Thursday, February 28, 2013

Do Not Covet

It is a pretty simple concept, don't be wanting. This came up wednesday night and it struck home. I realized how often I have been desiring this or that lately.

Another factor is with the recent Papal events I have learned about Celestine V. Read or listen to more about him:

We can be so materialistic and self centered. Rather, I can be so materialistic and self centered that it gets in the way of helping people. What simple action item can I take away from this lesson? I already have plenty. Those things I want I do not need and thus will not buy. I accumulate far too much anyway.

In September 2010 after I repelled off a wall in Yosemite I called one of my climbing mentors. I told him of my failures and seeking advice. He told me, "If you aren't whole without it, you won't be whole with it." Referring to climbing this or that, but the concept is valid for a new iPad and car as much as a rock wall. Do not covet because if you do, in a practical sense, you will never be complete.0

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Median Versus Average

Median is not average. In fact, given typical power law distributions such as long tails the median is often lower than average.

Given a set of one mile race times: 4:14, 4:35, 4:41, 4:44, 4:49, 4:53, 4:58

The average is the sum of those times. If they are added together you get 1974 seconds. The average is 4:42.

The median is the middle time. The guy who has 50% ahead of him and 50% behind him. In this case that is 4:44.

In other words, being the "average" or "above average" at something, like running, income or drinking alcohol, often means much more than the median.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Square Peg Into a Round Hole

If Apollo 13 isn't inspiring to people that humans can work together and solve problems (that we created in the first place) than I don't know what is. Sometimes I think about the things I am trying to accomplish, or the things others are trying to accomplish, and I think, 'that's crazy!' because it is so much more than he or she or I have ever done before. I feel like people with these audacious dreams are trying to make a square peg fit into a round hole. The doubts creep in and the haters try to cut dreams down. The thing is, square pegs do go into round holes. NASA did it in 1970 200,000 miles away from Earth with a sock, plastic bag and duct tape.

In mathematics the elegant solution often occurs after a math blood bath. A multiple page derivation leads to a three term equation. Similarly, fitting the irregular shape into the regular shape might require duct tape and socks or other innovative methods. One size does not fit all. The inspiring biography was written based on what the authors or others had already done. You and I are on a slightly different path than anyone else in the history of the world. Our course will deviate from another's biography. The point is, if the peg isn't fitting in the hole, maybe you haven't found the sock yet or maybe you ripped the first plastic bag.

Monday, February 25, 2013

I Will Be Losing Some Weight

This is a long one, buckle up. I have been avoiding the topic for years, but I am finally addressing it.

I am fit. I am the American version of skinny. I run fast. I can run all day. Yet the goal for this Olympic cycle is to run a marathon under 2:18, and by that measure I am slow and fat. I have been progressing in my running since college, as I would expect given the work I have put in. I have set two personal records in the 800, one in the Mile, one in the 5000, several in the 8k/5mile, one in the 10,000, three in the half marathon and two in the marathon. I continue to progress, there is no doubt about that. The problem is that I am not progressing toward my goals as fast as I would like. Looking at all of my training, the workouts, the mileage, my diet, my rest and recovery, the supplemental work, my weight, and my day job, the things that affect my running on many counts are already as good as I can expect without a major life change. However, my weight is likely a significant thing holding me back. (Supplemental work like core and abdominal work plus squats and curls and little foot exercises are an area for improvement as well. Yes I need to average higher mileage. Yes I need to put in workouts that are harder than I have ever done before. Yes I could sleep more. Yes I could probably eat better, although that is a little debatable.) Regardless and in addition to the other factors, in the interest of running races faster, I’m going to lose some weight.

First the numbers. I weight about 132 with clothes on mid morning and probably around 128-129 post afternoon workout in running clothing. I started high school around 105 pounds. I graduated high school around 135. After a break from running I started college at 140 and after three weeks at the all you can eat cafeteria was at my all time high of 145. I went pescatarian first then vegetarian for about four months total. Then I really got into running in college and my senior year, my best season, I was down to 126 (after a run or workout) on more than one occasion. Assuming I was a naked 129 pounds a few weeks ago when my body fat was measured at 14%, that’s about 18 pounds of fat. Roughly speaking 1% less weight with the same power will mean a person can run 1% faster for the same energy. My marathon time is 9.2% slower than I need to qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials. 

One way to look at the data is to say if I can lose 9% of my weight and maintain my training I will be fit enough and fast enough to run a 2:17. That leaves me at 117 pounds with 5% body fat assuming no muscle loss and the same hydration. A very thin me. Is that what it takes? Most professional runners my height weigh about that much and I can say from experience that when I line up next to the Africans they all make me feel fat.

There is a problem. I told myself long ago that I would not go below 120. Weight loss is an addictive drug. I am afraid that I might have a personality suited to addictive behaviors. Not necessarily a bad thing, as long as those behaviors are constructive. However, I have been personally afflicted by eating disorders, and they are not pretty. 

My best friend in high school acquired an eating disorder when she left home for college. In hind sight it seems simple to me, she did everything in high school, had it all. In college she tried again to do everything and could not. In an attempt to control her life she took to “controlling” her weight. I cried so much for years. I made many mistakes dealing with her eating disorder, but I probably learned more from her than anyone else outside of my family. 

During my experience, a good friend of mine in high school had an older sister who died of an eating disorder. My friend with the eating disorder had more than one friend she met in inpatient programs die. Anorexia and bulimia kills people. My high school experience on the whole was amazing, yet I have a feeling that my little home town in Kansas breeds eating disorders. 

In large part eating disorders are about control. Everybody wants control and they all want more of it. The problem is we don’t really have much control at all. I like to use the word influence because we can influence things one way or another but not control them. If we could really control things than kicking a field goal or shooting a basket would be boring because everyone would make every shot. 

Eating disorders are not about weight, and not about food. Those are symptoms of the problem or problems. Control is a great word, because a huge amount of eating disorders are about control. Possible root causes are may include: control of daily schedule or life in general, competition with others, response to a traumatic event, low self-esteem, or pressure (external or internal) to perform or be something. There are many other causes, and many other triggers. There are so many causes and the problem is so pervasive that even a relative of mine had an eating disorder.

The impact of eating disorders can be felt on so many of the relationships I have had, my best friend in high school, a prom date, a relative, and a slew of other friends, many close ones. It is so hard to deal with a person with an eating disorder. In my case especially dealing with a woman who I perceive as attractive. I hesitate to complement women who I view as attractive because I know that a percentage of them have eating disorders. Sometimes I fear that a woman might have thrown up in the last half hour and saying how good she looks will just reinforce that negative behavior. It’s a slippery slope. 

I can be attracted to thin women and eating disorders are a loaded gun. I like helping people, but I’ve been through the eating disorder thing... several times. I’m not looking forward to doing it again. How do I mix those, the desire to help another, my attraction to another, with the selfishness and danger of one who has an eating disorder? Every situation is different. I don’t have a general answer, but it is something I think about.

On another level this influences my coaching too. I have no intention of ever telling anyone to lose weight. My stance has always been that if you are doing enough running and exercising and eating a healthy diet the weight will take care of itself. However, in practice few eat half decent and few do the volume of work required.

Given my perceived propensity for addictive activities I have shied away from losing more than a few pounds for close to a decade. I don’t want to get caught in a trap of losing weight to run faster because just like I run huge mileage, I am afraid that if losing one pound if good and two is better than ‘15 is great’ might get into my head. 

On the other side of this coin is genetics. My dad is not skinny. My mom is basically skinny. The grandpa I knew was not skinny. One grandma was fit and the other was not as much. Then again I didn’t know any of these people below age 35. That being said, I’m not built like a lithe runner. I have a huge torso and short legs, not all that different from Prefontaine. Certainly not like the running machines that come over here from Kenya with their long legs, tiny torsos and thin calves. Don’t mistake these observations for complaining, my life has honestly been the best in the world, I would not trade any of my genetics and the situation surrounding my genetics for anyone else’s in the world, even if that meant running a 2:04 marathon (or being Bill Gates kids). I am right where I am supposed to be. In my opinion, I have the best life in the world

That being said, my grandpa tried to lose weight time and again and I believe they had him down to 1500 calories a day, and as a greenhouse owner he was walking 12+ miles a day carrying 20-30 pounds around half the time. He didn’t lose much weight at all on that regimen. Apparently the body goes into a super efficient starvation mode when the food supply gets cut low. In other words, below some level the body will try really really hard not to lose another pound. What if I encounter that at 125 pounds?

I don’t even know if I can lose the kind of weight to get to 120 or below 120. As soon as I say that though, I want to prove it to myself that I can. That’s another problem (or strength) of mine I get competitive with myself. I don’t own a scale and I have no intentions of having one anytime soon. A 3/4 length mirror gives me all the feedback I need. If I owned a scale I would step on it. If I stepped on a scale every day I would do what it takes to trend down over time. Maybe even if that meant giving myself an eating disorder. 

Perhaps an eating disorder is not the right phrase to describe my weight loss. Most certainly it would involve thousands of miles of running. I would still eat, eat a lot too probably. The only time I tracked everything I ate for any length of time, the fall of 2009, I averaged about 3000 calories a day and lost weight, while averaging over 100 miles per week for a couple months. If I did 100-110 miles of weekly mileage average for a few months but only ate 2500 calories a day I would drop a pound a week. For me that would probably be too much weight per week. A pound of fat is 3500 calories for those that don’t know. Roughly 35 miles of running. Unfortunately for me more like 40-45 miles because I am already that efficient. 

The idea of getting down to 120 has already entered my head. In the five days I have been working on this article I have found myself thinking about weight maybe five times as much as I did before even thinking about a weight loss goal. That is scary. Just being aware of the desire to lose weight is making me change my habits. This is what I do, think about things. I am not very good at turning my brain off. I suppose, given the thought I have the last few days to losing the weight and the changes I am already making, it has already begun. I was going to announce something, but it is taking me longer to write this article than opt for an extra piece of whole wheat bread instead of a bag of M&Ms or  Baked Cheddar Potato Chips. I just ate two sticks of celery. I ran an extra half mile today after I planned to stop because I figure it is another 40-50 calories. Wow, just Wednesday afternoon and evening I have already made so many changes! I knew each one as I was doing it, but all in one afternoon?

There are other things too. I have been weening myself off of alcohol the last few weeks. I was probably averaging a bottle of wine a week, and I have not had alcohol in five full days. If I am going to lose some weight I am going to do it by incorporating every trick in the book: celery, running more, whole grains, less alcohol, less sugar, more tea, and oddly enough for a fast paced impatient person like me, walking. I feel that walking a few hours a week on top of the running that I do will help stretch out my legs in a less traumatic fashion, which will both help muscle recovery and also help me breathe out a few more calories. Weight is lost breathing it out, in case you thought that it was sweat out or excreted, most comes out your mouth.

This is going to be interesting. Don’t worry, the plan is to document it. Not in terms of what I eat, or even regular weigh ins, but I will try to step on a scale at least once a month to see how things are going. I also do not plan to post pictures of my face or torso, but there is a decent chance that they change. Yes, I realize that people will see me or hug me and complain about how skinny I am. 

Is it worth it? What if I did get an eating disorder but then I ran a 2:17? Eating disorders have an average 5-7 year lifespan but qualifying for the Olympic Trials is something I can talk about for 5-7 decades. Part of me says, go for it, eat only celery, cereal and tea. A career can be sometimes be wrapped up in a single accomplishment. Astronaut Neil Armstrong equals walked on the Moon for a couple hours. Chuck Yeager was the first to break the sound barrier. The world is full of one hit wonders. Is running really fast in one race worth the possibility of years of health problems? Part of me says no and part of me says yes. I have been running and recording my mileage for 12 years and maybe this is what it takes to get to the next level. This or EPO but I don’t plan on taking that.

There are some buzz words I have to watch out for. First of all, no restricting food. That is a huge no-no. Reducing consumption of doughnuts and pizza is acceptable, restricting my diet from fried foods is not acceptable. Second, I will never actually have a weight goal, percent fat goal, or waist size goal. It is more important that I feel lean and strong in workouts leading into any race rather than hitting some arbitrary value on a scale. Third, I run thousands of miles a year and those miles require recovery food within an hour of the run, which I feel is even more important than stretching. I have no intention of trying to control the volume of food that I eat. The plan is to be proactive and eat an extra carrot for lunch to avoid a cookie an hour later. Along these lines I plan to stock celery and hummus continuously because it is filling and has few calories. Fourth, the goal is to run fast, not lose weight. If I am not eating the nutrition I need to support my workouts, and my mental work, I need to take a step back and make a change.

There are no concrete answers. Most of the time no one knows the line until it has been crossed. In other words, 126 pounds, 123 pounds, 117 pounds? Where is the limit, where do I put myself in a hole either mentally or physically? I do not know. Regardless, I am going down, it will be pretty slow, and my rock climbing partners will hate my loss of upper body strength. People will tell me I am getting especially thin because they tell me that all the time even though the difference is usually that they gained weight. I am losing weight so that I run, specifically race the marathon, faster. We will just take this one step at a time. If I can not possibly run 2:17, then so be it, but I do not want to look back and say, ‘I was afraid to confront my weight so I was never as lean as the guys finishing a few minutes ahead of me.’ Time is short. This is an experiment. It could fail. I still like eating steaks and doughnuts and cheese and pasta. Maybe I can not get below 126. I don’t know. If I can not lose much weight, that is okay, as long as I know I tried to optimize every variable in the equation of accomplishing my running goals. No one knows. If the future was known we would just phone in the results, instead we show up and raise expectations and performances to the next level. Impossible is nothing.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 96

Another week in the books. One of the things I'm really happy about is that writing a weekly summary keeps me progressing. When I have an average week or a median week or a below average week, I know about it. It keeps me accountable. Life is so easy to get into a rut and just progress at a slow rate maybe 3% or something. However, I don't want to progress at a 3% rate. (Maybe I do, who really knows what the rate is anyway?)

Work in particular brings up the feeling I didn't progress significantly this week. I wrapped up a couple projects and continue to fumble my way through another monster thesis type project. I did spend some time in the shop doing physical testing, which is very rewarding, because it's physical. Seeing the results is rewarding compared to just another picture on the screen. Plus, it's easier to yelp and holler during a physical test than after one of my finite element simulations run for the first time. Believe me, this thesis type project I'm working through, when I get the first results I will want to dance and yell. But I won't because nobody really does that in a cubicle farm.

Running went really really well. I did 92 miles, and could have done 100 had I doubled Saturday, but I was tired and had other stuff to do so I did not double. The highlight of the week is doing more than 10 miles between 4:55 and 5:35. More than four on Tuesday and a whopping six on Saturday. Saturday was the best 6 x mile workout of my life! Splits were 5:27, 5:20, 5:18, 5:15, 5:06, 4:56 with a 400 meter jog in two minutes between miles. It really helped that I had two people to workout with. The three best runners in Dubuque county grinding out 6 x mile together! This is exactly 100% what I need to improve. In other words, the workout was perfect for me on Saturday.

Coaching is going well. Our women's team set the school record in the distance medley relay Saturday, and Sunday, today, is looking like a slew of good performances again. This is our indoor conference championships so it's the biggest meet we compete in for a couple months. Plus it's the last race for most people until the last weekend in March.

In other news, A, died just over a month ago. Her funeral was when I was in North Carolina. Missing someone is sad. In the last month three people that I have spent time with and made a connection with due to work left. Two returned to other countries and one returned to Ohio. One of the pains of growing up is losing the personal daily connections with people as they move around the country and now world as I meet more people. Social media has made it easier to stay connected in a shallow sense, but it is not the same as looking someone in the eye.

Connections and relationships are very interesting things. There is significant value in them, but not necessarily monetary value. When two crying people hug because they are sad over the same thing there is a lot of emotional connection there that improves positive feelings that at least one more human cares. Yet you can't pay for that. You can't pay someone to cry with you over your last race in your team uniform. Given how significant connections and relationships are with Web 2.0, and the fact I have been doing this blog thing for four years, meaning I have a little experience and thus authority, I feel like talking more about it. In terms of trends and ideas and the future. From the rise of smart watches to development of coffee shops and evolution of religious organizations. These are things that are changing, big things, and it would be nice to make sense of where it has been, where it is, and where it might go. So I might talk about that more in the future.

Finally, I have a big article lined up for Monday. Something like 2800 words about confronting something I have not wanted to address for years, but it is now time to address the elephant in the room.

Friday, February 22, 2013

When Long Term Becomes Short Term

I am an extremely goal orientated person. I set a goal and I go after it. Two easy examples, for more than a year I set my sights on breaking 33 minutes in the 10,000. At the outdoor conference championship I did it with 1.50 seconds to spare. Another much longer example, my second day of high school I said to my biology class that I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer, eight years later I walked across the stage with a degree in aerospace engineering. I didn't change my major in high school or college.

I'm getting older. There is no time to waste. If I want to do something, I had better do it or the opportunity will disappear. One of the difficulties of actually accomplishing a goal is the transition from long term to short term. I have struggled with this transition in both of my marathon training cycles. Early in the goal there is a lot of time to progress. Later in the progression the goal becomes more concrete and tangible. How does one make that transition?

A few suggestions:

  • Instead of thinking about ideas and theory as people do in long term planning, think about specifics, like the workout last week or the exam in four days.
  • If you are capable of accomplishing the goal as planned then just do it. If you are not, well you have come this far you might as well give it a shot.
  • Recognize most of the pressure is internal. Others don't care nearly as much as you do if it works out exactly as you planned.
  • The meaning of the goal has probably changed since you set it. Recognize there is a difference between then and now and learn from the journey so that the next time you set more appropriate goals at the beginning of the process.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How to Develop Excitement and Anticipation?

I don't really know. My best guess is talking about something that is going to happen. I'm working on a few things, small things, but very personal things that will expose me more than I have exposed in the past. Three are articles, one about the forestry industry, one about dating, and one about losing weight. They are all things that are emotional, factual, personal, and involved, or still involve, significant learning on my part. Another thing is a surprise. It has words, but it's not an article. It's very exciting for me and more adventurous than I have been in the past in one respect.

In other words, you may have to suffer through some shallow posts like this before you get the magnum opus articles. Why even bother writing this shallow piece? Well, if I get a few of you excited, I will get more excited. Positive energy spreads. I'm at the point in all of the articles that just a little positive motivation to get me to write a conclusion paragraph, edit them, and add anything I might have forgotten is all that needs to happen. I don't want these to turn into another project I do 90% and leave sit on my hard drive.

Yep it worked. Trying to get you excited got me excited. Another successful social experiment!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cut the Cord. Skip the Bottleneck.

You can do it. You already did it. What are you waiting for? Another layer of approval? Another bureaucratic step in the process?

You make decisions. That was basically the point of your education, to teach you how to make decisions. Yes, you have the authority to make the decision. You don't have to consult someone else every time. That other person is busy and preoccupied. Do you really want to hold up the project while you wait for affirmation that you could work harder?

We all make mistakes. It happens. We all need second and third opinions rather often. We are in this world together often working toward the same goals. Not a one of us has even 1% of the answers. We each need help. In this case, you must understand the issue by now. We will not hold your hand forever. You have the answer and it is more thorough then we have taken the time to understand. Go ahead and spread the information. Cut the cord. Skip the bottleneck.

Monday, February 18, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 95

Life will never be perfect you know? There will always be ups and downs and a catch or an asterisk. I had a good week, but even the good weeks are not perfect.

Starting with work, it went well this week. Many objectives were accomplished or progressed toward. I even took a risk at work. I won't tell you about it, because it involves another person. I will say that I was afraid to follow through and say the difficult message, but I'm happy I did. Sometimes people need to know when things are not ideal.

The last week or two I have been working on reports quite a bit. It's a consequence of doing a number of high priority projects close together. I don't have time to formally write up the report. Work slowed down just a little so I have taken the opportunity to document my work. I have trouble writing reports. How much information to include, how to convey the message that I used engineering judgement not just a number on a node in one area, or making sure I covered everything I did. On month or longer projects, things can get left out. However, the older I get the more I know, because I see the results, communication is vital in every aspect of life. Plus, I am partial to written communication. I feel that it is kind of like saying something in stone. It may change later, but once it is in writing, specifically digital writing, it can be passed and spread quickly. Everyone can be notified. When everyone is presented the same information it is easier to work toward the common goals. Additionally, I feel that keeping everyone informed improves motivation. When everyone knows what is going on and maybe even why it is going on, they are more likely to be enthusiastic about working on it.

Running went great! I did two moderate workouts and a total of 111 miles. First time in that kind of mileage since October 2011. It's a sign of things to come. I wasn't expecting to run that kind of mileage. I know what you are thinking, 'you where there for every step of it, how could you not know how far you were running?' I think about my running on a daily basis more so than weekly or monthly basis, try to double every day and eight miles is better than five miles and once the workout is done, it's done. When I get to Saturday afternoon with my last run of the week coming up and I already have 99.9 miles, I'm still going to do the 10-12 miles that I planned.

To reiterate and fully articulate my 2013 running and racing plans, I plan to run a 5000 on the track in late March or early April, then the 10,000 on the track at the Augustana Meet of Champions April 19th, and the Drake Relays Half Marathon April 28th. That is the end of my "serious" spring racing. Next up is an October marathon, either Chicago or Twin Cities. I think I'm leaning toward Chicago because my running partner will probably do it and it is supposedly faster than Twin Cities. Of course there will be smaller races in there like the Dubuque half marathon and hopefully the Bix 7, just not ones I take as seriously. Also, I have decided that while I am improving, I am not improving as fast as I would like. At 14% body fat I see some room for improvement at 2 seconds per mile per pound. Yep, I'm going to lose some weight. I am working on a monster 2000 word article about it so stay tuned. Weight is a tricky subject, and I don't take that lightly.

Coaching went well. At the meet a number of people set season bests including getting another runner under five minutes in the mile for the first time. I know how much that barrier meant to me and every time it happens to an athlete I work with it means a lot to me as a coach. Plus our meet was at UW Madison and the mile was won in 4:05 along with a number of other strong performances.

Socially I went out Saturday night to a "go away" party for my Brazilian friend. When he sent out the invitation everyone corrected his English. He wrote "go" instead of "going" on purpose, nice joke! We also went out to Warm Bodies, which is a zombie movie that ended far happier than most of the genre. I like it.

Life is good. I am so blessed! Seriously! I work at a productive fulfilling job (which makes me feel rich), I ran 111 miles uninjured, and I have friends to share it all with.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Suffering is Not Pain. Embrace Suffering.

I ran over 42 miles this weekend, including a 2x2 mile lactate threshold workout. Let me tell you as I finished my run today I was exhausted. I was suffering. It is something necessary to accomplish long term goals from getting a college degree to digging out of debt.

I feel that there is less suffering in the world today in developed countries than 50 or 150 years ago. While the USA work ethic is second to none, it seems to be eroding amongst the convenience of modern life. It is part of the reason I ran 111 miles last week, to teach myself how to handle adversity.

We must suffer because the things we strive for are hard. "...not because they are easy, but because they are hard." JFK

Push yourself. "Nothing is impossible if we will commit." Gene Kranz

What is possible? Nearly anything? Anything?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Education and (or versus) Experience

There are many angles to approach a problem. Two of the primary ways are to learn about what someone else did or do something yourself. Both have value. Education exposes us to things in an extremely compressed period of time that took decades and centuries to learn. Experience teaches us lessons that are so detailed and often complicated no classroom will teach them.

Both have merit. I am so incredibly fortunate that in two of the things I spend most of my time on, engineering and running, I have had both a strong formal education and significant experience. It gives me an exciting perspective on what I do. 

To give two examples from running, a person can read about running and workouts and efforts and intensities, but the first time you run lactate threshold and really really feel that you are at the right pace and you understand why it is an important pace, it will blow your mind! September 2007 for me. Second, after wondering why I had injury after injury over three years I tried a radical approach I had heard about, a low heeled shoe, with not enough support for my pronation, at least many shoe salesmen would tell me. Three and a half years later the only significant issue I have had was tendonitis, and that was because I wasn't doing the foot exercises I need to do weekly. In both cases the education combined with the experience made the difference. 

So often we feel we can be an expert by reading an article about something. I am chief of the guilty in that case. Alternatively, we think, this has worked in the past, I know what I'm doing. Again I have made that mistake. It is amazing how close to failure something can be time and again and we still have a false sense of security or at least durability when a seemingly minor factor changes.

The point is, they both have value. As my alma mater WPI says, "Lehr und Kunst" which is German for Theory and Practice. Neither one can exist in a vacuum. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Anyone Want to Go Out for Dinner Tonight?

It's valentines day, I'm single, I can count the single women close to my age and location I know on both hands (which means not many), and I would prefer not to spend the entire night home alone. If any lady would like to go out for dinner later, around 7 PM, I will pay for everything, including the wine and dessert. Of course, a free meal comes with strings, please be sociable and talk a little and it has to be within 30 miles of Dubuque. If I wanted to eat in silence I wouldn't write this.

I'm thinking Star Brewery or Pepper Sprout, because I've never been there, or perhaps sushi in Galena. I suppose it would depend on where we can get a table. The night will end on or before 9 PM because I have to wake up at 5 AM tomorrow to run.

If you are interested or have a friend, let me know.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

You Have Problems Too?!

In the last week I have heard friends and acquaintances tell me of their various issues. I normally live in my closed off microcosm and feel that the issues affecting me only affect me. In other words, it's no big deal so I'm not pushing for any change.

Then I hear what afflicts others in my circles, and I am blown away. The "issues" that afflict me are far greater than I imagined. I only experience a tiny portion of the larger problem. The scale of problems is unbelievable.

What is the next step after recognizing a larger issue? I suppose I might just be the one to do something about it. I mean when I hear about an issue from several sides maybe it is because I am perfectly placed to confront the issue. I hope not because that confrontation is way out of my comfort zone. Alas, it will probably end up being me anyway. Regardless the past week has been eye opening. I figured you all had problems, because everyone has problems, I just didn't think some of us had the same problems.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lance Armstrong and Doping

The following was written by me after reading a second of his books in late 2012:

"We have been talking about this for more than a decade. People sometimes ask me what I think about it. I am after all one of the guys winning road races and cycling up hill in Dubuque faster than anyone else. So what do I think? Did Lance cheat? In short, he tested clean, there is your answer.

In long, what is cheating? Is using an altitude tent cheating? Is taking vitamin supplements cheating? Is using caffeine cheating? (Most top endurance people do use it, myself included.) Is getting a blood transfusion of your own blood cheating? Is it cheating to use such a small amount of a drug that you still test negative for it?

I do have five reasons why Lance was able to win seven tours when no one else has.
  1. People who go through near death experiences make major life changes. Once a person faces death the amount of tolerable suffering or commitment that person will take on is far greater than most people.
  2. Before he had cancer he won the world championships. It's a big deal. It means he was already a really good rider.
  3. It was just about the only thing that he trained for during those seven years. Most people don't have the commitment to train for an entire year for one event. Most participate in a dozen or more events every year. That extra specific focus could mean a minute or two over the course of three weeks.
  4. After winning once a person knows what it takes to win. The second time typically does not involve a 5% increase in fitness.  In other words, when you become the winner the winner becomes mortal.
  5. He had amazing teams breaking wind for him through thousands of miles. When you see how strong his domestiques were it makes it fractionally easier to win the tour. "
Now we know, Lance cheated. I wanted to believe he was clean. I wanted to think that a strong person could rise to the challenge of winning a great competition time and again. Alas, he cheated like most of the other people in the race we now know. It's frustrating. I was never a big Lance fan because of his arrogance and complete rejection of the unseen, yet I still wanted him to be clean. After Tiger Woods disgrace and whoever was dog fighting or having sex with underage women in mainstream sports, I wanted someone "popular" to be a positive role model. It was believable, a guy with enough baggage to be believable. He was always human.

Now his arrogance is on another level. He sued people, and even won, when they said he doped! They told the truth and he convinced everyone that the truth was a lie! How can someone do that?

This is one more example of fallible humans. I find it depressing. Ryan Hall and Galen Rupp if you guys ever cheat I will be awfully mad. I don't even know what I would do.

In the October 2011 Des Moines Half Marathon, where I set my 1:11 PR, the winner, I believe, was caught a few months later for using banned substances. I was 17th in that race, and I would have preferred getting 16th. It's that close, a guy that I was feet away from on the starting line won the race and cheated. I am slow, I work awfully hard. Every bit of time I can take off my time I celebrate. The competition is mostly with myself, but there is some external competition and I don't use EPO, steroids, or blood dope how am I suppose to compete? Seriously. EPO has been show to give up to a 13% advantage, that's over strait 19 minutes off of my marathon time. Back in the 1970s blood doping gave an average of 2.5% improvement. Even 2.5% is about four minutes faster. With numbers like that I wish races did more testing.

It's tempting you know? Here I am slaving away at 5 AM in the cold, on icy streets, slogging through workouts with a bunch of college kids, doing long runs mostly alone in the rain. A few hundred dollars of medical supplies and a couple hours of reading and YouTube videos on giving myself an IV, and since I would use my own blood I could drop time by the minute instead of the second. I won't dope or use EPO. At least while I am still trying to accomplish something. Later in life (40s or 50s) I could see myself volunteering for a study or experimenting, but not when there is actually any chance of setting a lifetime PR at an Olympic event. In the back of my mind is running down several famous runners past their prime in a prestigious marathon due to years of perfect training. I can't finish before anyone in a race I care about knowing I cheated.

It's a moral attitude. I don't cheat and I don't have $100 million. Lance cheated and is worth in the neighborhood of $100 million. Welcome to the world, it is not fair.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Don't Be Weak

Sometimes you must suffer. Excuses and complaining just do not get work done. Whatever it is you do, at some point it will be uncomfortable. It will be hard. Others who started with you will quit. You will feel alone. This is how it must be.

A legacy is not built in a game winning basket or a quotable last sentence of the presentation. The winner is not crowned at a banquet. The race is not won on a sunny day in May. No, the best are working while the rest sleep. The leaders are struggling and figuring the game out while the followers procrastinate. The successful are busy failing so that they can figure out the one method that works best.

I ran five miles alone in 30 degree Fahrenheit weather with 20 mph winds tonight at 8:00 pace after everyone else went inside. At mile 24 in a marathon that will matter. Closing the last half mile in a 5k I will be stronger. It was not "fun". I constantly slipped on the ice and my face was stinging from the wind. There are no excuses for me. If I want what I want then five miles alone on ice in February might be what it takes.

Don't be weak. Sure we all have weaknesses. We all have issues and deficiencies we can not conquer on our own. But for so many things we have only the fear of failure holding us back. The fear of being more worn out than we ever have before now. The fear of ruining the relationship at its current level not the fear of taking the relationship to the next level.

I tried to do single leg squats after my run tonight. I did ten on each leg with only 30lb weights in each hand and I collapsed on the nearest inclined bench. I walked out of the weight room and collapsed again. Somehow I made it home safe and ate something. Tonight was a lifting failure. In the context of all my training, ohhh I am in great shape and I will be asleep by 8:30.

Don't be weak. You will suffer, so lean into it and move through it onto greener pastures. Remember, manure makes the flower grow.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 94

What a week! I mean that on several levels. Isn't life interesting when things progress in several projects at once?

First, work, because work before play, I had a breakthrough in communication, or rather articulation of something I have tried to communicate more recently. We have been working on a big project. (On a side note, when is anyone not working on a big project in engineering?) Anyway, due to my limited experience I know how big the scope of the project is and I have a general idea of the scope of errors that we are probably making. In short, I expect to be plenty busy this year.

Anyway, four of us are standing in front of a computer screen as a design engineer opens the thing we were working on in the model. The thing is about the size of a shoe. Gradually the nearby castings, pipes, plates, and hoses all flash on in the model. Eventually the zoomed in screen looks like a modern art mess. I said something like, "this is the kind of thing that is giving me anxiety." Unfortunately, given that I am the one who is supposed to make sure all this stuff last past the warranty period, it's not really a joke to say that this project is giving me anxiety. It feels really good by the way to admit that I have anxiety related to a project at work. It is honest. Plus, admitting that I have fears somehow makes those fears less scary.

Overall, work is going well. Monday afternoon I spent a little time in a machine shop making sure that a couple parts were welded to be the most structurally durable. They were. Another aspect of work that is interesting is that I am nearing two years in the same position. I understand the things I am working with on a deep level, and it feels good.

Running went really well, first 90 mile week since September and I raced a 5000 on the track in a two seconds off my PR time of 15:46. My 1k splits were 3:06, 3:07, 3:09, 3:13, 3:11 and the last 2k we were lapping people like crazy so that adds maybe 0.5 to 1 second per lap. I did a couple light workouts like 2 x mile in 5:34 and 10 x 400 averaging maybe 80 seconds. Nothing special. I might race the mile this weekend, but my hamstring has been tight lately and I don't want to push it. If I do not I have no races planned until outdoor track I want to do a 5k, the Augie 10k on the track like last year, and the Drake Relays Half Marathon. Then an October Marathon.

Coaching went well. We had two 25 second PRs in the 5k Saturday and a few other 5k PRs. Some good races at shorter distances as well. We aren't as fast as I would like to be, but it's so early in the season and we have not done the specific work yet that I am sure we will drop some serious time in April and May.

Other than that, socially I'm warming up an article. People have totally different attitudes about relationships than I do, and it's interesting. I'm not sure what to learn from other's relationships, but I suppose if I try to write something about it I will learn something.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Executive Compensation and Innovation

It is shareholder annual meeting time of the year. I received a packet from a company I am invested in asking me to vote on a number of issues. This is a company with significant engineering resources so it hits close to home. In fact, knowing more than one engineer that works there is part of the reason I invested. One of the major issues, and actual the first thing to vote on, was executive compensation. Of the about 60 page packet, more than 20 pages were devoted to executive pay. Most of the pages are devoted to talking up the executives, how awesome the company and stock has done since they have been there, and how underpaid they are compared to comparable companies. Then finally 15 pages through the section the last three years of compensation is listed. About $19 million last year, about $18 million the year before and $13 million in 2010. 

Yes, I think CEOs should be compensated more than everyone else in the company. Yes, I think they should have equity in the company so that their interests are aligned with the shareholders. No, I do not think that a non-founding CEO should be paid four times as much as the people directly under him or 300+ times as much as his secretary. 

In 2010, I made less than $5000 for the four and a half months that I worked during the entire year. In March or anytime after I would have taken a full time engineering job (or “internship”) for half of what I make now. The company could have hired 200 new engineers, or 200 of almost any type of people in 2010. Yet it did not hire me. That company and I each wasted 2000+ hours of quality engineering time and the CEO of this company took home more than I might make in a lifetime. Personally, I feel that the difference between $1.9 million and $19 million in terms of actual quality of life or motivation to be nearly negligible. In other words, 900% more money might mean only 7% more effort, from one guy. I don’t see the value created. 

Coming at this from another angle, while I was in Singapore I met the human resources compensation director for an international US company with operations in 17 countries. I took a four hour bus tour of the city and young white guys kind of stick out to each other in Asia so we talked a little. We talked about how in India there are three levels of hierarchy or seniority for every one level of engineering in the United States. It seems like people in India get promotions all the time, but still do the same job. Then I asked about executive compensation. His succinct answer was simple, and completely mind boggling how truly unscientific it was. They look at what comparable companies pay their executives. 

I suddenly felt duped. Instead of a concrete way to measure value, like how I can justify my salary through cost savings and warranty reductions of my projects, executives are paid based on what other executives are paid. Then raises, extrapolating from shareholder documents received above, are determined by corporate profits and growth and with a little bit related to executive experience. This particular CEO who was paid $19 million in 2012 is being proposed a 9% pay raise. I can not justify these expenses, I will vote no. I do not see how one person can be worth more than 1000 times minimum wage, especially after I have worked for minimum wage a number of times. This company should invest in innovation, people, the future, or at least a bigger dividend rather than lining the pockets of such a small group of people. 

What kind of executive compensation innovations do I propose? A salary cap, not based on any government number, but as a ratio to the other employees in the company. Such as perhaps no one could be paid more than 100 times the lowest paid employee. Even at minimum wage that is $725 an hour, which is not terrible. Plus, if the CEO wants $800 an hour, then everyone in the company would probably get a raise. It brings everyone up at the same rate. Another idea, is to give the CEO the raise of the median worker every year. If that is only two or three percent so be it. I say that because the CEO's income is directly tied to the company and the people he manages. Some might say the CEO is the best employee at the company, give him the highest raise, but I say the CEO is the median CEO of the company who's fortune rises and falls with the success of the whole organization. Let his or her compensation reflect that. 

A disclosure of thoughts on billionaires, I do feel that founders ought to be rewarded highly for their innovation be it in business models or products or 100 hour weeks or whatever it is they do to found an organization. Mark Zuckerburg for example started something unique, I say pay the man for such innovation. Same for Bill Gates and other superstar creators. But a CEO that is simply moving into an established role through business school and the 40 year corporate pyramid climb is not the creator or innovator. He didn’t create a new pyramid, he simply got to the top of one of them. I feel there is a difference between founder equity and management equity. One is much harder to gain. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Nothing to Say

Sometimes I have nothing to say. I know it's rare, but it's true. The truth is, I don't have an answer to every question, a solution to every problem, or a comment on every situation. The reality is you do not have all the answers either. Accept not knowing everything and do not try to mask it. No one is perfect. Our vulnerabilities are the reasons we need each other and opportunities to help each other.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Resistance

The world is changing. Not everything changes, but so many things do, especially in how social media is redefining our relationships. I am working on something I hope you will like. In my development efforts I shared it with someone. Turns out there was some resistance to the new idea and change I presented. I was surprised how strong the resistance was. Lesson learned: if I try to change something because the status quo is not working for me or for others there will be significant resistance from those the status quo is aiding. That does not mean the status quo is the best way to proceed, it means there is a resistance.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Coaching, Racing, Running and The Scarcity of Attention

A complex situation arises in the world of coaching distance runners. It is one of the few sports, like swimming, tennis, gymnastics, or wrestling but completely unlike football or basketball where the coach can compete alongside her or his athletes. Not only can the coach compete with the athletes, the coach can train with them. This gets complex because not everyone on a team trains at the same level. While training with a handful (1-5) of athletes gives the coach an intimate idea of the training of those athletes the rest are almost neglected. 

The scarcity of attention is the problem. Attention comes in waves. Immediately following a race the urge is to give splits and congrauations and jump up and down and hug crying, well.. that might be a little exageration, but it gives a good picture of the emotions I feel when someone who wants to break the 10 minute barrier runs 9:59.78. The point is, how does one divide the scarcity of attention amongst the team? Does the top runner get twice as much attention as the second best runner? If that runner is qualifying for nationals and the second best is nowhere near that level perhaps it is warranted. However, when the group as a whole is basically on the same level the answer is not so clear. Some athletes need more encouragement than others. Some athletes will find me to talk to me while others will just talk to their friends and other teammates. Then there are the slowest or most often injured members of the team. We know they exist, but it’s hard to give them so much attention when there is no indication they will be able to race anytime soon.

Coming back around to racing, some coaches compete with their athletes sometimes. I compete more than most. It is inconvenient to my coaching and taking splits to run a race and have a warmup and cool down. That being said, I get more than a handful of comments from athletes that they like to see me race or ask when I will race with them next. Many coaches don’t compete in the same event as their athletes so that they can focus on their athletes. That is a very valid perspective on coaching. I struggle with it. I want to be there and watch and see and understand what my athletes do, but frankly I am more invested in my own personal running success than theirs. Which is to say, I've been working on this for twelve years and I'm as close to a 2:18 as I have ever been. That being said, I cannot compete at important meets like conference and nationals, so I do get to watch their most important races. 

On the just plain running side, I train with the runners, but again I can only see a handful of them during any given day. That is a problem when trying to determine what kind of shape people are in based on the workouts they have done. Yet another hazard of running with the athletes. That being said, my high school coach ran a whole cross country season with the men’s team and the women’s team ended up winning the state title. In other words, the women, who I perceived got less attention, did better than the men who received more attention. 

I do not have a clear answer to how to deal with the issue of how to deal with racing, running, and how I divide my attention amongst the team. I like to imagine that I give everyone on the team the attention they deserve from their coach, but I know for a fact that I end up spending a lot more time with some athletes than others, specifically, I spend more time with the faster men than the slower men or the women. 

The scarcity of attention is really the issue here. Each one of us has only so much time, about 24 hours a day, to divide amongst all of our relationships, including ourselves (think sleep). My friends, the future is attention, reputation and time. Each person has only so much time. There are approximately 10.1 trillion minutes of time available per day of human attention in the world. Approximately 60 of those minutes, or 0.0000000006% of the time in the world every day is spent reading this blog. It is strange to give it a measurable part of the time in the world. Bringing this concept to my coaching, how much time per day or week does each athlete warrant? Four minutes? Or perhaps it is a ratio, for every 20 or 30 minutes the athlete puts into the sport they "earn" a minute of my attention? In other words, those that work harder in the off season get more attention than those that actually take the summer off. Obviously this is an exaggerated concept. If an athlete I don't even coach, but who is on our team has a breakdown and I can in anyway help she may get an hour of my undivided attention, while my normal athletes briefly go without any attention. 

Get used to hearing "the scarcity of attention" because in the world of new and measurable media, that will come up more and more. Applied to coaching, it's not a perfect science for me yet. If you have any suggestions leave a comment or better yet talk to me in person. I enjoy discussing my blog in person far more than through comments. Regarding my readers, THANK YOU!!! You give me your time. Regardless of who you are, your time matters. I do not take your time for granted.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

At Some Point...

The world I live in is a mixture of reality and my own fantasy, or the way I envision my life playing out. Yours probably is too. There are things that I imagine will happen, and often they do. When the day comes, then you were ready for it. Then you can lean into the difficulty and thrive in the discomfort because you imagined it would happen.

  • At some point we will be bouncing down a dirt road in the rain in a four wheel drive vehicle being driven by someone who doesn't speak English.
  • At some point I will be 17 miles into a 20 mile long run and my body will really hurt.
  • At some point, we will disagree.
  • At some point I will be the only person working on the project and that is when to lean into the challenge.
  • At some point someone will die.
  • At some point I will make a significant mistake.
  • At some point more money doesn't make a difference.
  • At some point the challenge will be harder than any challenge before.
  • At some point the reward will be greater than any reward before.
  • At some point the challenge, the process, the race, the climb, or the relationship will really really hurt, and that is when your contribution matters most.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Types of Inequality

There are several types of inequality. Last week I had the chance to eat lunch with a visiting Asian friend and coworker several times. We were talking about inequality and the 99% versus the 1% and he said that in his country the 1% was subject to different laws. In the US everyone is subject to the same laws regardless of status but in his country there is inequality in terms of laws not just wealth or political power. 

He told a story, popular in his country, of the son of a regional governor who was in a car accident where someone was hurt and he simply said his farther was the regional governor and left the scene and was never prosecuted. I would say there is corruption everywhere, but in most western societies it is limited. There is likely more willingness to be a whistle blower because giving quarter to the corrupt is a slippery slope and ultimately the vast majority of people suffer. 

We had and still have inequalities in this country in terms of ethnicity and gender and income, however, it seems that legally, we are all subject to the same restrictions. 

Inequality has a place. If everyone ran the same time and pace for every race distance, what motivation would there be to get better? If everyone was paid exactly the same what would motivate people to be more productive or to go into difficult professions that are currently highly paid, but would always be stressful?

One of the greatest, perhaps the greatest, benefit of the Internet and access to the Internet is that in large part the barriers to access of information are being lowered. For example, if you wanted to know what the Dirty Dozen movie was based on fifteen years ago, you wouldn’t be able to find out without probably dozens of hours of research, but now you can know in minutes what is 99% likely to be true. 

There are many types of inequality, legal, athletic, attention, wealth, income, ACT and SAT scores, and many more. Some may serve as motivation, while others are harmful to many people. How do we wrestle with acceptable inequality and unacceptable inequality? I don't know. I suppose solve one problem at a time. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

I Live in Iowa: Week 93

This was a good week. A good week with plenty of learning. At work there was, and still is I suppose, a high priority issue. It is on a product I have been working on for a long time. So I want to help as much as I can, but strictly speaking it is out of my realm of job duties. This kind of brings up an interesting issue, am I hired to be the most productive and solve the most pressing problems I can or am I hired to solve the most pressing problems in one specific skill set? It's not an easy question to answer. Saturday evening on the ride home from a track meet I watched this lecture by Gabe Newell, the Valve founder, which is really amazing. The best hour long business productivity philosophy lecture I have ever heard. If I taught a business class I would watch this lecture in class and then discuss it. Getting back to my job duties in the corporation, three different examples:

  • A piece of food falls on the floor. Should I pick it up and throw it away or leave it, perhaps several days, for the janitor?
  • A customer wants information about something. Should I give the customer the information if I have what he or she requests?
  • The customer is happy with only X. Do we offer the customer X and Y even though the customer has not asked for Y?
I had a very good week in running! I ran a 2:08 800 meter race to get under 2:09 for the first time! I'm fast! (Okay, it's kind of a joke because 2:08 in the 800 is like professional 5k and 10k pace.) However, I did double in a race Saturday with a 4:40.68 mile first and the 800 about 90 minutes later. The fact that I set a personal record in the second race of the day, and it is in one of my weakest events, at age 26 is a good sign. I do not set as many PRs as I used to so they seem to mean more these days, despite the fact I still have plenty of potential left.

Coaching is going well overall. People are setting personal records, workouts and being done, including a massive 8200 meter 30 minute tempo this week on the outdoor track. It is very rewarding to see the athletes progress, both in performance on the track and also in maturity off the track. The path we are trying to follow is a tough one. It is personal, it is difficult, personalities clash, old friends leave and new egos arrive.

What else happened? Frankly, after running in the morning, or just going to work, then running in the evening, going home and eating supper, and finally taking a shower I don't have much energy left, even if I do want to socialize with others face to face more, it's easy to lay around at home. That being said, I'm working on something. It will be a surprise. It will be easily shareable and considering most of the people I know who tell me they read this blog, I think you will find it interesting. Plus, I feel that if enough people see it, someone will use the idea to improve her or his life. Here is a hint, I am struggling with a significant detail of it, a graphing problem. Honestly, that will not help you guess at all.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Thoughts on the Cold and Windchill

It is cold in Dubuque, Iowa today, -6F and -23C with a wind. That equals cold according to the National Weather Service. A couple quick thoughts:

  • When temperatures and wind chills are in the negatives, limit your time outside. That includes running on a treadmill. 
  • At high altitudes it's not the cold that hampers your progress as much as the lack of oxygen. Zero degrees at 7000 meters feels much colder than zero degrees at sea level because your body struggles to generate (metabolize) enough heat.
  • Take the extra few minutes to warm up your car, take the larger pair of mittens, and put a blanket in your car, among other preparations  A few minutes preparing in a warm building could save a few minutes or more freezing in the cold.
  • Appreciate warmer temperatures in the spring, summer and fall. Don't be one of those people that complains about every season's weather.