Preparing for special operations selection is a balancing act between pushing yourself to your limits and not going overboard to the point that you break yourself before you even make it to training.

I think that one of those things that people have a tendency to go over the top on is running. They feel as though they need to run 100 miles a week to have a chance in hell at making it through selection. I realize that each pipeline is different, and I’m only speaking from personal experience. When I was getting ready for selection, we were told we should be running 25-50 miles a week.

Well, I don’t really like running, never have, never will, nonetheless I can say I managed to get pretty good at it. But, I can promise you that until I was in training, I wasn’t running 25 miles, 35 miles, or 50 miles a week. I was probably more at 10-15 miles per week.

How to Safely Increase Your Running Ability for Selection
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Mykel Thaete, Advanced Infantry Training Battalion (AITB), School of Infantry West (SOI-W) detachment Hawaii, runs for concealment after popping an M18 green smoke hand grenade on Kahuku Training Area, Oahu, Hawaii, May 19, 2010. (Photo by Cpl. Jody Lee Smith/DVIDS)

When I was going through SWCC training, we had to do long-distance soft-sand beach runs, fast three-mile runs on hard sand, sprints, and of course, we had to “double time” everywhere we went. Needless to say, we wracked up some serious miles during selection.

I mention these running escapades because you can train your body to run in different ways in order to pass PT tests, timed runs, and survive the torturous long runs that feel like they’ll never end.

Increasing Your Speed

To increase my speed and to pass and excel at the 1.5-mile Naval Special Warfare PST requirement, I did a lot of 400m sprints. These sprints are a gut check and teach your body how to run faster than it would on a normal run. These sprints paid big dividends in my 1.5-mile time. I also did a lot of three-mile runs.

At this distance, you should still be running fast, so, of course, this will help with shorter and longer distance runs. Since our test gates in training were three miles, it was important to achieve the muscle memory for how a three-mile run feels. I would also do five- and seven-mile runs. These helped with endurance and with breaking through the mental barriers of the misery of a long run.

Fine-tuning Your Form

Run, Reeves, Run!
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. John Reeves, 81st Air Control Squadron superintendent, receives encouraging cheers and applause from members of his unit while he completes his 365th consecutive day of running at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, March 3, 2021. (Photo by Senior Airman Jacob Dastas/U.S. Air Force)

Running is physically hard on your body. You need to pay attention to your running form. Make it a point to run on the balls of your feet and to avoid heel impact. A bad running form will be magnified once you have boots and pants on, and you are wet, sandy, and tired. I learned this lesson the hard way: I managed to give myself some pretty bad shin splints while going through selection — and selection is no place for shin splints.

Selection Training Alternatives

A solution to alleviate some of the wear and tear from running is to bike. When I say bike, I don’t mean a casual bike ride through the neighborhood. I suggest using a stationary bike and going through an array of workouts, varying from sprints to high resistance. Additionally, whenever you can, mix weights and heavy medicine balls into your bike exercises. These types of workouts can help strengthen your legs and improve your cardio, thus helping to prepare you for those miserable runs that await you.

Most things are mind over matter. Running is no different. But physically preparing yourself will also increase your mental fortitude. Knowing that you’re capable of being comfortable with being uncomfortable is very empowering.


This article was originally published in April 2020. It has been edited for republication.