I can remember early on in my military career having delusions of grandeur – actually it dates back to shortly before taking my oath of enlistment. My recruiter told me to start exercising regularly to prepare for boot camp, since I’d be shipping out in a matter of weeks. I told him not to worry as I lit a cigarette, filling my grungy lungs with black tar.
Staying true to my word, I decided to run around my neighborhood later that day. I took off running up the street from my house, reaching the top of the hill and turning down another road to begin my loop around the block, trusting what I was sure to be a human’s innate ability to feel when the body has run exactly a mile and a half. My overly ambitious sprint at the beginning of the run lulled to a jog and then eventually one of those weird mall-walking struts as I rounded turn three of my arbitrary course. Panting, I gave myself a victorious “atta boy” and walked home.
Later on, I decided to calibrate my “internal odometer” using my car’s odometer (I could have run more than a mile and a half, after all – maybe even three miles or more!). But I was sorely disappointed as my car eased around the final turn; I was shocked to discover I had barely run a quarter mile.
Where did I go wrong? I’m proud to say that after years in the military, I’ve learned a few things to help me not only bear the brunt of preparing for PT tests, but to actually start enjoying it.
Knowing the reason why you’re running before you start can help you establish a regular running routine. Do you want to improve your PT test run time? Or better yet, are you ready to stop sneaking by the base 5k table on the way to chow and maybe sign up?
A better run time or participating in an organized race is a great motivator for sticking to a regular routine, which brings me to my next point.
Create a running schedule
Once you’ve established your goal, it’s time to plan your path for reaching it.
“Most people, I tell them, start 90 days out,” said Kenneth Duhart, 94th Airlift Wing exercise physiologist. “Ninety days to success. Ninety days to excellence.”
Giving yourself enough time to ease into running will make it less stressful. As you get closer to your goal -- about eight weeks out -- you can then increase the intensity and get more competitive with run times and performance, Duhart said.
There are also loads of resources online for creating a weekly schedule that includes moderate increases in speed, distance, etc. If you’re preparing for your PT test, Duhart recommends the following schedule.
“Run the mile and a half twice a week and do your pushups and sit-ups. Between those two runs, run a mile but sprint through the straightaways and jog through the curves. This will increase your foot speed.”
Location. Location. Location.
When I first started running, I would run around my apartment complex’s parking lot. Needless to say, it left a lot to be desired regarding scenery.
Having a great running location can help keep you motivated to follow your new schedule. Search for nearby parks, trails, and greenways. These locations can even serve as mini-vacations (a stretch I know, but bear with me). Each Friday I look forward to running in a local park after work. It’s one of my favorite places, so I’m constantly looking forward to it throughout the week.
Don’t overdo it
It might be tempting to “go for the gusto” and take full advantage of your newfound motivation for running and to really push it to the limit on your first few runs. A schedule won’t do you any good if you’re physically injured and can’t run. If running is too painful at first and you find yourself quickly approaching your limit, slow it down a bit and walk; however, keep challenging yourself to walk less and less as you set out to achieve your weekly goals.
But how do you know how much more to challenge yourself? Navy Seal David Goggins recommends the “40% rule.” His rule states that when doing extraneous exercise and you feel like you’re running out of gas, you typically have about 60% left in the tank. So, to borrow from this idea, if you find yourself only being able to run a half mile your first week of running, try running at least three quarters of a mile the next.
On the flipside, you also don’t want to underdo it. Once you start, try to run consistently so that you don’t regress.
According to Duhart, many people get started on a consistent schedule to prepare for a PT test, but then they stop running about a week before the event since they’ll be running for the test anyway.
“Do not do that,” Duhart advised. “You’ll regress quickly. Continue working up to a day before the test. The day before, you don’t want to go all out, but go on a nice walk or something like that.”
Make it enjoyable
Consistency is key to any workout routine, said Duhart. To maintain consistency, you have to enjoy running. There are a few ways of making running an appealing activity rather than an appalling chore.
One of the greatest benefits of running is that it can be coupled with other enjoyable activities. For instance, I sometimes run while listening to a favorite album, audiobook or podcast. To really keep yourself motivated, only allow yourself to listen to these favorites while running so that you can reward yourself for doing something good.
Following these tips can help put you on the right path to building a passion for running. As you run more, you’ll identify your individual areas of weakness and begin focusing on making specific improvements. The most important thing to remember is to keep running on a regular schedule no matter what. Speaking of which, it’s time for me to go for my weekly 5K run – verified first by my car’s odometer, of course.