5 Biggest Mistakes SOF Candidates Make in Running Assessments

By Jeff Grant

Over the years, I’ve coached SOF and LEO candidates in many countries, as well as civilian athletes for military-themed events, such as GORUCK & SEALFIT Kokoro. I thrive on working with this type of athlete, especially the one who is on the fence with respect to the standards and has to put in a big effort to meet the mandatory time hacks.

Nothing has frustrated me more though than hearing stories of SOF candidates training hard, meeting standards consistently in training before an assessment, and then blowing it on their big day. We have to put a stop to this, especially for those following us at SEAL Grinder PT and striving for mastery of mind, as well as body.

In Run Faster: Unlock Your Speed in 8 Weeks, I teach a proven mix of skills spanning running technique, mind hacks, and conditioning for speed. While some runners are eager to jump right into the training plan, if a runner’s focus stops there, they risk putting themselves into the category of those who crack and flounder on test day.

To help readers avoid “being that runner”, I include as well in the program a very important chapter on Competition & Testing. There, I go deep into advice for how to train for a successful assessment. It’s worth reading for anyone who must complete a course in a given time for their job.

This topic is so important to a candidate’s ability to succeed that I decided to share 5 key tips with you freely via this article.

Don’t make the mistakes others have made. Train hard, train smart, and then race smart. Speaking of racing, that’s a term I’ll use interchangeably with testing and assessment, so view it through the lens of your needs, whether that’s military, LEO, OCR, Triathlon, 5K Running, etc.

Here are the top 3 mistakes I’ve seen runners make in assessments and what to do to avoid them.

Mistake #1: Leaving Their Mind Empty

If you toe the start line with your mind empty, it is unlikely to stay that way when you are pushing yourself to the limit. And unless you’ve invested years into mind training practices, an empty mind is too easily filled with negativity when placed under pressure.

The most common scenario is this: a runner starts a race with an empty mind and with no strategy for mind control. He is armed simply with a plan to hang on and run as hard as possible for the required distance.


Once he reaches the pain cave of lactic acid blasting through his body and not flushing quickly enough, his mind subconsciously focuses on any negative that it can claw into. The runner thinks of the pain, of the fear of failure, of his time splits, of wanting to puke, etc.

This negatively trap is enough to unravel an athlete and lead quickly to failure.

Mistake #2: Pre-Select and Activate a Mind Hack

Fill your mind before the race starts, just like you were fueling a race car before the start flag drops. Fill your mind with a tool that you’ve consistently trained under high intensity. And then activate that Mind Hack in the moments before starting, so that it is fully present in your mind from the very first second of the race.

Which Mind Hack?

I teach 7 super effective Mind Hacks in Run Faster. To give you an idea of a Mind Hack, it could be as a simple as a mantra you will repeat to yourself throughout the assessment.

Other hacks include focusing on a specific color or emotion. In Flow State Runner, I even teach a Mind Hack involving smell, so there are many tools available via tapping into one’s senses, studying martial arts, practicing Eastern traditions such as Yoga and Qi Gong, etc.

Read, learn, experiment, select, and then practice with your selected Mind Hack.

Don’t overlook this last part.

To be consistently successful under pressure, one must select mind tools that are the best personal fit, and then train with them consistently under similar conditions as the assessment.

Mistake #3: Not Preparing for the Standards and Conditions of the Assessment

With the popularity of CrossFit rising over the years, I’ve worked with more and more athletes who have trained sit-ups using primarily CrossFit style, which is knees-out and back supported with an AbMat. This style of sit-up is effective in focusing on core strength development and minimizing reliance on hip flexors in the sit-up.

Here’s the problem.

Most military fitness assessments include old school sit-ups, and often these are done prior to the run. By old school, I mean the style where your feet are planted flat on the ground and another candidate holds your ankles. This style of sit-up relies on much more hip flexor engagement than CrossFit style.

Do you see the problem?

When our fictional athlete, Chuck CrossFit, trains for years with AbMat sit-ups and then rocks up to the PST, where he’s tasked with old school sit-ups, his hip flexors will be blasted much more than in his usual sit-ups.

He may not notice the difference in the sit-up test, but it will nail him on the run, where hip flexor activation is mandatory for a quick turnover. This is a classic failure to train specifically for the movement standards of the assessment.

A similar failure may also occur with weather, surface, clothing, and activity order. When you are being assessed, nothing should come as a surprise. You’ve been there and done that under similar or worse conditions in training.

The lesson here is to train to the precise standards and conditions of your assessment. If you need to run after sit-ups, train sit-ups frequently like they will be performed in the assessment, and then run after sit-ups. If your assessment has a specific and repeatable order, train consistently under high intensity in that order.

If your assessment has elements of flexibility and surprise to expect, such as a multi-day SOF selection, then train with variation. For example, practice doing your PST/PFT mid-ruck, after a swim, in the middle of the night, with a minimal warm-up, in a variety of clothing configurations, etc.

Lastly, prepare for any potential weather conditions.

Don’t be surprised with heat, cold, rain, fog, etc. Train for the worst. That means actually testing yourself with high intensity efforts when the weather is the least favorable for a test.

Mistake #4: Poor Pace Management

Too often, I’ve seen runners start a 1.5-mile assessment at a 1/2-mile sprint pace. Two minutes later, they slow down to their target pace, but it’s too late! They are in a deficit that they will not recover from. I know you can imagine this. Perhaps it’s even happened to you. You’re all amped up. It’s finally happening.

The other guys are hammering the pace. “Let’s get this done,” you think. You fire the after-burners and hope for the best. And then, BOOM!…your jets explode and it’s like your legs are moving through water! Push yourself hard, but don’t be THAT guy.

Mistake #5: Not Owning Your Personal Pace

A smart running training planning includes a variety of paces, from low intensity to desired race pace to super high intensity. Dial in your pace during training and in your simulated assessments. And then, OWN YOUR PACE. Forget about everyone else.

OWN your pace, run YOUR race.

Run your target pace for at least 80% of the race duration before you turn on the after burners. You should be able to run your target pace without looking at your watch to check splits, because you’ve run that exact pace over and over at varying distances in your training.

Then, when there is 20% or less of the course remaining, fire up your most effective Mind Hack, and ride that rocket to the finish line.

Let us know how we can help you get the job done and meet your goals.

And let me know how your assessment goes!

— Coach Jeff

Questions from our SGPT athletes

QUESTION: Coach, my goal this summer is to get into trail running. A friend said I should get shoes specifically for that. Do  you have any you can recommend?

ANSWER: Yes; check out SGPT’s favorites here: Top 10 Trail Running Shoes.

QUESTION: Coach Brad, I’ve been learning how to pose run, but I’m having a hard time with it. Can you give some tips?

ANSWER: We get this question a lot. Check out this SGPT article: Pose Running Tips.

Question: Coach; do you have a good running workout that will help boost my mile time?

Answer: Yes; check out this workout that I used many times while I was training for Navy SEAL training BUD/S.
Mobility warmup then…
jog 400 meters
sprint 60% effort
jog 400 meters
sprint 70%
jog 400
sprint 80
jog 400
sprint 90
jog 400 meters
walk 200 meters
cool down mobility
Yoga sitting hurdle position

Try that workout and post your results in the comments below.

Jeff Grant’s passion is in coaching–in helping people unlock their potential and break through cycles of stress, overload, and inaction. Jeff is a specialist mind training and running coach and currently lives in Switzerland. He is constantly finding new ways to challenge himself—such as completing an event to honor D-Day and raise funds for the Navy SEAL Museum, where participants swam to France from 10KM offshore and rucked 25 miles inland.

You can find out more about Jeff at his websites Hillseeker and Flow State Coaching.


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