Thursday, October 29, 2009

Making a Comeback

I went to a concert last night. The band was The Get Up Kids. (That's them in the picture.) They are relatively local to where I went to high school. In fact, Eudora, the title of one of their albums, hosted a track meet that my school went to every year. They were a big thing among my friends in high school but they broke up in 2005 and just this year got back together. This is being labeled more or less as a reunion tour. So who knows if the economy went bad and they are just trying to make some more money. As I sat there before the show I thought about how comebacks are never the same as the original. Then I started thinking about comebacks in running, then in other sports, then in mainstream careers. Sometimes I spend a lot of time thinking about a blog post before I write it.

Ok let's review some history first.
  • Dispatch was a band that was big about 10 years ago and they have had three reunion concerts/tours. Notably one was in 2009 they played three nights in a row in New York and different songs each night. People went crazy.
  • Brtiney Spears had a kid or two, got married, got divorced, and had some personal drama. Now Ryan Seacrest refers to this as her comeback. She say's she never went away.
  • Michael Jordan was a baseball player. After giving that a try he returned to his specialty, baketball. While he was no longer the best he was still really good.
  • Lance Armstrong rode bicycles before he had cancer. People often forget that he had a full fledged career before he was winning the Tour de France. He made the choice after he had cancer to try and make a comeback instead of taking the 1.5 million dollars from the insurance policy. Then he made a second comeback this year. Good choice.
  • Alberto Salazar ran some crazy fast stuff in the early 80s. World records and that kind of thing. After he burnt out and disappeared he showed up at the Comrades Marathon (55 miles) in South Africa in 1994 and won the thing. 12,000 people run that race. As far as ultra-marathons go it's second only to the World Championship 100k.
  • Joan Benoit-Samuelson ran marathons in the 80s. She was really good. She had some kids and now she still runs 50+ age group records. I watched her run a sub 2:50 at the 2008 olympic marathon trials in Boston.
While all of my examples are athletes that is not the point of this post. I was thinking about normal people, like moms, who take a long time off from their professional career to do other things but eventually make a comeback.

In every example a comeback is different than before. The similarities I noticed are the loss of a naive happiness. I would like to say innocence but that is not the right word. There is a broader and deeper understanding of the world. Everything is not rose colored. In running one the of the best things that can happen to a runner is to have a long term injury that eventually clears up 100 percent. When that person decides to make a comeback it is with everything. That is part of why Lance was so successful. He faced the possibility that he would never be able to cycle again. So he went full bore into training and racing and for seven years nobody else could keep up.

A comeback is the high after the low. The high of the comeback may never match the magic of the original but it is so much better than the low.

Back to the concert last night, the lead singer made a comment about arguing on stage being part of the reunion tour. I realized then that the fans had changed as well. To me The Get Up Kids were about songs like "Campfire Kansas" which is a mellow, reminiscent song of a simpler time. I realized while getting thrown around the mosh pit on their intense songs that they were more angry or at least intense than I realized. That was what the crowd was eating up. I realized that these were not the guys that would be chilling out on the back porch with a acoustic guitar anymore. Comebacks are different, they aren't as happy. Lance got divorced. Britney no longer sings to middle schoolers.

So if you have to make a comeback the only advice I can give from my little experience is comeback with passion. When you commit to something actually commit to it. Who knows, your comeback may be as successful as Lance's seven victories.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Successful Innovative Companies: Volume 4

The Successful Innovative Company of the week is: Alpinist Magazine.
What they do right: The give mountaineers, climbers, hard men, a sweet magazine. Everything about it is high quality. It has many full color full page pictures. It has high definition pictures of people suffering doing crazy stuff. The binding is perfect bound, basically the same as a paperback or National Geographic. The pages are thick and the magazine is meant to last. You can feel that this magazine is a notch above other just by the way it feels. It feels like a huge picture book.

Everything about Alpinist screams sincerity and quality. They get the best climbers to write. Just reading one of the articles you feel like you climb harder than you do. This is not a magazine for beginners. There is no "how to climb 5.10" or "ways to hold an ice axe" articles because they appeal to a different crowd. Many editions mention dead people, who died climbing.

They were founded about eight years ago and produce four editions per year. Each edition is something with lasting quality containing information that is not readily available on the internet. They profile a mountain or crag in every issue providing nice topographical climbing maps and histories about the people that first ventured into the unknown on those climbs and the people that pushed the limits. (By the way if anyone reading this would sell me, or even loan me, Alpinist #2, the Gasherbrum 4 edition I will pay a lot for it.)

What they could improve: The subscription costs are expensive, $46 per year. However it is really good quality and there are few ads. In fact, the adds are all full page ads so they flow a little better than traditional magazine ads. I could say that more issues would be nice but as it is I do not want them to pump out more quantity because the quality might suffer.

In fact they take the ethic of a quality magazine so seriously that in the fall of 2008 they went bankrupt and closed the doors. They were quickly bought up and are now back to making a great magazine, albeit with a few more ads.

A first fruition of my work!

I'm working on this complex model of half of a ring gear. I've been working on it for several weeks, probably more like months. The last two weeks I've been working on associating the mesh with the geometry which is a problem with bottom-up meshing sometimes. In short, the mesh made up of a finite number of elements is not the same as the geometry that you planned. They may look the same but when you take a closer look you will see slightly off angles in the range of .1 or .2 degrees away from parallel. There are also curves that are approximated as strait lines that you need to associate with the geometry. So you must select Mesh > Associate Mesh with Geometry..., then select the feature (face, edge, etc. ) on the geometry, then select the mesh (using "by angle" instead of "individual" works better but keep the degrees like .3 or something low) then click done and the face or other feature you selected on the mesh is now associated with the geometry.

So I just finished associating the mesh with the geometry on my 400 faces or so and Abaqus successfully wrote out the input file (which I still have to edit so that if actually runs)! The point is I am hours (perhaps days) away from a truly fantastic carburizing simulation!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Arch

Arches are cool. The more you press on them the stronger they get. Of course they are limited by the material strength but they are weakened much easier by removing a section of the arch or pressing up inside the arch. Why does this matter? Arch "support" in your shoes. Think of all the arches in architecture. You can put all sorts of weight on top of them but try to have a force pressing up in the middle from the bottom and you can easily take the arch out. Shoes have destroyed our arches by "supporting" them.

The good news is there is a cure. You can wiggle your feet and toes and go barefoot and your feet will get stronger. In "Born to Run" by Chris McDougall he talks about all of this so I'm trying to spread the news. One example he gives is a high school runner who had size 12 feet and began incorporating feet strengthening exercises and barefooting into his routine and his arch went up and he turned into a size 9.5 to 10. That high school runner was Alan Webb, who now runs a 3:46 mile.

Other news from his book: only 3% of the population actually have biomechanical problems.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Successful Innovative Companies: Volume 3

The Successful Innovative Company of the week is: Apple.

The Apple Logo
What they do right: According to Steve Jobs Apple does not release a new product unless it is innovative. The first home computer people actually used. The first laptop people bought. The iMac revolution. The iPod, iTunes, the iPhone, soon perhaps the iPad?

In the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley the story of Apple is told. A few guys in a garage that decided to make this cool product, a computer, that the average person could use. They followed that computer up with several more popular editions. They made a laptop that people still keep in their basements because it still works. The Powerbook was the first successful laptop and everything since then has been based roughly on it.

Then about 10 years ago music was becoming digitally accessible to the masses and there was a company called Napster that allowed free downloads. iTunes was created to make the music industry happy and it also happens to make the millions of usesrs happy by having nearly every song available. That coincided with the release of the iPod. This one little thing changed the world. Four letters and eight ounces, iPod. People used to read, sleep, watch, talk to others, but all of that changed. You could carry around all of your music in a box less than half the size of a cd player. Headphones are now so common place in public areas that you wonder what people did in the past. Then they came out with the iPhone and people had most of the capability of computer in a piece of plastic the size of a wallet. Music, camera, pictures, phone, texting, internet, weather, GPS enabled maps, and more!

Steve Jobs is reported to only release new products that are significant innovations. When Apple comes out with a new product you can guarantee it is something different.

What they could improve: It would be great if I could afford to buy more of their products. Unfortunately they are not about to start marketing to the poor when they are doing so well with the rich. I think a problem that can arrive when anyone climbs to the top of their pyramid is that they get cocky and disrespectful. I feel that sometimes Apple gives off this yuppie vibe that you need them to be cool, but changing that would destroy their amazing marketing so I guess it comes with the territory.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Grocery Shopping when you are Hungry

Not always the best idea, but I seem it do it all the time anyway. Last night while pulling a bag of cheddar and sour cream potato chips off the rack I thought about making a list of the positive and negative aspects of grocery shopping when you are hungry. Here it is:

You Should Not Shop when Hungry because:
  1. you will buy unhealthy food
  2. you will not bargain hunt
  3. you will not read labels
  4. you will forget something you had planned to buy
  5. after physical exercise you should be eating not shopping
A few reasons you should shop when you are hungry:
  1. about half way through that bag of potato chips you will be very satisfied
  2. you feel what nutrition your body is craving so you buy something you were lacking in your diet
  3. if you crave avocados
  4. you won't take long to decide what you want
So buying food when you are hungry is not the end of the world, and avocados are so tasty!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Surface Hardening is Cool

I work heat treating steels. What does this mean? I try to make steels last longer in their application by heating them up and cooling them down. That is my work in a nutshell. A small nutshell.

One way to make steels last longer is to surface harden them. There are several processes the most common being carburizing followed by nitriding. For aluminum anodizing is a surface hardening treatment. The basic process of carburizing is to diffuse carbon into the first millimeter or two of the steel. The carbon diffuses in the iron lattice interstitially and creates a compressive stress on the lattice and thus is harder than the interior of the material. So the very outer layer of the steel is hard and the interior is soft. This is used on everything from gears to bearings to watch casings.

The first time this process was applied commercially was to samurai swords hundreds of years ago. They would diffuse more carbon into the blade of the sword. The blade would be hard and the back would be softer. This allows the blade to bend a little bit when it cuts something. If the whole sword was hard it would shatter if it tried to cut something very hard. If it was all soft the blade would become dull very quickly. The balance of hard and soft steel allows a sharp and resilient sword.

We've come a long way since samurai swords. Probably over 100 parts in your car were surface hardened. The best part is that it is a carbon negative process, kind of. You take carbon, usually from some atmosphere like methane, and diffuse it into the steel where it stays indefinitely.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Running Teaches Me Things

Yesterday I ran a 22 mile long run. I averaged 7:03 pace. That is pretty long and fast by my standards. How do I do it? Passion.

Longs runs are my favorite training run. I just love going out there for two hours and running. I also think long runs have a lot to teach us. Go out too fast and you will pay for it in the last few miles. You see there are many walls in the world of running. I have hit the wall two miles into a 5k more than once. I even hit the wall 250 meters into a 400 once. Where these walls are depend on the person but the awesome thing about long runs is that you are guaranteed to go past one. Running more than 10 miles at a time is huge step because of the mental double digits thing. 15 is harder than 14, 18 is way harder than 17, 20 is far harder than 19. Think of these ups and downs as a roller coaster. With almost every wall comes an emotional time where I am so happy, sometimes to the point I want to cry.

I have had a number of injuries that have prevented me from running. Call me shallow for wanting do do something physical, but I'm still going to run. Every step that I take without pain is such a blessing. Even walking across a room. I am so fortunate because I can walk across the room, because I can run out on the roads, because I can climb mountains. When I see people in wheelchairs it makes me so sad. It also makes me run harder. I have such an opportunity. I feel so fortunate not only because I can walk and run but because I can run pretty well.

I am obligated to use my talents and do everything I can. I will climb above 20,000 feet, I will race hard, I will hang on the side of cliffs, who knows what else I will do. Running teaches me to be thankful for every step because "a journey of a 1000 miles starts with a single step." - Lao-Tzu

If you think my life is already crazy, hang on.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Run with Less on Your Feet

I've had my share of injuries. Most notably in terms of bad shoes patella-femoral tendonitis (runner's knee), two broken sesamoid bones, and plantar fasciitis. So now that I am training harder in preparation for the olympic marathon trials I have come across several things that I feel I need to incorporate into my training to take me to the next level (or next four levels, cause I have a long way to go). I have learned that shoes can mess me up. When I ran in high school my 20-40 miles a week I just wore some shoe that I had from a sports store. I usually only had one shoe for the whole year. I had no major injury in high school. In fact when I was 15 and 16 I trained for and ran a half marathon in the winter to try and keep in shape. One year I wore a pair of Nike waffles designed for cross country on the whole 13.1 mile pavement and dirt road corse. No injury and no pain that I remember.

Then comes college and I began to up my mileage and take an interest in what went on my feet. First it was what felt good in the store. Then it was what felt good three months later. About that time I was upping my mileage even more and it was what got me through 500 miles without an injury. I used stability shoes for a long time then switched to motion control and stability for the last two years.

We begin in January of 2006 while wearing a cushioning (women's) shoe (NB 1060) from New Balance I developed runner's knee. While clearing that up I moved to stability shoes. I went through two pairs of the NB 766, two NB 767, one NB 768, one ASICS 2110, one Nike I don't know the model, one Saucony Progrid Omni, one Brooks Adrenaline 7, and two Brooks Adrenaline 8. During that time I had a few flats that I used now and then like the NB 901 and Saucony Grid Tangent 2. Unfortunately I tried a more motion control type shoe and once you move up it is hard to move back down. I went through the Mizuno Wave Alchemy 6, Brooks Addiction 8, and Saucony Progrid Stabil. The thing is with that much motion control my feet are forced to move a certain way and I end up with knee pain or hip pain if I run too many miles. Basically the same thing as the cushioning shoe of yesteryear. So recently I moved back down and I'm on my second pair of Saucony Progrid Guide, a stability shoe.

My junior year in an indoor 5000 race I was wearing a pair of Nike Ventulus leopard print spikes and I smashed my sesamoid bone. At least I had never had pain there before but I had several problems after that. I took a month off and did some moderate to light training and ran a decent half marathon that spring. That summer I tried to incorporate barefoot running for the first time by doing strides. Bad mistake. Take that broken sesamoid bone and smash it at five minute mile pace into the ground. It really flared up and the doctor said I should take six months off from running. Yeah, I did that once it won't happen again if I can help it. Instead I put an L shaped patch under my foot in my shoe that took the pressure off. Needless to say I have been quite hesitant to take the shoes off since then. I have since learned that the key is to start by running slow and running short distances.

In my efforts to make my feet stronger the past six weeks I have been trying to do a few runs of about a half mile barefoot at the end of my regular runs. I've worked my way up to a mile. It is kind of humbling because a half mile or one mile is so short. Anyway a strange thing has happened: my stability shoes hurt a little. I have some orthotics in the boots that I wear during the day and they are starting to hurt as well. I have started to run more in flats. I bought a pair of Saucony Grid Fastswitch 3 and after only 40 miles in them I want to wear them all the time. My feet hurt more in shoes now than anytime I can remember. This recent obsession led me to buy two more pairs of flats a few days ago. The experience the last several years going through a pair of $90 shoes every two months makes me want to design and sell a $40 shoe, a flat, that is good enough for 500 miles. We don't need all of this motion control. The problem is that the rubber they use for trainers is designed to last 400-600 miles but in flats the rubber is often only made to last 100-200 miles so you can actually wear through the sole much faster in flats.

Has anybody really good ever gone barefoot you might ask? Yes in fact Abebe Bikila won the 1960 olympic marathon in Rome barefoot on cobblestone streets in 2:15 and set a world record in the process. That's all the information I need. If he could run 2:15 on cobblestones barefoot nearly 50 years ago I should be able to run a 2:18:xx under better conditions. Note: then he set the world record at 2:12 and won another gold medal in 1964 at Tokyo wearing shoes.

So what is my plan? Build slowly to get to the point where I can comfortably run one of my morning runs (3-7 miles) barefoot on the turf or on grass. This process should take two or three months. Right now I am at one mile comfortably barefoot near 8:00 mile pace. I also plan to run much more in flats because they keep the heel low to the ground similar to barefoot running. Wearing a shoe with a higher heel allows the calves and Achilles to get tight. I will still keep a few pairs of my stability shoes around for runs if my feet are tired or for technical trail runs. I would also like to try a pair of Newton shoes if I ever had $150 to spare. I will also continue to do foot stability, flexibility and strengthening exercises several times a week. These I will try to do for the rest of my running career because 20 minutes a week spread out over four "workouts" is completely worth the time that it will save me from being injured.

For more information:
Runner's World article by Amby Burfoot. He talks about Abebe Bikila some., it's pretty self explanatory.

Anton Krupicka wrote a good, down to earth, blog post about minimalist running. For those that don't know he came strait out of college and set all sorts of ultrarunning records.

Born to Run by Chris McDougall is about a tribe of Indians in Mexico that run hundreds of miles at all ages nearly without injury. They wear thin sandals to protect their feet from the elements.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Pakistan Video Sample: 10 of 10

Here is the last little bit of free video preview. I am still not done editing the full length film but I have a deadline of having something for the first WPI Outing Club meeting in B term in about two weeks. If you are in the area I'll announce when the meeting is and I suggest you come. It will be a food meeting with a movie probably around two hours long with so many things that I left out of this short series.

This video covers the day coming down from camp three, a visit to K2 base camp, and the trek out. I also put more effort into this short clip than any of the other clips. I tried to focus on the human aspect a little more. Ultimately it is about the humans and not the mountains.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Synthetic Chemistry

Synthetic chemistry is the science of making molecules. These are the people making the things that might cure cancer. It is possibly the most universally relentless career to pursue. I have a friend who is at graduate school for his doctorate. He works in a synthetic chemistry lab. The advisor at his lab expects everyone to work 12 hour days six days a week. Fortunately that is one of the more understanding advisors. His friend is in a lab that asks for 14 hours seven days a week. In that world there are no such things as weekends off. In fact there are rumors of professors that makes rounds at 7 AM and 11 PM every day to make sure that their students are working. I was astounded when I learned all of this. But there is more.

Synthetic chemistry was more or less started in the 50s and 60s by a professor at Harvard. He worked his students hard. Therefore when they went out and had their own lab groups they worked their students hard. The process perpetuated itself because that's one way to get breakthroughs and results. Now 50 years later most of the respected synthetic chemistry labs in the country operate on these ridiculous schedules. Now for the gory details. The professor and Nobel laureate, Elias Corey, that started it all has had three suicides in his lab group. (By the way the article linked above is really good and very long.)

My graduate school experience is not nearly as threatening. I suspect that most graduate school students enjoy life as much as they ever have. That 70-90 hours a week attitude is not one which pervades all fields of science graduate life. I encourage people to go to graduate school but before you do make sure that it is the right choice for you.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Successful Innovative Companies: Volume 2

The Successful Innovative Company of the week is Noodles and Company.
Why they are great: Simple, variety, fast, relaxing, easy. They have a relatively small menu of about 20 items total. They focus on noodle dishes so almost everything is some sort of pasta. They have just one menu not a separate menu for lunch and supper. The menu is also grouped by region like Asian and Mediterranean. The experience is: you go in and it is similar to Subway or Quiznos with several basic items and you can add meats or sides. Then you go to a table and sit down and 5-10 minutes later they bring your food you eat and then leave your stuff there and they clean it up. It is not a served meal so most people don't leave a tip. It is much faster than trying to go to a traditional sit down restaurant. The portion size is also fantastic. It is somewhat small but if you eat the whole meal you will not be hungry. It is probably the perfect size. They also price the meals well with most being 8-12 dollars. In summary: it's cheap, you get to sit down, the food is really good, they give you the right amount, and it is fast.

What they are lacking: More locations, especially in the northeast. This is a college wonder restaurant. I think they have free wi-fi at most places and this is definitively the kind of place to go for lunch and stay for two hours. This is a chain that should set up shop in every college town walking distance from 5000 college students.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How to Handle the Most Demanding Weeks (at School)

I've been going to school for a long time. 17 years or so. I have taken a lot of tests and had a number of weeks of my life that never seem to end. Here's how I get through them:
  • Enjoy the mornings. For me this means a mocha or a sandwich or some other expensive luxury that I don't usually buy. It makes me feel like the day is important.
  • Do sleep. The actual productivity between the hours of 2-5 AM for most people is pretty terrible.
  • Take pleasure in the difficulty. It is supposed to be hard. If it was easy everyone would be doing it but they are not. This is why you are different.
  • Get away from the desk now and then. Go for a walk, a run, watch an episode of Scrubs, call your parents, clean the kitchen, or read my other blog posts. It works best for me not to schedule my fun time but to let it happen when I need it.
  • Buy some comfort food. Some good cheese or ice cream or cheesy potato chips helps me get through a few more hours.
  • Understand that if you had done more work the last several weeks this week might be easier. Learn from this.
Hope this helps!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

12 Step Plan for Running More Miles

Now running more miles is not really the best goal in the world. Running races faster or losing weight are better goals. Still one of the ways to accomplish running faster or losing weight is to run more. So you run xx miles and a week and you want to run xx or even dare I say xxx miles a week. How do you do it? Here is my 12 step plan:

1. Do a long long run. 18-25 percent of your goal weekly mileage. It doesn't have to to fast. You can walk part of it if you get tired. You just have to finish it. If you run five or less times a week and are training for a marathon you can have a long run up to 30 percent of your weekly mileage.
2. Take easy days. Of course this also implies harder or longer days. Try not to run the same distance two days in a row.
3. Run slower. If your goal is just to cover a distance take it 10 seconds a mile slower, or more.
4. Have some goal (besides the mileage). Trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon or run a PR at whatever distance will help keep you motivated on the cold, wet, windy days.
5. Stretch. I prefer active stretches like swinging my legs before runs and static stretches after my runs. A flexible runner takes less energy to move his or her legs.
6. Run with friends who are trying to do the same amount as you are. If someone else is suffering doing the same thing it makes it more bearable.
7. Run a different route every day. This keeps it mentally new and interesting.
8. Keep a running log. This way you can track your progress and see accomplishment. I use Running Ahead.
9. Do a medium long run. This is kind of a more advanced method but it is good for aerobic development.
10. Run twice in one day. This can take some getting used to but it is a sure fire way to run more miles in one day with less stress on your body than the same distance in one run.
11. Celebrate the little things. Your first 13 mile run! Your first 70 mile week! A 5k PR by only 2 seconds! Keeping a positive attitude keeps you working.
12. Don't be a slave to your mileage. If you are hurt, injured, burntout, tired, or sick take the day off. A day or even a week off now is better than three months off down the road because you didn't take care of yourself.

So those are some steps you can take in order to run more miles. Get out more!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Pakistan Video Sample: 9 of 10

Here it is, the one everyone has been waiting for, camp three at over 23,000 feet and 7000 meters! Keep in mind that This is all a sample. I have more footage that I will piece together to make my movie. In fact the movie has things which I prefer not to put on the internet as well as much higher quality. Additionally I have begun posting these videos on YouTube. One of my tent mates at camp three also posted his camp three video a few days ago. Watch it!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Changes of Pakistan Two Months Later

When I first returned from Pakistan I was pumped up to go out and do life. I wanted to do everything immediately. Unfortunately that attitude has been changing, but not completely. Now I'll tell a few short stories to illustrate how my development is going.

When I discovered that I was going to be staying in school until December I realized I have to pace myself and I became in somewhat less of a rush to finish my thesis. Although I am still the first one in the office every morning and often the last to leave.

The week I got back from Pakistan my family went out to Colorado and I went running or climbing every day. I was turning in times on these routes which are very respectable. Think 4-5 mph. I felt that I had to run because time was short.

I have known for years that this fall was going to be when I started training for the olympic marathon trials in earnest. Well, I'm trying to go for 110 miles this week after only two weeks in my life over 100. Let me tell you it is not easy. The last six miles of my 15 mile run yesterday I imagined I was 4th in the olympic marathon trials with a pack of six close behind me. But I fell apart in the last mile and most of them beat me. This run reenergized me because if I am actually going to qualify for 2012 I have a long way to go.

When I got back to school I started working on my business plan but after many hours of work I soon worked on my thesis more and kind of left it hanging. I started working on it this week again, but some time is already lost.

Finally, when I returned I was happy to spend money because life is short and I like mochas. Now I am once again in debt and surviving on the free coffee in the copy room.

The moral of these stories is that I have calmed down and will not be yelling at my friends anytime soon. However, I still realize more than ever that life is short and I have to use every hour.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Successful Innovative Companies: Volume 1

I am going to start a weekly series where I highlight one company and talk about why they are better than their competition. I will talk about their innovations and strategies as well as their pitfalls. No company is perfect in the same way that no person is perfect. My list is biased by the activities I do. That is to say I am not going to highlight companies like investing firms and healthcare providers because I have very little experience in those areas as well as not being greatly impressed by those industries. I am not sure how long this series will last, perhaps 20 companies, perhaps 300.

So here it is, the first Successful Innovative Company of the Week: Cilogear


This is a tiny (three people I believe) start up company that was founded in 2004 to make backpacks for alpinists. The founder, Graham, was living in Turkey doing consulting and when his company was getting restructured he decided to start a company. He soon moved to New York City and recently moved to Portland, OR.

Why they are amazing: Their backpacks are really incredible. I own a 60 liter sack and it weighs in around three pounds which is much less than most of the competition. Their backpacks are very adaptable. They have a removable frame, an aluminum strip and hard plastic board to keep the backpack stiff and distribute the load. They have a removable back pad, a folded in half closed cell foam sleeping pad which cushions your back from the frame or can be used alone for lighter loads and as part of a sleeping system to provide extra warmth. They also have removable compression straps so you can compress the backpack or strap things to the outside using their patented (or patent pending) Dee-Clip system. You can also leave the straps off all together for an even lighter backpack. The hip belt is also easily removable. Cilogear use many different types of materials which allows for durable fabric in high wear areas and lighter fabric in low wear areas. I believe they use three or four times as many fabrics as the industry standard for backpacks. One last little detail that makes me happy is their ice axe holders. They are the best I have ever used because they keep my axes from twisting around and getting in the way yet are still very simple.

In a business sense they are cool because they have an informative blog, which unfortunately they don't update as often now as they used to. They also do most of their business through their website. They do not go through the big retail chains and can thus avoid huge markups. This allows them to keep their prices low. They also build backpacks on demand instead of making huge quantities and then trying to sell it. They also do not do much advertising in the tradition sense. They give free backpacks to high profile climbers, which end up featured in other companies promotional products, and get reviews on popular websites from high profile climbers and reviewers.

What they could improve: Communication to their tribe of followers. I am planning to buy one of their new backpacks which was supposed to be available several weeks ago so I sent them an email and they did not respond and have not posted any blog posts about when the new back packs will be actually be ready.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Coaching: The Mental Part

This post is the second and final part about coaching. Read the first one on the physical aspect. When I get better at it maybe I'll write a book but for now it only warrants two blog posts.

First of all, the mental part of coaching someone in athletics, life or whatever is difficult. Every person is different and responds differently to coaching. Some people you can raise your voice at and they take the hint, others (probably most) will perform worse after getting yelled at. In running some people like to know the day to day detailed schedule weeks in advance and others like to know it just minutes before they do it because if they know about it ahead of time they will over think the work and tell themselves it is too hard and they can't do it.

Now the goal of coaching is to convince someone that he or she can reach a goal. That is it. Often a coach is a resource who can act as a facilitator, teacher, guide, positive authority figure, friend, and leader, but not necessarily. About that last one, leader, I have been on enough disgruntled teams to know that while everyone shows up and does the workouts the coach may not be an effective leader.

I used the word convince, not achieve, because the coach is not there to ensure you get to that level. The coach is there to help you get to that level. If we achieved our goals every time our goals are too easy or we are amazing.

A few mental tips to make race day go easier: triple knot your shoes (I've had doubles come undone), make a race plan at least the day before so you don't have to worry about it that morning, stick to the race plan, have confidence in your training so that when someone tries to pass you, you know you can hold them off, and don't forget to have fun!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Coaching: The Physical Part

I have only been an actual assistant coach for about a month but I like to imagine that I've been helping mentor my teammates, especially the younger ones, for years. The advantage is that I am so young that I can easily relate to their situation. The disadvantage is that I don't know everything. Also, I am a runner with the other 41 million Americans that run so I can not comment on "common" team sports.

In running a large part of the performance of a race is based on physical limitations. From the 2:13 marathoner to the 25:30 5ker everyone is gasping and has burning legs at the end of the race. For a coach the pressure is on to maximize the performance of the athletes at some race or races. I was reading Brad Hudson's book "From the 5k to the Marathon: How to be your own best Coach" and he gave the following example. In sailing you can take multiple courses to get to your destination. He said you could sail into the wind at a steep angle and go slow or take a more shallow angle and go much faster but have to tack back and forth. I created the chart below as an example:
The point of this is that you can not push your body to the limit every day and hope that it will achieve the results you want as quickly as if you varied the stress on your body. That means taking it easy sometimes and listening to your body. It also means that it is okay to add on more mileage or repeats or run faster if the athlete is feeling good. Why slow down an athlete's progress?

Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers suggests that 10,000 hours of practice is what is needed to move someone from the bottom of the pile to the top. This goes along with what my friends and I discovered by experience: To get better at running you have to run more. So there you have it. The shortest description of how to maximize physical potential that you will probably ever read.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Pakistan Video Sample: 8 of 10

This movie snippet is titled Cabin Fever. After about five days of not climbing most people get restless. We were waiting around for our summit push on Broad Peak and actually avalanche watching. Imagine one step up from watching the grass grow and paint dry and one step down from watching a piece of paper get blown across the street. Then I put a little clip at the end with hair burgers because they were one of our favorite meals.

Sometimes it doesn't all make sense.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

How much do I eat?

A few weeks ago a friend asked on Facebook how much I ate every day. I've tried to track calories somewhat the past two weeks and it is not easy because many things I eat come without labels. Anyway here is a go of my Wednesday:

Breakfast 1:
Multigrain bagel: 400 calories

Breakfast 2:
14 oz 1% milk: 180 calories
Kookies (cereal): 360 calories
8 oz. coffee with three Mini-Moos and one sugar: 2+30+15=47

Lunch 1:
Hummus sandwich on oat nut bread: 280
24 oz. 1% milk: 330

Lunch 2:
Panera chicken bacon Dijon: 940 (if it was country bread)

24 oz Gatorade: 150
Pizza at a microbrewery, not too filling: 700 calories
Long island iced tea: 250 calories

Vitamin water 20 oz. lemonade: 125
Wednesday Total: 3,362 calories

And Tuesday:
Ham, Egg and cheese on multigrain bagel at Dunkin Donuts: 590 calories
14 oz milk: 180 calories
10 oz coffee with four creamers and three sugars: 3+40+45=88 calories

One slice of pizza with broccoli and chicken: 250 calories
Small salad but with blue cheese dressing: 400 calories

Spaghetti with vodka sauce, olive oil, and bay scallops: 400 calories
Ice cream: 400 calories
Tuesday total: 2,308 calories

And Monday:
12 oz. Mocha: 400 calories
Two muffins: 900 calories

Three slices of oat nut bread: 360 calories
Hummus on each slice: 90 calories

Lunch 2:
6 oz. steak with a slice of pickle on a hot dog bun: 420 calories
one serving of bacon potato salad: 130 calories

12" buffalo chicken pizza with pineapple from Domino's: 1000 calories
Monday total: 3,300 calories

Average over three days: 2,990 calories

This is not an exact science and I usually don't eat this much pizza or buy this much restaurant food but it is not uncommon. So I probably eat a little less than 3,000 calories a day. Also in these three days I ran 41 miles which is a little higher than normal.