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mario fraioli | the morning shakeout

the morning shakeout | issue 445

Published about 1 month ago • 10 min read

Good morning! I raced the USA Track & Field Masters 1-Mile Road Championships on Sunday, about an hour’s drive from my house. That last detail is noteworthy because I’m not sure I would have traveled out of state for the event, and I imagine the same holds true for most people who otherwise might have been interested in it. That said, we have a lot of strong runners over the age of 40 in our neck of the woods, more people than I thought came out from Southern California, the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, Arizona, and other places around the country, and the field ended up being pretty stacked across the board.

Back in January I put it out there that one of my goals for this year was to compete for a national title and that’s the mindset I took with me to the starting line. Training had gone well the past few months and I felt like I had a shot. Before jogging over to the start line I decided to leave my watch in my bag because I was racing for place and the pace was going to be what it was going to be.

The start was delayed by about 15 minutes and after a bunch of random stretches and more strides to kill time, we took off around the two-loop course in downtown Danville just before 10 AM. The race felt like it went out quick as we approached the first right-hand turn about 200 meters into the race. Neil McDonagh took the lead and I tucked in behind him. Not much changed as we came around to complete the first lap and at the halfway mark I was running a couple seconds behind Neil in second place with a bunch of guys strung out in succession behind me. As we passed the finish line and began the final lap, Neil started to accelerate and I had a decision to make: try to go with the move and close the gap or back off a bit and win the race for second. It was hardly a choice. I pushed as hard as I could toward the ¾ mile mark but I could feel the flames go out just as quickly as the matches struck the side of the box. He was pulling away and there was nothing I could do about it. Around we went and I came into the final straightaway still in second place with about 250 meters to go. Every inch of my body was on fire and I could feel my stride starting to shorten. “Go to your arms!” I told myself, trying to coax my legs to turn over just a little faster so that no one would pass me. Not more than a few seconds after that, however, Grant Johnson did, and I had no response. I was stuck in quicksand and he was high-stepping over hot coals. He put three seconds on me in the final 200 meters to finish second and somehow I was able to hold on for third. The final 100 meters was such a struggle that I was sure the entire field was going to go by me. (I know that sounds dramatic but if you’ve ever crashed into the wall at full steam then you know the feeling.)

Upon crossing the finish line I looked around in an anaerobic daze, bumped fists with Neil, Grant, and anyone else in the immediate vicinity, and then promptly parked my ass on a low wall off to the side of the finish area while the oxygen tried to make its way back to my brain. My throat was on fire and my eyes felt like they were going to pop out of my head. It was the best worst feeling in the world.

I’ve replayed the race in my head probably a half dozen times over the past two days and I keep coming to the same conclusion: There isn’t much I could or would have done differently. If I had taken my foot off the gas a bit in the third quarter, I have no doubt that I would have gotten second, but that wasn’t why I was there. I did what I could do to give myself a shot to win, but the truth is Neil wasn’t going to lose this one unless he pulled a hammy or stepped in a pothole. (And even then he would have been hard to beat!) I’m proud of the effort and happy that I was able to hold onto an individual podium spot, my first ever at a national championship of any sort. This racing thing is more fun than it’s ever been and I’m curious to see what else is possible—the rest of this year, and beyond.

Quick Splits

— Outside’s Alex Kurt shared these 8 running lessons he learned nearly 20 years ago from his college cross country coach, Tim Miles, and every single one of them still holds up (and will 20 years from now, I promise you). One of my favorite lines was in regard to what Miles said about going too hard in workouts and not having anything in the tank for race day: “Don’t pull your carrots out of the ground to see how they’re growing.”

This conversation between the musician Jason Isbell and the writer George Saunders has nothing to do with running but it has everything to do with the creative process, storytelling, the difference between art and entertainment, and more. Taking place seven years ago, it’s the first time the two men had ever met or talked at length, and I love that they just hit record and let everyone listen in. “I think a lot of us spend our whole lives trying to pay for that, trying to pay off that debt” Isbell says about judging yourself for the art you make. “All the times that we thought ‘I need to be allowed to do something great,’ which, when you say it out loud sounds ridiculous, but you’ve done something great, and some people would say that I’ve done something great at some point or another, so once that happens, well, how justified was my thinking before? What can I do to leave only footprints, so to speak? What can I do to kind of fill back up the extra water that I took?”

Athletics Weekly recently published this transcript of an interview with legendary coach Frank Dick, the former UK Athletics Director of Coaching who now serves as Chair of the Global Athletics Coaches Academy, and I appreciated what he had to say about the role of a coach, the advice he’d give to young coaches starting out, and what he sees as mistakes being made in coaching education and development. “I think one of the things that maybe has been missing in a lot of coach education programmes in the past has been, not the technical stuff, it’s the people stuff that we’ve got to look at far more,” he explains. “Do we really take time to know our people? Do we really make time to know their stress signatures? Do we take time to work out: ‘Am I getting my language right?’ Because not everybody hears the same thing from the same word and I think all of that conflict resolution, how to deal with leadership, how to deal with being a member of a team, these things we don’t often talk about when it comes to coach education. But I think that’s paramount.”

This episode of the Coffee Club Podcast with miler Hobbs Kessler was great, mostly because of the dynamic he had with the hosts, all of whom are his peers and competitors. Kessler seems incredibly at ease and unguarded as he talks about his running and climbing background, recent races, current training, and more. On the flipside, Olli Hoare willingly gives Hobbs helpful advice for the upcoming Bowerman Mile at the Pre Classic, a race he’s also competing in. I also appreciate how Kessler breaks down the “costs” of various aspects of his training, from shorter double days over longer single runs, to weekly speed development sessions, to doing most of his intervals throughout the year on hills versus the track, to running very slowly on his non-workout days. Finally, one of my favorite parts of the conversation was when Kessler was asked what he normally does on his weekly day off (from training). His response made me laugh out loud. “I normally just hang out and talk shit,” he jokes. “I’m generally bored.”

— I’ve been enjoying Norah Jones’ music for about 20 years and I can’t wait to see her play live for the first time this weekend. Here she is singing “Sunrise” in Austin some number of years ago and if it doesn’t relax you immediately and put a smile on your face then I don’t know what to say.

— From the archives (Issue 184, 5 years ago today): Protect your time. “If you get into that productivity trap, there’s always going to be more work to do, you know?” the writer and artist Austin Kleon told Eddie Shleyner for verygoodcopy.com. “Like, you can always make more. I think that’s why I’m a time-based worker. I try to go at my work like a banker. I just have hours. I show up to the office and whatever gets done gets done.” This short blog post resonated with me as I’ve been trying really hard the past couple of months to adopt a time-based method of working—i.e. setting specific “office hours” for the various things I need to get done throughout the week rather than mindlessly working on whatever strikes my fancy at a given time—which isn’t so easy when you work for yourself, have a lot of people that you communicate with throughout the day, and could feasibly be working on something at all times. The reality of work, regardless of your field, is that there’s almost always more that you could work on, but that doesn’t mean that you should (or need) to work on it. At the beginning of the week, I block off chunks of time on my calendar for when I’ll be coaching workouts, writing training schedules, working on the newsletter, recording or editing the podcast, doing research, making/taking phone calls, replying to emails, etc. I try to stick to those hours as best I can—and the hours vary depending on the day and the week—and while it wasn’t the easiest adjustment to make, this new way of doing things has kept me more organized, helped me to prioritize what’s important in and outside of work, allowed me to do better work, and, most importantly, kept me sane. (Update: Five years later this still holds true. I have unconventional working hours that vary by the day but I stick to them more weeks than not. Doing so has created better clarity around how I’m using my time, has made me better at my job, not to mention less stressed in and outside of it.)

— A big thank you to my partners at New Balance for supporting my work this month (and throughout 2024). My go-to shoe for speed workouts the past few years has been the FuelCell Rebel and the latest iteration, v4, has continued to hold down that spot in the rotation in 2024. As fast and fun as carbon-plated shoes can be, it’s important not to be overly reliant on them for all your track sessions, fartleks, hills, and tempo runs. The Rebel v4s allow your feet to do what they want to do while providing plenty of protection underfoot when you’re putting a lot of extra force into the ground. They offer a responsive ride in a flexible, lightweight package that will fit a variety of foot types (n.b. my wider-than-average forefoot really appreciates them!). The FuelCell Rebel v4 is available at your favorite run specialty store or at newbalance.com (men’s sizes here, women’s sizes here).

Workout of the Week: Descend the Ladder

While half marathons and marathons are a matter of resisting fatigue during the later miles, 5K and 10K racing is like fighting off a firestorm for the final third of the race. No matter how comfortable the early pace may feel to you, about two thirds of the way into a fast 5K or 10K a spark suddenly catches fire and starts to spread rapidly as your legs begin to lock up and your stride shortens ever so slightly. Your quads are screaming at you to stop and your upper body tenses up as you seemingly start going backward while you struggle to maintain pace or stick with the runner in front of you. There’s nothing wrong with any of this at the end of a hard race, of course—it simply means that you’re doing it right! While your muscles are inevitably going to catch fire toward the end of a competitive 5K or 10K effort, you can train your body to slow down the burn and better handle the demands of the race in training. One of my favorite ways to do this is with the descending ladder workout. Here are the details.



The bottom line.

“Great performance is the result of the intrinsic worth as found and developed in the individual.”

—Percy Cerutty, eccentric Australian athletics coach, with a great quote I reminded myself of after my own race this past Sunday. It was a great performance not because of where I placed or how fast I ran or what anyone said to me about it afterward but because I was proud of how I showed up and competed on the day.


That's it for Issue 445. If you found any part of it to be informative, insightful, inspiring, or even remotely interesting, please forward this email to a friend (or five!) and encourage them to subscribe at this link so that it lands in their inbox next Tuesday.

Thanks for reading,

Mario

P.S. Are you a coach? Whether you work with individuals or teams, coach in-person or remotely, Final Surge has the tools for you to provide effective and efficient instruction and feedback to all your athletes. Moving my entire coaching operation under the Final Surge roof in 2017 streamlined my workflow and made the day-to-day business of analyzing workouts, planning training, and communicating with my athletes a much better experience for everyone involved. Check out the full list of features available to coaches right here. You can also tighten up the sign-up process and manage onboarding, getting waivers signed, and/or monthly billing all in one place. It’s pretty awesome. Head over to finalsurge.com and take advantage of a free 14-day coaching trial today. Use the code MORNINGSHAKEOUT when you check out to take 10% off your first purchase. Any questions? Just reply to this email and send ’em my way!

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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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