Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Thank You for Cheering!

Thanks everyone for cheering me on at the Dubuque Benefit Classic Half Marathon yesterday! I appreciate the support. I will be honest, I do not know everyone's name that cheered for me, but I seem to put together more names and faces every month.

It's strange, between doing well in a number of races, and the whole Mt. Everest thing, people seem to know me. I feel like I get more support than most. So thank you, I appreciate it, and I hope I can pay your generosity forward or reciprocate as the case may be. Both being cheered, and cheering help motivate me.

Monday, September 1, 2014

I Live in Iowa: Week 167

I'm back.

I have been trying to down play my negative attitude the last four months, but in the last two weeks, it's turned around. You see, I was depressed, because of the Mt. Everest debacle. I was a day away from maybe dying. I spent a lot of money and never touched the mountain. I've given a few interviews since then, three presentations, with around 200 people total, and I've talked about it with maybe 70 people. It's like reliving a bad dream. My life, in many respects kind of stopped to make that trip happen and the outcome was not all all what I was prepared for.

For whatever reason, and I have a few, my motivation is back skyrocketing. I needed to hear that I am loved and cared for, and a couple months of going to church and reading the Bible and talking with family and friends finally got me back to the mental place where I do feel loved and cared for. I have a few 100+ mile weeks of running under my belt and that's always a motivation booster. I'm feeling very valued at work recently. After agonizing about quitting coaching, it was the right decision, I'll get back to that. A lot of things have come together and I'm on a mental motivation high.

Work is work because it is not play. Talking about work is nearly impossible most of the time. It's such a big part of my life, 40 hours a week, sometimes 50 hours a week, or more and I can't share much of it with the world. Hopefully, in 2015 I will finally have the chance in concrete terms to describe what I have been working on the last three and a half years. Regardless, I'll keep up my ambiguous descriptions.

Sometimes at work, just like in my personal life, people need to know that others care about him or her or this issue or that problem. I don't know how many people are in my extended product team, maybe 100, maybe more, with varying levels of responsibility, but to make the best product we can, we need to work together. There have been some gaps. Some communication was not good enough between different groups of people. This can lead to problems. I feel this week we upped the communication significantly and going forward are going to solve more problems because of that increased communication and trust.

Running is great! I ran 82 miles this past week, taking Monday totally off and putting in a good workout. Going forward I think a high mileage week followed by a low mileage week with a day off is a rhythm I will be trying. Then on Tuesday I cranked out a 10 mile moderate tempo at 6:10 pace. Not the best 10 miler I've done in practice at all, but really good. This is one reason training on my own instead of with the team has benefits. Not many college teams go crank out 10 mile tempos at 6:10 pace. Yet I need those kind of runs to be a good marathoner. Another example, Friday I left work at 3:30, got home around 3:50, which would have been late to make it to practice as a coach. Then I was tired so I laid around and read for an hour before getting out the door just after 5 PM for my second eight mile run of the day. Another benefit of not coaching is I don't have to rush out of work and immediately go running, I can take a break if I want. Then I slept 11 hours Friday night and when I went out to run Saturday morning on Heritage Trail I saw the runners I used to coach finishing their run as I was starting. Had I been a coach I would have had to miss an hour or two of sleep to make it to practice on time. Training on my own is going well.

What else? I'm reading Ben Graham's The Intelligent Investor which is a sure way to fall asleep at night. Reading about bond prices and inflation in the middle of the 20th century might actually be more boring than reading genealogy. I'm working on some writing, about some personal stuff… I'll publish it soon, probably. It's pretty personal so I want to make sure I say what I mean.

Friday, August 29, 2014

My "Next" Adventure, and The Things I'm Not Telling...

Several times this past month I have been asked what my next adventure is. I offered a few suggestions, like running an ultradistance race, but really I have nothing explicitly planned at the moment. Oh I have plans and ideas for things I would like to try. But here is the thing, I have failed so many times, planning trips, preparing to do something, not finishing what I started, quitting after years of work, that I don't like to announce things until I'm about 80% of the way there. Maybe that sounds ridiculous, so hear me out.

Mt. Everest has been a goal of mine since 2004. I remember going to Colorado that summer and using my crampons and ice axe, doing some backpacking, and responding well to altitude again (for like the fourth time), that I thought, 'yeah, I'd like to take a crack at the highest mountain in the world.' In 2005, the next summer when I was taking rock climbing lessons on Lumpy Ridge, the guide asked what some of our goals were, I said, "Mt. Everest" and he said, "You could probably do that within 10 years or so..." Then rattled off a series of mountains to climb before Everest and skills necessary. I hadn't even told him I was already on a ten year deadline. That was about the most encouragement I had in the early days.

When I announced one Thanksgiving (2004 I think) at my friend's house I wanted to climb just Mt. Washington in New Hampshire in winter, my friend's dad who was an experienced backpacker said it was too dangerous. The next Thanksgiving I climbed it with a biology professor, without crampons because it was so easy.

Similarly, I taught myself how to climb. Oh I've taken paid climbing instruction from five different people/groups, but that pales in comparison to reading Mountaineering the Freedom of the Hills in its entirety (6th edition) and practicing everything. When I led my first traditional lead climb (putting gear into the rock) in August 2005, I didn't tell the guy climbing with me it was my first time until we reached the top and finished. I only had a set of nuts and a set of hexcentrics back then. (Side note: The Green Route at Crow Hill is one of the greatest routes to practice new techniques on. I climbed it with only tri-cams, I've climbed it in January, I've done it with only a hip belay...) In short, I didn't even announce I was getting into lead climbing, until I was already a lead climber.

Similarly, my second time ice climbing that biology professor handed me the ice climbing rack on the second pitch and told me to lead, it was WI 2, so pretty easy, still I hardly considered myself an ice climber.

In 2006 I tried to climb a mountain every month. February was one of the closest times I have ever come to frostbite, in a -50F windchill at treeline on the north side of Mt. Adams in New Hampshire. That year I would send emails and try to plan day trips to New Hampshire or to go rock climbing, and often times no one would bite. I ended up doing a lot of driving and hiking alone, even, or especially, in the middle of winter. When I try to plan something and then people, criticial people to the plan, drop out often the plan would fall through. I tried to plan an Orizaba trip to Mexico one New Year's that fell through. So when I announce something, I want to make sure it is likely to actually happen.

I still plan crazy things and come up with ideas that most people won't even imagine, I've had the idea of rowing across the Atlantic recently... But when I formally announce that I "have a plan" chances are I already have plane tickets booked and a schedule organized. So if racing my first ultra run or a weekend trip to Colorado or simply going canoeing don't seem like my "next" adventure because they are too small, well big things are built out of a lot of small things. The truth is, I am on my next adventure. I'm working on several of my next adventures, right now, this week.

We see the romance of a wedding, an anniversary, or climbing Mt. Everest, we don't see the questions, the arguments, the challenge of compromise, the 40 foot rock climbing fall, almost getting struck by lightening, being broke, being unemployed, or falling on a snow slope the second time using crampons. Yet those challenges are kind of the point. My moto recently in my head has been '60% the next step' because that's how anything gets done, one little insignificant uninteresting step at a time. What is my next adventure? The one worthy of other people thinking of it as a "real adventure", well I don't exactly know, and if you are still thinking an "adventure" has to be something big and dangerous, you missed the point of this post.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Biomechanically Average or Exceptional?

At times I have called myself both biomechanically perfect and biomechanically average, and I would stand behind both assertions. I can not in good conscious entertain the fact that I am biomechanically below average, because running as much as I have in the past decade would just seem impossible. For a tiny bit of background, here is an interesting article about biomechanics in the running (Jamaican sprinting) community. Sometimes these articles center on the genetic factor that our hips and knees, lower legs, calf diameters, Achilles tendon elasticity, all have certain dimensions that are more beneficial, and being symmetric is in general a help.

I work with a number of people that limp. Wether it is a genetic leg length difference, a hip thing, or some traumatic injury, I do not know. Also, given the three people I am thinking about now I am guessing they are all significantly different reasons. I will say, when I am out pounding out a workout and I think of those people limping it motivates me to push the pace and make it count. It also helps motivate me to do my core and extremity exercises.

My list of injuries is long. I'm not going to take the time to recount all of them, but numerous tendonitis issues, muscle knots and small tears, two bone breaks (due to running), muscle imbalances that led to joint issues, and all of these issues seemed to affect only one side or the other, never both sides at the same time. Therefore, I conclude based on the scant empirical evidence, that I am not symmetrically (and biomechanically) perfect from the neck down, otherwise injuries would happen to me symmetrically. (Definitely not symmetric from the neck up.) Yet, I am closing in on 30,000 miles of running and backpacking over the last 13 years and I am more healthy in terms of muscle balance now than I was when I was 15 and started recording my miles. To have that much consistency under my belt without more than two or three really serious injuries makes me think that I am an outlier in terms of recovery ability and biomechanics.

The truth is, I don't know. I think of myself as very average. Just about any high school sophomore could be where I am physically today, if they had 13 years to work on it, and actually worked on it. Mentally most give up well before they reach where I am, and that's okay, everyone has different priorities and that's great. If we were all the same, I would have to like Bud Light and American Football and spend all of my money on a new car, and none of those things are me. Back on topic, outside of scientific and medical measurements, I don't think there is any way to really know if I am biomechanically average or exceptional. There is so much more to running 10,000 leagues in 13 years than the physical portion of actually running for 4000 hours. The mental side of it is huge! I went vegan last year for 10 weeks! I tweet my bloody socks. I go to bed at 9 PM. I don't know. What I do know, is that the meager physical things I have done are far far more accessible to the vast majority of people than they imagine. Not necessarily today, or tomorrow, or even by next year, but with enough time, nearly anything is possible. We went to the Moon in 1969 with less computer than my iPhone 4S!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Battling my Insecurities

I think most people probably describe me as confident and sure of myself, and that may be true, certainly in some circumstances, but it doesn't always feel that way. I think that because I did so much acting when I was younger and learned to present so much in college, I look comfortable in front of a crowd, and I am. Yet we all have insecurities, and nobody likes their own. Who can explain their own insecurities anyway?

I'm writing this Monday night, and I didn't run today. You must understand, I take maybe 30 days off of running a year (when I am not on an 8000 meter expedition), and when I am in high volume training and uninjured, it's hardest to take a day off. It is a chasing numbers game, I am often chasing mileage goals. It's ridiculous. I mean it's not strictly productive the same way quality running is. It has gotten me injured in the past. Yet having 100 miles in a week or 400 miles in a month is a big mental reward.

Insecurities are a strange thing. We try to run every day because we are afraid that taking one day off, one needed day of recovery, will be a setback. We act smart because we are afraid that if people knew how little we know they would not respect us as much. We act fine being single because we don't want to be that desperate guy and because we are afraid we will be alone our whole life. Insecurities are based on our fears. Fears are an interesting topic.

Running is so convenient to talk about because it is so simple. I can easily say that I am afraid of growing old, I am afraid of not achieving the goals I have publicly announced, I am afraid that I have been given this aerobic gift and this body and I won't use it, when others do not even have the chance to do the physical things I do. So those are some fears. Admittedly, none of them are a really big deal. I mean, one day my running will no longer be like it is now, and the world won't end. Talking about relationships or engineering are much more difficult because the insecurities are even greater. I mean, when I was unemployed for the first three months of 2010, I gave myself back pain so bad two doctors thought I had kidney stones. How much do I care about engineering? I gave myself back pain when I wasn't offered an opportunity to practice it.

Maybe battling is a strong word. Yet there is a tension between what we do and what we fear, between running and taking a day off, between engineering and not engineering. I think, and I don't have the answer so feel free to argue, that while insecurities are not something we like, they keep us honest. We all have insecurities and those vulnerabilities are part of what helps us connect with others. If nothing else it is our weaknesses, of mind or body, and not our strengths where we open ourselves to connection.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

I Am a Sinner

I don't admit this terribly often. I like to pretend I am good, and that is a lie. It is so hard to admit being wrong, failing to do the right thing, being selfish, and a myriad of other imperfections. Yet admitting there is a problem, recognizing the imperfection, is the first step in solving the issue. Funny enough, this concept applies to engineering and science as well as it does to the lives we live. Admitting the design has a weakness is the first step in correcting the weakness.

Nothing, and certainly no one, will ever be perfect. I'm not even going to pretend that I am like the thought of accepting that. Yet when the best examples of perfection I can think of are often surpassed within a year or two, it is clear, we humans are not perfect.

Monday, August 25, 2014

I Live in Iowa: Week 166

Another week that was a seeming blur, except for the fact that so often by the time I get to 8 PM, I'm so worn out that time seems to slow down as I decompress from the day. Maybe a pretty typical week, maybe not. What is a typical week anyway?

I worked every weekday day this week, no real surprise there. The joke that I don't have any vacation until March 2015 really doesn't get old. I did have a whopping 24 hours of meetings, that I attended. Many meetings finish early, but the point is, around half of my week was spent in meetings. Meetings have two purposes, make a decision, and share information more effectively than email. A meeting can do both, but if it does neither, it's a waste of time. As I go to all of these meetings I like to joke that I am not an engineer, I'm a junior project manager.

Running was nice, but I have overreached and I'm taking Monday (today) off. I ran 35 leagues, much of that in hot and humid weather. I even have a little sunburn on my shoulders. I was hoping to get a few more miles this week, but I was too tired. Funny story about running Saturday morning, I get to Heritage trail about 9 AM. The Loras XC team was just finishing up, people were fishing, other cycling, in total maybe 30 cars in the parking lot, it was packed. About 30 minutes into my run it start raining, and only rains harder over the next hour. By the time I returned to the parking lot I was the only car there. Regardless of the season, day of the week or time of day that is unusual, especially on a Saturday at 10:30 am in the summer.

Pretty quiet otherwise. A friend lent me the Alien box set so I watched all four Alien movies this weekend. I went out for sushi and was reminded that I don't go out too often because it's really expensive.