Climbing the Ladder: Ken Begins Life with Formula

    Sometimes I have trouble waking up early, but not on race day; on race day I’m out of bed before dawn like I’m shot out of a cannon. It was pitch-black outside as my buddy Ken and I were carpooling to the starting line of the Charlottesville Ten Miler back in March. This was the culmination of my first full training cycle with Ann, and I flat out knew that I was in for a significant PR; not only were my workouts better than any I’d had before, but my knowledge about how to approach training had expanded exponentially under Ann’s guidance. On the ride there Ken was talking about how, after being out of running consistently for a minute, he’d gotten the bug back and was interested in training with Ann to try and push his fitness to the next level. The 71-minute time he clocked that day only whetted his appetite further. “The sub-70 Ten Miler is tantalizingly close, and I think some focused workouts plus outside motivation and guidance may get me there,” he said.

Ken passes a competitor, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and a Secret Society in one fell swoop. (Photo by Natalie Krovetz,

Ken passes a competitor, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and a Secret Society in one fell swoop. (Photo by Natalie Krovetz,


    Like myself (and Ann herself) Ken came in to the training program with some trepidation about using treadmills, and like myself his expectations were confounded when he started doing the Woodway workouts.  “It only took a few steps on the Woodway to convince me that it was not your ordinary treadmill. It is nice to be able to do speed work in a controlled and predictable environment, as compared to the streets of Charlottesville, where you are almost always running up and down hills.  Moreover, I was impressed that the Woodway provides a much gentler impact than any other medium I have run on, including my preferred surface, dirt.  That seems particularly beneficial when ramping up the speed,” Ken said.

    In his second week of training Ann had Ken do a Fartlek (doesn’t the word make the workout sound so cute and innocent?) It was a ladder workout; 1-2-3-4-3-2-1 minutes hard with rest in between. Having done this exact workout with Coach before, I felt that the first three-minute session was the most trying mentally; it’s when the brain says “Wow, we’re really doing this aren’t we?” Ken had a similar experience; “This was without question my hardest workout to this point, though I am happy to report that it was more challenging mentally than physically.  This is where training with a group, with your coach smiling at you, is really helpful in pushing you over those mental hurdles.  You can always turn the speed down a notch, but you probably won't under those circumstances. I definitely did not feel stronger AFTER the workout.  But during the workout, I could tell that the transitional workouts we had done in the prior weeks left me well prepared to push myself.”

    The following week Ann had Ken do a pretty complex workout; 3-minute runs with a 30-second push at the beginning of each minute, then one minute easy followed by a one minute kick, then three progressive 90-second pushes and three 30-second pushes (it’s like a quadratic equation with negative exponents.) In addition to the variation, Coach had him pushing the pace much harder this time around, but Ken was happy to report he was up to the challenge: ”The longer duration intervals this week were a nice, new challenge.  I felt good, however.  I had had enough hard running under my belt that I was really comfortable sustaining an elevated pace.  The thirty-second pushes felt so short by comparison - it seemed like a good opportunity to see how fast I could go,” Ken said.

    Ken’s progress in his training certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed; I recently learned that there’s another runner in town whose goal for the C10M next year is to beat Ken specifically! Ken was unfazed when I told him this; if anything, he seemed kind of jazzed about it: “I think it’s a good sign. You don’t get a nemesis by jogging at a conversational pace.”

    For the first workout of the following week Ann had Ken doing cruise intervals (again, the name makes it sound gentle as a summer breeze.) He ran four-minute intervals starting at 8.4 MPH and throttling up to 8.9 MPH, then bookended the workout with some thirty-second strides, starting at 10 MPH and throttling up to 11 MPH.  The intervals from this workout were a minute longer than the intervals from the previous week. “This was a great workout,” Ken said. “To be honest, I did not really feel the extra minute, though I think this may be because I was being conservative pacing myself.  Since Ann assures me that it is okay to take a cautious approach to new workouts, and I have more workouts to run, I will not beat myself up about it too much.”  He also said that he feels himself growing into the hard pushes at the end of the workouts: “The first time I pushed the treadmill over 10 miles an hour, I was convinced that my legs were not meant to move that fast.  But, this time it felt hard, but natural enough.”

    Ken’s next workout was a good old hill workout. I remember my first hill workout with Ann; that was when I realized how good she is at diagnosing an athlete’s fitness level and pushing them appropriately. We did eight 60-second hill repeats that day, and eight 60-second hill repeats was exactly the number my legs had in them that day. For his workout Ken met up with Matt, another trainee of Ann’s, at Riverview Park (you want to run up a hill, start from the river.) After warming up along the river they backtracked to Market St. and did three sets of hills (60/45/30 seconds each) followed by two-minute pushes at the top of the hills.  “I felt strong throughout the workout,” Ken said, “after having run some easy miles the preceding day, and having taken an unplanned off-day for travel the day before. I agree wholeheartedly that Ann selected just the right workout for us.  I didn't realize it until we finally wrapped up the intervals, but I did not have much left in me when it was all said and done.  Our cool-down jog was blissfully slow. “ 

    Ken is hoping to showcase his newfound fitness at a 5K where several Richmond based companies, including his law firm, field teams. It’ll be his first run since starting training with Formula and he’s feeling confident: “I haven't actually tried to run a 5K fast in about 8 years, but as long as it's not blisteringly hot, I think I should be able to PR, since my training has been so consistent.  The big question is whether I will remember how to pace myself. “

    In the meantime, Ken’s enjoying his journey with Coach Dunn: “It has been nice that Ann's training plan has forced me to re-acquaint myself with some of my old running haunts.  I was thinking about this when I was in New York on my long run day this week.  I had a busy Saturday ahead, so I headed out to Central Park's carriage trails at around 5:30 a.m., when the park was as empty as it ever is, and dogs are running around off-leash.  Sometimes the world is best experienced in running shorts.”


The Coach’s Perspective

By Ann Dunn

    When first meeting with a client my first step is to learn what they've done in the past and how much they are currently running. I ask about history of injuries to get insight into anything that we can try to avoid when we increase volume or intensity.  I can usually show a client a couple of self-therapy techniques like foam rolling, deep tissue self-massage, or stretching that can keep a lot of injuries in check along with a proper training load progression. And I definitely ask about their work schedule because it will influence how and when they can train.  I try to make a structured plan that will allow them to perform at their best on their quality days.

    Most of my clients this spring ran several minutes faster in the 10-Miler with a simple change to their current routine by either adding strength training or adding 1 or 2 quality workouts a week. I think the best thing Ken can do is adding in one (maybe two down the road) quality session a week and I'm sure he is on his way to a big PR.

    The good news is Ken is a go-getter! You can tell when people are serious about achieving a goal and they really focus when they're on the treadmill. These people always make the most progress, so I'm excited to see Ken after one month, three months, and six months!

    I know for a fact that he has already made gains because I record stats on my client's workouts and he has made steady progress week to week. The best progress is steady progress. You can't rush fitness, it will eventually come back to bite you in the butt if you bite off more than you can chew. Usually it takes about 3 weeks for a true bump in fitness and Ken has had about 6 weeks of training now so it doesn't surprise me that he feels a difference!

    Looking forward, Ken has his 5k coming up next week. We will do a primer workout leading up to that race and then I'll have him take an easy week or two. Then we will talk the next race or goal and come up with a new plan and structure for that!