Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Why is This so Hard?

The heat and humidity here in south east Kansas is exhausting me. That's a really boring word to use for how I feel, but it's really accurate. I've taken two days off of running in the past week. Tonight, it was even only 78ºF (with 95% humidity, but still nice and cool). I sleep in when I wake up in the morning because it's so humid I don't want to go out and run. Then after I get off work it is typically unbearable to do more than 30 minutes, and frankly, anything less than an hour of running seems pointless to me.

The hard part is not the resting, I'm good at laying around, it's the thoughts inside my own head, the feeling that I am not good enough, that I am not doing enough, that I am not living up to my own standards of what is possible, of what I can do. It's depressing, and the negative thoughts move so quick! 'I'm out of shape. I'm going to flop at my next race. What's the point? Why don't I just quit already? What do I have to prove? Why do I keep putting myself through this? Why did I go out and suffer for three hours on Saturday? The system isn't working. I'm weak...' On and on the thoughts go. Where they stop nobody knows.

Feelings are not fact. John Oliver pointed that out in his most recent show on the RNC where many politicians discussed feelings rather than facts. I know that missing two days of running in a week is not the end of the world. It doesn't mean I am out of shape and going to flop. Unfortunately, knowing those facts about myself does not 100% change the way I feel. My feelings, to me, are reality just as your feelings are reality to you. It's really the only method that each one of us has to experience the world.

To be fair, motivation is the balance of what we are running away from and what we are running toward. Those negative thoughts, those feelings, are part of my motivation. Around 3:00 AM on May 21st as I was around 28,500 feet on the last stretch before the South Summit of Mt. Everest I had an intense desire to turn around, that I didn't want to be there, I wasn't having fun. It was bizarre, I can't remember ever having a feeling quite like that. I have had enough bad periods to know what to do mentally. I checked if I was in any danger, or if I was doing something poorly, like stumbling, and I was totally fine, so I kept going, and the feeling went away minutes later as quick as it came on. Point being, I have a lot of internal motivation, it's much of the reason I have done as much as I have done in my 30 years, and a big portion of that motivation is what I am figuratively running away from. It's the kind of thing that ultimately has been a big positive for me, motivating me to do things, but it's also the kind of thing I don't wish on others. People often tell me of their occasional running and I often say, "That's probably more healthy [than what I do]." I leave it at that, because no one asks any deeper questions, but I don't just mean physically, I mean mentally and emotionally too.

Here's the thing, take anything serious enough, and you will know it well enough that you will know you will never do it perfectly. You may be the best in the world at it, but you will realize it could be done better. That is also part of the reason I go to church every Sunday and pray to a perfect God, because I realize I cannot be perfect, and no one can. Oh amazing things can happen, we can call things the perfect performance, but the truth is, there is always room for improvement, which is a hard pill to swallow. On that note, I'm going to sleep so that I can wake up tomorrow and be better than I was today.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Independence: Week 6

Who would have thought that having Internet would lead me to being less productive at home? The problem is I am mesmerized by streaming videos and TV shows. Tonight it was "The Whistleblower" and last night was "Top Gear".

Pretty anticlimactic week. Work is good. We had a health fair and they took blood pressures and a blood test, which I am excited to see in the coming weeks. It included a test for the thyroid, and I've never had mine tested, so that is something new. When the nurse took my blood pressure and pulse, using the automated machine, I made it to 104/68 and a resting heart rate, at work, of 52. Those are the best numbers I have ever registered at work! Usually my blood pressure comes in upper 110s or 120s, and even 130s. My pulse is usually upper 50s. Part of the reason I wanted to try out Coffeyville is that it always felt very relaxing when I came down to visit, well, the proof is in the pressure, it's lower.

One of the projects I am working on has to do with metal in oil and how that affects or results from wear on various parts. As I get to learn about the drivetrain products we design I couldn't think of a better initial project. Simply put, some parts wear out, at a relatively constant rate, while other parts essentially last forever. It's quite interesting.

I'm not sure how much I ran, probably in the 70 mile neighborhood. That includes some tempos and two long runs, Friday and Saturday. Oh Saturday was rough! After two stops to refill my 20 oz water bottle, I started walking just after 19 miles, a little before noon. Walking... on flat ground. It wasn't even that hot, maybe 90ºF. It wasn't like I walked for a minute either, I walked .8 miles before my heart rate dipped below 150. Running in the heat is hard.

Socializing we had a grill fest on Friday night, which was a good time. Saturday we went out and shot guns. Well, I basically just kept score during skeet shooting, but I did shoot a little .22 for the first time in years. Oh Kansas...

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Running in the Heat Versus Running at Altitude

Running in the heat and running at altitude are remarkably similar. In both cases, not as much oxygen is available for the running muscles as a nice cool day on the 380 meter long track at Stanford. (It's a joke, it's a 400 meter standard track, but people run so fast there, it seems like it's short.) However the causes are very different.

At high altitudes, your lungs strain to take in more air, which really means you try to take in more oxygen. Since there is ultimately less oxygen circulating in your body, it gets allocated based on the priorities of your body, namely your brain and you heart get their fair share, but your leg muscles get less than normal.

In hot weather, you may have plenty of oxygen, but your body prioritizes sending blood to your skin to cool you down through sweat. Now, the plasma is really what is doing the work of sweat, most people don't sweat red blood cells. However, the effect is essentially the same, less oxygen is getting to the legs for the running muscles.

I suppose, you can call this just a theory of mine, but it makes a lot of sense to me. Both running conditions are slower and more tiring compared to 60 Fahrenheit weather at sea level.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Independence: Week 5

I had a good week, and it's funny to say, but I've been too busy to blog more. Not having Internet, besides my cell phone, and not having cable or satellite the last five years basically forced me to actually do things. However, now I'm renting a room where we have Internet, including Netflix and Amazon Prime. So it's a lot easier to surf the web on my computer, or watch a Top Gear episode, or even a movie. Yes I am still running and bicycling, I haven't stopped, but my free time where I would otherwise write a blog post or read something has been taken up as a spectator simply watching. It's interesting. I think that I find it more interesting because I haven't been exposed to it as much the last five years. For example, I find commercials interesting.

I'm not sure how much I ran, but it was enough. I'm still recovering from Nolan's 14, and that trip report is 2/3rds written by the way. A quick calculation for how heat affects runners, you will run about 1 second per mile slower per degree Fahrenheit over 65 than your ideal pace. That's a simplification, the dew point matters, and relative humidity, but it's reasonable to say that at 95 degrees Fahrenheit you will run 30 seconds per mile slower than you would under ideal temperature conditions.

Work is going well. I'm not sure exactly all of my duties yet, in part because one of the benefits of my new job is defining my role. It's an interesting concept, yes I have concrete deliverables in this position, but to fill up the rest of the time there are other projects that I can work on. One of my skills is that I come from the vehicle side, so when we have questions about how the vehicle views our components, I jump in because I'm pretty good at those discussions. I'm also getting into some details that I wanted to get into. For example, I'm working on a warranty project with a moderate size of data, and statistically interpreting that data is quite interesting. There are many ways I can present the data, and it's hard to determine which way is the best, because honestly all of the interpretations help describe the situation. In other words, we want to say, X is a function of Y. But I'm finding that X is a function of Y, Y1 (Y at a different point in time), and Z, not to mention different operating conditions.  It's great, I'm making three dimensional scatter plots with best fit surfaces in Matlab to find the best correlation.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Is My Opinion Reality?

I've been wrong enough times to wonder, is my opinion reality? Sometimes it is not. Sometimes what I think is crazy, and what is rather unexciting to me, is what other people live for. However, there are times when it is a real comfort to know that I'm not the only one who thinks the vegetables might just be rotting.

Sometimes we jump to assume that we are right. I do it all the time, I would put it as a weakness how right I usually think I am. It is important to remember that how we see the world is our opinion of it. It is probably close to reality, but that's an assumption as well. Point being, "is my opinion reality?" is a question worth asking.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Searching For The Challenge That Almost Kills Me

When I gave the list of the hardest things I have done, less than a week after summiting Mt. Everest, people were surprised that Everest was only #9. Here's the list to jog your memory:

1. Italy 2015 24 Hour World Championships - terrible magnesium cramps
2. 2014 North Coast 24 hour run - I seriously could not walk for three hours after it was over
3. 2008 Casual Route on the Diamond on Longs Peak with Clay Meier - 20:15 car to car, super long mountain day, took a 20 foot pendulum fall. 
4. 2002 Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert in the same day solo - age 16, about 15.5 hours
5. 2009 double marathon (52.4 miles) fun run of Cape Cod May 9th - first ultra run at age 23
6. 2010 Wonderland Trail run solo (93 miles 31:32) - first real trail ultra run
7. 2006 Ellingwood Arête on Crestone Needle with John Inman - first technical mountain route, and first I lead, I have to look up the time but we finished in a hail storm after dark, and I really suffered leading the 5.7 at 14,000 feet.
8. 2013 Chicago Marathon - hit the wall, hard to explain this one, but I've never felt so empty, I felt like a lead ballon or a zombie while running.
9. Mt. Everest with oxygen 2016 
10. 2012 Devils Tower with Steve Bonneau and Ryan Stickle - I really struggled on the last pitch, dehydrated, not in great climbing shape.
11. 2009 Longs Peak Kiener's with Josh Zeigler - we took the 5.8 version by accident, ended up starting and finishing in the dark, 15 hours or so, but good weather.

I went to Everest with the intention to climb it without using bottled oxygen, I thought it would be difficult. (Of course, that's an understatement.) Well, I ended up using bottled oxygen and as I thought, it wasn't terribly hard. In other words, if you are looking for a purely physically difficult challenge, you won't find it using oxygen on Everest. That being said, it is difficult, and there is a huge element of risk, and it is the tallest in the world, so there is definitely an attraction on that particular hill.

Point being, I thought Everest without bottled oxygen would be the hardest thing I had ever done in my life, and when the trip turned out that it didn't go how I anticipated, and I ended up with the above list, it sparked a lot of thought about why I do this stuff. Why do I do this stuff? Well, for the purpose of this article, I like accomplishing difficult things, and since it happens I have some physical talent for endurance sports, specifically running, and high altitude comes easy to me, and I'm an okay climber, so mixing and matching those give me physical fodder for challenges. There is also a huge mental component to all of the above activities that I've done in the past, and the things that I would like to attempt in the future. The film Meru captured this desire for a difficult challenge really well. A variety of skills were needed to get up the route, and they were the first people, after many previous attempt, to succeed. 

We are so risk adverse today when it comes to failure. Are things that come easy really what we want to accomplish? People are scared to go simply rock climbing with me, or go on a bicycle ride, or go for a run. Of course, climbing Everest hasn't helped my reputation for doing beginner outdoor sports. 

Some time in the past I said that my acceptable rate of success is probably around 30%. Truth be told, it's probably lower, maybe 20% now, having climbed Everest, become a 24 hour national champion, being on team USA, done Rainier in a day, and set a whole bunch of track PRs after college, and run up and down plenty of mountains. In other words, I've accomplished so much, and I'm not getting any younger, that it's time for me to go after the more difficult challenges. The challenges where most fail, like Nolan's 14 and 24 hour runs to name a few. Although to be fair, success and failure in a 24 hour run is totally ambiguous. 

What I'm trying to say is I'm looking for a challenge so physically difficult and mentally stimulating that I finish knowing I had nothing else to give. And of course, it would be nice to actually finish it. One difficult part about all of these challenges is that after they are done and the days and weeks pass I'm left with the question, could I have done it better? I couldn't walk after the North Coast 24 in 2014, for three hours. Is that as hard as it gets? Is Nolan's 14 going to be the challenge I attempt five times before succeeding? I don't know. 

To be clear, I intend to live to 90 or longer. I have no plans to die on a mountain somewhere. There is simply a mental challenge, not to mention the physical challenges of the altitude, vertical climbs, and descents, of mountain travel. You have to watch your steps, use your hands, navigate, deal with rain, snow, hail, and wind, navigate some more, and do it all while tired without enough sleep. The mental challenge of timed races is that you could stop, whenever. Every 10 minutes going past the aid station is an invitation to stop, it's a very different challenge. 

Is there a perfect challenge? I watched a documentary on the Barkley Marathons this morning, and I do hope to try that some day. On a side note, I'm watching Restrepo as I write this, and war is totally off the table. Combat is way, way beyond my acceptable level of risk. I will say that from my extremely limited understanding, it is certainly extraordinarily difficult. That you veterans!

I don't know if there is a perfect challenge. I suppose that I will never know what my most challenging endeavor was, until well after it is over. But, that's what I am searching for. I'm looking for the challenge, or perhaps I should say challenges, that take everything out of me and leave me laying on the side of the path unable to go past the finish. 



Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Best Factory I have Ever Seen

That’s not to be taken as an insignificant statement. I’ve spent a lot of time in factories. It’s my job, and my family used to tour factories on vacations. I’ve never tried to count the number of factories I have spent time in, it’s probably under 100, but above 50. Now, to be fair to my evaluation of factories I have never been in an automotive final assembly plant, or a semiconductor factory. I have seen clean rooms where semiconductors can be manufactured, but not the main production factory. 

This factory, the best I have ever seen, why was it so good? I’ll give a few examples. For starters they use a pick-to-light system where the assembler grabs the part from a bin that has a green light on it. The light will go red if he or she tries to pick from the wrong bin. It can be both motion activated or a push button on the light. After picking a part, the computer system will then move onto the next part that needs to be picked. It’s great, I’ve never seen that in another factory. 

Next, there is one particular station on one of their assembly lines where two steel pieces are assembled with a rubber seal in between, and if the rubber seal rolls or is cut, there is no way to tell visually. It may even pass the end of line pressure test. So they use a device to measure the force as the two steel parts come together, and if there is an anomaly they can disassemble the parts and inspect the rubber seal. It’s pretty sophisticated. 

The factory is clean too. Factories have been getting cleaner and cleaner the last decade, but this one just took the cake. I didn’t see any oil or dust around the hard to clean places. On the six inch by twelve inch bins used to store the small assembly parts they used lids over many of the parts to avoid any dust getting on the parts. Plus, it was the best lit factory I can remember, and the air quality inside was fantastic. Now, in the defense of many other factories, there is no welding or heat treating in this factory, so it is easier to keep the air clean. Along those lines, they use DC drivers exclusively for final torques on bolts. That’s not unique, many factories in Germany do the same, forgoing air drivers which are less precise, and create a noisy work environment. Watch videos of the Porsche factory in Germany to get an idea of what I am talking about. 

Finally, near and dear to my heart, they use shims on many of their products. Shims are used to take up a gap between two parts so that they don’t slide back and forth destroying the whole assembly. It is important to have the correct total thickness of shims in a joint. This factory measures the gaps before using any shims so that the number and thickness of shims will be correct. Often factories just guess, or use a standard number of shims. 


Where was this amazing factory? Torreon, Mexico. I must be honest, I have some nationalistic bias to the United States. I feel (or felt) our manufacturing is better than Mexico’s, probably because of all the negative propaganda against Mexico in the United States, yet I have no evidence. After following the UAW negotiations last fall with the big three automakers, assembly for several vehicles getting outsourced to Mexico was a big factor in the discussions. That’s work that the USA is losing to Mexico. I thought moving those factories to Mexico was entirely about the cost of labor. After seeing this factory… I am surprised we don’t move more manufacturing from the USA to Mexico. Certainly this one factory is not representative of the entire country, one new contract employee at the factory told us it was the best factory in Torreon, a big city, and she was very excited to work there. Point being, it reminds me of the question I often ask, “what is possible?” Sure, anything is possible, but seeing what is possible in an industrial setting, in Mexico, not Germany or the United States or South Korea is taking me some time to comprehend.