Sunday, November 30, 2014

Blog is Back

I have decided to bring the blog back. At least for a time. The general format will be basically the same with my weekly training in all its glory or lack there of posted with some basic commentary on how I feel it went and why I did it. I don't have the time I used to for responses to comments which were always the highlight of the blog for me but I'll do my best. I am also hoping to add some more multi-media stuff and some extra weekday posts that are not necessarily focused on my specific training that week. Why did I stop in the first place? Those who followed the blog in any of its old forms, running times, trackshark, jasonjo, here, know I was for a long time struggling with a coordination problem in my right leg that made racing the longer distances effectively impossible and had a heavy impact on the type of training I could do. I had surgery on my lower back in January 2011 to fix the issue but by the middle of 2012 it had become obvious that though my symptoms had been greatly reduced by surgery they were not fully gone. I was also working full-time and had an additional part time job by this point and my excitement for writing my weekly failures was non-exzistant. I always felt the blog should be a 100% honest assessment of not just what I was doing but how I felt about it. If I run like crap I don't want to put a sunny face on it or make excuses, there is plenty of that out there already, I want to frankly say I ran like crap, I feel like crap about it and yes it sucked. The thing was after a few years of almost everything I posted being a rehashing of the same old theme. My leg doesn't work, I can't train how I want, I can't race the distances I'm good at, etc… I felt I was not adding anything positive to the running world. That was really hard for me. Early on in my blogging I spent a good bit of time on and for those who were into the sport back then you will remember the comments sections were brutal. You may think the message boards contain a lot of trolls and negative attack type people but they are Sunday at church compared to what people use to post on some of the blogs in the comment sections. I started a policy there that I would respond to every single positive post and that I would only answer direct and legit questions in negative posts and they would otherwise be ignored. So if someone posted "you are obviously a drug cheat and you do bad things with farm animals" they got no response. If someone posted "You are using drugs right?" they got a simple "no I am not using drugs." I didn't allow the baiting and more to the point I tried to be positive even in responding to negative posts. IE "no I am not using drugs and thank you so much for giving me a chance to state that clearly and publicly." Very quickly the negative posts basically stopped on my blog. They went elsewhere. The point is It confirmed something for me that I hold very deeply. It is of the utmost importance to do what you can to bring a positive tone to the world. We won't always be able to be positive. We all have negative unproductive thoughts, judgements and feelings. We all have bad days but I want to do my best to produce something of a positive nature. I don't want it to be fake and sometimes you need to express all the negativity and doubt and fear you have so people know that we all feel that, we all fight self doubt. That makes the good have meaning. It makes us see our best moments only sweeter when we have suffered to earn them. Thing is I had by 2012 reached a point where I was only griping and not really producing anything positive and it made me feel like a whiner and a person who was bringing others down. So why come back? I have always felt that I missed the chance to really find out what I was capable of as a runner. My best performance is most certainly the 2008 Olympic Trials Marathon in the fall of 2007 but even there I lost coordination at around mile 19 and I felt that the limping that followed cost me between 1min and 1:30 on my overall time. Beyond that though fitness wise the fall of '07 was not nearly the best period of my career. Most all of 2008 and 2009 I was in much better shape and I took huge chunks of time off my personal records in the events short enough for me to run without the coordination shutting me down. In the years since '09 I have often been in better general shape than I was in the fall of '07 and I have at times been in exceptionally good shape but unable to run a long race without the impact of the loss of coordination and having speed best defined by my 400m best of 59 seconds I was between a rock and a hard place in trying to produce professional level performances. Still Melissa and I have continued to seek out new treatments, new specialists and tried to find the last piece of the puzzle to get my leg back to 100%. The surgery was a game changer at the time. The problem had been getting worse and worse and by the time I went into surgery I could only do a training run of around 9 miles before losing coordination. I could not race over 5k and even in 5k races I was starting to feel the all to familiar sensations that proceed the loss of coordination. After surgery I was able to get through 5k and 10k races pretty much without issue and I was able to regular training runs of up to 15 miles with regularity and occasionally 20+ miles with no problems. Also when I would lose coordination the problem wasn't nearly as bad. I would still have huge difficulties controlling the hip and hamstring and would still feel a huge lack of stability in my hip/low back area but I would no longer suffer from my ankle and calf locking up like granite. This meant if I lost coordination I could maintain a more normal pace than when I had lost it in the past. Not 100% on pace but say 10 to 20 seconds slower per mile rather than 20 to 30 seconds. At first I assumed as the nerves came back I would steadily regain full coordination. But somewhere in the middle of 2011 improvements stopped. Over the next couple of years I would have some good days and think I had found the solution. Then there would be the inevitable set back. I searched out and found other runners who had the same problem and found generally I was doing better at fixing it than them. Not a good thing. EMG's confirmed my nerve function was back to normal ranges but still I could not race over a half marathon. I could not do tempos over 10k with any consistency. Basically I knew that there was still a problem and despite our best efforts we couldn't seem to find the last piece of the puzzle. A few weeks ago I raced the Manchester half marathon. I did it on a whim signing up about 12 hours before the race. They pay a $1000 for the win and I was fit. In the race I as surprised to have two runners with me in the early miles and more surprised when I started to battle with them after 5 miles or so. I didn't recognize either one but I wasn't really looking either. At the finish I realized the winner was Josh McDougal, as in the guy who beat Galen Rupp at NCAA xc a few years back. I knew Josh had the same problem as me. We shared the normal post race congrats and then Josh brought up the coordination thing and how he felt he had 'solved' it. He expressed that he still had sensations and that 'holding' his form in order to fix the problem was still a work in progress. In talking to Josh it was like I had been working on a super complex math problem for a long time and no matter what I tried it didn't work then suddenly someone tells you the next step and even as they are explaining it you can see the rest of the steps all falling into place, see why what you thought would work wouldn't. Confusing little details that seemed previously to just muddy the waters now made sense. The short version is that Josh and his PT were running on the theory that the problem was caused by a lack of motion in the ankle AND tightness/poor posture in the thoracic spine- area around your shoulders. When I was getting surgery the one thing that bother my surgeon was that the nerve problems he could find on the emg and the disc I was struggling with only impacted the ankle and calf area yet I had symptoms in my glute/hip/hamstring. At the time the hope was that it was the locking of the ankle that was starting a chain of events and if we fixed the source of the issue. Now it was clear. The herniated disc that was locking up the ankle was only half the problem. I needed to address my hunched upper back and the shoulder swing that accompanied it. I was super excited because this made sense but I had false hopes before so I was cautious. I went home and discussed the whole thing with Melissa and she gave me a few exercises to work on for my shoulders and T-spine. I decided to take my planned end of season break that week because if this worked I was going to want to train for a marathon soon and I had been training far to long without a break to add a marathon cycle on now. In doing the exercises I immediately found I was crushingly weak in some of the smaller muscles that help hold your shoulders back and up. As a one time professional athlete this is not normal. Generally even when I am hurt and a PT gives me exercises I can do the quite well right from the get go. In this case two of the exercises Melissa gave me that she demonstrated with a 3 pound weight I was unable to do at all. In fact even just holding pencils I was only able to do the exercises a couple of times at first, never mind the sets of 10 Melissa was telling me to do. I also ordered a riding harness called Shoulders back that Alberto Salazar was using to help Mary Cain and Galen Rupp with their shoulder position while running. The first couple times I wore it I was fighting it so bad that I could feel my hands going numb because the circulation was getting cut off. I then set to planning my build up of workouts. Basically I want to return to the marathon. To do that I need to be able to do marathon specific workouts. To do those I need to be able to do certain base workouts. I looked at what I knew I could currently do and set out what I would need to be able to do start marathon prep. This served two purposes. First it would create a ladder for me to climb in terms of the coordination. I have had this problem since January of 2007 it would be foolish to believe I could just go out and think about my posture and be fine tomorrow. It is going to be a process with setbacks and gains. I need an outline to be able to measure clearly how things are going. Second there was a time when these longer marathon focused workouts were my bread and butter. They were the corner stone of the my fitness when I broke through to running on a competitive level. It has been years since I was able to do them with any consistency. I may be a born marathoner but I still need to do the workouts to bring that out. If I could magically fix the coordination for one day to race a marathon I would not perform well even if I was very fit aerobically and running very fast 5k and 10k's because I would not have the specific fitness needed to run a marathon. The aerobic and muscular endurance that was at one time my greatest strength. This build up would allow me to target these areas and bring myself steadily back towards the long race. I was very full of hope but I had been burned before. In my first week of training I would attempt two workouts that were just slightly beyond what I would normally expect to do. A 10k at 95 to 100% marathon pace. This type of workout I am at best 50/50 at getting through and after a week or two off the coordination is always worse so I knew it would be a no go. After work one night I set out to start my tempo. After an unplanned bathroom stop on the warm up and coming within inches of getting run over, screeching tires me ninja jumping up and around the hood of a very nice mercedes, in the first 400m of the tempo things were not getting off to a good start. As I tried to focus on my posture I realized at pace unlike the couple easy runs I had done it was nearly impossible for me to keep them in a good place for more than a few seconds. Very early on I started to feel the sensations that precede the loss of coordination but as I soldiered on I quickly realized when I could hold my shoulders in good position for a little while the leg would feel progressively better. In the last mile or so I was still very much on the verge of losing coordination but I finished. This was far from the success I had been hoping for. I met the absolute minimum level of performance that I could consider a success at all. Melissa was actually driving home from work and stopped when she saw me starting my cool down and I basically climbed in the car, skipping the cool down, very much a dejected man. She assured me it was early days and I tried to look on the bright side. One of the things I have found with the coordination is that if I lose it or push it to the point of almost losing it and then push it again in short order, a week to 10 days, it is much more sensitive and quick to be a problem. So it was with a less than positive attitude that I set out for my second marathon base session that weekend. I knew I could run 20k at about 6min pace without losing coordination on a very good day. I also knew that if I sped up just a little or if I added a warm up then I was asking for problems. As such I decided to only test one of those things. Fundamental pace, base phase marathon tempo, for my current fitness is 5:32 to 6:07 pace on flat terrain. My regular 20k tempo is not flat. I decided to aim for 6:07 pace but do a warm up and some strides. I decided if I could do that and not lose coordination it would be a success. Right off the bat I screwed up. First mile was 5:47. A sure kiss of death. Even without a warm up there was no way I could run 5:50 pace and hold coordination for 20k. Now I was testing my limits in two ways. Too much. Sure enough by about 4 miles the old familiar feeling began to return. However this time I was wearing the shoulders back and it really help me focus on my shoulder position and I realized that even when I thought I was in a good upright shoulder back position I was not and around 5 miles I found a good position. Immediately the sensation in my leg began to improve. Then I would slip out of form and it would start to come back. This continued for miles. Sometimes I would realize my shoulders were forward before the leg started to feel a bit funny sometimes I would notice the leg and sure enough my shoulders were forward again. However the coordination never went. By the skin of my teeth I made 20k in 1:11:36(5:45 pace). This was undeniable the best tempo I had in years in terms of the coordination. Still I had in the past a few breakthroughs and had turned out to be a singular day and dead ends so I remained cautious. Still I knew this had been different. I had felt I had some control over what happened with the leg not like I was running along waiting to see. I had come into this session with all the wrong build up for a good coordination day yet it had worked out. Still better though it was I told myself to wait a bit longer before getting to excited. I also found a bunch of marathons I would be interested in racing and figured out when I would have to be able to complete my base level pre specific workouts to be ready for marathon specific workouts for each of those races. I was teetering between excitement and caution. A week later came the next test. A repeat of the fundamental run but now trying to push the distance. I knew full well that I had been at the edge of what the leg could do the following weekend. I also knew my leg had been very agitated by the run and that based on the old rules setting out for another go was a recipe for failure. I decided to run the same loop and do the same warm up in order to keep the variables to a minimum. This time I was a week further on. A week more of runs focused on my position. A week more of exercises. I'm up to 1 pound weights from my pencils. I set off after the warm up and was quicker off the bat. I had some muscular tightness but I didn't feel any of the 'weirdness' that proceeds losing the coordination until after 8 miles. Twice as far as last week. What I did notice was that by that point it was incredibly hard to hold my shoulders back. The muscles were exhausted. In retrospect I really only started holding them back at 5 or 6 miles in the run the previous weekend- so about 6 total miles of working those muscles. Eight from the gun meant they had done more work already. I had been working on this in regular runs and during my shorter weekday workouts but at slower paces it was easier to do. Still as I rolled by 20k in 1:10:24. I was in very much the same place I had been from 4 to 8 miles the previous week. The leg would threaten and I would get the shoulders under control and things would improve and the cycle would repeat. However by 22k I reached a point where I could only hold the shoulders in good position for a few seconds. I decided to target 24k and the last 2k were as much like repeated shoulder isometrics as running. Still coordination held and more over was not nearly as agitated as it had been at 20k the previous week. 24k in 1:24:53(5:41pace). This was huge. It was for me the confirmation that I am on the track to getting back to the marathon. That is where I am at today. I feel I am ready to attempt to return to the marathon. Do I hope it will be a straight line of successes? Of course. But do I believe it will be? No. I do however think that the build up and struggle with changing my form with all its possible pitfalls and set backs could be one of the most interesting training cycles of my life. It may take only a matter of weeks until the small muscles in my shoulders and back can grow strong enough for me to do marathon workouts or it may take months with set backs and unforeseen new problems caused by the change in body position. Thing is for the first time I feel I am on a road that is going somewhere. It may be straight and quick or long and winding but it no longer appears that I am stuck going in the same circle around the same cul de sac. As such I want to begin to blog again and share those ups and downs with the running community that has been such a big part of my struggles and successes in the past.