Sunday, July 31, 2011

I Live in Iowa: Week 15

I've got to give some credit to Nicki Minaj for some awesome lyrics in her song Moment for Life "...No I'm not lucky, I'm blessed, yes!" I think she hits the nail on the head with that one. I am blessed.

I worked 41 hours this week. It would have been more but I left work at 2:30 on Friday to drive up to Fairmont, MN to see my family and run a race Saturday morning. Work has picked up in our group and I've been busy working on several different projects. When I was in school, waking up at 7 was about all I could muster, and some days even that didn't happen. When I was unemployed, after the first month waking up at 8 or 9 was about all that ever happened. (The first month I still thought I was awesome.) Now, I'm waking up before 6 a few times a week to go running and I'm getting to work a few times per week before 7. The way I see it, I must be excited to go to work if I'm waking up that early to go. I feel the fact that I am waking up and going to work that early as of the biggest factors of my job satisfaction. In other words, work is going well.

I ran only 66 miles this week, but I had a race where I set a personal record in the 5 mile (27:39) and I had a 5x1000 meter workout that was easily the best 5x1000 meter workout I have ever had (total time for the 5000m was 16:04 with 400m jog rests at 1:45-50 in 90F heat). I'm not where I want to be this fall, but this is an extremely good introduction stage for my training. Thus far this year I have set person records at 4 miles, 5 miles, the half marathon, and marathon. I'm aiming for a 5k PR with my training right now, and later in the fall I will target the half and in the early winter I will target another marathon. I'm still plenty far away from my career running goals, but I'm progressing, and that is far better than regressing.

It is looking more likely that I will get an assistant coaching job and I am excited. I enjoy the team aspect of running and I have learned so much about running the past ten years that I look forward to sharing my knowledge and experience with younger runners so that they might not make the mistakes that I have made. I figure that because of the way that I have trained, or rather more appropriately neglected to train, the last ten years I am probably 3-4 years behind in my development as a runner. Which would be a problem if I was focused on the shorter distances and only my own personal running career, but seeing as how marathoners regularly peak in their mid 30s and I am interested in coaching, I think that my self-imposed and unintentional setbacks will serve me to help a greater number of young athletes and to do more appropriate training both for myself and for athletes I work with.

What else happened this week? I played cards and had a fire at a friend's house and I regaled them with tales of Pakistan and unemployment. One of the nice things about getting older is that I have a greater repertoire of stories to tell. On the negative side, another person died on Broad Peak. Two people I know were on the expedition with him. It is a struggle. I love the mountains and climbing, but people dying? It scares me because I am fairly sure that at some point I will be in a situation that is extremely personal regarding death on a mountain.

The other thing that I did this week, slightly out of the ordinary, was listen to a huge amount of NPR (because they have a free iPhone app). I am not a political person. I have trouble spelling politics half the time. I guess that as I get older and listen to authority figures and talk with them, I keep coming to the conclusion that we are all so equal. That is to say, there is no person who is so brilliant that will fix all of our problems, specifically the US budget problems. In science and engineering we often break problems down into sizes that one person, or perhaps two, can solve. The budget and deficit deal in Washington is so massive, that to really solve it long term will take hundreds, and more likely thousands of people. Even with all of that brain power at work, they are still not going to make it better. It is never more fun to pay off your debt than to run up your debt.
It is interesting to note that our Federal Debt as a percentage of GDP rises and falls irrespective of party lines. I feel that is significant because it means that neither party is free from blame when it comes to our Federal Debt. Interesting to note, I thought that the 1980s enjoyed a great economy, why then did we raise the amount of debt so much instead of paying it off? Please educate me by commenting.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fixing the National Debt

Half a year ago when I started writing my unemployment book I looked into the national debt so that I could include several pages about it in my book. With the current battle in Washington I have to say it is no surprise we are where we are. Of everything I have listened to, seen, and read the most educational was a podcast segment of NPR Money. If you listen to one podcast this year, make it this one. The speaker/professor/author they have on is great! He is seriously the most educated person I have ever heard from on national debts.

While I highly recommend you listen to the podcast I'll summarize it using words they are too afraid to use in the show: the US is in a mess of trouble and there are going to be unhappy people for years and probably decades because of it. What demographic suffers more is left to be seen, but rest assured, there will be suffering. He gives several example including Romania in the 1980s and I think France in the early 1800s. I especially like how he refers to an event 200 years ago as if it is relevant and the hosts laugh. We like to think we are the smartest people that have ever existed and as soon as you think you are smart you are admitting that you are dumb. I despise the words smart and dumb for reasons too lengthy for this article. Suffice to say we are no greater than our ancestors although we have probably complicated things so it will take more of us to figure out how to fix things, job security for some I guess.

So in the interest of solving a problem I came up with my solution to the national debt:

1. Raise the debt ceiling. I don't care what the number is but give us one or two years to pass the bills necessary to make a permanent fix.

2. Raise taxes. How? Create another tax bracket for million or two million dollar earners and give then a higher tax rate yet. For the rest us raise the percentages, except for 10% earners because seriously those people have no money anyway.

3. Cut spending. This is the hard part because it will involve extremely detailed organization to do correctly otherwise we will end up with tens of thousands more lay off and the same inefficiencies. Possible areas for improvement: education because we spend more on students and score worse on tests than most of the rest of the developed world, military because we are overseas so much that it becomes a burden on Americans, and especially social security. The goverment needs to raise the minimum and maximum age limits in a hurry. People can start collecting when they are only what 62? That is ridiculous! I get beat on the bicycle every Wednesday by a 55 year old theology professor. I have trouble believing that in the younger 60s people are no longer physically or mentally capable of contributing. On the contrary, many of the best professors and one boss of mine were in that range and they were extremely good because they have a story and example for every situation. We young people are missing out on that experienced insight because people retire early. However, after all that I say I'll probably retire with my millions in my 50s as a hypocrite.

4. Put Americans back to work. How? For starters, log all the dead pine trees in Colorado and throughout the west, including Canada. We have something like more than 50 million acres of dead beetle kill trees waiting to burn and cost us hundreds of millions of dollars. Or we could be proactive and cut them down because the wood is beautiful and we will save millions of acres of topsoil and tens of thousands of homes from destruction. Plus, logger jobs can employ the less educated, who are hurt more by the recession than most. How else to employ Americans? Agriculture is key. The US has much of the best farm land in the world. We will probably never have to worry about food the way than Somolia and Rwanda have. I also think we should raise the price of food but that's a more lengthy topic. A third way to put Americans to work is offer them jobs at minimum wage instead of outsourcing factories to Asia.

So those are my thoughts in a nutshell. I don't have many answers so please leave a comment below if you have a better idea.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Memory is terrible isn't it? We remember our mistakes and missed opportunities. I am pretty sure that I had an opportunity recently, that I completely let go. That's not to say it will not present itself again, but still, opportunity missed.

I spent a decent amount of time thinking about it, and the way it happened is probably for the better. Regardless, if I knew what I was doing I would not have anything to learn, and this way the story becomes more entertaining. If I can't laugh at myself, who can I laugh at?

If you didn't follow, it's because the story is in the process of being written and as I don't know how it ends I don't want to give away what I do know, lest it ruins my chances.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I Live in Iowa: Week 14

Another good week.Another nice week living the dream or something like it. I feel strange when I say that, because I never dreamed that I would live in Iowa and work at a logging company. Yet, life is strange and I am incredibly fortunate.
Let’s get on with the week’s highlights, shall we?
I engineered my way through more than 43 hours again this week. That’s the second most hours I have worked yet, second only to last week. The design guys are coming through with semi-finished designs that we are putting through FEA so we have more work to do. I worked on 3.5 separate projects this week. (I started the second half of a project so it’s not entirely new, but for the most part it is new.) In fact things are getting busy enough, and there is enough work that I might even pop in the office on a Saturday a few times this fall. I don’t get paid an overtime rate, but my standard rate is somewhat better than minimum wage, and I don’t have to pay extra health and dental insurance on those extra hours.
As for athletics, I had a very nice week of running. I still haven’t updated my log completely but I ran 60-61 miles including an 18 mile long run, a set of short steep hills, a set of 8x400 (Aussie quarters), and a six mile tempo. That’s the kind of quality that I’m doing in the build up that I never really did before but I am sure that it will make a bigger difference in my race results. I am totally in shape to go sub 16 in the 5k. I feel I have been in that kind of shape twice before but instead ran other distance races. I am running a 5 mile this weekend so we shall see what kind of shape I am in. No Bix 7 this year.
I put in around 120 miles on the bicycle I think. I haven’t added it all together but that sounds about right. It was incredibly hot this week. The hottest temperatures and humidity I have had to deal with since I was a teenager. Five of the last six summers spent in the mountains has sure helped avoid the heat. Bicycling is nice because there is a constant breeze and I can drink from my two water bottles whenever I feel like it.
I have mentioned a little in the past that I have been doing some stock market investing, well I made my first sale of 2011 so I’ll give you the story. When I heard that the US was releasing oil from the reserve I knew that the price would drop temporarily only to go up a few weeks later. Is there really anything easier to predict than the price of oil? So I bought shares of USO (United States Oil, it’s based on the price of west Texas sweet crude as I understand it) at $37.45 on June 29th. If my limit orders had gone through on the 27th or 28th I would have made even more, but the price of oil went up linearly by the hour both days. Fast forward three weeks, it was time to pay for my new carbon fiber bicycle so I sold my shares with a limit order at $38.60 on July 19th. I have to say I’m quite happy that the price spiked around 1:30PM or my order for the day might not have been met. Although, had I held on at least two days longer I could have sold for $38.90.
What is the point of all this? Why did I put in an hour of work just to make 3.1% interest? Simple, 1% interest per week repeated over and over equals 50% interest per year. That is kind of the golden standard for investors. All of the big names have done 50% at some point in their careers. All I did was pay attention to the news. My savings account makes only 1% interest per year! I made 3.1% interest before commissions and after commissions I still made more than 1% interest, in three weeks!

US Oil (USO) on July, 19th 2011

The Tour of France ended this week and with it three weeks of me watching videos and looking at stats of the various bicyclists. It was a really exciting tour to watch. The sprinters were fighting all the time, the breakaways succeeded a number of times. Unfortunately, there were many crashes this year and I was excited to see Bradley Wiggins race, but he crashed out. I am happy that Cadel won because he is 34 and this is really a career capping thing for him. Andy Schlek will be back with his brother and I have a feeling that they stand a good chance of improving on their 2nd and 3rd place finish.

Also, the Shuttle landed for the last time. It makes me rather sad because the Shuttle did, for 30 years what no other vehicle has done, or probably will do for several decades. More importantly, the United States has no clear plan of what we are going to do next in space. That is really sad. I spent four years and tens of thousands of dollars learning about this stuff, and now where are we headed? I feel that it is all a little vague. I like clear cut goals, such as: Moon: done; Space Station: done; graduate: done; run a marathon: done; survive Broad Peak: done; get an engineering job: done.

I hope you had a good week as well.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Working out Twice in One Day: My Thoughts on Doubles

Doubling is key to reaching the top levels of competitive running. You will be hard pressed to find any distance runner in the top 20 in the US or top 50 in the world that do not exercise twice per day on average (more than 10.5 workouts per week during normal training). I feel that doubles are a privilege. They are a reward for reaching a level of fitness where more improvement requires more than one workout or run per day.

Unfortunately, I had a bad experience with doubles in high school. We were running at 6AM four times a week before school and every weekday after school. I burnt out that season. I set a personal record by seven seconds in the 5k that season and our school had the best finish ever, 1st for the women and 7th for the men. I also did yoga 10-30 minutes almost every night that season. We were only doing 3 miles in the morning and as low as a mile in the afternoon but often 3-6 miles.

I feel that the benefit of the "easy" run in a double is about half that of the main training run. So a 10mi morning and 10mi evening run is equal to a single 15mi run. I feel that until you are doing 10 miles per day it is not worth your time to double, although, for injury prone people or short distance specialists (800, 1500, mile) the situation may be different. For distance runners improving your aerobic endurance is accomplished on pleasantly hard runs and your lipid consumption rate is improved on longer runs after the first hour of running is complete. So to have success at the half marathon and longer it is imperative to run for more than an hour.

There is also the factor that every run typically involves changing twice, showering and some stretching and eating component. Those things also take time. Also, any run that takes away from the main workout of the day must have a purpose. That is why most professional runners do their quality in the morning so that their recovery run in the afternoon will suffer instead of their quality. Another thing that professional runners do that normal people do not, is recover well. They sleep more and spend more time resting. As a student I had trouble waking up at 6AM to run, going to school, running at 3PM and then doing much at all in the evening. As I become older it has grown easier, but then again I never have homework now.

So those are my thoughts. Until you are running around 10 miles per day you probably do not need to double. Yet if you want to reach the top, you will almost certainly need to double.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Space: The End of the Shuttle

I started writing a few articles back in November about the history and future of space travel. Since the shuttle lands for the last time Thursday I thought I must start this series now, while we are still in space.

I plan to cover everything from Goddard to the fifth dimension. Do not expect great organization or completely thorough coverage. My aim is to educate those of you that aren’t rocket scientists about some of the things that I found interesting enough to spend four years of my life thus far learning it.

The Shuttle is landing for the last time. I am extremely sad. As far as rockets and aircrafts go the shuttle was by far the most interesting technological marvel yet. Granted birds are actually more marvelous, but I’m not a biologist. This plane exists, soon to be existed, that could fly into low earth orbit (space) and back and with a change of the tiles, do it again. We did it! A reusable space vehicle! The arguments are about how much over budget it was and how it never was able to make as many trips as desired, and how with two failures it was too risky. Hogwash. The shuttle is awesome.

First of all, space is expensive. However the most expensive part of space is honestly the first 150 miles. Once you are going 8000 meters/second around the earth 150-300 miles high out of the atmosphere, the amount of fuel that you need to get to the rest of the solar system is small. The problem is getting it up there going that speed. The shuttle was designed as a cargo plane for space. To take weight up to space cheaply. The last time I heard it cost about $10,000 per pound to get to low earth orbit aboard the shuttle, while the NASA was charging only $300. I have no citations for those numbers, so they are probably wrong, but I remember encountering them more than once. The moral of the story is, you have to want space, because it is expensive.

Second, we have yet to economically take advantage of humans in space other than research. Communications networks utilize satellites as well as weather satellites and GPS units. Often in Star Wars colonies are referred to mining colonies. Perhaps mining in space will prove valuable? After all, we can destroy other planets but not our own, if we do billions will die. Research, which comprises the bulk of NASA’s efforts, is hard to justify in a society that is largely based on immediate return. Every President worries about getting reelected. Every corporation worries about having two consecutive quarters of negative profits. Research is often on a timeline of years and decades. We can think of marathoning as research. Every athlete is an experiment of one, but after decades of research more and more athletes are running close to the world record, which means we are figuring things out and getting closer to the unbeatable world record. Unfortunately, we rarely know the result of our research when we set out to do it. Space can be thought of in the same way. Perhaps microgravity will enable drugs to be synthesized that cure and prevent cancer and AIDS. Perhaps one of the other planets will enable us to develop a solution to a problem that we do not even know about yet.

Third, the shuttle demonstrated technology that despite being 35 years old now, is still very bold. If my aerospace class was left in a room to develop a vehicle to low earth orbit, without prior knowledge of the shuttle, we would never even think of that. The whole idea of a mostly reusable orbital velocity spacecraft, is just phenomenal. Every science fiction movie skips over the incredible difficulty involved in getting a vechicle from a planet to orbit and back again multiple times without creating excessive heat and destruction or requiring enormous amounts of fuel. Although, if we figure out fusion and can put it in something the size of a house, all bets are off because that would be an incredible amount of power.
Fourth, space is exciting. The world is entertaining, but it can all be done. We have been to just about all the corners. You have to work really hard to get on unmapped terrain. Space provides an opportunity to explore and discover that is unmatched on earth.

In short, the shuttle did a number of great things for our technical capabilities and it won't be soon forgotten.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Have You been Watching the Tour de France?

This is only the second year I have been able to follow the Tour daily and it is always interesting. The current leader by over 100 seconds says there is now way he will win, the three time winner says he is tired from a long year and not that into it, the Schlek brothers want someone else to come and attack on the mountains instead of wait to win it during the final time trial, and a slew of people including major contenders have crashed and left the race with broken bones. In other words, except for the antics of Hushov, Roy, Hoogerland, Sanchez, and Delage you have not missed the interesting parts. Thursday, Friday, and especially Saturday are bound to be interesting. Two hard mountain days are followed by an individual time trial. For lack of a better description, the Tour is wide open this year. Any of the top eight guys could take it. They are all tired and none have shown he is particularly strong.

I find the Tour so interesting because it is unlike any other sporting event. A stage event like this for runners would be slow because the advantage of drafting is low compared to cycling. Plus you can't race up three ten mile long climbs in a day running and expect to do that the next day as well. It is similar to a mountaineering expedition, but those often hinge around one day that involves 16+ hours of climbing. Unfortunately, besides me who would watch a 12 hour summit push in real time and still complain about commercials?

Anyway if you happen to be around a tv this week, particularly the end of the week, there will be some good programming.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I Live in Iowa: Week 13

The week started off as most of my weeks start with a long run on the Heritage Trail followed by the working portion of the week. I worked over 43 hours this week which is actually the most I have worked thus far. I am enjoying the 40 hour work week. It feels like I am on vacation. After the hours that I put in during college, 40 hours a week seems so short. Although, I do think that my productivity is higher on a per hour basis. Meaning that during 80 hours of school work I achieved say 65 units of productivity but during 40 hours I achieve 35 units of productivity. It is the diminishing return principle. In other words, engineers scribbling on the back of a napkin after dinner get say 60% of the way there. After all, it took me three minutes to sketch my ice axe the first time I thought of it, but it was 100+ hours before I could actually hold it even though the sketch and actual ice axe were nearly the same.

I started working on a new project this week. I am quickly becoming the "expert" on the few things I have worked. I say that in quotes because I recently had a discussion about what it means to be an expert, which I will inevitably flesh out my thoughts through an article here. It is interesting because we have basically two competitors and I am sure they each have my counterpart, so basically there are probably only three people in the world that deal with the specific implements I do. A skilled engineer could be brought up to speed in under a day, yet I still feel unique.

I ran about 44 miles this week and biked about 120, I think. That includes the duathlon Saturday. I was pretty run down during the middle of the week. My hip muscle knot flared up because I've been neglecting the 30-60 minutes a week for core and hip stability exercises. However, it worked out alright because I did my duathlon well.

Winning is often the goal of racing, but winning because the leader misses a corner and runs 150 meters farther than me is not my preferred method of winning. When we both were back on course and together I considered taking it easy and letting him win. I decided that there was no guarantee I would beat him on the run anyway so I ran my race. Had neither one of us run extra, he probably would have beat me, but I was closing on him fast on mile two and I did the last 1k faster, so I might still have won. It's like Baldini in Athens in 2004. Had the leader not been tackled by a former priest Baldini might not have won. It is what it is and we can't go back in time and redo it. Also, there was no prize money at stake or international team berth and we were both given the same medals so really it was not a terrible race to make a mistake.

For bicycling I was dropped on Wednesday night riding with the local racers. That has never happened before. They were not even going that fast. As far as athletic training is concerned the duathlon changed my whole immediate perspective. I was just messing around more or less but now I am motivated to get serious and run fast. I am planning on the fast half marathons in September and October and a December marathon.

What else did I do? Laundry, blog, listen and watch the Tour
De France, eat, and sleep.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bottom-Up or Top-Down View of Performance?

I'm writing this a few hours after I won the Dubuque Duathlon although the idea behind this I had a few weeks ago and I am just getting around to writing it. Nevertheless, take what I say with a grain of salt as I ride this high of wining a race.

When I tell people about my goals, for many I get a response something like, 'that's crazy to think that you are that good to go into a race with the plan of winning it because that's all ego and mean, unfriendly competitive spirit talking.' Perhaps they are right, but I view the world with the attitude of wondering what is possible. Will someone run a sub 2 hour marathon? Yes, unless the world ends first, it will take a few more people to bring the record down and the first time it goes it will likely be in a wind and elevation aided scenario like Boston this year, or something like a track race, or an event where pacesetters do not all start at the beginning, such as two new pacesetters every 5k, something which is not done in running currently. I look at what has been done and I wonder why I can't do that as well. Could I go to the Olympics in the marathon? Perhaps, but it's probably something like a .01% or .001% chance, which in my mind means there is a chance.

Another example is 8000 meter peaks. This year a guy summitted Everest and Lhotse within 24 hours (May 20th entry). This is the first time two 8000 meter peaks have been done in 24 hours, but he slept in the middle and used oxygen. What is possible when it comes to linking up 8000 meter peaks? I mean they are big, but in terms of mileage and even vertical elevation there are a number that are close together like G1 and G2 or Broad Peak and K2. The vertical elevation basecamp to summit on Broad Peak is about 10,600 ft and K2 is about 12,400 ft. I am not familiar enough with Nepal and the Himalaya to talk about more than Everest and Lhotse. For comparison I did 93 miles in less than 32 hours with 22-23,000 feet of elevation unsupported and with a 5.5 hour nap in the middle and 1.5 of walking by iPhone light. With a full support system, what is possible? With a high enough aerobic capacity is oxygen needed? Ed Viesturs did some amazing thing without oxygen, and with all due respect, he's a 3:15 marathoner (at NYC which is not an easy course).

These are top-down views. At the top, there are only a few performances within sight. The challenges are specific and the focus narrow. The top of a pyramid is a point. The pyramid also grows continually because we are searching for the limits. As soon as a new and higher point is placed, some new kid comes along and moves the top higher. While the challenges may sound competitive, it is intensely personal. Each person plays the mental game in his and her own head wether it is possible for him or her to accomplish the task at hand. Of course, at that level it is known the task is possible because the barrier is only a little farther away. The question is, who can do any particular challenge first?

The other view is the bottom-up view. Quite possibly this is a more healthy and balanced view of opportunity and challenges. Using the pyramid example, the goal is to get a little better and move a little higher. When people talk about their results at races in terms of age group standing that is a bottom-up view. The challenge is within a limited range. Unfortunately, this point of view can be limiting. The limits are established by those seemingly out-of-range people.

I say this is a healthy point of view because the goals are more qualitative and less quantitative. The goal is not to run a 3:43.12 mile (.01s faster than current world record), but rather to have a good race and ideally improve the time, but not necessarily. The attitudes in general are qualitative instead of quantitative meaning that how you felt about a performance is more important than the numerical result of the performance. I have actually tried in 2011 to take that attitude into my daily life more. It is easier to say to friends and coworkers that I struggled with the transitions and had a good first multi-event instead of describe the 20.8+mph average on the bike and the 4.2 miles run in approximately 23 minutes as well as the drama surrounding my win. After all, how do I describe to the person that has never run a sub 6 minute mile that except for at altitude I never race that slow?

While I kind of touched on it, the bottom-up view is about feelings and emotions more than physical success. I feel everyone has a a mix of both views but leans toward one or the other. Perhaps it is really goal-orientated versus emotion-orientated that I am trying to describe.

The point of all of this is that I ask myself, 'what is possible?' I have a few ideas of what is possible for me and in all aspects of my life I feel that I am on the path of discovery to find out those possibilities. Some of those possibilities have been done by other people, some have not. Regardless of the outcome there is much learning to be done. There is much doing to be accomplished. Part of the excitement of pursuing the possibilities is learning and experiencing the process.

Would you like to know the hardest physical thing I have ever done? It was the double marathon that I did on my birthday in 2009. I have not done anything that hurt that much. I have had harder mental and emotional experiences and harder combinations of the three, but that was physically the most difficult thus far.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Waiting to Race

I am sitting in the back of my van with an hour to go before the Dubuque Duathlon starts. I have learned after enough races that warming up too early can slow me down. So I try and relax as much as I can until warmup time. Today the method of relaxing is blogging.

I have never done a duathlon before so I'm not entirely sure what to expect. The one bicycle race I did in the past went terribly. I was dropped by the peloton in the first mile. Today is different. I have a new bicycle, I am more fit, there will not be a huge pack to drop me during the bike portion, there is only one hill and I've rode up it so many times that instead of getting dropped on it I intend to drop others on it. It's going to be fun, whatever happens.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

25 and Single

The round birthdays are allegedly the hardest. 20 was a big birthday for me. I realized that I had to quit being a kid. 25 two months ago was a big birthday for me as well. Instead of being in a crazy time in my life (college) I am out in the real world in a career track job in the midwest. Is this it? Is this going to be the rest of my life?

This might sound a little ridiculous, but I know of a number of people that have similar stories. I formed many ideas of what I want in my life at a young age. I naively though in middle school that I would get a full scholarship to college, get a masters degree, travel abroad, meet the girl of my dreams, get married around 24-25, then have kids a few years later. Didn't quite happen that way, which is probably for the better. Yet, 25 years is the kind of milestone that brings up all these memories about how I wanted things to happen when I was younger.

Post-college meeting people is not quite as easy as it was in high school or college. Instead of spending 7-10 hours a day with people within a few years of my age all of by sudden ("all of by sudden..." - Gatsonis, it's a classic quote at WPI) I am in a cubicle with only a few other people who rarely talk and have already established social lives.

This becomes significant because the question comes up "what do people do for fun or in the evenings?" I have asked that question to people from all over the country and the answer is usually the same: watch tv, go to someone's house, surf the Internet. In other words, pretty simple entertainment. Most of the time, not having a blossoming social life is not a problem for me because by the time I go to work, go running and get home to eat, shower, and relax for the night it is 7 or 8 PM and I'm usually in bed around 10 to 11. That's only a few hours of time that I actually have every day to spend with non-engineers and non-runners. Still, it can be a little lonely. Quite the conundrum, I don't have much time to spend on a significant other but I feel it is one of the bigger things missing from my life right now.

Another kind of funny thing that I do now, that I started doing around a year ago, but living in rural areas the last half year I do much more often, is check for a ring when I meet women. It is surprising how often I see women that look my age or younger and have a ring on.

Another event, is something that I find funny, and I will probably get a nasty email or comment for saying something about it, but I'm going to say it anyway. Flirting with younger women is easy. All I have to do is look a woman in the eyes and smile and her whole demeanor changes. Yeah, I'm pretty inexperienced at the whole dating realm so I'm not entirely sure what to do after that, but the point is when I do that with women my age or older I get just about no reaction. It's not that I'm targeting college age women, but it just seems easier. Maybe they expect less. I don't know. It is strange because I have never felt challenged intellectually by younger people, until somewhat recently. I like it when people make me think.  I cannot have a relationship that is intellectually one-sided. Inevitably there would be something else that I would miss out on.

I know quite a few people in their 30s and upper 20s that are single, many whom I would consider my better friends. I suppose that in the grand scheme of things, not having a significant other in my life right now is probably a good thing as I am so self-centered with my running and enjoy mountaineering, which is not the safest sport in the world. I certainly don't want to leave a couple of toddlers and wife to pick up the pieces after I die on a mountain in Asia or something.

So that is where I am.  A little lonely in the evenings, but fairly self-centered the rest of the time. It's the biggest thing I feel is missing from my life at this stage, and I am afraid that weeks become years and the next thing you know I'm too old to have kids. Having never really had a serious relationship I am afraid that my inexperience will hinder me as time goes on and women expect more and more from the men they date.

There, now I've said it. Now I can forget about it and worry about my training schedule. Don't worry I just had to get this off my chest and now you won't hear me whine about it for a few years.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

My Motivation to Run

I was running with two of my friends the other day and one is a runner who used to be more into running but was describing how after moving to Dubuque she has just not had the motivation to run that she used to. The question was then proffered, ‘how do you get motivated to run?’

That is the million dollar question, and for better or for worse, I have buckets of motivation for running while others do not. So while we finished off the run I gave a few examples of what motivates me to run. As I did that I thought, I should come up with an exhaustive of a list that I can about the things that motivate me to run. The list is in no particular order because my motivation varies on a daily basis.

  • I started running in middle school to be a little fit. By the time I was a preteen my parents could no longer keep up with me. I knew that I had to do something, starting in middle school, to be active or I would wind up behind a desk out of shape with health problems. So I tried some other sports, but running was the only thing I was half decent at.
  • Running is so simple and natural and feels so good. This is not quite a motivation but I know that when I go running the endorphins and other stuff will make me feel better after the run. Nothing else that I do has the same feeling post-workout. Cycling or climbing are just not the same. From experience I know that more than 99% of the time I will mentally feel better after the run. Sometimes when it’s cold and rainy or wet and snowy and I am sore from a workout I end up not happy after the run, but that only happens a few times in the average year. When people say I am addicted to running, it is this feeling that I get after a run that I am addicted to. I figure it is a good thing I met running instead of cocaine.
  • I have running goals that are mostly long term. I have mentioned the Olympic Trials several times, and that’s kind of the big one, but I have a few others. Having goals makes it easier to get changed and get out the door, which is often the hardest part of the run.
  • I wear bright clothing. No lie, it started in high school with orange tights and a yellow cycling jersey and I realized that wearing bright colors helps make it easier to get changed into my running clothes, which if I haven’t mentioned before is often the hardest part of the run.
  • I have a huge collection of shoes. That way I know that I will always have a dry pair at the start of every run. Also, paying so much money for shoes motivates me to go out and use them.
  • Having friends that train like I do. Without my high school and college friends on the cross country and track teams, I would never have become the person that I am today. Part of that is that being a team, someone is always excited to be at practice, while most people might be tired on any given day. It makes it easier to run every day when I know that there are people that expect me to be there. Now, over the last two years I have been off of a team so I have been lacking that particular advantage directly. However, indirectly, my college runner friends all keep running logs and I will read up on how their training and race results are going and since many of them are having good races, it motivates me to keep working and produce good results. If I could room with a college friend or several also competing at the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials that would be awesome!
  • I run in exotic locations. While the Mines of Spain park and the Heritage Trail are hardly considered exotic by typical standards, they are a welcome change from sidewalks and streets. To me running on a single track trail in Iowa or New Hampshire or Colorado or Costa Rica all have enough things in common to keep me satisfied on trails that most people would hardly consider exotic. To be honest, I feel like Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer running around on the shores of the Mississippi river.
  • I look good when I run a lot. I was never the fit kid growing up. I did a fair amount of eating and sitting around. I still do that stuff but I pump a whole bunch of exercise in there as well. It’s nice to look in the mirror and see my abs. It’s fun to see some new physical feature every few months. The veins on my quads were popping out the other night after a bicycle ride. That’s new. Plus as a single guy, it can’t hurt to look half decent. Of course assuming I get to the point where I have a significant other, she would be an even better reason to look nice.
  • I follow the running news and read all about running. Reading about what the top guys are doing motivates me to keep working to get better. If one of the top Americans or really almost any of the athletes gets better or comes back after a long set back their struggle motivates me to do a little bit more in my training.
  • I can be a little competitive and running is a great outlet. I would not say I am incredibly competitive, in face I would describe myself as cooperative more than competitive, but I do like to compete. I feel like running is the best competition because it doesn’t matter how expensive your bicycle is or that your parents gave you a season pass to Aspen and a new set of skis every year from the time you were four or that you have access to the fastest pool in the world. Economically, I am sure that runners at the Olympics come from the most challenged financial childhoods compared to other sports. Plus, it is a sport that requires your whole body for a length of time. There are no half times. There are no whistles. There is a start and a finish. The limits that are placed are mental. A race is a man versus man (or woman versus woman) fight to the finish to see what each one is made of. I sort of stole that from a Prefontaine quote, but whatever. Running races shows me what I am made of. My thoughts and emotions are revealed to me unlike anything else that I know. Although, I must say a long day in the mountains is very revealing as well in a slightly different and often deeper way emotionally.
  •  I keep a running log. When I look at the graphs and numbers they tell me what I am missing. There are things I like to see (like 100+ miles for the week) and those little things give me short term goals, as in goals on a weekly or even daily basis.
  • I run because I can. It sounds simple but I had a teacher who was in a wheelchair, perhaps she never desired to run, but I figure I have this ability, I am going to use it. Furthermore, this concept propagates itself. Now I am a good enough runner that not running races regularly seems a waste. I feel obligated a little to run races so that when my friends ask about my most recent race I have something to talk about. It is basically the perfect kind of obligation. Something I want to do anyway.
  • I run because I dream. Running is a sport where there is a best. There are world records and Olympic champions. In science and engineering or any of the other aspects of my life the comparison is not as strait forward. In other aspects of my life I never know entirely if I am succeeding or failing, running lets me know that I am X far away from the dream.
  • Runners are generally friendly and nice. I like to meet other runners when I am running because there is a comfort with life and drive to succeed that runners have that not everyone has. I like to spend my time around people that are happy, and most runners I know are happy.  After you spend enough time suffering running and also having successes most people obtain a positive outlook on the whole experience. They appreciate the experience as much or more than the destination.
So that is why I run. Perhaps it is not every reason, but after spending close to two hours thinking of things it covers most of the bases. If you have any other reasons that you run, please comment below, thank you!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Unemployment Is Going Nowhere

The unemployment numbers were once again released. We in the US are still sitting at 9%. The stimulus, didn't really work. The recession hit in 2008, three years ago, and times are still tough for millions of people.

I never paid attention to the monthly unemployment figures until I was unemployed for a month. I have learned so much since I began paying attention. First of all, the way they measure unemployment is basically people collecting unemployment checks. Ignored in these figures are stay at home parents, students, forced into early retirement people, and people who have been unemployed so long they are discouraged. The last group is an ever growing group might I add. Secondly, the figures are "seasonally adjusted" which basically means a portion of the population only works part of the year so it does not matter that the are unemployed.

The good news is I have a 55,000 word book that could help some of these people, but the bad news is it sits saved in three locations and not at a publishing house or book store.

My friends, be thankful for your prosperity because among us in this country many people have a very hard life.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

I Live in Iowa: Week 12

Am I living the dream? I don't know, but it is probably as close as I have ever been.

Independence day was a great way to start off the week. We should do that again next month... I went to a potluck and met a few people including three people my own age. All of whom I saw at some point later in the week. I watched the fireworks in Dubuque from the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi river. Since I prefer not to talk about other people without their permission I'll just say that I had a very nice time at the potluck and I expect to see many of those people again, possibly frequently, in the future.

July 4th was a quiet day for me. I watched three hours of the Tour De France and went for a 14 mile run. I spent the rest of the day with one of my new friends and saw the new Pirates of the Carribbean, which is still good. Not many fourth movies in a series are good.

The working week was shorter which was kind of nice. I have a great job but a three day weekend is really nice as well. The idea of paid holidays is great. I hope no one at the top figures out you could make us work those days and we would still have great jobs.

I started a new project at work this week which is always exciting. It is very similar to one that I finished earlier so I am working through it very quickly. Industry is nice because the projects are less intense than grad school and I get paid more. Every few weeks there is something new to work on. In grad school I worked on the same problem for a year and a half.

I ran 43 miles this week. I had one 6k tempo and a medium long run. Still what I would consider an off week, but the running bug is coming back to bite me and larger numbers and hard workouts are not far away. The thing that is holding my running back now is my new road bicycle. I have 480 miles on it and in the heat it is more fun to ride and drink from my water bottles than sweat on a run. Bicycling always involves a breeze because you are moving so fast.

On the social side one of my Indian coworkers had a first birthday for his baby and I went. It was like going to India for the evening, complete with curry. It is interesting to see their traditions and funny to find out that not every Indian knows the meaning of the red dot on their foreheads.

Also on the social side I hosted a backyard party Friday night. I invited a number of people and I feel it was a huge hit. I'll be doing it again. Six hours of fun and it only cost me about $30. I have felt really lacking in my social life so I finally realized that if I wanted to hang out with a number of my friends I needed to create something to do. A simple concept but it took nearly three months for me to get it.

I hope you had a good week because I know this week was in many respects a great week for me. I may even look back on this week some day and say that it changed my life. We shall see.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Don't Blink or You'll Miss It

Tom Boonen and Bradley Wiggins both dropped out of the Tour de France Friday because of injuries. Those two are easily two of the top ten highest paid cyclists in the world. Betty Ford died Friday. I wasn't around when she was the First Lady, but her Betty Ford Clinic is very famous for helping people.

All of the sudden it's the middle of July and here I am in Dubuque. It's strange because I'm still working out what it all means to be employed in a "grown up job" and 25 years old and I suppose, life in general. As I get older, things seem to happen faster. For example, we (younger 20s I) imagine that life will continue for us with the state of fitness that we have, making money like we do, hanging out with friends like we do, and that things will not change, yet for some reason Bradley Wiggins dropping out of the tour yesterday kind of reinforced that life happens fast. He was one of the top contenders, then he had a crash and the doctors sent him to the hopsital and his tour, the highlight of his professional year, was over within two minutes from crash to ambulance before he even had the chance to get to the mountain stages.

The thing about bicycle racing is that you have to sit there for hours until there are seriously a few minutes that are decisive over the course of an entire grand tour. There is always the minute in the mountains of the Tour de France where the eventual winner does a few extra pedal strokes and pulls away from the other contenders. He doesn't even have to win the stage it is just about getting a few seconds ahead of the half dozen people who have a chance to win it. The thing is you can watch the 30 second clip of youtube of that happening, but it is not the same as watching 30 hours over two and a half weeks and learning the stories of all the riders and seeing the little mishaps that they all have leading up to the decisive moment. Of course, those 30 hours are very anticlimactic if you miss those decisive 30 seconds.

I suppose that what I am trying to communicate is that life happens and it happens quickly. I have been saying that a lot recently, and I think the reason is that turning 25 is another one of those birthdays when I kind of evaluate where I am in life and look at the next little bit and think where I want to be in a few years. From an athletic point of view I have the Olympic Trials and Everest on my mind. From a professional point of view I have my career, my massive student loans, and figuring out what I want to do with all of that. Professionally, I feel like I have arrived and that I could sit back and enjoy the ride for the next 45 years. I've never felt that I had the option of that kind of stability. To be honest, I don't think that I do have that kind of stability, but it feels like I do. After starting Janzen Gear, and more or less failing, I have to say that working for someone else is great. There is less pressure to perform at 100% on everything. If I make a mistake or am less productive than I would like on any given day, I still get paid. The downside is I am less likely to profit directly from my productive days. It is a sacrifice that for the foreseeable future I am happy to make. I am so fortunate.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Coffee, Work, Workout, Eat, Sleep, Repeat

I have been neglecting things recently. From paying one set of student loans five days late to checking my email for 45 minutes once a week I am falling behind. Why has all this been happening? I'm up to 32 miles the last five days on my feet and 486 miles on my new bicycle the last two weeks. Plus, I spent some time socializing recently.

I apologize for all of the unanswered emails and Facebook messages. I'll get to them, hopefully. In the meantime if you wish to contact me call between 8:30 and 10pm central standard time and I am usually available. I also started a twitter feed and I will likely update that more often than this blog.

As always, thank you for reading!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I'm Taking a Break from Running

Well, sort of. You see, I am a runner. I have running goals. But without training partners or daily external support (like a team) I only lasted a year and a half post college. Additionally, training for a marathon takes so much effort that it left me a little worn out mentally and emotionally as well as physically.

So I found the bicycle and I've been riding hundreds of miles per week, because of course the most important factor in training for the marathon is aerobic endurance, which can be had a little on the bike. Also, I'm running a few workouts and runs every week because that sort of measured intensity is hard to come by on the bike without a power meter. Which is to say, I'm doing the 1-2 workouts I need to run and then a whole lot on the bike. When I get back to running full swing I guarantee personal records at 5k and the halfmarathon and hopefully the 10k.

I used to think workouts during the building phase was ridiculous, now I understand you have to be doing workouts 10+ months a year, even if they are as light as 10x100 meter strides or 3xmile at 10k or slower pace. While aerobic endurance is the most important strength and heart pump capacity and lactate threshold can not be ignored until three months before the final race. They are not the main component, but vital none the less.

Monday, July 4, 2011

I Live in Iowa: Week 11

Happy 4th of July! While this is our Independence day I would like to remind all of you that millions of Americans have fought, died, and been wounded in the battle against tyranny and we are so incredibly fortunate to have what we do. I enjoy so much luxury and freedom and it is because so many people have suffered so much. Thank you veterans!

Another wonderful week living the dream. Okay, so the dream varies a little bit now and then but  any complaints that I have are entirely selfish. I worked 42 hours this week and with the plastic simulation that I am working on I really got into viscoelastic properties and I have been learning and relearning all sorts of things about material flow and plastics. It's exciting stuff, and I get paid for it!

I ran very little, although I did do a 3xmile workout running 5:15-5:20 pace with 4x200 on the end running 32-34 pace. Considering I am not really training right now, that's pretty good. I am kind of taking a break from running at the moment, but I'm doing it with the intention of coming back faster. You see, I'm putting in huge mileage on the bicycle including hill workouts which are kind of like fartleks. Plus, I am doing slow anaerobic/LT area workouts which is really key to speed although it is something that is generally neglected in base training. I'll probably post on that in the coming weeks.

Bicycling I did 340-350 miles. Sunday - Off, Monday - 50 on the Heritage Trail on my cyclocross single speed, Tuesday - 25 after my track workout, Wednesday - 55 with the Free Flight team including winning a hill climb, Thursday - 16 including Potts Hill, Friday - Off, Saturday - 200. Talk about a lot of time on the bicycle. The thing is I just feel so fast on my new bicycle. Does the carbon frame and lighter wheels and paddle shifters and 20 speeds make a difference? Yes, at least I think so, and really the opinion that matters in regards to the value of my multi-thousand dollar purchase is mine.

I didn't do a whole lot else this week besides go to work and ride my bicycle. I did have Pancheros for the first time. Its a burrito place like Moe's, Qdoba, or Chipotle. No Moe-Rita's but the burritos are good.

The Tour De France did Start Saturday and as I write this after watching part of the team time trail I have to say I'm rooting for Andy Schlek and Bradley Wiggins for the overall, Fabian Cancellara to just do crazy stuff and tear people apart, as well as hoping that the Americans Levi Leipheimer and George Hincapie have stellar tours. It's going to be a good tour. Alberto Contador is already 1:42 behind after only two stages, which is a lot to make up, but possible in one or two stages. The highest tour finish in history will occur on July 21st at the  Col du Galibier, and the next day they will tackle the L'Alpe d'Huez. That being said, the main contender is already over a minutes a half behind so he may be out of contention by the time they get there. It's going to be exciting. 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Double Century: My First 200 Mile Bicycle Ride

Yesterday I rode my new Trek bicycle 201 miles in 11 hours and 43 minutes. I woke up around 5:30, even earlier than I do for work, and spent some time eating breakfast and gearing up making sure that all of my bases were covered. I left my apartment just after 6. I don't know any of the exact times of day because I didn't take my watch. I started off slow and easy on my way to Galena, IL. I cruised the downtown area looking for an open coffee shop. The first promising prospect was closed but the owner was sitting outside sipping his morning espresso and since he lived upstairs offered to make me an espresso drink. I gladly accepted and asked if he would fill a bottle of mine with a mocha. While I waited I had a pastry and we talked about tourism a little. It seems this summer is not the greatest but better than last year.

From there I cruised back Illinois roads to Savanna, IL and Sabula, IA where I crossed back across the Mississippi. To be honest, Sabula is asking to be flooded. It's just above the river level and sits in the middle of the river. It would not be my first choice for the optimal place to put a town. I hit 50 miles in Sabula and my time was a flying 2:30:32, for a 19.9 mph average. I was in the big crank for the 30 miles from Galena to Sabula and was doing 22-24 mph pretty consistently. Of course it was with the wind and except for one uphill it was downhill and flat. From there I headed West and around mile 61 I got a flat tire. I changed it just fine and headed into Maquoketa. I filled up my bottles (5th and 6th bottle) and went to the local "bicycle shop" which is really just a guy that does it about one day a week on his off day. While he was finding an appropriate inner tube we talked about the divorce he is going through as well as bicycle technology. I thought that Sram and Shimano were both pretty common but everyone I talk to asks about my Sram components. It's just like when I bought my iPhone, I thought everyone else already had one, then found out that it was really only a few people and I was actually an early adopter.

I headed North and West out of town for some nice cross wind mileage on beautiful Iowa back roads. Say what you want about bad roads, Iowa is a great place to ride a bicycle. Less cars than New England, more paved roads than most of the Midwest, for the most part nicely paved roads, and because I live near the Mississippi the roads are old enough that they are fairly winding which makes for a more enjoyable ride than strait roads. I hit 100 miles in 5:22 something. That's still an 18.5 mph average. Kind of inspiring because it's pretty close to a sub 5 hour 100 mile bicycle ride, which is yet another thing that sounds like I could do. Although, it would have to be during good weather and having at least one other person to pull me along would be a huge help.

I stopped at mile 112 at Cascade to eat a little and get more water in my bottles (bottles 7 and 8). Soon after I left I headed North on 136 to Dryersville and into a 10 mph wind or so with gusts in the 15 mph region. My pace slowed considerably. For awhile I was stopping at every gas station I could to get ice water. The worst stretch of road that I ever ride in Iowa on is the four miles from Dryersville North on 136. There is no shoulder to ride on and there are always a lot of cars. However, when I am going into the wind cars whipping past me are a welcome reprieve. You see, I am going 15-20 mph and they are going say 55 or so and the wind put off by a car, or better yet an SUV give me 5-20 seconds of wind going in the direction I am going in. The closer that the cars are to me the more advantage I get. It sounds ridiculous but when the go past me with only 2-3 feet to spare it is better than 8-10 feet away in the other lane. However, due to the low density of fast moving fluids there is a suction effect which can be scary. When a car or SUV passes me I often get pulled over a foot or so after they have passed. Semis on the other hand will pull me toward the rear wheels, which is scary.

From there it kind of melted into monotonous road and sunburn and dehydration. I ended up on a stretch of gravel on Heiderscheit Road and turned around and backtracked and ran out of water. There were no facilities in Balltown so I trekked to Sherrill and hit up a bar for another two bottles of lemonade and water. I did not feel like eating a gel so I put the gel into my ice water, which I have never tried before. It did not dissolve until the water warmed up half an hour later. Then the maltodextrin tasted distinctly less sugary than lemonade. It tasted good enough that I think I will experiment with it in the future.

I still had 29 miles to go at the BP station  at the Sherrill/HWY 52 intersection so I headed up 52 and took Boy Scout road around to Asbury Road and Humke Road and then back up to Asbury then I did a little out and back on Grandview to get over 200 and I finished up nice and tired after 7 PM.

I did not eat much at all. One Honey Stinger Protein Bar, one Clif Bar (White Chocolate Macadena Nut flavor), two gels (one Clif and one Roctane), one package of Shot Bloks, two Jocalat Larabars, but I did have that mocha and pastry, and at least six bottles of Gatorade, Vitamin Water, lemonade, and blueberry pomegranate juice. Today I feel like I had a relatively hard 23-24 mile run yesterday. I am more saddle sore than any run but I can walk around just fine. Interestingly my core is sore. There is a little back and forth wobble on the bicycle and I think 11+ hours of that worked my core more than usual. Plus, I'm still working out the fit of my new bicycle. The stem might need to be shortened a little so that I am not bent over so far when I am on the hoods.

Three more things, people are always telling me I am insane or crazy for doing stuff like this. I suppose that if 99% of people are considered normal then I am certainly in the 1% that must be considered crazy. Second, this has been a life goal of mine for several years and now it's done. Third, every time I knock off a goal it is a little anticlimactic. There was no one waiting to congratulate me at my apartment at the finish. There were no voicemails and text messages congratulating me. There is certainly no money in it. I am finding there is no next level pain or other mental state that I have when doing this stuff. I am who I am and that is the same person wether I am 500 feet off the ground at a hanging belay or 184 miles into a bicycle ride going up Asbury hill or sitting at my desk at 2PM on Wednesday. This is my life, and I do not intend to sit around doing the same old stuff. What's next? 300 miles? I don't know. I can say that I do know that whatever the next challenge is I do not know if I can do it. If I knew I could do it, what would the challenge be?