February 28, 2017, by Dan Chabert – Deciding to enlist in the military isn’t a decision that many people take lightly. Aside from the obvious inherent risks involved in joining the military, folks who enlist willingly decide to change the course of their lives so that they may honorably serve their country.
For many enlistees, however, the most immediate changes in their lives begin well before they show up to their first day of basic training. Each branch of the military has its own separate Personal Fitness Test (PFT), and most of them involve the following components:
- Pull-ups (for some branches)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, most enlistees describe that the most challenging part of the PFT is the running component. Over the years, American society has become increasingly sedentary, and while there are obviously still good-sized segments of the population who regularly work-out and run, by and large, most Americans don’t. I’m a runner by trade and have been running marathons for over a decade, and while of course I have many friends who run as often (or more) than I do, most of the people in my life are not runners and are not in any sort of physical shape to be able to run. It’s not that they can’t be runners; it’s simply that, right now in their present life situations, they’re not.
If you’re planning to enlist in the armed forces then and see that you have a running test staring you down, it’s likely that you’ll want to begin making some intentional changes to your life well before you show up for Day One. In other words, you’ll probably stand to benefit from training yourself – getting yourself in shape – so that you can show up on Day One ready to be trained (and tested) by the military. Fortunately, running is an incredibly versatile and incredibly accessible sport and hobby, so provided you have a safe place to run – outside or inside, it doesn’t matter – and a good pair of shoes, you can get yourself ready to roll.
Below, I’ll list some general tips to remember as you begin to run for the first time in your life (or maybe for the first time in a long while). While generic in nature, I’m convinced that these tips will serve you well as you embark on your pre-training training. They are as follows:
Ease into things. One of the most common problems new and seasoned runners alike have is that they want to go from 0 mph to 100. If you haven’t run ever in your life, or even if it has been a long time, do not expect that you’ll be able to effortlessly hit the ground running (literally). It’s likely that you may not even be able to get half a mile down your street before needing to catch your breath or walk. Thinking that you can go from being a sedentary non-runner to an all-star, super speedster is both unrealistic and a great way to set yourself up for injury. Just don’t do it.
Build your fitness by run-walking. As you make cardiovascular gains in your running, consider incorporating a run-walk strategy in your runs. This is a strategy that’s very common among marathoners, and the formula is as complicated as you want it to be. Casually (and comfortably) run for 2 minutes, and then walk for 1 minute, and repeat. Over time, you may find that you can eke out your run segment to 3 minutes, or 4 minutes, or 5 minutes, while still also keeping your 1 minute walk period. Since running and walking use your muscles and cardiovascular systems in different ways, incorporating a run-walk strategy into your training, particularly when you are first beginning running, can be an excellent way for you to both ease into things and mitigate any injury risk from going out too hard, too fast, too soon.
Keep your runs comfortable and chatty, even. Many people think that runners only run at 100% of their speed – in other words, full-out sprinting – every single time they go out for a run. The reality, of course, is quite the opposite. Most of your runs should be really casual and comfortable, and you should be able to talk pretty easily (if not also sing!). The exception, of course, would be on some of your more anaerobic-based runs (like intervals or repeats), but otherwise, keep it casual and fun.
Different branches of the American military use different distances for the PFT run. They are:
- 1.5 miles: Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force
- 2 miles: Army
- 3 miles: Marine Corps.
Regardless of the distance of your PFT, since these are considered short runs (though they may not seem short to you when you’re first getting started), it’ll be imperative that you include some form of interval or speed-based training into your running once you have established some cardiovascular fitness. There are tons of resources available online that outline specific interval workouts that you can use to help augment your speed, and in addition, you might even want to consider hiring a running coach who’ll help you get in tip-top shape for your PFT – particularly if you are especially fearful of the running portion of your PFT.
Finally, when you are first beginning a running routine, you may find that you are beset with lots of little aches and pains, minor niggles that don’t really hurt, per se, but are pretty annoying. Many runners become guilty of just running, to the detriment of other exercises, and over time, they develop overuse injuries. Don’t be a typical runner! Instead, be proactive with your running training and take the time each week to do some prehab exercises by using some runner-specific tools like massage sticks, foam rollers, or oversized lacrosse or softballs to roll, stretch, and lengthen your probably-tight running muscles.
If your minor niggles seem to never go away, though, nip the problem in the bud and seek professional help from a physical therapist or a sports medicine physician right away. Running through pain should not be an option for you – and especially as you’re in the throes of getting fit for your PFT and military basic training. Again, a lot of runners are somewhat stupid in this regard and insist on racking up the miles each week, even when they’re feeling major aches and pains coming on, so don’t let that be you. Put your pride aside – even if only temporarily – and if something doesn’t seem right, get it checked out right away.
Getting your body and mind ready to be able to handle the rigors of military training is an honorable and ambitious quest, and even if you’ve never called yourself “a runner” before you begin this phase of your life, you might be surprised at how much you learn about yourself during running. Dare I say that over time, you might even come to enjoy it (and all the great benefits it brings to your life). Take things slowly though, pace yourself, and keep things easy (more often than not), and in time – perhaps with a little coaching – you’ll be able to toe the line at your PFT confident in your ability to deliver.
About the Author: An entrepreneur and a husband, Dan Chabert hails from Copenhagen, Denmark. He loves to join ultramarathon races and travel to popular running destinations together with his wife. During regular days, he manages his websites, Runnerclick, The Gear Hunt, Monica’s Health Magazine and GearWeAre. Dan has also been featured in several popular running blogs across the world.