THE WEEKLY HOWL IS DRINKING HIS COFFEE BLACK

Running: The NYC Marathon was on Sunday and 50,000 runners took to the streets and ran from the Verrazano Bridge to finish in Central Park. Twenty years ago, the marathon had 25,000 runners and I thought that was crazy. I have no idea how they accommodate that many runners. And they are turning away thousands more who want to run. However, this kind of demand is not consistent across all road races. From the NY Times:

But not every race is so popular. Road races have hit the wall. The number of finishers in events in the United States has fallen from a peak of about 19 million in 2013 to just over 17 million in 2016.

High fees, a glut of race options and competition from other fitness activities have shrunk the fields at many races.

“It’s possible we got too big too fast,” said Rich Harshbarger, the chief executive of Running USA, an industry group. Road races saw 300 percent growth in the number of finishers from 1990 to 2013, with a concentrated boom from 2008 to 2013. As participation recedes, Harshbarger expects some races to fold.

“We’ve still seen supply outstrip demand, and I think that’s going to change next year,” Harshbarger added.

                There are way too many races these days and they are way too expensive.

Road races are also experiencing competition from things like studio classes, group yoga and CrossFit. High fees for races have also become an issue. In 2006, the average five-kilometer race cost $13.50, according to Road Race Management, an industry publication. Now the average is $34. In 2006, the average marathon cost $69.97. That’s now $123.

In a 2017 survey, Running USA found that 20 percent of runners expected to decrease their race participation. Half of the runners in the survey said they thought that races were too expensive and that cost was a top 10 factor in deciding whether or not to register for a race. The survey also indicated that six in 10 runners would participate in more races if fees were low.

                Why the hell should I pay $34 for a 5K race? If you’re not a serious runner trying to run a fast time on a fast course, then it really doesn’t make sense. Not at that price. At least in a marathon, you need and get aid stations. That would be tougher to do on your own. But if you just want to run 3.1 miles, then there is really no need. No one is going to be impressed by your t-shirt either.

                The other thing is that people are looking for experiences that they can share on social media. Events like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race offer that in a way that small road races do not. And the problem is not that people are running less. They’re just not shelling out for over-priced road races.

“While we’re seeing the decline on the event side,” she said, “people are still staying active in their clubs.”

Less formal running groups are also creating opportunities that compete with paid events. Dave Welsh, the owner of three stores in South Jersey that cater to runners, said that after three years of decline, his business had leveled off. While he still sees a lot of interest in the sport, he also recognizes that free races or group runs are likely to lure people away from events with fees.

                The dirty secret at the heart of the road-racing industry is that most people don’t need to pay to run a 5K or a 10K. If you’re not trying to run fast and you don’t need aid stations, then you don’t really need to pay any money. But when it’s only $13 to run, why not? It’s fun and you get a free t-shirt. People are starting to figure that out now that it’s $34. Events like the NYC Marathon will continue to thrive because it is an iconic experience. And people are still hungry for that.

                I also want to note that Shalene Flanagan was the first American woman to win NY since 1977!!! Congratulations to her.

AI Trainer: We are going to see a lot of stories the next few years about artificial intelligence putting every coach and trainer out of business. Most of the people writing those articles won’t know the first thing about fitness but it would be foolish to think that AI won’t have an impact. But what might that impact look like? Christina Bonnington from Self used a “virtual run coaching system” from Vi Fitness to improve her running. Let’s delve in:

I've never been a great runner. I identify as a cyclist, and spend most of my exercise time biking around my neighborhood and training for races. But during the "off season" in the fall, I like to switch things up and hit the trails on foot for a change. Typically, I run in short, quick bursts, then get tired and end up walking or jogging the rest of the way—my average pace ends up being around 13 minutes per mile. On good days, I've been able to clock some miles in the 8- to 9-mile range. Bottom line: My running is really inconsistent, and I've never gotten to the point where I feel comfortable or proud of doing it.

                Not to be mean but it sounds like she did not know how to run. She really needs someone to run alongside her and give her some guidance. Not the sort of thing that a typical trainer would help her with but perfect for an AI trainer.

Vi offered reminders about proper form, tips for breathing, and helped me raise my cadence by eight steps per minute, on average. This helped me run faster and more efficiently, and I've found that my whole body (specifically my knees and feet) feels better during and after my runs.

I’m now comfortable running at a 9-minute pace for extended periods, a vast improvement from my 13-minute average a month ago. I’m also walking less and running more each time.

                This seems like an ideal job for a virtual trainer and it’s not stealing a job from a human trainer. The vast majority of people who work-out do not work-out with a trainer. Personal and group training is high-profile and top of mind when it comes to fitness. The people who pay for training/coaching don’t tend to be that price-sensitive but do value community and the personal touch. AI trainers are going to tap into all the people who wouldn’t otherwise hire a trainer like this woman. She’s always wanted to run faster but she never received any coaching. And she probably never would have if it wasn’t for Vi Fitness.  

Gym Class: Quick question: What is the point of gym class? Education should be about learning to think critically and preparing for a successful, fulfilling life. Gym class should be about learning how to develop one’s body and staying in good health. So how does dodgeball fit into that? From the NY Post:

At a time when schools are all about getting students ready for college or jobs, experts say it’s a chance for more physical education teachers to look beyond graduation, too, and leave even the least competitive students with the will and skills to keep moving. In many places, that has meant more bike-riding, outdoor hikes and yoga, and less dodgeball and shimmying up a rope — more choice about which activity to pursue and less emphasis on who’s the best at it.

“The most important job of a great physical education teacher is to appreciate every student in that class, not just the highly skilled,” said Whitcomb, whose program pre-dates the new law and is among those considered models for the more modern approach.

Also:

Washington, D.C., teachers put all of the district’s second-graders on bicycles to gain a lifelong skill. Fourth- and seventh-graders do parkour, in which students leap and vault over obstacles in a way that’s more freewheeling than skill-specific gymnastics. D.C. sixth-graders learn orienteering, including how to read a compass and geocache. High schoolers swim.

“We want to teach a variety of these foundational movement skills with cycling, swimming, parkour. So that they’re very individualized,” said Miriam Kenyon, the district’s director of health and physical education, “and when you have that, you can’t take it away.”

                I fully support a physical education curriculum that incorporates activities that people will actually participate in outside of gym class. I believe that there are two areas that are not taught in school but in which Americans are sorely lacking: fitness and finances. At least, some schools are starting to include fitness.

Fitness Marketing: Nerdstrong is a gym in LA that combines fitness and popular culture. I love both of those things but I don’t really get the appeal of combining them. From Vice:

David, the trainer overseeing the class, made good on the promise in the gym's name and injected ample nerdy commentary into his instructions. While correcting my form on a kettlebell exercise, David suggested I shout "I have the power," and channel He-Man raising his sword.

 

                That’s not for me but if it works for someone else, that’s great. But that’s not what interests me in this article. Warner Brothers ran a joint promotion with Nerdstrong for the science fiction film, Blade Runner 2049. Nerdstrong held a Blade Runner-themed workout and Warner Brothers gave out free t-shirts and posters. Using fitness to promote a non-fitness product or service? That’s fitness marketing! It’s interesting to see a major movie studio dip their toes into this area. And for a movie that has no direct fitness connection no less. I would expect this for a movie like Superman, where the superhero’s physique is the center of attention.

Motivation: The NY Times ran a piece on micro-actions. What are micro-actions you ask?

Micro-actions are actions so small, so easy, that they hardly feel worth doing. When we think of things like this (if we ever do) we often think about how taking one small action, repeatedly, over long periods of time, adds up. It’s the compounding effect of incremental change, and it’s awesome.

But what I’m talking about is different. Maybe an example will help.

When I travel, I often don’t feel like exercising, but I know I’ll feel way better if I do. So, I take a micro-action. I put on my gym clothes and commit to walking to the hotel gym. That’s it. The trick I use to make it happen? I just say to myself, “I wonder what the gym in this hotel is like?”

                This is a classic trick. You’re tired so you tell yourself that you’ll do a short workout and once the blood is flowing, you end up doing your full workout anyway. It’s also a great way to tell if you’re really tired or if your mind is playing tricks on you. If you’re really tired, then you might cut that workout short. The other thing that I do a lot is turn my mind off. Sometimes, my mind gets into excuse mode. I don’t feel like working out so my mind starts generating excuses for why I shouldn’t. So I turn my mind off and just follow my routine. Get home from work, change into my workout clothes, and get going. I won’t give myself the opportunity to talk myself out of working out that day. Your mind can play tricks on you, so sometimes you have to play some back.

Wearables: We already knew that Aetna was planning to give away Apple Watches to some of its customers. Now we’re finding out that the two companies are working together on health apps:

CEO Mark Bertolini says Aetna presented Apple with a list of the top drivers of health costs and the two companies have been working together on apps that can it can use to provide incentives to make healthier choices. Aetna workers are co-located at Apple's offices in Cupertino, he said, as the company looks to have a variety of apps ready in time for the Jan. 1 start of the Apple Watch pilot program.

"If we can make it work it will be well worth it for us to give everybody an Apple Watch but we've got to get the technology right," Bertolini said Tuesday while speaking at the Techonomy conference in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

                Apple is all in on health and fitness. It’s interesting to see them seek out partners in the development process. This is the company that doesn’t believe in market research. I’m glad to see that Apple has the humility to understand that this is a different field than they’re used to and that they are committed to getting it right.

The Tribalism of Fitness: Jocko Willink is many things. Retired Navy SEAL, best-selling author, leadership guru, early rising enthusiast, Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, and fitness fanatic. Business Insider profiled his approach to fitness. Two thoughts: (1) I like his focus on the fundamentals and (2) he has a bad-ass garage gym. What struck me was a quote toward the end of the article:

"Some people, they take their form of working out as a religion that they think is better than everyone else's," he said. "I'm not like that. If you have a better way to work out and you can teach it to me, and I find it to be useful, and gets me in better shape, I'm all about."

                The fitness industry has a lot of issues but this is near the top of the list. Fitness is extremely tribal. People tend to find a workout that they like and then it becomes part of their identity. This passion is great but it can also be counter-productive. Too many people believe that in order to prove that their workout is the best then they need to put down other people’s workouts. This leads to a toxic environment and a rash of bad information that confuses new-comers. Jocko nailed it here. Religion is based on belief. No one can prove to you that any religion is right or wrong. You choose to believe. Fitness should be based on empirical proof. Either it works or it doesn’t. It’s great to be passionate about fitness but that passion shouldn’t be based on a blind belief that your method is the best and only way to get fit.

                How do we get there? For starters, never forget that fitness is an industry. Imagine that you want to start selling a fitness methodology. Does it make sense to sell 50% of a plan? Or would it be better to market your system as the only thing that someone would ever need to do to be in the best shape of their life? Clearly, the latter makes more sense so that is what people do. It’s marketing. The key is not swallow all of it. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a good program or that you couldn’t learn something from it. Just understand that they’re selling you on something. Take what works and move on.   

Don’t Do This: So apparently people are now putting raw eggs in their coffee. Am I missing something? Because that sounds disgusting to me. From Men’s Health:

I’ve used egg coffee a few times before, doing some fasted cardio in the morning,” says Bubbs. “It was a nice boost, similar to Bulletproof Coffee, but with the nutrient-dense bonus of the yolk, compared to simply fatty acids.” Many of the ultra-marathoners he trains also enjoy a creamy cup of egg coffee pre-workout, too. In fact, pretty much all of his athletes eat eggs and drink coffee as part of their training and recovery meals, he says—just not together.

 

                There is nothing magic about mixing eggs or butter with your coffee. I suppose that it’s harmless but it’s foolish to think that mixing it together is any better than consuming both separately. But maybe you like putting eggs or butter into your coffee, in which case more power to you. However, I imagine that they are a lot of people choking these concoctions down in the hope of gaining some kind of edge.

Waiting:  I came across this article in D Magazine about a rowing studio in Dallas.

Rowing is huge right now. The low-impact workout has been dubbed “the heir to spinning” and utilizes one of the most effective pieces of equipment for burning fat. (There’s a reason The Social Network used awesomely-toned Armie Hammer to portray the Harvard rowers Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss.) So when Crowbar Cardio, one of the few Dallas studios offering rowing, abruptly closed its doors on Greenville Avenue this summer, people were understandably distraught.

                I feel like people have been predicting rowing being the new cycling for years now. I may have made a prediction or two myself. I wonder why it hasn’t taken off as a group exercise concept yet. Rowing machines aren’t prohibitively expensive, it’s a fairly basic movement, and it’s zero impact. Those factors shouldn’t be holding it back. And then it’s a total body exercise which would make for a great workout. What’s the missing ingredient here?  

TidBits:

-The NBA is getting leaner

-The ancient Egyptians had gyms

-New world record for pull-ups?

-Snapchat may get into fitness tracking

-Under Armour was losing millions on fitness trackers

-CrossFit announces changes to the structure of regional qualifying for the CrossFit Games