FEATURE: So, you want to be an RCMP officer? - PART 1

Taking the full PARE conditioning and training for the RCMP at Depot. Held to the same standards as any officer. No shortcuts. No back routes. No whining.

Word travels fast in Yorkton and, indeed, the entire Parkland region. By now, a good amount of RCMP officers in various detachments across the Parkland area are aware that, for the better part of four months, I have been doing RCMP conditioning and training; specifically the PARE exam in order to show a full cycle of what is required to successfully meet the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s fitness requirements. Originally, I was going to write this article as a master document, but since so many people have stopped me (both officers and curious members of the public) curious to find out how the training is going, I thought that it might be more fitting to chronicle the process as it happens at key junctures of the training. It may also assist members of the public who are considering joining the RCMP, giving them a good idea of what they can expect when preparing for readiness for the test. This test is a major component of the RCMP; if you cannot pass the PARE exam, you will not earn your badge (much less your Serge) and you will be sent home. It is as simple as that.

The good news is that if you’re prepared to treat the test with respect, go in with your eyes open, provide yourself sufficient (and realistic) time to train, the test is very passable — even if you don’t consider yourself very fit right now. It will push you, but you can work toward it. Furthermore, after passing your RMAQ, polygraph and background check — which can take several months to up to a year or two to go through the process of being accepted as a Cadet into a Troop at Depot, realistically, you should have plenty of time to prepare for the PARE. Since you’ve got to pass it within your first week of arriving at RCMP HQ, why not load the bases and really crush the test? Plus, you’ll have a leg up, feel great, and confident when you get the nod from your facilitator.

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Don’t forget: The RCMP absolutely wants you to succeed.

What is the PARE?

The PARE is a deceptively simple looking test, used to gauge the fitness capability of RCMP cadets. It is comprised of a circuit with obstacles that must be completed under a certain time frame in order to pass.

The fitness evaluation can often be underestimated by cadets, and the circuit is designed to simulate a relatively straightforward ground pursuit of a suspect.

The exam’s difficulty lies in the combination of cardiovascular and weight training functions at the same time. The two functions often work against each other, and so when you are running at an elevated heart rate, your ability to exert physical force becomes impaired. Have you ever tried to download too many things at once on the internet and it gets slower? It’s the same idea. Your heart is pumping blood and your body has to work harder to get oxygen. You can focus on running or lifting singly, but once you double up and have to shift gears at the same time, you can’t physically push as much after running because your body’s battery is trying to power too many things at the same time. If you try and run the microwave, a ceramic heater, a vacuum and a toaster on the same circuit, you’ll trip the breaker and the power shuts off.

This is why conditioning is so important. Even the fittest cadet, when they arrive at Depot, typically gravitate toward one or the other - either they’re runners, or they’ve been pumping iron.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have successfully passed the PARE in years past. At the time I took it, my time was 4:14. I am also a competitive dragon boat racer and rower, and had just come off heavy training that year. That having been said, while 4:14 is an OK time, at the time RCMP requirements were to take the PARE twice. PARE #1, as it is called, needed to have been completed in 4 minutes and 45 seconds; PARE #2, which is the same test but with the bag carry weight increased to 100 lbs instead of 80, had to be done with a time of 4 minutes or less. You don’t need to worry so much about PARE #2 - if you pass PARE #1 at Depot, you’ll have so much training and physical activity at Depot you’ll be able to PARE #2 no problem. So, don’t agonize over the extra weight. If you make it to Depot, the RCMP will train it into you. They’re pretty darned good at it.

In arranging this with the RCMP, who was aware of my fitness level, the goal was to demonstrate two things: if you want to be an RCMP officer, it is very doable so long as you train properly, safely and correctly. This means allowing yourself sufficient conditioning time. Secondly, don’t underestimate it. More on that later.


Pooched with a purpose

The move to Yorkton from my original homestead was a good three day drive, and when you relocate, it takes a few months to acclimatize to your new environment. In this case, it meant my normal cardiovascular and weight training took a nose dive, meaning in a very practical sense I couldn’t train at all for nine months. This brought my fitness level down from a provincial level rower to closer to an average level of fitness. This made it an ideal scenario to redo the PARE, as it would give a good idea as to what would happen if someone took the test without preparing for it. Had I taken it at an optimum training fitness level like before, it would not be indicative of what you might experience if you walk a bit but aren’t really super athletic — and really, what is there to learn there? So the idea is to show the process to pass, having done so before.

In short, the idea was to do the test at Depot twice: the first, I knew would be a flunk, and then spend the next several months training to get my fitness level back up, verily and duly chronicled. Then, once back at a clean bill of health, so to speak, take the PARE a second time with a passing grade.

The test itself is fairly straight forward. Your heart rate is taken prior to taking the exam, and then you are given your marks to start. The circuit is comprised of a run around a track. You then perform a 5 foot running jump, ascend and descent small platform of stairs, jump over several 18-inch hurdles with a movable top, and then a vault. You cannot use your legs to assist you with the vault; it must be done with your upper body. After clearing the vault, you must perform a controlled fall on a mat. The RCMP facilitator, an experienced Constable, will give you a verbal indication whether it is a front fall (on your chest), or a back fall (yes, on your back). The type of fall is randomized to assess your reaction time. (As your oxygen levels are being used due to cardio, it is a good way to estimate the effects of tetany.) You then go around pylons in a particular direction.

You then move on to the push-pull machine, which simulates the effect of apprehending an uncooperative subject with cuffs. The machine is remarkably effective. The push pull machine is 85 lbs, and you must do three controlled arcs of motion, shoving in the weights, with full control of your core and lower body. You are then asked to do three full burpees (fall to the ground at front, use your arms and core to get back up, jump up and clap, then the same with rear,) and repeat the process. Finally, you then do the pull portion, which is actually more difficult. After this, you do the torso bag carry. An 80 lb bag (100 for full members) must be carried 50 feet. This section is not timed. You either pass or fail.

I estimated at my fitness level at the time, my time would be approximately 7-8 minutes, allowing for an additional three minutes of penalties. If you miss anything, such as using your legs for assistance during the vault, say, knock off any of the fence bars, touch the mat with your feet with the 5 foot jump — you must start that section over and/or face a timed penalty which is added to your time. Screw-ups cost you: you can easily compound your time exponentially as you become tired and make stupid mistakes.

Mistakes that cannot be made when a criminal is running away - possibly to harm someone else.

And that is why the RCMP makes sure that you can handle this test.

As tough as the test is, there’s an undeniable energy at Depot. Even though I knew this PARE #1 would not be a pass, I had a room full of RCMP cadets who were very supportive. Many came up to me to make supportive comments — “You’re doing this voluntarily?” one Cadet joked. But make no mistake — the Cadets and staff do look out for each other. As Cadets took the test before me, other Cadets shouted out encouragement, with clapping and pop. It wasn’t phony, either. Even though the stakes were high, everyone helped each other with morale which can really help. Cst. Meredith Darrah was my facilitator, and she was great. 

There are certain areas that tend to be common “gotchas” if your fitness needs a bit of a tweak. Pylon direction was common; some had difficulty with the vault or the jump. It’s the endurance mainly; you need to pace yourself. On average, areas of fatigue became evident in various degrees by the end of the second lap or the third. Though I knew this, I was no different.

Sure enough, I was right on board with the mistakes as predicted: I got discombobulated with the pylons. This is also common with newer Depot Cadets), and my body started to give out a bit. My final time for test one was 10:31, of which 3 minutes roughly were penalties. I did a warm-up run, in which I completed the bag carry (seen in the photos) but because my core/cardio needed work, my body gave out after the push/pull and the bag carry was technically not evaluated for the test, as seen in my evaluation sheet. PARE #1 is now 5:45, but it is still more than double the acceptable time and well over two thirds of the old PARE #1.

Back to the drawing board.

 

Fortunately, there was a plan. The advantage of knowing your body as a result of years of competitive training is that even if you’ve had real life get in the way of your training for a while, you can generally predict what you need to build on, roughly how many months it will take, and what steps are required to get there.

The first step, I knew, was to increase my cardio, in order to gradually get my heart’s ability to pump the blood safely to where it was. My weight training, ironically, wasn’t too bad; hauling boxes and heavy crap for a 3 500 km schlep no doubt assisted in that.

To that end, I partnered with the University of Regina RCMP bootcamp to do training.

My cardio still suffered, as the students in the program had already been training at the level I had 9 months earlier, so they were able to keep a pace I hadn’t yet become reaccustomed to, so the fatigue at the weight component was affected. In order to keep up, I temporarily left the program with a target of getting my cardio back to the point of being able to run a kilometre in approximately 2 minutes and 30 seconds, then return to the U of R’s Dr. Paul Schwann Centre with that baseline for the full 6 weeks.

The reason for this is because if you can push yourself to that kind of a full tilt run without getting too tired, you allow yourself a minute and 30 seconds to allow for errors but still pass the test. It also means that, because the body is able to handle that load without gasping for air, you’re less likely to have performance issues that cause clumsiness from tetany during the vault, push/pull, and so on. There would be no weight training until that point. Your mileage may vary; you have to know your body especially for your key sports. But that was the start.

The body is a remarkable vessel; its capacity to be stretched and gradually improved is remarkably elastic.

This is where HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) training comes in handy. HIIT training is a fancy way of saying you want to keep your body from being able to predict your workout. The reason for this is because your body adapts. If you run for the same intervals at the same time each day, your body will actually anticipate this and adjust how hard it works so it doesn’t use more resources than required. The problem is, we want the body to use more resources than required, to build endurance. The harder the body works (within reason), the more endurance we build up and the faster we shave time off. The heart also becomes accustomed to the intake and will generate more bloodflow without straining the system as much.

I typically do my running at the Horizon Credit Union Centre in Melville because five laps is a little over one kilometre. Both the RCMP and many municipal police forces in Canada recommend being able to do a 2.4 km run in approximately 13 minutes. It’s a good baseline; if you can do that you’ll be able to do the cardio portion of the PARE without getting too tired with sufficient reserves for the weight portion (push/pull and bag carry.)

Beginning around June, I set to begin three laps -- so a little over a half a kilometre (actually, closer to 600 metres.) My aim was to shave approximately 11 seconds off each week.

You don’t want to push your heart too quickly -- you want to gradually stretch its capacity and then you increase.

Beginning the cardio after Depot Pare #1, I started with a 1 minute jog, one minute training speed interval pace. My time was a little over 6 minutes, 42 seconds, which isn’t a good time, but the idea is to acclimatize the heart to work a little harder after an extended period of disuse. That averages to roughly 14 minutes per kilometre, or roughly 30 minutes for 2.4 km.

Each week I shaved approximately 30 seconds off my time. At the current time, I am averaging 3:46 per 600 m, with my per kilometre time at just under 6 minutes (5.76). I’m averaging around 14 minutes for 2.4 kilometres, which is about a minute away from the target time. However, my heartrate is still a little too high - not so high, so I now push myself holding that time so my heart does it with a little less strain and once I can do 2.4 km in 12 minutes comfortably then I’ll move on to the weight training component before returning to the Dr. Paul Schwann Centre.

I figured I’d be looking at about 18 weeks (about 4 months) of training from my first Depot punt in June allowing for 3-5 training sessions a week. Sometimes life gets in the way with work so add some extra time. As of writing, we’re at about 4 months.


PART 2 - Breakdown of the PARE

I'm still doing conditioning, as of course I am balancing this alongside my regular work duties. Part II, when ready, will feature a detailed breakdown of each component of the PARE test itself, as well as how I trained for it and whom I worked with to meet those goals. I'm being followed, filmed, and photographed while doing this, so there will be a lot of visuals to go along.

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