Category Archives: running nerves

Shock therapy does not reveal the cause of my leg problems

The nerve conduction velocity test I took Friday: Negative.

The doc hooked these weird sensors up to my right leg and hit a button, and…



The nerves work just fine, thank you. You ever rub your feet on the carpeted floor then touch something metal? That’s how this test felt.

Zap. Zap. Zap. It wasn’t painful, just weird feeling: Like getting struck by the tiniest, tiniest bolt of lightning.

So, the nerves work fine, but it’s back to the drawing board to figure out why my right leg won’t work right.

The doc put me on a treadmill to find the problem. He also X-rayed my back to make sure there was not a disc screwing things up. But nope. Back is all fine. And though he could see my right foot pointing outward on the treadmill, he didn’t see enough to come up with a diagnosis.

The docs say maybe its some kind of muscle weakness. Or hip impediment. But nobody really knows. They told me just to keep coming in for the physical therapist appointments.

The only good news is that they said I can keep running. And I guess that’s better than not running at all.

When the moment gets too big: Do golfers choke differently than, say, marathon runners?

Did Rory McIlroy choke?

Watching Rory McIlroy shoot an 80 on the final day of the Masters Sunday and basically choke away a four stroke lead got me wondering: Can we choke as runners? Can we get paralysis by analysis?

I mean, I’ve written here on these pages often that preparing the mind is just as important as preparing the body before you run a marathon. Believe me, all anyone has to do is read my Portland Marathon race report from 2009 to know I’ve “choked” before. To run 7:30s one minute then shuffle along at 10:30s a few minutes later – without being injured is kinda choking.
But mostly, when we as runners get nervous – its before the race: That’s why there are so many port-a-potties at the races.

I’m not sure how, in the middle of, say, a 10k, that you can just freeze up (outside of injuries, of course), and let the pack pass you by.
Usually, when you are running and in the flow, your body just takes over and carries you the rest of the way. You’re not even thinking.

Of course, golf is different. Totally different. Rory McIlroy, just 21 years old, was the leader after 54 holes of one of the most prestigious golf courses in the world. And then on Sunday, he couldn’t beat my 3-year-old at the Peter Pan Putt Putt.

Jean Van De Velde: Choke or Stupid?

Reminded me of Jean Van De Velde at the 1999 British Open. He had a big lead. Then he had a hairball and the lead was gone.

What do you think? Have you ever choked during a race?
Have your nerves got the best of you in athletic competition?

Marathon struggles: Maybe it is in my head

I’ve recovered from the Chicago disaster to once again be excited about running another marathon. During my training for the Austin Marathon, I’ve given a lot of thought as to why I can’t put a good marathon together, even though I’ve run seven of them.

Today is reason No. 1.

Maybe it is in my head. And this is not to say I have phantom injuries. When my legs stopped working at the 2010 Chicago Marathon, that spasming in my inner quads was real. As it was at the 2008 White Rock Marathon, and for the middle miles of the 2009 White Rock Marathon.

But the fact that I can do a 16- or 17-mile long run at 7:30 pace and still have gas left in the tank, and the fact that I have never been able to replicate this kind of energy in a marathon means something. And maybe that something is in between my ears.
There, I said it. I have a mental problem. Blink. Sigh. Sigh again.

What kind of mental problem? I’m not sure. Perhaps I panic. That was definitely the case at the 2009 Portland Marathon, where my 55-mile training weeks led to a measly 4:03 marathon. Things werent going right the first few miles and I just wigged out, started overdosing on water, which led me to the porta-potties every 15 minutes, and next thing you know, I’m doing 11-minute miles. But I wasnt cramping. And I wasnt tired. I was just scared to run. Finally, at Mile 24, I got mad and I got pissed and finished the marathon with two sub 8-minute miles.

See, when I panic, or get nervous, my breathing gets rapid, my heart beat rises, and my stride just gets out of whack. I’m tense and feel like every step is a struggle. And then, with my legs going every whichaway, I’m just a mess – physically and mentally, and I never seem to regroup. And this only happens during races, or in tempo runs with other runners. I guess that’s what it feels like to be so damn competitive.

But when I’m relaxed, like I am on all of my other runs, I can pick a pace and stick to it. My stride feels better. My breathing. My heart rate. It all feels good. And the times I’ve had good 5ks or good tempo runs, its because I Iet the pack take off, relaxed, and then picked up the pace.

I guess they call that negative splitting.

And so I’m learning how to run relaxed now. How to listen to my body (instead of other runners talking). I’m waiting for the magic. What, you say? I’m talking about the magic. The second wind. When things get easier in a run, when your muscles are all loosened up and your body stops hating you for getting out of bed at 4:30 in the morning.

I’m paying attention and I’m noticing that about 27 minutes into a run, the struggling stops, my breathing syncs up to my stride, I stop huffing and puffing and my legs no longer slap the pavement as much as they glide over it. And then things get easier.

This is real, folks. And I never noticed until I started noticing. See, we have this 8-mile run on Wednesdays, we call it the U-Loop, from Barton Springs to the University of Texas and back. The first four miles is mostly uphill. And for the first three of those miles, I cant get my breathing right, cant get my stride right, and an 8:15 pace is kind of difficult. And then, at about 3.25 miles in – while we are on the steepest hill of the course – the magic happens. And I’m floating. And my pace dips to 8:00/m, then 7:45, then 7:30 and when we take a water break at Jester Hall on the UT Campus, I’m floating along doing 7:15s. And I’m barely breathing. And I’m feeling like I could run that pace forever. I’m feeling so good that I want to skip the water stop, but then I’d be running by myself. And who wants to do that on a cold, dark, Austin morning? Not me.

Anyways, I noticed this was happening every Wednesday. First few miles I’m in the tank, then things get real easy. On the Monday before Christmas, we started doing marathon paced runs. Up and down Exposition Blvd. Two miles easy, then six at MGP. I really think I can hold 7:20 to 7:30 for a marathon, but when its time to start MGP, I’m struggling. My breathing is bad. Stride is off. And I get that “here I go again” feeling.

I’m about to panic, about to change my stride or run harder to keep the pace I’m “supposed” to be able to run. Then I look at my watch and notice we’ve only been running for about 24 minutes. And I remember that my body probably isnt warmed up properly yet – and I wait and I relax and I let my body run 7:45 pace and then, at 27 or so minutes, bang. I go from 7:45 to 7:30 to 7:20 to 7:10s and it feels pretty good. I’m barely breathing. I do the last mile in 6:55. (Yeah, I know I’m not gonna run 6:55 pace in a marathon, but I figure I’m alright as long as I didnt turn the run into a temp run – which would have been 6:45 or better.)

Now I havent figured out yet how this will help me late in a marathon. But knowing what I know now, I know that I have never waited for the magic to happen in a 26.2-mile race. I’m always in a rush and when I’m not running the pace I think I should be running, or when things are not as easy as I think they should be, I press harder and harder, using more and more energy and by Mile 14 I know its not gonna be a good race, and by Mile 17, I’m done.

What this all means to me now: Take it easy the first few miles. Preserve your energy. Let your body do what its gonna do. Wait until the end to fight.

Seems simple enough.

Next post on my marathon struggles will center around my nutrition