Leveling Up: A Conversation with Formula Founder Ann Dunn on Training for (and winning) the Charlottesville Ten Miler

You're a former elite-miler and steeplechaser that debuted in double-digit mile racing at the Charlottesville Ten Miler, one of the hardest road races on the east coast. That's a unique perspective to say the least. How did your preparation for the C10M differ from previous training cycles? Was it just a matter of increased volume, or did you have to adjust your workout intensity as well?


Why, thank you for the props James. My preparation for the C10M was definitely very different from previous training cycles. About two years ago I took a break from competitive training and racing because I felt 'stuck' in the sport.  I knew that the focus I put towards my training and life had never been better and yet I really struggled with races in ways I had never before. My fitness was better than ever, but my races did not reflect it. In my two year break from competition I wanted to get back to a point where running was a healthy challenge and FUN for me again. 

Moving to Charlottesville has definitely helped me discover a love for training again; we have the best places to run and I have made so many new friends through running. Jason pushed me to sign up for the 10 Miler and I'm so glad he did. To be completely honest, my attitude was sort of like, do the bare minimum to be respectable. Long runs are not my favorite and because my approach was to have FUN, I decided I would do a few long runs 70-90 min, but not obsess over them and not check my GPS. I also did not count my weekly mileage, but I'm guessing it was about 50-55, which is not very hard for me to hit.  What I do enjoy is doing quality work (running fast!) and then having the flexibility to run pretty slow other times during the week. So I made sure I got in two quality sessions a week (hills, cruise intervals, fartleks mostly) and then tried to be a little better about getting some more runs in. This might not be the answer you expected, but what I've realized is that being emotionally-charged instead of emotionally-drained can have a huge impact on performance.


Something I think a lot of novice runners struggle with is a proper pre-race warm up. What was your pre-race routine? Was it a set amount of time/distance, or did you go on feel? Any hard efforts mixed in? 


I usually start a warm-up 45' in advance of a race. I start with a 15' easy run, followed by dynamic stretches and drills. Then I do a second run of about 4-5' with some 30 second pushes (fast running) to get primed and ready to run race pace. Then I lace up my racing flats, hit the bathroom, and do a few strides (really fast running) before the start. It was pretty chilly out the day of the C10M and we were running late, so I combined the two runs and minimized standing time to avoid getting too cold. 


The C10M is legendary for it's rolling course, specifically the first 2 miles where you're always climbing or falling. Did you come into the race with a terrain specific strategy, i.e. "I'm going to attack the hills and take it easy on the downhills"? And if you had a terrain specific strategy, did it go out the window once the gun went off? (I've heard that's a thing that happens.)


My plan going in was sort of like a choose-your-own adventure book. From all of our runs together, I knew Rachel Booth was going to be a contender. I figured 6 min/mile pace was a reasonable goal on that course so I wanted to hit the pace right out of the gate and know what it felt like. If Rachel was close to me, I envisioned us working together and trying to settle in a rhythm and hopefully out-kick her in the end. Rachel started off much more conservative so I just decided to hammer the pace a little bit more early on to make the comeback that much harder. I figured that no matter what I was going to feel tired at the end of the race so I might as well take my fresh legs on the front end and try to hold on. It's always been my nature to run like that, whether it's the smartest way to race- that's up for debate.


Mile 7 of the C10M finds you at the bottom of Water St. You then subsequently have to "climb" up Water to Main St. to University. You've already been through the ringer of some gnarly hill action, but you're not close enough to the finish to "burn it all out." It was right around this spot in the race (where people maybe start to feel sorry for themselves with fatigue) that a full blow battle broke out between you and Rachel. How were you feeling physically at this point in the race? When you realized that Rachel was starting to narrow the gap on you, did you make any calculated change to your strategy? 


I actually did not know Rachel was close to me until 200 meters to go. After consistently hitting about 6 min pace, at Mile 8 I looked down at the watch and saw 6:18. "Oooh, better pick it up." I thought.  At Mile 9, I look down at my watch. 6:30. "Oooh, that was not faster."  At this point I have a mile to go, so I focus on the men ahead of me and started closing the gap. Even though I was picking it up, another runner came up on my shoulder and changed my perspective on how fast I thought I was going. And then I saw Rachel on his shoulder! Rachel was so nice to even encourage me as she tried to pass me. My immediate thought was "way to go, you blew it!" and threw my arms up. My second thought was to give myself a chance and try to kick. I ended up making a 3 second gap on Rachel, and probably looked ridiculous in the process. I felt relieved that I had finished my longest race to date. It was great to give Rachel a hug right after we crossed the finish line.

With Rachel (number 6) hot on her heels, Ann (number 5) goes into "miler mode."

With Rachel (number 6) hot on her heels, Ann (number 5) goes into "miler mode."


Remix to question 2; what was your cool down routine like?


Usually I try to get in at least 15' easy, do some stretches and eat something. I ran a bit longer after the C10M because I had running buddies to chat with!


Not only have you been an elite runner and coached at the Div. 1 level, but you hold an MS in Exercise Physiology; your knowledge of the hard science of running is deep. When you're out there competing like you were in the C10M, are you conscious of what's happening to you physically? ("I just hit my first aerobic threshold, I can hold this for x number of minutes")


Ha yes! I thought that becoming a coach and physiologist would immediately translate to becoming a better runner as long as I did everything right physically.  The truth is, it's better to not think too much. But yes, I was aware that I probably couldn't run 5:40's on that course without going anaerobic so I stuck to 6:00's. I just tried to focus on simple things like being efficient and conserving as much energy as possible throughout the race. 


It's hard to be anything but delighted with a first place finish in your debut at a distance, but looking back on the experience (and looking ahead to next year) is there anything you might adjust about your approach to the C10M?


I would like to be more serious about my training this upcoming year. I'll plan on increasing my weekly volume (maybe averaging 70 mpw) and continue making gains in strength training. 


Is 10 as far as you'd like to go for a race, or can you see yourself graduating to he half-marathon any time soon?


I absolutely want to run a half-marathon. I'm thinking about running Richmond this fall.


That was a cool tank you wore race day. Any idea where I can get one?

James- we have one with your name on it! And we will have singlets for purchase available in our studio!

Ann, passing some dude, winning the race, "looking ridiculous."

Ann, passing some dude, winning the race, "looking ridiculous."