How to Get Ready for Timed Runs: Beginner Guide


Sometimes a running test comes quickly, especially if you have been nursing injuries, trying to lose weight or just trying to prepare while also getting shape in general. Here is a great question from a former Navy guy trying to prepare for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The test is the same as the current FBI fitness test.

Stew -- I just saw your video on preparing for the FBI and DEA test with Jeff Nichols. Great video, thanks. I recently lost 36 lbs., so I'm a little slow at running as I got injured after the Navy (four years). I have been mostly dieting and doing non-impact cardio and resistance training.

I have a fitness test in a month and another a few months later. I'm trying to get two minutes off of my 1.5-mile run. I started the workout in your DEA test prep article and tried setting my goal at 13:30 (1.5 mile run), and did six quarter-mile runs at 2:15. I got pretty winded after the third set, so I wanted to ask: Should I rest more between sets. Do you have any other helpful tips?

If you are setting a goal for a 1.5-mile timed run at 13:30, you need to consider yourself a beginner and not spend too much time (mileage) running to just run. Run with a purpose but limit your distance to 1-2 miles a day. There is no need to run 4-5 miles at a slow distance right now. You'll only hurt yourself running too much. On some days, I would recommend not running at all and doing hard bike workouts to work the lungs and the legs without the impact of running.

As you lose more weight, running will get easier for you, but you have to progress logically. Too many people jump right in where they left off before injury and wind up injured or, if they are lucky, just discouraged. Avoid injury and being discouraged by trying a plan like this:

(Note: If you are going to follow any book workout, article workout, etc., you have to personalize it to you or face either it being too hard or too easy. Add or subtract mileage according to your abilities.)

Let's take what you have built and create a better running foundation for you. Keep doing what you are doing, but if you feel you are running too much, try starting at a beginner foundation distance with a steady progression -- or replace a day of running with the bike pyramid or Tabata interval workout (listed below) in place of running that day.

For beginners: My suggestion is to start on a beginner running plan if you need to after a layoff or recovery from injury. Any day you feel pain, replace your run with bike.

Week 1: 1 mile a day five times a week (mix in a sprint day and goal pace running day, etc.)

Week 2: 1.25 miles a day five times a week

Week 3: Some people take off running this week to avoid an overuse injury. Just bike or elliptical and maybe one test day to see where you are on your timed run event.

Week 4: 1.5 miles a day five times a week (mix goal pace with intervals and steady runs)

Week 5: 1.75 miles a day five to six days a week (goal paced and intervals)

After the above base, you may be ready to get up to 10 miles a week.

As you only have five weeks, I know the above does not apply to you, but I would focus on goal paced running and intervals, alternating each day with a few no-run rest days thrown into the week.

Maybe try the following:

Monday: Run goal pace -- timed run event 1.5-2 miles total

Tuesday: Sprint intervals of 400 meters or smaller distances for 1.5-2 miles total

Wednesday: No running. Do bike pyramid or Tabata interval

Thursday: Run goal pace, 6-8 x 400-meter runs at goal mile pace for timed runs

Friday: Run faster than goal pace, 6-8 x 400-meter runs faster than goal pace with longer rests if needed.

Saturday: Run goal pace, timed run event 1.5-2 miles total

Sunday: Day off or mobility day

The goal with this type of running schedule is to get you in timed running shape quickly. After this, you can go on to a more progressive running plan and build up mileage that you will need when attending the FBI or DEA Academy.

Bike pyramid and Tabata interval non-impact workouts

You either can end a workout day with a bike pyramid or Tabata interval, or replace a running day with it if you feel the need to lay off running because of shin pain, foot pain, knee pain, etc.

Bike pyramid workout: On a bike that allows for increasing resistance, start off at level one for one minute. Then increase resistance 1-2 levels per minute on the minute. Keep the RPMs of the bike at 70-90 rpm. Once you are unable to peddle in the range, stop and rest one minute, then repeat in reverse order, making each minute easier on the minute until you get to where you started. This one takes typically 20 minutes if you increase by two levels each minute.

Tabata interval on bike, elliptical or rower: Try 15-20 minutes total time of doing 20 seconds sprint and 10 seconds of rest. Take an easy minute after every five minutes of intervals (20 to 10 seconds), if needed.

You also can see these other articles for a variety of running workouts and strategies during the week:

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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