Ask Stew: How to Adjust Running Programs to Fit Your Abilities

(U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brannon Deugan)

When starting your journey into the tactical professions, you will see many people who need to improve their running. Their athletic history may not have required much long-distance running (or any at all) or they are susceptible to running injuries such as shin splints, runner's knee, tendonitis, etc.

Runners with different histories will have different roads to improvement. Here is an email from a young man preparing for a special ops program in his future and working to get good at everything -- including his weakness, running.

Stew, I have one of your workout programs, and I'm not sure I can handle the running volume you have in them, as even your first week has over 15 miles in it. Any suggestions? Did I get the wrong program, or should I just push through it? I do not want shin splints again like I did on my own training. Everything else looks awesome, but I need to get better at running. Thanks -- Dylan

You should personalize any program, adjusting the repetitions and volume to fit your current abilities. Do not just jump into a five-mile run without progressing over potentially significant time periods to get to that level of fitness and durability. It takes time to build up to that level of running distance when the recommended weekly percentage to add miles is only 10% to 15%.

My advice: If the runs look like too much for you, cut the miles in half and replace with a non-impact cardio exercise for the time it would have taken to run that extra 50%, so you get all the cardio with half the impact.

For instance, one of my favorite replacements for running is biking, as it works the lungs and the legs like running but without the impact pain. I do recommend a stationary bike, as you cannot coast and the potential for crashing is negated.

Try these bike workouts:

Bike Pyramid

Each minute, increase resistance by one or two levels until you can no longer hold the RPMs between 70 and 80. Once you fail to keep it in that zone, start to return down the pyramid in reverse order. You can do the full pyramid or just do it for the time that it would have taken you to run the miles you skipped in the generic training program you are on.

For instance, if the day calls for 5 to 6 total running miles (warm-ups, sprints, goal pace, steady pace), cut that in half. However long it took you to run the first 50% of the runs that day, do the same amount of time on the bike, elliptical or rowing machines or add swim time.

Bike Intervals

The goal is to be as tired as you would be running as you are on the bike. Pushing hard for a sprint on the bike will elevate your heart/breathing rate significantly. Do this for one minute fast, followed by one minute slow, to catch your breath. Repeat that one minute fast/one minute slow for the time you need to make up for any missed running on the day.

You can improve your running through this method. If you can avoid an injury that prevents you from running altogether, you will quickly be fully prepared for your journey. Try the program with alterations your first time, then repeat it and see whether you can do the full program as written the second time around.

You will be asked to run and ruck many miles in your future training (PT, as well) so you need to build up to this, but do it based on your abilities.

Work on your goal mile pace: 6- to 7-minute miles for 1.5-mile timed runs (9- to 10:30 timed run time) and focus on longer run pace in the sub-7-minute mile pace (4 miles in under 28 minutes/5 miles in 35 minutes).

You can practice that pace with shorter intervals and over time build up and maintain that pace for the full distance. Be patient and give yourself time to progress to longer runs, especially if your future training is going to require longer timed runs and load-bearing events.

-- Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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