November 29, 2016 | Issue 55
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Yolanda Trail
Backyard bliss. | Marin County, California

Good morning! No holiday leftovers here—only fresh servings of unpredictable interestingness to keep you satiated. Enjoy!

Social media isn't for quitters.

I’m not quitting social media anytime soon—though I may take another weeklong sabbatical at the end of the year—but Cal Newport, author of Deep Work and a professor at Georgetown, thinks that doing so will help you produce better work. “Consider that the ability to concentrate without distraction on hard tasks is becoming increasingly valuable in an increasingly complicated economy,” Newport wrote recently in The New York Times. “Social media weakens this skill because it’s engineered to be addictive. The more you use social media in the way it’s designed to be used—persistently throughout your waking hours—the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom.” Newport isn’t telling us anything that we don’t already know. Social media, in its various forms, essentially functions as a dopamine drip to your brain that kills your ability to concentrate on whatever else should be commanding your attention. I’ve written about this “addiction to distraction” before. (Heck, I’ve probably looked at Twitter and Instagram half a dozen times since I started writing this paragraph. Guilty as charged.) But, contrary to Newport’s very firm anti-social media stance, I believe that using these platforms strategically, and not just mindlessly, can actually help improve the quality and direction of your work, thus contributing to professional advancement. I can’t tell you the number of article ideas that have come about because of an inspiring Tweet that popped up in my feed or how many people I’ve “met” over Instagram and gone on to partner with on various projects. I’ve also seen firsthand how sharing my own work, knowledge and experiences through social media has inspired others to take action in their own lives. And, for all its criticisms to the contrary, social media has exposed me to differing viewpoints and opened up opportunities to engage in productive dialogue and meaningful conversation. In all of these instances, being engaged on social media was a good use of my time and helped pushed my career forward in some way. So yes, take Newport’s advice, minimize the distractions and focus first on producing work that matters—but, also be smart about using social media to share that work with others and to engage with people in various ways to enhance the quality of your output.

Long reads and a rough road.

Amongst the usual clickbaity homepage headlines like “7 Ways That Running Makes You a Better Person,” “5 Things No One Tells You About Running as You Get Older,” and “6 Ways to Maintain Motivation During the Holidays,” Runner’s World has been republishing some its best longform pieces from over the years on, and they’re excellent. Kenny Moore’s Leading Men, Steve Friedman’s King of Pain profile on Scott Jurek, and Michael Heald’s The Wall are ones that I remember reading when they first dropped in the magazine and are worth spending some time with if you missed them the first time around. My favorite of the bunch, however, is Charles Bethea’s 2014 Running Times profile on Kevin Castille, “He Ran These Streets.” It’s the unlikely story of a guy from Lafayette, Louisiana who spent time in jail for dealing crack cocaine and went on to become one of the best Masters runners in the country. “The more records he breaks, the more he’s been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs (He has never failed a test.),” Bethea writes. “The LetsRun message boards are full of anonymous suspicion. Even Hop’s friends openly wonder: How did this guy seem to come out of nowhere and suddenly start winning so much? It must be that he’s juicing. Kevin thinks it’s funny, in a way, given that he handled crack cocaine for a decade and never used the stuff. People, he says, think he came out of nowhere, but they don’t know about Acadiana, or ULL, or his decade off, or how hard he works now. ‘I don’t have a secret training system,’ Castille says. ‘I just do what Matt sends me.’” The Matt that Castille is referencing in this quote is Matt Lonergan, who has coached him since 2003, and is one of the nicest guys I’ve met in this sport. I first became aware of Castille when I moved to Eugene, Ore., in the fall of 2004 to run for Lonergan’s now defunct Team Eugene training group, and remember being impressed by second-hand stories of the workouts Castille had thrown down during his brief stint in Eugene a few months prior to my arrival. Years later, in 2012, I watched Castille run away from the Masters field at the Carlsbad 5000, his smooth stride a beautiful juxtaposition to the rough road his running career had traversed. 

+ More on Castille from Bethea in The New Yorker ahead of this year’s Olympic Trials Marathon. Castille, now 44, dropped out of the race at halfway due to a foot injury. “Age, geography, Olympic trials: these are relatively minor concerns compared with Castille’s past,” writes Bethea. “It wasn’t until last year that the faculty, students, and parents at Lafayette’s St. Thomas More high school, where he is the beloved track coach, learned the darker details of his biography.”

You could say I lost my faith in progress.  

I didn’t want to go off on any doping-related rants this week but watch this report and tell me you have faith in “the system” and those in charge of it. Multiple cases of obvious corruption combined with a lack of transparency by former (and current) IAAF and WADA leadership have killed my last shred of confidence in Athletics’ governance. “IAAF officials in addition appear to have been busy making and shifting substantial sums of money behind the scenes,” Hajo Seppelt and Daniel Bouhs wrote on “The Paris prosecutors' office believes that Balakhnichev wired €1.5 million to then IAAF president Lamine Diack…The IAAF’s ethics commission, he added, was guilty of ”abject failure” while the consequences for the credibility of the organization were ‘disastrous’ and would cause ‘incredible damage to the world of sport.’ Asked about the hesitant approach from the global anti-doping body, [Clemens] Prokop said that the WADA had ‘failed across the board. Should irregular conduct be confirmed, the inevitable consequence is for the individuals involved to resign from their positions.’”

Quick Splits

— I’m a huge fan of athletes with great stories, as well as innovative and different ways of telling those stories. This beautifully laid out piece from featuring professional triathlete, former Stanford steeplechaser and Mr. Lauren Fleshman, Jesse Thomas, is really well done. “I don’t think I’ll ever need to compete again when I’m done with triathlon,” Thomas says. “I think I’ve done plenty of that, but I will still want to push myself and my boundaries. I’ll always do that.”

— On the drive back from San Diego on Saturday my wife and I listened to a few podcasts. The one we most enjoyed was a recent episode of “How I Built This” featuring Southwest Airlines co-founder Herb Kelleher. It literally took him 4-1/2 years to get Southwest off the ground—but the company has been profitable for 43 straight years now! That’s an incredible run. How have they done it? “Think small and act small and we’ll get bigger,” Kelleher is fond of saying. “Think big and act big and we’ll get smaller.”

— “Sometimes we can’t learn without writing," Shane Parrish wrote in his excellent Farnam Street blog last week. “Sometimes we can’t make sense of our feelings unless we talk about them, and for writers that conversation happens in their books.” For me, most of that learning and sense making happens in the morning shakeout. Thanks for joining me in this weekly conversation.  

— Congratulations to Jennifer Kyle, winner of last week’s #hometownrun2016 giveaway. Jennifer, please reply to this email with your mailing address and we’ll get a Varsity Runner’s Cap from Trackmith sent out to you right away. This week, I’ve got a “Gravy Training” Grayboy tee (men) or tank (women) to give away. Show me how you’re riding the gravy train this holiday season by snapping a post-run pic and tagging it #gravytraining2016. I’ll choose the most unique submission and announce the winner here next week.

That’s it for Issue 55. A huge thank you to Tracksmith for sponsoring the morning shakeout this month. Their support has allowed me to spend more time working on the newsletter and I’m stoked to begin rolling out some fresh content and a new look for the site soon!

If you enjoy reading this newsletter, please do me a solid and share this week’s edition with someone you think might be interested in it. Also, feel free to send your comments, criticisms and suggestions my way by replying directly to this email or Tweeting in my general direction.

Thanks for reading, 


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