Although not a common race distance in the civilian world, the 2-mile run is frequently used as a fitness test for members of the military. Running more is one of the best ways to get faster; doing other types of cardiovascular exercise, as well as specialized training like sprints, can help too.
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Impact and Cardiorespiratory Fitness
Your body is built to adapt to, and improve at, the challenges you present it. There are four key factors that may lead you to struggle during a run, and if you listen to your body, it will tell you which of these you need to work on.
The first is the overall impact of repeated footfalls on the ground. There's no way around the fact that running is a high-impact activity, and the repeated jarring to your frame can be uncomfortable or even, at worst, cause injuries over time. Take a hint from the Military College of South Carolina and start at a walk if you need to, gradually building your endurance until you can walk for the entire goal time you're trying to meet in the 2-mile run. Then gradually introduce intervals of jogging, alternating between walking and jogging until you can do 2 miles at a jog.
This gradual introduction not only gives your body a chance to gradually adapt to the repeated impact of running at distance, it also helps build a solid base of cardiorespiratory fitness — the ability of your heart, lungs and circulatory system to uptake enough oxygen to fuel your muscles through the course of the run. That's the second element you might struggle with and, barring medical conditions such as asthma, if you find yourself gasping for breath before any other part of your body gives out that's a big cue that this is what you need to work on.
While running more is a great way to improve your cardiovascular fitness, so will any other type of cardiovascular workout, including biking, pedaling an elliptical trainer, swimming, using a rowing machine and so on. The good news is that you don't need to constantly flog yourself until you're gasping like a fish to improve.
Working out at a moderate intensity (you should be able to hold a two-way conversation, but not sing) or a vigorous intensity (you should only be able to get a few words out at a time) will both help you make gains in your cardiorespiratory fitness — although as a general rule, more intense exercise yields faster gains.
And if you want your fitness to improve, you do have to challenge yourself. Think in terms of selecting one aspect of your running or walking workout — it could be the duration, the distance or the overall speed — and gradually increase it until you've met your goal in that department. Then choose another aspect from those listed and start gradually increasing that one too.
Muscles and Technique
A third factor that can affect your runs is having enough muscular power and endurance in your lower body. If you haven't run out of breath but find your legs fatiguing to the point you can't run or can't maintain proper form, this is probably the issue. Repeated running or walking will help, but so will incorporating strength training into your fitness regimen — whether as part of your PT or during extra workouts in the gym. That's something the Department of Health and Human Services says you should be doing twice a week anyway, and it can help with other aspects of your military fitness testing too.
The last factor to be aware of? Technique. At a certain level, running really is as simple as putting one foot in front of another. But if you've developed all the other aspects of your fitness already mentioned and just can't get any faster, it's time to consult a running coach or try a running technique checklist.
Read more: 12 Running Mistakes You Could Be Making
A Faster 2-Mile Run
What if you're in a hurry to improve? If you've already built up a solid base of cardiovascular conditioning and don't have any contraindications for an all-out effort, sprint training may be the way to go. In a study published in the March 2018 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers asked a small group of 16 trail runners to participate in sprint interval workouts. After just two weeks (six workouts in total), the subjects had already demonstrated significant improvements in both endurance and power performance.
Technically, a sprint is an all-out effort: Put the pedal to the metal, and don't look back. But doing submaximal intervals can have a real effect on your running performance too. In a systematic review published in a 2018 issue of the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers analyzed 17 studies, involving a total of almost 1,000 participants who underwent cardiac rehabilitation, and found that high-intensity interval training was significantly better than moderate-intensity continuous training in improving their cardiorespiratory fitness.
Finally, if your interest in nailing a faster 2-mile run is really about finishing strong at the end of a longer race — say, a 5K, which works out to 3.1 miles — then practicing negative splits may help. This means doing the second half of your training runs faster than the first half, which conditions both body and mind to build, and maintain, a faster pace overall.
Shoes Matter Too
Discussing footwear might seem trivial, but having a good pair of running shoes, with a level of cushioning that suits your gait and running style, can make a huge difference in your running experience — and that ultimately affects your performance.
Buying your shoes in person at a specialty running shop can be a little pricier than getting them online, but the choice pays for itself because many such stores offer expert gait evaluations to help you choose the right shoes. Some of them also let you try shoes on a track or treadmill before buying them, or even return shoes if you don't like them during a short trial period.
- The Military College of South Carolina: "To Improve Two-Mile Run"
- Health.gov: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "Six Sessions of Sprint Interval Training Improves Running Performance in Trained Athletes"
- Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine: "High-Intensity Interval Training Versus Moderate-Intensity Continuous Training Within Cardiac Rehabilitation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"