Monday, August 30, 2010

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 21

The week started as many of my weeks do. I went to church, walked
around Boulder looking for a book, then I went for a run. Simple enough.
Then Monday my climbing partner and I woke up at 12:30 AM and drove
from Rollinsville to Longs Peak and attempted the Casual Route on The
Diamond. However, after making it through the 5.7 traverse in a light
drizzle and 40 degree windy conditions we decided to rappel off. We
did six double rope rappels to get back the where we roped up in the
morning. It was a really great day. Very long but very satisfying. I
intend to write an article about it in the near future.
Tuesday saw me drive to Utah. Wednesday saw me try to climb Castleton
Tower then drive to California. Thursday was more driving to Yosemite
followed by getting a spot at Camp 4 and trying to figure out what to
do next.
Then Friday and Saturday saw me work The Nose on El Capitan. Friday I
fixed the first two official pitches (actually three pitches) and
dehydrated myself in the process by only bringing a 20 oz. water
bottle. I returned Saturday with four gallons of water, a pile of
food, and a sleeping bag. Intent on getting to the top in about four
days. Well, as I worked through the clean aid 2 with fixed gear pitch
I came to a blank section. A section where a copper head would go
prefectly. However that is the fixed gear part of that rating and I
did not bring any gear to fix. Thus to the cheers of people from El
Cap meadow I tried to pendulum to a crack on my right. I was just a
few feet short of a nice two inch wide ledge so I thought I could make
a hook move on a quarter inch thick flake to reach it. I set the hook.
I played with it a little. Then I moved my weight onto it. In the
process it must have shifted or the flake broke because I heard the
ping and went flying through the air tearing my skin and shorts as I
scraped across the rock. Bleeding, tired and sore I decided that I
would rappel off only a scant 500 feet into a 3500 foot climb. Below
is a picture just before I rappelled from the belay at pitch three.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Seige on El Cap has Begun!

I woke up at six and headed out of Camp 4 on my way to El Cap and The
Nose. I sorted gear beside my van and then headed up. The route
doesn't officially start until you are above some 5.5 ground
fortunately there was a fixed rope I jugged up with my ascenders.
After that there was a little third class pitch then the route began.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What a Trip!

Wow. So 1,200 miles and 47 hours after I left Rollinsville I am
sitting here outside the Yosmite Valley Visitors Center. I came here
to climb the biggest steepest rock walls in this country (maybe the
world) and they sure are big. More on that later.

After my hike on Castleton Tower and short drive to Moab I headed
west. Along Interstate 70 it was pretty standard. However, once Google
Maps took me off the interstate it turned interesting.

My map took me along Nevada highway 375 which is the Extreterrestial
Highway. At the beginning they scare you with a sign that said "No
Services Next 150 miles". This is a place where there is still hardly
any barb wire and cattle freely cross the road.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Failure on Castleton

So my first objective of this trip was castleton Tower in Utah. I
hiked to the base. Roped up with myself and started up. In short I
became scared and decided I didn't need to get to the top. I rappelled
off a rock and walked down. I was somewhat upset and dissapointed in
myself directly after the retreat as seen in the first picture.

Monday, August 23, 2010

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 20

It was a very good week. I had an interview in Maryland for a research and development engineering position. It went quite well. It's hard to say if it went well enough that they will want to hire me, yet it was probably my best interview ever. I was somewhat nervous that I would not be interested in the company or that Maryland would not be attractive but I was wrong on both counts. The work seems interesting, the people seem quite agreeable, and Maryland has more to offer someone like myself than I expected.

That was by far the highlight of the week because the security of a job is very important to me right now. However, I had a great week of climbing. Tuesday night before my interview I went to the local climbing gym bouldering and did three V4s. That's better than I usually do. Thursday I went trad climbing with a guy who led two 5.10 pitches and a 5.11b pitch on the Bastile in Eldorado canyon. I had never trad climbed anything that hard. Then Saturday I went climbing and led a sustained 5.9 pitch and successfully top roped another 5.12. A good week indeed.

I didn't run many miles but I had a six mile run without pain! I'm coming back!

Also my computer power cord was left in Maryland so I bought a new one but for the time being I am computerless.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

He Took Me Climbing

I have taken many people climbing. When I am the more experienced I
usually take care of the route finding. Usually I am returning to a
place I have been many times and I will not even bring the guidebook.
For the first time in years I went climbing Thursday with a much more
experienced rock climber. He didn't bring the guidebook but instead
listed off routes and where they were. It felt a bit like we were
winging it.

I could not help but think of all the people I have taken climbing and
not brought the guidebook. Did they feel like I was winging it?

I had total confidence that he knew what he was doing and that we were
safe. Yet part of me felt like I was getting in over my head.

This may sound strange but reading the description or looking at the
map calms me down and gives me a measure of confidence. I know that I
can get up it. Climbing behind a much better leader on a route I don't
even know on the other hand makes me doubt that I am actually good
enough to get up it. All things considered it was an awesome
experience. I do not have the ability right now to lead a 5.11b
traditional climb. However, if I keep following others at that level
and become a better climber eventually I will be at that level, if
that is what I want.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Full Time Coach

WPI, my alma mater, now has a year round track and field coach. I pushed for that the last several years I was at college because I realized the importance of that contact. Running is a simple sport. Yet I had to learn many of the details on my own because access to a coach was limited. I had plenty of opportunity to ask questions, and I did, yet at 11 AM on a Wednesday when I thought of something, my coach would be at his job. I always envied the other sport players would go hang out with their coach between classes. There is a certain education and motivation that is derived from a coach. The more I understood my sport the better I became. The more I knew my coach the more I understood his methods, and the better I became.

More important than the facilities athletes have, it is about the people the athletes have. I remember distinctly one morning at about 8:30 AM I was working out in the morning, alone, and the basketball coach was working with one of the basketball players one on one in our dusty old practice gym. It was just the two of them, and I think that the basketball player was mostly just shooting free throws. It's not just about the shooting hoops, they were also talking about the most recent game. They were talking about ways to get better. They were probably talking about life in general as well.

First, there is the thought.

Second, there is talking,

Third, there is doing.

A coach can provide many athletes with the thoughts and the talking as well as a way to accomplish the doing. It seems simple, but without some direction most athletes at my former college, or at least runners, would never think of getting to nationals. They wouldn't even realize that nationals exists until their third year running with us and if you haven't made the commitment to work hard to get there by that point you will probably not go. Now with a coach around all the time I am hoping that that seed of greatness will be planted early in their career. Instead of first and second year student athletes dwelling on their suffering compared to high school they might be thinking of goals, and what it takes to get there.

For example, take two runners. Both raced about the same in high school and ran about 40 miles per week. Now it takes a whole lot more than mileage (workouts, injury resistance, mentality, attitude, etc.) to make a good runner but for the sake of simplicity that's all I'm going to talk about. Both runners get to college and their first week they each run 50 miles. Runner A immediately gets stressed out because classes are hard, the running is hard, he is away from his old friends and family, he used to be one of the best on the team now he is not even in the top ten on his new team, and he really only sees the older runners when they run a workout and they are so much faster. Runner B on the other hand is talked to by the coach as soon as he gets to college. The coach tells him to relax and be patient. He says it takes several years to develop as a runner so he comforts the young runner through lackluster workouts and even races compared to what the runner did in high school. The coach continually reminds the runner to be patient and just keep showing up every day. The coach schedules a meeting with Runner B so that they can just talk. Sort of a counseling session where the runner talks not only about running but also about missing his old friends and the classes which are harder than he expected. Runner B leaves feeling refreshed and more comfortable on the team.

The next year Runner A struggles again having never really even done the freshman workload. He skips practice from time to time and runs the same times in workouts and races that he did as a freshman. He still has trouble maintaining 50 miles per week. Runner B upped his mileage during the summer to 65 miles a week and when he gets back to school in the fall is now possibly looking at a spot on varsity (top seven runners on a cross country team). The trend continues and by their fourth year Runner A is running faster than he ever has because he adjusted to college finally. He places well in some smaller races. Runner B has developed every year, despite missing some time running due to injuries because he didn't listen to the coach all the time. He is trying to qualify for nationals and coming pretty close.

It also self perpetuates. A coach who develops some mediocre athletes into good athletes will be recognized by high school recruits. Then several good athletes will come to the program and develop into national champion caliber athletes. Good athletes will continue to come because they see the national champions on the team and want to be that good themselves.

The point is, I have seen my team, my friends, take a number of steps both forward and backward over the last half of a decade and this is by far the biggest step forward in recent history. I am very excited to hear how the school year goes.

Monday, August 16, 2010

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 19

This week was interesting. It had some ups and downs.

I was originally planning on having an interview in Maryland this week. Unfortunately, all sorts of little problems coincided so that it had to be rescheduled. Fortunately, the new date is set for this week and I think that this time it will all work out. I won't go into any more detail about the work except to say that it is a materials science job and I am very excited for the interview. I have been asked several times if I am nervous and I have to say that I am actually not nervous. I am who I am and I have done what I have done. Obviously there is no lying in an interview. If I am not the best person to help them then I hope they get a better new employee. I am confident that life always works out for the better, however painful that is along the way. If this doesn't pan out there will be more opportunities. Who knows, I may spend my winter making snow at a ski resort in Colorado. That job could start within less than a month.

After that large "down" for the beginning of the week I went climbing. I climbed on the Piz Badile twice, getting to the top once and getting rained off once. I went climbing on Sharkstooth, but turned around when it became too cold and windy for me to feel comfortable. I went bouldering on Lumpy Ridge and climbed the Little Twin Owls.  Below is the view from the top of the North Little Owl looking at South Little Owl and Longs Peak.

I bouldered my cabin several times finally getting past the crux which is a layback on the roof with my feet on wooden slopers. It's maybe V1 or easy V2. Then I went climbing on Lumpy Ridge again on The Book and as usual made it up one pitch of 5.8+ in poor style with a climbing partner who had not done too much traditional climbing before. Thus tears were shed and we rappelled down. On the positive side I managed to get a Link Cam stuck. My climbing partner could not get it out so I rappelled and tried to get it out. After maybe ten minutes it came out. I have never stuck a cam so well (that's a bad thing because it's expensive, but a good thing because it is very safe). It was a good learning experience for me working a Link Cam out. They are my favorite piece of rock climbing protection and the more I know how to work with them the better and safer I will climb.

I ran 10.5 miles this week. I probably hiked just as many or more. My leg keeps feeling better but it still hurts a little. I plan to start ramping it up this week or next. I can tell that I have lost a lot of my fitness. On the positive side, I just know that this injury is better than it could have been. I could have easily been knocked out for several months with a fracture.

Since I am living more or less free at the camp I am at I have also been doing some work to repay their generosity. I stained my deck this week and helped move a kitchen. When I say kitchen I mean four eight foot long steel serving tables with five sinks a piece, a double convection oven, and a walk in freezer. Yes, we moved a walk in freezer. Three of us. The other two in their upper 50s and myself. It was tiring.

I applied for more jobs using the standard online applications. I have been called about so few of those jobs in the past. Even though I have a much better idea of how to apply I still do not feel very optimistic about my chances getting any of those jobs. As I apply for jobs and have no income to speak of I am content in a way. I climbed a whole lot this week. While I haven't "done" anything to speak of in my life, such as work 40 hours a week in engineering. I am somewhat enjoying this vacation. There is a good chance that the next time I have this much free time I will be in my 60s or 70s. Also, I have worked hard. My education, specifically the last five and a half years of it were not easy. That is to say, I desperately want an engineering job, but I do not feel guilty about rock climbing the better part of four days this week.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Free Soloing

The most dangerous climbing game. The big showdown. You fall, you die. The idiots game. The game of the perfect people.

Two years ago I started rope soloing seriously (and four years ago for the first time) because I thought free soloing (climbing without any rope or protection) was too risky. It is very simple, if you fall from over 30 feet in the air chances are you will die. Tuesday I did my most risky free soloing yet. There is a little 500-600 foot tall rock near the place I live called the Piz Badile. The North Ridge is a simple 5.6 four pitch climb. My friends and I have climbed it numerous times. Rumor has it one of my friends free soloed the whole thing. Now if you known what you are doing the whole thing can go at 5.4. So Tuesday I went up on it with the intent of soloing it, part with a rope, and part without.

The first part of the ridge is generally the crux, but if you climb the left side of the ridge it goes at maybe 5.0. I free soloed that in my running shoes. At the first belay ledge I switched to rock shoes and roped up. About one regular pitch farther I unroped and free soloed some more. Then I roped in for a little more. Finally where the ridge flattens out I unroped and cruised the traverse to the hill. The exposure on that last part was maybe 200 feet down or 300 feet on each side of this three foot wide ridge of 5.0 climbing. It sure got my heart pumping.

The reason I decided to climb without a rope holding me in is that I have realized how much faster it is to free solo something. There is no stopping to put protection in. There is no rope management. There is no belaying. Less gear is needed. Climbing shoes are about it. Dean Potter free soloed the Casual Route on Longs peak car to car in 3:59. Two years ago it took my friend and I 20:15. Five times as long.

However, this post is not about how much faster it is or why it is dangerous. This post is about what it feels like. I have read other climbers descriptions where they talk about nirvana or an ideal faultless state. They feel like they will not make a mistake. I didn't feel like that at all. The first pitch I felt fine because I've done that section several times. However, above that it was terrifying. My fingers did not stick to the rock magically. I didn't feel more secure than when I climb with a rope. My heart was beating hard and fast and my hands were sweating. When I free soloed the ridge above I had to take a break after about 150 feet because I was out of breath. Without stopping to put in protection or belay I was moving very fast over technical terrain. I had to sit there for 30 seconds on this tiny ridge to get my breathing under control.

It was not exactly a liberating experience. It was scary.

When I climb I do not spend much time looking down. I am always looking up or to the sides to figure out where to go next. That being said the two seconds here and there where my gaze happened to drift downward really got my attention. There is no lying to yourself when you are free soloing. It is very honest. You fall, you die. Derek Hersey and John Bachar died free soloing. In the Himalaya, Karakorum, Alps, Rocky Mountains, and elsewhere around the world dozens of people have died from "falls" while the terrain they are on may only be third or fourth class or grade two ice the result is the same. I say "falls" because I have taken falls in the mountains. Falls that, without a rope, I would not be here. However, I have not taken any of those "falls" that each person can only take once.

There is a video of Dean Potter soloing El Capitan in Yosmite that just scares me and inspires me. He free solos stuff really far off the ground. No margin for error. Another video is of Alex Honnold soloing Half Dome. A full page picture was featured in Outside Magazine (I think) recently of him at the end of the traverse on the Regular Northwest Face. I have read of that traverse. It scares people. Watching him do that in the video, when he freezes half way across... my palms were sweating even though I knew he made it.

Scary, fun, dangerous, rewarding, and scary about describe it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Epic on the Piz (Badile)

About five miles away from the camp I live at is a little 600 foot tall rock called the Piz Badile. It's named after a similar formation in Europe. I have wanted to climb it solo for a long time and Monday at about 11:45 AM I decided the time was right.

I drove down the road. I packed a tiny rack. My four link cams, six nuts, four regular runners, one double length runner, a few locking carabiners, rock shoes, chalk, and my 60 meter 7.5 millimeter dynamic rope. It all fit in my 18 liter backpack. The approach from my van to the base of the climb took nine minutes. There is a 5.0 or even fourth class variation to the first pitch on the left side of the main ridge and I quickly free soloed to the bolts at the first anchor. Feeling good I free soloed another 20 feet. Then there was a move I just was not feeling comfortable with so I plugged in two cams and tied into the rope to begin rope soloing.  by the time I had all of that worked out it started to drizzle. I made the move I had been worried about and it began to rain harder. Instead of continue up into the lightening on the wet rock I decided to detour to a tree 20 feet away and rappel off.

I climbed to the tree, wrapped it with a sling, rappelled back to the two cams, removed them from the rock, and climbed back up to the tree. All that time the rain kept pouring harder. I took a quick video because I felt safe enough and I feel that I never video enough during the "epic" moments. I rappelled maybe 25 meters to the ground and walked back to my van. I was soaking wet, and of course wearing cotton. All of my gear was wet. It was kind of scary.

It was a very good experience for several reasons. I knew exactly how to do everything safely. I didn't waste time sitting around. Also for the perhaps 150 feet of vertical climbing that I wore my rock climbing shoes I made good time. The whole trip including approach and descent was only one hour and nine minutes. I will no doubt be back in the near future. The Piz is great because of the easy climbing, short approach, and length of the route. It is a great place to develop skills such as self-rescue, speed, technical independence, efficiency, and confidence which can be taken to larger mountains. Watch the video:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

No Smoking

So I went on a road trip with two smokers. It was a turning point in my attitude toward smokers. First, some history...

When I was six my dad was given a cigar for one of his friend's having a baby. I took one puff because he offered and then I promptly threw up. That was my smoking lesson. I haven't touched any smoking stick or pipe or anything to my lips since then.

In high school many of my good friends smoked.  I didn't mind because they didn't smoke very often and I was still somewhat used to restaurants having smoking sections. College changed that. I ran more and developed my aerobic system to a high level. I also lived in Massachusetts, which prohibits smoking in all restaurants. Very few of my friends smoked. I learned to avoid smoke. It was (and probably still is) common for several of us to cough loudly at cross country and track meets when we smell smoke. Long distance running is a very lung intensive sport and smoking will only hurt runners.

I knew ahead of time that my two friends smoked. The problem is I didn't realize how much they smoked. Each of them had five cigarettes in the first six hours of the road trip. I was cramped in a car with two smokers. We rolled the windows down but it only helped to a certain extent.

I made a decision about halfway through the trip. No more road trips with smokers. We can still be friends but smokers are not welcome to join me in the future. In five and a half years living and road tripping in New England only once did someone in the same car as me light up a cigarette. That was because I forgot my ice climbing boots. He was a little frustrated to drive four hours one way not to ice climb, understandably. The other 50 hours that him and I have spent in a car and climbing have been smoke free.

It's my health, my comfort, and my choice. You have the choice to smoke and I have the choice to spend time with you. I have several relatives who have emphysema all because their dad smoked. I understand that not everyone is predisposed to get emphysema or lung cancer, but I am afraid that I am. It is me or the smoke. Your choice.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mountains of Inexperience

I like to push people to do better. I like to run with people farther than they have ever run before. I like to climb taller, steeper walls with people who have never done something like that before. I like to tell people they can do it when they have doubts. Unfortunately, this has not worked out so well this summer. My recent failure on the Grand Teton magnified a few communication problems I have been having in my head this summer. I haven't really communicated wrongly with others just myself.

As I get more experienced I try to do things like run farther, climb higher, go lighter, stretch the boundaries of a "one day" attempt, and the like advanced skills. The problem is that I am taking people with me who are less experienced in the mountains. Trying to do the Grand Teton in one day demands very strong people who aren't going to fool around and waste time. The route is 6800 vertical feet from car to summit and perhaps eight or nine miles one way with at least two pitches of fifth class rock climbing on the easiest route. I have only done that much vertical elevation in one day twice in my life. Add to that the whole trip has to be done carrying rock climbing gear (heavy) and get down before bad weather (the lightening is scary up there). When I look at the statistics more I realize that I was really trying to do something that would be a bit of a challenge for me. I was taking three people with me who were just not as strong as I was. It was a strong group. Had we tried to do it in two days I think we would have been very successful. Yet trying to do it in one day was a little bit too much.

Riding back the next day I thought about yet another mountain climbing failure this summer. I have only topped out one climb this summer and that was Castle Rock in Boulder Canyon perhaps 400 feet high. I have failed on Longs Peak three times. Lumpy Ridge (the Bookmark), the Petit Grepon, and the First Flatiron (I did get up it once) all repulsed me once. Those other failures are because I was trying to take people up something that was just too difficult. They were all capable of doing it yet because of time constraints due to work schedules or weather we just were not moving fast enough.

I have been selfishly attempting objectives that I want to have under my belt. I have been doing this without much regard as to the partner I am climbing with. I will use a running example to illustrate my point. These failures would be similar to taking a running who usually ran 13 miles once a week at eight minutes per mile pace and trying to get them to run 17 miles at seven minutes per mile pace. Possible? Probably, but that is a really difficult step up. The chances of actually hitting that goal are very low. The pace will dwindle or the run will get cut short.

What I am trying to say is that after this summer I am less likely to take newbies out to do something I consider interesting. I will still take inexperienced people out climbing but on objectives which are not very ambitious by my standards. I have the skills and the physical and mental conditioning to do technical things solo carrying all of my own ropes and gear faster than taking others along.

I read a biography of Hermann Buhl and I will paraphrase what someone, perhaps Reinhold Messner, said about him. 'Buhl was driven to solo climbing because he was so good that he was criticized by the other climbers and thus had a difficult time finding a climbing partner.' That's not at all why I solo climb. I do it mostly because I can not find a partner who can keep up with me. I definitely do not get criticized for being too good. Anyway, I had three failures this summer on objectives I have the experience to handle. At least in part they have all been due to the people I have been with. As the leader of the group it is my duty to instill confidence and provide strength for the group. However, when I look into someone's eyes and see fear it magnifies the fears in my head. I am influenced by others. Also, when I set time goals for certain way points along the way and we are not hitting them I get worried. Despite getting up 4800 feet and seven miles on Grand Teton in a mere five hours I felt we should have been faster.

I have taken 18 people traditional lead climbing for the first time. I have thought about starting to charge people for my services. Most of the people in the world do not have free access to a climber and runner like me. (Most don't want access anyway because they will never run or climb.) I have several friends that guide for different guiding companies, and I have talked to many more mountain guides. I also have similar experience in the running world (although I have much farther to progress in running than I do in mountain climbing). I enjoyed teaching 11 and 12 year old boys to rock climb and rappel this summer. In large part because I was getting paid to do it.

What does the future hold? Will I continue to take newbies out on grade II and III climbs? Will I take less conditioned runners out on long runs? Perhaps I will. In fact, I know I will. However, I think I will be more selective in the future. That is to say no grade III climbs for new trad climbers. I will probably not do any of my long runs or important workouts with people who haven't done similar runs.

Anyway, I'm still here. I still really like pushing people. I like teaching. I like taking new people to do things. I will continue to do all of those things I have done before, but with a little less ambition. I had a friend tell me this summer, "Isaiah, you are the most ambitious person I know." So I will tone it down a little for my friends. Still the pushing people to new limits, but no shoving.

Just before the lower saddle on Grand Teton. Three of my friends crossing a snowfield in tennis shoes. (I  recommended not bringing boots and crampons or ice axes.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 18

This will be short but I have a lot of ideas for blog posts later in the week.

Camp ended.  Our last day of work was with a group of 400 kids from Operation Smiles. More on that in the week to come. Unemployment started. That being said I am not planning on ever drawing unemployment benefits from the government. I do not see how that really truly helps motivate me to get a job. I can really squeeze my pennies if I have to and drawing unemployment would probably just motivate me to climb and run more and search for a job less.

I had planned to climb the Causual Route on the Diamond of Longs Peak Wednesday but my partner and I called it off Tuesday night because of rain. Instead we went down to Castle Rock in Boulder canyon and I led my first 5.10a trad climb! Despite doing it in poor style (hang dog, do one move, put in gear, hang dog again...) I did it free and it is the hardest technical climb I have ever led. It was very very satisfying. I have never even trad led a 5.9. Like I said a few days ago. After climbing 5.12 climbing a 5.10 is really strait forward.

The rest of the week was taken up with a road trip to Grand Teton National Park. We tried to climb Grand Teton in one day car to car Friday. Because of weather mostly we didn't make it to the top, or even the technical section. More on that whole road trip later. I learned many things in those three days.

I ran 5.5 miles. My leg is healing but it is not 100% yet. I won't be running a marathon in October because I don't have enough time to train but I will aim for something in December or January. I still want to have enough time to get in Boston in April. More on injuries later.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Yep, I broke it.

Yep, I broke it.

So I’m pretty sure that the reason my right leg is hurt is that I made several mistakes. I do a number of foot and ankle exercises such as shin ups, short hill sprints, heel and toe walking, as well as some active stretching. Well, I had been doing those things except I quit doing those things. I do think that I dropped a rock on my leg to get it injured in the first place but the running didn't help it any.

I read the books on how to train better so I can run faster. They are very simple and clear about doing the “little” things to work the non-dominant muscles. Lydiard speaks of hill training for strong ankles, Hudson and Canova talk about hill work for strong ankles and lower legs, and Daniels talks about strength training and cross training as providing the ability to run more. So more or less, training (non-running) needs to be done so that training (running) can be done. Choosing to completely ignore this fact and the corresponding fact that every person has a limit to the volume and intensity of running that they can accomplish within a certain time is na├»ve. That is to say, in my specific instance, that if I try to do more than about 80 miles per week at sea level without any of the supplementary work I will get injured rather quickly. However, If I spend the 20-60 minutes a week doing all of the exercises I can run 110 or 120 miles a week without getting injured.

As I was running with this pain I thought, ‘if this is an overuse injury what could I have done to prevent it.’ The volume of answers that flooded my head was frightening. I realized all of the things that I have been doing wrong. I have no one to blame but myself. I knew better. I had made a similar mistake in the past. The most frustrating thing is making the same mistake twice. I like to think I learn from my mistakes. Will I remember in the future to do the shin ups, the short hills, heel and toe walking, the active stretching? I sure hope so.

Also, I listened to a running store clerk that had an overuse injury. I know a lot of very highly qualified people that work at running stores. However, I have also run into those people that have less experience than I do and more than once have I been sold shoes that caused me to get injured. I need to stick with what works for me despite the changes that this person or that person may suggest. That is to say that I recognize qualified instruction and it is the unqualified instruction that I need to take with a grain of salt. If someone is an active competitive runner you can tell. 

The difference between breaking and working for years is a fraction of a degree or a millimeter out of line. Most of the time our body heals itself. However, we have limits. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Wicked Mad Skills

When I redid my resume this spring I took out the “Skill” section. It is for the better. I like my new resume better than the old one. That being said I have quite the assortment of skills. I like to think of myself as a Renassiance Man. Not a Jack-of-all-Trades but someone skilled at several things rather highly. For this post I am going to ignore engineering, running and mountaineering entirely. Although those are three of my greatest skills most of my potential employers know about the engineering and don't care about the other two. Another clarification is that this post is the result of reading “What Color Is Your Parachute? 2010: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers”.

When I say “wicked mad” that is New England speak for really good, hard to achieve, rare and valuable, or hard and crazy. When I say skills I mean something I can do that most people have not done. Skills are something that has taken some practice. I define them as things that would stand out if I was compared to my peers.

Some of my skills:

I can drive and operate a backhoe, specifically a Catepillar 436 Series II. I just learned over a month ago and I have to say it is a whole lot of fun, yet it is also very tiring. As far as difficulty goes this is about a two out of ten. If you can drive a manual transmission you can drive and operate a backhoe. The main differences are that you can’t see very well when you are driving forward and when using the backhoe it is very sensitive so you have to pay attention where you are swinging the hydraulic bucket. Why is this skill one I consider valuable? Simple, I know a lot of engineers and many of them know how to man a computer better than construction equipment. I have a good friend who told me about how he did his job so well and part of it was that he worked WITH the people under him long enough to really understand their problems. So I can work a Cat backhoe. I’m still having a little trouble driving forward and picking up large things in the front bucket, but I think that is because the backhoe is actually fairly light.

I can sharpen (or tune) a cross cut saw (and chainsaws and other sharp implements). I do not know the numbers as far as how many people can do this but I would guess than less than 100 people in this country are as good as I am. Most people I meet who own one say it has never been sharpened or never been sharpened by someone who knows what they are doing. It is a fairly simple process that demands a lot of consistency and patience. Why is this skill one I consider valuable? I am a pronounced conservationist and as such I like the idea of a muscle powered saw compared to petroleum consuming machinery. It uses less fuel, is less complicated, and will probably last longer than a chainsaw. This skill is one of the skills I would like to practice when I am 78 years old. Sharpening a cross cut saw is a valuable skill because cross cut saws are the only way to cut really big trees without a motor.

I wrote a book, with my sister, and it has an ISBN number and everything. I had always wanted to “write a book” and now I have. Coming back from Pakistan I realized that my “skills” were not enough to keep me alive. If I had a life goal I had to get it done because I could die sooner rather than later. Writing a book is similar to any big paper. There is the writing, the proof-reading, more proof-reading, the editing, and then the publishing. Why is writing a book that fewer than 80 people have read a skill I consider valuable? I learned the process. I did all sorts of research. When I walk into a bookstore I respect all of the authors who have books there because I have an idea of what they went through. Having a book published and stocked in Barnes and Noble is not easy.

I have created websites. I know that is about as simple as it comes but it is my own website and I have changed the html code until I am happy. This is the 21st century and html is like a third language after two spoken languages. Anyway, I know a lot of people (over 600 according to Facebook) and I can only think of a few that “own” their domain name or maintain a website. Why is this a skill I consider valuable? It’s the 21st century. The Internet is kind of a big thing. It’s only going to get bigger and we are only going to be able to access it better. Having Internet “savy” is a way of saying “here I am, this is the way it is, and the buck stops here.” Breakthroughs are going to happen faster and in all parts of the world and the quicker we can learn of those breakthroughs the quicker we can make more breakthroughs. The days of a few dozen scientists and engineers all in the same lab working on a project with no competition are over. If you don’t get this breakthrough before your competition, get the next one first. Without the Internet how would you ever know that they did some new thing in India at some lab?

I went to Pakistan. Simple enough except most people seem to think they are having a violent civil war and all westerners get kidnapped or killed. While going to Pakistan isn’t a skill it is an experience. Why was that a valuable experience? To be honest, I was very afraid that Americans would be hated over there. Except for my passport, I brought nothing at all that said I was a citizen of the United States. As it turns out, Americans and Westerners are well liked, at least in the mountaineering part of the country. So when I was able to interact, at least on a small level, with the locals and get a better feel for the actual situation of the terrorism it was very educational. Most Pakistanis are more opposed to the Taliban and Al Queada than Americans. Why are they so opposed? The terrorists bomb mosques and kill mostly Pakistanis. Terrorism is not good for tourism. Instead of Pakistan taking one step forward and becoming as popular as Nepal for tourists the terrorists take it two steps back.

I swing a mean sledge hammer. Sure I’m good with an axe, a polaski, a mattocks, a McLeod, and a shovel but I’ve put in hours with a sledge hammer. I’ve also handled a jack hammer and those are very heavy, at least 70 pounds. I also oversaw the movement of a 16 ton rock with pry bars and muscle alone. I don’t like to get dirty but I will put my body through the ringer. Why is the ability to swing metal valuable? Because I know several hundred people and only a few can swing better than I. I am not a muscular guy. I am just a guy who’s work has involved some very physical days. I feel than rough manual labor complements mental strain very well. My running is a great complement to my thinking. After a long day behind the computer and two hours of running I sleep like a rock.

I am a good teacher. I've shied away from admitting this or publicizing it because I don't really want to be a teacher in the traditional sense. This summer rock climbing teaching 11 and 12 year old boys to climb and rappel I had many complements from older scoutmasters about how well I did. I even had a complement from a University of Colorado professor about how well I taught. Now my preferred method is one on one or maybe two students to one teacher. When I think about teaching I laugh a little. My freshman year in high school my geometry teacher had to be away for a day and I taught the class. Most of the class was sophomores and juniors yet he picked me to give the lesson. I've taught people how to use complex finite element software, swing a sledgehammer, run better, climb harder, and solve fluid dynamics problems among other skills. My key is standing or sitting there beside the student, shoulder to shoulder, and explaining it differently than anyone else has ever explained the concept to him or her. As an example, one of the requirements for the rock climbing merit badge that I taught this summer was coiling a rope. Two years ago I did not teach it very well and the scout coiled ropes were always terrible. This summer 90% of the coils they did the first time were almost as good as the ones I do after five years of coiling ropes. I think that in industry where I will hopefully be a mentor to younger scientists and engineers this will be a great asset.

I paint, or at least create things that I consider art. I have always liked making art and I've been oil painting more in 2010 than the other years of my life combined. This is totally subjective, however, I think it gives me a different view on things. I feel that it helps me to appreciate the work of others more. Everyone is an artist of some sort. Wether that is with words, plowing a strait line in a field, making a decisive move in a race, or brewing the perfect mocha. For me admitting, or pretending as it may be, to be an artist forces me to try harder to make my "art" better.

I don't sit still. I have a very hard time not being productive. Now often that productivity is selfish, such as running, climbing, reading a book, or having a two hour conversation with a friend. However, I see things like that as mentally or physically productive. How do things like that help my employer? It keeps me sane and motivated. A four mile morning run, mocha and chocolate croissant, get me more motivated to hammer away at the computer for nine hours better than anything else I have encountered thus far. Is it selfish for me to spend that time making myself happy if it inevitably benefits my employer because I work more efficiently and get more done during the day? I feel that it is the way for me to live, but an employer could easily argue that working 11 hours a day instead of nine gets more done. Even though in that case I am likely to waste a lot more time. It's strange the more I run the harder I work when I am not running. I think and talk about running less when running is going well because I am not worried. The point is I don't like to sit still.

I am not sure what skills an employer looking for a hire with my kind of degrees desires. Otherwise I would probably have an engineering job by now. Fortunately, I have a skill set that is a little out of the ordinary. When I do find my place I feel that it will be such a great situation for both my employer and I that we will make great things happen!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

It's Only 5.12

There are many "walls" in athletics. Physical and mental challenges that have to be faced and dealt with to accomplish a particular task. 5.12 represents where climbing gets really hard. There is in fact a book How to Climb 5.12 by Eric Horst and it describes how to break through to the next level. I have not read the book but I know several people that have and they say it focuses on training methods to get stronger, both mentally as well as physically. They said the key is: climb a whole lot. I'll get back to that.

So I've been climbing at Movement in Boulder several times this summer on the recommendation of the best climber I know. I saw a guy lead climb a 5.13d a few days ago. That's really hard. In comparison 5.12a is easy. In the past year I've seen a few climbing videos of guys climbing 5.14s and even 5.15s and those are even harder. When I see or hear of someone doing something harder than what I do it makes it easier to do what I do. It is a huge mental breakthrough.

When I look at a particular goal of mine I consider than many people have done harder things and I tell myself that I have the experience to do it. The goal becomes much easier. Breaking a world record or being the first to do something is always harder than being the second or the 1274th person. There is no one to ask for advice. The challenge might not be possible.

I dealt with this concept in my running through high school and college, and I still deal with it. What is fast running? In rock climbing what is hard? As far as mountain altitude, what constitutes high altitude versus moderate altitude? In education what constitutes a difficult concept to learn?

I believe that everyone has something positive to offer. Some gift or some area he or she excels. That is to say for Tommy Caldwell 5.12 is easy. For Chris Solinsky running a five minute mile is not very fast. For many scientists and engineers, physics is not hard, it's fun. Bringing the mentality of "only" a known and conquerable difficulty to a problem makes it possible and even probable that it will be finished well.

As an engineer we were taught to think a certain way. Engineers break up a problem into smaller steps that have to happen in a particular order. Many of my classes involved using several different equations in a certain order to find the answer. Using that mentality climbing a 5.12 becomes only a matter of answering the questions: Where do I put my feet? How do I place my feet (at what angles)? Where do I put my hands? What is the most energy efficient use of my hands? Is my weight on my feet instead of my hands? Am I in balance?

Finally, there is one last component to climbing hard, the physical strength. Can I actually grab a half centimeter thick ledge with three fingers with enough force to keep myself from falling off? Can I keep my feet on that same size ledge? There is a certain amount of strength that is needed to do this kind of climbing. However, having the confidence that you can do it makes a greater difference.

I like throwing new pupils at a task beyond anything they have ever done. Wether that is taking a teenager four pitches up a very steep mountain face for his or her first traditional rock climb, running with a runner farther than he or she has ever run before, or teaching someone how to use a complex computer program. I am thrilled by the expressions on their faces during the event as they wonder if they can do it. I am more thrilled after the event by the way they walk and talk as their confidence goes through the roof. Many people complete a new challenge and think, 'Wow, I just did that!... What else can I do?' I am thrilled when people question the bounds of what is possible. I like answering the question "We can do that?" with the answer "Of course we can!"

The moral of the story is: it's only 5.12, of course you can do it, if that's what you decide to work towards.

Monday, August 2, 2010

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 17

The week of July 25th to July 31st...

The last week of summer camp. The end. El fin. It's always bittersweet. No more smiling friends, no more helping 11 year olds conquer fear, no more deep conversations on the porch of my cabin, and no more training sessions trying to climb our 5.12c named "Almost". No more dishes for 70 people that I have the opportunity to do alone, no more requirements to be at 18 meals a week, no more people trying to keep me up past 11 PM, and no more pay check.

I've had this experience of getting close to some people then leaving them many times. I've come to the conclusion that many of our relationships are meant to last only a certain length of time. That is not to say that once I leave I ignore or desert my friends. It means that someone I talk to three times a day for two months I may only talk to once every other month when we move apart. Instead of beating myself up mentally about how this affects my relationships I have decided that this is how it is. I think it is important to live in the present instead of the past. It's hard and it makes me sad. On the other hand I get to meet new people in a new place who inevitably enhance my life in some way.

I ran the first three days of the week. Then I went to the doctor's office and they took an x-ray. There is my right leg. The problem that I've been struggling with for three weeks is a stress reaction in my fibula. My tibia is completely healthy as you can see by the white on the outsides of the bone and lighter gray in the middle of the bone. From about 2 inches to about 6 inches above my ankle on my fibula you can see that it is bright white the whole way through the bone as well as slightly swollen. This is a good thing. It means my body is healing itself, however it means I am far more likely to get a stress fracture, which is rather serious. Overall I am very relieved. Not since the summer of 2007 have I gone to a doctor that figured out what was wrong with me and told me how to get better. There is the proof in the picture. It's relieving to have a real physical injury. It makes sense. I can treat it.

Despite having a slower week I never had the chance to use the internet and my cell phone at the same time during business hours. Not a step in the right direction for job hunting yet I managed to get contact information of a person who might be interested in hiring someone like me. Fortunately, I sit here in Boulder on Monday morning with internet and cell phone service ready to get it done. I am very optimistic about the future. In part because I have no plans past the 11th of August. Too much planning contributed to my stress (or demons as a very respected relative of mine calls stress) earlier in the year. One month at a time I will pay my bills. I have also realized that I am comfortable moving back in with my parents after six years on my own. Living with my parents I have gotten more done and been very relaxed. It's not my first choice but I'm fine with it if it comes to that.

Unemployed, again...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

It's Not Rocket Science: Week 16

This is the week of August 18-24. Yeah, I've had that much internet access in the past week.

I ran a stunning and somewhat painful 42 miles. All of that was recovery miles. I did not take any days off but my lower right leg became more painful. While not running workouts and runs over 90 minutes is sad, I am still so thankful to run. I am also comforted by the fact that I ran a fast loop around the Indian Peaks. It turns out that some people did it in 4:59 last summer so I never had the fastest known time. Or at least I only did for a few hours. That's fine though. I am really amazed that they did it in less than five hours. That's moving pretty fast. The day I began mountaineering in 2002 (climbing "South Massive" and Mt. Elbert in the same day) my family went out to steak that night and the waitress said after hearing of my feat,  "Just when you think you did something really hard, like climb a mountain, someone else does something harder."

Job searching, well, I could use more internet and phone lines during business hours, but I'm busy working.   Tomorrow is going to be a day of phone calls! Am I terrified of being unemployed for the rest of the year? Not as much as I once was. Everything always seems to work out. Besides, I hear British Petroleum is hiring...

Current work: It was the busiest week of the summer. I was in the kitchen doing dishes all the time, running rock climbing like crazy, and just getting it done. My sister came up and was a huge help to our camp which was a little short staffed from normal because of several members going to the Boy Scouts National Jamboree. We managed to get through it and no one died. I used to say that as a bit of a joke but after Pakistan I'm very serious.

My personal climbing is going well enough. The climbing gym Movement in Boulder celebrated it's 1st birthday on the 24th so I went down with another staff member and I managed to get up a 5.12b and 3/4 of a 5.12a (after I was tired). Since breaking through to the 5.12 range of climbing I have reached a new mental level and approach climbs differently. I'm working on an article about that...