Monday, April 30, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 54

Yet another week living the life or something like it. This is the third post I am trying to write this afternoon so I'm trying to transition to remembering what happened this week.

I went to work every day this week. That is normal, but seriously, some days or weeks it is harder than others. I have not exercised more than one day of vacation since I started working January 24th, 2011. Although I did have 11 consecutive days off between Christmas and New Year's. That was wonderful.

The expectation is 45 hours a week. Let me tell you 45 hours a week is more than 40 hours a week. I think that the real difficult part for me is simply acknowledging all of the time that I work. In college I did productive stuff from 7 AM to 10 PM five days a week and half of that on Sundays. The difference is that there was a few hours doing one thing, then something else, then something different, then something else, and then another thing. I also never kept track of my hours, I just worked and worked until it was done. Sitting at my desk for nine hours, and often enough ten hours, working on one or two projects takes a lot of strength and patience and persistence. I feel so weak because I have trouble concentrating for nine strait hours every day. I see other people that put in more hours and seem to focus on their work so well. In short, I feel lazy and like a failure. Which is ridiculous, because I know I am doing a pretty good job. In fact I did so well on a project recently that a senior engineer told me that I could never leave. Remember feelings are not fact. Regardless of my personal feelings about my own feelings this is a great experience. The lessons that I am learning, about how I feel about my work, are incredibly valuable and will serve me well throughout my life.

I only ran 40 miles this week, but I took two days off and I did debut in the steeplechase. I've been having some lower outside left leg and ankle pain the past week or so and it is not better yet. Just another thing to deal with.

I bought a motorcycle helmet this week. Then I tried to go to the DMV to get my license, but it was raining and I didn't bring my passport so it was a waste of half an hour. It was so frustrating because for the 15 minutes I was inside, one person was helping everybody, another was "managing" the printer as in handing a customer something every few minutes, and a third was seriously just sitting there. A 15 minute long line for the person helping everyone yet another person just sitting there 10 feet away. Just another thing to deal with.

Coaching went well. I mean, performances have been up and down this season with a different reason for everyone. The most common contributing factor being that the athletes don't train year round. If you want to excel at anything, you have to incorporate it into your life. If you want to be a better reader, it would be wise to read a whole bunch during the summers when you are younger and continue reading when you are older. Education does not happen strictly within the confines of the classroom. It is the same with running or a relationship or engineering. You do not need to pursue it with the same intensity year round, but consistent practice and effort is necessary for development.

This is all very interesting stuff. As I ponder the future and reflect on the past I wonder where I am. Such as, I have been so fortunate and blessed in my life, will I get hit by a car and die walking back to my apartment this evening? I have enjoyed more luxuries and experiences than most of the world ever will. On the other hand, I would like to be part of some big things, so is this the silence before the big show? Dangling off of a foot there is the question, has my life reached a point of stagnation? Is this more or less how the rest of my life will play out? I don't know. I do know that I enjoy some change, although the new Blogger interface is causing me problems. Just another thing to deal with.

One last aspect of my life to comment on. My previous RFA supervisor S has taken a new position with Deere. This guy is amazing! He is one of only three engineers I know that could convince me in three minutes with the right idea to quit my job and join him in a startup company. Most people would have to woo me a little harder. I hope that he enjoys the success in that position that he desires.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Learning to Race the Steeplechase

After years of thinking it was crazy and an unnecessary risk, I ran the steeplechase. (By the way, that top picture on the Wikipedia page is from NEWMACS 2006 I believe and I think the guy in crimson singlet and shorts is a WPI runner, but I didn't post the picture and I can't recognize the face so it may be K or K our steeplers, but I don't remember. Plus that was about 30 minutes after my first ever track 10k, so I wasn't paying attention to the race.) Why would I do something that is an unnecessary risk? Several reasons, I've had a decent track season with PRs at 800, 5000 and 10,000 so I'm in transition mode to my next goal so if I get hurt, now is the prefect time in the training cycle. Second, we have two athletes that considered running the steeple this season, but one has gotten faster so we will save her for less dangerous events and the other has gotten slower so we are afraid to put him in a race he might get hurt. The point is, I'm the 5k/10k coach and 3k steeple is a strength event so it falls to me to have an idea of how to coach it. I figured if I want to coach it, I had better put myself through it so I have an idea of what works and what does not work for training.

What did I learn?

  • The 3k steeplechase is very similar to the 10k. It is a slower event, closer to 10k pace and you need to be strong, even at 2950 meters going over the last barrier and at 2850 on the last water pit. 
  • You can run the whole race hurdling off of one leg, I did. I don't recommend it, but you can run it that way.
  • Practice at the water pit will save you valuable seconds off of your time. I landed with two feet every time. Not good.
  • Practicing hurdles at race height is good enough, the adrenaline of the race helps you jump the extra inch higher, I didn't even touch a single barrier but in practice I probably hit my trailing toe around 5% of the time. You do not need to practice hurdles that are higher than race height.
  • Longer continuous runs over hurdles more dense than a race is a great way to get used to hurdling when you are tired. I did 2000 meters over 60 hurdles (actually 58 I dodged two near the beginning) this week in practice and I feel it really helped me later in the race. 
Here is a video of my first water pit jump ever. When your head is eight feet up in the air that pit looks pretty far away. It's strange to watch myself.

Here is a video of me hurdling around lap five or so. Certainly not model hurdle form, but not terrible.

It was a good experience. Much learning was done. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Rally! Regroup! ...please?

I have the best life in the world, don't let anything I say get in the way of remembering that. However, with the ups go the downs. One thing after another has been happening this week and they are not providing me postitive emotional experiences. There are of course positive things that are happening too, but it is so easy to be overwhelmed by the fears and doubts that comes from small failures.

I want to share these things, and I called my parents to share some last night, but my parents are dealing with enough stuff that trumps my problems they don't want to hear about my minor issues. Since I feel the desperate need to say something, I'm not sure why either, here we go. There was in incident at work, I'm not in trouble, in fact it's the kind of thing that gets people promoted, but it left me with an uncomfortable feeling. One of my cards has been getting declined. My lower left leg has been hurting the last few weeks and a 10k plus a fall over the hurdles made it much worse. Despite my 1. stay motivated, 2. stay healthy, 3. train hard philosophy I neglect the healthy part sometimes.

There are other things too, but I've been whinning for far too long. I'm not going to tell you everything. Although, if anyone, preferably a married person, has advice about courting a beautiful woman, I'm all ears.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

" to be 5' 6" and 110 pounds..."

The blogosphere has been on fire recently. Lots of good articles. One that I read today is interesting. It is an interview with Jason Hartmann. Without a shoe sponsor the last few years he has managed to win the USA marathon championships and run 2:11 in Chicago. He was certainly not a nobody before Marathon Monday, but there is a lot of buzz about him now.

Anyway, the interview he gave is interesting.  People typically assume taller is better. However, when it comes to running, one of the top guys in the world admits that height does not have all the advantages. What other things might society view this way?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 53

Dare I say it... this was one of the best week's in my life!? Be forewarned, I'm not telling you the whole story to protect from scorn those that have not agreed to have their lives thrust into the public spotlight. On that note, let's go through the list, shall we?

At work at a wonderful job I finished a number of projects this week that I have been working on for awhile. One of them I have been working on since June of last year and another since November. Those were two long and detailed projects, and now they are wrapped up! The one from November especially gave me a number of difficult problems that I struggled and struggled to fix. Alas, with voluminous help from my coworkers the issues were solved. In this tiny aspect of the world, this little part of engineering, we may have come up with the right combinations of solutions to have created the most effective solution to the problem in the world (short of designing a very expensive casting or forging). In short, it was a good week at work.

In the running side of life I had a wonderful week. Friday night at the Augustana Meet of Champions I ran the 10,000 meters in a personal record of 32:12. That is a 46 second PR in a race that is easily my favorite race on the track. I won't give you a lap by lap run down, but I felt great the whole way and came through one mile in 5:01 and two miles in 10:00 and the 5k only 5 seconds off my PR at 15:49. I struggled some in the second half but I closed my last 400 meters in 71 seconds, which is not bad. It was a good race. I talked to a number of the college kids before and after the race and some of the other people that were there. It was a very good night for quite a few people!

Now, I have had a number of really good weeks in my life, so for this to rank up near the top we can't stop there. Let me tell you about Saturday.

I have been meaning to get the exhaust on my van fixed for about eight months or so. Well, I finally took it into the shop Saturday morning and they fixed it! After all of that hassle and stress about finding a place to fix it, and getting that noise ticket last week, the cost of the repair is less than I was expecting! It's a small victory, but the small victories add up. Plus at that point it was still only about 8:30 AM.

Later that morning I went running with a runner that I had been hoping to run with for quite awhile. Only a handful of people over the age of 22 run like I run, and I value the opportunity to train with those that do.

Getting around to 10 AM we had a home track meet at the University of Dubuque. It was very small. That allowed a number of athletes to compete at the front of races that they normally do not get the opportunity. The results of our team were mixed some good some bad. However, if you scan the results you will come across the 400 hurdles. Yep, I ran the 400 hurdles. It was hilarious! I used blocks, got out fine, but the first hurdle looked to be up at the fourth notch instead of the third so in my fear I jumped high. Unaccustomed to that kind of height, which one of the other UD coaches said looked like, "a 45 inch vertical," I came crashing down on my left leg, which has been a little weak lately and especially 15 hours post-10k.  I fell down on the track on all fours and scrapped my hand. However I got right back up and shook my head and kept going. Then I even had a few good hurdles. Of course, jumping up every six seconds is tiring so the last few hurdles were even more stutter stepped than normal. I finished in 73 seconds, which is better than the 75 seconds for the over-under on me. With a little hurdle instruction I think I could get under 70...

I spent some time thinking about this Saturday afternoon, and I realized that falling down in that race was one of the best things that could happen to me as a coach. All the time we see athlete's throw in the towel and not give the extra 1% or 1 degree to make it a competitive race to the finish line. For most of the team to see me get out there, very uncomfortably, take a fall, get up and finish, I am thankful. I think it sent a message about persistence, not applicable just to track, but about all of life. When you fall down, get back up and keep going. That being said, I'm planning on doing the steeplechase this week at the Loras Open. If I am going to coach the steeplechase, I had better have some experience with it. I really don't want to fall down in that race. Once is enough.

All of those things make for a great week, but I'm not done yet. My motorcycle has been having problems, so I called over my mechanic and after an hour and a half of work and popping the clutch, we replaced the battery and it runs just great! Aren't friends wonderful!

On the negative side, my stocks have been in the tubes lately. Especially our favorite DHT. But thanks to a margin of safety, it can't get much worse. In the example of DHT for example, they have roughly $0.65 per share in cash. In other words, if the stock drops to that level or lower you can buy one dollar of cash in the company for less than one dollar of cash. Of course management could make some bad decisions and you could lose the entire investment, but typically when stocks drop, it's time to buy.

One last thing...

Not all relationships are equal. There are professional relationships, social relationships, employer-employee relationships, teacher-student relationships, people-who-assemble-iPhones and I have a relationship, and the list goes on. Some come easier, some take more work. Sometimes a person says something that just makes your jaw drop. Sometimes a person says multiple things that make your jaw drop. I had that happen this week.

Friday, April 20, 2012

English Female Acoustic Electric Pop

I'm reading the book "The Long Tail" which describes how the economics of nearly infinite storage make it possible to build niches and microniches that are economically viable. The book cites some data from Rhapsody and Amazon among others that suggests that more sales come from things that are not in the top 100 list than things that are in the top 100. Another reference is made to Jeff Bezos when he says that Amazon sold more books today that it did not sell yesterday than of books that it did sell yesterday.

No you can't live off of selling one book every other day terribly comfortably, but it is interesting to note isn't it? Another statistic, from 2005 was that every song on iTunes at the time had sold at least once. I would assume that even with the massive growth over the last several years that statistic is still true. In other words, if you just get a song onto iTunes, you will sell at least one song. Again, you can't make much money selling one song per month or per quarter, but you do not have to get your work onto the self to make money from it anymore.

Another example, which the book is too old to account for, is the App Economy. Instead of Microsoft running the software show all of a sudden you have tiny companies producing apps for a specific audience. This NPR piece on InstaPaper is an interesting case study.

Circling back to the title, the genere of music that has been my stalwart favorite the last seven or eight years is English female acoustic electric pop. It started with the soundtrack to Garden State which featured Frou Frou from there a Lexus commercial turned me onto Psapp and a few years later I figured out that Imogen Heap was the voice behind Frou Frou. Then I went through a carzy phase and branched out into Lily Allen. Most recently I have been listening to Ellie Goulding which started as a Pandora recommendation. I don't expect most Americans to have heard of any of those bands or people. There are others but I feel those are the ones with better ablums.

Similarly, I don't follow professional or college sports, except distance running and the Tour de France. Not exactly watercooler talk. Yet it's what I am interested in. I can relate to it. They are truly international sports and the world championships counts as the competition of the best in the world. Unlike the standard American sports.

The world is changing. It is surely an interesting time to be alive.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Entitled, Wealthy, and Blessed

I have many thoughts going through my head. After three years of blogging I understand that it is easiest to talk about my problems. When I talk about my successes, I typically only see it as progress towards bigger things, and I feel as though I am bragging. If one person tells you you are wealthy or feeling entitled and 50 are silent, the one stands out. When I talk about other people, regardless of what I say I am afraid it will be taken negatively and I will ruin a relationship because the communication was not thorough. It really is unfortunate, because I have quite the number of amazing friends.

80% of the world lives on less than $10 a day. To the best of my knowledge, $10 buys about the same stuff wherever you live. The price of rice and oil only vary a small percentage around the world. In Pakistan in the summer of 2009 gasoline was actually the same price as in the United States.

I have so much. I have so much! My gifts are superfluous! I feel so guilty when I conceive of wanting anything more. When I say anything, I really mean everything from my next meal to the next project at work to another relationship.

I went to Costa Rica with a friend who told me, "I never want to have any money." Five years later I still think of that. He is selfless, and I... I have problems.

I leave you with a question, which you are welcome to answer, is it better to know your problems or not know your problems?

Monday, April 16, 2012

I live in Iowa: Week 52

A year here! That's crazy! I have been living in Iowa for a year! You know what, life is good. Better than I expected it would be.

I don't feel like blogging at the moment, sorry if I come across even more abrupt than usual.

I worked like 54-55 hours this week. Yeah. I am not made to sit for 11 or 12 hours a day. The reason I worked so much is that we are getting ready to go to physical build for some of our machines and we are a little behind schedule so we are being offered the chance to work overtime (and make time and a half).  Having not had that chance in the engineering world before I took it, to see what it would be like. In summary, it's nice making more money, and I did get quite a bit done, but my usual post-work happiness was not there. Those few extra hours took the energy out of me. Perhaps I can adjust to it, and I will probably work overtime a few more times in the coming weeks and months. However, if sitting at my desk 11 consecutive hours a day and coming in on Saturday was the standard, I would have to make big choices about my life, that I really would not like to make.

Who knows? Perhaps I could get a laptop and work offsite or go into the office late, but come back after supper and work on the weekends and take longer breaks, like every college student does. I was so productive the fall of 2009 that even working 55 hours a week and running 59 miles I don't feel as accomplished as I did then.

Segueing into running, 59 miles and couple of moderate to hard workouts. One of those workouts was a 20 minute tempo with my training parter M on the roads. The kind of tempo you have no idea after if you averaged 5:40 or 5:25, which is what an athlete needs sometimes. Saturday I had a great day! I woke up at 6:30, which counts as late, and went to the track for a 7k mixed tempo. It was 1k at 3:35-3:50 then 1k at 3:15 for a total of four medium pace ks and three hard ks. It was a really good workout for me. Then I went into work for just a little bit to see how some simulations finished, I changed some material properties and they are probably still running Sunday afternoon. Then I got a white chocolate dream coffee at Java Dreams and went to the UW Platteville track meet. I had a great day! From a coaching and team performance and athletes being independent standpoint it was not a good meet for our team. However, from the point of view of a couple of our athletes having good days and a number of athletes from other schools having great days, it was an exciting meet. People were running and jumping great performances! For example, 31 men ran under 2:00 in the 800 meters. The women's 5k, amazing! The long jump, 24 feet! The women's 400, won in 54! I had a great time and talked to a lot of people!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Developing Relationships

Depending on when you ask me and who is standing around I will either say that I know nothing about relationships or that I know quite a bit about relationships. In the interest of sharing a piece of advice that I have learned and I believe is true here is a little bit of wisdom.

Relationships are developed, and typically strengthened, by spending time communicating amongst those involved. 

I realize that is pretty basic, but I feel like it gets overlooked. For a little bit of clarification, communication is not just verbal, there is quite a bit of non-verbal communication in a relationship.

There are no shortcuts, there are shorter routes, but ultimately anything worth having does not come easy. In other words, if you want to develop a relationship it takes time and work.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Suicide Epidemic

This week I heard of my third suicide this year. Two successful and one unsuccessful, fortunately. Like many activities this travels in packs. I think that post recession the suicide rate has been very high.

As a person that has been there and thought through it, I can say it is very emotional experience. I hope that no one would experience suicidal tendencies. Ultimately, if you think through to a variety of possible scenarios you realize that suicide is not the best option. If you can assemble the facts of your relationships you will understand that there are other options.

Having come out of that phase years ago I can say that I have absolutely no desire to quit life. I may not always have the desire to face the future, but I am certainly not quitting. It is such a waste of potential. Don't do it! Talk to someone! Talk to me! Your life is more valuable than that.

Monday, April 9, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 51

Progression through life is non-linear. Despite the desire to improve incrementally and for small incremental changes, life does not happen that way. To use the old saying, 'when it rains, it pours.' This week as no exception.

I work on a variety of projects at work. They all involve finite element analysis of structural components, but the details change with every project. Most of the projects that I work with involve linear material properties and simple part interactions. However, parts of the last two months I have been working on a project involving non-linear material properties with two different steels, and mildly complex contact interactions between parts. I have been struggling and pounding my head against the wall and getting advice from half the department. Yet I was not getting the kind of results that I believed. Finally, Tuesday, after four days of running on a 32GB and 8 CPU processor it solved with believe able results! This was as much of a victory over the problem as I can imagine. Since I learned quite a bit I will probably try to write an article about it and post it here so that others might not have to struggle as much as myself.

It was also a short week because we had Good Friday off. I really like my job. However, three days weekends are nice too.

My running involved an experiment to test my fitness and recovery ability. After the race last Saturday, and 13 miles on Sunday, I tried to workout on Monday and Wednesday and then race again Friday. Well, my legs were tired every day this week and the race Friday went poorly. The solution is to take a day off, which I am. When training is going really well it is possible to workout every other day, and even throw in a race every week or two. Unfortunately, I expect too much of myself and I ran the wrong side of the too much line this week. That being said, I am in really good shape. When a 16:15 race where I utterly fall apart the last six laps is considered a failure, life is good. I am planning on running a 10k in two weeks and I am completely confident that I will set a nice PR. Wether that PR is as fast as I want it to be or simply much faster than I have ever done before remains to be seen.

On the coaching side, we made progress. Our team is so small and we experienced no shortage of setbacks this winter. The most consistent runner on the team is enjoying a great season, but thus far everyone else is suffering from the inconsistency that comes from a lack of aerobic strength. As a result our workouts are primarily slower and longer aerobic strength based. This is unfortunate from an optimal performance next week point of view, but it is essential for long term development and consistency.

I had a good educational and fulfilling week. Hopefully your week was fulfilling as well.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

For those of us that are Christians in the world, it's a big deal.  Christmas is often viewed as the major holiday for Christians, but really, it's Easter.  Now you know. Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Journey to Success Includes Many Failures

I am continually learning, learning, and learning more. I continue to fail and struggle and underperform. My failures mount up like the hours tick by. However, for an instant, there is a reprieve. A vindication for services rendered.

Six days after breaking 16 in the 5k for the first time, I ran another one 30 seconds slower. Oh I can figure out the reasons, over living (over training) and an invasive physical, yet the results speaks to the fragility of success. It does not stick around, it must be continually pursued.

This is as true in running as it is in engineering, as it is in relationships and anything. I had an enormous success this week with a finite element model I had been mentally wrestling with for weeks. Yet within hours of completing the puzzle, the game was over and the next puzzle began. Similarly, in a relationship work must constantly be done by all parties to increase the depth of understanding.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

I Live in Iowa: Week 50

This will be rather short. It's 8:45 PM Tuesday and I want to get to bed soon.

Work went well. I struggled with the projects that I have been working on (spoiler alert). Feeling as though I made no progress. However, Friday I started the simulation that ended Monday night (yep four days hogging 32GB of RAM and 8 CPUs) and was a resounding success! I'm still smiling, actually smiling, about getting this simulation to work and give results I believe. It's a great feeling. People have applauded and cheered for less (but maybe not paid as much).

Running went well. Highlighted by my 15:44 5k race.

Coaching had it's ups and downs. The women did better than I expected, but the men did not produce great results. I really enjoyed the track meet! It is a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I suppose that's why I do this.

On the investing side DHT was down a lot. On the positive side the ability to subscribe to the new equity offering started so I intend to buy more discounted shares. Also, I think I mentioned I bought Apple stock a few weeks ago for $534 or so, well, that stuff continues to skyrocket.

On the social side, since people ask, no I don't have a girlfriend. There are many reasons.

Hopefully you had a good week, because I did. My life is amazing! I am so blessed. How is it that I am able to have so much success across the board? Solving complex finite element simulations and running 5k PRs while managing to share laughs with friends and family. I don't deserve this.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Long Road to a 5000 Meter Personal Record

In the fall of 2007, I thought I was just around the corner from breaking through in my running and running, among other things, faster than 16 minutes in the 5k. Well, it took a little bit longer than I expected, but I now have the result that says I am under. Here are the results of the race.

Since the winter and spring of 2008, the last time I was in good 5k/10k track shape so much has happened. I have PR'd at the 800m and mile as well as the half marathon and marathon. I have run around 11,000 miles and done a couple hundred workouts. It's a no brainer that I was set to PR, but until I have done it, there is doubt that I can.

Of course, in the time since I was an undergraduate in college my standards and goals have changed. I fully expect to run under 15 minutes in the not so distant future. It probably will not be this season, but it could be. Perhaps it will happen next year around this time.

For years I have viewed the 5k as my nemesis race. I don't understand how it is suppose to feel like I do other races. In the 800 or the mile the pace is pretty hard the whole way. In the 10k and half marathon the pace is hard, but relaxed. In the marathon it is just a tad uncomfortably fast. How is a 5k suppose to feel? I have no idea. It is quite hard, but it is slow enough that you can run that pace for three miles. For me at least I will be breathing hard two laps in, yet still have ten long laps to go.

Regardless, the whole point of running these races is that they will make my primary races feel much easier. Provided 2:19 remains the trials standard, that takes 16:25 5k pace eight and a half times in a row. Now that's 13 seconds per mile slower than my 5k PR instead of 7 seconds per mile. It was a very nice season opener. I look forward to racing the next several weeks!