Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Update on Coordination Struggles

  My coordination problem has, unfortunately, defined my running career.  At least from my perspective.  It has followed a few trajectories along the way with very distinct turning points.  Some of which were so clear that I new them the instant they happened and others I only saw in retrospect.

 The problem started in late January 2007 during an alternation workout, actually it was one of the better sessions I have ever run.  It happened on the last effort of the workout.  I was so far gone I just thought it was a symptom of being on the edge of darkness.  Quickly it would become a much bigger issue. Killing a couple workouts before I got mono and was forced to take a 6 week break.

  The problem seemed in a holding pattern during the build up to the Olympic Trials.  It was always there but it would only bother me in the very late stages of specific workouts.  As such I was able to get very fit in spite of it. I even was able to race well in races where I lost the coordination.  I lost coordination just after mile 7 at the BAA half and still finished top 10 in 1:06:17 which was a solid time on that course.  I have little doubt I would have been sub 1:05 without the issue but I ran well.  At the trials I lost control of it coming up to the 19th mile mark.  It cost me.  My last 10k was 32:56 with out the hobbling effect of losing the coordination I have little doubt I would have been able to match my previous 10k of 31:26.  So I would have been able to run perhaps mid 2:13's.  I may or may not have been able to catch Dan Brown.  In the scope of things it was a minor difference.  My time was slowed more by the hills than by the coordination on that course and the difference between 6th and 7th at the trials is small.

  In January of '08 I was following a schedule Canova had sent me.  I was sure with some treatment and focus the leg would sort itself out.  Instead as my fitness soared my leg crashed until by march or so I couldn't do any of the long workouts.  I also ran an abysmal half in Houston.  I hit the the 5 mile mark in 24:05 feeling good, shortly there after I lost control of the leg and hobbled in with a 1:08:22.

  At this point I changed tactics. Avoiding fighting the coordination in training and still trying every treatment I could find to fix the problem.  For the next three years the pattern stayed the same.  Slowly, ever so slowly, my leg got a little worse and little worse.  I was forced to learn new ways to train.  I worked well around it.  I set PR's at the mile, 3k, 5k and 10k.  I qualified for two USATF national indoor championships but all the time I was tortured by the knowledge that my best at 5k was middling on a national level at best but that a guy like me who has a 58.8 400 meter best in shape to run sub 14 for 5k is ready to kill a marathon. BUT I couldn't run one.  I could barely run a 10k.  By late 2010 I couldn't even do that anymore with any consistency, particularly I struggled it if was flat.

  In January 2011 I had surgery on my low back.  By march I was back running.  The improvement was HUGE.  I could race 10k with no problems, even if it was perfectly flat.  Half marathons became what 10k's had been a 50/50 shot at getting by.  I could do training runs longer over 9 miles again.  I could do tempos up to 10k, sometimes more.  I thought it was just a matter of time before I worked back to being fully functional.  I was wrong.  For two years this is where I held.  The biggest victory was that pre surgery I knew it was only a matter of time before running would be taken from me completely and now I was not losing ground. I still searched for an answer but for the most part I was resigned to the fact that I would at least be able to keep running on some level but that I would never get to do the long workouts or races that I loved best.

  In November of 2014 I raced Josh Mcdougal.  He told me about his success in combating the problem by focusing on ankle flection and thoracic posture.  It was a lighting bolt.  I felt my ankle had been fixed by my back surgery- my disc had been cutting off nerve function to the ankle area.  The improved posture caused a huge jump in what I could do without coordination.

 I still had bad days but I had good days.  I did a 20 mile HARD for the first time since 2007.  I completed real marathon workouts.  My fitness surged.  I dnf'd at Boston but that was diet and fitness related not because of coordination.

  Over the next year I struggled with health, mostly due it seems to diet, and my coordination stayed about the same.  I could, on good days, do a lot.  On bad days I could still struggle on an easy 12 mile run.  With my diet issues sorted out I started running well again late last fall.  The mileage back up.  The workouts back in the mix.  I managed a 36k hard, on grass.  Still at times it seemed no matter how hard I held my shoulders back it wasn't enough.  A few times I lost coordination and I swore my shoulders were pretty damn good.  More and more I was realizing I was in a new holding pattern.  I had been since January.  I could get through half marathon races.  I could do half marathon length tempos.  Longer on soft surfaces but doing so was VERY hard because of the amount of focus and work on my shoulders needed to do so.

  Then it hit me. "If you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains however improbable must be the truth."  It was impossible that for nerve function I somehow needed to run with my shoulders behind me.  The problem must be elsewhere….  What was it McDougal had told me. Thoracic and Ankle!  I had assumed my ankle was totally fixed. Yet I was running better on soft surfaces.  On soft surfaces you inherently toe off more.

  Monday I started focusing on toeing off more.  It was hard.  My calves are weak.  By wednesday I did my medium long run.  A weekly slap in my fast in terms of coordination.  I generally do 16.  I don't generally lose coordination BUT I do fight it constantly.  Flexing my spine/shoulders back again and again.  Feeling the coordination threatening to go from 10 miles on and struggling so hard to stay ahead of it.  This time I ran and ran.  My calves were begging for mercy by 14 or 15 miles but for 18 miles I didn't have any sense that I was going to lose coordination.  All this and my shoulders were in Good position but not forced way back.  I didn't have to do any isometrics while running to force them back more.

 This may not be the last step in this long journey and it is going to be a couple awful weeks on my calves but this is another huge step in the right direction and I'm feeling very upbeat about my chances of really racing a marathon this year.


Ilya Kagan said...

Hey Nate,

Love the blog.

When you talk about "losing coordination", what does that actually entail?

Very recently (2 weeks ago), my right foot has started falling asleep a mile or two into a run. Sometimes I can hammer through it, sometimes I stop for 20 seconds and roll the ankle around to essentially restart the 1-2mile counter before it falls asleep again. I'm wondering if this is similar to what you experience

Nate Jenkins said...

Ilya- I lose physical control of my leg, except for psoas and some control of hamstring. What it sounds like you are struggling with to me is traditional 'foot drop'. Most often caused by nerve impingement from a low back disc herniation. That said the stop and move the ankle around and get function back for two miles is very much the same thing I would have happen so perhaps it is more closely related than I'm giving it credit for. I would try focusing on running very upright with shoulders back and with good toe off. If doing that you are able to go much further- say twice as far- before your problem starts than your problem has the same source. Then go see a good PT to work on exercises and treatment to open up and strengthen both areas. IF you don't notice a great big difference I would advise a low back MRI and full evaluation by a sports doc.
- Good luck,

bjornulfy said...

Nate, could you please advise a 5k plan? I've tried to find the information here and on your runningtimes.com blog without success. I'm currently running 7 days a week with total volume 90-100 km.

Nate Jenkins said...

bjornulfy- The best advice i can give you is to get a copy of Joe Vigil's Road to the Top. Unfortunetly runners warehouse seems to have sold out and the used editions on amazon and barnes and noble are sitting a little over 50 bucks. Money well spent if you ask me, finest training book ever written by far. If you don't have the cash try a good Library. Unless it is a real major one they probably don't have it in stock but they likely can get it through an interlibrary loan.

The basics
- base you need to be doing a large volume of muscular work- be that strides, short hills, bounding/springing or a bit of all each week. You need to be doing a long run and a medium long run- on your volume that would mean something in the range of 15k for a medium long run and 20 to 25k for the long run. You should be doing some short, 150 to 400m runs at 5k goal pace with FULL recovery these should be EASY so recover completely between each one and do 5k to 7k of volume of work. Every other week or every 3rd week you should be doing a faster long tempo of 10k to 20k starting at about 60% of your 5k pace and trying to build up to 80% of your 5k pace(fundamental tempo- see blog post on fundamental tempos for 5k training I did). Also you should be doing 15 to 25min tempo runs at threshold and 1k or mile repeats at or around threshold with full or pretty close to full recovery for 4 to 6 miles of total volume.
Obviously not all of this will fit in a single week. the speed should be nearly every day in some form or other, the tempo can be every other week as can the specific pace work the mile/k's and the medium long and long run should be every week. The fundamental can be less often as mentioned.

As you transition towards peak racing season the specific work becomes more important and should be done more often.

coming up to the specific phase the mile repeats should get faster and faster until you are getting close to 5k pace with 3 mins rest. You should add some faster intervals in place of the tempo run for anaerobic development. Keep the speed stuff

Entering racing season the long runs can be cut back and the medium long run dropped the specific intervals should become longer, up to 1 mile and the rests should be short, 200m jog done quickly. Remember you are building your race. What is the difference between 12x400m in 72 and a 15:00 5k? The rests! So don't try to run the reps faster. Try to run longer reps with less rest. If each week you extend the reps i.e. 12x400 with 200rest becomes 8x600 with 200 rest, becomes 6x800 with 200 rest becomes 5x1k with 200 rest, becomes 4x1200 with 200 rest becomes 3xmile with 200 rest and so on you will eventually have to be able to race up to speed. Versus getting faster on the reps doesn't necessarily work that well. In high school I ran 8x400m in 70 a the start of an outdoor season, my two mile best was 9:57, by the end of the season i ran 8x400 in 60 - a 1:20 total improvement in the workout! My two mile best only dropped to 9:47 a 10second improvement. Melissa in college at one point was doing 12x400 on a mins rest in around 75- 15:30 pace but she was only running in the high 17's. The improvement is misplaced. Workouts should be focused on teaching you to race faster not to workout better. At least specific workouts- in the base you are doing workouts to build better specific workouts.
lastly you need to run some 5k races and ideally some under distance 1500m, mile, 3k, 2 mile type races during your build up to your goal race. A good 5k takes some race sharpness.

Anyway hope that helps.

bjornulfy said...

Dear Nate,

Many, many thanks for your comprehensive reply. Such detailed suggestions are far beyond my expectations. I really appreciate it.

I’ve managed to get the book recently, thanks to my friend who luckily visited US. I enjoy reading it very much. Also I've started to follow your guidances and can observe some improvements already after enriching plan with given hints. They work like a charm :)

Special thanks for sharing experience, thoughts and ideas constantly through this blog. It inspires a lot and help to push myself through tough workouts :)

Sincerely Yours,

Jen said...

I think I have been having a similar issue with my leg for the past two years. Can you explain more about "toeing off" and do you have any resources for helpful strengthening exercises? I have had some improvement with targeted PT exercises and form drills. Thanks!