Filling the unforgiving twelve minutes – Making the grade as a runner

I start this story off by noting – I was never a runner. To be clear, I am actually quite capable of running. I am was reasonably quick when it came to sprinting and making moves in team sports like rugby and basketball; however, running for distance was never my thing. Also, if you know me, or if you have ever seen me, you can tell I am pretty much built for power – you would not expect to see someone like me jogging alongside the Kenyan and Ethiopian race leaders in the Boston Marathon. Having said that, over the years, I have begun to recognize the value of going for a jog. It is clearly one of the most straightforward ways to get a good workout within a short amount of time. Given I am now the busy father of an almost one year old, ‘within a short amount off time’ is paramount.

Now I don’t imagine I will ever subscribe to Runner’s World, but I suppose I have become your garden variety 3-times a week runner. What has made this practice a little more palatable for me has honestly been my smartphone. With my selection of podcasts and music I can entertain myself, and with the run-tracking application Strava, I can now make it a little competitive as well. Last year, I got hooked on the app when I would take my two-mile jogs along the Rideau River while my partner Amy was at her pre-natal yoga classes. I realized the app would reward me with gold trophy icons when I had reached a personal best in my mile or 2-mile times. It also smartly incentivizes you by doling out virtual silver and bronze medals if you don’t quite get there, but do reach your 2nd or 3rd best times.  Improving my own times was definitely exhilarating, but the question remained – what do these times really mean?

It is one thing to achieve a personal best – it is another to understand how you measure up with everyone else. Though there is no perfect measuring stick for distance running, I found several useful ones:

  • The Army PFT Two-Mile Run Standards: As my early focus was on two miles, the US Army Physical Fitness Test standards was a useful tool for tracking progress. As it provides a score based on gender and age, you can get a fairly good sense as to how you are doing. Thankfully, I am definitely getting good grades for my age – now time to see how well I can measure up against the young recruits.
  • Cooper 1.5-mile test: Kenneth H. Cooper, a doctor and former Air Force Colonel designed a number of tests relating to physical fitness. The original test was the 12-minute run, in which you would measuring standard would be how far you could run in that time. This could be used to estimate the VO2max which is a key metric used to indicate cardiorespiratory fitness. As it is often easier to run a set distance and measure the time, the alternate to this was the 1.5-mile test. Click here to see how your 1.5-mile (2.4 km) time measures up.
  • The mile: Oddly enough, I found it very hard to find a good dependable standard for the mile. Some sites simply halved the Army PFT times when talking about the one-mile, but that clearly isn’t that helpful, as you should be able to keep a somewhat faster pace over half the distance. There are various references to 9 minutes being a time suggesting moderate fitness, 8 minutes being a starting point to progress in distance, and perhaps 6 minutes being the noteworthy mark that everyone should aim for. For now, I guess I will simply have to work on the El Guerrouj standard: 3 minutes and 43 seconds. Well, we can always try.

Tomorrow is the Terry Fox Run and specifically the first Virtual Terry Fox Run, as there will be no in-person events amidst the pandemic. As such, to honour Terry’s Mararthon of Hope, I will take this opportunity to put in a big effort and go for my personal bests. The run will be a 10K, but I will focus the initial segment on achieving my best time in the mile. If I can manage my pace well enough, I will hopefully hit the mark in the 2-mile as well. Equipped with Strava and some Rocky music, perhaps I can make a little (personal) history. Stay tuned…

If you would like to sponsor me for the Virtual Terry Fox Run, please visit my sponsorship page. If you’ve given a dollar, you are part of the Marathon of Hope.


  1. Hi Pete
    Your comments on the incentive provided by the Slava app are right on. It is strange how we will do so many things for very minimum positive feedback. I remember when we first got the Camry hybrid, my driving behavior changed completely. I just had to get the screen to say “Excellent!” when I kept the mileage for a trip below 6 l per 100k. Just a simple word on the screen did more than all of mum’s exhortations!

    • Yes – many apps for various purposes uses ‘gamification’ these days, but it depends on the person and the ‘reward’ as to how effective it will be. Because a computer is objectively deciding your success, perhaps that’s why it may feel good about it. You know you’ve made the grade. 🙂

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