Thursday, October 27, 2011

Think Descriptively

People describe things terribly. I have known that for years, but it has never been as clear to me as it is now coaching some inexperienced college kids and regularly working with Indians. Two examples:

Me, "Is A welded to B along the bottom edge?" There was a picture to look at.
Indian coworker on our instant messenger, "y"
Me, "Yes?"
Indian coworker, "yes"

Now that was a simple y versus why misunderstanding. Often the description goes the other way and I communicate terribly. I would give an example but my errored writing does not compare to the vague run-on sentences I often use describe things. Besides I try to put the exact words out of my memory after one of my blubbering incidents.

Me to one of my athletes running a workout alone after the fourth of six 1200m intervals, "How do you feel?"
Sophomore student athlete, "Okay" in a tone that meant something hurt despite running good times.
Me, "Use more descriptive words."
Sophomore student athlete, "Well, my shin hurts a little, besides that I feel good."
From there we talked more about the details of how he was feeling, but if I had not prompted him to say more, I would have no idea his shin was hurting.

I find the best way to be more descriptive and clear to other people is use context clues and pictures to describe my point. If I can draw a picture that has thus far always gotten the point across. When drawing a picture is impractical I find it convenient to use numbers as much as possible to describe the issue quantitatively. Finally using generalizations to get the point across usually helps too. Example: "The longer the tail and larger the radius typically spreads out the strain better on a doubler or at a perpendicular intersection." It may not be very descriptive but if we are talking about a specific plate or intersection it generally describes what I want to do.

So I encourage you to answer questions in the future with a little positive and a little negative instead of "fine" or "good".

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Meet Athletic Republic, My Official Sponsor

After years of running on teams, I entered the post-collegiate world, and for the first time in my life I was without some entity giving me clothing and support to continue running. Until I encountered Athletic Republic.

The story behind this relationship is that I have a coaching job at the University of Dubuque, and the head cross country and track and field coach was the former majority owner of Athletic Republic Madison. Now he is a minority owner and when I told him tales of my running exploits he was sufficiently impressed to provide me with an assortment of clothing and gear. With any sponsorship, the more I do for the company, the more reward there is for me, and not just by running faster. Doing clinics, providing personal coaching, writing blog posts, and other things that relate my experience to Athletic Republic customers and potential customers.

Athletic Republic's target audience has been those people interested in performance training. For the most part that means sports with short sprints like football, track sprinters, basketball, hockey, baseball, and other high strength for short duration sports. The idea is that working on your form will allow you to get more power out of each step or throw. Distance runners traditionally shy away from this type of training because it is so far away from race pace that it seems irrelevant. However, even Renato Canova suggests short hill sprints of 8 to 12 seconds at a high speed for marathoners. He also has his runners do "diagonals" which involve sprinting across a soccer field. The point is, even marathoners can benefit from short sprints at a high intensity. Additionally improving your form can improve your efficiency by reducing the amount of oxygen required per step. For example, tensing your shoulders drives blood flow to your upper back and away from your legs. If you tense your shoulders enough, eventually on long runs you will have a sore back and shoulders. I used to have that happen to me regularly.

The reason they are sponsoring me is that they wish to expand their business to distance runners and I am a poster child for a balanced training program including sprinting and weight training. Additionally, I have years of competitive running experience which has given me a coaching perspective that your typical athletic trainer does not have.

I am excited to see where this sponsorship leads. I think there is a lot of untapped opportunity in this market for a distance runner.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Live in Iowa: Week 27

I worked 42 hours including spending three hours on the phone and instant messaging my coworkers in India on Friday. I had one of those great moments where I said something, and I was right. It is still unusual for this to happen to me, so I'm going to toot my own horn. My coworker in India desired to do some finite element analysis, even though it was not his job. He was using ANSYS, which I used at Kohler and have not used in six months. Yet I spent enough time with the software I was able to give him enough advice and suggestions that after 20 minutes of trouble shooting, the model solved on the first try. This is important because I feel that he put in several hours working with the software prior to asking for my advice. In other words, I was teaching, and I taught well enough to get a model to solve. There were a number of differences between his model and mine, but there was still information to be learned from his simulation. Simply developing autonomy...

I managed to run 100 miles including my personal record half marathon and my second best long run. The half marathon was run in Des Moines. I ran a 1:11:48 for 17th place out of about 4000 people. I was pretty even paced for the whole race with a few faster miles and some slower ones but an average of 5:29 and many miles within a few seconds of that. Since I have obviously been training to run 5:18 pace for a full marathon I feel nowhere close to the goal, even though a 1:11 half marathon is my best race ever according to purdy points and vo2max charts. So there is a mental low associated with running half of a 2:23 marathon when I am training for 2:18:58. I know I am a long shot, but I was hoping to be a little faster. I know, I'm so demanding.  I finished the week off with a 20 miler run in 1:59:26. It was the first training run that I decided with about 12 miles left that I wanted to run 20 faster than 6 minutes per mile pace. The best part is that the first mile was in 6:50 so I spent the next 14 miles trying to get rid of those spare 50 seconds. Overall a very good week in running that was at the time, a little depressing.

Coaching continues to go well. I give some of the runners extra exercises to do for soreness, and it works! It is amazing for me because I know what works to help most of my recurring aliments but when the same things work for others, it is continually surprising.

Other than that, my grandparents came to town and we had an afternoon and two nice evenings with each other. I am always happy to hear the stories and advice they have to give. There is so much attained wisdom stored in our octogenarians and septuagenarians that we ignore. We are not smarter than those that came before us, more often than not it seems we just repeat the mistakes of the past. Getting into debt is good? Seriously? Who came up with that idea? History is littered with examples of societies that went into debt and struggled or failed to get out of it. So why did we go into debt once again? Wasn't the economy going well enough the last 30 years? The wisdom of our elders is valuable. I plan to listen and avoid the mistakes they lived through.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Confidence, Cockiness, and Arrogance

Talking running with some friends, the subject of a particularly arrogant runner came up. It has come up that my attitude can at times be elitist and arrogant on this blog as well. In the context of coaching or competing or training or even engineering and academics there is a certain confidence that is needed to complete the work necessary to rise to the next level.

For example, Saturday the 22nd, I ran 20 miles in 1:59:26. It is the first time in training I have ever been a few miles out, in this case about 8 and decided that I wanted to do 20 in under two hours. There is quite a lot of confidence you need to decide to run 12 more miles in 70 minutes after doing 8 miles in 49 minutes.  Unfortunately, the confidence talking about doing 20 miles at 5:58 pace translates to a certain arrogance about my ability to run 20 miles. As millions of people run and will never run 20 miles in under two hours I have trouble relating completely to their point of view. They ask how to improve, and the simple fact is, they don't work hard enough.

I come from a family which encouraged a very hard work ethic. The amount of time that I have put into my education and engineering (and continue to put into engineering at an average of 42 hours per week) have given me experience regarding certain situations that I speak about with a very opinionated view. You can not have square inside corners on an object that will be in tension or compression and must have any sort of fatigue life. That is just the way it is.

It is strange for me as well because I know that I say things on the blog in a way that I am uncomfortable saying them in person. It is hard to be that direct. It is also hard for me to confront others on events that I perceive as opportunities for their improvement. However, as I coach I am getting better at providing suggestions. Another professional way that I am improving is by helping to teach and work with my colleagues in India. I spent close to three hours Friday on the phone and our instant message communicator discussing modeling techniques.

I suppose my view is that sometimes X is the truth. If my presentation of X comes off as ignorant and arrogant then the problem is with my presentation of X. Within the United States I feel there is sometimes a refusal to stand up for our beliefs. If standing up for my beliefs is arrogant, I feel that is a better solution than not standing up for my beliefs. Although, translating words on paper to a real time conversation is typically difficult. So you can expect me to be a shy as ever in public, and as arrogant as ever on the blog. It's strange, I know, but it is easier than shouting from the street corners. Plus, when I decide that I said something crazy on the blog I can go back and edit it. It is kind of cheating, but every other web based news and information service can do the same.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Developing Autonomy

Coaching is a great experience. As my middle school track coach once said, "You should all have to be a coach someday so you know how hard it is..."

One of the unique things about our team this year is that we have three college cross country veterans and the other eight to ten are freshman. It creates an interesting dynamic because they look to the coaches for guidance when it seems obvious to us the solution. An example, the starter announces three minutes to start time and we get asked if there is enough time to do another stride. The answer is yes. You can pretty much do whatever until they say a minute or 30 seconds to go. Yet our kids have not been in enough races to understand that.

Part of that is the general transition to college. Doing your own laundry, finding food every day, sleeping enough, showering, and staying out of trouble are things that most college kids have never structured for themselves. Adding a physical training plan with races every other week throws a new set of problems in the mix for them as well. Time management becomes even more important.

How do I take actions that help them become more autonomous? Allow them to fail sometimes. Several of our runners went out too hard at the most recent race and ran very slow the last part of the race. I was excited because they worked hard to give it a shot, and now hopefully they have a better feel for pace so that they can feel early in the race if they will be able to finish at that pace. Another method is when they are doing their warm up and cool down. I will tell them to get started, and walk away, but stay within sight. We have a very organized warmup and cool down. I am not going to be overly critical if they forget something, but it is import to make sure they don't stand still between warming up and racing. By getting them started warming up and letting them go it is my way of giving them approval as a team that they have the knowledge required to warm up and race. Hovering over them gives them the impression (in my mind) that we will always be there to make decisions for them, and that is clearly not true. I will not be there every step of the way telling anyone to attack or relax during the race. Each athlete must have the ability to make decisions during the race when to push and when to hold back, and make that decision during every one of the 5400 steps in a 30 minute race.

I am still learning of course but the point is by allowing them to make their own decisions and fail sometimes, they will (hopefully) learn to make better decisions. Hopefully the process of decision making they apply to running, and time management, will take root in their heads and help them make better life decisions. See! Running does apply to life!

Monday, October 17, 2011

I Live in Iowa: Week 26

If you look at this week by itself, it looks like a wash, but if you look at the week before, or the day after, or the impact that I am having on the UD kids, or the work I am doing at John Deere, this all fits into the picture rather well. It is all progression.

I worked 39 hours. I took part of Friday off to go to LaCrosse for the Tim Jerews cross country meet. That is beside the point. Right now at work the new forestry machines are near the beginning of their promotion to virtual build, which is the process of making sure that everything can be built and work. After this we begin physical build, which involves building several dozen prototype machines. The point is, it is a time when a lot of work is to be completed and the volume or pace of finite element model simulations that I am producing is the best that I ever have.

My running involved a small 64 miles and one workout. The workout was a 10k progression run that I ended after 6k because I was struggling. But a minute later I felt good so I finished it with 2x2k after a few minutes of rest. It was a good workout. Basically as awesome as my week was last week I really really suffered from it this week. I mean I was extremely tired and had very heavy legs. Plus, Tuesday night I remember being half awake clenching my feet and pulling my feet into the bed, effectively stretching my shins, and cramping up the bottom of my feet (plantar fascia) and calves. I woke up Wednesday with plantar fasciitis in my left foot. I was so tired besides that that I took the day off. Anyway, I fixed the plantar fasciitis, and I should write an article and make a video because that injury is kind of my specialty. I'm getting so I can fix it in a week.

Friday and Saturday the UD team traveled to LaCrosse, Wisconsin for a cross country meet. It was our first overnight team trip. The team did well with several personal records despite two very hard weeks of training the last two weeks. Some of the runners also had really good aggressive learning experience style races. Sometimes you need to go out over your head so see what it's like. You also learn what it feels like to hit the wall and what it feels like at the beginning of the race when you hit the wall. When you watch the very best  they generally feel the pace and know at the beginning of the race if the pace will be manageable. They have gone out too fast, and just right, in the past and they know what it feels like.

I have such a great life mixture right now.  A great job, great running situation, a great second job, some cool friends. Life is good.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Beside a Corn Field...

Right now I am in the AmericInn outside of LaCrosse, Wisconsin because the UD te I coach is running at the Tim Jerews cross country meet tomorrow. We ran the course, which is fast and on a golf course, and beside a corn field. I had the realization as we walked to the bus after our run that many times in the last ten years I have gone to race in places surrounded by agricultural fields. Why is any of this worth talking about? Tomorrow we line up beside the University of Minnesota and I am pretty sure they will send a few runners under 25 minutes for 8km. To me that kind of ability seems like it should be in a place with cameras and fans and stadiums, not beside a corn field in Wisconsin. But that is the whole point! These places are all just places on the earth and people are all just people. At some point we each spend time alone and in places that are "normal". Corn is normal. There is not much more of anything in the United States that is more normal than corn. The relationship between just people and just corn to me exemplifies the relationships between all of us on the earth. No one is isolated from everyone else. We must work to not ruin it for everyone else.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How I Ran 140 Miles in One Week

Since this was the best week of training I have ever had, I would like to share it. Plus, for those that don't read my running log this is what it takes to succeed. For the record, this whole athletic thing that I am doing is all part of the 30 year plan that includes my career, and this blog. While you can say it is only physical, there is a link between the physical and the mental and the emotional, and I feel to succeed at the highest levels mentally and emotionally I personally need to physically strive for success as well.

In reverse order:

Rail Trail
Long21.0 mi2:10:046:12
    Recovery run11.4 mi1:31:088:00
      Recovery run8.7 mi1:01:257:04
        Medium Long Run16.0 mi2:02:297:40
          Morning Run #1
          Recovery run2.6 mi22:318:40
            Recovery run5.5 mi45:028:12
              Indoor Track
              Strides900.0 m2:304:29
                Recovery run4.5 mi38:318:34
                  Morning Run #3
                  Recovery run3.5 mi29:388:28
                    Fartlek11.6 km54:477:37
                      Recovery run3.4 mi27:468:10
                        Fartlek11.0 mi1:16:036:55
                          Recovery run9.0 mi1:10:527:53
                            Recovery run5.2 mi43:538:27
                              Recovery run7.0 mi51:027:18
                                Rail Trail
                                Long23.5 mi2:24:556:11

                                Some key things that I took away from making this such a successful week in my eyes:

                                • Sunday I ran 30.5 miles, probably my single best day of training yet and for sure my best long run yet. 
                                • Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday I averaged over 8 minutes per mile pace.
                                • I had 15 running events (I don't count the strides as separate) which means I tripled on Tuesday and Wednesday. 
                                • In total I ran 24 miles faster than 6:00 pace. 
                                • I ran the two best long runs of my life this week.
                                • On both long runs I had company for most of each run and on the 20 miler I had my sister bicycling with a gatorade bottle in support. It made a huge difference. 
                                • I slept and ate a whole lot this week. 
                                Some mistakes I made this week:
                                • I neglected the exercises and core work necessary to be successful and stay injury free. I had a plantar flare up today (Wednesday).
                                • I pushed hard to get 140 because I wanted that number of miles but the effort I put in on Thursday and Friday, while not fast was a long time and is just now in the middle of the next week hurting me. 

                                Monday, October 10, 2011

                                30 Dreamers

                                The results from the Chicago Mathon are online and everyone tried to get the Olympic trials standard. Five people ran 2:18 and I am assuming their first qualifying race for the trials. On the other hand 30 men went out in 1:08-1:09 and ran 2:19 or slower. That's 30 people who trained well enough to run halfway on pace but had problems in the second half. Statistically only one in seven of the people who hit halfway on pace made the goal. I am sure that CIM will be nearly the same.

                                It's eye opening. I mean I'm only a 1:12 half marathoner this week. Those guys ran three minutes faster than my PR and tried to do it again. What am I doing!? Okay I know that this is a long term process and I fully expect to PR huge even if I do not run 2:18. Plus, I just ran 140 miles last week with 24 of them under six minute pace. I doubt many 2:20+ marathoners put down 140 mile weeks.

                                I'm just saying, the odds are stacked against my time goal this cycle, but you never know until you try. Seeing that at Chicago the odds were one in seven for those that made it halfway is motivational. I didn't think the odds were that good.

                                Sunday, October 9, 2011

                                I Live in Iowa: Week 25

                                This was an amazing week for me, partly professionally and incredibly in terms of running. I worked 41 hours which was lower than normal because ran so much. Technically I didn't get as much worked finished as I would have liked but I worked on several different projects and progressed on all of them, so it could be worse. Then I learned on Friday that I might have an opportunity for a promotion. There is a decent chance that I do not get it, but the fact I am being officially considered is a significant recognition for me, in my eyes. It's like the Olympic trials, if you are there you have the chance to be an Olympian. So often just being in the game in the running is a success in my mind.

                                My running week was my best one yet! I ran 140 miles including my two best long runs, and three fartlek/hill workouts, and a set of strides. It was rewarding. Since I have never run 140 miles in one week I feel a little obligated to describe it run by run. Alas, I am tired so it may be a few days. I will tease you will with my Sunday: a 23.5 mile long run with the first six in 41:45, next six miles in 37 all of that with G the other University of Dubuque assistant cross country coach, and last 11 in 1:03 with a 5:21 and 5:29 mile in there in the middle. For me to average 6:11 per mile over 23.5 miles is good, to put down 5:30s and 5:40 in there near the end when I am tired is even better! That evening I went over to G's apartment (and C and S's appartment) and we did another seven miles around seven minute mile pace. That made it my first 30+ mile day of serious training and it was all run semifast. The beast part is I still have six hard weeks of training left!

                                My sister came to visit on Friday and Saturday and that was the extent of my socializing this week. If you want to work 40+ hours a week and run nearly 17 hours a week the only other thing you end up doing is eating and sleeping.

                                Saturday, October 8, 2011

                                This World Keeps Changing

                                This was an interesting week. On October 5th Steve Jobs died. I know he had survived pancreatic cancer and a liver transplant, but it just seemed like he wouldn't die, at least anytime soon. People are beginning to wonder about the possible demise of Apple. I think that they put so much work into defining what made Jobs so distinctive that for the next several years, probably the next decade, they have nothing to worry about. Secondly, I can't help but think of the movie Tron or Batman how the son inherits the company. Who knows what the future will hold?

                                The iPhone 4S came out. It's cool because it has HSPA+ (3x faster data speeds), a better processor (up to 7X faster graphics), an amazing camera, up to 64GB of storage, and to top it all off it has this new thing called Siri which people don't really know what to do with yet.

                                Unemployment is still high, yet we can not find engineers! There are three open positions in our group for finite element structural analysis engineers for people with 1+ year experience and a salary of $70K+ that have been on the website for a month yet only 12 people have applied, and one is me and one is my coworker who sits behind me and we are just looking for a promotion.

                                Secondly, I hear about the booming oil and gas fracking industry throughout the midwest and tales of 2% unemployment where someone can find a job they day they arrive in town. Do you really want a job? Go to North Dakota.

                                On the European economic front they are having problems. We spent so much money, for so long that now it is time to pay it back. Let me tell you from experience it is fun getting into debt, but paying your way out of it is not easy. I am making more money now than I ever have but my standard of living is barely higher than it was in college. I sleep on an air mattress! (It is a double tall queen size.)

                                This is such an interesting time to be alive! I will be able to say that I watched the world go from no cell phones or Internet to ubiquitous cell phones with the Internet. We went from some of the greatest peace and prosperity to a 10 year old war and a long running recession and very slow recovery.

                                By the way, stocks on Wall Street have been up and down huge percentages recently (10% per day in some cases) and the more volatile stocks are in general the more money those in the market stand to make. If for no other reason that people are buying and selling and Fidelity, among others, is making a commission on each transaction. In other words, billionaires get richer and unemployed people in their 40s and 50s still can't find jobs.

                                Tuesday, October 4, 2011

                                The Great Recession is Not Going to Relapse... Yet

                                We are in the process of a paradigm shift, debt is not good, it is enabling, in the same way that a fake ID enables young kids to drink alcohol. We worry about Greece defaulting and low consumer confidence, but let us look at some factual things.

                                Since I have an amazing career at John Deere let me tell you about business. We can not find finite element structural analysis engineers. If you are looking send me an email. If the economy is so terrible why is it impossible to find anyone with FEA experience? Second we are hiring for our new Chinese construction and forestry operation and it is even harder to find FEA experience in China. India on the other hand is swimming in FEA experience. John Deere recently announced the new construction factories in Brasil worth something like $124 million. Third, we are having great orders for much of our equipment. Why the stock is down at 61 from 95+ a few months ago I don't know. (disclosure: I don't own any John Deere stock, but I plan to buy some within the next two years, perhaps as soon as this week although I don't have enough money to buy many shares at all right now.)

                                Things are not going to return to the way they were, at least I hope not. "Sustainable Growth" is 0.0% anything greater results in consuming the world eventually. We can not spend 101% of our income as a nation and expect to sustain that. Oh wait, that already collapsed. What necessitates a growing economy anyway? Why is a recession defined as two negative quarters instead of two quarters with growth of -3% or worse? What good can we do sweating the small stuff?

                                My advice, graduate with an engineering degree asap (and some FEA experience). If you are older, uneducated at the college level, or have a degree which only cuts you out for grad school, I have no advice. I suppose what you can do for yourself is come up with a value proposition for your career. What is my value proposition? Good question. Something like: capable of using his manufacturing experience from three companies and creativity from two patents pending along with an MS in materials science and BS in aerospace to create structures that are stronger, lighter, and thus more energy efficient than current products. Sounds good huh? All of that only took a minutes to come up with as well. If you can't come up with a reason to be hired instead of someone else you will have a more difficult time finding a job.

                                Finally, the iPhone 4S or 5 comes out today and orders will be huge! I realize that income distribution plays a part in Apple being so successful and that is part of the problem. I'm just saying that business and the economy is far better than a bunch of disconnect-with-business and disconnected-with-America media people and Wall Street people are saying. I probably listen to more NPR than them all as well.

                                Monday, October 3, 2011

                                Who is Jason Flogel?

                                There is absolutely no reason for you to have ever heard of Jason Flogel. Why am I telling you about him? He ran a 2:18 marathon in June and qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials. He has a child and a wife and a regular 40-hour-per-week job. We have mutual friends because he went to Loras College here in Dubuque so I hear that he runs 100 mile weeks very consistently, but has dealt with injuries. He was apparently struggling with getting "faster" in the last year or so and I talked to his college coach who told him to run 4 x 200 starting hard and running the last one about as fast a possible. Thus even marathoners do speed work.

                                He is an example of accomplishing one thing that so many of us would like to do, qualify for that one big race. Plus he did it with a career, a child, and a wife. In the odd chance that he reads this: Congratulations Jason on running a 2:18 (and doing it while having a life)!

                                Sunday, October 2, 2011

                                I Live in Iowa: Week 24

                                What a nice week! Like I've said, I have a great life. I worked 43 hours, mostly due to 9.5 on Friday. Work is going well. I am working on a project for one of the new forestry machines and due to the finite element analysis that I did, they will probably save 90kg (200 pounds)! This is important because this is a moving assembly on the working end of a machine. Which means that one pound from this assembly is worth perhaps five pounds from a less critical part of the assembly. It is an exciting prospect to be part of a team that is using the full range of tools available to us to make a product that will better fulfill the customer needs than what we currently make. Our current models are industry leaders by the way.

                                I ran 87 miles, after six consecutive weeks at 100 or more I needed some down time. I was tired. I did wrap up the month of September with 447 miles, one of my better months. I had three workouts this week. Monday I tried to solo a sub 16 5k on the indoor track at the University of Dubuque, but I was hitting 77s and a 78 and 79 so I stepped off after 2400 in 7:47, three seconds slow. Then I did some 800s and 400s and a hard hard 200 to get 5k of work in 15:53, which is okay. It's not what I wanted, but it's better than just 2400 of work. Thursday I did 10x2 minutes hard, 1 minute easy for a total of 29 minutes. I ran that with M my marathon training partner on Thursday afternoon at the Dubuque City high school meet. The former coach at Loras College (M's alma mater) is now the coach at Dubuque Senior High thus the connection. Plus I know a sophomore that runs for "Senior", as they call it around here. Then Friday, feeling good enough for another workout I did a seven mile progression on the heritage trail with the last three miles at 5:38, 5:25, and 5:19. So three workouts this week. That's a nice number and it is what I needed.

                                Coaching at UD is going really well. We had a hard workout Monday and a moderate workout Thursday. Saturday, nearly every runner on the team set a personal record. Plus, we are not even peaking yet. I am sure that we are going to have more breakthroughs the last three meets of the season over the next six weeks.

                                That was about my life.