mario fraioli | the morning shakeout

the morning shakeout | issue 444

Published about 1 month ago • 9 min read

Good morning! This past Saturday my wife Christine and I were driving east on I-80 toward Folsom, outside Sacramento, where she was competing in a race. Shortly after 5 AM the lower horizon of the sky began to illuminate in a magnificent glow. I’ve seen plenty of sunrises over the years but this particular one sent me straight into a moment of deep awe and contemplation while I sat there in the passenger’s seat. The main thought that came to me, which I shared excitedly with Christine, who nodded along in the “uh huh, that’s great, whatever you say honey” way that spouses do, was what a fucking miracle this all is. I experience moments of wonder like this every so often, but this one hit me in a very visceral way when I didn’t expect it. (Maybe the coffee was starting to kick in, who knows.) It’s easier than ever these days to get stressed about this or that, or make a mountain out of a molehill—and I’d be full of shit if I told you I hadn’t been in both of these boats myself in recent weeks—but it can be a literal and figurative eye-opener when you take the time to pause every once in a while and appreciate how incredible it is that we even exist in the first place, that we have this beautiful planet to explore and inhabit, and that we get to spend time with people we’ve grown to know and love. Now, appreciating the mere fact of our miraculous existence doesn’t diminish the very real problems we individually experience and collectively share—my hope, however, is that doing so has the exact opposite effect: that it helps us have more empathy for others, that it encourages us to practice kindness more regularly, that it spurs us to take better care of our environment, and that it makes us want to spend more time with the people we love. These opportunities are available to everyone. It’d be a shame not to make good on them while we’re here.

Quick Splits

— Conner Mantz and Clayton Young will represent the U.S. in the marathon at this summer’s Olympic Games in Paris. They’re close friends and dedicated training partners, a dynamic relationship that Talya Minsberg explores in this recent profile of the two men. I appreciated Young’s admission that, “He doesn’t want to get beat, and I want to beat him,” which, to me, highlights how Mantz and Young bring out the best in one another, a real-life, real-time embodiment of what it means to compete with someone: striving together toward a goal. His line reminded me of what Peter Gilmore, another incredible marathoner in his own right, told me a couple years ago on the podcast about healthy competition. “I love the fact that when we go to the starting line that I can look at [Sergio Reyes] in the eye, or in the middle of a race or whatever, and know that he doesn’t care how well we get along off the track, he wants to kick my ass,” he explained. “And I’m sure he understands the same thing about me. All the cards are on the table and it’s OK to be competitive in that sense…in that framework it’s OK and it’s great to have that in your life, and to have people in your life who you have that very unique relationship with.”

Mark Coogan is a fan favorite here at the morning shakeout and, even though I haven’t had him on the podcast (yet), so is Ron Warhurst. Both men are two of the greatest middle-distance coaches in history and part of what’s led to their athletes’ successes over the years is knowing what’s been proven to work time and time again, but also being open to learning and switching things up when necessary. This recent Track & Field profile is a quick read that gets both their takes on what’s contributed to the U.S. upping their middle-distance game of late. None of it will surprise anyone but the one aspect that I want to highlight here is the idea of holding a peak. I wish the writer, Jeff Hollobaugh, would have dug a little deeper into this one. I tend to agree with Warhurst in this regard, in that “I don’t think it’s a matter of peaking. It’s a matter of holding your fitness going into the Olympic Trials and then try and go over to Europe and peak and get your max performances over there.” Here in the U.S., you’ve got to be on your game at the Trials because it’s a do-or-die situation and we have too much depth now to coast through a championship meet, but if you zoom out there’s not really a time of the year from January through September this day and age when middle and long-distance athletes (not just in the U.S., but worldwide) can afford to ever be too far away from peak fitness—just look at the marks we’ve seen indoors in recent years, there’s talk of a 12:30 5000m attempt later this month, and, oh yeah, the Olympic Games are in July, followed by the Diamond League final in mid-September. Of course, athletes need to pick their spots and aren’t racing all the way through, but those at the top of the sport are riding the extra fine line between fitness and futility closer than ever before.

— I first started reading Sarah Lavender Smith’s work in Trailrunner many years ago, then I listened to her as a co-host on the UltraRunner podcast for a while, and, for the past few years, I’ve been subscribed to her newsletter and read it every week. In the latest issue she wrote about her recent experience at a writing retreat and how it helped her find the focus and flow that’s eluded her in years past. I appreciated what she had to say about learning how to take more of an open-minded and less judgmental approach to both running and writing, which has helped her feel more satisfied with how she’s using her time. “What if I treat each run the way I’m trying to practice writing in my ‘creative cave?’ she writes. “What if I approach each run, as with writing, with fewer preconceived notions of how it should go, and fewer distractions, and more open to seeing how and where it takes me? What if I view each block of time that I have to run not as a scheduled task to complete, shoehorned and rushed between other obligations, but as an opportunity to feel free and to let my mind and body wander?”

— In his latest blog post, performance coach and author Steve Magness referenced a fictional book to impart a real-world lesson and it resonated with me on a deep level. “On more than one occasion, whenever I’m going through a tough time, or the world seems like it’s gone mad, friend and mentor Mike Joyner tells me “sixty quarters,” Magness writes, referencing an impossibly hard interval workout from Once A Runner. “Although I’ve never asked Joyner what he means exactly, our shared experience of running gives me an idea. In the depths of fatigue, when you are flooded with feelings, emotions, doubts, and uncertainty, eventually you figure something out. The path clears, you realize what it means to feel alive, to feel connected to others who have challenged themselves in just about any endeavor. You are forced to inhabit a new perspective, to see the world a slightly different way.” Now, I’ve never run 60 repeats of any distance at any time of my life but more weeks than not over the past 26 years I’ve done a hard effort of some sort, be it a race or an intense workout. Why? The answer is two-fold: On one hand, challenging workouts are the cost of doing business for results that I’d like to achieve, but beyond that it’s because every time I push my body and mind to a place it doesn’t willingly want to go, it makes me feel alive, it teaches me (or reminds me) something about myself, and, more often than not, it creates a powerful connection to others who are sharing in the experience with me. To that last point, it doesn’t surprise me in the least bit that most of the people that I’m closest to in life are teammates and training partners that I’ve shared hundreds if not thousands of miles with over the years, grinded through workouts with, and/or pushed alongside to the finish line. (Even if it’s been a while since we’ve done those things together.) For me, running is about as real an experience in life as you can get, in which you learn something about yourself and those around you, while forming the types of meaning and bonds that very few other activities can replicate. You just can’t bullshit your way through it. There’s a line in one of my favorite songs, Simon & Garfunkel’s The Boxer, that sums this up for me (and that I’m soon getting tattooed to my arm): “Running scared, laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters where the ragged people go, looking for the places only they would know.”

— One of my favorite things that I’ve shared in the 8+ years I’ve been writing this weekly email is this letter that legendary producer Steve Albini sent to Nirvana in 1992. In it, amongst other things, he told the band that “I would like to be paid like a plumber: I do the job and you pay me what it's worth.” I didn’t know much about Albini prior to reading it but I appreciated the straightforward, no bullshit approach he took to his craft. Sadly, Albini died of a heart attack a week ago today at the age of 61. Upon hearing of his passing I went down the rabbit hole and came across this column Neil Steinberg wrote about him for the Chicago Sun-Times a few years ago. In it, Albini shared his definition of success, and, for my money, it belongs in the next edition of Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. “I’ve always tried to see everything as a process,” he explains. “I want to do things in a certain way that I can be proud of that is sustainable and is fair and equitable to everybody that I interact with. If I can do that, then that’s a success, and success means that I get to do it again tomorrow.”

— As a tribute to Albini’s work, here is, in my opinion, one of the best songs he ever had a hand in producing, The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” from the 1988 album Surfer Rosa. (Like many, I first heard/became a fan of this song when it appeared at the end of the movie Fight Club in 1999.) It’s such a timeless tune—raw, experimental, and wholly unique, i.e. trademark Albini.

— From the archives (Issue 183, 5 years ago today): Paulo Coelho’s 8 tips on writing: Author of one of my all-time favorite books, The Alchemist, Coelho’s collection of quick tips are applicable whether you write books, blog posts, or something else between the two. “Some writers want to please their peers, they want to be “recognized,” he shares. “This shows insecurity and nothing else, please forget about this. You should care to share your soul and not to please other writers.”

— A big thank you to my partners at New Balance for supporting my work this month (and throughout 2024). When it comes to running shorts, I’m super picky, which is why I end up wearing half-tights most days. My biggest issue with shorts has to do with fit: the waist is weird and/or doesn’t have a functional drawstring, the liner is either too tight or too loose, and/or the length doesn’t feel right. Pockets, or lack thereof, are also a problem. New Balance came to the rescue this year with the revamped RC Shorts and I’m in the process of stocking up for summer! These are the best running shorts I’ve ever worn and that is not hyperbole. The material is lightweight, breathable, and nearly seamless, the waistband is just the right thickness and features an external drawstring for plenty of adjustability, and the liner is incredibly comfortable and supportive. Plus, they have a secure zip pocket in the back and two built into the liner to carry whatever you might need. Oh, and they come in different lengths—3, 5, and 7 inches for men (5” is my personal go-to), 3 and 5 inches for women—and a nice range of solid colors to boot. Check ’em out for yourself right here!

Workout of the Week: The Sev Special

Summer is around the corner and for some runners that means an opportunity to improve their speed before shifting focus toward training for longer distances in the fall. If you’re planning to hit the track this summer for regular speedwork, one of my favorite introductory sessions for getting back on the oval is one that I learned from the legendary Bob “Sev” Sevene back in 2005. It consists of sets of 400 and 800m repeats at a hard-but-not–too-hard effort. Here are the details.

The bottom line.

“Without effort, your talent is nothing more than your unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t. With effort, talent becomes skill and, at the very same time, effort makes skill productive.”

—Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

That's it for Issue 444. If you’re enjoying the morning shakeout, please do me a solid and forward this email to someone else who might also appreciate it. (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,


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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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