Starting All Over – Aaron Sarff

Aaron SarffI started running again in 2004 after a three year break from the sport during which I finished college, got married, got fat (for me) and learned how to box (with limited success, a broken nose and limited weight loss). The impetus behind my comeback was a two mile run I undertook that made me think about running a 5K. I ran the Premier Bank 5K a few weeks later hoping to run about eight-minute mile pace. I finished the race in 23:26 (7:33 pace), won my age group and have been hooked ever since.

After my success at the Premier Bank 5K I went to and followed his Intermediate 5K training program that culminated in my running the Race For Brazil 5 mile in 37:54 a few months later. Finishing a five mile race made me think I could do the Lincoln Memorial Half Marathon in March of 2005. I fell in with the Half Wits in their inaugural season and was able to finish the LMHM much faster than I thought I was capable of doing.

Finishing a half marathon whetted my appetite for a full marathon and I followed the FIRST program that appeared in an issue of Runner’s World. During the FIRST program you run three days a week completing an interval session, a tempo run and a long run all at paces based upon your 10K time. I finished my marathon but it was a disaster due to high temps and humidity on race day, rookie jitters and a bad case of sciatica.

After my marathon I was searching for some sort of training plan that fit my schedule, enabled me to run more than three days a week and would get me results instead of injuries. I had recently read an article about training with a heart rate monitor which was intriguing enough that I bought a basic model Timex HRM. I used my monitor to train for the LMHM in 2006 but wasn’t able to do much in the way of speed work as I was still nursing my sciatica. I ran a disappointing half marathon that year and, armed with the book Heart Monitor Training for the Compleat Idiot, I took a few months off from competition to train and prepare for the impending birth of my first child.

HRM training uses training intensities based upon your maximum heart rate. Easy days and long runs are completed at 70-75% of your maximum heart rate, tempo runs at 80-85% and short, hard interval practices are usually completed at 90-95%. Determining your maximum heart rate can be done by subtracting half your age from 205. In my case I found that subtracting 14 from 205 and getting a max heart rate of 191 was off by about 14 beats. The best way to determine your heart rate is to watch what it does after a hard effort in practice or immediately after sprinting your butt off at the end of a short, fast race.

My 2006 season benefited quite a bit from training with a heart rate monitor. I dropped my mile time from 5:50 to 5:36, two miles from 12:39 to 12:21, 5K from 20:43 to 19:35, and my 10K from 45:46 to 44:05. Clearly something was working.

As much as I liked improving I wasn’t a happy runner. I would get frustrated on my easy days as one day I could run my five mile loop at 8:10 pace but two days later I was slogging through the same loop at 9:10 pace. The monitor was sensitive to heat, humidity, and extreme cold. Furthermore the damn thing would ding at you to slow down just as you were starting to feel good during a run. It got to the point that I hated my heart rate monitor as much as I hate my alarm clock. I also hated running positive split tempo runs. Who wants to slow down on a fast day, especially when you’re feeling good?

One year with a heart rate monitor was all I could stand, especially after another disastrous Lincoln Memorial Half Marathon where I ran 7:35 pace all the way to the 11 mile mark and blew up with a 12:44 12th mile.

Since I was on the market for a new training plan I hit to browse the running books. Right at the top of the list was Daniels’ Running Formula. As I perused the reviews for this particular book I noticed that most of the reviews were four and five stars. The only review below that was a one-star that slammed the book as being too technical. I decided that the majority was in favor with this book and ordered my copy that day.

Daniels’ book is great. It has become my running Bible. While it is highly technical in spots, and incredibly soporific if you suffer from insomnia, it is full of advice for planning a season worth of training and has sample programs for whatever your running specialty is (800, 1500, cross country, 5K-15K, half marathon and marathon).

What I most enjoy about the book is that your training paces/intensities are based upon times you have run in races. For instance, I ran the I CARE 5K last weekend in 19:31. If I just received my copy of Daniels’ Running Formula in the mail today I would flip open the book to page 48 and consult the table labeled VDOT (VO2 Max) Values Associated with Times Raced Over Popular Distances. My VDOT value is 51.

Now that we know my current VDOT value we can flip to page 52 to see what my training intensities are. With a VDOT of 51 my easy and long run pace is 8:24, my marathon pace tempo runs would be completed at 7:09 pace, my tempo pace is 6:44 (which actually comes out pretty close to the pace you could expect to run during a 10K race), I should run my 400 intervals in 93 seconds, 1000 intervals in 3:51 and my 1200 intervals in 4:36. When I do 200s and 400s at repetition pace I should do them in 42 and 86 seconds, respectively.

Daniels generally prescribes four six-week phases of training over the course of a season. Phase one is all Easy pace base work. Phase two is an early quality phase and is heavy on tempo pace runs and repetition pace intervals of 200 – 400 meters. Phase three is more intense but is still heavy with tempo pace runs but throws in 1000 meter – mile repeat practices at interval pace and nixes the shorter and faster 200s and 400s. Phase four is the final “sharpening” phase of a season and goes back to 200 – 400 meter repetition pace practices along with short interval pace fartleks.

When I built my training program last season I flinched when I saw that I needed to do my tempo runs at 6:51 pace. During the 2006 season my best three mile tempo run had been completed in 20:51 and had hurt pretty bad. I set out for my very first three mile tempo run with much trepidation and was pleasantly surprised when the 6:51 pace felt so easy that I actually ran 6:47 pace instead. Toward the end of the 2007 season I was running three mile tempo runs at 6:32 pace and feeling great.

Other pleasant surprises were not feeling completely blown out after running 6×400 practices as long as I clipped off my repetitions in the prescribed times. Easy days also felt comfortable instead of feeling way too slow like they did during my fling with HRM training. I was able to get out, enjoy my easy days and again, as long as I stayed with my prescribed easy pace, I felt refreshed for the next day’s hard effort or race.

By following the training program I constructed by consulting Daniels’ Running Formula I had a very successful season that saw me drop my mile time from 5:36 to 5:27, my two mile time from 12:21 to 11:56, my 5K from 19:35 to 19:02 and my 10K from 44:05 to 42:06. I also was able to overcome some heated competition and come away with a win in my age group in the SRRC Points Series. So far this season I have dropped my half marathon time from 1:43:23 to 1:39:21 and have run my fourth fastest 5K, in 19:31, since I started running again in 2004.

If I had to pick two key areas from Daniels Running Formula that have aided my improvement the most I would say that they are the “comfortably hard” tempo runs and not running too fast on my easy days.

Good luck this season!

Aaron Sarff – The Constantly Heckled Runner 

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