Sunday, March 29, 2015

Weekly Training Blog March 23 to 29- Duck Tape and Bubble Gum


PM 7.2 miles on road, first 3.2 with Melissa and Uta in 22:33 rest solo, 48:08

XT whartons, rubber bands, Thoracic Bridge


PM Barker farm 16 at fundamental pace, 1:34:10, this felt VERY easy, I was fighting the coordination a good bit but it held all the way which was the point of doing this run.  Trying to get the form back to where I'm again holding the coordination for 20 miles plus.  This run was at 5:53 pace but this loop is very hilly and tends to be about 10 seconds per mile slower than my regular loop which is about 10 seconds per mile slower than flat running.  I have run this fast on this loop but not with this ease it felt like 7min pace plus.  Just walking. total 16 miles

XT whartons, YTI, rubberbands, thoracic bridge


PM Regular 20k, 1:16:30, with temps in the mid 40's this was far and away the warmest run I have had in quite some time, of course there are still a couple feet of snow on the ground so it isn't summer just yet…

XT whartons, YTI, thoracic bridge,  My left heel/ankle spasmed when I was running some errands around 8:30pm and I did some ankle drills when I got home, very tight at the solues attachment.


PM 11miles first 2 miles with Uta in 16mins.  It was raining hard and she didn't want to run when she didn't perk up I just swung back and dropped her off, she was happy about that, rest solo in cold driving rain.  1:14:38, left heel was very sore and week was actually limping for most of the first two miles with Uta until it loosened up some.

XT went right to Bikram Yoga after the run, also did whartons, YTI, ankle drills, some wharton stretches for the foot and ankle and rubber bands


PM bearhill 4.2 with Uta for a warm up, 26:53, dropped her off then did skipping warm up, light drills, and strides.  Then a Moneghetti fartlek around my 'block'.  Covered 4.114 miles in the 20 minutes.  Just about one house further than on the same session last week so a new Mona PR.  Average pace was 4:51.6/3:01.2.  This was a very good session.  The heel, soleus attachment, still very sore but was able to get it loosened up enough to do this. 2+ mile cool down, 14:45.

XT ankle drills, YTI, whartons, rubberbands, wharton stretches for ankle and foot

The loop I was doing this workout on is just over 1500m and goes around the roads that surround our town home complex.  Melissa could see me going by from our living room and noticed that though my shoulders were back I had my head "really far forward, like awkwardly far forward"  so we are assuming that has been part of my recent struggles with the coordination again.


PM 6.3 first 4.2 with Melissa, got a bit of a sore throat last night and hoping to get in a good workout tomorrow so I decided to take it real easy today, 43:30 

XT Bikram Yoga- interestingly ran into 1:03:30 half marathoner Eric Ashe who had been dragged to his first class by his girlfriend. also whartons, wharton stretches for ankle and foot, YTI, rubber bands, eccentric calve raises


PM I slept in and then had a lazy morning hoping the throat would clear up but I ended up deciding to scrap the workout.  I have done marathon workouts a few times when feeling a bit off or a bit of a sore throat at the start and by bedtime that night I've been sick as a dog and I didn't want to risk that.
  So I did my regular 20k, with a fast last mile.  I ran 1:14:00 for the 20k with a final mile of 4:51.2.  The idea was to run marathon pace for the last mile this was a good bit faster than that but I was feeling good.  Putting more focus on head position seemed to help with the coordination though it was feeling a bit off from the recent tests of it. 

XT whartons, YTI, rubberband, ankle drills, eccentric calve raises


I'm very fit.  I would like a few more marathon specific workouts and obviously I would love to have the coordination thing 100% gone and just a memory but after 8 years it is unrealistic to think it would just disappear overnight.

  Looking back at some of my past cycles for comparison this one is a bit more spread out and the miles are lower but in terms of workouts it isn't bad.  Before the Olympic Trials I ran  5 good marathon workouts and had two workouts that were aborted part one, one for coordination, one because I was hurting.  

  Before New York City 2008 (the best fitness I have ever had going  into a marathon) I had 7 moderately good workouts basically I would get through about 1/2 to 2/3 of a marathon and then lose coordination then in the afternoon I would do 3 to 6 miles at marathon pace.  I was super fit but not surprisingly I lost coordination at about 10k into the marathon and limped in to a mid 2:20's finish.

  Before my debut at Austin in 2006 I ran 2 good marathon workouts and 1 good not specific workout as well as 1 good half marathon race.  I ran 2:15:28 there but I had not done enough specific work and I ran out of glycogen and ran 5:15, 5:40 (uphill), 5:15(downhill), 5:28 for the last four miles. After averaging 5:07 pace for the first 22 miles that is a pretty bad bonk.  

  This year I have 4 good marathon workouts and 3 moderately good ones and a number of good non-marathon specific sessions.  I would really like to get in at least one and possibly two marathon workouts before tapering.  I am very fit and that can be maintained without specific work but I would like to make sure I am still specifically prepared for marathon.  Fitness is only half the battle in the marathon you must be ready for the specific challenge of the marathon or you will just be another fit runner shaking your head wondering what happened out there and mumbling about fueling better or carbo loading.  

  My plan is to do a specific workout next Sunday and then maybe take a personal day the following Wednesday to do one last session.  Now before you judge me too harshly this is my third year back teaching and I worked part time for a year before that and in that time I have taken one day off, I got stuck at an airport in L.A. so I'm not some lazy ass who skips work willy nilly. 

  Other than that I want to mix in one weekly longish run at fundamental pace focusing on coordination.  this is not specific to marathon racing but it is specific to my holding control of my right leg which will be the biggest limiting factor in my race performance.  I'll probably do 16 to 18 again this week then go for an 18 to 20 about a week out from Boston. 

  As for the sore throat and the heel.  I still have the sore throat.  Hopefully it doesn't become anything more.  The heel was improved quite a bit by the yoga.  I'll try and go again tomorrow and the eccentric calve raises help a lot so I think that will come around real quick.

  Hope you are holding together better than I am and you have a great week.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Training Blog March 16 to 22 to continue or to regroup that is the question.


PM Dale 5 with Uta, 32:10, All I had time for after getting stuck at work late and having to get to dog training after the run total 5 miles

XT whartons, rubberbands, thoracic bridge


PM road 11 solo, 1:06:55, super windy 30mph plus, very cold very miserable total 11 miles

XT Bikram yoga right after run, 90mins, rubber bands and thoracic bridge


PM regular 20k, 1:15:02, single digit wind chill winds 20 to 30mph, struggled with coordination. very hard not to lean forward at all in winds like this very unpleasant run total 12.4 miles

XT whartons, rubberbands, thoracic bridge


PM bear hill 4.2 with Uta for warm up, 25:56, very windy and cold again bit better than last night but only a bit. winds 15 to 20mph, dropped off Uta, light drills and strides, Moneghetti fartlek, covered a total of 4.101 miles, that is 4:52.6 per mile, 3:01.8 per k.  This is the fastest Mona I have ever done.  I was fairly shocked given the wind.  I was only into the wind for 500m per 1500m loop but it was rough! 16min cool down.  total 10 plus miles

XT whartons, rubberbands, thoracic bridge


PM went to acupuncture right after school and she really went after it so I was zonked coming out of there and considered not running but given how little I had done I manned up and got my ass out the door.
dale 4 with Melissa and Uta, 30mins, once again coldish and very windy, then 7 miles in 42mins total 11+ miles in 1:12 pretty quick considering wind. total 11 plus miles


AM 4.5 miles on woodway curve trying to work on holding shoulders back,31:40- decent effort on curve- then ran home from gym on back roads, about 8 miles in 48:33, was warmer 40 and the wind was much calmer, of course it had snowed an inch or two overnight so it wasn't a great day but still better. total around 12 and a half miles 

XT 4pm bikram yoga, rubberbands, whartons, thoracic bridge


Noon 19minute warm up, cold and super windy 30mph or more. skipping warm up, light drills, strides. goal was 4x4k with 1k recovery around merrimack college 5k loop.  The first k was tailwind. the 2nd and 3rd k were pretty much into the wind, the 4th k was side wind, the 5th k was about half side wind and half tail wind but it is a very tough slow k.   
  This is where I screwed up.  I felt great the first k, in 3:00, with a roaring tail wind and I didn't properly respect the wind for the rest of the loop.  The idea of this type of workout is to run around 102% of mp and try to average mp for 20k with rest built in.  Given the wind I should have aimed for mp on the reps and averaging 98% mp overall.  Instead I just pushed on like It was no thing.
 12:32 for the first 4k, and after a 3:25 recovery k I was at 15:58 flat.  I kept it under control on the first k of the second loop in 3:04 but could tell I was struggling to keep fighting the wind particularly while working very hard to hold my shoulders back.  The 2nd k wasn't bad but after that I was fighting pretty good, 12:45 for 4k- for comparison last weekend I was 12:33 than 12:27 and felt easy, of course last week I was losing coordination so at least I was better off there.  I ran the recovery k in 3:26 which was faster  than either recovery last week which gives you an idea how much the wind was impacting as the 5th k was half tail wind. So I'm through 10k in 32:10 but feeling ragged.  The first k of the 3rd lap was fine at 3:05 with the wind at my back but I was in a bad way going into the wind after that and I struggled to a 12:52 for the full 4k and after a 3:35 recovery k I knew I was done.  48:33 for 15k. which is 5:12 per mile.  
  I was done.  Frankly I just went out too fast for the conditions.  On the plus side the coordination held for the 15k and though I can't be 100% sure as I could feel it threatening a bit I think it would have held for 20k which would be really good given the wind.  Still not what I was hoping for.  Light drills and then 18 min cool down total around 15 or 16 miles.


 So to run or not.  Honestly this run wasn't long enough to really be specific so that leaves a few weeks to try and cram in some specific work.  It is a shit situation.  The foot feels like 99% and I was able to hold the coordination. Honestly if I had run 20k today I would be in for sure.  If I had lost coordination I would be out instead I ran like a rube and I'm left in a confusing spot.
  Looking at my options my plan is to go ahead with Boston but ratchet back my expectations a bit.  I will see how the next few weeks go but if I can keep improving and stop screwing up I'll run.  I'm also hoping that the worst winter in Massachusetts history will finally quit and I can just fight my own physical demons and not have to battle conditions as well.  

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Importance of Running Specific Musculoskeletal Strength

  I was doing a bit of running 'research' this morning, ok I was wasting time reading about running on the internet because the wind chill is once again in the @#$%ing miserable level and I'm supposed to be starting a workout.  Anyway I came across a quote from Rob De Castella in an interview back in 1983 talking about how to that point in his running career he had only missed 10 total days of running due to injury.

Deek said, "You've got two levels- skeletal strength and physiological fitness.  If the latter surpasses the former it means you can push the body further than it is really able to sustain.  I think that's when you get injured." * This is something I have thought about through my long injury history and never been able to sum up nearly so concisely but it really drives home a simple point that I believe is largely missing from our current conversation about training.

  It is no secret I have had a long and extensive injury history.  I think that some of this can be simply attributed to my habit of always wanting to push harder and not listening to my body.  Still I think there is more to it than that.

  Separately I have long felt that my limiting factors in performance had become muscular more than aerobic.  This is part of why I felt I didn't have success in my short stint at altitude.  In fact I had the opposite. I think most americans, most first world runners, are undertrained aerobically and go to altitude where the stress on the aerobic system is inherently increased greatly and  they see a jump in performance as a result of this redistribution of effort.  Where as I went up there and put even more stress on the aerobic system and even less on the muscular system and saw a loss of fitness.  Now this isn't to say I or someone else like me couldn't find great success training at altitude just that it would take a well thought out plan to address this balance but that is for another blog.

   I think that most of your good training schedules have a good balance between muscular and aerobic development but I don't think that most coaches put enough specific thought and focus into creating this balance.  Most often I think the balance that is being thought about is aerobic and anaerobic work.  Further more I think too often we think of muscular and anaerobic work as the same thing.  I know when I started out I did.

  The problem with hard intervals lead to severe fatigue and under fatigue our form falls apart so instead of taxing our muscular system in a nice balanced way and teaching good strong muscular pathway our form falls apart and we build bad habits and imbalances.   Anaerobic workouts can be great muscular sessions but only for a very developed athlete who has spent years building great muscular strength so their form doesn't break down under stress.  For the rest of us the solution is to do work that is specifically targeting fast dynamic motion while maintaining relaxed control so that we are teaching good form and balanced muscular development.

  From the beginning of our running we should be doing daily work to build our muscular skeletal system to excel at the specific demands of running and running fast.  How?  Mostly with fast relaxed running.  This can be in the form of strides or short hills.  It can be fast relaxed tempo running.  This can be repeats at all sorts of distances AS LONG AS THE EFFORT IS CONTROLLED!  This is what is always missed.  Also you can do running specific drills, skipping, lunge walking and other dynamic running and core exercises to build a muscular skeletal system that can stay healthy and deliver on all the aerobic power you can build.

  I honestly believe that my biggest failure as an athlete was a failure to develop a strong dynamic muscular skeletal system from the beginning.  I believe if I had done more aerobic work sooner I could have been more successful at a younger age but that it would not have improved my overall development.  However if I had started out doing strides daily, controlling my effort in 99% of my workouts to maintain form and doing dynamic general strength work, like the type of stuff you see from  John Cook or Jay Johnson, I honestly believe I would never have had the injury problems I had in college nor do I think I would have developed my coordination problem.  I honestly believe my failure to do this work from the beginning of my running cost me a career as a at least high level national class marathoner.

  I do much more now to try and develop the muscular strength.  I do the yoga for general strength and when I'm not banged up I do strides daily or close to it.  I have also developed a lot of strength over the last couple decades so my workouts are now a means of building strength as well.  Still if there is one area that I need to do more for it is specific muscular strength and endurance.  So often in my training I am strong.  I can run miles on top of miles and feel fine I can run quickly, say 5:20 per mile or even faster and have it feel like walking but as soon as I need to get just a little bit more muscular sub 5:00 at time, sub 4:40 per mile most of the time, I struggle, sometimes to hold these paces for even a few hundred meters.  It may sound crazy but it is not uncommon for me to find myself in a place where I can run for an hour or more feeling relaxed at 5:20 per mile but I struggle to run even a kilometer at 4:40 mile pace.  In the stretches where I have been able to do all the muscular work I start to see huge improvements in my middle distance racing.  So often I find myself very fit but racing fairly slowly.  Where as if I was maintaining my muscular training better I could be running much much faster, if not quite national class certainly much closer.  Specifically I should often be running in the 23's for 8k instead of 24's and 29's for 10k instead of 30's. sub 14:40 for road 5k instead of sub 15:10.  Now you can sharpen up and run faster with anaerobic work but that isn't what I'm talking about in this instance.  I have run sub 30 for 10, sub 24 for 8k and sub 14:40 for a road 5k without doing much if any real anaerobic work.  I can run those times off good balanced aerobic and muscular training.  Too often I fail to do the muscular work to make running relaxed enough at those paces to hold them without good anaerobic fitness.  This slowed my overall development and means I have a lot of decent races in my history but few very good ones.

   I cannot encourage you enough to plan for muscular development as specifically as you do aerobic development.  These two things are the foundations of all running success.  You can always do race specific and anaerobic work later but if you don't build a great foundation of muscular strength and aerobic endurance all the race work in the world won't be worth a bucket of piss.

* P.S. a bit of an aside but the article the quote comes from is in the August of 1983 Runners World.  It is mind blowing to me that they would run an article like this complete with discussion of his racing career, a sample training week and intelligent conversation about his thoughts on his current training and where he would like to take it in the future.  I just can't imagine coming across the same type of article with one of the Geoff Mutia's in this August's Runners World. link to article

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tempo Tuesday; Moderate Progression Runs

  This week Tempo Tuesday is about moderate progression runs.  I have been using these more this cycle but historically I haven't done a ton of these.  I tend to like to hammer my progression runs but that said these sessions are a awesome way to build great relaxation at a quick pace and great aerobic strength.

  These are not a killer session, it is right in the name, moderate.  You might even do this session the day before or after a harder track session if you are a very quick recover and have a long history of heavy training.

  I think for most people however it is a great stand alone workout.  I see a lot of folks who go hard once or twice a week because they are trying to build their miles and they can't go more than that.  This is fine but why just do all regular pace runs?  If you do and run 10 times a week with 2 hard efforts that means 80% of your runs are the same. That simply doesn't bode well for a well balanced training cycle.  Instead mix in some moderate efforts that don't take much more out of you than a regular training run but do target systems a bit differently.  The two big things I would suggest are a session for speed, i.e. diagonals, 100's session or short hill reps and second a session for aerobic endurance.

  The moderate progression is a perfect run for aerobic endurance.  Basically this should be a run that is as long or slightly longer than your normal training run, should start at about the fast end of your normal training pace and should progress steadily over the run to about 20 to 30 seconds per mile faster than you started.  For me this means a 10 to 15 mile run starting at 5:50 to 6:00 per mile.  I generally average 6:00 to 6:20 per mile for a regular training run and finish with my last few miles in the 5:50 to 6:00 range.   In order to start my run at this pace I need to do a mile or two warm up and some drills but I have a lot of miles under my belt so you may not need that warm up.   Over the course of the run I work down to about 5:20 pace.  In a marathon phase I will often run the last mile at goal marathon pace which is a bit faster but this is pushing the envelope on keeping the session moderate and I wouldn't suggest doing it most of the time as you really don't want this session to get to hard and have them take away from more important sessions.

  What it does.  This will build your aerobic endurance and your muscular endurance.  The first few times you do this you may be pretty sore or heavy the day after and your stomach may be upset in the hours after the session but with time you will soon find that you feel fine the next day and your going to find yourself running along on this session feeling VERY easy and you will find your other endurance workouts improving greatly and when you fall apart in races and workouts you will find you can salvage better and stay much closer to pace.

  Where in your training to do it?  This is a session that can be fit in throughout your training cycles.  As a complimentary session it works great in the earliest training to start dipping your toes into faster running.  Then in the early base it is a great workout to supplement the heavier tempo work you are doing in the special and specific phase it is a great light session that can be used to maintain aerobic fitness while not taking too much out of you.

  Hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Weekly Training March 9 to 15 Limbo


XT Bikram Yoga, 90mins, whartons, rubberbands

PM bear hill 4.2 miles 27:53 with Uta, tot. 4.2 miles

XT whartons, rubber bands

PM 9 miles, first 4 with Melissa and Uta next 5 solo total 9 miles

XT Bikram Yoga, 90mins, whartons, rubberbands

PM road 11, first 4 with Uta and Melissa, last 7 solo at 6:00 pace, 1:10:21 total 11

XT whartons, rubberbands

PM I had noticed the local HS had plowed their track and my heart jumped.  I was so pumped so I decided to do Aussie Quarters instead of the Mona fartlek I was planning.  I did a 5k warm up to the track with Uta and Melissa in 21:34. Then I did drills and strides.  There were some icy patches so I decided to jog a lap of the track to make sure it was ok and there were no crazy ice ponds.  Now there is still A LOT of snow up here so the snow banks on the inside of the track and in the outside lanes were well above my head.  As I ran down the back stretch I noticed ahead of me something looked odd.  Then there it was.  for some reason they had plowed 390meters of the track leaving an 8 foot wall of snow 10 meters thick around the 200m start. There was a zig zag single lane shoveled around to the outside but it would be nearly impossible to run it at much under 6min pace never mind in a workout. CRAP.  So now I needed to invent a loop/route to do a Mona fartlek.  I actually have a loop around the high school but they are building a new fire station and eliminated part of the road so that was a no go.  I settled on an out and back sort of set up that if it turned out to not be long enough I could loop around the parking lot to head back out.  It was a bit more rolling than I would have liked and it had a few icy turns greater than 90 degrees.  From the gun I just didn't feel great.  
  For me on a mona I always have a goal of covering 4 miles in the 20 minutes.  To do this if I'm running 4:40 pace on the efforts I need to be running 5:20 pace on the rests.  I felt like crap.  I was afraid I wasn't running under 5 on the efforts and on top of that I couldn't seem to get a great effort out. Normally by the end of the mona I'm in a world of hurt.  To be honest I was hurting but not to bad at the end of this one.   It wasn't until I measured it afterwards and found I had run 3.98 miles and averaged 5:00.9 per mile/3:07 per k that I realized it was actually a decent effort.
  3 mile cool down. total 10 miles

  Oh if you are new to the blog and don't know what a Mona Fartlek is check it out here

XT whartons, rubberbands

AM 10 miles, 66mins, first 3 miles with Uta at a bit over 8minute pace because she was not happy that Melissa was home in bed and we were out running in the rain. last 7 miles solo at 6:00 pace total 10 miles

XT Bikram yoga 90mins, whartons, rubber bands

2PM 3 warm up, skipping warm up, light drills, light strides. on merrimack college loop. Goal 4x4k at mp with 1k recoveries at 90%mp (total of 20k)  I started to lose coordination about half way and called it.  It was a cold rain and rather miserable all around. splits-4k-12:33.3( with a 2:59 first K- oops!) 1k recovery in 3:28 (5k-16:01.6) 4k- 12:27.9, 1k recovery in 3:29 (10k-31:59.1, 2nd 5k-15:57.5) stopped. I hadn't lost coordination yet but I could feel it going and I wanted to avoid that as in the cold rain/snow mix that was going on hobbling along for a long fight home would have sucked! did some light drills to get coordination firing 100% again and did 3 cool down total about 12 and half miles.

XT ankle drills, light drills, skipping warm up, whartons, rubber bands, YTI

So I was scheduled to race the New Bedford half marathon today. To any of my teammates at CMS please don't hate me for missing again.  After last weekend my thought process was if I did a workout and it went south, it did, I could stop and go home fairly easily.  However if I was running New Bedford and I lost coordination again I'd have to either hobble to the finish or try and find my way through town. Neither sounded like much fun.  

  Sunday's workout. This session is a canova session. For those who know Fernando Cabada he posted a video of him doing the same session last week, , He ran the 20k in 62:21- that is 2:11 pace for the whole thing. I think he averaged 4:55 for his on's- so 2:09 pace.  Now he has a 2:11 PR.  I don't know what his goal for Boston is but I would guess he would be happy with 2:11.  Basically for good workout people with the shorter reps you tend to run a bit quicker than mp and average around marathon pace.  As you do sessions with longer reps you tend to run marathon pace on the reps and be a little slower than mp over the full session.  Now I have never been able to run much faster than mp on any long rep session, but I also used to do much bigger miles when I was doing these workouts.  For me my on's were on 2:11 to 2:12 pace and my overall average was 2:15:00 pace.   I felt very controlled at half way so I have no doubt I could have finished the workout in terms of fitness.

  What does this mean?  I haven't fallen apart fitness wise.  The foot is about 90% I can train full volume this week.  If I can't get the coordination on track by next weekend however I will pull out of Boston.  

  So moving forward.  I will be doing this same session again next Sunday.  This week was the trial ballon. Next weekend is the real test.  If it goes well GREAT we are on.  If not well those are the breaks and I'll regroup and figure out a new plan.  I'm fit and the foot is getting better.  I just got to remember it isn't supposed to be easy and nobody owes me anything. 

  Hope you are well and it isn't snowing where you are.  It is here and I'm not happy about it.

Saturday, March 14, 2015



  I have been asked a few times over the last couple weeks in a few different contexts about pressure.  In anything we care about there is bound to be some pressure.  We each handle it in different ways.  There are many great athletes who can't handle it well at all and normal unknown folks who are only comfortable under pressure.

  I think some of how we deal with pressure is innate.  Like speed I think that you can develop what you have but a person who has a natural physical reaction to shut down or get overly charged up they will never have the ice water that runs in their veins.  Just as a inherently slow person can get faster but will never be a world beater in the 100 meters.

  I do not think I was born to be in a pressure cooker but still at my best I have always been able to handle pressure.

  As a kid I remember being in a little league game.  I was not much of a player.  I came up to bat with two outs in the last inning we were losing by two runs and the bases were loaded.  I have heard that in such situations the ball can appear to be as large as a grapefruit or as small as a pea as it comes flying in towards you depending on if you are a cool cucumber or a high strung flyer.  I experienced neither.

  Instead the first pitch it appeared the pitcher was just tossing the ball to the catcher like he wanted a new ball.  It was so damn slow.  I was shocked.  I didn't swing.  I was confused.  Why was this kid throwing the game away.  The kid in right field was half asleep.  I had never hit a ball to right in my life but it seemed so easy the next pitch floated in as slow as the first I punched the ball into right it was as easy as if I had tossed it up myself to hit fly balls to my brother.  A bases clearing triple.

  Still I was not a sure thing.  In 8th grade I had a chance to make the varsity xc team for the championship races.  It was down to me and another kid.  I had beat him in the last two races.  It was the first race one of my parents came to.  I wanted to be on varsity in junior high.  I wanted to impress my dad.  A race had never been so hard from the gun.  I fought and fought.  For the first time that year at a home meet my time wasn't faster than the time before.  I was our 8th man.  No varsity, no championship races. Our team won our state class meet, the qualifier for the all state championship.  I watched.  Pressure had come and I had cracked.

  Over the next few years I would do better.  More and more I would succeed when it mattered.  At my first state championship as a freshman it was the first time in my life I finished higher than 5th man for my team.

  The next time I failed under pressure was as a senior. My team had graduated and I qualified alone.  I needed a win.  Nothing else would be good enough.  I was a decent runner but two of the best preps in a generation, Andy Powell and Franklyn Sanchez where in my race.  Yet I needed a win.  I knew the odds but I couldn't give up.  By the night before the race I had lost all appetite.  I failed.  10th the year before I was in 6th coming into the home stretch and I was done.  If felt the whole field went by.  I finished 23rd.  But I grew stronger.

  I was knocked to a slow heat during my only run on a 200m track during the indoor season and was pissed off and over emotional like only a teen can be.  I took a deep breath and forced out the anger and ran the best race of my life to that point from the front lapping the field.

  Before the state qualifier outdoors my mom and her boyfriend had a roaring fight late into the night.  An hour before my race her boyfriend arrived at the meet obviously incredibly drunk. He wanted to apologize for the fight the night before.  In his state he didn't realize the scene he was making was far worse than the lost sleep the night before.  I didn't even think it weird until after the race.  I was in the zone.  I ran a PR and qualified for my first state track meet as an individual.

  In college I continued to generally run my best when it mattered most unless I was hurt.  But I had not met real pressure.

  A the day after arriving for my final NCAA cross country championship I got a message.  My brother had attempted suicide.  He was a few months back from a tour of duty in Afghanistan and I hadn't been there for him.  I was wrapped up in my life.  He was alive but hospitalized.  My reaction was to get to him.  However I didn't come from a family with money.  The price of even changing my ticket home to go home was not the kind of money I had or I could get.  I'm sure if I had asked for it the school would have paid to send me home but I was not the type who could ask for that at that time.  I also felt I owed it to my team to run.

  In a race in which I should have been in the top 20 I ended up around 50th.  I just couldn't dig down and get the kind of effort I needed.  I couldn't hold my focus or my drive.  It hurt for sure but the effort didn't yield the results.  To run a great race you need to drive the whole world out from your head and live your entire life in that race with no distraction.  As though you are in a dream and you did not exist before and you will not exist after.  I could not drive the world out from my head.

  Running after college brought new pressures.  Racing for rent money brings a different kind of pressure.  Traveling to a race alone when the race pays for your hotel, your tickets, your food, basically spending more on getting me to the line than I had ever had at one time in my life to that point which brings a certain type of pressure to perform.  Racing early in the morning after arriving late the night before because of flight delays.

  Each of these new things and each repetition of them builds your ability to drive out pressure to let it roll over you like rain.  Other pressures arise in life and build the same things.  I ran in Lowell, which can at times be a tough town, for many years and my road etiquette is let us say a bit sub par.  So over the years I have had a number of confrontations and even a few guns pointed at me.  These things are all types of pressure and you must learn to act in a calm and thought out way with these pressures.

  In this time frame a small non-running incident sticks out in my mind as a moment in which I grew in terms of my ability to perform under pressure.  I rented a room in a house near the UMass Lowell campus and one night I was making some chicken.  I put oil in a pan I had just washed and not dried well and as it heated I breaded the chicken.  I put an ill fitted top on the pan when the inevitable popping and what not started as the oil heated and reacted to the water on the pan.

  I heard it light on fire behind me. I felt the heat even before I could turn to see it.  The entire pan was engulfed in flames, you couldn't see it.  The flames went fully up the wally and curved out over my head on the ceiling.  I knew we didn't have a fire extinguisher, I checked under the sink and on the cellar stairs lighting fast to be sure.  I didn't know you could put a fire like that out with baking soda or flour.  I knew you couldn't put an oil fire out with water.

  I knew by the time I called the fire department and they arrived the kitchen would be gone.  Who knew if the guys I lived with had insurance.  I opened the kitchen door.  At this point less than 10 seconds had passed since the pan had lit on fire, it felt like a lifetime.  We didn't have oven mits or pan holders, we were after all a group of grad students or just out of school guys.  I calmed my mind and separated myself from my hand.  I reached into the flames and grabbed the pan. I carried it the ten feet across the kitchen to the door and tossed it out into the snow.  I used my shirt to quickly stomp out the bits of the wall and celling that were on fire.  I opened the windows and scrubbed the burns and smoke stains out of the wall and celling and called the kid who owned the house.  I knew I was burned badly though I must admit I was a bit shocked as I gingerly tried to was the smoke stains off my hand and wrist to watch chunks of skin roll away.

  Pressure takes many forms and each time we do what is needed under it.  Each time we face it and manage to pull ourselves together and stay inside our heads we develop the ability to handle it better the next time.

  The Olympic Trials is for many, myself included, the biggest race of your life.  In the build up to the '08 marathon trials a few weeks out I was dumped by my fiancee at the time.  In the long run this was a great thing as I ended up with Melissa, but at the time time I didn't know that.  Having something like that happen in your personal life is a huge jump in pressure.  Also my shoe contract had only been extended for 6 months to get it just past the trials with the clear point that if I didn't do something there it would be the end of that support.   I remember at the time Gary freaking out that I was in such good shape and that this girl could just break things off so close to the biggest race of my life.  I was in a place where I couldn't see the big deal they were separate. When the workouts started I didn't have a personal life, when the gun went up on race day I wouldn't have anything but the race.

  On race day I was aware of the insanity that is running a race like that.  There are just so many huge stars and the TV crews and the crowds.  Yet there was an relaxed focus. It would go well as long as my body would work.

  Each of these types of pressure are different.  What pressure is hardest for you to deal with varies for each person.  As you can see from the stories above most of what I had the hardest time with are either life stress or are internal pressure.  To be honest I have always put a huge amount of pressure on myself.  I always have even as a child.  I need to be exceptional and nothing I accomplish is ever good enough.  On the other hand I really don't care about most external pressure.  In someways this seems rude or embarrassing to say but I generally don't care what other people think of me.  Don't get me wrong I care what my boss thinks because I want to keep my job.  Things like that.  But in terms of feeling like I need to prove myself to others it just isn't something I feel a huge drive for.  First I don't feel bad when someone tells me I suck.  It just isn't something that bothers me.  More over I don't enjoy when someone compliments me or tells me I have done good.  Actually I don't believe them.  So it has never become something I have needed or wanted.

  Now for a few years now there has been no external pressure in my running.  Interestingly I have continued to put much of the same internal pressure on myself even though I have not been competing on a high level.  Suddenly though I have done nothing to earn it I'm getting interviewed again and being talked about and so there is external pressure again.  I actually noticed it only because my foot started hurting and the reality that I might not race Boston came into my mind and here I'm getting all this undeserved attention.

  Still I haven't changed.  I don't know how exactly to describe it but basically it is like rain on your face. You feel it but it rolls off.  It doesn't change anything.  From my perspective the only thing I want is to get to compete again and to do these workouts and all that matters is what I want and how I feel about it.  Still it has been kinda nice to feel a bit of pressure again.  Feels like the running matters a bit more and it is nice.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Fartlek Friday the 6/1

 The 6/1 fartlek is a moderate effort.  Really it can be a 5/1, 6/1, 7/1, 8/1 whatever.  The idea is that you run 1minute hard every mile or so.  In order to make things easier, i.e. you don't need to keep track of mile marks etc.. you simply do a hard minute on every 6th minute, or whatever whole number is nearest to your regular pace.

  So on a half hour or so run you would go hard starting at the 6th, 12th, 18th, 24th, 30th minute marks.  In between you run at the fast end of your normal training pace.  This is a GREAT way to mix in faster running when you don't have a lot of time or motivation for regular workouts.  It is great for early in a season or when coming back from injury and your not quite ready for full workouts.  To be honest you can do this run every day if you want and just get a touch of speed all the time.

  So often we get in a rut of just running and not getting some faster running in.  This workout is a great  way of sneaking in a little speed when you aren't physically or emotionally up for a bigger effort.  I use this sometimes after a crazy day at work when I am whimping out on a scheduled workout but rather than just slogging along at normal pace I can do one of these and the effort isn't that much different from a regular run but at the end of my regular 20k run I have done 12minutes of fast running so between 2 and 3 miles of quality work.  Doing it once isn't a big deal but over time it can make a big difference.

  I also love this one when I am traveling because you don't need to know how long the loop your doing is or how far you are going, or even where you are going.  Just set the timer on your watch and start running.

  The last great thing about this session is that if you are having a good day you can start hammering the  rest minutes and it becomes a tempo with hammer intervals.  Often I set out doing this because I'm lacking motivation and before you know it I'm running 5:20 to 5:30 pace on the recovery stretches and a salvage day becomes a great day.

  So the next time you find yourself heading out for a run instead of the workout you should be doing try the 6/1 and you will at worst be a bit better off and at best save the day!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Threshold Run

  The threshold run is what is most commonly thought of when you talk about tempo runs.  The name refers to the idea that you are running very close to or right at your anaerobic threshold.  That is the point at which your body begins to produce more lactic acid than it can use as fuel and the PH of the blood begins to rise sharply.  It is a bit of a false hood in that the exact pace will change as you tire but essentially the idea is to run at this pace.

  There are a number of ways to determine this pace for yourself ranging from blood tests during activity and VO2max testing to calculators and charts based on workouts and race performances.  The best guideline I have found is that it is roughly the pace you would expect to RACE for a 1 hour race.  For me I use half marathon pace, All my halves have been in the 1:04 to 1:08 range.  For someone else this might be 10mile race pace or 10k.  The thing to remember is the pace varies a good bit with level of exhaustion as well as changes in weather or terrain so always trust feel over the watch.

  These runs should be run steady or with a slightly negative split, but if your last mile is more than 5 or 10 second faster than your first mile than you are doing a progression run and that is fine but it is a slightly different stimulus.  The threshold tempo is about the steady pressure on the cardiovascular system.  These runs can vary in distance greatly.  It largely depends on what kind of an effort you can get out of yourself in a non-racing situation.  I myself can almost never go more than half an hour like this.  In contrast a few years back Ritz ran a 10 mile tempo run at his half marathon pace a few weeks out from running 3rd at the World half marathon championships in 1:00:00.  So he was doing 45mins.  That is about the max you see and most people cannot produce an effort like that in a workout without a taper, race day adrenalin etc..

  The most important thing with these workouts is that you are better off going too easy than too hard.  If you push too hard and go into anaerobic running your body does not receive the message that the aerobic threshold failed.  The idea is to lock in at a steady effort just below the threshold and exhaust that system.  As to 'embarrass' it so your body will make growths there to address the problem.  If you are a bit too slow this will mean you run a bit longer in the workout to accomplish this but it will be accomplished.  If you are too fast than you simply won't see much improvement.

  Like all tempo runs I suggest you improve the workout by increase the volume before the pace.  I would suggest starting with about a 20minute effort and building up by 5 to 10 minutes each time until you are running 30 to 40 minutes.  Than return to the original distance and increase the pace by 5 seconds per mile or so.  You should find the effort is the same.

   These tempos are most specific to 10 mile to half marathon racing for most athletes but the anaerobic threshold is the single most important marker of fitness for all distances from 3k to the marathon.  In all those events your race specific fitness can be thought of as being built off of the anaerobic threshold.  These workouts should be done throughout the training cycle and they should be a main focus of the pre- specific phase, or early season period of your training.

  This workout builds the ability to run on the edge of disaster, pain, acid, oxygen debt while maintaining control.  Effective distance running boils down to the ability to run fast without falling into those things so it doesn't take much imagination to see how key a session like this can be to your reaching your full potential.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Weekly Training Log February 23 to March 8 Soul Crush

  I'm not one for believing much in jinxing yourself by saying something out loud or in a public way but if I was….

  Anyway I have mentioned a few times on this blog that I feel relatively confident that I'm not getting hurt because since I have been going to yoga consistently I haven't been hurt.  I even pointed out that I haven't missed a day of running do to injury since early 2013.  What I haven't mentioned but I have been personally concerned about and you may have noticed is that in the time I have been posting this blog I have not been going to yoga every week.  I have found that if I go at least once a week it is enough to maintain but I might get a light niggle here or there and if I go at least 2 to 3 times a week.  Over the last two months I have been going every two weeks at best.

  I know this seems basic. You have something that works just go out and do it.  On some levels it is. Reality is I have a lot going on with work, running and the basics of trying to cook, eat and sleep.  Melissa and I joke that no one is allowed in our house until after Boston because it is such a disaster.

  At the finish of my last heavy week of training, which is posted here, , I was certainly feeling banged up overall but I just hadn't got into yoga.  Monday I took a light day because I had meeting at work and it was a scheduled lighter/recovery week.  Tuesday I was doing my regular 10 and my right foot was painful.  I could tell it was hurt.  I took the next day off, first in two years off due to injury.  I went to yoga, it helped but the foot was still pretty sore.  I ran the next day and ran did yoga the next.  I did a mona on friday and it was ok but after the foot was quite sore so I decided not to do the much longer workout I had scheduled for Sunday.   A couple more trips to yoga and some regular running.  This past week Monday through I did either 11.1 or 11.2 each night, no morning runs.  I did yoga on Tuesday and Thursday.  I went to acupuncture on Wednesday and Thursday.  Saturday I did 20k in 1:16 after going to yoga in the AM.
  Today I raced the Old Fashion Ten Miler in Foxboro, MA. It was like having a nightmare while I was awake.  The foot was sore but not too bad, much as it had been the last few days. However not long after 3 miles my right leg started to get the old familiar feeling of fighting the coordination wanting to go.  By 4 miles I was having a few bad steps here or there.  By 5 miles, 25:22, I was pretty much done. The coordination doesn't go as completely now but I had little control and my leg kept buckling.  My last 4 miles were pretty much at 5:30 pace, walking in my current fitness.  There was a right turn in the last 100 meters.  I basically had to stop and pivot to avoid falling.  It sucked.

  I'm not 100% sure what the problem with the coordination was. I had the harness on and I felt I was doing a good if not perfect job of keeping my shoulders back and my back pretty upright.  Now the foot problem is tendonitis in my Flexor Hallucis Longus which means I'm not toeing off fully which may have meant I wasn't getting much range of motion in the ankle.  I don't really know.  There are some other possibilities but that is my best guess.

  This is bad news.  First off I'm at the point where I should be doing the meat and potatoes of the marathon prep.  Second the foot hurts.  I can run on it but it isn't great for workouts and what not.  Third if it means I can't do marathon work or long races that is a major wrench in my plans.

   If I get the foot cleared up in a couple of days and that is what caused the set back in coordination today than this has just been a big hurdle.  If not than I'm probably out for a spring marathon.  I mean perhaps I could sort stuff and get after it again for Grandma's but that is unlikely.  So I'm not in a great mood right now.

  Of course I could have trained less. That isn't going to happen.  One a tiger doesn't change it stripes.  I believe in training hard I've succeeded and failed by doing it.  I'll continue to do that.  However I know I needed to be going to yoga more. My schedule is full but the fact is I needed to make it happen and I didn't and now I pay a price, perhaps a heavy price.

I was going to post the day to day details here but that seems a bit repetitive. So I'll just add that on the Mona the roads were a bit icy which slowed things a bit but I did 3.9 miles in the 20mins.  For the 10 mile I ran 52:49.

  Hope your training is going better than mine!  Have a great week.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Fix You. Part III. Guest Blog by Melissa

This is the final installment and exciting conclusion of the Fix You blog. If you missed part II, click here:

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

I drove home with Nate in the passenger seat. I was fuming mad but also worried sick. This was a major spine surgery and Nate convinced the surgeon to let him go home, with next to no post-op recovery time, no post-op monitoring, just because he doesn’t like hospitals. Yes, I’m a nurse practitioner, but I’m in primary care. I’m not scrubbing in on surgeries, I’m not rounding in the hospital, I’m not seeing patients post-op. I’m doing annual physicals and treating sore throats. This is out of my specialty. If something went wrong, not only would I be out of practice on what to do, but I wouldn’t have any of the appropriate equipment to manage a problem at home.  It was completely unfair for him to put this on my shoulders. Not to mention I had to go to work in the morning.
I might have been fuming, but Nate was in his glory. Anyone who knows Nate knows he is a bit like Rain Man when it comes to running statistics. I frequently pick a random year and say, “Nate, Boston, 1982, Go!” and he will recite the top ten at the Boston marathon for that given year and give me their finishing times and personal best times. In his doped up state (it takes a while before the good drugs they use in anesthesia to wear off) he was even more like this, and certain that he would be running 2:10 in the marathon by the fall.
Nate flew up the three flights of stairs to our apartment. Part of me really hoped that he was having some sort of miracle recovery and that this would be a breeze. But a few hours later, Nate was in pain. He was laying in bed grimacing and told me his pain was suddenly eight out of ten. I had never seen Nate that uncomfortable, but he still had ninety minutes before he was due for Vicodin.
I explained, “Nate, I know you’re in pain, and that’s expected after surgery. But you’re not supposed to have any pain meds for another ninety minutes. Now, in a hospital setting things are different. They can hook you up to an IV and give you some Dilaudid, or maybe they’d even give you the Vicodin sooner, but we’re not in the hospital, are we. Someone wanted to go home, and so I need to follow the guidelines set out by the surgeon. So you’ll have to wait another ninety minutes. But I’d be happy to give you some ice.”
His vital signs were fine and the incision looked good so I knew his pain was due to the anesthesia wearing off. The tough love continued a few hours later when Nate tried to use the bathroom and found he couldn’t urinate.
“Honey?” He called, “Can you come help me?”
I went into the bathroom to find Nate standing over the toilet. I was confused. “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t pee. It won’t come out” he said.
This was not on my list of anticipated problems. Actually, if I had sat down for days and brainstormed possible post-op issues, this would not be on that list. But I didn’t even consider acute post-op problems because I was expecting Nate to be in a nice, safe hospital for his recovery. Not here. And now that the pain meds had worn off, there was almost no way I could get him back down the stairs to bring him to the hospital.
“Nate, you listen to me right now. I’ve got an old catheter kit we used for practice at Boston College in the back closet. If you don’t pee in the next five minutes, I will use it on you. I will. You wanted to go home? Now, you gotta pee.”
He peed. I was completely relieved that he didn’t call my bluff on that catheter kit.
After that first hellish night, Nate’s recovery went quite smoothly. He couldn’t bend at the waist for weeks, which meant I was dressing him every morning. I came home at lunch every day and checked on him, occasionally finding him “stuck” on the couch or a chair, unable to get up without assistance, but after the first two weeks or so he was strong enough to walk stiffly around the block.
By six weeks, Nate was running again. The next few months involved lots of physical therapy and a slow build up of miles. The goal was to be on the starting line at the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials.
Nate started training in earnest. However, the coordination issue wasn’t magically solved. Prior to surgery Nate could only make it two miles into a tempo run before losing coordination. After the surgery he could go ten kilometers before he lost coordination. Nerves are funny things and their recovery does not always follow a smooth trajectory. We knew we needed to give the nerves time to heal before they “came back”, but the dramatic improvement immediately post-op was very promising.
However, by mid-summer, the nerves weren’t coming around quick enough. Nate ran a hot and hilly half marathon in 1:06, but struggled with coordination problems during the race. He wasn’t able to train appropriately for a marathon, and he knew he wouldn’t last very long before losing coordination if he tried. We hoped the nerves would heal if we just gave them more time, but as the months went by the improvement he saw stagnated, and some days were actually worse.
A year out from his surgery, his shoe company dropped him. He missed the Olympic Trials. We were standing on the dock as the ship faded into the horizon. It was so ambitious to think that he could recover within a year of major back surgery. Nate was an inch shorter than before his surgery, that’s how much bone and disc material was removed. How could we have possibly expected that he would be back so quick? I reassured him that, despite it all, the nerves would eventually come around and he would make it back. We just didn’t have enough time.
But things didn’t improve and by the fall Nate started teaching math at a local middle school. He continued to run over one hundred miles a week, but it was just running. He was not capable of running any of his favorite workouts without losing coordination. He could cobble together a half marathon, which was a great improvement compared to before the surgery, but the later stages of the race would be ugly.
Nate settled into life as a teacher with a running problem. We bought a house. The nerves never improved more than they had initially after surgery. I started to wonder if something else could be done. I encouraged Nate to follow up with the surgeon and ask.
Unfortunately, the surgeon felt like he fixed the source of the problem and there was nothing else for him to do. This was entirely true from the surgeon’s perspective, but heartbreaking for Nate to hear. Dejected, he went back to his new life, stopped posting his blog, and started to accept that this was his fate.
I felt stupid for sending him back to the surgeon. Of course the surgeon wouldn’t have any further answers because there was nothing left to cut. It was foolish of me to think the surgeon would have an answer. But I already knew that Nate’s problem was a nerve problem, so there had to be some doctor who could help us. I found that there was a neurologist that worked in my hospital network who had certification as a sports neurologist. A sports neurologist! How perfect! Someone who knows nerves within the context of sports. A match made in Heaven.
I was so excited to tell Nate about it. This doctor was in Winchester; Nate could just leave school early one day and see him. But when I told him, his face hardened. He did not share my excitement.
“I am not going to another doctor to be told that there’s nothing else that can be done. Frankly I don’t think I could handle being told that again. I’m not going.”
This was a blow. I pleaded with him. I apologized for sending him back to the surgeon, it was a really dumb idea, but this sports neurologist is not a surgeon. He’s a doctor and he can at least point us in the right direction.
Nate finally agreed and a month later he saw the sports neurologist. This doctor was a mad scientist type; extremely interested, extremely thorough, a doctor whose whole life is his work. I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually slept in his office. It was a breath of fresh air. Just in the office, the sports neurologist determined that Nate had less strength in his right leg; in fact his right leg was smaller in circumference than his left leg.
The sports neurologist needed some hard numbers. He needed to determine how much of a success Nate’s surgery truly was, and if there was any persistent impingement. This meant another EMG. I felt like I was torturing Nate. If you read blog II, (find it here: ), you’ll remember that undergoing an EMG is significantly worse than undergoing a root canal. For Nate, it was yet another blow he accepted with quiet resignation.
The second EMG showed function in both legs within the normal ranges, with the right leg function less than the left, but still normal. The sports neurologist concluded that the surgery was successful, but Nate’s piriformis might be pinching the nerve a bit and causing some increased dysfunction on the right side.
Nate started physical therapy again to address the tight piriformis, and he also started Bikram yoga. Bikram is a form of hot yoga that Nate and I had both previously tried. It was created by a yogi who healed a bad knee injury without surgery just by doing yoga. Nate liked it because, with his back surgery, there are certain yoga “postures” he shouldn’t perform, and in Bikram yoga the postures are always the same. Unlike a traditional yoga class, where the instructor might choose to focus on a series of postures that Nate shouldn’t perform, Nate always knows what to expect in a Bikram class.
Nate found that the combination of Bikram and physical therapy improved the overall function of his right leg. He was doing much better, still not as well as he hoped, still not enough for a marathon, but much better than he was the first year after his surgery.
Full disclosure, this is where I gave up. I thought we had all the answers to Nate’s injury. I thought the nerves had come back as much as they were going to, and that getting the piriformis to loosen up was the final piece of the puzzle. I thought the improvement we saw was the most we would see. I thought if Nate had his surgery sooner, if it was shortly after the problem first started, we might have seen greater improvement, but sometimes once nerves are damaged, especially for any length of time, they don’t come back fully. Nate’s nerve function was at least in the normal range now. It all made perfect sense to me, and I could think of nothing else that could possibly affect the function of his right leg. I sent Nate to multiple top doctors, sports doctors, doctors who know a lot more than I do, and they felt this was the answer to Nate’s injury. I didn’t question it any further than this. I regret giving up, though admittedly I don’t think I would have ever guessed the final piece of the puzzle on my own.
I may have given up, but, to his great credit, Nate never did. The improvement he saw in his coordination from physical therapy and Bikram inspired him, and made him feel that he could fix his leg the rest of the way. Enough to run a marathon. He’d occasionally ask me if I had any other ideas. I didn’t. I truly felt like the case was closed. I was disappointed, because my original goal was to restore Nate to glory, but I felt like I had found the problem and got it fixed, and sure there was some residual damage, but I couldn’t have anticipated that. I had done my best.  As Robin Williams said in What Dreams May Come, “Sometimes when you win, you lose.”
Everything changed for Nate in November, 2014 when Josh McDougal beat him in the Manchester Half Marathon. This day flipped Nate’s injury on its head and opened a whole new world of possibilities. I am forever grateful that Nate chose to run that half marathon, that he was capable of running a half marathon, and that Josh McDougal met him at the finish line.
For those who don’t know, Josh McDougal is probably most famous for winning the 2007 NCAA cross country championships, defeating golden boy Galen Rupp in the process. He was struck down by injury shortly after that, and Nate was aware through various internet postings that Josh had an injury very similar to his own.
Josh beat Nate at the half marathon and waited for him to finish. Once Nate crossed the finish line, Josh asked him how he was doing with his recovery from the injury, had the surgery fixed him?
Nate told Josh that honestly he felt that the surgery helped to improve the leg function by about 50%, enough for him to run half marathons again but not what he had hoped for. Bikram yoga helped as did physical therapy to loosen the piriformis. Nate asked Josh how his recovery was going.
Josh responded that he felt his loss of coordination had been fixed for about six months. The significance of this news really cannot be understated. This wasn’t an anonymous Joe online who said he’d fixed his injury, this wasn’t a healthcare professional who was confident he could fix the injury, this was a man who knew the hell that Nate knew. A man who had felt his leg flop like a rag doll and who was able to fix it. He had literally been to hell and back. It was like magic.
Josh explained to Nate that his injury had two parts. The first part was tightness and dysfunction in the lower leg and ankle. Josh was doing physical therapy for this and Nate’s surgery had fixed this part. The second part, the part that Nate and I were totally in the dark about, was dysfunction in the thoracic spine.
The thoracic spine. A place I would have never dreamed of considering for a problem in the hip and leg. I immediately remembered looking at Nate’s MRI several years prior in my friend’s kitchen. He had herniated discs in his thoracic spine, too.
Nate’s reputation is that of a grinder, and he has the form to match. He looks like a man who is running incredible paces through sheer force of guts and will, and his shoulders are always rolled forward as he leans into the pace and grinds. Over time, this form likely caused the herniated discs to develop in his thoracic spine.
As he leans forward, those herniated discs impede nerve signals traveling up and down the spinal cord. Shortly after learning how Josh fixed his injury, our physical therapist ran into Nate at the gym and told him he had just attended a conference and heard about how herniated discs in the thoracic spine can sometimes be the cause of persistent leg injuries.
Josh was addressing his thoracic spine dysfunction with physical therapy and saw his symptoms resolve. Nate came home from that race and asked me if I knew of any exercises for the thoracic spine to help keep his shoulders back.
I knew several great exercises for the thoracic spine. Since high school, I enjoyed attending running camps where much focus was put on proper form and form exercises. I shared some very simple exercises with Nate, and he was so weak he could hardly even perform the exercises. In fact, with one of the exercises, called YTIs, Nate was so weak he could hardly hold his arms up against gravity. In contrast, when I do the exercises, I generally use three pound weights, and I am a weakling!
Nate’s weakness was striking and surprising. Imagine, someone who competed in the World Championships could be so weak in his shoulders that he couldn’t hold his arms up and out to the side while laying prone on the ground. I didn’t know how we could miss such a major weakness.
Nate and I ran together so I could help him with his form. He would strain to hold his shoulders back and ask me if the form was right. Despite the strain he felt, his shoulders were still forward. It took about a week of constant work before he was able to hold his shoulders back for even brief periods.
Nate heard that Alberto Salazar had his athlete, women’s phenom Mary Cain, run in an equestrian harness to keep her shoulders back and fight her own tendency to run with her shoulders rolled forward. We purchased the Equifit “shoulders back” harness on Amazon, and we affectionately refer to it as Nate’s “back bra”, because that is exactly what it looks like. Nate found that wearing the back bra was difficult, as his shoulders strained against it not only when running but also when wearing it around the house. His underarms chafed against the straps, but each day became easier. Each day he was able to hold his shoulders back a bit more.
Nate started to attempt workouts that challenged his injury. Workouts he was physically unable to do over the past seven years. He found that each time his right leg threatened to lose coordination, if he consciously forced his shoulders back, his symptoms would resolve. As time passed he was able to keep his shoulders back for the vast majority of runs and workouts. After his workouts, despite how challenging the workouts themselves were, Nate complained not about sore legs, but his sore shoulders.
With this final piece of the puzzle, Nate has returned to the workouts he loves best. The impossibly long workouts that take up most of the day. The workouts that Nate says “make a man out of you.” He has longed to complete these workouts and for the first time in seven years, he is. He is fully capable of completing a marathon without loss of coordination being an issue. It truly took a village, but he, like Josh, has crawled his way back.
The final piece of the puzzle was only solved in November; Nate has worked hard to improve the strength of his shoulders since then. He started his Boston preparation before he could keep his shoulders back for a full run. That, along with working full time (he is in the middle of the school year) makes Boston a rather ambitious goal. If we were only considering Nate’s injury then I think an early summer or a fall marathon would have been a better choice. A fall marathon would have allowed him to train in the summer, when he is not teaching.
But there are many factors that go into choosing a marathon. Nate chose to do Boston because he would have a training partner with him, Ruben Sanca. The difference between training with someone versus training alone is huge, and Nate has really enjoyed training with Ruben. There aren’t too many people who can keep up with Nate. I feel it has been beneficial for Nate both physically and emotionally to have Ruben there. The training he is putting his body through is so daunting and so taxing, and it has been so long since he’s done it,  it’s helpful  and reassuring to have someone out there with him.
I think there was also an element of striking while the iron is hot; Nate chose to run Boston before he woke up from the wonderful dream that his leg is fixed. Thankfully, I have seen the workouts, I have watched Nate run, and I know it is not a dream.
It will be amazing to see Nate compete in Boston, but more than that, it is amazing to know that Nate has marathons ahead of him. I am more excited to see what’s in store for Nate over the next couple of years. Because, for the first time in seven years, there will be marathons.