How I Crushed my BQ by 21 Minutes with The Run SMART Project!

“Our target market are people looking to become faster runners. We’ve worked with masters runners and 5hr+ marathoners all the way down to high school athletes who became state champions under our coaching.” – Brian Rosetti, Run SMART Project CEO

For starters, I’d like to thank Jason for inviting me to write this guest blog post for Saltmarsh Running! THANKS JASON!
Jason and I met last fall when we were both running for Team GORE-TEX® in the Philadelphia Half Marathon. I ran a 1:41:25 that day in Philly and I decided then that my 2015 running goal was to get my ticket punched for Beantown. It’s still hard for me to believe that it’s only April and I’ve already busted my BQ time by over twenty-one minutes thanks to my training with The Run SMART Project.

VDOT Training Marathon
My BQ! Tobacco Road Marathon, March 2015

So you’re probably wondering, “What exactly is The Run SMART Project?”

My Training with The Run SMART Project’s Jack Daniels Custom Training Plans

The Run SMART Project was founded in 2005 by St. Joseph’s University hall-of-fame runner Brian Rosetti to provide custom training plans and private coaching services to runners of all levels. Brian agreed to answer a few questions for Saltmarsh Running’s audience and you’ll see the Q&A woven into the story here as you read on. One thing that makes TRSP unique is that their head coach is the legendary Dr. Jack Daniels. I got the chance to meet Brian and Dr. Daniels when I attended the recent VDOT O2 Coaching Clinic in New York City.

VDOT Marathon Training
Me (Tim), Dr. Jack Daniels and Brian Rosetti

At the clinic I heard first-hand how the custom training plans are designed by Dr. Daniels and are then customized for each individual runner based on his or her running background. Brian talks more about the custom plans in his answer to my first question:

Question (Tim Jones): How can the average runner benefit from an individual Run SMART Project training plan compared with just using a generic plan?

Answer (Brian Rosetti): “A generic plan doesn’t know your age or running/training history. Our plans have a coach looking at each individual’s profile and they are trained to match the customer to the right training template also ensuring the individual is training at the right intensity every day. The biggest feature of our product though is that Dr. Jack Daniels has designed each training plan, so the user is doing the right workout at the right time counting back from their goal race – and at the right intensity to keep improving! Not many coaches, if any, have the experience Jack has, so our customers get the type of access and intelligent training one of Jack’s Olympic athletes would get.”

The cool part about using TRSP custom training plans is that your plan is loaded into the VDOT O2 Training Calendar app and your training paces are established based on your VDOT number. As you progress and enter new race times, your VDOT number increases, the VDOT symbol changes color, and your training paces are all adjusted up to your new level of fitness.

VDOT Marathon Training
Screenshot of my VDOT O2 training calendar leading up to my BQ

The exploded view shows my workout from January 11th. It’s a combined Threshold and Repetition pace workout with repeat miles at T-Pace and 200s at R-Pace. The paces are based on my VDOT at the time, 44.35.
The difference I noticed when I started training with TRSP over a year ago is that I was running a combination of five different paces: Easy, Marathon, Threshold, Interval, and Repetition. You’ll recognize these paces if you’ve ever read Daniels’ Running Formula.
When I was training on my own, I did not run such a variety of paces. Now, in hindsight, I see that on my own I was doing my easy runs too hard and I was not recovering enough for my quality days. It turns out the mistake I made is not uncommon, as Brian points out in his answer to my second question:

Q (Tim Jones): What are some of the mistakes recreational runners make when training on their own?

A (Brian Rosetti): “Many recreational runners run too hard on easy days. They also fail to train each physiological function necessary to improve their running times. We know through Dr. Daniels’ studies that in order to improve certain physiological functions you have to train at a certain intensity. His VDOT formulas are critical because they quickly determine how fast a runner should train without testing them in a lab. And we provide the customer the right type of workout to stress the physiological function properly whether it’s improving your endurance or VO2max. Also, what’s special about VDOT is that it’s pinpointing the intensity that provides the runner the max benefit for the least amount of effort. This helps avoid setbacks and keeps our customers consistent over time which is the real key to making progress.”

Another great and memorable workout on my plan was the “bunched” long run on February 6th, 24 miles in one day. We did 12 miles early in the morning and then another 12 after work. The second 12 miles started just about 12 hours after the first 12 miles. We had a lot of interest from our running group, the Wegman’s Runners, in this workout. The picture below was taken after the first 12, but we were still smiling at the end of the day with 24 miles in the books.

VDOT
Form left to right: Keith, Andres, Me (Tim), Jamie, and Ron

The bunched long run is an example of a workout I would have never come up with on my own, but it was a huge workout and a huge confidence builder. Splitting the run allowed me to run farther than I would have at one time and to do it at a more consistent average pace. Recovery was easier as well.

Getting my BQ

On Sunday, March 15th 2015, I ran the Tobacco Road Marathon in Cary, North Carolina. I needed a 3:40 to qualify for Boston. After training with TRSP Jack Daniels Marathon Training Plan since December using the VDOT O2 App, I ran a 3:18:53, over 21 minutes under my BQ time. This was my 7th marathon and it was very different than any of the other six.
What was different? I was passing people for the entire second half of the race and ran a 5-minute negative split. Mile 26 was my second fastest mile in 7:15. I finished strong. I started the race with the 3:30 pace group, left them at mile 9, then caught and passed both the 3:25 and 3:20 pace groups before I hit the finish line.
I’ve never experienced this kind of strong second half in a marathon. In my previous marathons, I faded during the last 10K. Even for my 2004 2:53:14 PR in Philly, I slowed by 20 seconds per mile after the turn at 20. During my one trip to Boston in 2003, I ran a 12+-minute positive split, dragging myself past the CITGO sign and down Boylston Street in 3:12:22 after hitting the half in an even 1:30. But Tobacco Road was a different story.
What I’ve learned from training with TRSP Jack Daniels Marathon Plans over the past year is that each workout has a specific purpose. My easy runs were easy and enjoyable and the hard workouts were very hard, but I never felt overtrained. Just the opposite: I felt confident that I could bring it all together on race day.
When I entered my 3:18:53 time into the VDOT O2 App after Tobacco Road, I was prompted to answer whether or not I wanted my VDOT number to be updated based on this race performance. Of course I did! And I went from a 44.35 to a 48.42 and my VDOT symbol changed from gray to yellow.
Marathon BQ VDOT
It was a kick to see my VDOT level and color change. The VDOT color coding is based on Dr. Daniels’ experience with his high school’s physical education program where students had an hour of PE every day and were awarded color-coded gym shorts for each new level of fitness they achieved. Dr. Daniels told us this fascinating story at the VDOT O2 Coaching Clinic. Only ten students in Dr. Daniels’ high school reached the highest level of achievement, the gold level.
The test for the gold level seemed nearly impossible as Dr. Daniels described it. The test included being timed climbing a 20-foot rope from a seated position using only arms, timed runs, timed swims, eighteen dead-hang pull-ups, and a variety of other incredible feats. Our jaws dropped when Dr. Daniels finished his story by telling us that while only ten out of over five-hundred students passed the test for the gold level, three of those ten students went on to become Olympians.
This incredible motivation system has been replicated by TRSP through the color-coded VDOT levels in the VDOT O2 app and color-coded VDOT T-Shirts that can be purchased only after verifying your VDOT level with a valid race performance. The highest level is, you guessed it, gold.

Onward to the Boston Marathon

At the VDOT O2 Coaching Clinic, I asked Brian if he thought I could get under 3 at Boston. The last time I was under 3 was over ten years ago at age 45, and then I got injured and out of shape until I started to train again as a 2014 New Year’s Resolution.
Brian replied that a better approach would be to set an intermediate goal of, say, breaking 3:10. Then we could be more realistic about my chances of breaking 3 again. So the road to Boston will go through Scranton, Pennsylvania, where I’ll be shooting for a sub-3:10 this fall at the Steamtown Marathon. Follow my blog for posts on how my training with TRSP is going on my way to Boston 2016.

Check It Out!

I would recommend TRSP to anyone who wants to get faster. I plan to use another Jack Daniels custom training plan for Steamtown and then I am considering the private coaching option for Boston. Brian let me know that TRSP has sold thousands of training plans and private coaching subscriptions to date and there are over 2000 users trying out the beta version of the VDOT O2 Training Calendar app on the web.
A great way to check out your VDOT and training paces for free is to get the VDOT O2 Calculator. It was just released on iOS and Android. Per Brian, “it is a free tool to help runners/coaches make quick training/race related calculations. The web version has been used over 1 million times and has been embedded on over 500 websites.” I embedded it on my website, and it was easy to do: http://therunningjones.com/?page_id=296
The screenshot below shows the iOS version running on my iPhone. As you can see, I entered my marathon time and the calculator gave me my VDOT, equivalent race times, and training paces.
This is a great way to check yourself to see if you are doing your easy runs too hard. Just enter a recent race time that represents your current fitness and then check the paces. How close are you? I can tell you, I ran a ton of miles at 9-minute pace on my way to the 3:18:53.
VDOT Run SMART Project

Success!

My final question to Brian:

Q (Tim Jones): What are some examples of Run SMART Project success stories?

A (Brian Rosetti): This is one of my favs: http://runsmartproject.com/coaching/2012/11/13/who-hits-their-marathon-goal-time-on-the-dot-three-times-in-a-row/

I want to be like that guy!

Thanks again Jason for this opportunity to share my experience about getting back into marathon shape. I’m looking forward to running Boston with you in 2016!
Questions or comments? We love to hear your thoughts!

Thoughts?