Friday, February 27, 2015

Thank You For Being Honest

I went to see my chiropractor today, Dr. D, and he thought it was most likely a fibula bone issue too, so he sent me on my way free of charge and seconded the other doctor's recommendation to see the specialist, Dr. C. 

While I hate ambiguouity when it comes to an injury, everyone is being quit helpful in the process. Despite my poor attitude at the time thank you to the two doctors, three nurses, chiropractor and massage therapist that have worked with me in some way this week. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

How Often "Should" You Reach Your Goals?

People ask me if I am getting excited for the 24 hour world championships in Italy. I keep saying, "yes and no." Yes, I am excited to be on my first team USA. I am excited to have a partially expense paid trip to a foreign country to do an event that I happen to be rather good at. However, every day that goes by with this injury, and thus me not able to train as hard as I would like just over six weeks away from the competition, I get nervous that it could go very poorly. I may not reach my goals for this race, any of them.

This brings up a good question, how often should one reach his or her goals?

I think it was Alberto Salazar or Jerry Schumacher, both Nike coaches, that said the goals should be achievable about 50% of the time. If you are reaching goals 100% of the time, you're not aiming high enough. And if you never reach your goals, you aren't being realistic. I could easily say, 50%, that's a good target, but I'm not sure that it is right for everyone. The more difficult the goals, the less frequently they will be met.

I feel I should be totally happy. I am representing the USA at an international event. How many people ever do that, 1%? Maybe only 0.1%? Maybe even less? Yet I can't help but be dissapointed that my build up is not giving me the confidence to reach more of my goals at the world championships.

Motivation is a finicky thing. It may be the basis of long term health as related to athletics and hard training, yet without those other two, motivation can diminish. This blog is a great thing for me. I can whine and complain all I want, and no one has to read it, yet I feel like I have expressed myself. One of my three major running goals was to be on team USA, and it has happened! And yet I am not satisfied.

"For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice." - James 3:16

I don't understand most things. What did I do wrong or differently this training cycle to get this new injury? What lesson, or lessons, do I need to learn from this experience? I did not get to the place of honor and priviledge that I am in alone, and I will not reach "my" goals alone either. Sometimes when I think of goals, mine or others (and Lance Armstrong is good example here), I wonder how that goal helps anyone. I hope to help inspire people and motivate them to get off the couch and move around a little. I hope to be an example of nothing being impossible. Perhaps I already am, although I don't feel like it. I don't know what will happen tomorrow. I have no idea how the world championships will go, I may very well get last place. The little I do know, I am extraordinarily blessed, I do not deserve all of the great and wonderful things that happen to me, and regardless of the outcome in Italy, it is a priviledge and honor just to go.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


The x-Ray didn't show the problem. So I have an appointment with a podiatrist or something... On March 11th!

Some days I just want to quit. Give up. Hang up the shoes. Yell and scream and swear until I fall asleep crying. I don't understand this situation, and I don't like that. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

It's Not Good

Here in the next couple days we will learn of my leg injury diagnosis. It's not looking good. 

The positive side is, once the problem is identified, the correct and fastest healing can be implemented. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

I Live in Iowa: Week 192

I wonder how long I will live in Iowa. Another 192 weeks? More? Less? Highlight of my week might have been doing my taxes. It takes a couple hours and I'm getting a fair amount of money back this year (mainly for taking six weeks off of work and being taxed at my normal rate the rest of the year) which is nice. Work was work. I didn't work overtime this week, at least I didn't fill out the paperwork to get paid for it.

The good news is we are getting into the nitty gritty details and however emotional it might be at the time, we are making the product better. In many ways we are fortunate to be working on the details we are working on. It's the big stuff that can really stop a program, but a 2 mm interference on a door? Ha! I can show you three different reasons it could easily be a 4 mm interference. We'll get there. Whether I have a heart attack first is anyone's guess. 

I ran 49.5 miles and then took Saturday "off" and did a 30 mile bicycle ride on a cold 30F roads in a light snow. I even rode past a farm auction and had plenty of stares (witnesses) so yes, I really spent just over two hours on my bicycle in sub freezing temperatures. I was on my bicycle because my legs have been hurting. Yes, the same leg/ankle pain I've been complaining about for seven week. It's not going away. Yes, I'm going to see the doctor and I can attest like a typical male I don't like it because it makes me feel weak. Also, like a bad patient I'm the type that researches everything and comes up with my own diagnosis, which doctors probably hate. It just seems like a waste of time to me when the majority of my injuries are running overuse injuries which is not normal. Doctors don't know what to do with the person that runs 3000 miles a year. On top of that, my blood pressure will probably be through the roof, thank you employer and 60 hour weeks. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Next Step

The next step is sometimes the only one you can conceive of taking. Anything larger is just too hard to conceive. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Anger

I did not work overtime last week, in part because the more I work the poorer my attitude became. Also, fundamentally I cannot change things by simply working more hours. Once I escalate an issue, that's all I can do. I can't turn every wrench. I can't say "stop, let's fix this issue now before it compounds" and expect anyone to listen to me. 

I mentioned at work that I quit caring. And when I said it, I suddenly felt terrible. So I've thought about that some more, and it's more complicated than simply quitting caring, but it's also basically quitting caring. What I mean is, I want to design a great machine, that can actually be manufactured and assembled repeatably with consistently high quality. However, I can't do it all, and there is no point to ruining my health getting all emotional over the things I don't directly influence, I more or less get paid by the hour to do a job. In other words, I could say, I have chosen to only care about a very small number of issues. 

It's really interesting to go through this process. The product design world is one where gravity is often ignored. Yet when assembling a machine gravity must be left turned on. Another side of it is, communication is critical. With so many different people and teams of people converging together to do a job, any failure to communicate results in poor quality. Part of my recent emotional negativity has to do with frustration over lack of communication. I suppose the way I have mitigated that on my side is let everyone know what I think they need to know, although I haven't been perfect at that either. What they do with that information, I don't care. 

It's a roller coaster. The highs are high but the lows are low. Soon enough this phase will pass, the weather will be warmer out, and one of my great hopes is that we are able to understand each other better and use that understanding to produce an extremely high quality product. Then I hope we don't forget these mistakes the next time around. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Preparing for a 24 Hour Running Race

We live in such a strange age. My running career is not chronicled in a sporadic collection of newspaper results and handwritten training log entries as careers were decades ago, it's tracked daily by GPS and RFID checkpoints. Instead of competing in dozens of races before someone asks for my advice, I can offer it up, here on my blog, with no actual experience whatsoever. So here I am telling people how to prepare for a 24 hour race, when I have only done one in my life, that I didn't train for ahead of time.

For starters, my training philosophy:

  1. Stay Motivated
  2. Stay Healthy
  3. Train Hard
Nothing new there. 

Motivation for a 24 hour run? Hum... This time around for me it's easy, IT'S THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS AND I'M ON TEAM USA!!! Last time it was mostly the curiosity of what would happen. The curiosity, with the insurance that no matter how poorly it went, it would only last 24 hours. You don't get that guarantee in a 100 mile race. That was actually a pretty motivating factor for me. There is a large risk in an ultra race something bad could happen and I would limp home like at the Chicago Marathon in 2013, but for hours instead of 40 minutes. There was also motivation the first time around to qualify for team USA, without the pressure of the guarantee that 1st place in that race would go. In other words, when people are racing for a guaranteed spot, the racing usually is more difficult, and I wanted a less competitive debut ultra race.

Staying healthy has definitely been harder the last two months than I expected. Work has beat down my health. Weld fumes, paint fumes, exhaust, the stress of people expecting me to come up with a solution, because let's face it, I usually do have a good one. Plus, some bad weather has not been the greatest for my health running outside. Finally, skiing a fair amount has done a little work on my ankles and the mountaineering boots didn't help back six weeks ago. I should really get my legs looked at. 

Train hard has two major components, run a lot, with a fair amount at a hard aerobic pace, and get a lot of rest. Resting is a legitimate part of training, and it can be as hard to sleep more and spend time off of your feet as the hard training. So basically, I'm trying to run a lot of miles, and get a lot of rest. Come April 11th, I will run for 24 hours strait without sleeping. I need to be ready to handle that. 

As for actual training, it's all going by feel right now. I have to be healthy before I train hard. However, provided I can get in more miles I plan to do my usual high mileage week (110-140 miles), followed by low mileage week with a day off (80-110 miles). Then I plan to get in a couple long runs, with doubles in the afternoon. Ideally I would like to have a 40 mile day with a 30+ mile long run in the morning and a recovery slower run in the afternoon. Who knows? I mean, I'll do what I can , but not dig myself in a hole. I'm guaranteed to be in a hole after the race. Plus I would like to get in some longer tempos (8-15 miles) at a moderate pace about 5-10% slower than marathon pace (6:00-6:20 pace). Of course, that's all the ideal training plan, rarely does ideal happen to us. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

I Live in Iowa: Week 191

Eh, another week, getting it done. The first part of the week I was on vacation, I mean a work trip, to Coffeyville, Kansas. It was the first work trip I have been on where we were not going to investigate a failure. Monday and Wednesday were spent all day driving, which is surprisingly faster overall, and less expensive than flying down to Kansas. Rather relaxing to spend time with two of my coworkers in the suburban for a couple days, getting to know them better. Tuesday was all meetings and tours, and resoundingly good news. Okay, there was one incident, but we made the best quality decision out of it.

Thursday and Friday were back in the factory, earning stress. Then my supervisor had me go home early Thursday and Friday, well, he had the keys and was driving, so I didn't work overtime this week. Total disappointment. I feel like I am being lazy and not pulling my weight, I'm not going to say like a supervisor or manager, but I wonder sometimes. I didn't check my work email ALL WEEKEND either. It's hard, not working. But it's taken a toll on my healthy the last month, so despite the higher pay of overtime and the genuine feeling of real contribution and value it's actually good that I cut back a little. Still hard though.

I ran 55 miles, including a run in shorts and a t-shirt at 6:48 pace in Kansas in 60F weather! Ugh, winter is just not great for running. With all of the clothing and poor traction we run slower. That's the most mileage I've run since the first week of November, but that was 120 miles. So I'm getting back into it, and with only eight weeks until the 24 hour world championships, time is fading fast to actually get in shape.

We did have a long 90 minute conference call about the 24 hour world championships in Italy this past week talking about training, our backgrounds, the uniforms, lodging and logistics. Most people seem to be bringing family members, at least on the men's side, so we're going to be quite a large total American contingent, I wouldn't be too surprised if there are over 40, maybe even 50, Americans in our group. Dinners out at a restaurant are going to be a mess!

Other than that, not much happened. I went out to eat once, on Valentine's Day, at Buffalo Wild Wings, with three of my rock climbing partners, who are all single male engineers. Sometimes I read articles online about the difficulty women have meeting nice men, and well, they're not living in Dubuque, Iowa. This town is overflowing with 20something active engineers. Yes, we're awkward and shy and don't understand your subtle hints, and you're going to have to be a little patient with us, and we argue logically not emotionally, which I understand can be annoying, but we're here.

Friday, February 13, 2015

This Launch is Going Decidedly as Expected

The horror stories proliferate. "There are problems everywhere!" the engineers scream. I want to disassociate myself from all aspects of this program. Yet, then we see a machine silently creep around the corner with glistening new paint and operating correctly, and I realize all of the problems I know of are rather minor. Updating them all and communicating all of the changes in a timely format... still overwhelming, but certainly manageable. 

This is a ground up production launch. There is no such thing as a smooth ground up design production launch from the perspective of inside the factory. All of the emotion, the drama, the frustration, is to be expected when the designs of thirty people are suddenly subjected to 150 sets of hands doing all sorts of things we don't understand. This is the engineer's battle. This is his experience. This is why experience matters, because it's only painful memories that describe why we need 10 mm minimum between moving surfaces, even when they are machined. My oh my, what I have learned about clearances and tolerances the last month. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

One Thing at a Time

Just do one little thing. Block away interruptions for just 15 minutes and knock it off. Just one thing. The world can wait. How were the pyramids built? One piece of stone at a time. How do Olympians win medals? One day of practice, one exercise, one repition at a time. 

The world is full of distractions. The only way you are going to finish that to do list is to prioritize, and do the thing at the top.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


It's funny, engineers have a reputation for being technical, and being specific detail oriented people, but often we just make it bigger. No concrete numbers to get everything right on the first physical prototype, we just make it bigger and hope. Yes, there is a lot of math and it is often specific, but as often as not, we make it bigger by some random percentage. 

Sometimes I look at old structures, bridges to machinery, and I see parts of them that are critically too small, just by looking. Spending three years doing FEA I've come to view joints, transitions and structures differently than I used too. 

By going bigger, in diameter for example, one can use a thinner wall for the same amount of strength. The end result is generally a lighter structure because the materials optimize the second moment of inertia with material where it is needed and less where it isn't. This a large part of why cars have grown. Old cars could not handle the crash safety standards that new cars can, and by the same token you could probably punch a hole in a new car's sheet metal far easier than a 40 year old car, providing it didn't rust away. Corrosion resistance is a whole other issue, that has improved in the recent past. To be honest, as an engineer, I see a good case to be made for buying new vehicles, the technology used to develop them is able to find more problems than earlier vehicles. Making things simply bigger is a most basic aspect of newer, more tested, structures, and it is a microcosm of the volume of engineering that is often thrown at the problems of the day. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

No Experience, No Empathy

Africa, unemployment benefits, taxes, etcetera. People typically don't empathize with things they have not experienced, let alone things they can only relate to through another person. This isn't always the case, but more often than not we like to believe that our situation is the hard one people need to empathize with.  

The best way to change these perceptions, experience. The proverb, walk a mile in his shoes before you judge him, is as true as ever. My challenge to you is to experience something outside of your comfort zone, a different culture or social circle, so that you might be able to empathize with them. We don't all have to agree, but being able to relate to each other is a huge step toward simply understanding each other. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

I Live in Iowa: Week 190

Another busy week. Actually, I'm pretty sure my issues are past their peak, now it's just about making the updates to make them work. I worked 51 hours, which is the least of the last four weeks. Yes I worked on Saturday again, but we didn't start as early or end as late this week, so not so many hours.

I did manage to catch a cold, that gave me a sore throat and made me awfully tired. Not sure if it was a virus, the stress at work the week before, running and skiing a lot over the last week in January or what. It doesn't matter really. Any of those factors has made me sick in the past, and together, I might as well admit defeat. That being said, I didn't have any sick days, which is good, but I only ran three days this past week. One of the "days off" I cross country skied for 2:45, which is a long time, enough I didn't feel the obligation to run afterwards.

Ran 22 miles, which is less than half of the week before, but getting sick and some fresh snow kept me inside after work several days. I am physically not injured, which is good news. Just getting through the winter healthy is a challenge, and this week was about as difficult as it usually gets.

A tiny bit of socializing, our church had a trivia night, and so I went to that Saturday night. It was fun, we had our laughs and we grew to know each other a little better.

I'm still sick, so this isn't going to be the longest post ever.

I am rapidly approaching four years here in Dubuque, and it's strange! This is becoming a place I have lived longer than other places like Missouri, Oklahoma, and Ohio which all contributed in some way to who I am now.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Not My Problem

"It's like circling quicksand." He related when we discussed it not being my job. You can always do more, and someone will be there to always take more. 

We all want to feed the machine. After all, if the machine doesn't run, eventually there will be no income, and we won't have jobs. Yet, the quality has to be right, and you can't master it at 100 miles per hour. How we got to the moon in 1969 I may never understand. Thousands of people must have burnt out and gotten divorced. Hundreds of people probably died in accidents somewhat related to the Apollo program. 

In the heat of an intense event, perhaps mountaineering or business, there is a list of critical issues that must be solved, and a much longer list of minor issues that conspire to stop forward progress. Part of that prioritization process in business involves saying things like "not my problem" or "we have more important issues to solve right now" and neither is a cop out. In both cases your are giving the issue credibility, in one handing it to a person better qualified to make the decision, and in the other giving the issue time later to be solved while more pressing issues are solved first. In many ways the clarity of the high risk situation is addicting. There is no ambiguity. There are the pressing needs, now, and there is everything else. 

The last month has been, revealing. This experience too will provide things for me to learn for months and years to come. Going through a ground up product launch is not easy. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Do It Yourself

Seriously, I can't do it for you. 

Awhile ago, before this madness that is my work situation started, the manager said, "we are there to be the extra people needed to get the job done, we are not there to replace anyone." I didn't understand until this week. You know what? People are already trying to get me to do the work of other people. It took a few weeks for me to realize it, and of course it is a transition as I was very needed. But the point is now I realize it, and the phrase, "not my problem" is going to come out of my mouth more in the coming weeks. So do it yourself. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Work Stress or Work Challenge?

I read a great little article from the CDC last week about workplace stress. In short, challenge is the little bit of stress that makes us step up our game and relaxes us when we finish it. Stress is the overwhelming thing that just never seems to go away. All this that is a consternation in my work life now will pass away.

I think, that this time in my life is really just a challenge. It is like the final exam after living in Dubuque and working here for nearly four years. I have learned so much and now is the once in 20 year chance to put it all together. And frankly, I'm getting it done. Everyone says I'm doing a really good job. I've earned more credibility out on the factory floor than many others. People, up the hierarchy and down the hierarchy are coming to me with questions, because I often have answers. It is totally engaging, in the sort of way that I can only worry about what is happening in the moment, because when I try to worry about something longer term than that, I don't have the time to get it done.

Don't let any of this scare you. I often put things in writing worse than they actually are. I explained at work to a colleague that was shocked how negative I was being, that my highs are high, but my lows are low. Usually I try to keep it very positive, but when things turn for the worse and I can't hold the negative in, it's going to spill out, and not just a little bit of it. After all, my definition of vacation involves a 2% chance of death which I view as a challenge, not a stress at all. The other side of it is, I am trying to communicate better. Every person on my team is either feeling the same way, or blaming others.

In high school I asked my scoutmaster, a mechanical engineer, "Is your job stressful?" And he answered with the very well thought out words, "anything you want to be good at will be stressful at times?" As I live that I know, it is true.

Monday, February 2, 2015

I Live in Iowa: Week 189

Hands down one of the most stressful weeks of my career, if not my life considering how much I bundle my self-esteem into my work. Why was it so bad? Well, I have visibility to several things before they rise to the point of affecting the whole team. Whether or not it is my responsibility to look at them in as much detail as I have been, I don't know, I'm just trying to be thorough. Anyway, I'm making calls on what is acceptable and what we need to rework. Twice this week I got it wrong, like really wrong, major delays to the entire group.

Maybe I'm not entirely to blame, in fact I think a lot of the blame can be placed on other people, but I feel responsible, and while feelings are not fact, they sure feel like it. I've found that playing the blame game is something people really like to do. "It's not my fault, it's their fault!" We like to say when there are problems. Well, I internalize all of these issues and make them my own. The problem is, some of these issues surround components and subsystems that I have no idea about what is acceptable or unacceptable. I'm trying to give visibility to the people who would know better, but I'm not doing a great job at it, or maybe they aren't doing a great job of responding. Man, communication is always such a challenge.

The other side of it is, I feel like we are moving too fast to do a high quality job. So many of the things we are putting together have never been tested with each other. Many of the people working on these issues were not the people here two years ago, much less four years ago. There is a pressure to deliver on time, and to deliver a high quality product, and I'm afraid we can't have both, at least not this month, maybe next month. I'm spending more time simply identifying issues than I am solving them. I nearly have a quality engineer working full time just trying to document aall of the issues I am finding. 

To quantify this, of the 60 hours per week I am working, about 10-15 are spent reviewing these issues that are coming back to bite me, another 10-15 are mostly wasted standing around waiting for something critical to get done and watching that it does get done right, 15-20 are spent helping teach people how to do something, or checking they did it right, and the remaining 10-20 hours are spent identifying and reworking a slew of other problems that we aren't identifying until there is a problem. 

I know this is what I signed up for. I knew for the last 16 months that this winter was going to be stressful and difficult. And I know, if I make it out of this to this summer, I will call it probably the greatest accomplishment of my career so far. My hope is as we solve issues the pace of new issues will slow down. The standard goes that for every ten issues solved, another four show up. 

Running went rather well. I got 51 including taking Saturday off because I was so tired from work. I even did a 5k tempo in 17:50. While it felt fairly easy it did take some effort. This week of training looks not very good for running, but great for cross country skiing because we just had 10+ inches of snow! I already did close to three hours Sunday morning!