Climbing the Ladder II: PR City, USA

Our good friend Ken has been gracious enough to share his training with us on the blog. We'll be keeping tabs on his progress in the run-up to next year's Charlottesville Ten Miler. Catch up on his training here, and subscribe to our newsletter at the link on the homepage for blog updates and studio news.    

    When last we left our young hero, Ken was jogging around Central Park before the dawn and gearing up to run a 5K in Richmond. He’d been training with Ann for six weeks; according to her it takes three weeks for a true bump in fitness, so he’d banked enough time and training to go up a couple of levels.

    The week of the race Ann put Ken through a primer workout; 3 six-minute intervals followed by 4 thirty-second strides. “This workout was a real confidence booster,” Ken said. “My goal was to set a new PR for my 5K, by one second or more, and I knew that for many of the intervals, I was running faster than the pace that I would have to sustain to do so.  "It's easy," I told myself.  "Just go out there and keep up your interval pace, but without taking any rest.””

    Normally race day is all about getting up on time, but “this race was actually in the evening, not the morning,” Ken said, “which threw off my usual routine.”  Racing in the summer usually means having to power through thick heat and humidity, but “we were lucky to have somewhat manageable weather, with clear skies and temperatures in the mid 70s, and not outrageous humidity.  It was a little warm but about 20 degrees cooler than the same event last year, so I lucked out in that respect.  My warm-up, however, was absolutely terrible.  I profited from having to park a mile away from the start, so I got a little bit of a jog in just to get to the line.  Once I was there, however, the place was absolutely mobbed.  There were about 5,000 participants milling around, so it was hard to find anywhere to run.  Plus, since I was running with a team from my office, we had to gather to do a group picture about 10 minutes before the start.  I was extra fidgety for that because I hadn't warmed up enough.  The warm weather and lack of a good warm-up were psyching me out and I was already coming up with excuses in my head for why I couldn't possibly PR that day. “

    Disadvantageous to say the least, especially considering Ken was also dealing with anxiety about properly pacing himself, but once the gun went off, his preparation paid off. “The spot immediately behind the starting line was reserved for runners doing an 8-minute pace or faster, which meant that there was an incredibly wide range of abilities packed in a small space.  I slid in immediately behind the guys wearing singlets and 4" shorts and in front of the guys wearing basketball shorts.  Although I thought I'd fit in nicely there, the start was utterly chaotic.  Runners were passing me, and I was passing runners, left and right. I was wasting energy trying to get around people, and trying not to trip anybody or be tripped.  Despite a feeling that I had taken off too slowly, I consulted my watch to find that I was running at a totally unsustainable 5:30 pace.  I calmed myself, settled into a rhythm, and crossed the one-mile mark with a 6:14 split.  I slowed down gradually over the rest of the course.”

    The race took place in a corporate park, which presented a unique set of challenges. “The park only has about 45 feet of elevation,” Ken said.  “We had a hairpin turn every half mile or so, which interrupted the flow and made it difficult to focus on just running.  Plus, as I mentioned, the start was a mess.  That said, the flatness made it pretty favorable for setting a PR. “

Another barrier broken!

Another barrier broken!

    And PR he did, to the tune of 10 seconds per mile! “My old PR of 20:30 was from a Thanksgiving Day turkey trot in 2009,” he said. “I managed to shave 31-seconds off that 8-year old time, and broke the 20-minute mark for the first time ever with a 19:59.  I would have been happy with any old PR, but to crack 20 minutes was especially gratifying.”

    Of course, once you’ve hit that goal you’ve been working for, it’s time to reward yourself. Proper recovery is a major part of the Formula training philosophy, so Ann had Ken taking it easy after his moment of glory. When he returned to workouts, she had him doing sets of four strides followed by three-minute steady efforts, keeping the speed on the Woodway in the 9.3-10 MPH range.  “My legs had recovered well from the race, so the workout went without much difficulty.  I think that was a sign that my fitness was where it needed to be,” Ken said.

    Speaking from experience, once a runner reaches a new plateau, the first instinct is not to think “I’m so proud of myself,” but rather, “how do I take it to the next level?” Ken is no different: “The next race I think I want to take seriously is the Richmond Half in November.  I have never run a half marathon before, but I'd like to do it in 90 minutes if possible.   This would be significantly faster than my 10-miler pace, but I think with a combination of the relatively flat course, and some good training, it's within reach.”

    Ken’s made so much progress recently that he’s actually not conscious of just how fit he is. On a warm-up run pre-workout two weeks ago we were running stride for stride. Noticing that we were running well under seven minutes/mile pace I commented to him “we’re really cooking.” He asked why we ended up going so fast and I told him that I was following the pace he was setting. “I thought I was following you,” he said. “Dude, you were literally in front of me the entire time,” I responded!


The Coach’s Perspective
    Ken and I discussed strategy that week and I told him I thought he was capable of running 6:30 pace for 6K, and subsequently that would result in a personal best. I cautioned him to be smart early on and keep it aerobic. I told him I bet he would be surprised how easy the pace would feel as a result of his training. Looks like I was spot-on with my prediction which is fun; but it also seemed like a crazy race situation and of course there is room for improvement. There are always race day factors but he seemed to handle the circumstances quite well.

Always recover properly.

Always recover properly.


    As for post-race recovery, for someone like Ken I would suggest a few days off if he felt it necessary and then a couple weeks of easy running. I really try to see if people feel they need time off; if they don't it can actually be worse to stop running. I've seen a lot of people get injured from getting back into running after taking a lot of time off. I like to think of running as building a callus- your body gets used to the load and protects itself with consistency. If you take a bunch of unnecessary time off you can open yourself to a number of soft-tissue injuries. I do think it's important to be emotionally-charged and ready to start a new training cycle though, so whatever it takes to achieve that is also important. As for strength training, I think it's always good to keep up with a little bit of core work and strength training all the time. A little bit of a break is fine, but again you don't want to get too far away from some consistency.

    We’ve also set up a long-term training plan for the Richmond Half-Marathon. I like a 12-week plan for starting quality workouts and making sure you are hitting your long runs. Base-building and good solid runs and strength training up until then.

    Now that Formula’s open, I suggest to Ken 1-2 Focus classes a week for his quality workouts, and 1-2 Equilibrium classes a week for his strength training. On weekends, our Focus classes will be geared towards long runs so that could also be an option if he's looking for company... or a climate-controlled space!! It will be good to have a few benchmark workouts or races along the way to see how the training is working for him.