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March 28, 2017 | Issue 72
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UCAN
Rock 'n' Roll San Francisco
Final mile of the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon San Francisco this past Sunday. I used the race as my last long dress rehearsal before the Boston Marathon on April 17. Who else is going to be in Boston? I'm planning a morning shakeout in the city on Saturday, April 15 and I'd love for you to join me! Reply to this email or gimme a shout on Twitter if you're interested. Photo: Christine Gould 

Good morning! Before we dive in, a quick thank you to Generation UCAN for sponsoring the morning shakeout in March. I'm extremely appreciative of UCAN's support and super excited to announce that they'll be extending their sponsorship through April! As part of the sponsorship, UCAN is offering readers of the shakeout a generous 15% discount on products. Simply go the UCAN web store, load up on your favorite drink mixes or bars, enter the code SHAKEOUT at checkout and receive 15% off your purchase. It's that easy!

And now, onto a few things that caught my attention over the past week:

Making a case for cross country.

Pure, unadulterated racing that takes place in an intimate, spectator-friendly venue with teams of runners battling it out in front of rabid fans for every last point sounds pretty damn appealing, right? Too bad this exciting discipline I’m describing is practically extinct at the professional level. 

The World Cross Country Championships were held over the weekend in Uganda and, somewhat unsurprisingly, most all of the races were dominated by East African nations. It should also come as no surprise that the event got next to no media attention outside of the results and race recaps being posted to the IAAF’s website and some on-site coverage from the BroJos at letsrun.com.

“A rousing display of un-rabbitted distance running at its finest,” letsrun.com's Robert Johnson wrote of the senior men’s race, in which Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor repeated as champion after Ugandan Joshua Cheptegei absolutely imploded less than half a mile from the finish line. Yet, despite this “rousing display” and drama-filled finish, no one seemed to notice, or care, and that's too bad. Why? Because outside of the world championships, which now take place every other year and have become increasingly watered down in recent editions, cross country carries less and less importance for many of the world’s top runners, which means it generates less attention from fans and media. 

But, by creating more interest and incentive amongst the athletes (which would require some investment from sponsors and a little innovation on the part of organizers), cross country could (and quite frankly, should) be competitive running’s most marketable discipline. The racing itself is just so damn exciting, with top road racers and track athletes going head-to-head over odd distances in an untamed environment. And unlike track or marathoning, which at the end of the day are primarily individual endeavors and one-off events, cross country is a team sport at its core with a built-in seasonality to it that’s made the sport successful amongst high school, college and club teams here in the U.S. and elsewhere worldwide. Why is the team aspect so important? As an athlete, you may be having an off-day, but knowing that your team is depending on you for points carries with it a completely different level of importance. As a fan, team loyalty carries with it a longer shelf life than being interested in a bunch of individual athletes. Superstars retire after every season—teams establish fanbases that last for generations. For media broadcasting and covering the sport, the events themselves are attention-span friendly, teams and seasons lend to ever-evolving and interesting storylines, all of which keeps fans hooked and more apt to follow what’s going on from race to race. And as a sponsor, I imagine it’s easier and more effective to merchandise and market around teams and increase your brand’s exposure when the athletes (or events) you’re sponsoring are racing (or happening) on a more consistent basis in front of fans who are deeply interested and highly engaged. 

Listen to the crowd—i.e. hometown fans—go crazy for Cheptegei as he boldly leads the race (then watch him stagger home after he completely ran out of gas with less than half a mile to go), and again as they celebrate wildly when Jacob Cheplimo won the junior men’s event. It sounds like the damn World Cup. Tune into this post-race interview with American Stephanie Bruce, where she excitedly talks about being in a sprint finish with a girl from Uganda and the team implications that carried with it, or Scott Fauble’s admission that “the whole thing was hard—there wasn’t any part of it where I felt anything even resembling relaxed.” I’ve seen similar scenes play out and heard the same sentiments shared at other cross-country events where team pride was on the line and I’m telling you, more people would be into the sport if it were prioritized, packaged and presented more effectively. 

Look, I’m well aware that cross country isn’t going to save competitive distance running but it could be used as an effective vehicle for breathing new energy into a sport that desperately needs it at the professional level. Let’s not allow it to die.

Quick Splits

— A couple months ago I wrote about Medium laying off a bunch of people, and speculated that the company might look to offering subscriptions as a means of generating revenue in lieu of advertising. Well, voila! There's a lot about this new membership model that's unclear to me, like exactly how Medium plans to make money from it—a sentiment that’s pretty widely shared at this point. “So far, there isn’t much indication of how Medium plans to build a sustainable business model that meets the ends that Williams outlines,” Jacob Kastrenakes wrote last week for The Verge, “but it sounds like he’s hoping that there are enough people out there willing to help the company give it a shot.” In other words, they're throwing spaghetti against the wall. 

— I had never heard of KP Kelly before last week but I call bullshit on his 100 marathons in 100 days for “charity.” There’s a lot in this interview that seems off to me, the most obvious of which is the fact that it’s hosted on MapMyRun’s blog yet there’s no data to back up any of his claims. As of this writing, Kelly’s Instagram account has been turned to private and his Facebook page has seemingly been disabled. Last week I watched a video of his “final” mile on Facebook with a friend. At one point Kelly exclaims that he has a 1/4 mile to go. Nine seconds later (we clocked it), he has “less than 200 meters” to go. All of this at the end of a “100-mile” day. Watch out, Usain. 

— Hey you, pay attention! “Paying attention is the only thing that guarantees insight. It is the only real weapon we have against power, too. You can’t fight things you can’t actually see. The power a writer has is the power to make things visible, and they are the things that we don’t typically look at or think about. Telling a story about someone has enormous power. People forget a headline. They remember a story."

— “Half of the sport is female athletes, but when you look at the people covering it, it’s not reflective of that—nor is it a very diverse crowd. It’s mostly white and mostly male.” Regrettably, it’s hard to argue with Erin Strout on that one. Solid first-person commentary on what it’s like to cover the sport of track and field as a woman from Citius Mag. The culture of who covers our sport needs to evolve (and that’s coming from one of the many white males who covers it) as much as the sport itself.

That’s it for Issue 72. If you enjoy receiving the morning shakeout each week and want to support it, please do me a solid and forward this email along to a friend or post the web link to your preferred social media platform.  

Thanks for reading, 

Mario

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