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.
As a middle-distance runner for Great Britain, Colin McCourt represented his country in international championship competition and notched world-class times of 3:37.06 in the 1500 meters and 1:46.72 for 800 meters. After failing to make GB’s Olympic team in 2012, McCourt retired from professional athletics and started working full-time. Over the next five years he gained over 50 pounds, topping out at 207 (94 kg) just a few months ago.
Earlier this year, McCourt was forced into a bet by 17 of his friends: break 16 minutes for 5K—an average pace of 5:08 per mile—by the end of 2017, or tattoo each of their names to his body. In January, he ran 24 minutes at a parkrun 5K near his home and started running regularly again. To date, he’s dropped 35 pounds (16 kg), posting daily video updates to his Instagram account and blogging about his journey on Athletics Weekly’s website. He recently started sharing his daily training on Strava. I caught up with McCourt last week to talk about the bet he has going with his buddies, the biggest keys to his weight-loss success thus far, the similarities between his journey as a professional athlete and a self-described “normal geezer who is out there grinding, trying to just lose weight so he can run around with his kid and not get 17 tattoos on him,” the unique connection he shares with his followers on social media, and much more.
If I were a betting man, I’d put money down that athletics is on the verge of its next major mess.
While none of the accusations that came out last weekend against coach Alberto Salazar are new, surprising or conclusive, they were, however, indicative that the investigation into Salazar’s questionable supplementing practices are far from over—and, if anything, might even be a step closer to showing that ethical (and even legal) lines may have been crossed on multiple occasions.
— If you can successfully navigate the annoying pop-ups and blinking banner ads, check out Alex Hutchinson’s most recent piece for Runner’s World on Nike’s Breaking2 project. He provides a solid update on the athletes involved and some good insight into how they’re preparing for the “marathon moonshot” that will take place at a yet-to-be-announced place and date. I found the assessment of Lelisa Desisa particularly interesting—and I’m not just talking about the 200+ mile training weeks! “I asked the team more about what they’d seen in Desisa, and they said that his lab numbers—VO2 max, lactate profile, running economy—were particularly good,” Hutchinson writes. “In fact, no matter what criteria they used to rank their various contenders, Desisa was always in the top three—something that not even Kipchoge could match. But there was also an intangible element. Watching him run in the initial tests, Kirby recalled, ‘he portrayed confidence and strength.’ He seemed like someone willing to undergo challenges, and who would respond well to those challenges.” Despite regular dispatches from Hutchinson and Wired’s Ed Caesar, both of whom have exclusive access to the athletes and scientists involved, I’ve been a little perplexed by the lack of organic buzz Nike has generated since the announcement of the attempt. But fear not, I’m told by multiple sources close to the project that the Swoosh-driven marketing machine is getting set to kick things into high gear in the not-too-distant future. Note: I’m still having a hard time getting excited by the attempt itself but I am enjoying the stories Hutchinson and Caesar are telling about the athletes, where they come from, how they’re preparing and what they’re like when not tearing down the road at 4:40 per mile pace.
“You should never be religious about methods of any kind. The only sane way to work is to let the project define the plan. Only a fool chooses tools before studying the job to be done.”—Scott Berkun, The Year Without Pants
— File this podcast under “Places I didn’t think I’d find insight and inspiration this weekend.” Host Michael Gervais and his guest Jewel—yes, the musician—spend an hour talking about her path from homeless teenager to best-selling artist artist, how to face and embrace fear, letting go of perfectionism, how internal and external motivation influence performance, and a lot more. I found Jewel to be honest and articulate, her insights applicable to a number of different arenas. It’s worth an hour of your time. “I needed to do something that I loved that made me feel like I was making a difference in the world…” Jewel says. “…I want my life to be my best work of art. I don’t want my art to be my best work of art. If I look back and say, ‘Hey, I was a great song writer but a bad person, I failed. And again, it’s just saying, ‘What’s my definition of success and what am I doing every day to ensure that I have success in those categories?”