Personalize Your Running Program to Reflect Your Abilities

Sailors practice for physical readiness test.
U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Cagulada, military planner for Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), leads his fellow sailors to the halfway point of the 1.5-mile run during a practice physical readiness test (PRT) at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Feb. 24, 2017. (Master Sgt. Paul Gorman/U.S. Air National Guard)

Many people start a new training program after some time of not doing physical activity of any kind. If you are preparing for jobs that require significant running and rucking in the Marines, ArmyArmy RangerSpecial Forces and other branches of special operations, you should put together a plan that will allow you to progress logically from your current weekly volume, even if that volume is zero.

Jumping into advanced training programs without proper preparation will lead to common overuse injuries that can derail your training for months.

The first question is how many miles you ran (and rucked) the week before you started a new program. The next one is how many weeks have you been doing this many miles. That's because it's not just how far you ran, but how long you have been running at that level.

You may need to start off at square one with a beginner running plan, or you already may be doing so much running that you need a break to focus on other weaknesses, such as lifting, upper- and lower-body strength, and lower-body durability with load-bearing activities.

Generic training programs are meant to train for a specific goal, but the user may not be at the level where that program starts. In other words, you may have to alter the training plan to fit your current abilities by adjusting the total miles per week spent running or load-bearing.

If you are new to running or have not yet built the foundation of running you need to handle 10 to 15-plus miles per week, you may not be ready for most advanced running or special ops programs.

If that is where you are, do not do all the running included in the program you've started. Do the program but lower the running volume to your current level of running per week and then progress by adding 10%-15% in total volume each week.

The reason why you want to build up steadily is to avoid injury. Most people who jump right into running and rucking 4-5 miles to "see how I do" soon will be nursing at least one of the following:

Here is how to avoid the common overuse injuries:

Start off running only a mile per day for the first week (4-5 days). Running every other day is also an option for you if you have not run in many months or years. If you have no pain, increase by adding a mile to the following week. You can spread that out by running a few more 400-meter sets each day or doing a 1.5-mile run one or two days of the week. Continue with the 10%-15% (maybe 20% max) progression each week if you feel none of the pain listed above.

If that program causes pain, try only one mile every other day with non-impact cardio options.

If it still hurts, you may need to look at a few things:

  • Shoes: Get new running shoes built for running. Actual running shoes, not cross-trainers, walking shoes, tennis shoes or basketball shoes, but shoes made for runners.
  • Technique: Make sure you are not hard heel striking or running only on your toes. Learn how to run.
  • Non-impact: Just get your cardio from biking, rowing, swimming or elliptical until you do not have pain when you run. If you are overweight, that may mean losing weight before you start running.

In the end, it is best to realize that running is not easy. There is a reason why a large percentage of runners get injured every year. The definition of overdoing it is completely relative to your abilities and history in athletics and running. One person's warm-up run may be another person's overtraining as no running plan is made for everyone. It is best to include time in your training timeline to allow yourself to progress logically with running and give yourself even more time if you must add rucking to it as well. Train smart and when it comes to running and rucking by starting conservatively.

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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