough to handle the above 400- and 800-meter workouts at that goal pace.

For many running athletes, slowing down to this new pace or speeding up to this new pace is a challenge that can be as tough as being new to running altogether. Practice taking these tests and learning the goal paces, as it is easy to think that running will be easy since you run track or marathons.

If you do not assess yourself, you are only guessing, so practice long before any official fitness test to understand where you are on your strengths and weaknesses.

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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