November 8, 2016 | Issue 52
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Singletrack shakeout. | Marin County, California

Good morning! Big day today and it has nothing to do with who will take over for Barack Obama in the Oval Office next January. This 52nd issue marks the morning shakeout’s first birthday and I’m stoked to be celebrating it with all of you! Thank you so much for your interest, support and constructive feedback over these past 12 months. I appreciate all of it. If you’re new to this weekly missive, thanks for subscribing. I encourage you to squander the rest of your week catching up on the first 51 issues

But for now, let’s get to it:

Start spreading the news.  

I spent a good chunk of my Sunday morning watching the New York City Marathon and had no regrets about my choice to do so, even if it meant that I only had time for a 15-minute run before getting on with the rest of my day. I love the annual battle in the Big Apple because it’s 26.2-mile slugfest and every man or woman has to fend for him or herself. Predictably, these scenarios tend to lend to a fair amount of carnage and this year’s races were certainly no exception. Check out my stream-of-consciousness race commentary from Twitter for some unfiltered thoughts on how it all went down. My top highlights, in no particular order, were Ghirmay Ghebreslassie’s determined drive to the finish line, all-day Abdi Abdirahman’s unexpected podium finish, Molly Huddle’s gritty debut and strong final charge, Mary Keitany’s utter domination of the women’s field and five American men in the top-10, even if many of them came as a surprise. 

Outcomes of the event itself aside, it was some news that started spreading before the race that caught my attention:

+ “[The authorities] are investigating whether race officials accepted bribes to allow athletes using banned substances to compete in their events, and whether people knowingly entered drugged athletes into competition, possibly defrauding organized running.” Now that is a damning statement if I’ve ever read one. The race officials in question are organizers of American marathons, including those at the New York City Marathon, according to The New York Times. The person suspected of offering the bribes is Russian athletics agent Andrey Baranov, who represented disgraced marathoner Liliya Shobukhova, and “told sports ethics investigators in 2014 that Ms. Shobukhova had been subjected to extortion and had paid half a million dollars to top track and field officials to conceal her doping violations, enabling her to compete in the 2012 Olympics.” If these new suspicions involving Baranov and American marathon officials—particularly those at New York or any other major domestic marathons—prove true, I believe it will be the blow that officially bastardizes the sport of running in the eyes of athletes, fans and casual observers alike. The circle of trust involving athletes, fans, agents and race organizers, already hanging on by a mere thread, would just rip apart at the seams. It’s one thing to lose a race to dirty athletes and their greedy agents; it’s quite another to get screwed by race organizers who are knowingly letting them into the event in the first place. Here’s how these things work: At major marathons such as New York, elite athlete coordinators work very closely with athletes and agents in an effort to recruit attractive competitive fields to their event. On the flipside, elite athletes don’t just sign up for major marathons such as New York; they are invited and entry is granted at the elite athlete coordinator’s discretion. Appearance fees, travel arrangements, accommodations and per diems are all negotiated. In short: it’s in an athlete’s (and his or her agent’s) best interest to be in the elite athlete coordinator’s good graces—it’s he or she who holds the keys to the starting line. There are really only two ways to get there: you develop a relationship with the elite athlete coordinator based on trust, prove your value to the event and get invited to compete based on that excellent reputation; or, if that approach fails for whatever reason, you can always try buying your way in, which, as I understand it, is what Baranov and marathon officials are being investigated for in this case. Ironically, the New York Road Runners, the organization that runs the New York City Marathon, recently announced its #runclean initiative, tightening up its anti-doping policies in an effort to promote clean sport. Is there any merit to this investigation? I have no clue. But if anything comes of it, my thoughts will be with the athletes who got hosed by race organizers and the PR teams that are called in to clean up the mess. 

And finally, there was plenty to be inspired by after the race, even if the news leading up to it was downright depressing:

+ Kudos to The New York Times for doing a bang-up job covering its backyard race this past weekend. One of the highlights for me was this post-race profile on serial racers Michael Wardian and Dean Bell, both of whom completed all six World Marathon Majors races this year, culminating at New York on Sunday. I don’t know Bell from the next guy standing beside me in the start-line corral but I’ve met Mike on a few occasions, written about him once or twice and even found myself yo-yo-ing with him for over 10 miles while pacing my friend Chris Denucci at the Western States 100 in 2015. I’m glad to see him getting some well-deserved recognition in a widely read publication. He’s an impressive individual on many levels, not least of which is his ability to race hard nearly every weekend and consistently put up good results. The crazy thing is he’s been doing it—and quite humbly, I should point out—for well over 10 years now! “I just have a really incredible interest in establishing about what’s possible for me and then shattering that,” Mike told The Times. This statement, while certainly accurate, transcends his racing regime. It’s what he does off the race course that really blows my mind. I’ve personally seen Mike pushing his kids around in a stroller the day before the Vermont City Marathon (2007), witnessed him hustling for his sponsors between races and observed him graciously responding to fans on social media and in person, all while bouncing around the globe being a committed husband, involved dad and full-time ship broker. I’ve emailed him with questions for a piece I was working on, gave him 3 weeks to get back to me, and received a well thought-out response in a matter of hours. “How is all of that even possible?” I’ve often wondered. In the case of Michael Wardian, I think it involves a passion for pushing yourself, a philanthropic spirit, twenty waking hours a day, and multiple mophie chargers.

Quick Splits

— Those of you who have been reading for a while know that I’m a process person. I often tell my athletes to “set it and forget it” in regard to the big exciting end goals everyone likes to obsess over and focus instead on consistently checking off the less sexy process goals that will put them in the best possible position to achieve continued success. It’s all about committing to the long game. Along these lines, writer James Clear recently outlined three reasons to focus on systems instead of goals that is worth digesting. “I’ve found that goals are good for planning your progress and systems are good for actually making progress,” writes Clear. “Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win.” 

— I was introduced to a newish podcast yesterday called How I Built This that quickly became my latest obsession (and with good reason). Launched in September, there are currently nine episodes in the lineup, none of them longer than 42 minutes (which is perfect for a podcast, if you ask me). The host, Guy Raz, hosts another of my favorite shows, the TED Radio Hour, which I’ve referenced here before. I only made it through one episode of How I Built This, but it was a good one with Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. If you’re interested in entrepreneurship, social media, or just enjoy a good story, definitely give it a listen. “Seeing someone using your product and loving it is way more rewarding than any amount of money in the world,” Krieger says. 

— I’m not a Cubs fan and I’ll be the first to admit that the most baseball I watched all year was Game 7 of the World Series but I was a philosophy major in college and Albert Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus is one of my favorite essays (heck, I even named a workout after it), so this quick post-World Series segment from MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes relating the Myth of Sisyphus to the Cubs’ 108 years of struggle was gold in my book. “It’s the struggle the matters,” Hayes’ dad told him when he was about to stop watching Game 7. Hayes goes on to talk about the myth’s focus on the effort of the push and even gives mention to Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon’s emphasis on process and not outcomes, all of which ties in nicely with the first item of this section about focusing on systems instead of goals. “And it turns out that as surreal and ecstatic as it is to celebrate a Cubs team that doesn’t have to say that (Wait ’til next year!) for the first time in 108 years,” Hayes says, “wait ’til next year, keep pushing that rock no matter what, is a pretty great way to go through life. Thanks to the Cubs for teaching me that.” The lesson here: Commit to the process and learn to embrace the struggle.

— Thank you to everyone who submitted questions for Tracksmith CEO Matt Taylor after last week’s newsletter and congratulations to Christopher Smith, who won a Varsity Runner’s Cap for asking: “So, why start a running apparel company—isn’t there an easier market to enter which could provide a more attractive opportunity?” You can read Matt’s answer to Christopher's question here. You can also take another stab at winning a Varsity Runner’s Cap this week with the “Muddy Pair of Heels” contest. Fall is for cross country. And trails. And playing in the mud. Show me how you embraced the slop on race day or during a workout recently by snapping a muddy running pic and hash tagging it #muddyshakeout on Instagram or Twitter. I’ll choose my favorite one of the bunch and announce the winner here next week.

That’s it for Issue 52. Fittingly, it was the longest one yet. Share your thoughts with me by replying directly to this email or shouting in my direction on Twitter

Thanks for reading, 


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