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July 12, 2016 | Issue 35
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the morning shakeout by mario fraioli
the morning shakeout
This is not the #roadtoRio (be careful where you use that hashtag!) but rather a sweet stretch of pavement that passes through Windsor, Calif., a quaint little town nestled into the rolling hills of Sonoma wine country. I enjoyed running here over the weekend. instagram.com/mariofraioli

Good morning! Plenty of exciting races to round out the 2016 Olympic Trials in track and field, and a little bit of controversy too, but so it goes with these things. I've got another track-heavy issue lined up for you this week, so apologies to those of you came here looking for media, philosophy and other stuff on the menu. I’ll have a full serving of non-running related material ready for you to chew on next Tuesday, but for now, let's dig right in:

A tale of two 5000s.

Molly Huddle did nothing to make me change my opinion that she’s the best thing going in U.S. distance running right now, powering home to victory in the women’s 5,000m final with the confidence of a woman who looks ready to medal over 10,000m in Rio. In that same race, Shelby Houlihan closed with confidence to make her first Olympic team and Kim Conley showed that she’s not one to be taken lightly when the chips are down. Emily Infeld no doubt gained a few more fans, grinding her way to a fourth-place finish in a race she really didn’t even have to run, boosting her fitness a few notches and reminding the track world that she’s one gritty chick. Finally, I was happy that the cards fell the right way for now two-time fifth-place Trials finisher Abbey D’Agostino, who will go to Rio by virtue of Huddle and Infeld’s choice to focus solely on the 10,000m. Big day for “Dags” and Mark Coogan’s upstart New Balance Boston training group (more on training groups in a bit).   

— U.S.-based Peruvian Olympian David Torrence had a few things to say about the winner of the men's 5000, also venting his frustrations on air while watching 41-year-old Bernard Lagat drop a sub-53 second final 400 to win the race. Torrence, as you may recall from the news in recent weeks, went to the authorities and reported what he saw while training under disgraced coach Jama Aden in Ethiopia in 2014. Aden is now in a whole lot of trouble. So what was up with Torrence’s mini tirade over the weekend? No idea, but I think it’s worth expanding upon his 140 characters worth of “facts” in an effort to try and give more context to Lagat’s situation. Here’s what I’ve got for you: 

  • Lagat, as Torrence alluded to in his Tweet, failed an “A” test for EPO in 2003. The “B” sample, however, came back negative.* You can read the full report of Lagat’s “B” sample test by clicking the link at the bottom of this page
  • EPO testing was not good—in fact, it was terrible—in the early 2000s. “The test used involves many steps with many pitfalls,” the report of Lagat’s “B” sample reads. “Only very experienced and critical “bench biochemists”, as those working in the Cologne lab, can responsibly handle the complicated and error-prone procedure.” The report has multiple references to alluded to improper handing of the samples and that “the sample handling might be partly responsible for the result obtained.”
  • The IAAF has indeed covered up a lot of drug tests in the past. It’s also worth noting that they’ve caught a good number of cheats too. Inconsistency is apparently a strong suit. 
  • I stand by my belief that track was a dirty, dirty world from the mid-90s through about 2005. Does that mean everyone was doping during that era? Of course not, but the all-time performance lists suggest some funky stuff was going on at the time. 
  • A lot of middle-distance and distance men, Lagat included, ran really, really fast from 1995-2005. So fast, in fact, there hasn’t been a men’s world record of any significance from 1000 meters through 10,000 meters broken since 2005
  • Many of those folks didn’t run nearly as fast—or at all, in some cases—after 2004-2005. Hicham El Guerrouj, Lagat’s fiercest rival who still holds the world record in both the 1,500m and mile, retired in 2006 at the ripe old age of 31. He and Lagat are the same age. 
  • Lagat, however, is obviously still running—and running well. Like El Guerrouj, Lagat is a 1,500m runner by trade. He’s gradually moved up in distance as he’s gotten older and, from what I can tell, has largely avoided injury for almost the entirety of his career. His longevity is as impressive as his seemingly ageless finishing kick. That said, a sub-53 400m at the end of a slowish 5,000 from a 41-year-old who has run 3:26 for 1,500m isn’t inconceivable to me. 
  • Lagat isn’t the only Masters athlete to see success in his early 40s. Meb will also be 41 when he compete in Rio and Deena has dropped some quick times as a 40-year-old, while a few other 40-somethings also remain competitive.
  • In the 13 years since his positive “A” test, Lagat has not had a blemish on his doping record.

Make of all that what you will. I’m not siding with Torrence, nor am I defending Lagat—just sharing what I know and what I’ve observed. An off-the-cuff Tweet can only say so much. 

Power of the people. 

It’s often said there’s strength in numbers and multiple training groups from around the country proved that old axiom to be true many times over at this most recent Olympic Trials. Off the top of my head, and in no particular order, NorCal Distance, Oregon Track Club Elite, Bowerman Track Club, Nike Oregon Project, U.S. Army WCAP program, Mark Wetmore’s Boulder-based crew, and the Big Bear Track Club each had more than one athlete make the Olympic team this year in Eugene. What’s the lesson here? Find people to train with on a somewhat regular basis, feed off the energy of your training partners, adopt the “If he/she can do that, and I train with he/she on a regular basis, why can’t I do the same thing?” attitude and you might just see a domino effect start to take place. Now, group training isn’t for everyone and for others it’s neither practical nor possible, but if you’ve been stuck in a rut for a while, are lacking motivation to push hard in training, or some combination thereof, a good crew of training partners can help you kick things up a notch. Heck, even if you aren’t part of a formal training group, finding one or two people to train with from time to time or coordinate long runs and challenging workouts with can do wonders for your physical and mental fitness. When you’ve watched one of your training partners achieve recent success before you step on the starting line yourself, or are racing alongside someone you’ve shared sweat and sacrifice with over the course of many miles, real magic can take place. Look no further than this past week-and-a-half in Eugene if you need proof.

Metric mile musings.

Jenny Simpson is a pro’s pro and I was super impressed with the confidence she displayed in winning the women’s 1500 meters on Sunday, as well as by her usual eloquence in an interview with NBC after the race. “The hardest thing is you have to prove it to you,” Simpson said. “And you’re the one standing on the starting line and you’re the one who has to believe ‘I’m 1,500 meters away from another team,’ and I’m just so grateful that I proved to myself today that I could do it.” For the racing fans reading this, go back and watch Simpson’s final 300 meters a couple more times and take notes as she steps on the gas no less than three times, the final push with 50 meters remaining to fend off a fast-closing Shannon Rowbury, who impressively qualified her third-straight Olympic team. That is how you tighten the screws! Hats off to Brenda Martinez in third, who showed huge heart with dive-for-the-line finish, rebounding from shitty circumstances in her primary event, the 800, to make her first Olympic team. On the men’s side, Matt Centrowitz looked smooth from start to finish on his way to breaking the tape. So smooth, in fact, I think he has what it takes not only to get a medal in Rio, but he could win the whole damn thing if he stays out of trouble. Like him or not (and I wouldn’t count myself amongst his biggest fans), the kid flat out knows how to race. Behind him, Robby Andrews and Ben Blankenship both closed hard to make their Olympic dreams come true. I was bummed for Leo Manzano in fourth. Truth be told, despite the fact that he battled all the way to the end, he never looked comfortable or confident at any point.

The Trials according to Hodgie-San.

Bob Hodge, aka “Hodgie-San,” is a good friend of mine and was my first post-collegiate running mentor back in 2004. One of America’s most unheralded sub-2:11 marathoners found himself in Eugene for the first half of the Olympic Trials last week and wrote a few guest posts about the event for Tracksmith’s Meter publication on Medium. Hodgie-San is a great storyteller and a master at intertwining history and his own personal experiences with an informed point of view on current happenings in the sport. Check out his dispatches from Eugene here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Quick Splits:

— More stupid #Rule40 bullshit here.

The Oregonian, somewhat surprisingly, didn’t paint the most attractive picture of Nike’s head of global athletics marketing last week.

— Want to know how easy it is to get on a doping program in Kenya? Go under cover with these journalists and find out

— Or, just take this shit. It’s apparently perfectly legal and “it’s a powerful performance-enhancing drug,” according to BALCO drug czar Victor Conte.

— How dominant was Nike on the podium in the middle distance and distance races at this year’s Olympic Trials? The numbers don’t lie: Of the 30 men and women who will represent the U.S. in Rio from the 800m through the 10,000m, 20 of them are Nike-sponsored or affiliated athletes (WCAP is contracted with Nike), six are New Balance, two adidas, one Oiselle (wearing NB spikes) and one Saucony. Let that sink in for a minute. 

— He didn’t have any athletes make this year’s Olympic team, but I have a ton of respect for coach Danny Mackey and I like what he’s done with the Brooks Beasts. This piece he wrote for Sports Illustrated resonated with me on many levels. “I think where I have grown the most as a coach is in my reckless abandon be in it right there with the athletes, for better or worse,” Mackey wrote. “If they succeed, I can physically feel the joy for them, if they fail, my stomach aches to the point where I want to puke.”

That’s it for this week. Share your thoughts with me by replying to this email or shouting in my direction on Twitter. If you liked what you read here, please forward this to a friend or post the web link to your preferred social media platform. 

Thanks for reading, 

Mario

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