Tuesday, March 23, 2004



Some people out there just got excited…

They thought about running through the silence that permeates the neighborhood at 0530. Enjoying the absence of activity before the rest of the world wakes up and they have to start their real work for the day. Feeling the kinks and stiffness leave their muscles as they warm up and begin to really stretch their stride…wanting more speed and anticipating the point where they level out into the gray area between too much pain and not enough effort. They run and feel more alive than they will for the rest of the day at work.

The rest of us just groaned…

We drag ourselves out of bed knowing that we will run because we have to. It’s as much a part of our job as grading papers for a teacher or making cold calls for a salesman.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love to run…most of the time. But it’s a fact that in the Army you don’t have the option of running just when you feel like it, or when you are motivated or healthy or happy. You will run sick. You will run hung over. You will run tired, angry, sad and hurt. You will run because part of your job description is maintaining a level of fitness which will enable you to deal with the rigors of combat at all times.

For those of us who have been doing this for a significant part of our lives, it’s really not that big a deal. This post is concerned primarily with new or future soldiers who are unsure of how to get started and achieve a level of fitness which will allow them to excel in Basic Training and stay in shape until the Drill Sergeant takes over all aspects of their life (lol).

Getting Started…

I am writing this post in response to a question from a future soldier who told me she has been walking to school about 30 minutes each day. This is a good way to start if you have never been athletic before. You don’t have to walk for long but it is a good idea to begin loosening and toughening your muscles and ligaments before you take off at a dead sprint. On the other hand, if you have been athletic in high school you can probably start jogging at a light easy pace with little risk of injury. The idea here is to make sure you have a good foundation to build on before you start really pushing yourself.

Since you don’t really have anyone telling you when to run yet, figure out for yourself when you feel most motivated and really want to run. For me this is usually right before or right after nightfall…preferably before dinner. If you have to run after you eat, eat light and give yourself at least an hour or so before you take off. You can run whenever you want, but the main thing is to get into a routine. There will be times when you don’t really feel like running, especially after a few days when the new has worn off and your commitment begins to fade. Running at the same point in the day goes a long way toward preparing yourself mentally and helping you stick with it until the day comes ( and it will) when you start to look forward to it instead of dreading it.

Running is as much a mental exercise as it is physical. Your body can almost always take you farther than you think it can. It’s your mind that tells you to quit. It’s your mind that begins to make excuses for you as you start to get tired. Fight this tendency, either by just clearing your mind and refusing to even consider stopping, or by actively finding ways to enjoy yourself. Look around and enjoy the scenery. Sing a song inside your head. If you have an area where you can do so safely, listen to headphones.


This is my favorite way to run, but DO NOT wear headphones in a high traffic area, and always run facing oncoming traffic if you wear them on the road. Headphones keep you from hearing cars and if you decide to take a left in front of a vehicle you don’t know is there…have no doubt that the vehicle will win. For this reason, it is always (in my experience) against regulations to wear them while running on military installations. You should also never run on the road without wearing a reflective belt or vest. If you don’t have one yet, be sure to at least wear bright colored or white clothing so that drivers can see you from a distance.

Avoid overtraining…

This is simple. If it hurts…keep going. If you are hurt…stop. There is a difference between a general type of hurt that means your body is being pushed and stressed in the interest of better fitness, and a specific isolated pain that means a twisted ankle or a strained tendon or pulled muscle. You will absolutely be sore, especially at first while your body adjusts to the new level of physical stress placed on it. But if pain persists in a particular area for more than a few days, you need to take a short break and let it rest for a few days before you push it again. Don’t let your body psyche you out. It’s easy for beginners to convince themselves that they are injured, because deep down they don’t like pushing themselves for the first time in their life. But if you are unsure… play it safe. I know this might sound contradictory but I want you to be aware of both sides of the situation. Don’t push yourself to the point where you show up for basic training with a nagging injury, because this greatly reduces your chances of finishing BCT with the rest of your cycle. (And it’s a pain in the ass for us)

You should also put serious thought into your choice of shoes. You don’t have to buy the most expensive pair on the market, but go to a good running oriented shoe store and spend some time with the salesman. Have him tell you what type of foot/arch you have and which shoes will benefit you and protect your feet the most. If he can’t tell you this convincingly, he sucks and you should go to a better salesman or a better store. Running in the wrong type of shoes won’t cripple you immediately, but can have long term consequences…especially once you start running regularly.

Different types of running…

In the beginning you will most likely want to just jog at a relatively easy pace for awhile. Like I said before, you need to work your way up instead of jumping in at full speed and taking a chance on injury. Once you have a good pace built up, you can vary several factors to give you a decent level of fitness fairly quickly. Start by running the same distance, probably no more than two or three miles, at a slightly faster pace. Use a stopwatch or wristwatch to keep track of your time. Don’t sprint just yet. Set a goal for yourself and work your way up to it. As an 18-21 year old female in decent shape, this should probably be around 17-18 minutes for two miles right before you show up for BCT. As an 18-21 year old male you should shoot for around 15-16 minutes. If you don’t hit this goal…don’t worry, most don’t. You will still do fine once we get hold of you, but this is a good goal that will ensure you have no problems once you’re here.

If you feel like this is starting to be too easy and you want to really work on speed, you can begin to do either Fartlek runs or Interval running. A Fartlek run incorporates varying speeds on whatever course you’re using. It originated on winding trails (In Europe I think) where runners would sprint the straight-aways and then jog on the winding parts of the trail. Running Intervals is an awesome way to improve speed. You simply alternate laps around a track, sprinting one lap and then jogging one lap. There are specific times outlined in FM 21-20, but the principle is to push yourself at around 80-90% effort for a quarter mile…and follow it up with a very easy recovery lap.


Your runs should be around 20 minutes to begin with, including warm up time. (Always warm up before you start to push yourself). You need to run around this long to really get any significant cardiovascular benefit. Once you can do this fairly easily, start lengthening your time until you can run at least 30 minutes at a decent pace. This conditions your cardiovascular system to function more efficiently while exerting more effort.

Once again, most of all don’t push yourself hard enough to hurt yourself. I would rather have you show up out of shape than with a nagging injury. Hell, 80% of the privates who show up here prepared for BCT by stuffing their fat faces with enough Twinkies and soda to choke Michael Moore. Once you belong to us, we’ll get you in shape.

Disclaimer: This is my advice to you as a runner and writer… not necessarily as a Drill Sergeant in the US Army. This is not an official publication of the US Army, and in the interest of me not being fired, if you step in front of a car like a dumbass, or your heart explodes like a meat grenade, don’t come sue me or anything lol.


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