Climbing the Ladder Part IV: Unbridled Success

            When you hit the 7-Mile mark of the Charlottesville 10 Miler you’ve already been through the ringer. The course up to that point is a series of spikes, rolls, and drops. Making it to mile 7 with the proper amount of energy and focus to finish strongly is challenging but necessary because mile 7-8 is the hardest part of the course; a 1-mile hill with 40 feet of elevation gain, right when you’re praying for the sweet relief of flatland running. No wonder a plurality of the folks I saw while volunteering looked like they were ready for the whole thing to be over with. But not our boy Ken. When I saw him come through around the 55-minute mark he looked composed, even relaxed. I wasn’t the only one who noticed; “My father-in-law, who saw me stride past the Rotunda, reported that I looked like I was having an easier time of it than most of the people ahead of me,” Ken told me after the race.

 
 Cool as a cucumber at the finish line. Photo credit: Rick Stillings Event Photography (rickstillings.com)

Cool as a cucumber at the finish line. Photo credit: Rick Stillings Event Photography (rickstillings.com)

 

            Staying calm and focused in races isn’t possible without preparation; Ken was rolling and comfortable out there because he was consistently stepping outside of his comfort zone in his training. For example, he took part in Formula’s 10-Miler Preview Focus class and got a condensed, intense flavor of what the course had in store. “Jason's 10 Miler preview class was a beast of a workout - hill after relentless hill - much like the 10 Miler itself,” he told me when we spoke the week before the race. “Nor did we have a lot of rest between the hills. In fact, because of the pace, I covered about half a mile more in that class than in any other Focus class that I have taken. Fortunately, others who had taken the class, and who had run the 10 Miler course recently, reported that they found the class a lot harder than the real life version.”

            Having done a lot of race-specific training for the C10M, Ken was approaching the week before the race in chill mode, but, when I spoke with him eight days before the race, he was still staying active: “I ran a 5-mile progressive tempo run at race pace last week, and felt pretty good. I took a Focus class today, which Ann had designed to be a little less intense than some others.  I will do a 7-mile long run this weekend, and two Equilibrium classes next week at a relatively easy pace, along with some easy running and off days.  I am certainly much more accustomed to running fast this year than I have ever been, so I think I am in a good position to set another PR next weekend.  Here's hoping!”

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            His mindset seemed like it was where it needed to be, focused but relaxed. He wasn’t, for example, overthinking what he was doing with his diet: “I would love to say that I follow Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's cod based diet (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/dwayne-the-rock-johnson-eats-about-821-pounds-of-cod-per-year/), but in reality I aspire to live by Michael Pollan's food rules: Eat (real) food; not too much; mostly plants, and the only part of that edict that I follow with conviction and regularity is "eat (real) food." A perspective our friends at The Juice Laundry would appreciate! (They have that very quote displayed at their Preston Avenue location.)

            We’re started brainstorming ways to get Dwayne into Formula. In the meantime, while Ken's training was solid, the inevitable bit pre-race jitters set in a couple days before the race. “I'm a little anxious.  I haven't raced in a bit, so I worry about pacing,” he told me. “I also worry that I'll get cold at the start given the weather forecast.  But, nonetheless, I feel good.  I've trained consistently and I'm well rested.  I've controlled everything that I was willing to control up to this point.  I can only hope for a good night's sleep and a good day tomorrow.”

            This was Ken’s fourth running of the C10M, and not only did he beat his old PR by a minute and half, breaking the 70 minute barrier in the process, but after the race he reported that he “felt better at the finish line than in any prior running. The weather was ideal for a PR - clear, crisp, and cold.  I was well rested after a good night's sleep, and alert after a Yeti full of Earl Grey.  And though I am ordinarily jittery and anxious before a race, I felt focused, calm, and prepared.”

            Not surprisingly, considering his level of preparation, he remembers all of the details of the race vividly. “After adrenaline propelled me into a frenetic start, I settled into a sustainable pace over the first quarter of a mile,” he said. “I was running fast, but not so hard as to prevent me from exchanging good wishes with fellow Formula clients on the course. When I passed mile marker one at 6 minutes and 50 seconds, feeling strong, I knew that I was well positioned to meet my goal.  As the pack thinned in the succeeding miles, I concentrated on my form.  On the climbs, I could hear in my head the familiar refrain from Formula: "knees up, toes up." I maintained a consistent pace for miles two and three, and took advantage of the long descent down Grady and Preston to complete mile four with a 6:38 split.  

            Through the gentle ascent of the Downtown Mall, and the rolling hills that followed, I tried to conserve energy.  As I passed the 5-mile marker at 34:21, I began to worry that I had gone out too fast, and that I would pay the price in in the mentally challenging last few miles.  So, I decided to steady myself at around a 7-minute pace, which I more or less maintained over the second half of the course. “ 

            His father-in-law and I can attest that Ken had no need to be nervous. “As it turns out, I may have been too conservative . . . in retrospect, I could have probably squeezed another minute out of the clock,” he posited when we talked after the race. “But, it was gratifying in its own right to beat my PR so effortlessly, and yet so decisively. “

            In addition to his achievement, Ken shared a moment of sportsmanship the race with his “nemesis,” whom he thoroughly vanquished. When I asked if they "exchanged words" after the race he responded “Only words of congratulations on a strong finish. I think while I was logging miles, she may have been out trying to save the world. That's just fine with me. “

            Everybody has different priorities, I suppose. As we move past C10M season, Ken’s not showing any signs of slowing down: “Apart from some mild soreness in my legs, I felt just fine (after the race), and returned to some fast running at Formula on Monday morning.” 

            Pretty quick turnaround! Reflecting on the past year, he noted that it had been “just about a year since I connected with Ann and started, for the first time in my life, adding workouts to my running schedule. The results have been hard to argue with. I am most happy about decisive PRs in the 5K and 10 Miler, and an extra spring in my step on my weekly fun run at Champion. I also picked up a few technical PRs in my debut 4x800 relay, 10K, and half marathon. Plus, I've made some good friends in the running community.” 

The Coach’s Perspective

Seems like Ken made fitness gains that he wasn’t even aware of in the lead up to the C10M. What should he do in future races to maximize his potential?

Trust his fitness! This was his first race in a while and considering his travel this spring it was difficult to do workouts that would have been performance indicators. I knew he was in good shape, but I also wanted him to stay healthy so we stayed on the conservative side in terms of his training plan. Now, this race serves as a new baseline and should excite him for future races to come!

 Ken wasn’t the only Formula client who reported feeling “just fine” after the race. What are you putting in the water at the studio?

One thing I love about training on Woodway Treadmills and in our environment, is that I think it’s really hard to overextend yourself, like so many people can easily do outside. For one thing, you have to stabilize through the hips a lot more when running on the Woodways- leading to stronger, healthier mechanics over time. We also are always coaching people to be calm and relaxed and I think it carries over into races. I’m sure his consistent strength training in Equilibrium classes also attributed to his resiliency for the race itself.

You touched on this is in the last post, but Ken was back to running fast the Monday after the C10M. Why is this a good idea (as opposed to, say, a couple of weeks of just easy running)?

As long as he was feeling physically and mentally capable, there’s no problem to getting right back into it. Ken took a few easy weeks due to travel during his training leading up to the 10 Miler, so he didn’t feel a need to end his “season.”

 Our young hero celebrating after strong performance at the Monument Avenue 10k.

Our young hero celebrating after strong performance at the Monument Avenue 10k.

 Ken’s got a couple of races up on the schedule, including the Monument Ave. 10K on the 14thand the dreaded Montalto 5K on the 28th.  Two very different races (one’s an out and back on the relatively flat streets of RVA, the other is basically uphill entire way.) Any recommendations for how Ken (or anyone else for that matter) should approach these races if they’re recovering from a big spring race?

 It’s pretty clear to me Ken is generally recovered for the 10 Miler and so now it’s just get back to weekly structure of work hard, recover, and repeat. Outside of that being prepared mentally for the specific races and ready to have some fun seeing what can happen! 

Any final thoughts on a year of training with Cardiac Ken?

Ken is an example of what can happen if you trust in your training, trust in the process, and stick to it. I can envision our first workouts a year ago and he is a completely different runner now! It’s so fun to have watched him progress!