U-T SAN DIEGO: Stonehill's Mario Fraioli, '04 Arrives at Olympic Games

BY Don Norcross
U-T San Diego

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Check out Mario's latest blog regarding Cesar Lizano's Olympic training program

His collegiate running career complete in 2004 at Division II Stonehill (Mass.) College, where he was a talented but hardly world-class runner, Mario Fraioli issued a bold statement to his father:

"I want to be in the 2012 Olympics."

Sure enough, come Friday night at London's Olympic Stadium, Fraioli will wear the red, white and blue and walk in the opening ceremonies.

The colors, though, belong to Costa Rica, not the United States. And Fraioli will be walking as a member of Costa Rica's track and field coaching staff, not an athlete.

Still, for a young man who moved to Eugene, Ore., after his collegiate career to chase his running dream, went broke, moved back home, beat up his body then cobbled a running niche as a journalist/coach, this is heady stuff.

"It's going to be the experience of a lifetime," he said.

Fraioli, 30, lives in San Diego. He's a senior editor for Competitor magazine and competitor.com, specializing in covering elite athletes and producing training content. He spends many a late hour writing training programs for local runners he coaches.

Fraioli's path to representing Costa Rica in the Olympics began in January when he clicked onto an e-mail. It was from a stranger named Mario Reyes, a friend and agent for Costa Rican marathoner Cesar Lizano.

"I had no idea who Cesar was. I had no idea who Mario was," said Fraioli. "My first reaction was this it was one of my buddies messing with me."

In the email, Reyes said he was looking for someone to coach Lizano for the six-month buildup to the Olympics. Reyes told Fraioli that he was familiar with him based on Fraioli's training articles. Reyes also said he was considering two other coaches, one in Oregon, another in New Mexico.

After interviewing the candidates, Reyes selected Fraioli. Lizano and Fraioli first met in March when the Costa Rican came to San Diego for a four-day camp.

"Honestly," said Fraioli, "it was like seeing a good friend I hadn't seen in years. Cesar and I clicked right away. I think a lot of it has been us being the same age and having similar interests."

Fraioli visited Lizano for three days in San Jose, Costa Rica, plus Lizano returned to San Diego for another two-week stay. The rest of their contact has been my e-mail and text.

Lizano speaks little English. Fraioli grew up speaking Italian. Their communication is in Spanish.

"I use corer (to run) a lot," joked Fraioli.

Lizano, 30, is not a candidate to earn a medal in the men's marathon. His personal best is 2 hours, 17 minutes, 50 seconds, just 10 seconds faster than the minimum qualifying time.

The men's world record is 2 hours, 3 minutes. 38 seconds, set by Kenya's Patrick Makau.

"We can't worry about what's happening in the front of the race, what the Kenyans are doing, what the Ethiopians are doing," said Fraioli. "As far as we're concerned, that's a whole separate race."

Instead, Fraioli's goal for Lizano is a simple one: to maximize his ability.

"My goal for any athlete is (for them) to run to their fullest potential on that day and hope that translates to a (personal record)," Fraioli said. "It doesn't always, because of the conditions, the weather, the course."

After Fraioli emphasized faster, shorter workouts the first 13 weeks in training, Lizano set personal bests in the 5K, 10K and half marathon. Fraioli thinks the Costa Rican is capable of breaking 2:15, which would be a phenomenal near-three-minute improvement.

"I've been told that Cesar is the happiest they've seen him in a few years and the most confident he's been," said Fraioli. "There's nothing better to hear as a coach that your athlete is happy and confident."

Lizano and his agent offered to pay Fraioli for his coaching. Outside of having his travel expenses covered, Fraioli declined.

Sitting in a coffee shop a couple blocks from his office, keeping track of e-mails on his iPhone, Fraioli said, "I'm not taking any money from him. I told his agent, this is a huge honor for me to help an athlete prepare for the Olympic Games."