mario fraioli | the morning shakeout

the morning shakeout | issue 421

Published 6 months ago • 11 min read

This is a photo of my friend Mike Fanelli, circa 1972. He was 16 years old at the time. It was his first ever win at any distance, 1000 yards indoors at Haverford College. He sent it to me to use with the podcast we recorded at my house in January of 2020. We had been Facebook “friends” for several years by that point and would often make small talk at the College of Marin track while doing our respective workouts, but this was our first uninterrupted conversation. He told me about why he started running (“juvenile delinquency,” he quipped), the many hats he’d worn in the sport of track and field (athlete, coach, agent, brand marketer, meet director, TV color commentator), his self-appointed role as a “cultural storyteller of the sport” (every day on his Facebook page he would post a snippet of track and field related history or trivia that he dug up from the massive archive in his garage), competition as a means of exploring your potential, the importance of putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, and a lot more. We only spoke for 45 minutes but it was an intimate exchange that left a profound impact on me. (You can listen to that podcast right here.)

“As long as I can come across the finish line—whatever chosen distance, and I’ve raced them all—knowing that I couldn’t possibly have run one iota faster, that to me, that’s satisfying,” he told me in that conversation. “I like being in that position, I like being under the pressure, I like finding myself in a state of uncomfortability. I like being in that space and I like really engaging in the self-talk, so for me, that’s my drug…Your potential is not comfortable. I dig exploring that. I’m my own little guinea pig.”

Last week I learned that Mike passed away from brain cancer two Saturdays ago at the age of 67. He chose to keep his diagnosis private, “preferring to live his life as if he was living, not dying,” his wife Renay noted. Mike was the nicest, most generous man you could ever meet and a true steward of the sport. When we recorded the podcast he brought me a copy of Fred Wilt’s “Run Run Run” from 1964 as a gift, knowing I would devour it. He’d always send me a quick note after races (“way to hang in today at BM and crack top 100...solid.”) and routinely checked in to see if I’d be interested in this or that coaching job in the area. I have so much respect and admiration for Mike and the way he lived his life—selflessly, and to the fullest—and will miss him dearly.

Good morning! I spent this past weekend in Sacramento supporting the athletes I had racing at the California International Marathon on Sunday. I’ve run this race twice and spectated it six times now and it’s hands-down one of my favorite events in all of running: It’s not too big, not too small, it’s a real community operation and the care that goes into making sure it’s a special experience year in and year out—from the organizers to the volunteers to many of the spectators along the course—is obvious at every turn, not to mention many of the athletes who go to run CIM are there with the express purpose to see how fast they can cover 26.2 miles (and there’s a collective energy in the air around that shared goal that you can feel everywhere you go in town). It’s a really special event and will remain an annual endeavor for me in one form or another as long as I live within driving distance of it.

As a remote coach who’s only able to attend a limited number of events each year, it’s a real treat and a privilege when I’m able to physically be there for my athletes on race day. There’s not much I can do for them once they start running, but saying something useful from somewhere along the course, and being there to help mop up the finish line emotions in whatever form they may take, are not opportunities I take for granted. On the whole it was a really solid day for my crew. Some of them exceeded their wildest dreams, most hit their goals, and others came up a little (or even a lot) short. But as I wrote to some of my athletes yesterday, the marathon doesn’t owe us anything. Despite our best intentions and efforts, we won't always get what we expect, or what we think we might deserve—all we can do is have the courage to commit, prepare as well as possible, be grateful for the opportunity to take a shot, give it our best effort on the day, and then take something from the experience that will help us be a better version of ourselves coming out of it. That's the real marathon. That's life.

OK, I’ve got a bunch of new stuff I’ve been reading, listening to, and watching lately to share with you this week. Let’s get right to it.

Quick Splits

— As I was coming up in the sport one of my running heroes was Australia’s Craig Mottram, aka the Big Mazungo, who I admired for his fearless racing style. I had one of his most popular quotes, which I won’t repeat here but shouldn’t be too hard to find online, written in bold marker on the inside cover of one of my training logs. Anyway, the four-time Olympian is now coach of the On Athletics Club Oceana and he recently did a short interview with Citius Mag, which you can watch or listen to right here. In it, he talks about his group, transitioning from athlete to coach, and what the feeling is like going into an Olympic year in 2024. Mottram and interviewer Mitch Dyer packed a lot into 5 minutes but what I appreciated most was what he had to say about his coaching philosophy. “I always get asked about my philosophy on coaching,” Mottram says. “In short, it’s about relationships. It’s about athlete management and making sure that you build trust with the people that you’re working with. Ultimately, you’re making sure the team is healthy, fit, having a good time and that we’re believing and confident in each other. We’ve built that.”

+ Naturally, this interview sent me down a rabbit hole to see if Mottram had done any other recent interviews and I found this one he did a few months back with the Coffee Club boys, who also idolized him growing up. It starts around 27:30 in, goes for about an hour, and is full of amazing stories from his career and insights on his training, the state of the sport, and more.

— Should you train by RPE or heart rate? This article by Cliff Pittman for Trailrunner is geared toward ultrarunners but most of the takeaways apply across the running/endurance sports spectrum. The title is intentionally suspenseful but the article reinforces what has already been tried and validated by coaches and athletes: “RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) RPE provides a versatile and adaptable means for individuals to self-regulate their exercise intensity, particularly when other monitoring tools, such as heart rate or power meters, may be less feasible or precise.” In short: Learning to listen to your body is an essential skill to develop as an athlete. As a coach, I think it’s important to strike a balance between subjective and objective measures when it comes to intensity. I’ll often prescribe training by RPE or an effort level (i.e. marathon effort, 5K effort, etc.) and then give 1-2 points of reference for the athlete (usually pace for my non-trail runners and/or HR) to help keep them in the right ballpark. Afterward, we’ll take into account subjective feedback as well as objective data to develop a better understanding if we achieved what we set out to do in a given session and/or how to make adjustments the next time out.

— I don’t use Twitter but a couple weeks ago a friend sent me this clip of comedian Pete Holmes explaining why he hates Waze and while it’s hilarious, it’s also on the money. Whether it’s Waze or something else that’s purported to save us time, what meaningful things have most of us done with those precious few minutes we’ve saved trying to get to the next thing as quickly as possible? [Insert the sound of crickets here.] At one point of the conversation host Adam Corolla tells him, "You may be reading more into this than is necessary," which is more or less verbatim what my wife tells me when I start ranting on whatever is driving me batsh*t crazy that week.

— On the topic of rants (and I know I’m a few weeks late on this one), who the hell is using Heinz ketchup packets to fuel for their long runs and/or races? I’ve literally never heard of this until reading the aforelinked article. Please tell me this is nothing more than some sort of over-the-top marketing campaign to get newsletter-writing runners riled up about ketchup (which is my favorite condiment, by the way) before their next trip to Costco.

— Another Outside article, another unnecessary question-asking headline to try and get you to read this feature on Courtney Dauwalter. Just read it. It’s solid. You’ll recognize most of the things you’ve already read in every other feature about Courtney, like how she navigates the pain cave and her penchant for fun and positivity, but it’s a well-woven narrative and not another bullet-point style listicle, which I appreciated. “Dauwalter welcomes the psychological challenges, even the weird ones,” writes Meaghen Brown. “She has a shirt—made by Tailwind, one of her sponsors—inspired by hallucinations she’s had during some of the really long distance races. These have included white cats all over the trail, a cello player, and a friendly circle of bears hugging. She once wiped sweat from her forehead and watched it turn into pomegranate seeds.

— Why does track and field continually shoot itself in the foot when it comes to processes that should be relatively straightforward like selecting athletes for an Olympic team? This should not be so complicated: World Athletics sets an Olympic standard (qualifying time or mark in all events—marathon also includes top-10 finish at a Major or global championship within a 2-year window), aspiring Olympic athlete(s) from around the world must hit said standard within a given window (it’s the Olympics, the mark should be challenging), participating countries have the option to select 3 qualified athletes per event by way of a Trials event and/or subjectively via Olympic committee. (I also believe reigning Olympic champions should get an auto ticket to the next Games if they want it without it impacting their country’s three spots.) Do away with this “unlocking” bullsh*t, please. There, problem solved.

— I went down a hip hop rabbit hole the other day and YouTube served me up this live acoustic version of Lauryn Hill singing “I Get Out” from who knows how long ago and while the audio quality isn’t the greatest, the performance itself is incredible. It’s a song about oppression and the lyrics—and how they’re delivered—are powerful.

— From the archives (Issue 212, 4 years ago this week): I think a lot about addition and subtraction in my life, e.g., “If I add this new element to a training program, say a gym workout, what gets taken away?” or “If I say yes to X, Y, or Z opportunities, what am I saying no to?” The truth is—as much as we don’t want to hear it—that continuing to add things to our plate without taking something off usually ends up in a messy situation that needs to be cleaned up afterward. Nevermind the fact that saying yes to everything that gets thrown our way is unrealistic and unsustainable. Or, as Derek Sivers succinctly put it in this essay, “The adding mindset is deeply ingrained. It’s easy to think I need something else. It’s hard to look instead at what to remove.” (Ed. note: Sivers’ essay pairs well with this podcast I recorded in 2021 with Leidy Klotz, author of the book Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less.)

— A big thank you to Tracksmith for supporting my work this month (and throughout 2023). I’ve been breaking out the Brighton Base Layer more days than not this fall and I don’t see that stopping as we head into the winter months. It’s made from a merino wool blend, it wicks moisture and regulates temperature well, but best of all: it doesn’t smell when I sweat in it! It’s snug but not tight and I’ll wear it on its own or under a jacket when it’s really cold and/or precipitating. If you buy the Brighton Base Layer, or anything on for that matter, and you’re doing so for the first time, use the code MarioNEW to save $15 on your order of $75 or more. If you’re already a Tracksmith customer, use the code MarioGIVE and you can get free shipping on your next order (and 5% of your purchase will go to support the Friendly House in Worcester, Massachusetts, an organization that is near and dear to me).

Training Tip: Jump some rope!

As we head into the winter months many runners will be rebuilding their base with higher volumes of aerobic miles and little-to-no intense workouts for a while. It’s also a great time of year to work on other aspects of your athleticism that often get neglected when you’re “in-season” and building up for a specific race, such as strength, mobility, agility, and more. Jumping rope a few times a week is an easy and effective low stakes plyometric exercise to include as part of your strength training routine—it works great as a warmup—that can get your fast twitch muscles firing, strengthen your feet and lower leg muscles, and help improve your coordination and ground contact time. No need to get fancy: Start with double-leg hops and eventually begin to introduce single-leg hops after a few weeks once coordination improves. Bounce quickly on the balls of your feet, keeping your jumping height 1-2 inches off the ground, as you swing the rope over your head and under your feet. Five to 15 minutes two to three times a week is plenty. That’s it.

Workout of the Week: Deek's Quarters

I first read about this workout, made popular by former Boston winner and marathon world champion Rob De Castella of Australia, in Michael Sandrock’s Running With The Legends (one of my favorite running books of all-time, for what it’s worth) when I was in high school. The session’s construction is simple: 8 x 400m with a scant 200-meter float for “recovery” between repetitions. I like to say that this is a lactate threshold session disguised as an interval workout. It’s efficient and effective but it ain’t easy! Here are the details.

The bottom line.

“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.”

— Margaret Thatcher (who is no doubt dispensing advice to anyone who raced a marathon over the weekend)

That's it for Issue 421. Please forward this email, share the web link, or reply to me directly at your own risk. (And if you’re seeing this newsletter for the first time and want to receive it for yourself first thing every Tuesday morning, you can subscribe right here.)

Thanks for reading,


P.S. I’m announcing something exciting here next week! All I’ll say for now is if you’re going to be training for a marathon in Boston next April and aren’t quite sure how you’re going to do that yet, stay tuned.

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mario fraioli | the morning shakeout

Discover what’s possible through the lens of running with training tips, workouts, and other bits of goodness from coach Mario Fraioli. Every Tuesday morning, Mario shares his unapologetically subjective take on things that interest, inform, inspire, or entertain him in some way.

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