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After 35 Years of Hating Running - Here Are Ten Lessons Learned

Stew Smith

My Love - Hate Relationship with Running and Lessons Learned Along the Way

Coming from a strength / power / speed / agility athletic history, anything over 100m of running was considered long distance. I thought - why run 3-4 miles for a workout when all I had to do was run a 100 yd field fast and some bases that were 90ft apart from each other? So I did not do long distance running in my early teens. One of the things that did get me to start running "long distance" of 1-2 miles was joining the military. Yes I thought 1-2 miles was long distance running. But, going to the Naval Academy was not the same as I also had to arrive in prime football shape - or so I thought.  

Showing up to Plebe Summer in football shape was a bad plan, but to be honest, I did not know any better. Long story short, I got my but handed to me with high repetition calisthenics and running - guess why? Because I did not practice high rep calisthenics and running. I lifted and sprinted all summer - got big, strong, and fast, but I actually failed my first fitness test of pushups, situps, and a 1 mile run. (only failed situps by 5) BUT, I maxed my second PT test so I figured how to get out in front of the curve in about six months, but it sucked. 

A few weeks before Plebe Summer (18 yrs old)

Also, I did not make the football team after losing 25 lbs after Plebe Summer and being mentally beaten down, but I found rugby. Rugby was what saved me at Navy.  Playing a tough sport with a great group of guys AND it required a lot more running. Soon, running 4-5 miles was no big deal (after a good 6 months of progressing) and hanging out with guys that wanted to be SEALs and Marines was what I needed. Their positive peer pressure made me better in all areas that was required of graduating the Naval Academy. They worked hard to do something that not a lot of people did to serve their country. My hatred for running slowly decreased to a strong dislike but I knew it was a necessary challenge for me to improve.

Running Plebe Year

Here are some things I learned along the way:

1 - Get good shoes - Running is tough on you - why make it harder on your feet, shins, knees, etc.  I found Brooks Beast to be helpful with 200+ lb runners historically, though I have tried others that were fine too. (UK Gear, Under Armour, Nike, etc). Usually injuries occurred from old shoes versus a type that I did not like. Keep track of how many miles you have done on your shoes and only run in your shoes - don't use them for walking also. Typical shoes will last 300-400 miles. Though I did take a pair of UK Gear PT1000 to 1000 miles one year and did fine. 

2 - Learn HOW to Run - This is critical to future running development. Most people just run and do fine with their natural gait, but some people do not. Here is something I learned a while ago and wrote an article on the Evolution of Running as over the last 35 years different styles have been created.  Do you Chi, Pose, Mid foot, heel roll, barefoot run? Can you hear yourself running? See link to article and linked videos as well. Find one that works for you. 


3 - Learn HOW to Breathe - Just as important as footwear and technique, breathing is the key to you breaking personal records and achieving a goal pace to help you win races or be competitive on PT tests. Breathing in a rhythm is critical as too many people are huffing and puffing with no cadence / sequence of inhales to exhales. Personally, I have found that inhales for 2-3 steps and exhale for 2-3 steps keeps you on a nice in/out rhythm that will help you keep the heart rate lower while you push harder. Inhaling through the nose and out through the mouth is not only a good idea in cold air, it is helpful year round. See the book the Oxygen Advantage by Patrick McKeown to better understand why / how that works. 

4 - AVOID Caffeine Prior to Running Races (timed runs) - When the goal is to run fast and push a high heart rate to crush a fitness test of 1.5,2,3, or 4 mile distances as in the tactical professions, the last thing you need is to do is artificially jack up your heart rate. You could actually be close to anaerobic heart rate zone before you even start to run if you take something with over 100mg of caffeine. Depends on your sensitivity, but this is only a few cups of coffee, one energy drink - some energy drinks have 200-300mg of caffeine. You will likely run worse because of this OR you can actually cause yourself to have a heart attack and die. Unfortunately, this recommendation is written in blood as people die this way. 

5 - Strength Training and Running Faster - Sure you can work on your sprint / agility speed when lifting heavy (legs), but if you are trying to increase running distance and goal pace speed for timed runs (1.5-4 miles distances), you will do neither well if done together. Take some time off the heavy lifts if your goal is to get faster timed runs for selection PT tests that require 6 minute mile pace to be considered good. But you can still do leg workouts but with body weight as the thing you are working on is cardio endurance and muscle stamina.  Mix in squats, lunges, hills, and/or soft sand to work the lungs and the legs so they will be better at building up to and maintaining a faster pace for longer distances. 
See how we break up the year so you can focus on muscle stamina and cardio endurance together (Spring / Summer) and then focus on strength / power / speed agility (Fall / Winter).  We also work to maintain cardio base during the Winter months as well as maintain some strength during the Summer month;s training cycles. If your goal is to get good at everything, consider the Stew Smith Seasonal approach as you build your base in elements that are weaknesses today. 

6 - Variety is the Key - Unless you are focused on a specific sport that requires explosive speed, medium or long distances, you may want to consider doing a variety of running to help you with keeping a moderate amount of miles that challenge all energy systems - here is my cycle that also breaks up the monotony of just running during running cycles:

Monday - 400m goal pace intervals mixed with upper body PT (3-4 miles total)
Tuesday - Easy pace warmup, hill fast runs, spring / jogs with leg PT (6 miles total distances)
Wednesday - 800m goal pace intervals mixed with upper body PT (3-4 miles total)
Thursday - Mobility Day - Bike, stretch, foam roll, massage tools
Friday - Beach Run with leg PT (3-4 miles)
Saturday - Longer run, Endurance Course, O Course Running with Upper body PT / Lift afterwards. (usually 5-7 miles)
Sunday - Sometimes I will do an early AM ruck for 4-5 miles, but usually this is a rest day from running. 

This is my Spring / Summer cycle that typically puts me in the 25-30 miles per week range. Sometimes we boost to 35 miles but we do not stay there for long. 

7 - Logical Progressions - YOU have to progress gently into running. You cannot start off on Day 1 with a 5 mile run out of no where. Well - you can but typically this comes with some overuse injuries. Remember someone's workout is someone else's warmup - make sure you build up over time.  A good progression is 10-15% in time or miles added per week until you get to your goal distance, time, speed, etc. 

8 - Sprinting As You Age - Sprinting in my teens and twenties was fun to push your 100% of your abilities. However, if you want to avoid pulling something (hamstring, hip muscles, calves / achilles) avoid 100% speed effort as you age.  Now, after 40 years old, 80% is my new 100% and I do not pull muscles anymore as it seems I cannot warmup enough to push full 100% sprinting. One of the tires seems to fall off somewhere in that 90-100% effort range. 

9 - Stretch / Mobility Work - Do DAILY!  You need to stretch often and this can be a mix of static stretches or dynamic stretches but move your joints around often throughout the day - especially if you run in the morning and sit on your butt the rest of the day.  Take a day like my Thursday Mobility Day too each week. It is life changing! 

10 - Finally - Find Softer Ground - I have found that since my pool is still closed due to COVID19, I have been running more at a distance that is greater than my typical progression of the last 20+ years of doing Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization. Because of this great mileage, I made it a point to get new shoes, and do most of the running on softer than concrete ground:  grass, dirt, sand, and turf. This helps tremendously well for making the impact of running a little less of a pounding. 

In Closing - Eventually, running became a love - hate relationship. Basically, I still love to hate it, but after learning to run faster, longer, and better over the years, it is not as bad as it was 30-35 yrs ago. I actually can tolerate it now as it is a great way to burn calories. 

Running Plans - All books and ebooks will contain some form of progressive running plan and some with rucking depending on your goals.  But here are some links to running:

Special Ops Running / Rucking Plan (advanced)

1.5-2 mile Running Plan (PDF free) (steeper progression - intermediate /advanced)

3 mile running plan (PDF free) - Advanced

Beginner Running Plan (article / free) - Easy / every other day progression


 Where We Train Daily and Get Ideas to Write New Workouts!

The Heroes of Tomorrow program was developed by former Navy SEAL Stew Smith, fitness author.  We can help prepare you for ANY profession that requires a Physical Fitness Test and YOU pay nothing for the training!  Warning - it is rather advanced but we can scale it back a bit and teach running and swimming techniques and help you build up to your goal level of fitness.

Complete List of Books and eBooks Specifically Designed For Your Tactical Profession Goals



Navy SEAL Workout Phase 1 Beginner Weeks 1-9 
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 2 - 3 - Intermediate Weeks 1-12
Navy SEAL Workout Phase 4 Grinder PT - Four weeks before Hell Week

Navy SEAL Weight Training Book
Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness Book

The Pipeline of Training Options: 


It depends:  The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness is a classic and focuses on high rep calisthenics and running and swimming base.  You will build up your running over 12-18 weeks to 20 miles but very fast paced focus on both the 1.5 mile run for the PST and the 4 mile timed run for weekly run test at BUDS. If you are an athlete with a strong power / strength background in lifting and not running or swimming, Navy SEAL Fitness is ideal for you. IF you need some place to start Navy SEAL Fitness is ideal for you as well because a calisthenics base / running / swimming progression is a good place to build a foundation.  Though you will likely need to spend some time in the Navy SEAL Weight Training Book OR if Navy SEAL FItness is too challenging, go with Navy SEAL SWCC, EOD, Diver, PST Phase 1 Workout.  Phase 1 is a good starting point if Navy SEAL Fitness program is too tough. 

Navy SEAL Weight Training - This is part two (winter lifting phase) of my SEAL Prep program. If you have done the Navy SEAL Fitness (12 weeks to BUDS) program a few times and need a break, this is the next program that integrates lifting with the Navy SEAL Prep training. This is ideal for people who have come from an endurance athlete background.  Athletes like swimmers and runners will also require some strength training as you will be exposed to challenges under logs and boats during the first phase and many miles of rucking 50+ lbs of backpacks and gear in 2nd and 3rd phases of BUDS.  Do not skip lifting in your year of training prep.  However, if you are coming from a powerlifting / football background, supplementing a few lifts into your endurance / muscle stamina focus plan is something you may enjoy especially if training for a year or more during your prep phase. 

Navy SEAL / SWCC, EOD, Diver Program Series - Phase 1 is what I call a beginner guide, but it is still challenging.  It is geared toward those who are scoring minimally or failing their Navy PST test - 500yd swim, pushups, situps, pullups, 1.5 mile run.  It is easier than The Complete Guide to Navy SEAL Fitness and a good prep course before attempting it. 

Phase 2 and 3 of the Navy SEAL / SWCC, EOD, Diver program is about the same level of intensity as Navy SEAL Fitness and is also a good follow-up plan after Phase 1

Phase 4 ot the Navy SEAL Key to Mental Toughness is by far my toughest workout ever created.  It resembles a day of BUDS, complete with "wet and sandy", runs after eating, high rep punishment push-ups, 4 mile timed runs, 2 mile swims with fins, log PT simulation, and even a HellWeek Simulator with 3 workouts a day.  

Tactical Fitness Series - Tactical Fitness, Tactical Strength, and Tactical Mobility is an ALL-encompassing program that focuses on lifting, calisthenics, run, ruck, swim, speed, agility, and flexibility / mobility. Many people focusing on USMC (OCS, RECON, MarSOC) Army Ranger / SF, Air Force Special Warfare, SWAT / Federal Law Enforcement, and Navy Special Warfare have done very well focusing on the Tactical Fitness Series and developing themselves into an all-round Tactical Athlete

Tactical Fitness - At the core of this program is the Tactical Fitness Test which measures 12 standards for your physical capacity, including: cardiovascular conditioning, strength, muscle coordination, and stamina. Tactical fitness means having the skills needed to save lives and extend the limits of your endurance whether you are in the military, police, firefighting professions, or just an everyday hero. Also featured in the Tactical Fitness Test called the Dirty Dozen.

Tactical Strength - Tactical Strength is the lifting program used by Stew Smith and his Military, Police, Fire Fighter fitness program called the Heroes of Tomorrow. It is designed to build strength in the upper body, legs, and core to prepare you better for any load bearing activity (rucking, boat carry, log PT, etc). The program also does not neglect cardiovascular activity and will end workouts with rucking or swimming (or other non impact options (row, bike, elliptical) if needed. The cardio workouts will be quick and fast focusing more on speed and agility than long slow distance. We also use the Tactical Strength Test to test elements of speed, agility, and strength / power.

Tactical Mobility is a comprehensive fitness guide for greater mobility, flexibility, and performance—designed for the men and women serving in military, special ops, law enforcement, emergency services. Tactical Mobility is a perfect fit for any fitness program as a stand alone "Mobility day" supplemented into your regular routine and will help you reach the pain free level of fitness. Gaining flexibility and mobility is the goal of the program and it will help with performance and help reduce injuries.

The Warrior Workout Series - If you are solid with making your own workouts, but need some ideas.  This three part series has 300 workouts (100 / book) to pick from focusing on all the elements of fitness and training programs. Each book is organized with periodization cycles in mind along with calisthenics only, weights / calisthenics mix, cardio options and more. Warrior Workout 1   -  Warrior Workout 2  -   Warrior Workout 3. 

And many more options as well as personalized training programs (online PT CLUB) and the new members only program: (click.)


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