Aspiring US Army trainees are currently preparing for the Army’s fitness Field Test, which demands a required volume of push ups and sit ups, as well as a 2 mile run.
Male entrants age 17-22 are expected to run 2 miles at a pace around 8:00-8:15 per mile while female entrants age 17-22 are asked for closer to 8:15-8:30 per mile. Older enlistees are given more leeway on pace times, but those are the baseline benchmarks.
There is a new version of the test slated for an October 2020 rollout, with more requirements that will thus scale back the expectations on the run. But the run will still remain a daunting task for many aspiring enlistees, especially following the strength portion of the test.
For runners, this part of the Field Test is not a big deal (though of course the other strength requirements might be!). But most aspiring enlistees are not runners by trade, and for most non-runners (even those who excel at strength training) the act of running just a mile seems like a somewhat heroic feat. Running 2 miles seems doubly tough. Add in the exercise tests you have to pass before the run, and now the 2 mile run seems like a herculean feat for many.
Someone who runs regularly to begin with would have little to no trouble nailing the Army’s time requirements, even if they struggled with the other exercises. Even with no speedwork, running an 8 minute mile over 2 miles becomes a lot easier for most young adults once you’ve been running a lot.
Of course, it’s a little late for me to give training advice if your Field Test is right around the corner. Ideally you should have already been running at least 6 miles a week, if not a lot more, along with your other strength training. And running at your goal pace, even if difficult, should not be uncharted territory.
The more time you have to prepare, the less you need to train at the desired goal pace. Your main objective in training is to develop aerobic fitness, and once you have that fitness your pace generally improves as the habit of running also develops your neuromuscular fitness. Running faster over longer periods becomes more comfortable as you improve aerobic and neuromuscular fitness.
First of all, you need to figure out your goal pace as well as your current running pace. The goal pace is simply the desired 2 Mile time divided in half. For example, a 17:00 goal time requires an 8:30 mile pace (17 / 2 = 8.5).
Your ideal goal mile-pace should not be the bare minimum required to pass with a 50. You should pick a goal pace that’s about 10 seconds faster than your required minimum, to give yourself some leeway on Test Day in case the Test proves more challenging than expected. (Plus, giving yourself a buffer is a habit that will help you in other ways once enlisted.)
If you’re not sure how fast you can currently run, do one of the following:
- Find a full-sized Olympic style track, and run four times around it
- Find a one mile stretch of road or path, and run it
- Get on a treadmill, set it to goal pace, and see how long you can run at that pace before you have to slow it down. Run here for 1.0 mile no matter what.
Whatever time it takes you to do this is your current running mile-pace.
If this time more than 60 seconds slower than your needed goal pace, you may want to try the Field Test another time.
Even if you must postpone your attempt, you will want to run regularly from now until you get another chance to take it. You will see improvement! And you can come back to this article if you feel you’re in striking distance of the goal time the next time around.
But, if you have a sense of your current comfortable running pace, and know your goal pace is within reach… what you need to do now depends on how much time you have before the Field Test.
Two caveats that apply to everyone:
- You absolutely should do strength training on the same days as your runs, especially before the runs if you can.
- Eat clean, eat a lot of protein, and get as much sleep as you can every night.
Normally one would advise against strength training before a training run. But since the Army Field Test requires you do your strength tests before the run, the best way to train for the Test run is to do strength training and THEN go run. Train with the same pattern you’re going to need to follow on Test Day. This will also get you used to the physical fatigue your upper body and core will feel on your Test run.
And no matter what, your recovery and nutrition are vital to how well your body responds to any training. The cleaner and better your nutrition and rest habits are during training, the better your body will bounce back, and the better you’re going to ultimately do in workouts… not to mention on Field Test Day.
If you have less than two weeks and you’ve been struggling to hit your goal pace:
I would highly recommend getting on a treadmill and setting it as close to goal pace as you can manage. To figure out the treadmill speed, divide 60 by the mile pace to get the miles per hour setting for the treadmill. An 8:00 mile would be 7.5 mph (60/8), for example, while an 8:15 mile (8.25 minutes) would be 7.3 mph (60/8.25) (Many modern gym treadmills helpfully display your speed’s mile pace, so if yours does this will save you some trouble).
Run the treadmill at this pace for no less than 15 minutes. If you can do 20 minutes, do it. If at any point you’re going to pass out, vomit or something similarly dire… just slow the treadmill down or stop it until you get your bearings back. If possible, get back on, restore the pace and keep going for the remaining needed minutes.
No matter what… after that workout, you may take a day off from running, then do the treadmill workout again. Repeat the treadmill pace run no less than every other day.
If you can manage running every single day with your other strength training without getting sore or overtly exhausted, then absolutely run every day (and if you do get real tired or sore later, take a day off before working out again). At this point, you want to run at goal pace as much as you can possibly muster. Just make sure to rest from running the last 2 days before the Field Test, so your lower body can recover.
Similar to how I approached my last marathon taper, you will want to run at or near goal pace on a treadmill for short periods as many days as you can. If nothing else, this helps you ingrain the pace at which you need to run on Field Test Day.
If by the week prior to the Test you’re not able to hold even the minimum required pace for more than 1.5 miles… you may want to drop out of Test consideration for now and try again some other time.
But what will often happen is that running at this pace will get subtlely easier over the next few days as you develop a bit of neuromuscular fitness. Aerobic fitness is not as likely less than two weeks out, but you will improve that a little bit.
If you can get to Test Day feeling at all comfortable running goal pace for 15 minutes, you have a great chance of nailing the 2 Mile test.
If you have more than two weeks before the Field Test:
I would recommend running at least a couple miles, more if you can comfortably handle it, 3+ times per week.
The more time you have to train and the more miles you can run per week, the less important it becomes for you to run at goal pace during all of these workouts.
Still, every week, start with a 2+ mile run as close to goal pace as you can muster. If you generally struggle to stay on pace, use a treadmill. It’s important that this first run of the week be at or very near goal pace. If you can comfortably do more than 2 miles for this run, then absolutely do more miles, up to a maximum of 4 miles. This workout is about mastering the needed pace, and while you don’t want to overkill you do want to practice what you need to do on Test Day.
After that, any of your other running during the week can be slower than goal pace, and the treadmill isn’t necessary for these runs. Running about a minute per mile slower than goal pace is perfectly fine.
For example, if you’re trying to nail an 8:00 mile, then you can do the rest of your runs at 9:00 per mile or slower. If 8:00 per mile feels totally comfortable, not only is that a very good sign, but of course you should just do that for all your runs. Still, give yourself permission on the remaining runs that week to go slower.
Once you’re within two weeks of the test, then:
- You need to scale back how much you run
- Every run should be at goal pace.
Run no less than 2 miles and no more than 3 miles on any day within two weeks of the Field Test. Unless you’re super comfortable with running every day, you will also want to take a day off from running between every workout if you’re not already.
You want to give your lower body space to recover from training and load up on glycogen for the Field Test.
No matter what, the key to nailing the Army Field Test’s run is to do as much running as you can with at least some of that running at goal pace… and as the test gets closer you want to do as much running at goal pace as you can.