Why the top American in Monday’s Boston Marathon is all about training transparency
Last week, I wrote a short primer ahead of Monday’s Boston Marathon in which I asserted that there was currently only one American marathoner capable of running faster than two hours and ten minutes in the marathon (i.e. this guy).
So much for that.
On Monday, not one, but two U.S. men smashed the 2:10 barrier by maintaining an aggressive, sub-five-minute mile pace from Hopkinton to Boylston Street. And neither of them was named Galen Rupp. Jared Ward, whose previous personal best was 2:11:30, ran 2:09:25. And, in what was arguably the surprise of the day, 27-year-old Northern Arizona Elite (NAZ) runner Scott Fauble came charging home in 2:09:09 to take seventh place overall, finishing as the top American and improving his personal best by more than three minutes.
In a Strava post, Fauble summed up the day with incredulous elation: “Boston Marathon. Still can’t believe that’s a real thing that happened.”
While we’re at it, there was also something kind of unreal about the fact that the top American finisher at Boston was using Strava at all, as if this were just another dude hoping to get “kudos” from the boys back home. Yes, several pro runners use the app, including the ultrarunning titan Jim Walmsley, but seeing a sub-2:10 guy notching segment records feels slightly incongruous; it’s the virtual equivalent of finding Kevin Durant shooting around at your neighborhood Y. (In case you were wondering, Fauble now holds the Strava segment record for the Boston Marathon by a margin of about eight minutes.)
And Fauble’s use of Strava in Boston wasn’t a one-off publicity stunt. Instead, it was part of an ongoing effort to provide more transparency to his fan base. Fauble uploads all his training runs as well, which is how, for instance, we know that on March 24 he did a 16-mile run at around 5,000 feet of elevation, outside of Flagstaff, Arizona, and averaged around five minutes per mile. At a time when specific information about pro runners’ workouts can sometimes be hard to come by (and is often a subject of fevered speculation on running message boards) this level of transparency feels new.
Earlier this year, Fauble and NAZ coach Ben Rosario published a book titled Inside a Marathon, which offers a first-person account of Fauble’s training block leading up to last fall’s New York City Marathon, in which he also finished seventh (second American). The book not only provides technical details about Fauble’s workouts, but also attempts to chronicle the psychological vicissitudes of preparing for a major race, from both the perspective of a pro runner and his coach.
“That’s been a part of our mission and philosophy from the beginning,” Rosario told me earlier this week, when I asked him about NAZ’s open-source approach. “I think sharing the training has garnered us a lot of fans over the years, and sharing it in such a way that makes it accessible to runners of all ages and abilities.”
But while there are obvious benefits to transparency when it comes to increasing a brand’s visibility (NAZ is sponsored by HOKA), it’s not immediately clear that sharing specific training information is always in an athlete’s competitive interest. I asked Fauble whether he was at all concerned that a potential rival could monitor his progress on Strava, or see exactly what workouts his was doing to prepare for a race.
“This isn’t a sport like football or basketball where you can out-game plan somebody. You show up and you’re either fit or not,” Fauble said, seemingly unconcerned. “Whether you share your training or not isn’t going to change how fit or unfit you are.”
So what about clubs or individual athletes who tend to be more guarded about their training methods?
“Maybe they think that they are doing the perfect workout and they don’t want to let anybody else in on the magic secret,” Fauble said. “That’s kind of arrogant to me—people who think they have some key knowledge that others don’t have. Maybe it’s insecurity. Maybe it’s arrogance. I’m not entirely sure. But I don’t think that they are doing themselves any favors [by being so secretive] or that they have any kind of advantage on us. We’ve been running pretty well.”
Needless to say, sharing workouts is just one aspect of being a public personality in today’s endurance sports world. Rosario has long been adamant about the fact that, just as much as doing intervals or hard tempo runs, maintaining a public persona is an essential part of a pro runner’s job. (Last November, the New York Times published a profile on NAZ, with the print headline: “Distance Running Now Has Its Own Reality Show.”) Unsurprisingly, Fauble sees things the same way; the Inside a Marathon book project was his idea.
“If you’re getting paid by a company to use their products and bring marketability to their brand, you have to figure out a way to do that in order to honor your commitment to them,” Fauble says. “What I’ve come to believe is that you can work really hard at connecting with fans without it being detrimental [to your running] in any way.”
After Monday’s race, it’s hard to argue with him.