Climbing the Ladder Part III: Life Intervenes


    You feel good when you reach a new plateau of fitness; stronger, smarter, more confident, and more durable. You might start to think that progress is going to be a steady, uninterrupted ascent up a smooth hill. Thing is, the process of building fitness sometimes more closely resembles a winding dirt path full of bends and briars. When we last left our young hero Ken he was feeling himself after breaking the 20-minute mark in a 5K for the first time; when I spoke with him in the run-up to the Richmond Half Marathon, he was, unfortunately, scrambling to stay healthy after suffering a setback.

    “Buoyed by confidence after having hit my 5K goal, I launched into training for the Richmond Half Marathon without properly building my base” he confessed in an email exchange. “As a result, I aggravated my IT band and so have not trained as much as I would have liked this fall. “              

     Something tells me that launching in to training without building a proper aerobic base was not one of Ann’s training prescriptions, but she and the Formula team were able to help Ken get back on track: “Ann has helped me get back into form by recommending stretches, foam rolling techniques, and some modifications to my training. I have also limbered up a bit at Formula's Runners Love Yoga classes, and profited from the low impact of the Woodways.”  

    After recovering and rebuilding, Ken was ready to take on the roads again: “ . . . a month before the half marathon, I felt well enough to race again, albeit without the fitness I wanted to have at that stage. Nonetheless, I was able to place second in my age group without working too hard at the Fall Foliage 10K in Waynesboro a few weeks back, and survived through the relentlessly hilly CAT Half Trail Half Marathon at the Miller School two weeks after that. “ 

    Despite performing quite well racing over challenging terrain, Ken was keeping his expectations for Richmond tempered: “Given the state of my training, I do not have high ambitions for the Richmond Half Marathon”, he said. “The plan is to go out there and cruise and see where I end up.”

    Richmond’s marathon and half marathon courses have a reputation as the PR courses; people travel from around the country to compete there every November specifically because so many runners are able to achieve a Boston-Marathon Qualifying time in the big race. Unfortunately for Ken, life, as it so often does, intervened: “For reasons beyond my control, I ended up skipping the Richmond Half Marathon and opted to do Roanoke's Star City Half Marathon the following weekend” he told me when we spoke in December.

    The race presented Ken with a unique set of mental and physical challenges. “With relatively sparse attendance compared to Richmond, I spent most of the race without any prayer of catching the runner in front of me, or fear of being caught by the runner behind”, he said. For the first three quarters of the race the course takes it easy on the runners before throwing a series of stressful curveballs that, when he described it to me, I described as a kick in the teeth: “I felt pretty good until about mile 9, when the course, otherwise characterized by gently rolling hills, presented its one significant climb.  Shortly following was a punishing descent with tight switchbacks on what I think was a 15% grade.  After that, my legs were shot, and my mile splits increased by about 20 to 30 seconds.”

    While Ken wasn’t overjoyed with his performance, he also wasn’t down on himself either. “Ultimately, I crossed the line in a little over 96 minutes.  It was good enough for third place in my age group, and a corresponding certificate that I could have hung with pride on my fridge. I will count that race as a learning experience.  At the very least, I've established a baseline from which to measure future progress.” 

    Ken took his baseline and his positive attitude into the holiday season and, while taking time to rest and recover properly, managed to maintain a good level of consistency. “The Star City Half was my big fall race, so I had planned to, and did, ease off of my training volume and intensity significantly in the following weeks” he told me when we spoke after the holidays ended. “Although I stayed consistently active, I gave myself plenty of opportunity to recover from the stress and to enjoy the holiday season.  (I am making up for some of that enjoyment now with January asceticism.)”

 He worked hard in Jason's 5:45 Focus, but not TOO hard. 

He worked hard in Jason's 5:45 Focus, but not TOO hard. 

    I, for one, don’t think I saw a green vegetable during the entire week of Christmas, and was quite thankful for the way Formula’s classes helped me keep my fitness baseline in check when I was recovering from a fall-race training cycle at the same time that the holidays were kicking off. Ken felt the same way. “When I resumed classes at Formula, at Ann's suggestion, I did so without pushing myself too hard at first”, he said. “Then, she and I sat down to develop a Charlottesville Ten Miler training plan, which I began following the week of Christmas. Knock on wood, but I have managed to feel good and stay healthy as of the beginning of the fifth week of that plan.”

    If you’ve read our previous posts on Ken’s training, you know that running the 10 Miler last year was what spurred him to begin training with Formula in the first place. He’s been priming himself for that race during our recent cold snap by averaging two Equilibrium classes and one Focus class per week. “As I understand it, Ann and Jason try to be mindful of the local race calendar, so we are more likely to see cruise intervals leading up to a big local race, rather than some sadistic mountain muncher of a workout that will blow up everybody's legs on race day,” he told me when we last spoke. “I occasionally swap out my Focus session with an outdoor workout, weather permitting.  I ran some hill repeats a couple of weeks back, and 6 x 4:00 cruise intervals out at Riverview Park last Friday at my Ten Miler pace.  I felt pretty strong for the latter, and had to rely on my Garmin to keep me from going too fast, which I take to be a good sign.”

    Thank God for technology. Ken will be taking his new fitness gains into the spring racing season. “I am planning to run the Haven 8K and perhaps a 5K at some point, but the Ten Miler is my next big race.  I would be happy with a PR (a little under 71 minutes) but the icing on the cake would be a time under 70.  Either goal feels readily achievable.  My training is already a lot better than it was this time last year, and I still have almost two months to go.  Wildcards are whether an upcoming trip will interfere too much with my training, or whether the rest will be good for me, and whether my health and the weather will otherwise cooperate.”

    We’ll be pulling hard for Ken before, during, and after the big race on the 24th, and we’ll be checking in with him again here on the blog for one more update before the big day.

The Coach's Perspective

How long of a base-building period should Ken have had before launching into the harder portion of his training?

I believe in a balanced approach to training. What I mean by that is I don't really like extended periods of just slow, easy running. Usually a couple weeks easy is important to get a mental break and recharge. But when someone feels ready to start back up again that's a good sign you can also include all of the other things that are important: strides, drills, strength training. Also, when done correctly and appropriately quality sessions can pick up soon after that as well. Hills and fartlek-type sessions are great introductory workouts. As it pertains to Ken, I front-loaded a lot of Focus classes into his "base-building period" because Woodways treadmills are probably one of the best training surfaces, reducing impact and helpful in cleaning up mechanics.

 Look how happy he looks!

Look how happy he looks!

Most people don’t know they have an IT band, until they start running; they learn about it real quickly once they start running. What are some tips for A) Preventing IT band issues and B) remediating IT band issues once they crop up?

Foam roll those suckers! Get to know your body and develop an awareness of when your hips and sides of your legs feel tight. Also, a rope stretch where you pull your leg across your body is the best stretch for the IT band. 

Now that Ken is healthy and rolling again, what kind of training recommendations have you put together for him?

I recommended 2 Equilibrium classes a week (some weeks he has done 3) and one Focus class or quality workout outside a week as well as a long run on the weekends. It's been a good training prescription so far... he's looking good (fast!) and feeling good. 

He’s planning on competing in shorter races in the run-up to the 10 Miler; what kind of recommendations do you have for him in how to approach those races? Race them all out? Use them as workout runs?

Race them! The best prep for a race is to race! They are far enough out there's plenty of time to get ready for the 10 Miler.

Touching on what he said, how do you modulate workout intensity when clients have races on the calendar?

I will note a couple days in advance of a race that a workout should be a 'primer' workout or more moderate intensity. For optimal performance, endurance athletes should not have more than 2-3 days a week that they spend a prolonged period of time in moderate or high intensity.