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December 22, 2015 | Issue 6
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the morning shakeout by mario fraioli
Good morning! In the spirit of the season, I’ll refrain from any extended ranting this week and instead stick to some brief commentary on a few topics that recently caught my interest. Let's get to it. 

Are humans really that lazy?

When it comes to exercise, the short answer to this question appears to be yes, which begs the next obvious query, “So what can be done about it?” A recent Outside article by Brad Stulberg explores the idea of developing drugs that make exercise feel easier—laziness doping, if you will—with the premise being that if exercise felt easier, more people would do it on a regular basis. Samuele Marcora, a renowned exercise scientist who studies the role of the mind/brain in endurance performance, fatigue and physical activity at the University of Kent, thinks such a drug—which would target “the very core of our laziness, our inherent desire to avoid effort”—could help get more people to exercise and benefit the overall health and well-being of the greater population. While I’m quite sure this isn’t much of a concern for most of you reading this newsletter, it does present an interesting predicament for broader consideration. On one hand, laziness doping—for all the stigma the D-word carries with it these days in the world of competitive athletics—seems like a necessary solution (a literal magic pill) to a widespread epidemic of inactivity and poor health; on the other, wouldn’t such a prescription only serve to further promote our own laziness? I agree with Marcora that as a society we are “swimming upstream against our mechanized environment” but I also have a hard time believing that humans as a whole are hardwired to avoid effort. Is our desire to avoid effort inherent, as Marcora suggests, or is it more a byproduct of our own non-action and cultural malaise? Who really knows for sure, but maybe Branch Rickey was on to something when he said, “If things don't come easy, there is no premium on effort. There should be joy in the chase, zest in the pursuit.”

Should we bring back the mile?

Last week, NCAA track coaches voted 221-169 at the USTFCCCA in San Antonio to replace the 1,500m with the mile at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. While some—such as my friends at Bring Back The Mile—cheered the decision, others, like all-purpose stud Ben True and former NCAA cross-country champion Keith Kelly, questioned it. “Why?” True Tweeted. “Are we going to switch the 5k to the 3miler and the 800m to the 880? This is a step backwards in my opinion.” My own thoughts on the matter remain somewhat muddled, but I’ll try to sort them out before this entry comes to a close. 

“Bringing Back The Mile” is an all-American initiative aimed at increasing awareness and excitement around one of this country’s most recognizable track events, and to that end I think showcasing it as an exhibition or featured race at domestic non-championship meets makes sense and could potentially attract fans and interest. The key word there is potentially—I’m not convinced there’s any measurable way to know for sure. The argument is that U.S. fans can easily identify with distance, the mystique of sub-4:00 mile, the symmetry of a 4-lap race, etc. Globally, however, most no one else really gives a shit about the mile, particularly at the world and Olympic level, where the 1,500m sits neatly among its other metric counterparts at almost every meet, championship or otherwise, with very few exceptions that I can think of minus The Dream Mile in Oslo. Heck, even at the U.S. Outdoor Championships and the Olympic Trials, every other running event on the track—from the 100 all the way up to the 10,000—is in meters, so why replace the 1,500m with the mile at the NCAA Championship meet? To that end, True makes a valid point. The mile sticks out like a sore thumb, even if you can record a 1,500m split along the way. When every event at a global outdoor championship meet is run exclusively in meters, why should the mile at NCAAs be an exception? I believe maintaining consistency across the board is important here. 

That said, let’s not even get started on indoor track—where there’s a mile and a 2-mile at the U.S. Indoor Championships but a mile and a 3,000 at the NCAA Championships, and yet a 1,500 and a 3K at the world championships—or U.S. high school track, where inconsistency reigns supreme. Amongst state high school federations, most run the oddball 1,600m and 3,200m events to fit neatly with the rest of an all-metric lineup, a couple still hold the renegade mile and 2-mile, while others contest the rare—at the scholastic level, anyway—1,500m and 3,000m events you see elsewhere around the world. 

So, back to the question I posed at the top of this post: Should we bring the back the mile? You tell me

A costly mistake. 

A race director in my former home of San Diego made a pricey (and practically unbelievable) mistake at the Surfing Madonna Beach Run in October that resulted in him paying almost 10 grand out of his own pocket so that his charitable organization, the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project, didn’t bear the brunt of his mad math. This is a crazy story and I recommend reading it for yourself, but I have mixed feelings about how race director Bob Nichols handled the situation. The way the prize money was advertised on the website would lead me (and almost anyone else, for that matter) to believe that the payouts were $1800-$1000-$700 for 1-2-3 in the 10 miler, $1600-$1000-$600 for the 10K and $1400-$900-$500 for the 5K, with those amounts each going to the top male and female finishers in the three races—not split amongst the top male and female finishers, as Nichols claimed was the intent. What’s crazy is Nichols mistakenly paid out the amounts as listed on the website and realized his error six weeks after the fact. As you might expect, requests for the athletes to return the extra prize money did not go well, and as a result of some of his interactions, Nichols has a rather negative view of elites and their importance to his event, which is a shame. The entire situation is a sloppy mess and could have been handled better by both Nichols and some of the athletes in question, but given how the the prize structure was advertised, I don’t believe that top finishers should have to return any of the winnings that were paid to them. Curious to hear others' thoughts on this one. 

That’s it for this week’s Morning Shakeout. Thank you, as always, for reading. Please keep your feedback regarding the content, format and frequency of this weekly missive coming my way. 

Happy Holidays!

Mario

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