Happy Veteran’s Day: What It’s Like Running in the Army

With Ben, one of my running partners in Kuwait, after a race

Everyone in the Army is a runner. Not always in the same way that we Salties are runners, filling our spare hours with training and our weekends with racing, but compared to the average population, Soldiers are runners. They have to be; it’s a job requirement. There are physical standards to get into the military, and physical requirements to stay in.

In the Army, the annual physical fitness test consists of pushups, sit-ups, and a two mile run, with time standards graded by age and gender. Soldiers generally have physical training (PT) every morning before the actual work day starts, usually from 0630-0730. On one hand, this makes for a long day, on the other, it’s nice to have time allocated to work out.

Deployments are often all or nothing for working out. Depending on the location, level of security, and actual job, Soldiers either have no ability to work out or unlimited opportunities to get in shape since they have little else to do in their free time. Soldiers are creative, which is why I think CrossFit-type workouts are popular within the military. They allow Soldiers to leverage their sometimes limited resources to get fit.

When I deployed to Iraq for the start of the war in 2003, I didn’t run a single step; in fact, running was the furthest thing from my mind. We were in a big logistics convoy for several weeks, following the fighting forces from Kuwait up to Baghdad. We didn’t leave the security of our perimeter, and even once we reached our destination of Baghdad International Airport, it still wasn’t feasible to work out.

I think the best illustration for my situation is this: my birthday was several days after the initial invasion started, and my mom had sent a birthday present that arrived through the military mail system before we left Kuwait. I carried it with me and waited to open it on my actual birthday, so I’d have something special to celebrate. When I opened it out in the middle of nowhere Iraqi desert, amidst swirling sandstorms and fear of war and found a pair of Victoria’s Secret pajamas I burst into tears and laughter at the same time. The tears came because of course I was homesick and scared and didn’t want to be there and missed my normal life. And my laughter was because of the irony. If only my mom knew how ridiculous it was to be holding a cute little pair of fancy PJ’s when I hadn’t taken my chemical protective suit off in over a week, let alone showered.

What do you do with a bunch of army race T-shirts you’ll never wear? T-shirt quilt!

A few years later I deployed to Kuwait for a year. They called it a deployment because the Army categorized it as a combat zone, but I’ll admit, it was pretty easy and a completely different experience from my first deployment. Of course it was hard to be away from normal life for a year, but as far as running, I ran and raced as much as my plantar fasciitis at the time would allow. [Side note: I think I developed PF from having to wear combat boots constantly, but that’s another post!]

Kuwait is hot, hotter than I could even imagine, and worse than Iraq, because you also have the humidity from the Gulf. Walking outside there feels like sticking your head inside a 400° oven. When the wind does blow, it feels like holding a hair dryer up to your face. And while parts of the base I was on were actually paved, the majority of running routes were deep sand, not exactly ideal running conditions.

But I was very fortunate and grateful to be able to run while deployed! I found it impossible to run while the sun was out, so would normally get up to run at 4:00am. Sounds extreme, but since I had nothing else to do it was easy to go to bed early and get up at that time. Luckily I also found a few running partners, so didn’t have to risk going out alone.

Halloween costume run in Kuwait- that’s me dressed as a pig

Obviously at that time running was not a priority, or even a concern. I think everyone has times whether literally or figuratively you’re in a war zone, where survival puts things in perspective, and running is just not on the list of things that happen. Sometimes when going through challenging times, there’s no room left emotionally or physically to run.

Part of my job was to monitor a contract that provided life support services to eight different bases spread throughout the country. Since I had to perform site visits, I often planned these on Saturdays, coordinating with the Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) race schedule. MWR plans and hosts activities to provide entertainment for Soldiers. Between these races and shadow races put on by various organizations, I was able to find a race at some base almost every weekend, and ran as many as I could fit in. I came home with more race t-shirts than I knew what to do with, so made them into a quilt to commemorate my racing around Kuwait!

Not many occupations make running one of their job requirements. “Real runners” may not consider the Army run time standards to be credible. But to some extent, Soldiers are out there most days before others even start their work hours, pounding the pavement or trudging in the sand, getting a run in.

Have any questions about running in the military? Are you a veteran?

I have fun trying to sprint, enjoy long runs in the mountains, and everything in between. Former competitive runner (3 x marathon OTQ & trail marathon national champion) currently working through a lingering injury. I write about trying to stay competitive while raising young kids and moving into a new post-competitive stage.

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  1. I love the quilt you made! Thank you for your service! And as a Military Brat I can say some of my most vivid memories are of watching PT from the school bus.

  2. currently on my first (and last) deployment. I decided I wanted to love running so I just started. got “voluntold” (you vets know what that means) to do a turkey trot 5k and that was such a confidence booster. I finished without walking. and in under 30 minutes. deployment really helps you get into the habit of running because there really is nothing else to do with your free time.