The journey to Zone 2

by Rob Benefiel
In September 2009, I opened an HVAC company. This was preceded by eight years of sedentary desk work. In November, I stepped on the scales and I’d hit 200 pounds. Whoa. My 36-inch waist pants were tight, and I was laboring to climb ladders and stairs. Okay. Enough. Time to get back into shape. Just a few years earlier, I was in the Navy. I was the fitness coordinator for the ship. That was a time of peak fitness…  100 pushups and 100 sit-ups in two minutes, 1.5 miles in 10:30.
All of that was gone. I was becoming the middle-aged dude who let himself go. Oh. Heck. No.
So, I hit the road. Holy crap. I couldn’t run one lap around the hood. 1.5 miles for those not from the hood. Nonetheless, I kept moving. I registered for the Triple Crown of Running plus the KDF half marathon. No way I would let those race fees go to waste.
I found a Hal Higdon half-marathon plan and stuck with it. 5K, 10K and 10-miler all went fairly well. Half-marathon. Bonk. Yep. Walked mile eight while eating an apple. Still finished in 2:37 but it was painful. Lord, was it hard.
I was determined to stick with it. I was encouraged by the weight loss and better-fitting clothes. I found the Higdon speed plan for the summer. Couple of short distance races that summer. Then I hopped back to the half-marathon plan. I was determined to find the two-hour half. Poop. So close. 2:03 with Trevor dragging me along the way.
So, here I was one year into the journey. Two half-marathons under my belt. Pretty good improvement in half-marathon times. Something just wasn’t right. I felt like I was missing something in my workouts. Trevor was using PRSFit for his training plans. He was crushing it. So, what the heck…
Wow. I was missing it. Big time. (I kept missing it too…) Jeff got some base data and set a plan in motion. Started using a heart rate monitor for all workouts. Changed to a midfoot running form. I registered for the same spring races except I went to the marathon distance at the KDF. Huge PRs in the Triple Crown. KDF marathon… Not so great. Fourteen miles into it and BONK! 4:57. What the heck? I’d followed the plan. So I thought. I didn’t realize at that time just how much I wasn’t following the plan!
I’d hit a weight loss plateau at this point of 180 pounds. With the recent race results, Jeff suggested a healthier diet. So, I shifted to Paleo. Bam. Fifteen pounds shredded in six weeks. Tons of energy. I was still focused on improving the marathon time, I spanked a half-marathon in October 2011 in 1:52 and a 5K (2nd place overall) in 22:20. Lean. Mean. Race-running machine. Or so I thought.
I experienced an achilles injury in December 2011. No running or elliptical for five weeks. Spinning classes only. Great. All healed up and I’m ready for the Mississippi Blues Marathon. Jackson Mississippi. Walk in the park. Mississippi is flat. Ha. Ha. Ha. Roller after roller after roller. Whatever. Press forward. Must hit the goal pace. Click along through 15 miles. Looking like a 4:15 finish… CRAMPS! What in the heck? Painful. Oh Lord, was it painful. I trudged through to a 5:15. And injured. Yep. Running with cramps on rollers ain’t wise. I was on the shelf for four months.
In the meantime, I spent a lot of time reflecting on my last two years of workouts and racing. Why was I hitting a wall so early in the marathon? Why can’t I get to the finish line? What was I doing wrong?
Enter The Sock Doc training principles ( Big giant light bulb. What do you mean you should stay in heart rate zones to stay aerobic during endurance events? Full marathon in zone 2? Half Marathon in zone 3? Bingo. Bonk explained.
All this time I was following the training plan (eh, mostly), but I wasn’t racing correctly. I was determined to hit an arbitrary pace vs. letting my heart rate zones dictate the pace. I highly recommend reading the training principles. You’ll find some podcasts with Dr. Steve on Trail Runner Nation ( where he explains the principles. While you’re there, grab the podcasts with Dr. Mark ( You will learn a ton from these two guys. They both share their training knowledge freely and answer questions on their blogs. If you want a running coach to guide your workouts, I can’t say enough good things about Jeff and PRSFit.

I’m running my next marathon Nov. 17. I don’t have a goal pace. I do have a target heart rate. I’m excited to cross the finish line healthy. My new motto: Live in zone 2 with brief excursions to other zones. See you on the run.

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