Dear Mark: I Hate Running

Treadmill RunningHey Mark,

I’m in the Army National Guard. I would really like to follow your workout guidelines, especially with regard to cardio (I actually hate running and I’m not very good at long distance), but with regard to the Army Physical Fitness test, which I have to pass, I have to run 2 miles in a set amount of time, less than 16 minutes essentially. I feel like the only way I can maintain this is to do sustained running sessions about 3 times a week for about 20 minutes a shot (Again, I hate running, haha). Do you think if I follow all of the workout advice in the Primal Blueprint, I can still pass this test?

Great question, and I’m glad you asked. The endurance training question presents a conundrum that plagues many of my readers, I’m sure, no matter how often I sound the drum against Chronic Cardio. Conventional Wisdom can be a nagging, persistent shrew, after all. So, how can avoiding long distance moderate-high intensity cardio in favor of slow moving (walking, hiking, etc) and sprinting possibly increase one’s aerobic capacity? On the surface, it defies logic. Train long to race long; train short to race short and fast, just like you lift heavy things if you want to move heavy things and get strong… right? Not quite. Or, rather, not necessarily. Read on.

I recall a little over a year ago, a somewhat similar question from a reader popped up. She wanted advice on training for a cross-country run (literally – she wanted to run across the entire United States) while sticking to the Primal laws. I had to be frank with her and withhold my blessing. Running a few thousand miles simply isn’t something we’re meant to do. Walking? Trekking? Hiking a thousand miles? Sure, Grok ranged far and wide. How else did human populations span the globe? But our ancestors did not make like Forrest Gump and run simply for the sake of running. It may have been bad news to her, but it was the right advice.

I’ve got some good news for you, though: the Primal Blueprint Fitness program is tailor-made for situations like yours. See, I was in a similar boat when I embarked on my initial Primal journey (You think running for 20 minutes is bad? Try running 1-3 hours straight, day after day for a decade!). Like you, I eventually decided I wanted to maintain a basic level of overall fitness, one that’d allow me to run a 10k (in the rare case that I actually felt like running one) without much trouble. I wanted to have a good strength-to-body weight ratio, and I was insistent on sparing my joints from overuse injuries and basic wear-and-tear (which should be anything but “basic”!). I wanted to be able to play fast, fun sports or to snowboard all weekend and be able to bounce out of bed on Monday without debilitating soreness. I did not, however, want to devote fifteen hours a week to the gym or the track. I was interested in shortcuts, in research-based fitness hacks that would keep me strong, fast, and fit without massive time commitments. I suppose I wanted it all, physically – who doesn’t, though? It’s completely natural, totally healthy, and – in my opinion – absolutely required for optimum health and happiness. The physical side of life needn’t be fraught with hesitance and plodding progress. You want to bound up the stairs, not hold on to the guardrails for dear life (or take the escalator).

You, reader, want to have the ability to run for moderately long distances without actually having to run moderately long distances. In short, you want to have your cake and eat it, too. This is entirely possible (ironically, you’ll probably have to give up sweetened, cereal grain-based baked goods for best results), even (or especially) within the confines of the relatively minimalist Primal Fitness regimen. You don’t actually have to engage in a hated activity to get better at performing said activity. You hate running, so don’t run much. It’s a pretty simple concept, but it’s one that too many fitness gurus ignore in favor of mantras like “No pain, no gain.” There’s some validity to that line of thinking – you do have to push yourself and keep up the intensity to get the most benefits from certain kinds of training, namely strength and sprinting – but to apply it blindly to all aspects of fitness is folly. For one, not everything (like sustained, low-level walking or hiking) should be performed at maximum intensity, and secondly, a fitness program has to be sustainable for it to be successful. If you make a trainee hate his or her life every workout session, chances are high that he or she will eventually stop coming.

But enough pontificating. Exactly how do Lifting Heavy Things, Moving Frequently at a Slow Pace, and Running Really Fast Once in Awhile positively impact your “long distance” endurance capacity? How do you get better at something without actually doing it often?

You’re probably familiar with Dr. Tabata’s famous experiment; I’ve mentioned it before. Tabata had subjects cycle in what has become known as Tabata intervals – eight sets of 20-second intervals of maximum intensity followed by 10 seconds of rest – every weekday for six weeks (abstract). Compared to the subjects’ modest aerobic gains on a traditional 6-week moderate intensity endurance program, the Tabata subjects saw gains in both anaerobic and aerobic capacity. They got better at endurance training without performing classical endurance training, whereas the guys doing moderate intensity endurance training only improved their aerobic capacities.

In a more recent study by Kirsten Burgomaster, two weeks of sprint interval training, for a total of six sessions, were enough to increase muscle oxidative potential (resting muscle glycogen content) and aerobic endurance capacity in trainees. Subjects performed four to seven 30 second “all out” cycling reps, each separated by four minutes of recovery time. VO2 max was not increased, but this strangely didn’t impact or impair their aerobic capacity, which “increased by 100%.” That’s right – just fifteen minutes of actual sprint training was enough to double endurance capacity within two weeks’ time.

Burgomaster wasn’t through, though; in a 2007 study, she discovered that the metabolic adaptations produced by low-volume sprint training are remarkably similar to those produced by traditional endurance training. Two groups of “active but untrained” (that’s a fairly representative demographic, wouldn’t you say?) men and women were given six weeks of either sprint training or endurance training. Sprint training consisted of thrice weekly, four to six rep sessions of 30 second sprints/4.5 minute rests; endurance training consisted of 45-60 minute continuous cycling sessions, five times a week. The sprinters spent about one and a half hours each week (with most of that time spent resting) on the bikes, while the endurance subjects gave up four and a half hours each week (with most of that time spent pedaling). Huge time commitment discrepancy, and yet there was no discernible difference in metabolic outcomes. In fact, the authors conclude that sprint interval training is the more “time-efficient strategy” to obtain the benefits of endurance training. You don’t say.

How about arterial stiffness? Long distance Chronic Cardio has always been touted as the most “heart healthy” exercise regimen, but another study showed that sprint interval training is just as effective at improving arterial stiffness and flow-mediated dilation (FMD analysis is useful for early detection of atherosclerosis).

And how about actual performance outcomes? Another study found that low volume sprint interval training conferred rapid adaptations in skeletal muscle and exercise capacity – similar to those obtained via high volume endurance training.

Plus, there are other benefits entirely unrelated to increased endurance capacity that accompany sprint training. Sprinting increases anabolic hormones, including GH and testosterone (while keeping cortisol constant). It also improves insulin sensitivity quickly and efficiently, an especially relevant benefit for an otherwise sedentary or time-strapped populace. Simply put, it’s a quick way to get a fantastic workout without disrupting your strength training progress or your endurance training. In fact, weekly sprints are the perfect accompaniment to any regimen, which is why I include them in my Primal Blueprint Fitness program. It’s most likely the reason Grok was always fit enough to run long distances when he had to – without ever training specifically (i.e. Chronic Cardio) for that ability.

Bottom line: You don’t have to jog for half an hour every day to improve your aerobic endurance. You don’t have to waste your time doing something you hate. You can – and should – seek out fitness shortcuts whenever possible. They make staying fit more manageable and more sustainable, and they free up time for more leisurely, pleasurable pursuits. In the end, physical fitness is a tool; it serves us. We should never become slaves to the iron, to the track, or to the stopwatch. Work hard, yeah, but work fast and make it as short and as sweet as possible.

You’ll definitely pass the test. Increase the sprints to twice or thrice weekly, just to be safe (if you’re really worried). Then, maybe once every few weeks, test yourself in that two-mile to measure your progress. Let us know how it goes!

TAGS:  dear mark

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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97 thoughts on “Dear Mark: I Hate Running”

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  1. I also dislike running so all I do are 40-100 yd (x8-12) sprints and will occasionally run a set 2mi flat course for fun (once or twice a month). I usually run it in 14-15 mins at moderate intensity so it’s very doable, and I just turned 50.

  2. “VO2 max was not increased, but this strangely didn’t impact or impair their aerobic capacity, which ‘increased by 100%.'”

    This has been shown in other areas, specifically in elite Tour De France cyclists, in which a study found that toward the peak season (the big race) the VO2M of the competitors actually dropped, indicating an improvement in the motor system.

    Data are suggesting that endurance is not all about VO2max.


  3. I Have been in the Army for 10 years and the first 7 i only did Army PT. about 3 years ago I started doing crossfit, mabey 2 or 3 times a month I will run for longer than 2 miles at a time. Not only do I feel stronger in all aspects of my life, I have also droped 15 sec off my 2 mile time. I have a P.T. test next week and believe I can Max in every event based of the 18-21 category.

    Not only that but sprinting and higher intensity training has a direct relation to job performance. I have been to Iraq 2 times and not once did i have to run more than 400 m, But i cant count the times i have done short sprints with full KIT chaseing insurgents.

      1. Terry,

        I’m 42 and have never served in the military… so I just wanted to say thanks for serving, it’s much appreciated.


  4. I guess this is as good a place as any to ask this question. It’s been on my mind for a while now. I’m wondering, does running long distances 10-15 necessarily count as chronic cardio? I mean, i’m running them slow enough to hardly sweat becuase I run to class and to work. I’m not really even out of breath when I’m running.

    Is that chronic cardio or not? I’ve heard that at slow paces (like what i run: 9 minute miles or slower) that the body burns mainly fat. Is this true?

    1. At lower level aerobics (like walking or hiking), a higher contribution to your energy output does come from fat.

      The overall calorie expenditure is relatively low, however, compared to more intense work (running, sprinting, etc.). The overall amount of calorie expended will contribute more to a negative energy balance. But I wouldn’t rely on physical activity (at any level) to create a negative energy balance for fat loss.

      There’s value in doing longer, lower level aerobics like walking: Increase in fat cell metabolism, mitochondrial activity, decrease in inflammation, stimulating blood flow for recovery — and all without the acute increase in cortisol.

      If you’re trying to lose fat, it’s probably more effective to focus on the diet.

      1. True, but the energy required to RECOVER from high bouts of effort is what makes Tabata protocol very effective. Not to mention the rise in anabolic hormones from this stimulus.

        1. Agreed, but there is no evidence that this leads to long-term fat loss.

          The Tabata study found the greatest impact of this protocol was an increase in VO2max. The hormonal response of such a protocol was also huge. The excessive post-exercise oxygen compensation (post-workout energy utilization for recovery) was shown to be appreciable, but studies show that this occurs mostly in ELITE athletes, and not so much in the average person.

          But even if the post-workout recovery is costly in all individuals, there is still no evidence that this directly leads to long-term fat loss. Which I suppose is the goal of most people.

          Diet still seems to be the most effective mean for long-term fat loss. The calorie deficit caused by exercise is easily replaced by a few bites too many at dinner.

          Although exercise is important to maintain metabolism while losing weight, or to PREVENT the regain of weight, diet is probably a person’s best bet for becoming lean.

        2. Acute exercise,extended over a period of time, reduces expression of the obesity gene.
          Zheng et al. The effect of exercise on ob gene expression. Biochem Biophys Res Commun (1996).

          Abstract: Expression of the ob (obesity) gene is subject to nutritional as well as hormonal regulation to control fat storage. In the present study we investigated the effect of acute exercise and long-term exercise training on ob mRNA levels in rat adipose tissue. Northern blot analysis showed that a single bout of exercise significantly decreased ob mRNA levels approximately 30% immediately and 3 hr after exercise. After 4 weeks of exercise training the ob mRNA level was significantly decreased approximately 48% at 2 hr after the last training session compared to the control group. These data demonstrated that exercise has a transient effect on ob gene expression and suggest that regulation of ob gene expression may help control energy balance following exercise.

        3. I’ve seen this study before, and it still doesn’t prove that exercise causes long-term fat loss in human. A reduction in the expression of the obesity gene does not equal fat loss. A reduction of expression in the obesity gene more likely means a PREVENTION of weight gain (or re-gain), as I mentioned.

    2. Phil Maffetone (well known as Mark Allen’s coach when he won Ironman) recommends that people do most of their training at or below their aerobic maximum HR, which he determined by actually measuring expired CO2 (the respiratory exchange ratio measures fat vs glucose burned for fuel). This is basically 180 minus your age, so not very high. At this HR, there is much less stress on the body, more fat is burned during exercise, and less injuries occur. (Most coaches recommend something similar- a lot of “easy” runs and a few “hard”). Many people complain when they train by his method that it feels too easy, and they’re not working hard enough. It sounds like that is what you are doing. Improvements continue for months, but if you want to compete or get faster, he recommends doing a few weeks of interval training to ramp up the glycolytic system. Interval training alone does not have the same effect, even though some of the biochemical changes are similar.

      I think there must be a continuum of benefits from low level to intense exercise, and all have their place. But many of us push too hard too often, thereby stressing the body. If you tend to be competitive, you may push too hard, and “chronic cardio” as Mark puts it might not be good for you, not in the long run. If you are easy going and not pushing to your limits every time, then you probably aren’t doing any harm and are reaping the benefits of the exercise. Those of us who lack Mark’s innate talent are less likely to get carried away with the exercise and be harmed in the way that he says he was.

      1. Dr. Ken Cooper who coined the word ‘aerobics’ found out that the heart stops conditioning after 22 minutes. Anything more than that is not done for health reasons. But whoever said torturing yourself through a marathon was healthy anyway!
        Also, chronic cardio raises cortisol levels and fatigues the adrenals.

  5. Fascinating stuff, for sure.

    I have been getting a lot of comments from friends who are training for half-marathons and such (avoiding the “are you SURE that’s something you want to do?” conversation thus far), and trying to figure out ways to develop a training regimen that fits within the PB.

    If someone really wants to run for 16 miles, I’m not going to be able to stop them – but I -can- do some damage control.

  6. Very interesting. I have done mostly 60 minute cardio workouts 4 times weekly, but recently mixed it with long walks and short sprints and I do feel stronger.
    I am debating whether to stop the long cardio sessions altogether or not. At this point I am hesitant to do that.

  7. Hello,
    I am confused, because what you write makes sense, but i have also read a book, “why we run”, by a scientist who studied human physiology and found that it is optimised for endurance running in hot climates (for “running antelopes to death”) and this is also confirmed in a recent paper by another prof of evolutionary biology. In why we run, the author also discusses how he prepared for a marathon and honestly it does not sound too healthy to me, but still… the evolutionary biology points they make do make sense.

    references below:

    1. I also wonder if running is getting an unnecessarily bad rap. There are certainly places in this world (e.g. East Africa) where distance running seems a natural part of aboriginal life. Besides, running (in moderation) just feels too good — before, during, and after — to be that bad for you.

      It’s easy to imagine Grok and friends taking down a big kill a couple miles from home, and then having to run the meat back in separate trips quickly enough to outpace the scavengers and the elements. Something like this must have happened fairly often. And it’s not a bad idea for a shovelglove scenario…

      1. The archaeological record shows that our ancestors were able to leisurely render meat from hunts directly at the kill site, indicating that they had become top level predators with no need to either eat quickly or run away from scavengers and other predators.

  8. I spent just over two years in Seal training. The form of running that helped the most to get my 1.5 mile run time down to 8:54 back when I had just dep’d in and qualified seal was Interval Running.

    For interval running you want to warm up as it’s hard on your legs. But, it will make you comfortable running at faster speeds. After a 5-8 minute warm up. Do your first interval (1/4 mile) at a pace slightly faster than you would run a mile at.

    For example: the reader needs to maintain just under an 8 minute mile pace to pass their test. That’s 2 minute 1/4 mile laps. They should try for a 1:50 interval time.

    After the interval lap, slow your pace so you take between 1.5 and 2 times as long to complete the next lap. (A cool down lap.) Continuing with our example: Shoot for a 2:30-2:50 lap.

    Then repeat until you complete 3 interval pace laps.

    Each week shave a second or or two of the interval pace time. Then when you can’t progress to a faster interval time. Increase to 4-5 interval laps. After that, work on 1/2 intervals.

    I wouldn’t do intervals more than 3 times a week and never on consecutive days. Throw in a high intensity training day (1.5 – 4 mile run at maximal effort) and a few LSD days (long slow distance: can maintain a conversation while running) and you have a well rounded running schedule.

      1. No not exactly.

        I passed out underwater during a revolution. I got water in my lungs so I had to go to the hospital and have them pumped.

        I won the wrong lottery that day and got the one civilian Doc dumb enough to open his mouth about my childhood asthma with my Chief in the room. Even asthma that doesn’t exist any more is a big no no in spec war. I was asmod back and given the option of a desk job or a medical discharge.

        I could of stayed to fight my case, but then I would have been on Light Limited Duty orders for 3-4 months. Meaning I’m not even allowed to stand for more than 15 minutes at a time. While they ran every medical test known to man on me to see if I was fine. Even though I made it through special physicals :-/

        Any way, after sitting and my body rotting for 3-4 months, the first thing I’d have to do after getting my waiver is pass my PST for the Seals to continue training. OR I could take the medical discharge. And fight my case from home while still being able to workout. Ge my RE code changed from 8 to 4 and have another go in about a year.

        1. That sucks how one specialist could put a wrench in the gears. Good to hear that you another opp, I’m sure you’ll make it.

          Best of luck!

        2. Man, could have cut the milk out of your diet and moved on? Seriously. Childhood asthma doesn’t even mean you have it now. The government is always lacking in the intelligence department anyway.

  9. I think it necessary to be aware that in these types of studies the subjects are almost always “untrained”. Virtually any novel stress introduced to them will provide innumerable physiological adaptations.

    That noted, although this phenomenon (and methodological flaw) may be detrimental in proving scientifically the physiological adaptations in instances of physical specificity, I think this multifarious adaptive response serves as a boon to the practice of “general physical preparedness” (i.e. running 2 miles if you have to).

    When it comes down to it, it doesn’t take a highly trained individual to run 2 miles in 16 minutes. Because of this, you don’t need to train specifically for it. So although doing long walks and short sprints and lifting heavy weights isn’t task specific to running 2 miles, it is a task that merits specified training – it isn’t a very specialized task. But if you had to run 26.2 miles in 3 hours and 14 minutes then the law of specificity would apply – it is a very specific task (you can’t do it without training specifically for it).

    1. “it is a task that merits specified training” should be it is NOT a task that merits specified training.

  10. Back in the early ’80s I ran a lot of 10k’s and being a busy college student didn’t have the many hours available for the LSD style running that was the norm during that era. Instead I ran hard 3 milers (18-19 min) 4 days a week and yet was able to run 39-40 min 10k’s on a regular basis. Maybe it’s because of that experience that “running really fast once in a while” made sense to me.

  11. I’m not against interval training by any means, but do think there are a couple points worth mentioning.

    One of the greatest running coaches of all time, Arthur Lydiard, used high volume, long slow distance running, to train his all of runners, from middle to long distances. This model of training has been used extensively to train the most dominant runners in the world, the East Africans. Furthermore, our ancestors evolved as endurance pack hunters, not sprinters. Think about it, by comparison to game animals, we are absurdly slow, but it is our ability to endure running long distances in temperatures that no other creature can withstand that would allow us to run our prey into the ground.

    1. But the East Africans also come down to the track and run multiple stupid silly fast 400s once a week as well. And their long slow is just that long (120 plus miles a week) and slow (9 – 10 min miling). From what I’ve seen those that following this style go wrong because they simply don’t run slow enough. They do typical ‘chronic cardio’ sessions.

      As a model for sucessful long distance running goes they must be the best, how healthy they are though I know not! Or what they eat!

  12. Running isn’t endurace training. A “long” run is what, an hour or two? Of course hiking builds better endurance – you actually do it for a long period of time. Going on a couple 4-6 hour hikes per week when weather permits will achieve a lot more with a lot less collateral damage. There’s no doubt about it – at least as it pertains to everyday healthy living.

    1. Absolutely agreed. The past decade has seen an Anaerobic Epidemic.

      People now fear longer walks or hiking of a couple of hours or more.

      1. But you still find that commercial gyms are full of aerobicizers plodding away on the treadmill or stationary bike with no real intensity and they look the same or fatter 6 months later from adrenal fatigue and cortisol. The leanest athletes on the planet are sprinters and middle-weight weightlifters (eventhough they never do cardio) in addition to being the most flexible after gymnasts.

        1. No true at all. Sprinters always do warm up and cool down at an easy pace. I was once a sprinter and hated the slow running, but now I enjoy it. Weight lifters are also advised to do cardio to increase mitochondrial and capillary density (see Eric Cressey’s article ). Nothing terribly long or fast, but still aerobic.

          And people doing figure/body building competitions may do hours of cardio (lower HR effort) along with weight training to get their body fat down as low as possible.

          The aerobicizers are still eating badly/too much. That’s the problem. I doubt many of them are actually exercising enough to cause cortisol or adrenal fatigue. Instead, they think they went to the gym so now they can have doughnuts!

        2. Most plodders at the gym think they’ve burned 600 calories (as that’s what the machine tells them) so they go and have that cream cake they’ve just earned, that’s why they get fatter!

        3. Cynthia, I made a few points there, what are you trying to disprove?
          Chronic cardio most definitely causes adrenal fatigue and cortisol rise. You just have to look at the umbilical skin fold (a direct indicator of cortisol levels) of any aerobicizer to conclude that. The amount of calories burned during low level cardio is never significant. Active recovery at best. But no need to go through 45 minutes of boring treadmill running to nowhere.
          Also, it down regulates gene expression towards FT fibers. Uber strength coach Charles Poliquin has concluded that the more upper body aerobic work you do, the worse your medicine ball throw gets. The more lower body aerobic work you do, the worse your vertical jump gets.

        4. Woah, Kishor, you’re all over the place. I initially referred to walking and hiking, and Cynthia is talking about short warm-ups, and also points out that people fitness competitors do hours of “cardio” to decrease body fat to extremely low levels.

          Also, if umbilical skin fold is a direct indicator of cortisol level, then your statement has been proven wrong by thousands of physique competitors who perform hours of cardio.

          But I think we can all agree that sports competition isn’t always the healthiest thing for us, regardless of body composition.


  13. “You, reader, want to have the ability to run for moderately long distances without actually having to run moderately long distances. In short, you want to have your cake and eat it, too.”

    I bursted out laughing when I read this!

  14. The guy wants to string two 8-min miles together, not run head to head with Bernard Lagat. Mark is simply offering alternatives to running 100-mile weeks (which is why Mark started MDA), where Arthur Lydiard required his elite runners to do in the volume phase of their training. BTW Lagat includes intervals during his speed phase albiet they are 4:20 min mile intervals. Then again, running is his profession.

  15. I used to be a big hater on runnning but since my past Summer job was running up and down the beach in the sand for 10+ hours a day talking to chicks and families, I sort of found a passion for it. It used to be so hard, now it seems so easy and is relaxing to go for a short jog once in awhile.

    I do want to take up hiking and some other forms of aerobic activity though. Any recommendations on where to start?

  16. This is definitely true of most crossfitters. They rarely run more than a 100, 200, 400, or 800m sprint and yet manage to keep their times and improve on their 5K and 10K times

    1. Didn’t Glassman once say that someone doing the full WODs as prescribed (and nothing else) should be able to run up to 10k or so and be competitive on a local-road-race level?

    2. True. A couple of the coaches at my local Crossfit gym decided last year (on the spur of the moment, no less!) to try a super-marathon (50+ miles). Neither of them was an endurance runner by any means, and without anything other than standard Crossfit training they not only finished with respectable times, they also were competitive with the other super-marathoners who do this crazy stuff all the time!

      1. Mark, that’s the most impressive proof of all that we – and our ancestors – were “born to run” but don’t necessarily have to run a lot (ie “train”) to be fit enough to cover great distances. Thanks for that anecdote.

  17. I was a runner for 43 years. Beginning last summer I had sacro-illiac joint pain. I stopped running started a back strengthening program, walked, mountain biked, paddled my kayak, and swam. I also did nordic walking a few times a week. I am now pain free feel like I have a lot more endurance. I was afraid to stop running as I felt my cross country ski performance would suffer. I find I am actually better. I still mix in some short runs with walks and periodically do short sprints but no continuos runs. Wish I would have done this sooner. One comment on the Lydiard training method the runners did long continuos runs for maybe 8 weeks. They then did hill intervals and then track intervals in the final phase. Long distance was just a brief period during the year.

  18. I’m in the Air National Guard and just separated from Active-duty Air Force after 6 years. I was faced with the same problem about a year ago and decided I’d just stop doing the long cardio. In the AF we do a 1.5 mile run rather than 2 but my times increased dramatically. So much so that the Chief (high-ranking enlisted Airman) asked what I was doing and then asked me to teach others who were struggling to make their times. We had a whole group of sprinters out on the parade grounds once a week. 🙂

      1. Interval sprints. There are many ways to go about it but I’ve found that doing 400 yards as fast as you can and then walking for 400 then repeating as many times as you’re comfortable with is best for me. Do that once a week for three months and You could shave massive amounts of time of your run. When I first came in I was doing the 1.5 in the low 10s. Then i got fat and slow and was struggling to do it in under 13. Now I can beat my original times. There’s something to this whole primal thing.

  19. Hate to bring up your “favourite show” Mark, but your wisdom really rung true on the Biggest Loser last week. The guy who usually does gentle exercise in the pool each week because of an injury was talked back into doing a gruelling gym workout, and lost less than he ever had (and ended up having to go home) The woman who has just had lapriscopic surgery and only did gentle walking for a few days lost more than she ever had from killing herself in the gym. Your method proves time and time again that you don’t have to run for millions of hours and be a slave to the gym!

  20. Hey Mark – did you change something in the last hour or so on the website? The headings on the blog posts are very strange looking/overriding words, etc. I use Safari if that helps.

    And great post, but the way…

  21. I have to agree with Mark. If you’re looking for a “shortcut,” sprinting/intervals is about as close as you’re gonna get. For such a short distance as 2 miles, a couple of hundred meters of intervals will help you out a lot with less of a time committment than traditional running.

    When I was training for my marathon last year, I always saw improvement during my long runs when I did intervals that week. I didn’t get the same benefit doing the 6 mi “maintenance” runs.

  22. Yestreday I ran my first race ever, the Rose Bowl 1/2 Marathon. I’m 42M and finished in the top 25% of my age group. I do Crossfit WoDs 5 days a week, which sometimes include 400/800 meter runs an occasionally (2 times a month) include 1 mile runs. I did no other running training.

    Bottom line, you do not have to train long distances to run long distances!

  23. I know this is not related but this doubt it’s been in my head for a while now… and the ATP-PC post is kinda old =S

    When you do explosive movements like sprinting or lifting really heavy weights the energy utilized comes from stored ATP, right? How is this process carried on when you have no stored glycogen due the fact you are on a ketogenic/VLC-ZC diet? (Assuming no gluconeogenesis is taking place either)

    I ask because after I became keto-adapted (currently vlc-zc) I can now sprint and do heavy lifting without major issues (recovery time is longer thou), … but , how am I resynthesising this ATP? I only find documents explaining how this happens trough glycolysis but it doesn’t make sense when you are on ketosis and you have no source of glucose???

    Anyone? =)

    1. Mary, your body still makes and stores glycogen overnight on a LC or VLC diet. There’s almost always enough to hammer through a short workout. Now, if you tried to do a second workout that day, you’d probably have a tough time.

  24. look into viking warrior conditioning.

    Better than tabata (in my opinion) (the author also illustrate why his time ratio is better), and, you get to use kettlebells instead of running. You burn fat, build endurance, gain strength and muscle and you are done quick…

  25. I am a 5K runner
    (3.1 miles)… how do I train? Just normal exercising. I never run 3 miles. Never. The only time I run 3 miles is for the 5K run.

    I started them for the first time last summer. I ran in 5 total with my best time at 21:02 – a 6:47 mile pace. I LOVE interval sprinting and use to do it everyday I worked out. Now, as I read this site more and more I have decided to do interval sprinting once a week and engage in more lower level aerobic activity while cycling for 45 minutes once a week.

    So, I LOVE to run in 5K’s. But, the only time I complete a 5K is in the races. No need to do special training. Just do Primal fitness 🙂


  26. Mark, this article gave me an idea…. i’ve never liked running, and don’t have a handy beach or park either — do you suppose i might get the benefit of sprinting by running up my four flights of stairs, walking back down, then doing it over again a few times? 🙂

  27. Walking can be surprisingly beneficial for endurance. I was running a mile a day, went to Europe where I basically didn’t exercise at all except for walking (but lots of it!), and not only ended up losing a bit of weight (despite the much heavier beer consumption) but also could run my miles more easily. I thought that first run when I got back was going to kill me but I ended up being less tired than usual afterwards even though the pace was the same.

  28. I’ve just finished reading Primal Blueprint and I don’t think I’ve ever read anything that makes so much sense. I’m excited to get started, I’m a personal trainer and I can’t wait to start using some of this stuff with my clients. They’re going to be extatic at the thought of less cardio. Who wouldn’t be 😀

  29. Take it from an actual athlete – this advice is a bunch of pap. Unbelievable. Try a runner’s forum for proper advice.

      1. Myself. Pick any real athlete, olympians or the highest competitive equivalent of any sport, especially endurance, and look at their training. Are you trying to tell me that someone like Dean Karnazes, who runs hundreds of miles non-stop and is in absolute prime health, could have achieved the same by, as you submit, essentially being lazy? The body will adapt to its circumstances so long as it is done properly and is given adequate fuel and rest. If that circumstance is running one-hundred miles, it cannot be achieved by sprint training and pushups. Believing any of the above would serve only to countermand the training programs of thousands of the world’s top athletes. If everyone could run nine-second 100m sprints and five-minute-mile marathons by working out a few hours a week, then we wouldn’t have competitive endurance sports because everyone would equally and easily achieve the same results in this diminutive time frame.

        1. J, OK, so you’re the athlete. What sport, what times, etc so I can respond a bit better? There’s a point I’ll make (or not) based on your response.

          Meanwhile, we aren’t discussing elite athletes in specific sports here. As I have said here many times (and in my book) if you want to compete at an elite level, you absolutely need to train specifically – at the risk of losing fitness and health in other areas. But for overall fitness and the ability to participate in any activity across a broad range of physical requirements, Primal Blueprint fitness provides the fastest and most efficient means. I haven’t run more than a mile in training for four years, but I bet I can still break 45 minutes for a 10K. That doesn’t make me elite in any category, but it lets me be competent in most.

        2. I wouldn’t say that my times in particular would change the fundament of the argument, but as concisely as can be stated– My sports are predominantly cycling (distance and TT) and running (distance and sprint), sometimes duathlon. I have never broken the ten-second barrier on a 100m track sprint, nor have I ever run faster than a five-minute-mile distance. So I am not purporting to be in the ultra-elite at any scale running, but I will always finish in the top 3% cycling. Cycling TT I can do 20k @ 24m, or a consistent 25-26mph ride all day.

          I suppose my overwhelming point is that I believe this is the wrong information to give to anyone. This is almost akin to calling a healthy diet a “Paleo” diet or the likes. This is no better a silly moniker than Atkins. This is not the Paleo diet, it is just healthy living – even though our ancestors did eat these things. The only reason such advice must exist, and especially, be given a name, is because the general populace is content eating cheeseburgers and nitrate-infused filth all day. Common sense says to give the body what it needs, therefore eating unrefined, non-synthesized foods should not be atypical, nor how to adapt the body.

          I would also highly disagree with the notion that our ancestors did not do any of these strenuous activities (especially with endurance), which is effortlessly evinced by even modern tribal hunting behaviors, let alone those which were once ubiquitous across earth. These things only feel unnatural to use because we have been raised from birth to act otherwise, to eat otherwise, and to perform otherwise.

  30. Mark, you need to check out the BLUE ZONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and write up about it. these ppl eat beans, corn, grains, tofu…..and live 100 yrs!!!!!!!!!

    1. We have enough people already living for 100 or more years that look, feel and live like crap for the last 40-50 years of their lives. Longevity is a terrible goal if your average condition is misery.

  31. I got into ultramarathon training AFTER getting into the paleo/primal idea.
    Started in more “power” sports. Judo, BJJ, MMA (prof. for about a decade), and all the O/Power lifting and sprinting that goes with it. Started Crossfit years ago. Then, read the PB. Then, read about persistence hunting. Then read about ultras. I feel like I’m keeping the principles as I get ready for my first one. I do BJJ daily (although it’s not intense as I roll mostly with my students). I lift heavy a lot. I do some HIIT (think Crossfit). And ONE day a week I do progressively longer “runs”. I stay under 75% of MHR at all times. That means I walk many times (hill or whatever). I only Use coconut water, and some Paleo friendly recipes from the “Thrive Diet” book. Paleo “gels”, and “energy bites” and whatnot. Seems like Im keeping with the PB, AND doing an Ultra!
    Although to be fair, from what I can see the confusion comes from using the word “run”. If I said I like to do faster paced, purposeful hiking no one would think it sucked. I say “run” for hours on end, and I get flack.
    I think RUNNING and Chronic Cardio are bad too. I just like to hike…. quickly.
    Just to clarify: in Vibrams, under 75% at all times, run the downhills, hike the ups, “trott” the flats, all offroad. Seems primal to me.
    We’ll see if I pull it off.

    Also “Crossfit Endurance” is geared to getting people ready for Enduro events using only shorter intense methods. Thought you guys would like to check that out.

    1. Your mode of hiking sounds exactly like how our ancestors would have persistence hunted. Lots of stalking, stopping, pace changes, and taking advantage of the terrain when applicable. It’s how I hike, too – random, fractal, with varying speeds and intensities – and it’s definitely primal.

      1. Persistence hunting is a theorized model meant to explain meat acquisition among early hominids prior to the invention of projectile weaponry. It has a fairly rationale basis and helps in part to explain some of our physiological adaptations. On the other hand, even our primitive cousin the Chimpanzee uses effective group hunting tactics based on surrounding and flushing prey (a method used by *many* social predators that are slower than their prey). It certainly would be the case that certain groups practiced persistence hunting when necessary, or did so culturally as a learned method, but it is not *necessary* for them to have hunted that way, and many, if not most, groups would not have done so. I feel that persistence hunting makes the most sense to anthropologists that are conditioned to severely underestimate the physical capacity of humans.

        1. That was awesome natural stand hunting and absolutely perfect spear placement…the very definition of primal. I have seen on video (which I can’t find anymore) a successful ground based spear hunt of wild boar. Thanks for the link.

  32. I have to disagree with this advice Mark.

    To succeed at a physical test, what you should do is train exactly like the test. The body adopts to the stresses put on it.

    Your advice is good for the general athlete but I would say in the context of preparing for a fitness test, the best advice for this person would be to train the test. So this means doing the exercises that the test comprises now so that you can pass it in the future.

    Thanks as always for your site !

  33. Steve D, if he were aiming to break 9 or 10 minutes for 2 miles I might agree with you. But 16 minutes for a deuce isn’t really a running test; it’s just one small endurance aspect of an overall fitness test. I could argue that specific training to race a two mile “fast” would interfere with all his other aspects of fitness.

    1. I suppose in the context of viewing the running test as more a level of general fitness because of the relatively easy pace your advice to the writer would hold.

      A two mile run a few times a week I don’t view as chronic cardio though. In general, I still hold training for the test is always better.

      I think my post is more motivated by something that I want the primal lifestyle movement to avoid. It is something you have talked about before …

      I don’t want people discounting a more primal approach to diet and exercise because we become more dogmatic in our ‘one size fits all’ passion believing everything can be reduced to a primal solution.

      Sometimes the best tool for a job is a wrench and not a rock.

      Thanks as always for your site, really following the diet and exercise precepts allowed me to lose a lot of weight and keep it off in a way that was maintainable and fun. So I am a fan believe it or not 😉

  34. Much ado about a simple, 2 mile test, sheesh. The guy isn’t training for the Olympics, he just wants to be able to run 2 miles in under 16 minutes. He could check out a runner’s forum, but what do you think they’ll spout there? Lots and lots of running, of course.

    The fastest 10k I ran (while in Junior College) was after no consistent long-slow-event-length cardio, but after a season of soccer training w/ tons and tons of sprinting, and a strength training program at the gym which included leg press, deadlifts, pulldowns and the like. My longest run leading up to it was probably 2 miles. It was pretty astonishing, considering I was a 5K/10K runner starting when I was 7, only to quit my soph year of HS.

    So yeah, go sprint, and lift heavy things – be consistent, and you’ll do fine. Just be sure to track your progress along the way.

    I’ve just started my own sprinting program, which involves me and the 50 yard hill outside my front door! 🙂

  35. Why isn’t he interested with doing more than just ‘passing’ the test… There goes the common conception of the National Guard… Anyways, I’m in the Active Army Component and have been doing shorter distance runs and sprint routines with the very occasional longer (2-3 mile) run and have been doing the 2 mile test in the 13:45 range consistently without much other work. Most of my time is spent weight training with the occasional ‘play’ day of cycling, swimming, mtn biking, trail run, etc.

    1. I am just curious – what common conception of the National Guard are you refer’g too? I did not know there was one other than we have to meet all of the same requirements as our active duty counterparts; as well as train for a State Mission as well. Oh yeah, and we deploy as much as the AD..

  36. Actually I LOVE to run. Although I agree with almost what you say on this blog and I also live the primal life style, I reject your writings about running. You only write in that respect about your self. Looking at your past running, yes, i can imagine that you hate running with that kind of Sowjet regime of running: linear, always the same, no fun, no joy. For me it´s a way to be in nature, to have contact with nature, especially thru my feet because I am a barefoot runner and I run naturally in fractals= variations ALL the time. No schedules, no plans, no striving, no goals, just mindful enjoying how my body runs. I think it´s irresponsible from your side to warn people against running, because you´re such an expert and authority on so many areas as far as health is concerned. People might follow you also here and cut them off of great natural experiences in their life. Even Art De Vany runs…of course in fractals!

  37. George, I’m not sure where you get that I hate running. The above headline was taken from the reader’s question. I don’t hate running. I actually love running and do so two or three times a week (in the form of two hours of Ultimate or beach sprints or a short trail run (always barefoot or in VFFs). I just don’t run to train – I train to run. What I rail against is the idea of running long and hard most days as a primary means of training. I rail against all forms of “chronic cardio” (cycling, swimming, etc) as a focused prescription for fitness and health.

    1. “I just don’t run to train – I train to run.”
      – That was awesome. I am approaching prepping for my first Ultra in that manner. I am following a theory I’ve read called “low mileage” training protocol. They seem to advocate a lot of cross training and one LONG “run” on the weekends. Bear in mind that’s “ultra” style running, which is basically speed hiking as I translate it. Crossfit Endurance is even more on the line of PB. They advocate short intervals and “2 a days” and do virtually no long runs.
      Anyway, I loved the way you said that. And I will be pulling that out on all the people that tell me I’m training the wrong way. Nicely done.
      BTW, Thank you for the site!

  38. I think all the advice about doing this or that to avoid the drudgery of running makes some sense. The best way to prepare for a PT Test however, is to simply take one every weekend and track your scores.

    Weights, sprints, jump rope, treadmill, intervals . . . there are a million things you can do. Even kettlebells will help your aerobic capacity.

    But the 2-mile run carries its own unique challenge! If it’s down and back (i.e., a mile one way and another back) you have the challenge of seeing people spread out and run far ahead . . . you also have the challenge of seeing the finish line and not appearing to make progress! You might also have small hills . . . and you know how tough even a small elevation can be when you’re tired.

    If it’s laps (like eight laps on a track) you have the challenge of seeing people pass you . . . and lap you. You also have the challenge of the 5th lap . . . being winded and knowing you have three more to go!

    So you have to run. You have to practice the mental side of it and get used to the pounding and strain on your ankles, calves and feet. You have to figure out where the hot spots are on your feet, what kind of socks are best and what your strategy is . . . slow at first then fast . . . or fast then slow.

    And heaven forbid you take the PT test in brand new running shoes! Make sure you break them in.

    I don’t know any soldier who “hates running” unless they are unfit. I suspect that maybe that’s the problem . . . too much body fat, not enough exercise, etc.

    You’re a soldier . . . don’t avoid your demons. Fight them.

  39. Jwint,
    Mark said, “…once every few weeks, test yourself in that two-mile to measure your progress”…so I think he covered your “…take one every weekend and track your scores” comment.

  40. Hey all, I’m a cadet in Army ROTC and I can tell you first hand that training PB-style will definitely carry over into other things, like the 2 mile.

    The 2 mile has always been my weakest event, and I always hated it because it was so hard for me. I’ve got about 6% body fat and am decently muscled (6’0″ 165 lbs.), so people always wondered why I couldn’t run. I thought its because I didn’t put in enough long runs, until I started reading MDA.

    My best time in the 2 mile was 14:56, but that was over a year ago. I typically ran it between 15:15 and 15:30. Not very good when the max is 13:00.

    I was determined to get better at it doing it the PB way. I started off this semester on profile (hurt), and couldn’t do any runs at all. I simply went to the pool one or two times a week and did swim sprints instead. Let me tell ya, those get very hard very quickly. I would always go home barely able to walk.

    I tried to eat as close to Primal as possible, which is pretty much impossible as a college student. However, I figured I was still eating better than I would have before, so it was still a good thing.

    I was first able to really start running about 3 weeks before the PT test. I did sprints about 2 or 3 times a week. I ran as hard as I could for a few sets, until I felt tired. I would run on the grass, or run up a hill when I went hiking. Just random stuff. My fellow cadets started to notice how I was doing better in PT, especially in some of our rare sprint workouts.

    Anyways, it came time to do the PT test, and guess what i got? 14:25!! I get a 30 second PR from doing a few wind sprints a week for less than a month. Imagine that! I told everyone I could about my PR and how I trained for it, but they just find it too hard to believe.

    To make a long story short, you CAN train for long distance events by sprinting. It is much more efficient than doing long runs multiple times a week, it is more enjoyable, and you get the benefits of training the anaerobic energy pathways and increased HGH and testosterone. Whats not to love?

  41. I used to hate running as well. But after doing some biking and resistance training, I’ve grown to like running as well.

  42. years ago, I decided I needed to run. Everyone runs, right? Well, I ‘did it right.’ worked myself up to a mile (ok, quit laughing; yes, just one mile) and just stopped. I mean stopped. I walked back to the Y and told the instructor I really didn’t like to run and so I wasn’t going to any more. I signed up for her aerobic dance class instead and, along with walking, got quite comfortable. Then I got pregnant and, interestingly, my nurse and doctor kept checking and re-checking my blood pressure because it was so LOW! Even later in the pregnancy. The Doc would occasionally say, “oh, yes, you’re the one who walks and does aerobic dancing.” So, I still don’t run, but I really love to walk.

  43. i am training for my PRMC
    there are 2 main running tests
    bleep test (shuttle run) 13+
    1.5mile group run in 11.30 mins, 1 min rest then 1.5 mile personal best sub 8.15 top marks
    there are more tests but those are what im worried about

    should i do tabata sprints three times per week or the 30sec on 4 min off sprints OR alternate?

    or would that not work for me

  44. I’m 72, love sprinting, hill bounding, sprints on the bike. I’m friends with Clarence Bass, the former over-40 USA Most Muscular Man and author of nine books on strength and fitness. I love his ideas, and I love what Mark is doing.

    I realize I’m very late to the party in this discussion. But I just have to comment. While I accept that sprinting is a great way to improve VO2Max and actual performance at distances all the way up to 10K and possibly even beyond, I absolutely cannot accept that it’s the best way for elite distance runners to train, even at distances down to 400 meters.

    As Peter Snell, three-time OG gold medalist in the 800 and 1500 said, in response to the claims of interval advocates, “Where are the results?”

    My point is that when it comes to elite distance training, making exaggerated claims for interval training is foolish. The results simply are not there. You don’t run a 2:04 marathon by interval training.

    I knew of a runner in the 1970s who trained exclusively with intervals. He was famous for doing sessions of 10 miles of 100-yard dashes. His name was Bill “Mad Dog” Scobey, and his best marathon time was 2:15 – quite mediocre at the elite level, even for that day.

    The fact is, today’s Lydiard-style endurance-trained elites absolutely blow away the times of the interval-trained runners influenced by the German coaches of the 1940s through 1960s. The world 10K records of the early 1950s, set by interval trainers such as Emil Zatopek, are easily bested by the best US college runners today.

    Don’t get me wrong – I dig sprinting, absolutely love it. I believe that Mark, and guys like Pete Magill, the oldest runner to run sub-14 for 5K, are right on the … uh, mark with their recommendations for hill-bounding, skipping, short sprints, etc. But when it comes to fitness and neighborhood-level success at the 5K and 10K, versus elite world-level competitiveness, we’re talking (Mark’s) apples and oranges.

    BTW, Peter Snell still holds the New Zealand record for the mile, which he set 50 years ago on a grass track.