Tuesday, March 31, 2015

One Workout

What if, in the seven weeks leading up to a 24 hour running race you could only run one workout, what would it be? It's an interesting question, because it's kind of the ultimate in short term thinking, you've got one semi-significant practice session, what are you going to do? So often runners focus on the whole season, and getting in a variety of workouts, that sometimes the one thing needed to feel ready to go is broken down into three different workouts. That's not wrong, but it's worth asking the question, if you could only do one workout, what would it be?

There is a mental side to it as well, if you feel you did the one workout you needed, you're going to run a little better. For me that was 14.1 miles in 1:36 flat yesterday, which equates to 6:49 pace, and yes, my left fibula hurts this morning my quads were very sore last night. However, during the run, I didn't feel too bad, and it's well over a minute per mile faster than I expect to run for 24 hours.

So... I am as ready as I will be. These last 11 days are now about totally topping off the recovery and bone building. I don't know what will happen in Italy, but I do know it will be a learning experience, and a blessing, both a blessing for the opportunity, and a blessing for my performance.

In the words of the man I was named after, "...but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." - Isaiah 40:31

Monday, March 30, 2015

I Live in Iowa: Week 197

The rise, and fall, and rise again. I'll start off talking about work, just when I think that everything is calmed down, the factory can handle it by themselves, I end up spending four days in the factory, working overtime and going into the office on Saturday. Thus is life. The truth is, my stuff is going really well. The normal quality issues are issues, but the big designed in interferences are designed out finally. Already some of the updates I have worked on in the last few weeks are not really necessary, but will simply smooth the manufacturing process. It's really nice. I mean when I modify a profile to allow a little more access to a bolt on the machining fixture, they could do it with a wrench before, but now they will be able to do with with a battery socket drill instead of a wrench, in other words, much faster.

The other side of it, is the transition in "ownership" from the designers to the manufacturers. It's slow and painful, but then again we have been staring at this for four years in design, and they are only just really getting a good look now over the last three months. It's a lot to take in. It's a good lesson for me to learn hands on, seeing the group that feels ownership for the problems (design) work on transitioning that to the group that does not yet feel ownership for the product (manufacturing). It's kind of like coaching, you want to win the championship, but you need the athletes to want to win as well. So we're not quite there yet, but the process is transitioning.

Running, well I more than doubled my mileage this past week, from 6.4 to 13.5 miles. That's only in two runs, so I'm certainly headed in the right direction. My legs have been feeling quite strong. I'm getting ready later this week to go for a medium long run, which will basically be the only workout I will run in the lead up to the world championships. Only 12 days to race day from today.

What else is going on? Not much, I've been sleeping a lot. I passed 4000 points in Duolingo for learning German, which I can say, is quite a few points over the last four months. My guess is around 10,000 points will be about when I feel rather comfortable in German. Not fluent, and barely conversational, but sufficient to order food, find bathrooms, get a hotel room, get directions, and even read most signs. Maybe sometime this summer or fall.

I did spend a little time tightening screws and putting a rivet on my Insight because some of the pieces had fallen out over the last 13 years and I was just making it a little more aerodynamic. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Where is home for me?

I was asked a couple of times recently where I call home. Is it where my parents live? Is it where I live? Certainly the connotations of the word "home" leave something to be desired for the 28 year old single guy who's lived in ten states. Well, let's go down the rabbit hole.

I live in Iowa, as you might guess by the many "I Live in Iowa: Week XYZ" blog posts. I started the series out of surprise that I do in fact live in Iowa, also because weekly updates seemed the appropriate bite size quantity, and fitting to the length of time I expected to stay when I moved here. I didn't know how long I would stay, but four years was not exactly what I was thinking. Now that my 401(k) is vested and the project I have been working on for four years is all but launched, I stay because the sunk costs of relationships developed and the ease and comfort of my job make it easier to stay than to go somewhere else. Certainly people don't think about leaving "home" the way I think about leaving Iowa.

So perhaps where my parents have lived for ten years, in Wisconsin, is home? Well, I did spend about six months there in late 2010 and early 2011 and I go to visit for Christmas and other holiday's, but having spent much less than a year there, it's hard to call it home. The main friends I made there around my age, have either left, live somewhere else, or we might not be close enough to really call each other friends anyway.

When asked where I am from, an easier question, I simply say, "the USA". Yet home and where you are from are certainly not the same thing. Home, to me, seems to be a state of mind, a settling with your immediate environment, your house, your own bed, your family.

Ah, family, how synonymous home and family really seem to be for us? It is easy to imagine myself having a wife and children and living in a house that we call home, yet imagining such a time is as close as I have gotten to that idea. I have to live in the present. I cannot live my life feeling unfulfilled because I don't have those wife and children relationships. About two years ago I met a woman, divorced, two kids, my age and we had a nice hour long chat, one of the things she learned going through her divorce was that her husband, if she ever had another one, had to be "the bonus to her happiness" instead of the source of it. It's a really interesting thought. In the context of where "home" is for me, it is a way for me to say, perhaps home for me one day will be with a wife and kids, and that would be great, but I can't live my life hoping that "some day" I will have a home. Some day may never come.

Instead, I can take comfort from what I know will come, regardless of the path from here to there, and that is my home is in Heaven. That doesn't mean I won't have trouble with the earthly concept of home for the next 60 years or so, but it is a comfort, the comfort, because that home never changes, regardless of where I live or my relationships here on earth. In other words, "...we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." - 2 Corinthians 5:1

Friday, March 27, 2015

Agreement and Disagreement

This blog post is inspired by the upcoming 2016 US presidential election. In Iowa, it gets serious, way too early. I'm not going to go into specific issues, because those are often polarizing, and to write something decent about an issue takes a lot of research and several revisions, and I don't want to spend that long on it today.

One problem I face in political elections is that often the opposing candidates both stand for something I passionately support, and something that is just plain ridiculous. And how do you reconcile that? I mean, we vote for the person, good, bad and ugly. I mean, are we supposed to pick the least worst?

What is interesting about this concept is that politics simply exposes a few people's thoughts and ideas. Aren't we the same? We have friends that we enjoy, who we give lots of our time, yet how often does one have some crazy opinion on something that we have learned just not to ask about? How often can each one of us look in the mirror after having a group shoot down our idea again, and wonder, 'am I crazy to think this is a good idea?' Okay, so maybe this happens to me a bit more than other people, but I know other people have these moments where chocolate covered bacon sound like a good idea. (I had it, it's okay, I don't recommend it.)

I realize that the concept of agreement and disagreement extends to basically all relationships. There are issues where I don't agree with my coworkers. There are issues where I don't agree with the majority of my church. There are issues where I don't agree with other runners. You would not believe the anger in college over recovery foods and drinks we had one time... I have no advice for how to agree with people, how to align as a team. Well, maybe I do, try to see it from the other person's perspective. Also, if the issue is basically irrelevant to the ultimate goals, you can just stop arguing, or even agree to do it the other person's way, and then head off toward more important issues. That's actually something I gained from Boy Scouts, when people are arguing about navigating, just let them take the map and navigate, unless you think they have no idea what they are doing, in that case you take the map. (I took the map away from my parents when I was 14.) The point being, navigating is a very emotional thing, it's a responsibility, it's visibility to the whole group, and nobody likes wasting time backtracking or going the wrong direction. So it can lead to lots of disagreement.

There is no grand point I have today. I don't have the answers. Today I'm just pointing out how often agreement and disagreement seem to go together, and how challenging that can be. And the logical question is, 'why is it so difficult to find people, or even a person we are totally in agreement with?' That's probably an idealism I have about the world that I will not see in my short life on Earth. I suppose... recognizing imperfection is a step in gaining wisdom.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Gloves, Mittens, and Frostbite

I have a lot of gloves. Ten full pairs and three pairs of mittens. Welcome to the struggle against finger frostbite. Each pair fulfills a slightly different purpose, usually based on activity and temperature range.

Four of pairs of my gloves have some sort of leather on the palm and fingers for dexterous yet durable winter activities like mountaineering, or even shoveling snow. Each one has a different thickness for a different temperature range. It's hard to find a glove with more than a 20-30 degree Fahrenheit range. 

In order from thinnest on bottom to warmest on top is mountaineering/skiing on the left and running/camping/miscellaneous on the right.
My Gloves and Mittens
Naming them off first the mountaineering gloves. Black Diamond Scree, a great glove at warmer temperatures, breathable and tough. This has become my go to work glove for skiing or mountaineering when the temperature is above 20°F. REI One, maybe One Element glove, they don't make it anymore but another great glove. I wore this pair to 23,000 feet on Broad Peak in Pakistan and my mom even shortened the index fingers so they fit great. A nice durable soft shell with a thin leather palm and fingers. Outdoor Research Nuance, a woman's glove I bought used, that is also no longer made. It's a nice mildly beefy glove but below zero it usually lets my fingers freeze because the finger insulation is not great. I wore this glove to 21,000 feet on top of Mera Peak last spring after Everest. Valandre Oural down mittens I bought on sale way back in college maybe 2006. Warm, but tight around the wrist, they saw a lot of use in New Hampshire in the winter. Marmot Ultimate Ski glove I think? I bought it used at the Wilderness Exchange last winter specifically for Everest. Wow it's a warm glove. I have not had a chance to wear it and get cold fingers, not that I really want to. Two layers of thick leather and lots of insulation. Had Everest gone really well I could have seen myself wearing these on the summit, who knows I still could. Finally Outdoor Research Alti Mitt, the warmest mass produced mitten money can buy. I rarely wear these, even in subzero temperatures because they make my hands sweat, and I tend to have cold hands. This is a -20°F and below mitten. This is the 8000 meter summit mitten, most people use it. I assume I'll take them to the poles with me too someday. 

On the running side, thin Asics I rarely wear, thin Mizunos I wear all the time between like 30-45°F. Above 40°F running I usually don't wear a glove, but this Mizunos would be it. A pair of Black Diamonds with nice Polartec, but a terrible leather Palm that has distorted the whole glove and made it too tight, so I don't wear it often. Next up are the Saucony Nomads I wear all the time, it's a double layer thin fleece on the inside and a polyester spandex blend on the outside. I wear these things five months a year maybe five days a week when the temperatures are between 0°F and 35°F. Next is a pair of Manzellas, all fleece but a little too tight around the fingers so my fingers often get cold in these. Finally a pair of Peak Technology Gravity Mitt that my mom probably bought at Wal-Mart when I was in high school. Despite its lowly stature in a bin of name brand finger wear, it's a great mitten. I wear these things running when it's below 10°F, I also wear them shoveling and skiing. They have a fleece inner removable mitt then the outer mitt is a nylon/pvc vinyl canvas like material with Thermolite Plus fleece inside. It's a humble workhorse. I've had it for over a decade and it doesn't have a rip, and probably cost $15 when my mom bought it.

As a disclaimer, many of the gloves mentioned and linked to have changed since I bought them, so I do not guarantee that the glove you may buy actually matches the glove I have, and more importantly the performance of the glove I have. You could lose your fingers to frostbite.

Your experience may vary, gloves are a tricky part of the equipment for winter sports. I was asked recently to recommend a glove for a particular situation (0°F and below, in the mountaineering context), and I couldn't recommend one because I would probably bring 3-4 pairs of gloves/mittens for anything expecting 0°F and below.

If you want one pair of gloves/mittens for general purpose 15 to -15°F, which is a very common temperature range, go for a pair of insulated glove, with leather on the palm and fingers. If the temperature dips a little farther, your jacket probably has pockets to warm your fingers up between tasks. If it gets warmer, well, just carry a pair of thin gloves, they don't weight much but thin gloves when it's 25°F are much better than no gloves. You can't have it all with gloves and mittens.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

New Product Issues

A new product will never be perfect. It is so complex, that we have teams of people who's jobs it is to support production full time and deal with the long tail of issues and optimization. In other words, look at the picture below.

New Product Issues
I made this chart up based on my experience of a rough number of issues one might encounter in a large new product design and launch, and assuming that for every 10 issues solved, four new ones are created and the cycle time to solve an issue is 6 months. That is much longer than it takes to solve a typical issue, however, not all issues show up immediately, some require months of testing first. However this chart give a very good view of the challenges faced in designing and producing something. The point is, where do you draw the line and go to production?

When some companies meet their durability goals, that's it, they produce it as it is for the next decade without changing. However, as you look at the end of the long tail, those few remaining issues, you might not even know about yet. If companies knew what they were going to have to issue recalls for, they would change it before they launch the product, obviously. However, many other little issues often remain unsolved as cost compromises, things that fail just after the durability goals are met, or things that were not even tested before they were implemented in the final design. These issues are minor the vast majority of the time. They are the compromises that companies make to lower the cost of their product. I mean, if you want an invincible design, it will take a decade of testing, and cost far more than 99% of customers would be willing to pay. That being said, investing in quality is always a good investment because it increases customer loyalty when the product works well for a long time.

The challenge, for the leaders in such a program, is discerning as the program moves along with testing, how it is really doing. What problems are need to fix problems and what problems are nice to fix problems? For example, a car that receives a three star crash test rating out of five stars, is that good enough? If the battery life on an Apple Watch is only 18 hours, is that enough? Is it acceptable to use a new design without physical testing or virtual testing, just to go off of half a sheet of hand calculations done three months before going to production, because it is not feasible to make a prototype and test before production? These are all real discussions that have happened. Although you may never see it, and car companies often struggle to extol the benefits of the new model year car that looks exactly the same as the old model year, inside of those new model years are certainly little updates that improve the quality and reduce the cost. Every problem costs money to solve, which you could say creates the problem of too high of a cost.

The point being, the world could use more engineers. There is a lot of work to do, and as we solve progressively more complex problems, the future problems become even harder to solve, and thus we need more brain power.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

I Grew?

Getting back on my bicycle the last few weeks I initially had some knee pain. It was not major pain, but it was enough to make me feel uncomfortable. Great, knee pain from cycling and leg pain from running. This contributed to some of the negatively the last few weeks. I wondered, 'knee pain? from biking?' However, I quickly remembered when I had had similar knee pain from biking many years ago, it was because my seat was too low. So I took out my little torque wrench and adjusted my bicycle for the first time in three years I think, and raised the seat about 4 millimeters. Having done over 100 miles since then, I assume that raising the seat because my legs are longer is what I needed. I realize it's not a lot, but I'm 28 years old!

Our bodies are amazing things. We really don't understand them. We're attempting to map the human brain, but at every step of the way we are finding it is more complex than we originally thought. There are tens of billions of neurons in a human brain, and they don't all work the same in every person, from what we know so far. For example, if you are missing part of your brain you can train your brain to take on some of the functions of the missing part.

The point being, the physical experiment that is my body continues to amaze me.

Monday, March 23, 2015

I Live in Iowa: Week 196

Woohoo! I am on the rebound! Things are looking up. I am finding positivity again. This year has not been all sunshine and roses. Work has really been slowing down. Well, that's not the best description because even though I didn't work this weekend, the factory did work Saturday and Sunday, and several of my design engineering coworkers were down there to support them. However, for my particular areas of responsibility, the vast majority of the bugs have been worked out and we have reached some level of stability.

The product will never be perfect and we have teams of people to deal with the continuing issues of production and I am coming to grips with the idea that I am not one of those people to solve all of the day to day issues, at this point in time. There is so much more I could say, so tune in Wednesday for a blog post about new product issues!

Exercising was all over the place. I only ran twice for 6.4 miles. My left leg was hurting, so I backed off. I was so tired Wednesday and Thursday I took both days completely off, except for a couple short 20 minute walks. Then Saturday I bicycled for 3.5 hours over 53 miles. So... I need to be healthy, and if that means I don't run or bicycle for two days in a row, a rarity for me, then so bit it.

If anyone is looking to follow team USA at the 24 hour world championships in Italy in 19 days the Facebook page is probably the best place to go: https://www.facebook.com/US24HR

Friday, March 20, 2015

Bone Remodeling

The process of fracture recovery has several stages, immediate inflammation, soft bone callous formation, hard bone callous formation, and finally bone remodeling, which is the constant process of bone replacement. We have osteoclasts and osteoblasts that work to put material where we need it and not where we don't. I keep having this vision in my head of my bones on a microscopic level building cells and having strands of 20 cells thick new bone, that I try to run on and subsequently break. Patience, I tell myself. 

As I search for more meaning to this I stumbled upon an interesting theory. A year and a half ago, being vegan for 10 weeks I probably didn't get the calcium I needed while running 80+ miles a week. But it was so minor that no big deal. Then I went to Mt. Everest and again didn't get much calcium, and spent two weeks above 17,000 feet, not getting stronger. Coming home from that I threw myself into running high mileage and put my body into a program necessitating time off and never really took a few weeks off. Then I go to Colorado, wear tight boots and ramp up my running mileage and get stressed at work (hormonal implications) and then I'm broken. 

April and May are going to be interesting. I have already decided I'm going to take time off and try to heal from everything, physical and mental. I'm planning to work on my motorcycle, take walks, and let my bones remodel.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

My 401(k) is Vested!

Pretty huge milestone for me today, all of my employer's contributions to my retirement 401(k) are vested, which means quit or fire, they're mine! I don't talk about money often, but a few things worth mentioning, particularly to 20something because chances are no one ever told you these things. 

- A 401(k) is a retirement plan. You contribute part of your paycheck, and typically your employer contributes some money as well. 
- It is important for you financial future to get all of your possible employer contributions. For example, the employer might match every dollar of your contributions up to 6%. So if your salary was $2000 a month, you could contribute $120 a month and your employer would contribute $120 as well. It's okay to contribute more than the employer match, but you aren't getting any "free money" for contributing more than the match. 
- This money is somewhat difficult to get at until you retire so it doesn't count as your emergency fund or new car fund. 
- When you leave a job, you can take all of the vested portion with you. It has to remain in a retirement account, like an IRA, but it does not have to stay in the previous employer's 401(k) plan.

Basically the two important things are, get the full employer match, and don't leave the company before it is vested. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Practicing Patience and Humility

The more we practice the more confident we seem to grow in our abilities. The more confident we grow, the less humble we usually are. Setbacks are a great time to practice our humility, because we just got humbled. They are also a time we are forced to practice patience. Assuming the goal is still possible, but will just take a little longer, we must be patient to keep along the path and accomplish the goal.

Remembering to be patient when things are moving quickly, and humble when things are going well, will help calm the emotions and avoid some of the poor decisions that lead to stock market bubbles, or stress fractures. There is no guarantee you won't go off the deep end, but putting some patience and humility into the "irrational exuberance" that we easily are caught in may just help you realize that the next step will be over your head.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I Cry

The last three weeks have been emotional. I think you probably gathered that if you read my last few weeks of blogging. So I'm going to share some of the things that have elicited emotion from me lately.

Proverbs 3:5-8
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh[b]
    and refreshment[c] to your bones."

What's interesting about that is that I was reading it in reference to the first two verses, specifically, "do not lean on your own understanding." As a scientist, as an athlete, I am inclined to believe that things like a stress fracture do not happen randomly, but because of a trauma, case closed. Yet, experience has taught me there is often much more to learn than I wore my mountaineering and ski boots for three long days in a row, before ramping up my running and cross country skiing mileage. Certainly that is a lesson to be learned, but seriously, I've been a lot harder on my body before and it hasn't broken like it did this time. So I'm legitimately blaming stress at work, loss of sleep due to work, and the chemical changes in my body because of that exertion, so I suppose there is a lesson to be learned there too. Yet, it does not equal my own understanding though. A stress fracture? I have only run two workouts in 2015! I haven't been over 60 miles per week since early November, this still does not totally make sense to me.

I watched the latest Hunger Games movie twice the weekend before last and cried both times. Are you kidding me, the Hunger Games?! That is not a manly thing to admit to. I mean, men cry during Braveheart, maybe Forrest Gump or the Green Mile, but the Hunger Games? However the story of this person of which much is expected, who has her strong moments, and her significant vulnerabilities, and is losing her naïveté resonates. It's like when Americans visit legitimately poor places in the world and cry afterward because we could do so much more, but we aren't, and we feel we are expected to do more, not by anyone else, but in our heads we know exactly how we are failing to help others.

I am telling you this because I fear people thinking of me as someone who it all comes easy for. Life, school, work, running, maybe I do well at these things, but they don't come easy to me. They chew me up and spit me out so I end up crying at the Hunger Games on the weekend. Okay, so maybe that's a little unusual because I have a stress fracture, but it happens.

Monday, March 16, 2015

I Live in Iowa: Week 195

Ugh, well that week is over. Ha, not a good week. Wednesday learning I had a stress fracture/stress reaction was a huge let down. I mean, that was the consensus so far, but when the specialist says it, it basically means, yep, you're not running like normal for quite awhile. This puts a damper on my goals for the world championships for sure.

Work was work. Overall, big picture it's going really well. We're probably going to become the model for other programs, but from the trenches we made so many mistakes, and to a small extent continue to make mistakes. I have learned so much through the process. 

Wednesday when I wrote, "I'm Broken, Again" it started off very factual and ended up quite personal and emotional. I have deleted articles like that before, but I kept it because I am not the first person to go through something like this and I want to lay out my decisions for others that end up in my situation to see. Desiree Linden had nearly an identical issue before the 2012 Olympic marathon, although I would call her injury much more serious. You can search for her story. The thing is we work so hard to get here, it's not the kind of thing you just cancel at the first sign of an issue. 

About the shortest weekly summary ever.  I ran only twice for a total of 14.7 miles and I bicycled the other five days for about 110 miles, all outside. It warmed up into the 50s this past week. I hope you had a more positive week than me.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

You fall asleep at 7 PM too?

Funny story, a coworker said he fell asleep on the couch the night before at 7 PM and didn't get up until 5:30 AM. At which point the other three of us in the vehicle on the way to the factory shared similar stories over the last couple months. Turns out it wears on multiple people, not just me. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Is That It?

We took "the picture" today. This is the picture with the CEO, presidents, managers, engineers, 50 person assembly line, and people who I'm not sure how they contributed to the program that happens at the end of the program with the first customer products. Don't worry, I was in the front row. 

After it was over and we ate lunch, I felt empty. I felt that let down after finishing something, even though we are far from finished. I have worked on this project the last four years, probably 85% of my total time at this company the last four years. This is "the picture" that will hang on the wall the next 15+ years and new people will look for familiar faces and only recognize a few. As I stood there, noticeably absent, in my mind, were several people that played a critical role over the last four years. This picture which I always thought would represent the team that made this happen, and the people that would keep it happening, in my mind did not represent those contributions well. Sure, many, probably most, of the key people were there, but certainly not everyone. 

I realized, once again, it's about the people, the relationships, and this slice of time and place represented on the photo doesn't begin to tell the story of the journey of the last four years. For that, you had to live through it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

I'm Broken, Again.

Well the fourth doctor I consulted for my leg injury, the specialist, said the same thing the other three did, it's a stress fracture. @#$%

This started after my week in Colorado skiing and climbing. Specifically wearing my Olympus Mons boots with only a pair of compression socks for something like 15+ mile of hiking over a few days, plus I spent time in ski boots. So my lower leg basically on the fibula, has been sore all year, and then two weeks ago it felt especially bad. Bad enough for me to cut a run short. So I started seeing the doctors, first an internist I had never met, Dr. C #1. She did a very nice job, sent me for an x-ray didn't see anything on the x-ray, so sent me to a specialist. I was upset over the seeming run around and call waiting every time I go to the doctor, so I complained to my friend Dr. S. who had told me last year about his daughter's stress reaction (essentially the same as a stress fracture) and suspected I had the same.

Then I went to see my chiropractor Dr. J, although he goes by Dr. D, and he bent and twisted my foot like everyone else to elicit only minor pain. Then he tried this tuning fork thing. He hit the tuning fork and pressed the handle of it against my bone. First he did a fibula, and the whole thing felt like it was tingling or vibrating a little. Then he pressed it against my tibia (the big bone in the lower leg) and it felt like my leg was dampening it. It basically felt the same as just pressing anything against my leg. I dismissed it at that point because one of the bones is huge and the other is small. Then he put it on the knuckle of my middle toe, a tiny little bone, and it felt exactly like my tibia! At this point I almost jumped off the table because the injured bones felt so incredibly different than the healthy bones. He said it was a sure sign it was a bone problem with my fibulas.

Fast forward another 12 days (12 days!) I finally saw the specialist Dr. C #2. I told him where it hurt, he played with my ankle, looked at the x-ray and thought it was still a stress fracture/stress reaction. Then I opened up and told him about the chiropractor visit and that I had the same injury in 2010. He offered to do an MRI, but said we likely wouldn't see anything. So I pushed him, several times, to give me a percentage that he thought it was a stress fracture and he came back with 95%. I went in thinking that any confidence from the specialist more than 80% would be enough for me to skip further expensive testing.

So I guess technically, I have a broken leg, or maybe two broken legs.

Sorry I don't have better pictures to show. I wish that this didn't happen 31 days before I toe the starting line at the 24 hour world championships! I thought about dropping out and letting an alternate take my place, but as of right now, I'm staying in. Sunday I ran 10 miles and the last one was a 6:27 that Strava said was like a 6:02 because of a little hill. So I'm not in bad shape, I'm just injured. Plus, about five weeks after my 2010 diagnosis I set the former 93 mile long and 23,000 feet of elevation gain and loss Wonderland Trail unsupported fastest known time.

I know I have been very snappy with people this year. A lot of that is the 50+ hour weeks in the factory I have been working and feeling that the optimism is just drained out of me because of our, and often my, repeated engineering failures. Plus, all year I have been battling this leg pain, knowing that I am running the 24 hour world championships, that's not a happy thought. People keep bugging me to buy plane tickets for this trip or that, asking me for answers, and I can't do it all!!!!!

I just want to curl up in a ball, cry and drink hot chocolate. I feel so much happiness, experience, or whatever, for other people, depends on me, and I struggle with that. My mom and my sister are going to Italy with me. My family rarely even drives down to Dubuque to see me, but they're paying thousands of dollars to fly to Italy to watch me run slow for a full day. I guarantee that the quality of the products we have been working to launch is much higher because I have been there to catch issues, send the issues back to those people able to actually correct them, and to correct my own design mistakes. When I am not in the factory on a work day I feel like an unproductive zombie, which is to say, the production line = urgency. I have friends that want to take a mountaineering trip, and use me as the guide, and I want to go, but what if I break my fibula in two April 12th? At work sometimes I think of it as decision fatigue. I can't make all of these decisions, and do a decent job of it. I can't make everyone happy, despite my best efforts. I am broken.

My world, at least most of the things I blog about are about failure and failure and failure. Failure is hard. Failure hurts. We live in a world where people see some success (occasionally me) and want to latch onto that. Yet failure is more common than success if you are aiming for something difficult. I think people read this sometimes to hear about motivation and successes, but lately all I have had is failure. I'll show you failure, getting a stress fracture before the longest event that USA Track and Field sends a team to.

If was just a race, I would certainly do excellent, even on broken legs. When you morph it into this family trip to a foreign country, when work is going 60 hours a week, and I'm on an official team for the first time since 2009 (Team USA of all things), it turns into much more than just a race. It turns into an attempt to try to make everyone happy. Just to make sure we're all on the same page, it is quite possible I fly to Italy, run a few laps, a few miles, maybe half an hour, then quit, go back to the hotel and cry for awhile before enjoying a very nice sleep in my Team USA clothing kit. I get to keep all the clothing after I start the race, until then it's just loaned to me. So a DNF is okay, but a DNS is not in this case. Call it a poor attitude, unfair to the first alternate runner, but it's my privilege. I can't live my life trying to please everyone all the time. I fail myself often enough. I don't need the thought of failing you bugging me too.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

How to Plan Realistic Timelines

In 2004 I decided I wanted to try to attempt to climb Mt. Everest within 10 years. In 2014, I attempted Mt. Everest, sort of. I never took a step above base camp, but then again unless you tried to climb on April 18th or earlier, no one went above basecamp. How in the world can a teenager set a goal, a decade in the future, and reach it, on time? I will tell you.

  • Set a goal you want to achieve. Sure it's a pretty basic idea, but if the end result isn't something you really want, quit wasting your time. Because regardless of the goal, there will be times you want to quit, do something else, are plain sick and tired of thinking about it, and just want to escape. If you are fully committed, then when these times come you can acknowledge them and then promptly ignore them and continue with the plan.
  • Do your research. If your goal is something that other people have done, it's a known quantity, it can be repeated. What did it take for the first person to achieve that goal? What does it take for the average person today to achieve that goal? How long does the planning and preparation for the actual event take? How long does the preparation leading up to the event take? For example, it takes a month or more to actually buy a house, but leading up to that you need good credit and a big cash downpayment which might takes years of saving and paying bills on time.
  • Be realistic. My definition of realistic involves world records, space travel and a host of other things most people laugh away, but even then I know of plenty of things I am not going to do. Anything is possible, and it's important to remember that, yet we each have skills and talents and sometimes after frittering away at something it makes sense to say, "not going to happen for me" and move onto the next thing. There is a reason I run and climb mountains rather that try to do something I am terrible at, I would rather be extremely good at something, and use the gifts I have rather than waste time at something I will never master. 
  • Give yourself more time to achieve the goal than you think you need. Everest is expensive. More expensive than many new cars. More expensive than a decent downpayment. I knew it would take time to save the money. I also knew I needed more experience before I attempted it. Going to Broad Peak in 2009 was the expedition I felt I needed to gain experience. It cost around a quarter of Everest, and would give me a lot of experience, and it did. I figured after that that 2012 was the most likely year for me to be ready to go to Everest, but unemployment in 2010, delayed that to 2013, and then a variety of money related factors delayed that to 2014. Knowing what I know now, with the skills I have, I feel I am less than two years away from doing any of the major endurance or high altitude challenges in the world be they row across an ocean, swim the English Channel, ski across Antartica, or whatever. In fact, if I put my mind to it, I could probably prepare for and do some of these events in less than a year. 
  • Experience counts for a lot. In my opinion people that plan timelines that run past their milestones typically are inexperienced, work with inexperienced teams, or as I mentioned above aren't being realistic. So if you are trying to plan some sort of timeline, and you want it to be realistic you absolutely must take into account the experience of the team, or of yourself. Less experienced people = more mistakes and a longer learning curve. I almost died three times between 2003 and 2009 while learning mountaineering. I never want to repeat any of the those three circumstances. Now I know what to look for and what little signs led up those mistakes. Obviously many goals do not have the death risks of mountaineering, but death clearly illustrates mistakes better than poor engineering datum structures. 
  • Create intermediate milestones. One of the requirements for swimming the English Channel I have not fulfilled yet is a six hour swim in waters below 60°F. It's something that must be done before hiring a guide boat and assembling a crew. Much more manageable than actually swimming the channel. With Everest I learned rock climbing, ice climbing, snow skills, camping skills, money saving skills, weather skills, team work, and persistence. Each little skill had to be learned before I felt confident attempting the highest mountain in the world. Unfortunately many people do not learn these skills before attempting Everest, and that is why people go there to die. Oh they don't think of it as going there to die, but they expect a certain level of support at 8000 meters that is just plain unrealistic. 
  • Be patient. It is so easy to be impatient and want to achieve things as quickly as possible. This is not the way life works. There will be setbacks in any goal worth achieving. My dad had to ask my mom several times to marry him before she took him seriously. The first time he asked, my mom had not even told her mom, my grandma, that she was seeing anyone. After that kind of rejection I would probably go running for the hills and never talk to her again. So it was with Everest as I planned trips to Mt. Rainier, El Pico de Orizaba, Denali, and numerous times to the Presidentials in New Hampshire that fell through, and I did not gain experience as fast as I wanted. We might want to list patience as something to exercise after missing a milestone in the lead up to a big goal, but patience is necessary in the setting of timelines and goals. You can't whip this stuff up in an afternoon. I was reading about Mt. Everest and mountaineering, and starting to climb and mountaineer for two years before I decided on attempting Everest within two years. It took me two years just to come up with the plan! Just ask about my 30 year plan sometime, I'm still working out the details, and to spoil the question, no I won't reveal anything even if you ask. 
That's all I can think of at the moment. To me these apply to bussiness as well as they do to climbing Mt. Everest or running on Team USA at the world championships. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

I Live in Iowa: Week 194

We're creeping up eerily on 200 weeks in Iowa. Wow. I've lived here almost as long as I have lived anywhere.

Having a weekly column, even if it is very self centered, helps me parse the week up into accomplishments, lessons learned, future direction and progress in general. Maybe that seems obvious, but sometimes it's worth saying the obvious. I fear getting stuck in a rut. I fear not being innovative and not pushing what is possible. This weekly update is one small way to help motivate myself.

Work become a hassle again. We technically had an "off" week, with only about 40% of the assembly line working, specifically working on reworks. However, it meant I was in the factory five full days and then a few hours in the office on Saturday, getting the other stuff done, the stuff that I consider part of my normal job as a design engineer. Yep, after several weeks of not working overtime I worked overtime again. This week the plan is to go to overtime for the assembly line, which most likely means I'll work overtime again. Hopefully some of the mistakes we had been propagating will not be propagated this week, thanks to the down week last week. Although I fear for this week. We have reached a short term stability which is to say, we are building products at a moderate pace with moderate quality. The goal is to build products at a fast pace with high quality, and I am afraid we just aren't there yet. This is the worst, and best ground up product launch I have been a part of. (I was part of a small product launch two years ago, but it wasn't exactly ground up, it was much much smaller scope, and we did some things differently, which I feel greatly helped. So it is hard to compare the two directly.)

I have a new great respect for ground up new products, and companies too. Tesla, wow! It is amazing what they have done in such a short time! The fact that their model X is delayed again, ha, that's small potatoes, and it only speaks to raising the quality of the vehicle, and the ignorance of the people that set the original timeline. Same great respect for SpaceX. Programs often take longer than they are initially planned to last. I am happy that setting a goal of ten years to get to Everest, I met the goal with months to spare. This is spurring other ideas, tomorrow I will blog about timelines.

Exercising was not my proudest week. I don't even want to give any numbers. I only ran 11 miles in two runs. I spent seven hours on the bicycle and two hours on XC skis and took one day completely off because I was tired. I feel like I am trying to fake the 24 hour world championships. However, as I always say: 1. Stay motivated, 2. Stay Healthy (having trouble with this one now) and 3. Train Hard (oh how badly I want to sacrifice #2 for a little bit of #3 right now!) so I must be healthy if I will run and walk for 24 hours.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Aaannnddd done.

One of the things I really like about running and racing is the feeling of finality after something is done. The marathon is finished, the training cycle is done. Wrap it up, you finished the final exam, you're done. Graduations, semesters, attempting Everest, these things all have definitive end points. A production start is no such thing. After years of working on a project, then you start to build it, full time every day, and there are issues. 

As I contemplate my 2015, based on yet one more piece of evidence: I spent five days in the factory this week, I dread having to spend the vast majority of my year traveling an hour one way to the factory to sort out issues. Regardless of my actual schedule, I guarantee that every week for the next four months someone from my team will be in the factory at least one day with issues. That's not a bad thing, spending more time in the factory is a good experience, but in the past nine weeks I think I have spent 38 days in the factory, an hour drive each way. (Plus three days on a business trip and nine days in the office.) And this is the start. Nothing is finished. To say my designs are finished is naive. Designs are never finished. They've had the iPhone in production for eight years now, and they keep changing it.

So for today, we celebrate things that finish! 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

It's like Le Mans, for Humans.

I don't talk about my upcoming world championship appearance. I don't really talk about Mt. Everest either. I blog about them, but then I rarely publicize my blog. I don't care if you read it, I write this so that I can feel like I have expressed myself. 

I don't talk about this stuff because people don't understand. How do I describe that I ran for 24 hours and I only grew noticeably tired the last maybe four hours? How do I relate that I found the event so interesting I never listened to any music on my iPod? I mean I can tell people that, but they would probably complain about having to walk ten minutes one way or being bored on a three mile run. 

So I try to find amusing ways to describe the event when I am inevitably asked about it. After going to Germany in December I have spent more time learning about sports cars and race cars, because the Autobahn was so cool. Most people have the attention span of a drag race, basically a sprinter. Others maybe a NASCAR or F1 race, which is more like a 10k or marathon foot race. On the other hand a 24 hour run... It's like Le Mans, some people are going to break before they get to the finish (hoping it's not me). A good portion of the race happens in the dark. In fact how the night goes may define the majority of the final results. I also like this example because most people have actually never done one thing for a strait 24 hours. I hadn't until my one previous race. I had a 22 hour day on Longs Peak once climbing the Diamond, 20:15 car to car. 

Just imagine trying to race a car for 24 hours. Fuel, tires, driver changes, any mechanical issues, rain, sun, wind, and it's a race! You're going at a pace that you fully expect the engine might blow up and the frame crack at 24 hours and one minute. You have to be crazy. Then again, simply trying to drive 200 miles an hour is insane. What if you hit a deer?

So I'm taking my naturally aspirated 67 ml/kg/min engine and 28 year old chasis with a top speed of 16 miles per hour, with the wind, to the most competitive 24 hour race of 2015.  This is going to be fun! Rev your engines! But! Of course keep the speed below 8 miles an hour, otherwise you will surely blow an engine. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Relationships are Built on Your Time

This production launch has taught me a lot. I have earned a lot of factory credibility, which not all of the design team can say. Some of them are better deaigners than I yet, when it comes to getting something done even supervisors (not mine but others) and managers come to me to get it done because I can push it through faster than nearly anyone else. And the only reason for that credibility on my side is that is that I have spent so much time in the factory the last four months. I didn't win anyone over with my skills or ingenuity, I won them over with my time. 

The saying, "walk a mile in someone's shoes before judging him" is because we often do not understand what we have not experienced. That goes both ways. It's not just me not understanding him, it's him not understanding me. And us spending time together provides an opportunity to understand each other. So when I want to get something done, that person will better understand where I am coming from because we've talked so much. It goes the other way too. When he requests a change from me, I'm very willing to accommodate. 

The depth of a relationship may not be based on the sheer number of hours spent together, but it does take hours to develop a deep relationship. Life is about our relationships. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Fantastic Experience!

This production launch has been the highlight of my short engineering career. Regardless of the outcome, even if it's a total flop, I have learned so much. How much clearance do we need? What dimensions are important? Why can't we just have one option instead of four? Tolerance stack up. The list of lessons is long. For this health degrading, stressful, tiring, train wreck of an experience (bit of an exaggeration) I am thankful. 

My advice to future engineers: be part of a production launch as soon as you can, and further more, understand the product you work on.

Monday, March 2, 2015

I Live in Iowa: Week 193

Work is winding down. We are not finished with the trials of this project, but it is the marathoner bursting into the Olympic stadium feeling strong with no one in sight behind him (I'm thinking Sammy Wanjiru style). The race is not over, but it kind of is. I did not work overtime, for the third consecutive week and I spent three days in the office and two and in the factory, by far the most time I have spent in the office in 2015. That being said, a number of people are still in the factory full time five or six days a week because the way my company distributes responsibility is very much non-linear with a select few getting more than some of the rest of us. In short, work is going much better for me. I'm not thinking about it continually. I even spent a few hours beginning to work on the next project, which will take 2+ years.

I realize that my lamenting over my injury has consumed a fair bit of real estate the past week and I want to get a few things out there.

  • My plane tickets and hotels have been paid for, and my uniforms ordered, I'm going to Italy.
  • I may have the propensity to blow things out of proportion sometimes, and some issue in my fibula (which is basically a non-weight bearing bone) is not going to stop me from competing in my first world championships, or training for it. I can probably do 200 km on it no problem.
  • All of the evidence so far points toward a bone problem, although the visual evidence of that has not been confirmed, the doctor I am seeing in 10 days is supposedly the best sports medicine guy in town, and comes recommended by multiple sources in my medical community.
  • After my exhortations on this blog the last week I retreated to reading the Bible and praying and I've come to the understanding that ultimately this race is not what defines me, it is a blessing, and an opportunity to share that nothing is impossible with God. That is not to say I'm going to win this year as I would like, but my journey from a quite slow middle school and high school runner to national champion and international competitor despite the injuries, and other priorities that sideline so many more physically talented runners, is an example of what is possible. 
The world IAU 24 hour championships is like the human Le Mans race. Basically, I feel like I am going into it with a crack in the frame in a non-critical area and a worn out suspension rod. Or you could say no headlights, although my eye sight is fine. The point being everyone comes to this race with the baggage of years of training, a history of injuries, and for many of us, less than stellar winter training weather the past few months. I may not get the world road record of 290.221 km (180.33 miles) like I had hoped a few months ago, but that doesn't mean I can't compete. 

I only ran 16 miles this week, but I did get out cross country skiing once for a few miles and I bought a bicycle trainer and did two hours on it to break it in. 

In other news, I've been going to sleep especially early. I went to bed before eight once this week and before nine, two other times! I think the emotional drain of work the last couple months, and now the emotional drain of this injury have conspired to exhaust my mental desire to stay awake. 

I hope you had a good week. Although, I hope that in some way you might also have bad weeks sometimes, like my past week, because the hard times help us appreciate the good times so much more!