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.