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December 29, 2015 | Issue 7
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the morning shakeout by mario fraioli

Good morning, and welcome to my final digital dispatch of the year. I’m blown away by the overwhelming response to the first six issues of The Morning Shakeout. Thank you for being a subscriber and reading each week! 

It’s been so much fun putting these emails together for you and it’s my goal to keep evolving and improving the newsletter in 2016. Please continue to send me your honest feedback, off-the-cuff suggestions, silly questions, snarky comments, dopey concerns, high praise or general disdain. I love it all (and I will get back to you, even if it takes me a few days). 

OK, let’s get to it:

Are you doing enough?

To this point in The Morning Shakeout’s brief existence, I haven’t opined on anything training-related, but Steve Magness’ excellent post on the dangers of doing too little is worth a discussion. Here’s the gist: Athletes and coaches are almost always concerned with overdoing it—running too fast, too hard, too much or too often—and risking poor performance, injury, illness, burnout or the like, but not so much with under-doing it—i.e., big tapers, complete rest days, etc.—because there’s no real danger in doing too little, right? Oh contraire.

While it’s certainly dangerous to overcook yourself in training, there is just as big a risk in backing off too much. Magness references research that showed a non-linear relationship between training loads and stress indicators. “When the athletes had too low of a volume and intensity of work, their bodies reacted in a similar fashion to if they had done slightly too much work,” Magness wrote. In short: doing too little can be as risky/have a similar effect as doing too much. 

I’ve also preached this “scale things back—but not too much” philosophy for a few years now in regard to tapering for a big race (see here and here). More often than not, I see runners taking oddball rest days, drastically dropping their volume or cutting out intensity altogether in an effort to “rest up” for the race only to put up a less-than-peak performance. 

“We have this tendency to overreact and send the signal to our body that we are resting,” Magness writes. “When the reality is we need to send the signal that we are priming it to be ready. That means of course a drop in training volume/intensity/density, but perhaps not so much that it causes this increase in stress that we saw in the aforementioned study. Our bodies, in this case the immune system, overreact.”

The point here isn’t to argue specific training methodologies, but rather to reinforce Magness’ message that deviating too far from the norm—whatever that is for you—is often a recipe for things going awry. 

I've often said that as coaches, we’re in the business of stress management. Stress is a necessary component to adaptation but we need to be careful how, when and in what doses we apply it. A major part of our job is to help the athletes we coach strike that balance between overdoing it and underdoing it—finding the “sweet spot” of stress, as Magness puts it—in an effort to keep them healthy and motivated, foster longterm improvement, and have them ready to perform to their potential on race day. 

Do you live in a reactive state?

Let me know if this sounds familiar to you: While working on a task or trying to finish up a project, your email client dings at you every few minutes or a text message alert goes off on your phone, signaling that someone needs something from you. What do you do? Nine out of ten times you respond (or at least ponder the interruption), end up getting sidetracked and, more often than not, suddenly find yourself stuck in a downward spiral of reacting to other people’s requests rather than focusing on your work or whatever it was you were trying to get done. 

As I wrote in Issue 3, I sometimes suffer from an “addition to distraction” and get sucked into these types of reactive behaviors more often than I care to admit. Some days it seems there's no time to even think

“We always check in with everyone else but checking in with yourself is so important,” my friend Scott recently wrote to me in an email. “To know if you're on the right path or just bouncing all around and not making real progress on your own life goals.” 

Scott’s words have remained stuck in my mind, and while on a self-imposed social media sabbatical this past week, I made it a point to check in with myself a couple times. One of the conclusions I came to is that I need to be less reactive and more proactive in regard to how I spend a typical day. I realized that when my input toward a given initiative is incomplete or constantly scattered and splintered because I’m reacting to the next thing that’s clamoring for my attention, the quality of my intended output—being a good husband, effective employee, engaging writer, attentive coach or caring friend—inevitably suffers, whether I like to admit that or not.

So what am I going to do about it? To start, I’m working on re-engineering my typical day by designating set chunks of time to accomplishing specific tasks—without interruption or distraction—in an effort to be more focused, engaged and productive in all areas of my life. Is this going to be easy or go off without a hitch? Of course not. I fully expect to fail from time to time and react to something I shouldn’t have, but I also know that making the effort to be more proactive about how I spent my time will help me become be a better and more effective husband, employee, writer, coach, friend and human being in general. 

How about you? Are you also living in a reactive state? When was the last time you checked in with yourself? Plan some time in your day to consider these questions and schedule some “me” time before the new year. It’s a good exercise for all of us to undertake at least once.  

Please explain yourself, Lord Coe.

Sebastian Coe’s pot of hot water continues to boil after his right-hand man, Nick Davies, recently stepped down as deputy general secretary of the IAAF following a leaked email that seems to suggest he played a part in covering up allegations of Russian doping. The Shadow Minister for Sport, Clive Efford, wants Coe to answer a lot of questions, including the obvious one I posed in Issue 1 of this newsletter: “How the hell did you not know any of this was happening during your last 7 years as vice president?”

Lord Coe, you have a lot of explaining to do—or a lot more explaining to do, rather—and once you get it all out, you should resign from your post as president of the IAAF and encourage the rest of your remaining longterm colleagues on the senior leadership team to do the same. I stand by my assertion that the entire organization needs to be demolished and rebuilt from scratch. The IAAF has done nothing noteworthy to bring transparency and integrity back to the world’s oldest and greatest sport.  

Embracing “crisis” mode. 

Ever since reading “The Year Without Pants” last year, I’ve been a fan of Scott Berkun’s writing. An older blog posts of his, “Changing your life is not a (mid-life) crisis,” came to my attention last week, and I felt it was worth sharing here. The Cliffs Notes version goes like this: You can initiate change in your life, and when you do, it’s doesn’t necessarily signal a crisis. Change can be a deliberate byproduct of a desire to constantly be learning, growing and pursuing our curiosities. “We need a term for life long growers,” Berkun writes, “people who continue to examine and explore their own potentials and passions, making new and bigger bets as they change throughout life.” 

My Top-3 Books of 2015

This wasn’t a great year for me on the book-reading front (I only finished 5 of the 7 titles I started) but for anyone interested, here were my three favorites:

  1. Two Hours: The Quest To Run The Impossible Marathon (Ed Caesar) A page-turner for fans of running and good narrative. Check out my complete review on Competitor.com.
  2. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work (Mason Currey) The title sums it up quite well: This is a quick read highlighting the creative processes of various types of “artists” including Ben Franklin, Immanuel Kant, Haruki Murakimi Ernest Hemingway and others. My favorite was Beethoven, whose “breakfast was coffee, which he prepared himself with great care—he determined that there should be sixty beans per cup—and he often counted them out one by one for a precise dose. Then he sat at his desk and worked until 2:00 or 3:00, taking the occasional break to walk outdoors, which aided his creativity.”
  3. How Bad Do You Want It? Mastering The Psychology of Mind Over Muscle (Matt Fitzgerald) A deep dive into the psychobiological model of endurance performance, which “suggests that the ability to to actuate physical capacity is no less important than the physical capacity itself.” As a coach who considers myself more psychologist than physiologist regarding how I approach training and racing, a lot of the material and stories in this book resonated with me and confirmed many of the observations I’ve made over the course of my career as an athlete, coach and journalist.

That’s it for this week. If you liked what you read here, it would mean a lot to me if you forwarded this email to your friends or shared the web link on your preferred social media platform(s).

Thank you, and Happy New Year!

Mario

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