Life has happened over the past few months and free time is becoming pretty non-existent.(Not that it really was there beforehand but ….) Since Chicago my posts have been few and far between. So whats up?? Well work, kids, the normal stuff… but the training schedule has been a little different. Back in the summer it was crazy but I was pretty much making it up as I went along. If I wanted to run 8 miles great… if I wanted to run 4 miles.. whatever… swimming was in the afternoon after work, I biked on Tuesdays and on the weekends as I felt like it. All in all… I was just winging it based upon what I thought I could handle on any given day. Did that work?? Dunno… I guess it got me through the triathlons and even got me through the Half Ironman. However this was a huge departure for me from what I have felt comfortable with in the past. Normally I want a plan with specifics and those have always been ones that I downloaded as free plans.
So what is different now? Well after Chicago and the whole broken/injured toe deal and missing my goal of a sub 4 hour marathon I felt like I was missing something. I felt like I should be progressing more and more predictably. The true “Aha moment” came after I starting looking back at my swimming. I started this past spring with pretty much ZERO swimming experience, and ZERO comfort level and on my first triathlon I freaked out in the open water and after taking 18 minutes to finish a 500 yard swim I said I would never do one of those again. Fast forward to September after I had worked with a swim coach. I had gone from completely being freaked out in the water to completing a 1.2 mile swim and the difference was a coach.
So the thoughts started weighing on me then… would I be better off working with someone to help me improve all of the three activities? Did I really need a coach to help me run?? I mean really… all you do is just put one foot in front of the other and repeat right? But… this next year I have some lofty goals… I am attempting my first 50 miler in February, and I am planning on attempting my first full Iron Distance triathlon next summer, and ultimately I would like to get my marathon times where qualifying for Boston is not a hour out of my grasp. So… maybe working with someone would be beneficial.
A couple of my friends David Murphy and Jon Wilson were both working with a coach and seeing results. If these two guys could see results from working with someone… then maybe there was something to it. These were already good ultra distance runners and ones that I wouldn’t have really thought about using a coach. So after checking with David, I finally decided I would give it a shot and see what it was all about. I reached out to PRSFit and had about a 30 minute conversation with Coach Jeff where he and I talked about everything from what my past activities and results looked like to what my goals were going forward. Where he really got my attention is when he said that at my age there was still options for dramatic improvements and that I was a pretty good candidate. So we agreed to start working together within a week or so to make sure my toe was at a point where I could start training.
The premise that coach Jeff and PRSFit work on is based on heart rate training. I had seen lots of cyclist using heart rate monitors when we would leave for group rides… but I really had no idea what it all meant. I however had not really heard of runners utilizing it.
The first week that coach put together a training plan was interesting. The first day I had a max heart rate test that consisted on running one mile as hard as I could(not necessarily as fast as I could) with the heart rate monitor. That was it…. not run one mile as hard as you can followed up by a 5 miler afterwards … that seemed weird. Then two days later I had a Aerobic Threshold run which consisted of 30 minute run at a 5K pace with a push the last 3 minutes of the run. This seemed a little more like a real run. However this felll on our Thursday club run day so I ended up running 5 miles first with the group and then after we got back, I went back out and did the Aerobic Threshold run. As Coach Jeff and I were reviewing the results, the subject of two runs being completed on that day was discussed. I made mention that I figured that the workouts he had scheduled for me were the minimums and that as long as I got those in I was free to add to them as well. Coach patiently explained to me that I was incorrect and that it would be best for me to follow the plan. After pleading my case that I was used to running 5-6 days a week over the past 6 months, Coach explained that I was probably over-training and not effectively using my workouts to improve but rather just adding empty miles to the week. Ok … Ok… fine I will stick to the plan and nothing else… grrrr…
So the next run I had scheduled was a Zone 2 run(there are 5 heart rate zones in the training, with zone 1 being the lowest and zone 5 being the highest). I started worrying about that run after looking at my performance from the aerobic threshold run. Based upon my estimation a zone 2 run would put me running almost a 10 minute mile. That just seemed like it was completely incorrect. I checked with some of the others in the PRSFit Facebook group and everyone kinda chuckled at my question… apparently that is a very common concern when getting started in the program. Turns out my zone 2 on the next run was actually in the 9:15 – 9:30 range.
The next couple of weeks were tough. I mostly had all zone 2 runs. This sounds OK from a high level … I mean you get to run slower and easier so it should be better right? Well the downside is that the group that I had been doing just about every one of my runs with were completely gone after about 5 minutes after we started running. I was stuck staring at my Garmin almost constantly and watching them pull farther and farther away. This was a little concerning at first. I confided in Jon that I wasn’t sure things were going the way they were supposed to. He assured me that if I stuck with it, I would see how it worked and that it would indeed work. So… I ran pretty much by myself the next couple of weeks. I would at times, start with the group or meet the group part of the way through the run, but they would always end up going on ahead.
I ran the Bass Pro Marathon a few weeks after this with the goal of again breaking 4 hours. I started out way too fast and never slowed down. At mile 23 it all came apart on me and I finished at 4:11. Afterwards Coach Jeff reviewed my results and told me that I pretty much ran the whole marathon in Zone 4 and that I would not be able to improve much with that type of strategy and effort. After thinking about it – it started to make sense. If I am keeping my heart rate in a manageable place, it uses less energy, places less stress on the body, and is more efficient overall than going all out for as long as I can.
Since then I have really tried heard to make sure the workouts match exactly what Coach is asking for. I have noticed that my zone 2 runs are now in the 8:40 8:45 range now. So my pace is starting to improve without increasing the heart rate. Coach has also added several “Build” or progressive runs where I start at zone 2 and gradually build up to a zone 4 effort. What I am finding now is that zone 4 is really hard. Not necessarily hard to get to zone 4… that is the easy part. Getting into zone 4 and keeping it at zone 4 is TOUGH. The paces I am seeing are some that I really didn’t think I was capable of doing just a few months ago. I have had several runs that my zone 4 puts me in a 7:50 pace – completely new territory for me!
Coach has also been working a swim workout into the schedule for me once a week for now until triathlon season comes back around. After I get through Rocky Raccoon 50 miler in February I will start working on cycling and improving all three sports.
Coach has also put strenght workouts in my schedule…. I hate strength workouts!! I would rather just go run than be bored to death working out with weights and some of the crazy stuff that is on the schedule. Heck I have to google just about all of the strength training schedule just to understand what I am supposed to be doing. I need it simple like – do pushups, do situps… etc. But I can tell a difference on the strength training too… so maybe he does know what he is talking about….
So will it make a difference? I don’t know for sure just yet – it is still too early to say. However it is already if nothing else, helping me believe I can improve. So for now… I will trust in the program and believe that Coach Jeff is “Wise Like Yoda” as David Murphy likes to put it