When survival depends on personal fitness, it is imperative that the British military personnel are kept at their physical peak. Running plays a big part in army aerobic training, and interval training is key in keeping our troops combat-ready.
There's certainly no slacking when it comes to running in the army. Take the much-feared test of aerobic ability and strength: the Basic Fitness Test. All personnel are required to run 1.5 miles (2.42km) in 14 minutes or less. This bar gets raised higher if they join the infantry - the maximum time is 12:45 but considerably faster times are expected. Only an elite one per cent make the cut to join the revered '300 Club', an exclusive group for the supremely fit - to qualify, men and women under 30 must achieve sub-8:15 and sub-10 times respectively. In addition to their running challenge, recruits have to power through as many sit-ups and press-ups as they can muster in two minutes.
Then there is the 'beep test' which forms part of the multi-stage fitness test for those applying to become officers. Here the crossover between sports training and the army becomes even more clear as many sports coaches and trainers also use the test to estimate an athlete's maximum oxygen uptake.
The test involves running between two points 20m apart on a flat surface with beeps speeding up progressively to indicate the time each sprint should be completed in. A successful pass translates roughly as a 1.5 mile run completed within 10.5 minutes for males and 13 minutes for females - but the progressive nature of the challenge makes this a tough interval session, ideal to both build and test fitness.
It may come as no surprise, therefore, that one of Britain's greatest runners, Kelly Holmes, served a nine-year stint in the army and qualified as a personal training instructor (PTI) before becoming a full-time professional athlete.
During her army stint she competed against her unit, in the army championships and against other services. "The races in the services are mega competitive, " she explains, "The army always felt they were the best at everything and if they lost they were very disappointed."
Army training has been credited by Holmes as helping her become the double gold Olympic athlete we all admire and respect. "It gave me a really good grounding for my athletics career because the army gives you a lot of determination and discipline, and you just don't want to lose," she explains.
British Military Fitness
In recent years, the army's methods to build fitness have been attracting increasing attention - and not just from potential recruits. More than 13,000 people a week attend exercise classes in 104 parks organised by British Military Fitness, a company devoted to getting people to exercise in the great outdoors and run by instructors who are serving - or are former members - of the armed forces. And this includes a good mix of runners, according to Nigel Ilsley, their lead Hyde Park instructor and trained PTI.
"We get some very experienced runners," explains Ilsley. "We have some guys who are currently training in the Hyde Park class who are looking at sub-1:30 half-marathons and just touching on over three-hour marathons. They use our classes as a cross-training element to complement their other training."
Running still forms a key part of their classes. Beginners groups run up to a mile during a class, whereas the advanced class take on anything from three miles or more. The cross-training element comes from the range of military inspired exercises members take part in between bursts of running. And cross-training has never seemed a more appropriate term. Adding testing squats, burpees, press-ups and the plank to your regime will initially guarantee a glowing face and a darkening mood.
Stick with it, though, and Ilsley insists you will see the benefit on race day: "Cross-training allows other specific muscle groups to develop and increases your cardio fitness. This means when your legs become tired during a race, your cardio training will kick in and take over." Setting clear goals about what you want to achieve from new training exercises can also help keep you on track. "You might set yourself a target time of sub-45 minutes to run a 10K, so that will be your focus, and we know overall fitness will help you achieve that," he adds.
After serving in the TA for 11 years, Ilsley is no stranger to the determined attitude that develops through army training. "The army philosophy is 'train hard to fight easy'," he says. "So you train really hard, and when you go into battle it becomes easier."
The following five exercises exclusively provided by British Military Fitness should boost your overall conditioning and help make your next race an easier 'battlefield'.
'On Camp with Kelly', supported by Aviva since 2004, is Dame Kelly Holmes’ mentoring and education initiative for talented young middle distance athletes. For more info visit www.oncampwithkelly.co.uk.