Marine Boot Camp Running – 3 Tips to Run Faster & Avoid Injury

Marine Boot Camp Running - Marine Corps recruits with Fox Company during the motivational run at MCRD San Diego

In This Article

Recruits spend a lot of time running during boot camp. In the first week, expect a 1.5-mile formation run and several rounds of an 880-meter combat conditioning course. This is just where it begins. In Marine Boot Camp running is foundational to combat fitness.

How Many Miles Do You Run in Marine Boot Camp?

While training to become a United States Marine, you will run more than 75 miles, and hike more than 90 miles.

But that only counts the training runs and physical fitness tests. You’ll actually run a lot more than that. You’ll not only run in formation for physical fitness, but you’ll be expected to run to and from every training event, from your squad bay to the platoon formation, and even more when you’re selected for incentive training.

You’ll also face a series of physical fitness tests.

The Initial Strength Test includes a 1.5-mile run, and the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test includes a 3-mile run, with your max score topping out at an 18-minute mile. If you want to become a recon Marine or a Raider — you need to be running a sub-21-minute mile at the very least.

In order to survive and thrive in boot camp, you will want to build up running endurance for at least three to six months prior to boot camp. Even if you are an experienced runner, you will be tested. You will be under much higher stress and sleeping less than you ever have before. You will battle fatigue daily.

If you can’t already run a mile without stopping, you’ll need to start there. 

Marine Boot Camp Running - new marines run in formation during a motivational run at MCRD San Diego.
New U.S. Marines with India Company, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, run in formation during a motivational run at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, March 31, 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Grace J. Kindred)

Bad at Running? Here’s How to Get Better

When you begin running, start off easy and slow. Going too far and too fast will cause injuries that may be difficult to recover from. However, the inverse is also true. Not running far enough or long enough before boot camp can lead to potential injuries.

For beginning runners, set a stopwatch or your smartphone to 5 or 10 minutes. If you have a GPS- enabled smartphone, there are running applications available that will track your distance and speed, as well as store your workouts for future reference. These can be invaluable training tools.

Focus on a leisurely pace that you can maintain for 5 or 10 minutes. Once you get up to 20 minutes without stopping, you can start to time your runs and get faster.

Surviving Marine Corps Boot Camp book banner

Don’t run on a treadmill. Treadmills approximate the feeling of running on very flat, unchanging terrain. Run outside, and on trails if you can. The more varying and challenging your runs are, the better you’ll be able to adapt when you begin boot camp.

Marine Boot Camp running takes place on asphalt, dirt trails, and even some hills and swamps. The more varied terrain you can take on during training, the better conditioned you will be! Active duty Marines, especially infantry Marines, love to run hills.

If you absolutely have to run on a treadmill, set the grade to 1.0 — this will help simulate outside running. 

Above all, focus on using the correct running form & posture.

Running Form

There are three principles to proper Marine Boot Camp running form. These are posture, foot strike, and cadence. When running, it’s essential to constantly check in with all three of these. 

One of the best ways to train this is to start running in place. You’ll naturally stand up straight and you will be striking the ground on the balls of your feet. From here, lean forward slightly in order to run forward.

Let your legs stride out behind you, don’t reach in front of you in order to move forward. From there, you just have to focus on cadence — which is how quickly your feet hit the ground.

Tip 1: Proper Running Posture

When you’re running in the correct posture, there will be a “pose” that you hit right when your foot hits the ground. It’s basically like the number 4. Your foot should be striking directly underneath your body — not out in front of you. Your other foot should be lifted up and behind the other knee. 

Elbows should be bent at 90° and swinging straight forward and backward. Avoid rotating your torso and shoulders. 

Olympic runners demonstrating proper running form during the 2012 Olympics 10,000M final
Olympic runners demonstrated proper running form during the men’s 10k final in 2012. Look at number 13 (3rd from right). His foot strikes the ground directly underneath his body, elbows bent, and he’s leaning forward slightly.

A great way to train the right posture is to bend your elbows, begin running in place, and then lean forward slightly so that you begin moving forward. Don’t reach with your feet, but allow your body’s momentum to carry you forward. 

Running Posture Tips for Avoiding Injury and Running Fast

  1. Don’t reach forward with your foot. Allow your feet to strike the ground directly underneath your body.
  2. Avoid striking the ground with your heel. When you run and your heel strikes the ground in front of your body, you actually put the brakes on with each step. Then, your hamstring has to work overtime to pull your body forward, instead of what it should be doing, which is pulling your foot off the ground.

Tip 2: Foot-Strike

When properly running, your heel should not be hitting the ground in front of you. Instead, you should be landing on the balls of your feet, or on the mid-foot, where your foot will be landing flatter. Your feet should strike the ground directly underneath your body. 

There are several schools of thought regarding the differences between heel-strike, mid-foot strike, and ball-of-the-foot strike. Heel striking tends to increase the odds of an injury, and like mentioned before, actually slows you down with each step.

Focus on your foot striking directly underneath your body, and whether you land mid-foot or ball-of-the-foot really depends on your own physiology.

Marine Boot Camp Running - 3 Tips to Run Faster & Avoid Injury 1
The run cycle — pay attention to the “stance left” and “stance right” poses. Notice the slight lean forward and foot underneath the body. Image courtesy of BoH: Wikimedia Commons

Tip 3: Cadence

The final element of correct running posture is cadence, or how many times per minute your feet touch the ground. You should be aiming for 160-180 beats per minute or BPM.

Don’t know how fast that is? Check out these songs for cadence rhythm. 

160 BPM170 BPM180 BPM
“Happy” — Pharrell Williams“Take on Me” — A-ha“Won’t Back Down” — Eminem
“Shake it Off” — Taylor Swift“Sabotage” — Beastie Boys“The Impression That I Get” — Mighty Mighty Bosstones
“Heya” — OutKast“Good Life” — Kanye West“I Fought the Law” — Dead Kennedy’s
Songs you can use for focusing on your running cadence

If you have a smartwatch, you can see your cadence on the display. For what it’s worth, I typically run at about 176 BPM and that’s a sustainable speed for me. If you’re running less than 160 BPM, focus on picking up the cadence in order to run faster. 

Once you’ve got the cadence down, in order to run faster you just lean forward a bit more. To lengthen your stride, don’t reach in front of you, instead, let your stride open up to the rear.

In Marine Boot Camp running is often done in platoon formation and your Drill Instructor will have a call-and-response “cadence” to keep the platoon in time and on the left foot.

Marine Boot Camp Running Warm Up

When running in Marine Boot Camp, you will first warm-up with your Drill Instructors. The Marine Boot Camp Running warm-up consists of some dynamic stretching, strength exercises, and hip mobility designed to prevent injury and get the blood flowing to your muscles.

The Marine Boot Camp dynamic running warm-up consists of 14 exercises. To perform them properly, you will need to do each exercise for a count of 4 and for 10 repetitions. In the Marine Corps, you’ll have to get used to a 4-count cadence. That means 1-2-3-4 = one repetition. So Marine Corps 4-count push-ups are actually 2 civilian push-ups.

It’ll make sense when you get there. The following exercises are a part of the Marine Boot Camp running dynamic warmup.

Neck Clocks

Move your head in a circle clockwise for 5 reps, then counterclockwise for 5 reps.

Forward Arm Circles

With your arms straight out to your sides, begin rotating your hands in small circles. In the Marine Corps, you’ll count 4 repetitions as 1 — so you’ll actually be doing 40 circles. With each count, slowly increase the size of your circles until your shoulders open up.

Backward Arm Circles

This warm-up is the same as forward arm circles but backward. Use the same 4-count cadence and do 10 repetitions.

Heel Toe Rocks

With hands on hips, slowly rock forward until you’re standing on the balls of your feet, then rock back and lift your toes with knees slightly bent. Again, a 4-count cadence means 2x heel toe rocks is one rep. Do 10 repetitions.

Stationary Knee Hug

From the standing position, raise onto the balls of your feet, then hug your left knee into your chest, toes pointing to the sky. Then, slowly lower the leg and repeat on the right side. One repetition includes both legs.

Backward Lunges

From the standing position, hands on hips — step left leg back at your stride length and lower left knee to the ground. Return to the standing position and repeat on the right side. One repetition includes both left and right legs.

Side Straddle Hops (Jumping Jacks)

From the standing position, arms straight down by your sides. Jump both feet a little more than shoulder-width apart simultaneously bringing your hands together over your head. Then, return to the standing position. Remember to do 4-counts, so you’ll be doing 20 reps total.

Mogul Jumps

This exercise starts in the “up” push-up position. Arms extended straight and feet behind you. From there, jump both feet together by your left arm, knees outside the elbow. Your body will come into a tuck position with a naturally rounded back. Then jump your feet back to the push-up position and repeat on the right side. One repetition includes both sides.

Hand Reset Push-Ups

For this push-up variation, you’ll lower your body all the way to the ground. With your chest on the ground, lift your hands slightly and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Reset your hands just under your shoulders and complete the push-up. Remember that the Marine Corps does 4-count push-ups, so you’ll actually be doing 20 repetitions instead of 10.


From the “up” push-up position, step your left foot to the outside of your left hand. Then step back, feet together. Repeat on the right side. One repetition includes both sides.

Lunge With Twist

From the standing position, feet shoulder-width apart, step your left leg forward into a lunge, and twist your torso toward your left leg. Reach your arms straight out to your sides so they are perpendicular to the ground. Step back to the standing position and repeat on the right side. One repetition includes both sides.

Butt Kicks

This is a variation on running in place. Lift your left foot until your heel strikes your butt, then repeat on the right side. Move quickly and do this exercise for 30 seconds.

Long Striders

This is another variation of running in place where you keep the leg mostly straight with a slightly bent knee. Your arms should also be extended. It should look like you’re using an elliptical machine at the gym. Perform this exercise for 30 seconds.

Running In Place

Run in place but lift your knees high. With your elbows bent 90 degrees and hands facing down, keep your elbows and arms tight to the core and lift your left knee until it strikes your hand. Repeat on the right side. Move rapidly and do the exercise for 30 seconds.

Okay, now you’re ready to run!

New U.S. Marines run in formation during a motivational run at MCRD San Diego, CA.
New U.S. Marines with Hotel Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, run in formation during a motivational run at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Aug. 11, 2022. The motivational run was the last physical fitness event conducted in recruit training. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Grace J. Kindred)

Important Marine Boot Camp Running Tips

  1. Start slow and focus on running for 5-10 minutes at a time. Once you can get up to 20 minutes, you can start picking up the pace. 
  2. Increase your mileage slowly — don’t add more than 10% per week as you train. That way your muscles and tendons will have time to adapt and you can avoid injury.
  3. Warm up for your runs. Focus on dynamic stretches, running in place, high knees, butt kicks, and hand kicks. Static stretching should be saved for later in the day.
  4. Focus on your breath. It helps to have a pattern here. When I’m running at an easy pace, I breathe in for 3 steps (left foot first) and then breathe out for 3 breaths. If running hard, it’s in for 2, out for 2 (always on the left foot). You don’t want to lose control of your breath. Focus on filling your lungs all the way up and then exhaling.

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