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October 4, 2016 | Issue 47
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the morning shakeout
Fall in New England doesn't suck. More running adventures at instagram.com/mariofraioli

Good morning! I spent six hours on an airplane yesterday sans internet (by my own choosing; at $33.95 for an in-flight pass, logging on proved to be a cost prohibitive measure), which means I had a good chunk of time to read a bunch of articles I’d saved to Instapaper, think about them without interruption and transcribe those thoughts into the words I’m about to share with all of you this week. Enjoy!

Have a slice of pie. 

I decided to scrap a rather lengthy post I wrote about a recent Facebook firestorm regarding the ongoing lack of respect and humility displayed by Camille Herron and her husband Conor Holt, most recently at (and following) the Ultra Race of Champions, which Herron won. What I’m going to do instead is capture the gist of that entry with a powerful comment left in the aforementioned Facebook thread by Olympian and 2015 Western States Endurance Run champion Magdalena Boulet. “Sports doesn't build character. It reveals it,” Boulet wrote. “Humble athletes are the total package of sportsmanship, teamwork, confidence and most of all respect for others. Perhaps it's not too late to teach an old dog some new tricks?”

+ “Be cool. Don’t be a dick. Have fun. Respect each others accomplishments,” Eric Schranz of UltraRunnerPodcast wrote in his commentary on the matter last Thursday. Schranz’ post was mostly on the money but I took issue with his “unfortunately there are runners new to the ultra scene who come with a road racing mentality and fail to appreciate trail and ultramarathon running for what it is” comment. Herron and Holt’s behavior isn’t representative of a “road racing mentality” making its way into trail and ultra. I’ve been around road racing for a long time and witnessed many athletes bring the same passion for hard training and racing into trail and ultra while assimilating quite well into the community. As Schranz wrote, I think it just comes down to not being a dick, respecting your competition and appreciating the ethos of the sport.

Give me a break.

In my more competitive athletic days, pushing myself was never a problem. In fact, left to my own devices as an aspiring post-collegiate runner, I ended up pushing myself too far and had my share of sub-par results, avoidable injuries and other undesirable aftereffects to show for it. Rest days were wasted days and taking a week off after a long season wasn’t necessary; if I wasn’t pushing, I wasn’t making progress. Long story short: I learned the hard way that I was wrong!

And while that inability to give my body and mind a real break from training isn’t an issue for me anymore, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that same behavior hasn’t been redirected to other areas of my life, specifically work. This article from psychologist Dr. Christian Jarrett on the importance of taking truly restful breaks throughout the day helped me come to that realization and forced me to think through a few things. 

The tendency to keep pushing in an effort to make progress is hardwired into my personality: Once I get going on something, I suck at shutting off for fear of not continually making gains. That’s not to say I never stop working during the day. I most certainly do, but when I “stop” working (a multifaceted endeavor for me) it’s rarely a deliberate, restful respite; it’s more of an excuse to temporarily invest my energy into some other project until I go back to whatever it is I was originally doing, even if I was “just” answering emails or editing an article while eating my lunch. (This behavior is not too dissimilar to the runner who hammers on the spin bike for two hours on his or her “rest” day.)

So what’s wrong with any of that? Well, lots of things. For starters, not giving our bodies and minds truly restful breaks throughout the day (or throughout a training cycle) means we’re probably not doing our best work; it also means we’re squandering our potential to do even better work down the road. Why? It’s hard to be at your best when the battery is always operating at only a half or three-quarter charge (or less!). Constantly draining it all the way down without letting it recharge at regular intervals along the way is unsustainable practice, despite our best intentions to convince ourselves otherwise. This applies as much to our training routines as much as it does our working routines. There’s only so much juice in our batteries.

“The psychological reality is that your mental and physical reserves are limited and it is only by taking frequent short breaks of a truly restful nature that you will fulfill your true potential,” writes Jarrett.

For me, not taking restful breaks throughout the day means I’m often crawling into bed physically and emotionally spent at the end of it, much like when I was when I was training really hard many years ago. At best, I’ll wake up the next day with maybe a 50 or 60-percent charge. After another day of draining that down without properly resting and recharging, I might wake up at 40 percent. And then 30 percent. I’m not really being all that productive when trying to function at these levels but yet I keep pushing, which in small doses can be a necessary and beneficial step on the road to making progress. But going all-out all the time is a bunch of bullshit. I should know this from my own experience as an athlete. It can be easy to get sucked into a vicious cycle of constantly pushing that eventually spits you out into a pit of physical and psychological burnout—a.k.a. over-training syndrome, or its close cousin, over-working syndrome—that can be a huge pain in the ass to try and escape.  

The bottom line: Rest is as important a part of training as stress, and the same principle applies to our working lives. We must be willing to rest as hard as we’re willing to push—myself included.

Quick Splits

— Need a new team-building activity to get your troops back on the same page? Forget off-site obstacle courses and group problem-solving exercises; band together and go chase down criminals instead. “We didn’t have a great race, and we have been working on our team dynamic,” Bailey Roth, a member of the University of Arizona’s cross country team, said after he and his teammates chased down a would-be thief after the Roy Griak Invitational. “Afterward I told them, ‘Hey guys, our spirit is back.’”

— I don’t really pay attention to, much less read, the Denver Post, but the situation that publication finds itself in represents the current reality for many legacy media operations that are, at best, shells of their former selves. Budgets and staff get squeezed while expectations rise exponentially and the quality of the content typically goes in the opposite direction. So who’s benefitting? The same people who are to blame, i.e., the “vulture capitalists” who fill their pockets with whatever they can “until you’ve squeezed out all that’s left, like a vampire working an old folks’ home.” Also, it continues to boggle my mind how short-sighted many of these media entities’ online revenue models are in addition to being short-staffed, relying on an overabundance of obtrusive pop-ups and ugly, antiquated banner ads to pay the majority of the bills. What is this, 1998? “Among several staffers who spoke to Westword anonymously, though, there appears to be growing anxiety about management’s obsession with page views and online traffic in general, concerns about prizing clickbait over quality journalism,” Alan Predergast writes about the Post. “Colacioppo (the Post’s editor) insists those concerns are overstated.”

— The nature vs. nurture argument isn’t ending any time soon but leave it to Maria Konnikova of The New Yorker to awaken the sleeping bear from his 10,000 hours of slumber to remind him that continuing to practice his exceptional nocturnal skills might not be necessary after all. “People do have natural ceilings to their talent in any given area,” Konnikova writes, “and after a certain point their success arose from things other than deliberate practice.”

That’s it for Issue 47. Writing the morning shakeout is my weekly exercise in trying to better understand what I’m reading, listening to and/or thinking about, and I love sharing these things with the over 2,000 of you (as of just a few days ago!) now subscribed to this list. It’s my hope that this newsletter opens your eyes to articles and podcasts you otherwise would have missed, gets you to think more deeply about the topics being discussed, and inspires productive dialogue and healthy debate. Let me know how I’m doing by replying directly to this email or shouting in my direction on Twitter.

Thanks for reading, 

Mario

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