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December 1, 2015 | Issue 3
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the morning shakeout by mario fraioli

Good morning! I’m in the midst of a heavy stretch of travel, so apologies for the somewhat abbreviated commentary this week. Let’s dive right in: 

Paula's PR skills need work

As most of you have surely read by now, marathon world-record holder Paula Radcliffe has been vindicated of blood doping by the IAAF and UK Athletics. Good news, right? I’m not so sure. While the IAAF—which has no shortage of its own issues to deal with—called the allegations against Radcliffe’s abnormally high blood values a “gross misinterpretation of data,” I think Radcliffe’s handling of the situation is somehow going to come back to bite her in the ass. Radcliffe, who has never failed a drug test, went on the record just a few months ago saying that her high “off-scores” were the result of altitude training and hard racing. Then, just this past weekend, the 41-year-old retired marathoner contradicted herself by saying that it wasn’t her intention to claim that altitude was directly responsible for her unusual results (with the exception of 2012). As Ross Tucker of the Sports Scientists Tweeted on Sunday, this contradiction doesn’t make Radcliffe a doper (and I’m not saying that she is) but it sure as hell doesn’t help public trust, which is something that track and field as a whole is struggling with mightily right now. Radcliffe, who has been cagey regarding having blood data released to the public, isn’t doing herself any favors with her lack of transparency and muddled messaging. "The key point is you can't prove you are clean,” she been quoted as saying

I disagree with that statement. Not only do I think an athlete should be able to prove that he or she is clean, an athlete needs to be able to prove they’re clean given the current climate of competitive athletics. When nearly every extraordinary or eye-popping performance is cast into doubt, you need to ready to prove your purity, whether that seems fair to you or not. If you have abnormally high blood values, fine—there might be a perfectly legitimate reason for that—but you (or someone on your team) should be able to explain why that might be the case if those results are being cast into doubt. As Tucker wrote in September: “Those possible, plausible explanations could be made to look credible if they were openly discussed, and that would require maximum transparency.” If you truly have nothing to hide, don’t be hesitant to share information or answer tough questions by journalists, anti-doping officials, your governing body or anyone else. Manage your own messaging and keep it consistent. Otherwise, even if you’re innocent, it doesn’t appear that way in the public eye. Most elite athletes and coaches I know keep detailed journals of their training, racing, nutrition, recovery, etc., including record of altitude trips, time spent sleeping in a altitude tent, any and all supplements, vitamins, over-the-counter anti-inflamatories, etc., they’ve put into their bodies (whether self-inflicted or prescribed by someone else) and the list goes on. Even if you don’t record such things in great detail, transparency is not a complicated practice. To quote Mark Twain, “If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.” 

Here are some brief thoughts on a few other topics that caught my attention this past week:

Be excellent. Vern Gambetta is one of my favorite coaches because of the wholistic approach he takes to training athletes, regardless of their chosen sport. He recently identified a dozen qualities on athletic excellence that have stood out to him over the years. It’s a fantastic overview and I recommend checking it out, even if you don’t consider yourself much of an athlete. Ask yourself: How many of these 12 qualities do you possess? Which ones do you need to work on? Regardless of what level of athlete you are, or even if you’re not an athlete at all, answering these two questions is a good exercise to undertake as you begin your own pursuit of excellence in 2016.

Kobe crafting his own exit strategy. One of the biggest pieces of sports news over the weekend was Kobe Bryant announcing that he was retiring from basketball. The most interesting thing about the announcement was that Bryant didn’t make it at an emotional press conference, but instead via a simple Tweet that linked to a "Dear Basketball" poem/letter he wrote for Derek Jeter’s Players Tribune website (which is excellent, by the way). Not only was this a unique way for one of the most recognizable athletes in the world to announce he was hanging up his basketball sneaks, but it also serves as yet another wakeup call to traditional media outlets who would salivate over getting the “scoop” on such news. Brands—and professional athletes/other recognizable figures are as much of a brand as any tangible product—are in control of crafting their own narrative more than ever before, whether it’s through social media and/or unique websites like Jeter’s or Medium that provide a platform for first-person storytelling. Does that make these types of sites better than traditional media outlets? Hardly, but they’re certainly going to continue changing the way in which important information gets disseminated. More on this in a future issue of The Morning Shakeout. 

Listen up, kids. I got my start in journalism at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette in 2004, which means I’ve been at this writing and editing thing for a little over 11 years now. This piece by Kevin Pang—“What I’ve learned in 11 years working at the Chicago Tribune”—resonated with me on a number of levels. It’s full of experienced advice and a must-read for anyone looking to get into journalism, not to mention a solid refresher for those of us who have been in the game a while. Heck, much of it is even applicable to non-journalists, including solid suggestions like this one: “Invest in yourself. If you can spend $50 a month at a gym, why not take a writing class? A history course? I never knew I loved boxing and painting until I took a class.”

Where’s your focus? This article from Saturday’s New York Times was another one that hit close to home. Much to my chagrin, I can be easily distracted and get sidetracked by something seemingly more interesting than whatever it was that just had my attention. This “addiction to distraction” is a problem I’m constantly working on, and there’s some comfort in knowing I’m not alone in trying to solve it. Like many of you reading this, I have a bad habit of constantly reaching for my iPhone. In some cases, it’s a necessary action, but in most of the time it’s practically a reflex. In an effort to change my behavior, I recently disabled the biggest time suck on my phone—Facebook—and was amazed at how often I still reached for my device, even though I didn’t have an app to check. Thankfully that behavior has started to curb itself a bit of late. My next step will be a full-fledged social media detox the final week of the year in an effort to overcome this addiction to distraction. Who wants to join me?

That’s it for this edition of The Morning Shakeout. If you liked what you read here, please feel free to forward this email to your friends or share the web link on your preferred social media platform(s). Have questions, comments or criticism for me? Please reply directly to this email and I will eventually respond. 

Thanks for subscribing, 

Mario

P.S. I had a BLAST last night on Ginger Runner Live with Ethan Newberry and Chris Vargo. We rapped about this weekend's North Face Endurance Challenge Championships amongst other ultrarunning-related topics. If you missed the show, catch the replay right here

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