Rachel the Rocket

Commitment to learning, openness to growth, and dedication to her training regimen is why I chose Rachel as my research candidate.

Athlete's Profile and Statement of Problem

Commitment to learning, openness to growth, and dedication to her training regimen is why I chose Rachel as my research candidate. She was eager to challenge her training routine in order to increase her performance. She is my clients' training partner. Both women are fast and competitive however they do not race against each other. Rachel has been competing in triathlons for a few years, starting in her early 30s. In training years she is very young, and perhaps could be considered an infant because she has never participated in an organized training program. She loves to race and is an age group winner in sprint and Olympic distance triathlons. I see her as a diamond in the rough. She ran a half marathon last year in 1:51:35 and without injury. She ran 8:00-7:45 minute splits, but was unable to keep up that pace fading at the end of the race. I named her, Rocket Rachel because she blasts off fast and flames out for the last half of a race.

Rachel entered the study with a strong aerobic base and natural speed. My challenge was to convince her to slow down at the beginning of the race and during training runs. Before my instruction, all of her training runs were done at full speed, so fast that she could not talk to her friend. She was a rocket. As her coach, I needed to convince her that by slowing down, she could run a faster overall time. Rachel is flexible, agile and had developed general endurance. She had haphazardly developed special endurance including developing speed endurance while running at tempo paces but never as an organized program. Her main method of running was to take off and run as fast as she could until she was too tired to keep up the pace.

Rachel is a hospice social worker. She thinks of others above her. In high school, she was the slowest girl on the track team. She did not start running again until her late 20s to lose weight after pregnancy. As the daughter of two deaf parents, so she grew up without a lot of spare time for herself. This childhood experience fostered her confidence and independence. She is always, busy, productive, and dependable

Problems, Interventions and Expected Outcomes

When I asked her to be my test case, she hesitated. I could tell she was very excited to join the program, but there was something holding her back. She had just remarried and wanted to check with her new husband before making the commitment. She chose The Jalapeno Half Marathon in Ft Worth, Texas on Sunday June 29,2014. However, to be successful, she felt she needed her training buddy and wanted me to write a program for her partner as well. With the extra complication of writing the two different programs and their challenging personal and work schedules it was difficult to find training times when they could run together. However it was well worth the extra effort. This combination of athletes proved successful. As the old adage goes: it takes a diamond to cut another diamond.

I wrote training program based on science and centered on the athlete. I would encourage her to run at a controlled pace, to prolong sub maximal training, produce less blood lactate, and teach her to work the different "energy system continuum" .1 In addition, she needed to do pace work and strength training. She wanted to race the Hot Chocolate 15k and we needed to work around a Bar Mitzvah she was planning at the end of March. I wrote a program looking at the macro, micro and meso cycles of her running and plan for scheduled adequate rest and recovery using Jack Daniels, PhD Running Formula2 as my guide. (Appendix 1)

With a great aerobic base and having completed 24 weeks of running she built a solid foundation. This process is what Jack Daniels calls Phase 11 Fl -Foundation. She had already started working into an Early Quality Phase, EQ- Phase 2, learning to run more efficiently and with better running mechanics. I started her program in Phase 2. I could help her with her biomechanics and introduce her to strength training while building her base miles. I limited weekly mileage increase to once every three weeks, so she would not increase stress too rapidly. I wanted to "increase the ability of her running muscles to effectively use their available oxygen" and "convert carbohydrate and fat fuel into useful energy and shift lactate threshold to correspond to a faster running speed"2 while lowering the energy demand of running.

Recovery was a foreign concept to Rachel. I don't think she had ever gone out for an easy run. It was very important to teach Rachel about the value of programming recovery since it is just as important as speed training as a component in her overall program. On the days she did not run, she could cross train with swimming and cycling. My objectives were to increase speed and endurance for the half marathon and, therefore, ultimately enhance her speed and endurance in her triathlon. I needed to teach her to train at an easy pace not only in the run but in the swim and bike portions also. Rachel was so excited about getting a personal record in order to set her up for a fast, successful triathlon season. She was the most excited about the process and was totally open to learning. I felt like I hit the jackpot, so I got busy setting up some reasonable and obtainable goals.

Everything was falling perfectly into place. We would race the Hot Chocolate run in early to find her VDOT. Using this VDOT now we could estimate pace using Daniel's table. (Appendix 2) Phase 3 TQ- Transition Quality would not begin until after the Bar Mitzvah. Afterwards, she can focus on the toughest Phase 3 concentrating on long intervals and Phase 4 FQ -Final Quality concentrating on threshold runs with fewer reps/intervals.

Rachel likes the heat. This marathon was late in the season, one of last half marathons of the Texas season. Given the heat, it is critical to teach her the correct paces to run according to her RPE instead of simply looking at heart rate or pace.

It was important to document and keep detailed training records, so I traded my services with a spreadsheet expert and an assistant to help enter data. We set up an account with Google Drive where the data could be stored and shared while keeping our records confidential. We designed a spreadsheet that captures information on nutrition, profile information, training notes, heart rate, pace, RPE or rate of perceived effort, ferritin, sleep, recovery and resting heart rate, water intake, mileage, long run 20-30% of weekly miles and I can access the file from my tablet computer almost anywhere, even out in the field. No more clipboards with paper to record times and splits. I have adopted this system for my other athletes.

Rachel had never done any strength training. As a personal trainer and having recently completed several Ortho-Kinetics® Certifications 3 , I was eager to practice in the areas of advanced assessment and imbalance mapping, corrective and performance based exercise programming and bio-mechanically based training techniques to increase flexibility, agility, and increase range of motion. I wanted to apply my new assessment skills and use these corrective exercises to enhance gait technique. (Appendix 3) It was my goal to increase Rachel's power in the event specifics of "Strength Endurance" and "Endurance Strength." 4 It was not our goal to build muscle mass, but to build power and strength by designing a program working at 95% maximal explosive contraction doing one to two repetitions for three sets. In addition, we planned to taper off the strength training at least 10 days out as she entered the final phase and back off in preparation for competition.

Rachel had never done any warm up drills before her competitions and was not in the habit of warming up before a race. She had never been taught a proper warm up protocol, so before each work out I wanted to teach Rachel how to warm up and prepare for competition.

Rachel was not in the habit of replacing fuel while racing and training. She liked to chew gum during the last leg of her races as a way to re-energize her fuel storages. Our goal was to increase carbohydrate uptake during moderate to high intensity workouts. We experimented with different fuel replacements. We tried Cytomax, a dietary supplement, but ultimately ended up using Shot Blocks and water during training and continued using, her favorite-- her gum. Dr. Elizabeth Broad lectured on "Nutrition Trends in Performance for Endurance Athletes" 55 that CHO mouthwash increases performance in short duration, high-intensity exercise and that CHO is potentially working through the central mechanism rather than the increased fuel availability being the key factor. Given this research I was sure Rachel, was on to something she instinctually already knew was a great training tool, chewing gum.

Course of Action and The Journey

The first week of January, Week 25, we ran into our first obstacle. Rachel got a stomach virus and became violently ill and could not hold down any food. I dropped by chicken soup offering comfort and support. Soon she was back and ready to follow my plan to a tee.

Rachel, as it turns out, is afraid of needles and does not like to have her blood drawn. But, I suspected she was low on Fe ferritin. I was interested in having her tested. To help her deal with her fear of needles, I set up an account at Lab Corp and ordered and paid for her blood work. She was able to set up her own appointments with the lab tech of her choice. Rachel's initial ferritin test results were low at 27ng/ml. elemental iron per kg body weight per day. So, we immediately began liquid iron supplement complimented with a glass of OJ each morning. Her levels rose to 35ng/ml for the next test, just in time for the toughest training phase that concentrates on long intervals.

After the Hot Chocolate race in February, we identified Rachel's VDOT of 40. When using a current VDOT to determine training intensities, one plugs the identified VDOT into Daniels Table 2 and reads across that row to identify paces for Easy I Long (E/L) runs, Marathon-pace (MP) training, Threshold (T) runs, Intervals (1) and Repetitions (R) training. I encouraged Rachel to run the different intensities and to train at the prescribed paces. (Appendix 2) If she wanted a higher VDOT, she first must justify a higher VDOT by performing better in a race situation.

Each week we met to reconcile Rachel's half marathon quality workouts with her training partner's SK quality workouts. Unlike their workouts before, they never talked much so during these quality sessions. Now, they would push each other while doing different workouts at different blood lactate levels. It was great fun to watch them feed off of each other to help motivate the other during the more difficult phases 2, 3 and 4. For the first time, Rachel was learning to run at an easy pace. Now on easy days, they could actually talk while running together.

I learned how to test for blood lactate. I researched the different test kits for blood lactate monitoring and bought a Lactate Plus lactate meter to use during Rachel's 1000 meter strength endurance hill (3% grade) repeats. Here, I would track her Blood Lactate level in comparison to time or distance, pace, heart rate and RPE. We ran 4 sets of 1,000 at I pace with 3 min. recovery jog to total 8% of weekly mileage on a 3% grade hill using my new Lactate Plus testing kit. Rachel and her training partner we champs at lending me their ear so I could collect the blood sample. Both of their blood lactate samples were on the high range and continued drifted upward. The goal was to work at or below where blood lactate begins to accumulate above her resting levels, where lactates clearance is no longer able to keep up with lactate production. Rachel's first reading was 2.5 mmol/L resting and she was able to run them below 3.6 mmol/L but her final1000 was 4.3 mmol/L. During subsequent workouts she was able to run the 1000 repeat at lower levels and more consistently with out a spike in blood lactate for her last repeat at the end of the session. She became more efficient, and she was able to pickup her pace at the end without elevating her blood lactate. She ran negative splits. Rachel was learning to control her pace.

Spring 2014 was unseasonably cool for Texas, creating perfect training conditions. Looking at the taper, the outlook was perfect conditions to run a PR. We met to plan the final workouts and strategize about the racecourse. We booked a hotel room in Ft Worth, so would save an hour's drive on the race day. Rachel was not resting well. Her new husband was becoming more and more possessive; they were getting into big fights. Instead of resting, she was huddled in her closet crying. He was very jealous. Did she make a huge mistake and end up in an abusive relationship? Running became her great escape, her safe place. The hotel was a place for her to find shelter and get a good nights' sleep before the race.

The goal was to run 8:00 minute a mile splits. The course seemed hillier than we had expected so we made corrections to back down her pace through the hills to finish flat and fast. Race day was already here. The training had gone better than I had expected, and I thought for sure she would PR and get a better time than the 1:51:25 she ran on 6/24/2012.

We woke up bright and early race day, well rested and ready to rock. Our hotel was just blocks away from the starting line. As we drove up to the starting line, the parking lot was completely empty. Our stomachs dropped. Nobody was there, except a few other out-of-towners that had looked up the date of the event online. Evidently, the race date was posted wrong online, and we had missed the race! We were devastated. Six months of training. What would we do? It was the end of July and there weren't any more half marathons close to us. We didn't have the time to travel.

We set out for another tempo run. We would postpone the half marathon for now. Nearby, we noticed another race was about to begin, The Three ------- ' Amigos on the Trinity Trail. We jumped for joy, and, at the last minute she entered this 4-mile race. Rachel won her age division. However, under the pressure of the last minute switch, she forgot everything. She did not do her warm up drills and totally lost her focus . She rocketed off the start, passing most everyone. She ran a 7:31 first mile \ split. She bombed her second mile, running 8:40. She passed a runner in the first mile of the race that in turn, passed her on mile 2. He cheered her on to pass him again, but she was never able to catch up. While congratulating her for winning her age division, he told her he had run the Jalapeno Half Marathon the day before in a time of 1:58. At that moment, it became clear to her; she was fast enough to beat his time if she could remember her pace. Her goal now became to run 1:48 to beat his time.

We decided to run a time trial, design our own moderate to hilly course, verify the distance and invite our friends out to help compete. Four days later, the course was set and ready to go. The Rocket Rachel Half Marathon was scheduled that next Thursday. Rachel's training partner and friends were there to compete with her. Although monsoon rains dampened the morning, the skies cleared perfectly at 5:30AM. The starting temperature was 67, one of ow· coolest Texas summer mornings. Rachel ran perfect negative splits. She ran 1:44:10. She beat her best time by 7:30 minutes. She earned her new VDOT. Successful racing, especially outdoors, can be a bit of a crapshoot. There are so many uncontrollable variables like temperature and race conditions. There can be miscommunications or emergencies with family and work. There are just some things that cannot be controlled.

Successful runners have to be flexible, and totally roll with these variables. Rachel was committed to her training process and never missed her quality runs. Now, she was able to control her pace and had become more balanced in her new strength-training program. She set a new personal record time in the half marathon. It took her positive attitude and the support of her friends and fami ly, especially her running partner to help her achieve her goals.

Mission Accomplished!