5 People Saving Running’s Reputation
The sport's not just doping scandals. These individuals represent the very best that running has to offer.
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The sport of distance running certainly has its problems, but an excess of media coverage is not one of them. Unlike the “Big Four” American sports leagues, from which there is no reprieve, mainstream coverage of running is typically limited to major marathons and the quadrennial spectacle of the summer Olympics. Other than that, we typically hear about professional running only when something bad happens, whether it’s the latest doping scandal or an amateur cheater getting caught.
This imbalance of grim news paints a distorted picture. In an effort to improve the public perception of a sport we hold dear, we’d like to highlight a few class individuals who are making a positive impact in the running world through their social work, athletic and linguistic prowess, or innovative coaching ideas.
Mario Fraioli, Journalist/Coach
Following a successful cross-country career at Stonehill College, where he was an All-American, Mario Fraioli channeled his passion for running into journalism. Fraioli worked as a senior editor at Competitor magazine from 2010 to 2016, during which time he covered the sport in all of its glory and disgrace. Running enthusiasts across the country benefited from Fraioli’s savvy training advice and in-depth coverage of marquee events like the Boston Marathon. (Fraioli is also probably better than anyone at live-Tweeting races.) In late 2015, Fraioli started his own running-themed online weekly newsletter, The Morning Shakeout, giving him more freedom to vent on issues like the International Olympic Committee’s bumbling efforts to clean up its act, as well as general musings on writing and the news media. Fraioli is further bolstering his contribution to the U.S. running community as head coach of a new digital endeavor called Ekiden, which offers clients individualized training plans and continuous feedback as coaches track their progress online.
Alexi Pappas, Professional Athlete/Writer/Filmmaker
The owner of the most famous bun in America, Alexi Pappas is a professional distance runner whose expressive talents rival her performances on the track. The 26-year-old Dartmouth alumna is, at turns, a poet, filmmaker, and deft Twitter user, a versatility that helps to explain her ever-growing fan base. Also, she’s a pretty damn good runner. Pappas, who is a dual citizen, represented Greece in this summer’s Olympic Games and placed 17th in the women’s 10,000 meters. (Her time of 31:36.16 was a Greek national record.) While in Rio, Pappas employed her gifts as a writer to blog for the New York Times, sharing her insights on life in the Olympic Village. On dining hall mishaps: “I learned the hard way that the giant bucket of yellowish stuff next to the cold cuts was not honey mustard, it was dulce de leche.”
Lauren Fleshman, Entrepreneur/Former Professional Athlete
Lauren Fleshman belongs to the category of individuals who irritate because they seem to excel at everything they put their hand to. A 15-time All-American at Stanford University, Fleshman’s subsequent professional athletic career saw her win two national titles in the 5,000 meters. She recently retired from professional running and now focuses her efforts on Picky Bars, the energy bar company she co-founded with her husband, pro triathlete Jesse Thomas. The company is expected to exceed $4 million in revenue this year, according to a recent New York Times article. As if all that were not enviable enough, Fleshman has been an outspoken advocate for worthy causes like clean sport and women’s body image issues. And she plays guitar.
Anne Mahlum, Entrepreneur
When she lived in Philadelphia in her late 20s, Anne Mahlum’s running route led her past a homeless shelter. Over time, she developed a friendly relationship with some of the inhabitants who lingered outside. This got her thinking: Why did she get to be the fit runner while those she left behind were fated to always be “the homeless guys”? This question eventually led Mahlum to found Back on My Feet, a nonprofit organization predicated on the transformative effects of regular physical activity. More than just a running club for the destitute, Back on My Feet functions as a structured rehabilitation program, offering “community support and essential employment and housing resources.” Today, the organization has chapters in 12 cities nationwide and has offered its services to thousands of people.
Tim Hutchings, Commentator
If you’ve watched a World Marathon Major or high-profile track race on TV, chances are that you’ve heard insights from an eloquent Brit named Tim Hutchings. In the 1980s, Hutchings was a world-class middle- and long-distance runner, medaling in the World Cross-Country Championships and the European Championships in athletics. Though he hung up his own spikes long ago, Hutchings now travels the globe to narrate his sport’s biggest events. His role is essentially that of a storyteller, tasked with making races come alive and giving viewers a reason to care. It’s hard to overstate how crucial engaging commentary is to professional distance running, where the action can often seem monotonous to all but the most passionate fans. “I do think that TV commentary can either talk people to sleep or enlighten and illuminate the pictures before them,” Hutchings once told me. “You have to enhance the pictures, because watching guys running around for 25 laps, you can argue, is an acquired taste.”