Sunday, October 18, 2015

Crush the Run on Your Next Military Physical Fitness Test

(Mo Farah and Galen Rupp go 1-2 in the 2012 Olympic 10k. Many years, thousands of miles, lots of heartache and self-doubt proceed Olympic victory. You don't need to do any of that to run your best 1.5 mile PT test.)

Two years ago I was overweight, out of shape and had developed permanent plantar fasciitis in both feet. This didn't happen overnight, over one month or one year. For ten years, my times had slipped little by little until I was running nearly three minutes slower. And I was caught in a vicious cycle. Unable to run much because of the pain in my feet I got heavier. The extra weight added more stress to my injured feet and made them even less able to sustain the impact of running; more pounds-->less running-->more pounds-->less running, etc.  

Thanks to some good orthotics I approached my most recent fitness test with some ability to run and a few months to train. From October 2014 until my fitness test in Jan 2015 I followed the program detailed below. Being fat and injured forced me to think about training in a different way. When I was 20 years old and a college cross-country runner I could have fixed my problem by running 60-80 miles a week with intervals, hills and strength training. That was untenable for lots of reasons. The program below worked for me and I think it could work for a lot of other military folks looking to do better on their 1.5-3.0 mile run (Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines). It's simple and efficient but it's not "easy". Running focused workouts that are typically less than 30 minutes a couple times a week will give you all the boost you need to crush your next physical fitness run.  

The Workouts
With the exception of #5 (Long Run), I presume that you warm up for 5-15 min running and doing body weight exercises like squats, sit-ups, pushups, etc. and you cool down for 5-10min running/walking. Workouts 1-4 should take only 25-30min max including the warmup and cool-down. Remember, be efficient.

Take 1-2 days off between each workout. If you're still lifting, cycling, swimming or on the basketball team then definitely take 2 days off between runs. You can get all you need out of this program doing two running workouts a week.

1. 20min Tempo Run: This is a sustained run at about 70-80% max effort. You should finish feeling like you did a good hard run but not wiped out. Using a heart rate monitor would be useful to ensure that you don't go too hard but it's not required. It should be at a pace faster than normal but never in doubt that you can finish it. Suggest doing 10min the first time, 12 min the second time, 14, 16, 18, and finally 20min. No need to go over 20min unless you're a Marine and training for a 3mile run. If that's so then I suggest continuing to 25min.

2. 2x10min Effort: These are two hard intervals  (85-90% effort) with 3-5min of rest between each. Walk and jog for the recovery period. Start by doing 2x6min, then 2x8 min, then 2x10min. After you've done 2x10min then start shortening the rest period. Once you're well conditioned you should be able to do this with 2-3min recovery feeling ready to rock the second interval. I consider this as much a mental workout. It really forces me to focus for a length of time similar to the time needed to run a fast 1.5. I try and imagine keeping my foot on an imaginary accelerator. When I'm feeling tired and my foot starting to slip off the pedal then I focus on keeping the pedal depressed and trying to make my stride as smooth as possible. 

3. Fartlek Run: 25mins continuous doing 5 rounds of 3min hard (80% effort) and 2 min jogging (60% effort). No walking. Recover on the run. If you have to walk after the 3min hard interval then you're going too hard. The rest interval IS the workout. You're training your body to recover from the effort. Start with 2-3. 2min hard/3 min recovery then progress to 3-2 as you become more fit. When I do this I like to think about shifting a car from 4th gear to 2nd gear and back. The car never comes to a stop and never goes so hard that it blows up. 
(Speed kills. Just ask World Record holder David Rudisha and World Champion Jenny Simpson)

4. 10x1min Hard: 1min fast intervals (90% effort) with 1:00 of walk/jog recovery. You should run smooth and powerful but don't go crazy. One minute rest will seem short and seem to get shorter. Again, the recovery IS the workout. Go a little easier on your fast interval if you can't seem to recover in one min. This is a fast workout but you're not training to be Usain Bolt. You're training to be Shannon Rowberry and David Rudisha. First time do 8x1min with 90 sec of recovery. Then 10x1min with 90 seconds of recovery. And finally 10x1min with 1min recovery. 

5. Long Run: Build up to a 45min continuous easy run, maybe to 60min if you're not injury prone. This should be an easy effort. You should be able to carry on a conversation during the run. A long run will help build your heart and lung capacity but without lots of pounding on the joints. I didn't do any long runs in my 2014 preparation but I'm adding it in this year because I think it will help.   

Repeat! This five workout cycle could be completed every two weeks. This schedule gives lots of recovery between workouts. If you did this cycle 6 times (roughly 3 months) you will do very well on your physical fitness run.

Principals-Why does this work?
1. Efficiency: When I designed this plan I didn't start by asking how much time I could possible commit to training and then fill up a calendar. I started by asking how LITTLE I could train to hit my goal AND not get injured. I needed to run enough to get faster but not so much that I would end up aggravating my foot or worse. 

2. Train With A Purpose: Don't run just to run. Have a specific effect you're trying to create in your body and mind. Keep it short and manageable. Running with no plan is a great way to burnout. Focus. Every run should count towards your goal. My plan does not include lots and lots of running. The workouts will make you better and force you to focus for up to 20 minutes to mentally prepare for the physical fitness run. 

3. Avoid Physical and Mental Burnout: Don't get injured. Your body will tell you if you're doing too much. You can always increase the number of rest days. Doing 2 workouts a week is fine. You'll get better. The best way to tell if you're mentally burned out is to ask yourself if you're excited and looking forward to running that day. If you're feeling flat and unenthusiastic about running then your ruck is too heavy and you need to take more rest days. Rope a buddy into doing this with you. Be like the Kenyans.

I'm following this exact program right now. By getting my eating under control and using a stair master I was able to work down from 9:50 to 9:17 in 2014. Then I started these workouts this schedule and followed it very closely for 3.5 months. My run went down to 8:53 in January 2015. Doing these five workouts, using racing flats during the test and getting my weight down to 185 I plan to run under 8:30 for 1.5 miles in January 2016. The fastest I've ever run as an officer was 8:23 in 2006.

If you try the program, let me know. I'd love to hear your results and how it worked for you.      

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