How much rucking and running volume should I aim for to prepare for SFAS?
This is, hands down, the most common question I receive regarding selection prep. But as with most questions based on fitness prescriptions, the answer is “it depends”. The volume of running and rucking one can tolerate is highly individual. Add to that, there exists a wide range of total volumes which are sufficient for success.
For example, one candidate may run 30 miles/week and ruck 20. Another may run 12 miles/week and ruck 16.
Both of them may perform well enough to make it. Both of them may not. One may, the other may not. Although running and rucking are integral pieces of a sound SFAS prep, there are several more factors involved in determining your fate at SFAS.
Furthermore, there are several additional variables that make this question largely unanswerable, including but not limited to:
How far out from selection are you?
Do you already run & ruck well?
Do you ruck well but suck at running (or vice versa)?
What does your strength program look like (and how strong/weak are you)?
How well do you recover from rucks and runs?
What level of intensity are your rucks and runs?
What does your recovery look like in regards to lifestyle (sleep, nutrition, stress)?
Do you have young kids to tend to at home?
Does your current schedule allow for high volume running & rucking?
…And so on and so forth.
See how complicated this answer is? Even if I were to know most of the answers to these questions for someone, I still wouldn’t know exactly how much volume they should be doing. It would still be a an "educated guess and check" situation.
For example, some of my clients accumulate what would be considered inordinate amounts of running and rucking volume throughout their SFAS prep, but respond very well to it. Others accumulate what most would consider not enough, but still attend SFAS sufficiently prepared. I determine this through the use of multiple different metrics and continuous client feedback.
Speaking in generalities, using a timeframe of ~10 days to ~6 weeks out from selection (optimal peak volume/mileage period), if the sum of your running and rucking volume equates to less than 20 miles per week and you’re not a genetic anomaly who can run and ruck like a pro despite low training volume, you’re likely not doing enough. There are some individuals who can get away with a lackluster selection prep. But they’re uncommon, and “seeing what you can get away with” in preparation for arguably the most important evaluation process you’ll ever undergo isn’t the best idea.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll continue to repeat it forever, you do not want to be the guy that does the bare minimum. You do not want to live in the gray. You want to do all you can to mitigate all possible doubt, and control the controllables. You want to prepare as optimally as you possibly can in an effort to provide yourself the best chance at getting selected.
Many will claim that you don’t want to stand out - and not just to avoid standing out for bad reasons, but avoid it altogether. This is flawed logic. You want to exceed the standard. If you stand out for positive reasons, you’re essentially writing your ticket for a “selected” stamp on your out packet. If you fly under the radar, you’re leaving too much to chance. So the goal shouldn’t be to do the minimum required dose during your preparation.
Conversely, you want to avoid overdoing it. Aside from the rare case of a highly seasoned endurance athlete who’s fully adapted and accustomed to extremely high volume/mileage, it’s probable that weekly mileages in excess of 50 (running & rucking combined) is too much.
What’s this tell us? Somewhere between 20 and 50 miles per week are likely appropriate for SFAS prep.
Determining whether you should run more or ruck more boils down to where your strengths and weaknesses lie, as well as how well you recover from each activity. There’s no question you’ll spend far more time with a ruck on your back than you will running for time with no ruck. But running carries over to rucking quite well, especially if one has developed an above average base of full body strength.
Some individuals are great runners and mediocre ruckers. They should probably ruck more miles than they run, especially as their start date approaches. Some are already excellent ruckers but struggle with mid distance running. Perhaps they need to run more. But you should always remember that there's a fatigue cost to training that must be managed.
By rucking today, you’re potentially affecting your run tomorrow, and vice versa. Making room in your training plan to recover from the disciplines you struggle with most requires decreasing the frequency, intensity and volume with which you train what you’re already good at. Many people will train their strengths just as much as they train their weaknesses. It’s often more fun and better for the ego to complete a training session involving something that comes naturally to you. But this is a mistake, because there’s a cost to every training session you do. There are no free lunches in fitness, especially in regards to running and rucking. It’s a balancing act, and although it can never be perfectly executed, we can always try.
When I’m constructing a training program for an SFAS candidate, throughout the last 10-12 weeks, they’ll have either 2 runs & 2 rucks, 3 runs and 2 rucks, or 3 rucks and 2 runs. Sometimes, it’ll flip flop, in that one week will be 2 runs and 3 rucks, the next week is the opposite. On a case by case basis, I’ll instruct clients to wear a ruck throughout the day just to get used to the simple act of having it on, because at selection, much of the time you spend with a ruck on is spent standing still or on a knee.
Typically, running is favored heavily at the beginning of the program in an effort to build a running specific aerobic base. Occasional rucks occur during this time, but with an emphasis on fast walking and dialing in their gait. As the selection date approaches, rucking volume swoops in and dominates the program, unless otherwise indicated.
In the heart of prep (again, the time period between 6 weeks and 10 days out) the run volume typically ranges from 12-25 miles and the ruck volume ranges from 12-25 miles. That doesn’t mean each week will be 25 of both. Perhaps one week involves 20 miles of rucking and 12 of running. Perhaps the next week is 16 miles of rucking and 16 miles of running. Proper progression is key. Adding too much too soon is the most common cause of overuse injury or over training (“too much” can mean mileage/duration, ruck weight, intensity, or a combination).
One of the biggest mistakes one could make is to see a recommendation for 30+ mile weeks to prep for SFAS, and proceed to jump right into a 30 mile week despite only averaging 12 (for example). This is a prime example of too much, too soon. For those who lift weights regularly, it can help to think of it as gym volume. Going from 12 miles one week to 30 the next would be similar to jumping from 12 sets of lower body training one week to 30 sets the next. Not intelligent. Your approach must be calculated and meticulous.
So, how many miles are right for you? That’s for you (or your coach if you have one) to experiment with and determine. Ultimately, so long as you’re able to ruck well under the 15:00/mile minimum for 10+ miles and run well under the 8:00/mile minimum for 6+ miles, you’re likely fast enough to pass. How much under these minimum standards? You should be aiming to maximize your speed at all costs.
The ability to ruck 11-12:30 miles and the ability to run 6:00-7:00 miles would be ideal. Can you be slower than this and still pass? Sure. Plenty of people have, and plenty will continue to pass. But if you’re not currently within striking distance of these recommendations and your selection date is fast approaching, my suggestion is to opt for a later date. SFAS is not going anywhere. Plenty of people fail their first attempt and are invited back at a later date. But the goal should be to crush it your first time. I’ve always described it like this: SFAS is an experience of a lifetime, but not one you want to experience twice.
Your goal should be simple (not the same as easy); get your ruck and run pace as fast as possible while still being able to recover, stay healthy and improve week to week. If that is happening, you’re on the right track.