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Running Distance vs. Running a Timed Run Fitness Test

Stew Smith, CSCS

Sometimes we think we are in shape because a “test looks easy” or “you were in shape in high school”, but many people fail to prepare for a fitness test and wind up realizing they need to change their training AND their thinking.  Check out this email:

Stew – I run all the time 4-5 days a week and usually get 25-30 miles a week, so I have a runner’s body.  I just tried out for the FBI fitness test for Special Agents and thought that the calisthenics and the run would be a joke.  Well, I was wrong.  I almost failed the 300m and the 1.5 mile runs and did fail the sit-ups.  What gives?  I thought I was in shape?

You know I get this often from people in sports – athletic shape also.  Training for a fitness test is just a different way to train.  It is not any harder just different.  But, basically to get better at taking fitness test, you need to practice taking fitness tests.  Otherwise, you are filled with unnecessary PFT anxiety prior to the test and you do not know how to prepare for the transitions of the PFT.

The fundamentals of taking a fitness test are the following:

1-     Add speed / pace workouts to your running so you are prepared for a timed run at a faster pace than a jog.  Good goals for men and men are 7-8 minute mile pace respectively.

2-     Prepare muscles by stretching prior to pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups type exercises. 

3-     Most importantly, prior to running / after calisthenics, get the blood back to your legs by warming up the legs by jogging, stretching upper body and legs. (transition training)

4-     Practice, practice, practice – you should take the test once a week to mark progress and see where you need to focus your next week workouts.  This will help you with the anxiety of the unknown of the test and the only butterflies you will be feeling is good competition adrenaline that will enhance your performance on test day.

Here is something to consider. 

Runner’s Body – You have a great foundation of distance but if you have not pushed your limits of speed just jogging several miles a week is not going to prepare you for timed runs where 6-7 minute mile paces are likely the competitive zone.  Add speed work like this:

Repeat 6-10 times
¼ mile run at GOAL pace (not a sprint)
rest 1 minute

The goal here is to learn the pace you need for the run event.  After you can do quarter miles, build up to half miles for 3-4 sets, and then miles for 2-3 sets.  The next thing you know, you are hitting sub 6-7 minute mile pace no problem.  The GOAL pace is to teach you the pace to train and to get comfortable at that pace for whatever distance you are being tested.

Football Players – Many football players and other athletes think 1.5 – 2 miles runs are long distance runs.  This is an adjustment as well.  Not only do you need a foundation of some distance running, but you need to slow down your 100m running pace to a slower pace suitable for standard timed runs.  The same workout above works well but you typically have to slow down to reach 1:45 quarter mile runs for a 7 minute mile pace.  This is easy at first but after 6- 8 sets of this it will challenge most of this body type.  Also building up to 3-5 miles runs over a few months is going to be helpful to transition from football / power athlete to military endurance tactical athlete.  See related article Spec Ops Prep

But for both groups, here is a great running plan that has helped many in the past to prepare for 1.5 -2 mile run tests:  6 Week Running Plan

For those of you who are just beginning to run after a long period of time of no activity due to injury or lack of motivation, here is where you need to start:

 Beginner Running Chart for people seeking to start an exercise plan and/or need to lose 20+ lbs:   (always start run workout with a quick 5:00 walk / light leg stretch).  I highly recommend the RUN / WALK method as you are learning to run.

IMPORTANT – get running shoes, not some old shoes you find in the back of your closet.  Check out – they are a great shoes store (great prices) but you will learn about good running shoes.

 Each Run Workout is to be done THREE times a week

Week 1

Walk 20-30 minutes / stretching entire body daily  (monitor weight loss*)

Week 2

Run 1:00 / Walk 1-2:00 for 20-30 minutes

Week 3

Run 1:00 / Walk 1:00 for 30 minutes (listen body as injuries occur this week**)

Week 4

3 Sets of Run 1:30 / Walk 1:30 | 3 Sets of Run 2:00 / Walk 1:00

Week 5

3 Sets of Run 2:30 / Walk 1:00 | 3 Sets of Run 2:00 / Walk 30 seconds

Week 6

4 Sets of Run 3:00 / Walk 1:30

Week 7

Run 1 mile / try non-stop / walk 1 mile fast

Week 8

Run / walk combo 2.5 miles  (from weeks 8-10 – try to run as much as you can)

Week 9

Run / walk combo 2.75 miles


Run / walk combo 3 miles

  • ** Typically injuries occur during running programs the 3rd week IF too aggressive with initial training

I hope this helps you with your running fitness testing but also help you learn how to build up to running longer distances, faster timed runs, and most of all just get healthier.


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