Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I Feel Guilty of Being Lazy, All the Time

I am terrible at saying no. I like to please people. I continually feel like I am not living up to the expectations set for me. I feel like I am always letting people down. However, feelings are not fact. I typically leave my house around 6:30 AM and get back around 6:30 PM. Yet as I lay here on my couch at half past eight, barely awake and with aching legs from a 12 mile run I feel like a failure for not doing some more work after supper. Where does this ridiculousness come from? Did my family raise me to be this way? Did a never ending thesis teach me never to relax? I don't know.

I do know that these feelings propel me onward. When I am feeling lazy I remember times when I was productive and felt great. That's what keeps me energized to stay active in all aspects of life. Success is like a drug. When you have a little bit of it you start to wonder what a little more would feel like.

Monday, January 30, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 41

This was such a fun week! I have such a great life. Often I wonder what purpose is it that I have so much when others have so little. I mean this about everything. I have accumulated more wealth this past year than other do in five years. I have some of the most amazing family and friends. Where do these people come from? How in the world am I fortunate enough to be friends with them? How is it that I had such a wonderful formal education? I mean seriously, I went to one of the top 5% of public schools in Kansas. I went to the college that while ranked only in the 50s by the standard rating agencies, has the 9th highest starting salary for undergraduates. In my opinion the measure of starting salaries is a little more descriptive of the value of an education than a ranking based on class size or starting salary compared to cost of attendance. By the way, WPI ranks higher on the starting salary scale than MIT. I'm just saying.

I worked 42 hours and finished some more projects this week. This is great I am hitting my stride, it just took a nine month warmup. Projects that formerly took days and weeks I am doing in hours or days. I feel almost guilty when I start a project and finish it less than three hours later. I feel like I shouldn't be going that fast. However, I still have significant room to grow and improve in the areas of structural evaluation. The things that we are doing with nCode and load surveys are pretty interesting and still not optimized for accuracy and efficiency. Honestly, in five years on products that we have been making for at least 10-15 years we will not need to physically test before we start selling them. Maybe it sounds like magic to imply that something will be able to go from computer screen directly to customer without us trying to break a few at our proving grounds, but the time of that is nearing, and we aren't even close to atomic scale modeling yet. (When we get to the point where normal cluster computers can model structures at the atomic scale and include everything like discontinuities and welding we will really begin using engineering minds.)

I ran two races this week, the mile and the 200 meters. Both went well. The mile I ran in 4:39.59 going through the first 809 meters in 2:15 I slowed down significantly but managed to recover enough to run 33 something seconds in the last 200 meters. The 200 I ran in 28.52 and received deal last place by more than a second out of the 38 people who raced it. I was so slow that about a dozen women beat me. Hopefully, my two races provided some inspiration to the members of my team. For the sprinters I hope that they saw how I put myself in an uncomfortable position and gave it what I had. I ran a sprinter workout with them on Tuesday and was tearing it up in front of them. Hopefully they can say, 'hey this guy only raced two seconds faster than he was running repeat 200s this week. Maybe I can pick it up in practice a little bit.' For the distance runners I hope that they can look at my 200 and think, 'I'm faster than that in the 200, I should be a little closer to him at the longer distances.' Plus, I feel we have a good relationship among our whole team right now, but it could be better. We are having some of our distance runners run 4x200s and 4x400s in meets and the occasional sprinter workout. Similarly sometimes we get the long sprinters to do a longer workout or outside distance day with us. I feel that bridging the gap between strait sprinters and strait distance runners is important to building a loyal team. If you can get those two different groups together you will end up with the jumpers and throwers being in on the huddle as well. When everyone on the team knows everyone else and respects them, you get a lot more cheering and encouragement. Oh yeah, I ran 72 miles this week it was my first 70+ mile week post-CIM.

In other news, I am trying to get a team for Reach the Beach New Hampshire this year. If you would like to join and be part of a relay and run three legs totaling about 20 miles over 24 hours let me know. WPI Alumni runners preferred, but I will take others as well.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

What You Seek, You Will Not Find

What you desire, you will not enjoy.
What is your motivation, will seem pointless.
What you need, you will have.
What you lack, you will learn.
The destination is the journey and the journey the destination.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A Week Without Coffee

I drink 1-2 cups of coffee per day. Often that comes in the form of mochas and lattes or chocolate covered espresso beans. Well, over the last few months instead of having coffee 3-5 times a week I was drinking it nearly every day. Fearing the stories of caffine addiction I decided I needed to take a week off.

Starting last Friday I quit coffee. I made it all week. The worst day was Monday because I hit my head skiing by falling off a table in the terrain park Sunday and I had a headache from that. I am sure that the caffine withdraw also contributed to the headache as well. It was a relatively minor headache and far less disconcerting than the altitude headache I had at 20,300 feet on Broad Peak.

The illusion of control is a funny thing. We like to think we control something, but it is an illusion. Thus my attempt to "control" my coffee habit. Regardless of the fact that I am back on the cup now, the experiment was a success. I proved to myself that I could quit and continued my illusion that I control my coffee intake.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Does Loyalty Matter Anymore?

Part of "The American Dream" is that by working harder you can get ahead, whatever that means. However, it is a well known fact that switching companies typically leads to a promotion and a raise. I have also been part of many organization that often focus on recruitment, and not retention. While this article is not the recruitment versus retention discussion, it has some of those themes.

This came up a few months ago among some of my friends. The subject came up that people sometimes leave something hanging to go somewhere else to get a bigger paycheck yet those who stayed do not get bigger paychecks at the end of the project. We felt as if loyalty was not rewarded. In hindsight I think that perhaps we were not thinking as long term as we should have. Often times the top management at companies consists of people that have been very loyal to the company for a long time. Additionally people do receive bonuses and raises based on their performance.

Another similar example is coaching a team of "individuals". I do not do much with recruitment because I feel that my time is better spent doing other things. Besides, my coaching salary comes out to about half of minimum wage already. However, I do feel a huge need to be involved in retention of current athletes. I can not coach someone who doesn't show up. Furthermore, I am currently dealing with such a small group of people that losing just one to injury or motivation is a double digit percentage loss. So I regularly ask how everyone is feeling and say thank you to them for showing up and cheer them on not only in running but also in other life events. Part of my job as coach is an attention giver. To some extent all the kids that show up want some sort of attention. Not every day, but at some point they want reinforcement of their perceived success.

In other words, if you can buy gas for $2.99 a gallon at the corporation that funnels money through warlords or buy it for $3.14 next door at the "free-trade" corporation that you have been using for the last three years because the two gas prices used to be the same price, would you still buy the expensive gas?

Loyalty is a finicky thing. Car companies have it, heavy equipment companies have it, Apple has it, Coke and Pepsi have it, cigarettes have it and so do a number of smaller companies, like my family's greenhouse. One of the interesting questions that has come up as a contract employee is, 'does the company that I am at have any loyalty toward me?' They are not providing health or retirement benefits and my timesheet and pay are on a weekly basis. It is quite obvious that if there would be a downturn severe enough, the contract employees would be "let-go" before the actual employees. The contract labor system is becoming more and more common at all levels of pay at a company. It is especially difficult for unskilled and low-skilled workers, the demographic that I feel would benefit the most from enhanced corporate loyalty.

I am learning so much as I grow up and experience life. It is not necessarily that my perceptions of the world are turned upside down, it is simply that a secret door seems to open in one room after another and provide me with a whole new set of ideas and experiences. I wasn't really looking for these doors, but since I now know they are there, I want to see what exists on the other side.

Leave a comment. Does loyalty still matter?

Monday, January 23, 2012

It's Official.

One of the interesting things about "industry" is that if something isn't written down, it didn't happen. In other words, when I write a report, or even an email, what I wrote becomes official and could end up in court if someone sues.

The problem is, if doubt is expressed in writing about something that does not get changed, heads will roll. That is a good thing, however, to the best of my knowledge the repercussions to being oblivious to a problem are minor. In other words, if I approve a flawed design because my calculations were flawed no one in engineering will be punished for it. On the other hand if I reject a design that gets made anyway and it fails, people will get in trouble. Or at least the company will get in trouble and have to pay millions.

I have not been put in this spot, and I doubt that I will because I do my analysis well and the physical testing protocol that we have is very stringent. I also understand that the corporate laws are set so that there is limited liability to individuals working for the corporation. That is a good thing as well because simple mistakes that could destroy many strong careers are instead absorbed by the company instead of the individual.

However, I like accountability. I like the reward of success and the burden of failure. It might sound crazy to say that I like failure, but I do. If you never fail you aren't trying hard enough. Failure is recognition of our faults. Failure is the reminder that we are nowhere near perfect. Recognizing and accepting failure is also an important stage in growth. When we look back and think, 'I could have handled that better' the desire is that next time we will handle it better. Believe me, I am far more prepared for unemployment now than I was before when I failed at unemployment.

In other words, if I find a problem, I will say so. My relatives all say my grandpa was honest to a fault. He would tell people things they did not want to hear. I hope that I can be that definitive with the facts.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 40

40 weeks!! That's fantastic! I like consistency and routine, and I'm getting there. Of course I also like new challenges and adventures...

This week at work was a good week. The Deere employees had Monday off but being as I don't work directly for them I did not get eight hours of holiday pay. So I went in and worked for about five hours. It was really nice, sleep ten hours, go for a morning run in the day light, work five hours, go for an afternoon run in the daylight. The rest of the week I resumed my normal 8-9 hour days. Once again I finished two projects this week. Actually three, but one only took me three hours. Then on Friday I was able to talk to my supervisor's supervisor who actually hired me and thank him for this opportunity. I am very blessed to have had 40 weeks doing what I do here. As my debt continues to decline, my bank account continues to climb, my social circle continues to expand, and my aerobic base continues to increase I feel so incredibly fortunate! There is so much wealth and prosperity that I enjoy! No one deserves this much success.

On a side track, I make a point of thanking servicemen that I work with or exercise with because I am so thankful for them working to make the world a better place. I enjoy so many privileges simply because of where I was born. This weekend I finally thanked a serviceman from Afghanistan that saw "action". Everyone else I have encountered was in Iraq, some saw no action because they were stationed at large bases. I realized that I take an interest in their stories because I want to empathize with them and share their pain.  It is not appropriate that 1%, often the most disadvantaged 1%, have to bear the burden of safety for all of us in this country. While I never intend to put myself in that position of getting shot at or blown up, refusing to greatly appreciate that sacrifice would be just plain ignorant. While I am ignorant about many things, I feel this topic is too great to avoid.

Circle back toward the title, I finally moved to Iowa this week. My van now has Iowa license plates. It also has 280,700 miles on it and it doesn't like to steer in the cold very well. This worries me because if it breaks, I do not have a backup. Thus, I am officially in the market for a newer vehicle. Feel free to solicit me with you opinions. Keep in mind that I do take a long time to make decisions and hopefully I will not actually buy anything for two or three years.

Coaching is going well. On Saturday we had a track meet at UW Whitewater. In total from the time I arrived at our gym in the morning until we returned it was 16 hours. On the positive side our kids are improving and getting better, even though none of them are performing as well as they would like. But that is the whole point of development, break the perfect performance into trainable qualities and systematically train them in some order over a period of time so that when put together at the end of the season the result is the greatest. That is why we have classes in schools and in college. One lesson or class does not a student make. In other words my athletes, you are probably not going to PR very often until April, then you will run faster than you even desired.

My own running went well. I ran 56 miles, about as much as last week. I talked to the coach at UW Platteville, Tom Anczak because he enjoyed much success as a marathoner in the 70s and 80s and as a coach now. Two of his suggestions were to run my daily runs faster, and to work on my sprint speed. So I am. I did a 10 miler at 6:30 pace and a couple of runs at 6:05 pace this week and a few slower repeat miles around 5:40 pace. In other words, hardly a workout they are so easy, but far harder than my typically daily runs. Next Saturday, I'm getting on the track to run some races. I'm not sure which ones, but I will probably run an open 400 in addition to a distance race. My PR is a hand timed 58 high and I would like to go under 57. I have also volunteered my services to several coaches and athletes as a rabbit in case they desire to run a fast (implied a national qualifying) time.

Socially, RFA/Minnesota Engineering, my actual company had a friday night get together and dinner this weekend. It was a really good time. We all work together and see each other but we rarely talk socially or do anything outside of work and it was nice to get to know everyone a little better.

My life is surely good, I hope that you had a good week as well.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Meb Won Because Carlos Lopez Won

Back in the early 1980s a young American, Alberto Salazar, was running some very fast times and people predicted he would win the 1984 Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles at the age of 26. However, one of the best coaches at the time, and really the guy that wrote the book on long distance training, Arthur Lydiard was asked to make a prediction about who would win, and he picked Carlos Lopez, who was 36 at the time.

The reason being that all other things being equal, in a marathon the person with the biggest aerobic base has the ability to run away from everyone else at the end. So when Meb Keflezighi at age 36 ran away from Ryan Hall at age 29 to win by 22 seconds over the final miles it should not be a big surprise. He may not be the fastest, but in a championship style race the race is typically won in the final miles and again, other things being equal, the person with the largest aerobic base will win.

It is also interesting to mention that Meb set a personal record at New York City in November at 2:09:13 on a relatively tough course, and then set a PR about ten weeks later in Houston at 2:09:08. When I tell people that I have a long way to go in running, that is what I mean, setting personal records twice at age 36. Now I might move on to something else long before then, and perhaps have a family or something, but the fact is, it takes a long time to reach your potential in this sport. One season or one year is not enough.

I feel like it is a good metaphor for other careers and for life. When will I peak in my professional career, 50s? 60s? 70s? 80s? No way! Not my 80s! But I just asked the question, and like a seed the idea will grow. The question will arise, is it possible to be on top of your game in your 80s? What about socially, with a family? At what point will I be most effective as a family member? I don't know, but the point is, I have a lot to look forward to in the future.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ten Things About Engineering You Don't Learn in College

They say experience matters, and it does. In fact, knowing what I know now I would say that twelve months of experience, such as during a co-op, is a great idea and huge advantage to an engineer's career. Well here is a non-exhaustive list of things they don't thoroughly teach in college.
  1. Cost drives everything. You can make a great design that lasts for decades, but if it survives the warranty period that's good enough, and it probably costs less.
  2. There are many right and many wrong answers, but no grades. It's really a pass or fail world. Of course, defining fail is another reason engineers get paid so much.
  3. The expectation is to get X amount of work done in Y amount of hours. It usually takes .5Y or .75Y or .9Y to do X amount of work. But there are days when it takes 1.5Y hours of work to do X.
  4. Seniority is based primarily on age and years of experience, not necessarily education or performance although they do account for something. 
  5. There is a lot of monotony. Instead of taking four different classes you are doing one thing or perhaps two, nearly all the time.
  6. Few people use calculus. I know a lot of math, but most of the time I don't use any of it. Most of the important calculations have spreadsheets or macros (small computer programs or additions to a computer program). Simply plug in numbers and receive a result. 
  7. Microsoft Excel is probably the most used engineering software in the US.
  8. You are likely to get hired if you already have a job in that industry. It is harder to get a job if you are unemployed or changing fields. 
  9. Successful engineers must keep learning to stay current. If you thought education ended when you got a job, you are wrong. Standards and expectations are always changing. 
  10. The things that we do and choices that we make in our offices costs others millions of dollars and can determine life or death for some people. If a roll over protection system fails, someone will likely die. Engineering can be isolating. We don't always see the manufacturing process or the operator using our product. A "win" might be a part that weights 30 pounds less (when measured on the computer) or seeing yellow (moderate) strains instead of red (high) strains. At the end of the day the bridge is not 10 feet longer or the building one story higher, the pictures on the computer simply have different shapes. 
Those are a few of the things I have encountered. I could expand on most of those, but I will leave it as it is. I am so fortunate to have the job that I do! This is such a great learning experience for me. One of the things that I like to do as I am encountering these new situations is ask, how could we do this better? So often, I really don't have an answer. It is great to be working to improve something and not have a cut and dried solution already in your head. It keeps it interesting. It keeps me thinking.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 39

I worked 42 hours, I ran 57 miles, I coached through my first track meet, and I did not sleep enough.

To elaborate on that I was thinking about the progress I have made in one year as a structural analyst is amazing. I am so productive. I finished two projects this week and made significant progress on a third. I am significantly more valuable now than I was a year ago. Basically one FEA class would have been a huge benefit for me, but now that I have on the job training it works out.

I ran a three mile tempo, 4x400 meters, short hills, and a five mile in 31 minutes this week. It's not a great week, but it's huge progress. I am planning to run some indoor track races over the next few weeks with an eye toward bring down my PRs from 400m to 5000m. Specifically, a 56 or 57 400, 2:08 800, 4:2X mile, 8:XX 3000, and something big in the 5000. I would like to get in a high 14s 5k race and see what happens. Can I break 15? I'll let you know in a few weeks after I get a few more workouts in my legs.

Coaching is going well. We have very few runners, but they are excited to be there, and I know we are making significant long term progress. We had our first track meet of the year and a handful of people had PR performances. Most did mediocre. Overall, it's good to know where we stand now. Plus, no one is peaking for the first of 16 meets this year. We want to perform our best at the end of the season.

The Olympic Marathon Trials took place down in Houston and I was glued to my phone checking updates. Hopefully I will be able to watch it at some point, but NBC is typically giving terrible coverage of long distance running. Oh well, only 41 million Americans are runners, hardly a target demographic. Fortunately, there were several media from people microblogging the race.

I hope you all had a good week.

Guessing the Olympic Marathon Trials

On the men's side:
1. Meb
2. Hall
3. Abdi
4. Ritz
5. Gotcher
6. Carlson
7. Cabada
8. Archinaga
9. Carney
10. Jimmy Grabow?

I guessed:
1. Hall
2. Meb
3. Ritz
4. Trafeh
5. Archinaga
6. Morgan
7. Gotcher
8. Hartman
9. Cabada
10. Sigl

That's two of the top three and six of the top ten. And who is Jimmy Grabow? (I just looked him up, he debuted today but was a 1:03 half and 28:35 10k 27 year old who puts in 120 miles per week regularly. Well, that's about what a 2:12 takes.) Also, congratulations to Carlson, Cabada, and Carney who all set PRs today. The toughest part is that Ritz set a five second PR to finally break 2:10 and he gets 4th.

On the women's side:
1. Flanagan
2. Davilia
3. Goucher
4. Hastings
5. Cherobon-Bawcom
6. Kastor
7. Grandt
8. McKaig
9. McMahan
10. Lewy-Boulet

I guessed:
1. Davilia
2. Flanagan
3. Kastor
4. Goucher
5. Lewy-Boulet
6. Hastings
7. Rothstein
8. McGregor
9. Rhines
10. Grandt

That's two of the top three and seven of the top ten. The big surprise of the top ten is Janet Cherobon-Bawcom who set an eight minute PR to 2:29 today. Rumor had it her trainingwas going well, but an eight minute PR is pretty big. Shalane did set a three minute PR to win although New York is considered harder than the trials course.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Learning Through Failure in Investing

I have failed hundreds of times. Some notable examples since I started blogging: Janzen Gear (Part 1), most of my initial M.S. thesis research, running (constantly a mix of failure and success), unemployment, and my personal relationships. I am here tonight to add another to the list of failures: investing.

The stock market is a lot of fun, but as with many endeavors there is a learning curve and a difference between understanding what you are doing and understanding what you are doing. In Spanish "saber" is to know (informally) and "conocer" is to know (intimately). I wish English was as descriptive. So we begin with the story...

I read Joel Greenblatt's "Little Book that Beats the Market" about formula investing, and while I still think that the system works, I thought I could do better than his mutual funds with less than an hour of research. I scanned the stocks on the list and came up with several I was interested in investing. The one that formed my learning curve is Jiangbo Pharmaceuticals (JGBO). All of the financials that I saw looked good, the idea of a pharmaceutical company in China, where everything is exploding, sounded great. The numbers did not seem too good to be true, but they seemed the best compared to the other companies on the list. I was hooked. I bought 105 shares at $4.58. Including the commission that was $490.85.

Mistake #1: I bought stock in a company that I did not understand. I know nothing about pharmaceuticals, especially pharmaceuticals in China. A few days ago I mentioned that I traded USO (Oklahoma oil futures contracts) this summer. Oil I understand. By looking at charts and graphs and listening to the news I knew that when USO was around $30 (52 week low of $29.10), a 52 week low and at the end of summer when oil is the least expensive and after 3% of the US reserve was announced to be released, chances are very strong it would go up (it's at $38.92 tonight). Oil futures contracts in Oklahoma I understand; pharmaceuticals in China are a total mystery to me.

A few weeks later the CFO resigned effective immediately. When it comes to a company's financials you want the CFO to be a stand up, honest, long term person. The kind of person who notifies the board of directors months in advance of leaving the company. When a CFO leaves abruptly chances are that person realized that there is a financial problem at the company.

Mistake #2: When the CFO leaves abruptly, sell everything immediately! Even if you take a loss on it, at least you will probably still have some left. CFOs are not the kind of people you want dropping off the face of the Earth. I've never seen this "rule" written anywhere else, but after this experience I will not soon forget it. I would have only lost about $100 had I sold then.

A few weeks later Jiangbo Pharmaceuticals was investigated by the SEC and trading shares on Nasdaq was stopped. Several weeks after that the results were that there were major problems at the company and the stock was delisted from Nasdaq. Now the shares are traded over the counter on the "pink sheets". I waited until 2012 to sell my stock so that I could use the loss as a tax deduction. I sold the stock last week for $0.15 per share. After commissions that means I lost $485.05.

Lessons to take away:

  1. Invest in what you understand.
  2. If the CFO leaves abruptly, sell everything!
  3. When investing in foreign companies that trade domestically, make sure you know what you are doing. As of now I am invested in nine stocks and ETFs. Only one is foreign and it is not in China.
  4. Market capitalization of 2/3 net assets + insider buying + 52 week or 104 week low = worth looking into as a buying opportunity (it's probably a bet-the-house situation if you understand the company). That has nothing to do with everything above but it's genius. 
Lest people think I am throwing my money away, January 10th and 11th (yesterday and today) I "made" over $500 in unrealized gains. Particularly today I had a huge day. It was the first time I "made" more on the stock market than I did at work. I had four stocks that went up over 3.5% and one of them went up over 10%. By the way the markets were up about .9% Tuesday and about flat today. Which brings up the typical rich person problem, "should I quit my job to play the stock market full time?" No of course I won't, this year. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2011 My Year in Review

2011 was a great year for me in many respects. I could make a convincing argument that it was the best year in my life, but a statement that general ignores so many details that I can not admit it was the best year of my life, although, it was a very good one.

Economically this was my best year ever by far. I paid more in taxes this year than I made last year. I made around three times more than I made while being a graduate student in 2009. I wrote down this was the best year professionally for me, but that is not true. Getting a degree, getting a patent, learning about all of those processes are barriers to entry that make them more important in the long run than the first job in the chosen field, in my mind. I worked 1970 billable hours this year. My goal for next year, 2012, is 2100 hours. This is a critical point in my life, the small amount of money that I can save now will go a very long way toward providing me a large amount of money in the future. Since I am not a great saver, compared to my ideals, I will still spend lots of money on food, coffee, running stuff, and other luxuries, the solution is to work a little bit more. I will probably put in the extra hours during the summer when I can run early and work late and still have plenty of sun to shine on me while I run. Plus, I enjoy my job. I have learned so much this year I feel far more valuable now as a structural analyst.

Financially, I did very well. I paid off the first of my 11 loans because it had a high interest rate. the principal was just under 5000 in May when I paid it off. I made the minimum payments on nine of my other loans, and I started paying down the second of my loans and I expect to have it paid off probably in March. I started investing in the stock market. Here is a sample of the investing in oil (USO) that I did this year:

Lot: Acquired 06/29/11         07/19/1132$1,225.25$1,208.35$16.90

Lot: Acquired  08/05/1110/25/1120$717.03$692.55$24.48

Lot: Acquired  09/22/1110/25/1120$717.02$629.15$87.87

In total I sold four stocks this year for an adjusted cost basis of $3626.40 and a short term gain of $305.00. It's not impressive, but 8.4% in short term gains in a year the stock markets are flat is not bad either. Plus, I have to admit in the last 12 months I have learned so much about investing that several of the investment choices I made last year were not good and I won't make the same mistakes again.

My running had an amazing year! There were so many accomplishments that I am not going to go into detail. Here is a list with many of them:

  • Ended a 174 day running streak
  • Debuted a 2:34 marathon on a very windy day and 800ft long course
  • Ran a new highest mileage week of 140 miles
  • Had a legitimate (sub 7 minute pace) 30 mile training run
  • Won a five mile, 5k, team triathlon, and individual duathlon, and was second in a half marathon and a four mile race
  • Completed a special block workout (2x 2mi warmup, 14mi tempo)
  • Managed to throw down 5:20s more than 15 miles into a long run
  • Ran several of my best 20 minute tempos getting my paces down to 5:24ish
  • Ran better than my previous half marathon PR of 1:17:06 at least eight times
  • Ran 4x1600m in my best average (5:08) with a 1:45 400m jog rest
  • Ran approximately 3640 miles for an average daily mileage that rounds to 10miles
  • Acquired a sponsor
  • Acquired a number of positive new friends and acquaintances through my running
Coaching I had a great year. I now get paid to do help younger men and women develop as athletes, students, and people. It is pretty awesome.

Socially, I made the rounds this year. I have quite a few friends now that I am really happy with. I have people to ride bicycles, friends at the pubs, friends to run, friends to help move, friends for summer yard parties, and nice people at work. Also, it was a really good year to visit people so I won't go into details but here is the list:
  • February I visited my best friend from high school in St. Louis
  • July I celebrated a 21st birthday in Kansas City with some high school friends
  • October I went to a good friend's wedding in Omaha
  • November I visited some of my menugas from grad school in Massachusetts
  • December I visited some family friends in Sacramento
  • December I went to Colorado and saw friends from college and summer camp
As far as the dating scene goes... errr... I can't say it has been better in the past, but I just haven't met or spent enough time with a person who is on the same wavelength as I.

As far as climbing and mountaineering it was terrible. I spent one day with a rope outdoors, one day in a gym, but a whole lot of time on a hangboard. It wasn't a total loss, but not much climbing. 

As for other things, I have a really nice carbon fiber bicycle, a nice single speed cyclocross, I gardened and got a little bit of good food and I read a handful of books. It was a good year.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Preview of the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trails

To get some background start with this article by friend Mario Fraioli, read everything on this joint website, watch some Flotrack videos, and visit the official site.

Since the fun thing to do is talk about the finish placing I'm going to do that.

On the men's side:
1. Ryan Hall for the win. The guy is fast. He pushes international fields from the start. Even though he ran the Chicago Marathon in October, I am sure he will have no problem popping out a 2:09 or 2:10 leading the entire way if he wants to. If he does sit and kick, I still pick him for the win because he has the fastest half marathon.

2. Meb Kerflezgi in second. Meb ran New York in November so he had even less recovery time and training time. He even had to battle a foot infection after New York. However, considering he ran a PR with a nasal strip chaffing in his shoe, and he has a second at the Olympics, and won New York once (making him one of two American who have ever beat Hall), I think he has the experience, aerobic and strength base to run a 2:09.

3. Dathan Ritzenhein in third. While he is slow at the marathon compared to the times he has done at the shorter distances, he has run 2:10 flat, his slowest marathon was a 2:14 debut at age 23 in New York, and he did get 9th in Beijing (making him the other American to ever beat Hall in a marathon).

4. Mo Trafeh is a 1:00 half marathoner, he mentioned Renato Canova in an interview, and he cleaned up this year on the USATF road racing circuit.

5. Nick Archinaga has run 2:11 twice, both times off of less than optimal marathon prep.

6. Mike Morgan has only run 2:14, but he has run some good times in rough conditions and I hear his training is going well so I expect him to get a little faster.

7. Brett Gotcher is still relatively young but he ran a 2:10 after slowing down the last few miles. He hasn't been totally consistent, but I think his coach Greg McMillian knows what he is doing.

8. Jason Hartman has gotten better the last few years after moving up to the marathon. Given his recent consistency and experience he will probably do pretty well.

9. Fernando Cabada, who I believe is the American 25k record holder, is training under Renato Canova, enough said.

10. Tyler Sigl is a huge dark horse, but as a guy that routinely beats me on the roads I think he has a shot. He paced the women in Chicago at 5:18 pace for 20 miles then a week later ran a 1:06 in Des Moine back in October. Considering the great weather the last few months I would assume he is in good shape.

Wow, that was a terrible description of the placing. I left out Jason Lehmkuhle, Jorge Torres, Abdi Abdirahman, and Justin Young to name a few.

On the women's side:
1. Desiree Davilia is the marathon class of the field. She has consistently improved over the last four years and has the best marathon time for an American woman in the last four years of 2:22 at Boston in 2011.

2. Shalane Flanagan has not done much in marathoning but a second place in New York is a good race. She is quite fast and given the larger aerobic base and experience that she has now I estimate her at second.

3. Deena Kastor has not done really well the last few years in the marathon, but with a 2:19 and low 2:20s to her credit she knows exactly what it takes to run a 2:25 and she probably has a pretty large aerobic base at this point.

4. Kara Goucher has the second fastest marathon time at 2:24 this Olympic cycle and she is certainly going to up front if she is not injured.

5. Magdalena Lewy Boulet went to the Olympic the last time and has lowered her personal record since then.

6. Amy Hastings has only run one marathon, but it was a 2:27 and she lives up at Mammoth Lakes with some of the best marathon coaches. Terrance Mahon even calls here "Little Deena"

7. Stephanie Rothstein only in the last year or two figured out her gluten intolerance, and lowered her marathon PR to 2:29. Now that she has that figured out I imagine she can lower it a little more.

8. Katie McGregor has not been in the 2:20s in the marathon and Team USA Minnesota does not have the reputation that the groups in Mammoth Lakes and Flagstaff do for marathoning but she has solid shorter distance credentials and lots of race experience.

9. Jennifer Rhines went to the Olympics in the marathon way back in 2000 I think. Her huspand is Terrance Mahon and now that she is returning I think she will not make many mistakes.

10. Clara Grandt is a relatively young marathoner but it is hard to ignore someone who runs 2:29 and seems to have herself in a consistently working environment.

Again, that was a terrible description. I left out Zoila Gomez, Melissa White, Tera Moody, Blake Russell, Paige Higgins and more. Well, at least I have something out there. I am pretty sure that Ryan Hall and Desiree Davilia will be in the top three. Other than that, we will have to watch the race Saturday.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 38

This was a great week! I started back at work on Tuesday, having forgot hardly anything. Coaching was good. Running was mediocre. I was super busy all week. Here goes the rundown.

I want to emphasize how interesting this week was at work. On Tuesday all before 9 AM I made the rounds talking to the various people I am working on projects with to see what the status was of all my projects. It's a simple process, walking around talking to people, but not too many people seem to do it. I think it is crucial to socialize with the people I work with enough so that we keep the lines of communication open. The reason is that there comes a point when sitting beside someone and talking through the problem is far more efficient than making a presentation, emailing it, and then replying to questions later. This brings us to Wednesday...

One of the supervisors scheduled a nine hour meeting to go over various aspects of a project. I think 11 people were there from different functional groups to provide input. It was great! We were able to talk through issues and when one person suggested a fix, a different person would shoot it down, a third would suggest a second fix, and a fourth would modify the second suggestion so that it would actually work. Without a meeting with those four people, it would take each of them ten minutes to understand what was going on, five minutes to type up an email, four hours for the group to all be notified through email, another ten minutes for the person to modify the suggestion, and another five minutes to email the change, and another four hours to notify everyone through email. Then, there is a chance that one or two people would object to the idea because they were not clear on what the change was and that would take more time to fully explain the idea. So while a meeting that I estimate was costing John Deere $7 per minute and lasting for nine hours might not be a good solution to most things, I feel we got a lot done. We could have probably done it all in five hours or less, but planning a nine hour meeting sends a message that this is serious. We ended up getting done 45 minutes early, so it was really more like an eight hour meeting.

Thursday and Friday were rather typical and it was really nice to get through the first week of the year. I say that because now on my resume I can put April 2011 to January 2012. Spanning the two years I think is important for the ten second glance over from prospective employers. (I'm not applying for other jobs at the moment, but it is nice to have that experience in case I was fired or laid-off tomorrow.)

Coaching was another highlight to the week. I took a USATF Level 1 course and assuming I pass the test will be officially certified shortly. It has been on my list to do for a long time, and now I've done it. It was funny though, one of the presenters was talking about coaching a 400 meter runner to second place at state the year before, when the University of Dubuque head coach who coached the 1st place runner is sitting in the audience. However, that class was not the highlight of my coaching week. One athlete finished class early this week and inquired if it was possible to do the workout early. Through a series of text messages I gave the runner three options, with A being double. The runner chose A! I will not force kids to double because I had a bad experience in high school. However, doubling is one great way to get better and when an athlete comes to that solution willfully, good things happen. Plus, this runner was a freshman which means we have lots of time to improve even more.

My own running was not spectacular at all. A total of 43 miles, one day of stations (probably 20 minutes of core and neuromuscular work over the course of 50 minutes) and a couple strides. I had lower leg and shin pain most of the week, which turned out to be shin splints. I have been neglecting toe ups and experience showed me years ago, neglect them (and it seems even more important after a marathon) and get injured.

Socially I woke up at the beginning of the week in Dillion, Colorado and drove back to Dubuque. I did not get the sleep over the last week that I desire. However, caffeine helps to accommodate a lack of sleep in the mornings.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I Got Myself Into This.

Life seems to happen all at once. It's kind of doing that right now. And it is all my fault. I made the choices to do X, Y, Z, and all that other stuff and now I have to follow through.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

I Live in Iowa (more or less): Week 37

I spent less than 12 hours in Iowa this week. I was rather occupied with family and friends, a good way to spend the week.

Sunday and Monday I was in Wisconsin with the family. I slept in, spent time with my family, and did a lot of good talking. For whatever reason I have some of my best conversations with my family. They are the deepest most intimate most informed conversations I typically have. I think that is because we spent so much time together. I feel that with any relationship spending time with each other is incredibly important. In other words, without spending time with each other we can not develop the relationship. In my head relationships are strengthened by the exchange of ideas, feelings, and emotions. Simply seeing my actions on the Internet does not strengthen our relationship. The point being, relationships take time and effort and are certainly not always easy but persistence leads to a more honest and understanding relationship.

Tuesday I headed out to Colorado. That night I had a private brewery tour at the Denver branch of the Breckenridge Brewery. I might post some video that I took.

The next day I met up with my friend G from WPI after hitting up Movement for some V0 and V1 bouldering. We had steak and headed up into the mountains. After four restless hours of sleep in my van in a windstorm and an hour changing clothing we headed up the hill at 3 AM. The going went well until we got above tree line and kept losing the trail. Finally a half mile farther up the mountain than I expected we were getting pelted with 50-60mph wind gusts and turned around. We had brunch at The Mountaineer, the classic Estes Park breakfast joint without yuppies (myself excepted). I spent the rest of the day buying another pair of PrAna pants, blogging from Amante north, and running part way up Green Mountain.

Friday I took the day off from the mountains. Seriously I didn't leave my friends house until about 3PM to run ten miles. The night just got interesting from there. I met up with my friend L who was going through a rough time the last time we were physically in each others presence. I am so excited to see the change and maturity in her now! Then my host B and his girlfriend J and the two of us had a double decker Papa Murphys pizza and a s'more pizza. Then we went to a biker bar. Yep. It's similar to what you imagine. You have to be in the club or a friend to get in. Some people have guns. There was a lot of smoking and my clothing still smells terrible, or at least smells of the stench of an enlightening experience. Without getting anyone in trouble, as I laugh sitting here in my apartment, I had three drinks, was not the DD and was clearly not in a state to drive so I didn't. Everyone was very nice to us. Ohh Europeans...

The next day we had a very late start driving to Dillion to stay at yet another friends condo. The winds were up to 100 mph at some of the resorts so no one was out skiing. I did get in a nice hour run along the lake in rather cold and breezy conditions. That night we started off at the Breckenridge Breckenridge Brewery. Due to B being an employee we ate huge burgers and drinks for nearly nothing. Then we had a private tour once again and I took some more video. It was cool because that is where the cutting edge of new brews is made and it's just two guys in the basement and attic of a restaurant in the mountains. I still don't drink beer. Plus I was the designated driver for the night. I was just amazed how nice our Breckenridge hosts were to us. We didn't deserve that.

After the tour the brewer took us to Trattorias or something where his wife works and the owner greeted us. All of the Italian pictures on the restaurant walls the brewer S and his wife took on their honeymoon in Italy. We talked more and watched the fireworks which I hear were better than Breck has for July 4th. After that, having had a meal, bought some clothing, and having a number of drinks we were out about $30.

From there we went to Ollie's or something, a dive bar (young people, sticky floors, loud modern music). Once again I am laughing thinking about it. I had a great time and so much happened it deserves a longer article. Finally after midnight I drove my stumbling friends to the condo in Dillon.

I went out to climb and ski and I didn't really do either last week. But I did develop several of my relationships. Life is about relationships and I easily lose sight of that in pursuit of my own selfish egotistical goals. Fortunately my family and friends keep me social. To my family and friends: Thank You!! 2011 was an amazing year for me! I have so much blog ammunition to reveal over the next few weeks. 2012? It is looking like it might be even better...

Monday, January 2, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 36

This week blew by. I worked 40 hours in four days, I ran 42 miles, and I traveled back to Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin for Christmas with my family. That's about it.

There is clearly a difference between working eight hours a day and ten hours a day. I got to work while it was dark and left after it was dark again. Typically when I get home I am excited to get dressed and go for a run, but when it's 5:30 at night and I'm a little hungry and mentally tired from the day I end up laying around for 15 minutes or longer before I work up the motivation to go running. It is strange. How is it that eight hours at work leaves me motivated to go get in shape while ten hours leaves me exhausted? Oh well, either way, I like the money that I made from working the extra hours.

I did get to spend some time outside at work this week watching a tracked feller buncher cut trees down. I even took some personal video, which I may post at some point because we were cutting trees along a tree line which means I had a fantastic view which would normally be very obscured in a forest. It was great! I got to walk around and I got mud on my pants. I feel like a spoiled kid. I want a nice engineer job, while I have an outdoor manual labor jog, and then when I get it I want to spend time working outside. Although, at this point half a day a week is enough to keep me content.

As far as running, life is going fantastically well! After Green Bay it took me the rest of marathon week plus six weeks before I got my mileage back over 40 miles per week. After CIM it was the rest of marathon week plus only one week. That is an exponential improvement over my recovery from Green Bay. This is exciting! I do have a leg pain on the inside of my lower right leg so I do not plan to push it in the next week or two.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

That Was Not the Plan...

I'm siting here in a condo in Dillion on the day that I plan to start heading back to Iowa, and this "vacation" has not gone as planned. I originally intended to do ice climbing and skiing, but as things happen that turned into some hiking, running and private brewery tours. That is just the way it goes.

After the Longs Peak failure, which I am totally content with because the wind was making it less safe, I took a rest day. Then the next couple days we either had a late start to the skiing day and didn't ski or it was too windy or the snow was bad. Although I may still ski Loveland pass. So... It was not what I intended to do. How does one evaluate the "success" of doing something other than intended?

On the upside I had two private brewery tours at the Breckenridge Brewery in Denver and in Breckenridge, even though I don't drink beer. It was interesting because this is one of the expanding breweries and one that is trying new things all the time. Plus, when I say private brewery tour I mean all the details even the ladders and catwalks. After dozens of sterilized tours it was refreshing to feel part of the club. It was almost as comfortable as I feel at John Deere in the factory. Plus, I met some more people and once again expanded my social circle. While I value my family and close friends more than simple acquaintances, I have benefited from my acquaintances greatly and you never know what events in life will lead an acquaintance to being a best friend. Perhaps the ever present role of relationships is once again the reason things happened the way they did. As with most things I am still too close to the events to interpret a deeper meaning.