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.
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)
Beginner Running Plan (article / free) - Easy / every other day progression
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When you start training again, consider the seasonal tactical fitness model. I call it A WAY to train and obviously not the only way to train. But it offers the opportunity to never neglect your weaknesses, helps with flexibility and mobility, but will also put you at a level of physical abilities where you are happy with your overall ability to do just about anything. We have a system where the seasons dictate our training. When it is nicer outside, we tend to run and do more calisthenics. When it is colder and not so nice, we lift more, run less, and still maintain our outdoor activities with shorter runs and rucks. Check it out: Seasonal Tactical Fitness Periodization System.
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Army / Air Force Advanced Fitness / Special Ops
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