By Michael J. Atwood / CoachAtwood.com / HistoryofSantaMonica.com
Mike is the author of HiStory of Santa Monica: Stories and a freelance blogger from the Boston, Massachusetts area. He ran Division 1 Track and Cross-Country for Boston College earned his Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Southern California and now teaches and coaches at Middleboro High School in Massachusetts. He can be contacted at CoachMikeAtwood@me.com or by phone at (508) 243-2591 for comments and blog ideas.
Nate Jenkins first made his name in U.S. Distance Running in 2007, when he ran an amazing 2:14:56 finishing 7th at the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Central Park, New York. Since then, he has continued racing on U.S. National teams and in shorter distance races but took a step back from the marathon, battling a few injuries and trying some new approaches to training such as taking on the renowned Canova System and hot yoga. This past February, he announced his intentions on running the Boston Marathon with his training partner, Ruben Sanca. Taking a look at his training regime over the last year or so, it appears he is ready for a big race at Boston and is aiming for a personal record. He’ll be running at the Old Fashioned 10-miler in Foxboro, MA next Sunday March 8th in hopes of pacing Sanca to the Cape Verdean National 10-mile record of 50:23.
1) Nate, thanks for taking some time to talk with me. It has been about six years since your last marathon and you just announced on your blog that you are running the Boston Marathon in April. Why the decision to take another shot at 26.2?
I had developed a coordination problem in my right leg that at first impacted me just at the end of very long hard workouts but steadily got worse. It first cropped up in early 2007 and even at the Olympic Trials, I did lose coordination at about 19 miles but it maybe cost me a minute which with how spread out we were wasn’t a problem. It kept getting worse and I wasn’t able to do a lot of the good marathon workouts and I lost coordination at 10k at NYC in 2008 and again at 10k at the world championships. I decided after that I wouldn’t race another marathon until I got past the coordination problem. I am finally getting past the problem. It isn’t a 100% gone but it is improving and I have been able to do the marathon workouts again. I feel confident that I’ll make it at least as far as I did at the trials and I think there is a good chance I will hold the coordination all the way to the finish. More over because it is finally moving in the right direction I’m sure that even if I can’t get through Boston with no problems I will get through a marathon sooner rather than later.
2) I grew up in North Attleborough running in middle school with then in high school against now UMASS-Lowell Coach Gary Gardner, when he was at Keene State. He made a massive improvement from a 10:00 high school two miler then made a huge jump to sub-30 in the 10k in college by increasing his mileage and taking it to the next level. His dedication to mileage and training was impressive. I know he coached you at Lowell then later for your 2:14 marathon. Would you say you have similar approaches to distance training? Are you still working with him?
Gary is a great guy. He was my coach, my boss and is a friend and in a lot of ways like family. He was in my wedding party. You can’t find a nicer guy who cares more about his athletes anywhere. He coached me to my best year in college. Then, after school I started coaching myself and experimenting with things and I would just bounce stuff off Gary and sit down with him when I needed to pick races or make tough choices. I feel this is still our relationship. So in the traditional sense, now and in 2007, Gary isn’t ‘coaching’ me. If you call him and ask him what workouts I’m doing this week he won’t know. But he is my coach, if I have a problem. If I need to think something through he is who I call. The great thing with Gary is he is a clear eyed pragmatist when it comes to coaching. Most coaches, myself included, are very caught up in the dogma of their system and they have a hard time thinking outside that box. Not Gary. What I do in marathon prep looks almost nothing like what his athletes are doing to get ready for 800m to 5k races. Yet, I can go to him with an issue in my schedule and he can see right to the heart of the problem and often has a great simple solution. Even if he doesn’t have the answer he asks the questions that matter and helps clearly frame a problem so I always leave a conversation with him in a much better place than I went in.
3) You and Ruben Sanca are training together these days. Tell us a little bit about the dynamic of your friendship and training relationship.
Ruben ran at UML while I was an assistant there. He and I are in many ways very different runners and people. But, in other ways, we are very alike. I think if we were running together every day Ruben would toss me off a bridge but with our schedules we end up just meeting up for the hard workouts which means he doesn’t have to deal with me driving him nuts too much. Ruben is a great runner and really just coming to his prime. I think he has had a few narrow misses with running the way he really should and I think he has put out some great efforts in tough courses/conditions that haven’t shown the world how good he is. I hope over the next couple years he gets to really break out. In terms of workouts, Ruben pushes and I hang on. Afterwards, I tell him we are in great shape. In terms of life we are both very focused guys who like to do things our own way so our current set up lets us do that and yet have a training partner for the toughest and most important sessions. Its a best of both worlds set up.
4) How you would compare your current marathon fitness to where you were in 2007 at the Olympic Trials where you finished 7th in a big P.R. of 2:14:56?
I would guess I’m in about the same shape right now. The early part of this cycle has gone a bit better but I also don’t have the time for the same miles I used to do. Also, the conditions this winter have been very bad so I may be in better shape than I’m giving myself credit for.
5) I noticed you train based primarily in kilometers. How is this better than the mile-based training for you? Do you set your Garmin to kilometers as well?
I like K’s mostly because I spent college racing 3k, 5k, 8k and 10k and still race a lot of 5k,8k and 10k’s and frankly they break down better as K’s. Particularly where some of the big barriers for me along the way 15 minutes, 24mins, 30mins respectively were even 3:00 per K I just started to think about running in terms of kilometer pace. In case you can’t tell from that sentence I like head games with numbers. I teach math… what are you going to do? Also, I like that 3:00 per K is faster than 5:00 per mile. It is a small thing but adjusting the barrier for fast running up a little bit is a nice mental thing to convince yourself you are not going fast at all. I hear 3:10 per K and think that is just jogging along, no problem. Then you realize that is 2:13:37 pace and Hey! I flip my Garmin back and forth depending on the workout and who I’m running with.
6) Tell me about the Canova system. It sounds like you have to run many, many miles at 5:00 pace in order to reap the benefits but I also read your wife’s blog on the toll it has taken on you and Ruben.
As you can tell I don’t have a short answer for anything and there definitely isn’t a short answer to what is Canova’s system. Generally speaking you do a lot more variety of running paces in a week than most people do and you do more quality running than on a lot of American programs. Specifically in terms of the marathon you do a lot of long workouts at or around marathon pace to build the muscular endurance needed to complete a marathon strongly and to teach the body to burn more fat at marathon pace so you don’t run out of glycogen. Now to be honest all the best marathon programs, Japanese, Spanish, Italian/Kenyan/Canova do this so that isn’t what makes Canova unique it is just what makes him different from the traditional US system in terms of the marathon.
7) People who train for the Ironman Triathalon often say “Making it through the training is harder than the actual race.”. You mentioned to me in a conversation that training is just half the battle for the marathon. Can you explain?
I think in our conversation I said something like being fit is only half the battle for the marathon, by which I meant the marathon has some very specific demands and if you don’t train for those you can be in amazing shape and you will frankly not live up to it. This is the most repeated thing in american distance running over the last 20 plus years. There are so many low 28 or sub 28, 1:02 or sub 1:02 guys who run 2:14 plus. What is worse they often run marathons in the ‘best shape of their lives’ and still they run what are frankly regional class times. Why? Aerobic fitness is not the only requirement for running a fast marathon. For a 10k or half marathon it will do. For a mile to 5k, you need to run some really good fast anaerobic stuff to run a very fast race, we all know this and so if some national class guy has just been doing tempo runs and miles he doesn’t go to Mount SAC to run the 5k and say I’m going to run 13:00. He knows he will be 20 or 30 or even 40 plus seconds off what he could do if he got sharp and ready. The marathon is same way except you need workouts that meet the specific demands of the marathon and yet most guys do 8xmile and 20 mile long runs at 6min pace and maybe one 16 mile tempo at marathon pace and say “I’m ready”. Then, at 22 miles the wheels come off and they run 2:15 and lose to someone like me and think they should have eaten more gu. It is just silly when more people look at the schedules of all these Africans running 2:03 to 2:07 and start to change their training we are going to see a HUGE jump in American performance. Looking at times in the 10k and half marathon I would guess there are thirty or forty guys who should be able to run under 2:12 in the USA right now. But as a running culture we still think 2×6 miles at half marathon pace is a marathon workout and frankly it isn’t. When that changes it will be a new day in American marathoning.
Check out Nate’s training blog at: http://nateruns.blogspot.com/
8) Looking back at your P.R.s it appears you were running fast 5ks and 8ks in the year or two before your marathon. Any connection?
In 2007, before the Trials, I ran 14:20 for 5k and 24:06 for 8k. These aren’t bad but not exactly flying, my PRs are 13:56 and 23:26. I was fit and could have run faster, I ran a 30:05 10k tempo run in the summer of ’07. If you are fit you are going to run fast across the spectrum. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I was in really good shape by the time the fall of ’07 rolled around. I chose to focus that fitness on the Olympic Trials. The result was a top 10 finish. If I had run a track 10k that day I doubt I could have broke 29:20 which is quick but isn’t shit on a national level. Now if I had spent the fall focused on a track 10k and found one to run I probably could have run 28:40 which is much better but still not a big deal nationally but then I only have 58 second 400m speed so the shorter the race the less impressive I am and as I harped on in my last post I believe most top Americans are under performing in the marathon leaving the door open for a piker like me.
9) In looking back at your build-up to your marathon P.R., I see you regularly did chiropractic and ART treatments. I also see you had hip abductor, hamstring, and Achilles soreness / issues along the way. How has the physical therapy and specialist treatment helped you along the way and kept you running?
If you touch the stove your gonna get burnt. I have had a lot of injuries I have got a lot of treatment. Somethings are good for certain injuries some things are helpful for prevention. Now a days I rarely get treatment and if I do it is almost always acupuncture. The reason is yoga. I do hot yoga and as long as I go regularly I don’t really get hurt anymore. Now If I stop going I’m a time bomb and sooner or later I’m banged up again and as much as I love the yoga as a prevention it isn’t a fast way to fix a lot of things so that is how I end up at the acupuncturist. I wish I was doing yoga from the beginning. I never would have had the coordination problem or a lot of the other setbacks I had along the way. Honestly I think I would have actually become the marathoner I thought I should be. But hind site is so much easier than doing it right the first time.
10) I was also astounded to see weeks of 156 and 157 back to back that summer / fall of 2007 and a week of 146 miles in October with three quality speed sessions. Incredible! I’d say you were in Bill Rodgers / 1970s running boom mode here. How did this mega-mileage help you run 2:14?
From my perspective I wouldn’t call 150’s mega mileage. Which I guess says something about how I approach mileage. In terms of how that specific mileage helped with the trials I would say it was just the miles that happened the workouts were the key. In terms of the fitness I had coming into that cycle bit miles over the years before that were the single biggest factor in what enabled me to train and race the way I did in late 2007.
11) I see you are sponsored by Skechers now and also are connected to Central Mass Striders. I had a discussion with Tim Richie, who is running for Saucony, last weekend about how hard it is to make a living as a distance runner in America right now. I guess I was pointing to overall sponsorship but also prize money and USTAF support. What’s your view on that?
I think the financial side of running is disgraceful. There are major USA road races that are paying the same prize purses today as they did in 1985 and they are the highlight. Frankly, I think our goal should be 10% of golf. Right now we don’t get paid at 1% of golf. There are many reasons for this. The IAAF finally dumping Rule 40 will help. USATF is actively killing the financial chances of athletes while providing little to no support. The athletes and agents deserve some blame as well. We constantly make choices to run USA’s or whatever over better paying races rather than saying hey if you think your the best event then you need to prove it and support us to and if you don’t we won’t come and guess what your not the best event anymore. Also some of it is the economics of having so many of the great stars of our sport coming from third world countries. The money is great by third world standards and the nature of athletes coming out of those countries is short careers and high turn over. It keeps contracts and prize money down. I don’t have a solution for it other than trying to get silicon valley to move to the rift valley and then the Kenyans can be rich programers and stop running but the reality is it creates a unique hurdle for the sport.
12) This winter has brought us record-setting snow. How has that affected your mileage and training?
Negatively. It just makes everything harder. Not just the snow but the cold. The footing has been really bad, even on the days the snow isn’t actively falling a lot of roads are in rough shape and they are very narrow. Also it is hard doing a workout when it is 10 degrees out and the windchill is -10 or lower. You end up wearing literally 5 to 10 extra lbs of clothing. It is like running in a weight vest. Also the body is always tight and your at very increased risk for injury. I’ve done a lot more stuff on the treadmill and I really am in need of some quick repeats but frankly It has been a couple months since there has been a local spot clear enough and flat that I could use. I want the workout for muscular reasons so doing it on the treadmill isn’t really worth it. Small things like that. I try to do strides every day and I have had weeks this winter where I only did strides once or twice in a week. Strides on a regular treadmill are fine but they are not ‘strides’ you lose the explosive component and your form is different and you don’t go as fast. I have been able to do some on a manual treadmill which are better but after a ton of runs where I was able to run 6 to 7min per mile effort on the roads but frankly that was as fast as I could go and trying to drop fast 100m strides just isn’t happening on that footing. None of it is the end of the world but I’m someone who likes to do exactly x,y and z and this weather doesn’t allow that.