Sponsorship in Athletics: Something Needs To Shift

By Mario Fraioli |
Alysia Montaño with her daughter Linnea. Photo: alysiamontano.com

This New York Times op-ed (and video), written and produced by Lindsay Crouse, was published on May 12. It ripped Nike for not guaranteeing female athletes a salary during pregnancy and early maternity despite advertising campaigns that spotlight “women at all stages of their careers, from childhood to motherhood.”

The piece, which prominently features Olympians Alysia Montaño and Kara Goucher, explains that women have had sponsorship payments reduced because of pregnancies and that there is language in current Nike athlete contracts that says the brand can reduce pay “for any reason” if an athlete doesn’t meet a specific performance threshold.

I’m glad to see one of athletics’ dirtiest secrets aired out. Unfortunately, it’s part of a MUCH bigger industry-wide issue—it’s not just a Nike problem or a pregnant female athlete problem. As the article mentions, athletes are not employees of the brands they represent and most don’t receive health insurance or benefits from their sponsors. They’re independent contractors and are often taken advantage of because there aren’t laws in place to protect them. The industry needs to shift the paradigm and Nike, as its biggest brand, has the power to lead the charge. (more…)

A Few Thoughts on “Breaking 2: The Sequel”

By Mario Fraioli |
Eliud Kipchoge at the Iffley road track in London, site of Roger Bannister’s historic sub-4 minute mile. Photo: Tom Lovelock for INEOS 1:59 Challenge

The folks at Ineos probably won’t appreciate the title of this post, but that’s exactly what the Ineos 1:59 Challenge, starring Eliud Kipchoge, is shaping up to be this fall. The unsanctioned sub-2hour marathon attempt, which is being bankrolled by British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, will take place sometime between late September and early October, at a yet-to-be determined venue, but preferably in London. This means Kipchoge will not defend his title at the Berlin Marathon, or branch out to run a different major, like New York or Chicago. He’ll instead be running another exhibition in an effort to break what Ineos is calling “the last great barrier of modern athletics.” (Note: Ineos must have recently changed their language here. Originally they were calling it “the last great milestone in athletics.”)

“It’s not about the IAAF, it’s about history,” Kipchoge explained. “I really want to leave a big legacy.” And while I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoyed Nike’s Breaking 2 event more than I thought I would, I’ve got a few issues with this upcoming attempt: (more…)

The Complicated Case of Caster Semenya

By Mario Fraioli |
Semenya celebrates after winning gold at the London Olympics in 2012. Photo: T. Abdelmoumen | Creative Commons

First, to catch everyone up to speed in case you haven’t been paying attention to the news this past week: Caster Semenya, the two-time reigning women’s Olympic 800m champion from South Africa, lost her case against the IAAF in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which concluded that “the DSD Regulations are discriminatory but that, on the basis of the evidence submitted by the parties, such discrimination is a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of achieving the legitimate objective of ensuring fair competition in female athletics in certain events and protecting the ‘protected class’ of female athletes in those events.” So, if Semenya, or any other athlete with differences in sex development (DSDs), wants to compete internationally at distances from 400m to the mile, she’ll have to take medication to reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L for at least six months prior to competition. Does Semenya plan to comply? “Hell no,” she said after winning what could have been her last international 800m race ever at the Diamond League meet in Qatar last Friday. And can you blame her for being defiant? Again, hell no. Semenya has done nothing wrong. She hasn’t doped, cheated, or otherwise done anything with malicious intent. Semenya was born the way she is and is being punished for it. On the flipside, some experts say that her naturally elevated testosterone levels give her an unfair performance advantage over other women who cannot produce the hormone in the same way, which is the basis on which the IAAF made their decision. In short: It’s a messy situation, with athletic, ethical, scientific, and legal implications. There is no easy answer to the question of how to handle but it’s possible to sympathize with Semenya, who, as letsrun.com‘s Jonathan Gault pointed out via Twitter, “has endured criticism, hatred, and an invasion of privacy for no other reason than choosing to be herself. Semenya has emerged as a role model and someone to be admired,” while also appreciating the frustrations many of her rivals, who feel they’re at a disadvantage no matter how hard they train, have voiced. (more…)

Will Boston’s Solution Prove Problematic?

By Mario Fraioli |
The separation between the elite men and everyone else at this year’s Boston Marathon won’t look much different that it does here—but the dynamic won’t be quite the same once the starter’s gun goes off. Photo: Boston Marathon

I don’t know about you but it seems crazy to me that the Boston Marathon is a little less than three weeks away. I’m not running it this year but I’ve got four athletes competing so the race has been top of my mind for the past few months. Not to mention all the usual excitement around the men’s and women’s elite races, which, for the first time in history, will see the pro men start two minutes ahead of the open field. The pro women, as they have since 2004, will go off at 9:32, the pro men will leave at 10 AM, and Wave 1 of the open field at 10:02. In past years, the men’s pro field and Wave 1 of the open field have started at the same time (the pro men, however, were roped off at the front of the start line while Wave 1 stood a few meters back), technically meaning open men were eligible to compete for prize money because they started at the same time as the pro men, whereas open women who started nearly 30 minutes after the pro women were not. The race rules stated that to be eligible for prize money, a woman had to be a part of the pro field—more on why that’s significant in a bit. (more…)

Houston, Chronicled

By Mario Fraioli |
Emily Sisson setting the road on fire in Houston. Photo: PhotoRun.net

I’ll start by answering the two questions I posed at the top of last week’s newsletter:

1. No, Jim Walmsley did not break 64 minutes at the Houston Half Marathon on Sunday. But he did run 64 flat, which, per USATF rules, will land him a spot in the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. And for what it’s worth, he paced himself really well. He’s taking a high (but certainly not unheard of) level of pure running fitness into his spring/summer ultramarathon campaign, which should translate very well to the trails if he can stay healthy and not overcook himself.

2. Kara Goucher did not fare so great at the Houston Marathon, dropping out with a hamstring injury 19 miles into the race. It was, by her own admission, not the race she had hoped to run. And, in all likelihood, it may have been the last serious marathon she’ll ever compete in. But if my conversation with her on Episode 27 of the morning shakeout podcast provided any insight into the direction her head and heart are pointed, it wouldn’t surprise me to see her dip her toes in the dirt in the not-too-distant future.

Onto a few of the bigger highlights from Houston: (more…)

Weird Move of the Week: Centro to BTC

By Mario Fraioli |
Centro to BTC? He can hardly believe it himself! Photo: matthewcentrowitz.com

F*ck it, let’s call a spade a spade: Reigning Olympic 1500m gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz joining the Bowerman Track Club is just plain weird. Given the known tensions between BTC and Centro’s former team, The Oregon Project—both of which are bankrolled by Nike—not to mention the ongoing doping investigation against the NOP and widespread speculation of wrongdoing by its head coach, Alberto Salazar, this news caught me off-guard the other night. It’s not unprecedented—both Kara Goucher and Alan Webb previously switched from NOP/Salazar to BTC/Jerry Schumacher—but those moves happened well before the Propublica story came out in 2015 and all hell subsequently broke loose online and elsewhere. Sure, Centrowitz is the reigning Olympic champion, but I’m still somewhat surprised BTC and Schumacher were willing to pick up the baggage Centrowitz has been carrying with him the past several years.  (more…)

Digital Minimalism and a Side of Solitude

By Mario Fraioli |
Photo: Andrew Guan | Unsplash

It makes sense that he has a new book coming out because Cal Newport has been coming at me from every which angle over the past week or so. The bestselling author of Deep Work, Newport has been appearing on a number of podcasts and as a source in many articles promoting his upcoming title, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. Check him out on the latest episodes of the Hurry Slowly podcast and The Ezra Klein Show, both of which I enjoyed, and read this interview he did with Tim Herrera for The New York Times Smarter Living newsletter a couple days ago if you’re interested in learning how to minimize the digital distractions in your day. (more…)

Houston, We Have Some Intrigue

By Mario Fraioli |

Will Jim Walmsley break 64 minutes to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon and take down some notable names at the Houston Half Marathon on Sunday? And how will Kara Goucher fare in her first marathon since 2016? Those are two of the most common questions I’ve seen thrown around in recent weeks and with good reason: Folks want to see the extent of Walmsley’s range and many are wondering if the 40-year-old Goucher’s got anything left in the tank. I’m not one for predictions so I’ll save my commentary for after the event while encouraging you to pay close attention to both half-marathon races—they’re going to be ripping fast, incredibly deep, and, in all likelihood, won by athletes whose names are not immediately recognizable. (more…)

Lessons From a Living Legend

By Mario Fraioli |
Me and Joe Vigil, June 2012.

I spent a rainy Sunday afternoon this past weekend digging through old notebooks and came across this entry from the summer of 2012. They’re my key takeaways from a conversation I had with Joe Vigil while waiting in line at a Starbucks in Eugene, Oregon during the U.S. Olympic Trials. After introducing myself to one of the most successful distance running coaches of all-time, I peppered him for advice and remember being impressed with his enthusiasm—he was 82 at the time—and willingness to answer a scattered stream of questions from this hungry young grasshopper. Listed below are the aforementioned key takeaways I wrote down from that exchange with one of the living legends of the sport—he’s STILL coaching at 88 years of age—who, and it’s giving me goosebumps as I type this, called me “Coach” when we parted ways that day.   (more…)

Why Do We Run?

By Mario Fraioli |

I love asking people I meet why they run because the answers never cease to surprise (or amaze) me. It’s also a question I force myself to contemplate from time to time as a reminder of why I’ve kept at this crazy pursuit for over two decades now.

Parts of my own answer to this question have evolved over the years but the foundation has held pretty solid: I run to use my body and celebrate the fact that I can push it, test it, and see what it’s capable of. I run because it challenges me to look deep inside myself on a regular basis and helps me work through problems that nothing else can seem to help solve. I run because it’s something I can do alone or share with others depending on what I want to get out of it. I run to explore the world around me, to better understand it, and to connect with it on the most intimate level. I run because it provides me an outlet: personal, competitive, spiritual, and social. But mostly I run because it brings me a joy that nothing else can match.

The reasons why we run are vast and varied, which is part of what makes it such a special and beautiful practice. Check out this compilation of reasons we run from readers of the morning shakeout. (Some answers lightly edited for length and clarity.) (more…)