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January 31, 2017 | Issue 64
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ekiden
Knox Robinson
"I hope I’ve been able to paint a picture of the full dimensionality of running, opening that space to build ties with people, beyond “oh, you’ve reached your fitness goals” or have it seen as the purview of rich white men. I’d like full-figured women of color to be seen as a runner, and I’d like to help push the understanding that Kenyans aren’t fetishized superhumans from the other side of the planet; they’re just like us: runners who have highs and lows like everybody else. So I feel like, if anything, I hope to mix it up, add some nuance and some storytelling and problematize people’s assumptions about what running culture looks and feels like — what it is and what it could be tomorrow, for all of us." Be sure to check out last week's "Going Long" interview with the incomparable Knox Robinson, founder of the Black Roses NYC run crew, if you haven't already. One of the most interesting—and awesome—interviews I've ever conducted.

Good morning! I’ve got a variety of topics to cover and many links to share this week, but first I’d like to thank ekiden and founder Peter Duyan for sponsoring the morning shakeout this month. If you’ve got a big race on your schedule this spring, or simply want some accountability around your training routine, check out ekiden and get matched with a great running coach. Full disclosure: I am the head coach at ekiden and have worked for the company since June 2016.

On that note, next month’s sponsorship slot opened back up late last week. Sponsor support helps cover this newsletter's operating expenses and also allows me to spend more time working on it. Please reply to this email if you'd like to promote your brand, product, service or event exclusively to this newsletter's growing readership of running nerds, track and field aficionados, coaches, writers, mediaphiles and other eclectic intellectuals who appreciate insightful writing and entertaining commentary. Details regarding sponsorship can be found here

Now that the bills are paid, let’s see what this week has in store for us. Enjoy!

Sticking my hand in the hot pot. 

At the morning shakeout, I generally try to avoid stirring the political pot, but as the son of an immigrant I can’t stay completely quiet regarding some of the recently established policies currently affecting my country in a major way. The United States is a nation built by immigrants and refugees seeking opportunities for themselves and their families. My grandparents, dad and uncle fall into this boat. I wouldn’t be who or where I am today if they weren’t welcomed here decades ago and offered the chance at building a better life. Many of our country’s best leaders and brightest minds, including Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Albert Einstein and Sergey Brin—children of immigrants or immigrants and refugees themselves who have all fundamentally shaped our country, if not the world, in a significant way—also fall into this boat. And many of our top athletes, including track and field stars like Meb Keflezighi, Bernard Lagat, Sanya Richards-Ross, Lopez Lomong, Leo Manzano, Abdi Abdirahman, Brenda Martinez, Hillary Bor, Paul Chelimo, Shadrack Kipchirchir and Leonard Korir, amongst others, all of whom have represented this country with unmatched pride on international stages, won major races or taken home Olympic medals, fall into this boat as well. Immigrants have always made this country great and are the foundation that our best values are built upon. And to this point, none of them were discriminated against because of where they hailed from or what god they chose to worship. The executive order targeting immigrants and refugees from certain countries and preventing them from seeking a better life in America is unfounded, ignorant and discriminatory. The boat is sinking fast and that’s worth speaking up about. 

  • “When I saw the news, I cried,” Lomong recently told Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden. “I was very emotional about it. What if that document had been signed in 2001? Where would I be? I would have no career. I would have no degree. I would probably be dead.” Sobering read on America’s flag bearer at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, who, per our president’s recent executive order, would not be allowed in this country today due to the fact he was a refugee from South Sudan.
  • “My story is an example of what can happen when you follow polices of compassion and understanding, not hate and isolation,” double Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah wrote in a strongly worded statement on his Facebook page over the weekend. Farah, a British citizen who was born in Somalia and has called the U.S. home for the past six years, won’t be affected by the aforementioned travel ban despite initial fears that he wouldn’t be allowed back in the country. 
  • After Meb Keflezighi won the New York City Marathon in 2009, Darren Rovell wrote this ill-informed piece for CNBC and then ate his own words the next day. Anyway, Rovell’s words struck a nerve with me then, and I still stand by this piece I penned for the blog I kept at the time. “Contrary to Rovell’s claim that Keflezighi is ‘like a ringer who you hire to work a couple hours at your office so that you can win the executive softball league,’ Meb was not ‘imported’ here from Eritrea to win medals in the marathon,” I wrote a little over seven years ago. “This isn’t a case of Qatar buying its athletes from Kenya. Keflezighi came here as a 12-year-old, much like my own father did, because his parents wanted to provide him the chance to take advantage of opportunities he otherwise never would have had. Just because he wasn’t born on native soil doesn’t make Meb any less American than the son of a soldier born on an army base in Germany. Just because he wasn’t born here doesn’t put Meb at a genetic advantage over anyone with the letters ‘USA’ emblazoned on their birth certificate. That’s unfounded and it’s a load of horseshit. If anything, not having being born in this country gave Meb — someone whose worked hard toward everything that’s he’s ever accomplished in his life — an unmeasurable advantage over the most ungrateful domestic complainers who expect everything in life to be handed to them.”
  • To end our discussion on a lighter note, I’ll admit that I laughed at this tongue-in-cheek piece from the witty Mark Remy, aka Dumb Runner, over on his website. "The metric system is a disaster," he continued. "Look at the countries using it. France. Germany. South America. They're failing, big league. They're falling apart. Not us. Not us. We're going back—and by the way, when I was in military school I was a tremendous athlete, everyone said it, I used to run the 440, won many awards, probably could've gone to the Olympics, decided not to—but the metric system, all these meters and kilowatts and K's and all of these things, they're going away, OK? They're going away.” [Don’t worry track diehards, this is an actual example of fake news.]

Now sponsor me this. 

Switching gears, Olympian Kate Grace revealed her new sponsor over the weekend, sporting a Swoosh on her chest at the UW Invite on Saturday. Now, it’s a contract year and there’s been a lot of sponsor shuffling happening on the track, road and trails, but this one caught a few people off-guard as Grace’s former sponsor, Oiselle, wasn’t one to shy away from airing its grievances with Nike and their stranglehold on the sport, Oiselle’s two most prominent athletes don’t exactly hold Nike (their former sponsor) in the highest regard, not to mention that none of Grace’s NorCal Distance Project teammates rock a Swoosh on race day. So am I surprised by the signing? Not really, and here’s why: Grace had a breakout year in 2016, winning the Olympic Trials in the 800m and making the Olympic final, where she finished 8th. She’s personable, marketable and connects well with her fans and followers in person and on social media. The combination of those things brings with it a deserving price tag, one that I'm guessing Oiselle couldn’t afford to pay for at this point of the company’s existence. Nike certainly can, and did, seemingly offering Grace enough security to support her training and racing at least through 2020. Could another of the bigger footwear and apparel brands have scooped her up? Of course, it’s an open market and Grace was free to choose which brand(s) she wanted to represent, but when it comes to sponsoring track-focused middle-distance runner, no brand has more money to play with in that arena than Nike. Most other major shoe and apparel brands just aren’t able to dedicate a huge amount of resources toward someone like Grace, who spent a few years on the cusp before making a big breakthrough in her late 20s and races in an event that doesn’t get a ton of consistent mainstream exposure. It’s “up to me to negotiate sponsorships that i am happy with, to support my training…i'm grateful to athletes rights advocates who have spoken up, about what to ask for in contracts to protect yourself…and i understand the differing opinions. just trying to do me,” she recently posted on Twitter. I can’t blame Grace one bit given the reality of the sponsorship situation in athletics these days, but this one is a curious case if you follow the sport closely. Oiselle posted this classy goodbye to Grace on their blog a little less than two weeks ago and Sally Bergesen, Oiselle’s CEO, hasn’t had anything to say publicly on the matter (but she did put out a call to sponsor “#elitegrannies” last week, which is an interesting initiative in its own right). Of course, I could be completely wrong in my commentary, but I’m going to ask some questions to see what I can learn about the situation. Stay tuned!

Quick Splits

— Ron Hill’s Long Hard Road is one of my favorite running books, chock full of good stories from his life on the run that any nerd looking for a little wacky inspiration should get his or her hands on. Hill, an obsessive scientist, former Boston Marathon champion and the second man to break 2:10 in the marathon, is perhaps best known for his crazy running streak, which came to an end this past weekend after 19,032 consecutive days (yes, you read that correctly) of at least a mile. “My heart started to hurt and over the last 800 meters, the problem got worse and worse,” Hill said in a statement. “I thought I might die but just made it to one mile in 16 minutes and 34 seconds. There was no other option but to stop. I owed that to my wife, family and friends, plus myself.”

— Speaking of running books worth reading, a friend just let me borrow Bernd Heinrich’s Why We Run, which I’ve been wanting to check out for years after watching this short film of the same name from Salomon TV. “Running is all about movement,” Heinrich says. “And it’s extreme movement, and that makes it very meaningful because movement is really the essence of life.”

— Good read here from the consistently excellent Brad Stulberg on not becoming overly reliant on technology and learning how to pay better attention to the effort you're putting out in workouts and races. Or, to quote Bruce Lee, “Don’t think. Feeeeeeeel!”

— Best podcast I listened to in the past week: Rich Roll’s interview with drummer and entrepreneur Travis Barker. Going in, I didn’t know anything about Barker except that he played in Blink 182. Stepping away, I learned a whole lot about his rollercoaster of a life, from his mom’s passing (something I have personal experience with), to chasing his music dreams, overcoming drug addiction, surviving a plane crash, raising his kids, and all the lessons contained therein. Definitely check it out. “My goal was really simple: I want to play drums and somehow survive,” Barker says. “I just wanted to play the drums, not for chicks, not for any other reason, but that’s what I loved. So back to my kids, I hope they’re seeing that now. They come home sometimes and ask, ‘Why are you practicing? Do you have a show coming up?’ I say, ‘No, there’s no show.’ I’m just practicing. They get it. You’ve got to put in work. It’s tons of hard work….I’m trying to install that same work ethic in them.” 

— This letter from USA Track & Field president Vin Lananna caught me by surprise in a good way. It’s levels above anything that ever came from the former president, Stephanie Hightower, or anyone else in a position of power at the organization, for that matter. Vin's a smart guy. He knows his main job right now, while tackling this laundry list of objectives he’s set out to achieve, is regaining the trust of athletes, fans, agents, brands, media, etc. Without that, the sport doesn’t move forward. There’s a long way to go in that regard but I think this is a good start.

That’s it for Issue 64. I’d be beyond stoked if you forwarded this along to a friend or shared the web link on your social media channel of choice. And as always, send your thoughts my way by replying to this email or shouting at me through the Twittersphere.

Thanks for reading, 

Mario

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