Saturday, October 22, 2011

Tough Mudder

This morning I ran the Tough Mudder event out at Wintergreen (site of the recent UROC). It really was quite fun, and I'd honestly be tempted to run another (probably not tomorrow, even if they did offer us 50% off).

Originally, I decided to do the run because some folks from work were putting a team together (there's been a fair amount of joking about the electrocution obstacle for the past few months at work). However, it didn't quite work out as a team event for me... by yesterday, one of the guys had bailed, and I had created a scheduling conflict for myself, so couldn't make our designated wave start. The remaining team members had afternoon commitments, so couldn't really wait for me. I figured I'd just go down anyway and see what happened.

What happened was that nobody cared at all about assigned start times, which was nice. You show up, check in, drop your bags, and start whenever you want, basically (I think they really wouldn't stop you from running it multiple times on the day, if you were so inclined). So that was good. I started with the noon group, which I quickly moved toward the front of, on account of starting off basically going up a ski slope. I was surprised (perhaps because I'm not too bright) by all the people walking so much throughout the day. Ok, sure, I can understand not trying to run up a ski slope (though I've recently decided I sort of like testing my going up-ability), but... 10 minutes in I had already caught up to some folks from the wave ahead of me, and I think waves were separated by about 20 minutes. Anyway, I rarely mind passing people, especially on hills, so I'm not complaining.

I was fairly nervous about some of the obstacles (beyond electrocution). I don't have much in the way of upper body strength, so things like 'Get over a 12 foot wall', 'Carry a log up a ski slope', 'Cross monkey bars over a water pool' (the temperature was in the 50s today) had me a bit anxious. I surprised myself with the monkey bars (namely, I made it), and the logs weren't just cut to size assuming people would be in groups (probably I could have picked up a solo from another group, if I'd needed to, but they had individual-sized logs too).

The 12 foot wall I only made it over because there was a great amount of camaraderie among the runner participants, especially at the obstacles. At one of the first obstacles, it looked like some volunteers were there holding up some cargo net to help us sort of get started/finished. What confused me was they had bib numbers on. It took until a later obstacle for me to realize that it was just other participants, helping out (not just helping out their teammates). So at the next cargo net I tried to do my part as an anchor (like I had any idea how to do that, but I tried to do what other folks seemed to be doing), and at various walls I tried to offer what I could to get a few people up-and-over before moving on.

There was always the possibility of simply skipping an obstacle, but there were always lots of folks around the harder ones, which helps the motivation. It does lead to a fair amount of down time, waiting for your turn to try to run up a half-pipe, or get over that 12 foot wall, or crawl under the cargo wire. My overall time was 2:45 (which was probably reasonably ahead of the average - I heard several folks talking about 4+ hour times, and I don't think many people passed me), but I wouldn't be surprised if 20-30 minutes were just waiting around at obstacles. I definitely didn't mind the break, though. Even without the obstacles, that was a tough 10 mile run, with so much vertical gain and loss.

I got a little banged up, but nothing too bad. Mostly just my knees and shins picked up some scratches and light bruising from the crawling around at various obstacles (elbows were probably only spared because I wore long sleeves). I think I picked up a bruise on my hip at the slip and slide (did I mention it was in the 50s?), from the rocks underneath, but honestly that part was smoother than I expected. I'm guessing this is a reasonably typical Mudder experience (plus some additional knee pains on this course - ski slopes, people). My teammates who ran earlier than me, and I ran in to at the finish area, said they heard a guy behind them required medical attention for a broken leg (like, bone coming out of the skin broken). I heard some folks behind me requesting attention on one of the downhills, but I don't really know what the issues was.

The obstacles we actually had didn't exactly agree with the obstacles on the course map, though certainly the most memorable ones are on there, and it doesn't much matter. Mostly they weren't particularly scary, though there was certainly some scattered moments of concern on my part ('that looks like a big drop'). Interspersed between obstacles were a few aid stations. Mostly they seemed pretty simple (coming out of ultras which have had lots of tasty options) - bananas and water (I think there were occasionally some clif products). The water was mostly distributed in bottles (12 oz?), which sort of struck me. It was too much water to drink passing through the aid station, but more than I wanted to carry. I downed what I could, but generally ended up with at least a little left in the bottle before tossing it (ah, waste).

I didn't actually get electrocuted (and my teammate who said he did get hit said it wasn't really too bad), so, for me, the worst obstacle was the 'Chernobyl Jacuzzi' (I think I'm not alone in this assessment). Per the course description:
Jump in and out of an icy mixture of assorted carcinogens. The additional limbs you'll grow will surely help you on later obstacles.
The key word here is 'icy' (carcinogens maybe meant food coloring... I think my pool was purple). I mentioned it was in the 50s, right? So, this was one of the obstacles with a slight backup. We're standing there in line and see an earth mover sort of vehicle off to the side, coming up to the side of the shipping containers we're about to hop in. We notice the bucket it's about to dump is full of ice, and start yelling at the people ahead of us to hurry up. Alas. Ice was dumped, and then I got my chance to jump in. Damn that's cold. Oh, and there's barbed wire over a wooden divider in the shipping container, which you have to go under. Head fully under in icy water. Brrrr. I got out and took off in a run, trying to keep moving, and not thinking about the cold. One of the nice things at the event was that the cold (in general, not just from this obstacle) was anticipated, so they had lots of those metallic space blankets around (I don't envy the clean-up crew). I was able to mostly keep up a jog, so on the next up-hill in the sun, I didn't feel too bad. For folks taking things at more of a walking pace, the space blankets were (presumably) basically a necessity.

Tough Mudder bills itself as 'Probably the toughest event on the planet'. I'm honored to consider among my friends people who cover 100 miles on their own two feet in one go (up and down mountains, through deserts, ...) so I can't really say I agree with the Mudder's self-assessment. All the same, it's a fun, festive, generally well-organized event. There was some issue with drop bags today... though drop bags had numbers on them, and tables listed ranges of numbers for drop bags to expect there, the obvious system of putting bags where they should be didn't seem to be in affect today. I don't know how long I spent looking for my bag, and the bag of my teammate, but it was probably on the order of 20-30 minutes. That said, the organizers seem to be on their game, and sent out an apology in the afternoon (before I'd made it back to the parking lot), with a 20% discount if we register for another Tough Mudder in the next few weeks. Parking was well handled, the volunteers were all approachable and helpful.

So, there's that. And now I'm going to bed. Fear not the obstacles.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Questioning Running

On my run yesterday, and probably a fair number of other runs in the past, I was sort of wondering what I was doing. Why am I getting up between 5 and 5:30 to start an hour-long run (say) around 6:30, all before a full day of work? And maybe running in the evening? And probably waking up earlier on the weekend to run even longer?

These aren't particularly comfortable questions to be thinking about less than an hour in. Running on my own, around town, it becomes pretty easy to bail early on whatever mileage I had in mind for the day. Not exactly a good training strategy.

But then, what, exactly, am I training for? I'm not currently signed up for any runs at a mileage I'm unsure about. I've now got a 10k in a few weeks (as part of a team relay triathalon), and the Tough Mudder in October, but that's all I'm currently signed up for. I'd like to do Boston in the spring, but that's still a while.

The big race on my mind is the UROC 100k at the end of September. I know I'm not one of the "Champions", but the race is for anybody, and last year I decided that my goal for this year was to do the GEER 100k, which has become UROC. Of course, my goal also included the Bel Monte 50 miler in the spring, which I bailed on pretty early in. That means my longest run to date is 36 miles, and lately I've only been averaging about 60 miles a week. I'm supposed to translate that into 60 miles in a day, 2 months from now? I kind of doubt it. And my thought is that if I'm not sure going in that I can finish, and that I want it enough, that I'll just quit again. It's sort of what I do. "When the going gets rough, I'm getting out of here."

So I think maybe I've been questioning running a bit because I'm antsy about that race, afraid of failure and all that.

Yesterday, I was thinking that maybe the ultra running I've had my eye on for a while isn't something I actually want for myself as much anymore. Sure, I want to want it, but I'm pretty lazy. I was thinking that maybe I've been thinking for that past few years that I wanted to run ultras because I didn't like grad school. My last few years of grad school were... not good. Probably I was "running away," which, I reckon, ultras are probably good for (not that that's why everybody does them). Perhaps I'm not actually "running toward" any sort of goal like "testing myself" or for some sort of "real" experience. Now that grad school is finally over with, and I've got a great job that I love, maybe I don't actually feel the need to try to run 50, 60, 100 miles in a day. Maybe I could be perfectly happy spending some of the time I'd need for training on other things, like more programming, reading, learning to cook, being home so my cats aren't quite so lonely (and therefore obnoxious when I am around). Maybe I could be pretty happy running 50-60 mile weeks (less?) and occupying my other time/energy other ways. Stop stressing about making sure I get whatever miles in.

Maybe I'm just tired, either from not enough recovery time in my running, or the 57 hours on my last weekly timecard at work. Or maybe it's just the heat talking. After all, running to the tops of "mountains" makes the views that much grander, and whatever large meal afterwards practically justifiable.

Well, whatever. I took today off (from running). Perhaps I'll get my shoes on in the morning.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Outside the Academy

I recently gave a talk for the mathematics graduate seminar at the University of Georgia, since I was invited to by my old UVA roomie @christopherdrup, who is now a postdoc down there. The title of my talk was the title of this post, and was about my experience switching out of academia.

Unfortunately, some poor planning (why would anybody care to listen to what I have to say?) and verbal diarrhea obscured anything like a point that could have been made. I should have written this post before-hand, to get my thoughts together. Hopefully writing it afterwards will still be useful for somebody.

My point, if I'd focused a little, would have been something along the lines of: If you decide to stay in academia, that's great, and I wish you all the best. If you decide to get out, that's great too, and "real jobs" can be pretty awesome (crazy-better than grad school). This talk may not apply to you now (I wouldn't have listened my first year or two of grad school), but maybe store it somewhere in the background, because things change (I'd have listened two years ago).

I threw some slides together. You're not likely to get much out of just looking at them, since mostly it's just some random pictures. In what follows, I try to recount what I said (or should have, without so much babbling (hopefully)), with some indication about slide transitions.

I began (first content slide, Math) (well, after a quick intro about how I originally wanted to be a math prof, and now have a non-academic job I love), talking about how, yes, I do actually like math. I had a great time in grad school reading about continued fractions, and in the little reading group a few of us formed for number theory. Even at a broad level, the topic of my thesis work (the more involved expression on the slide) was interesting. I told them I wouldn't bother talking about what it was, since it didn't matter, which I think caught some of them by surprise.

However, I never really cared a whole lot about serious math research. I knew being a professor might involve having to do some research, but I was optimistic it could be about math education, or something. I know I never particularly cared about cohomology, or spectra, or spectral sequences, things that my classes for the last few years talked about. (transition on the first slide, to the sketch of the frustrated guy). I failed to mention that it wasn't so much an issue about just being wholly abstract and useless. That had never really bothered me. But I think when it was not only abstract and useless, but also frustrating and not fun, that's when it bothered me.

But that's ok (next slide), because mostly I was in grad school because I wanted to teach at the college level. Getting a phd seems to be a requisite step along the way, so I'd struggle through (a friend, recently, told me this was a stupid reason to go to grad school. I'm not sure about his rationale, besides liking to tell people they're stupid). Teaching was always what got me through. I think I mentioned that they'd need a reason to get through, because grad school is gonna suck a lot sometimes.

Unfortunately, a few years in (transition to the rows of desk), I started not appreciating the teaching gig either. I've come to refer to it as "institutionalized education", and I don't care for it at all. I lost the feeling that school was about the joy of learning, and that, instead, it's all about accreditation. Really a shame, but that's how I see it.

So now it all sucks. I came in liking math, and wanting to teach, and I no longer had either of those. Not a fun place to be. However, grad school wasn't all bad, and I did get a few useful things out of it. (next slide, Running) First up, running. Not much to say here. Physical exercise is probably good for you, and I encourage it, and running just happens to not require anybody else (mostly), and very little in the way of equipment. (next slide, News) Next up, a news habit. In undergrad, I know I was reading slashdot a little (I know this because I remember checking it in the computer lab where I studied abroad), but don't think I read much other news. Sometime in grad school I picked up a multi-hundred feed Reader habit, and it's one I have no intention of trying to break any time soon. I gave them a quick heads up about rss, and was encouraged that a few folks appeared to nod when I asked if anybody followed news this way.

In addition to running and reading and generally avoiding what I was supposed to be doing, I picked up a few side jobs (next slide). Not on this slide are things like: I taught the racquetball gym class one semester, and I worked as a tutor for athletes. But my first odd-job was working with Webwork (online homework system) with Jeff Holt, at UVA. He must have sent out an email to math grads, asking for folks that were interested in tagging webwork problems, so they could be searched and organized. At some point, when Jeff was going to be away for a year, they decided I could be the assistant admin the year before he left, and then the actual admin in his stead. This sounds more impressive than it is, and wasn't particularly taxing. But hey, I figured it'd be useful, because webwork's a cool thing, and I'd use it if I was going to continue teaching. Through Jeff, who has some connections at a publishing company, I got to do some "independent contractor" (I think it was called) work associated with the Rogawski calculus textbook. It started as working with their webwork problem library, debugging problems mostly, but eventually also included editing a chapter (for the second edition), and writing wrong answers for questions, for use with clickers.

More recently (last summer), I worked as an intern in software development at Rosetta Stone. I applied because the then-fiancee of one of the math grads worked there, and she suggested I apply (and acted as an awesome proxy for sending my resume in). I had a great time. I don't remember how much thesis work got done last summer (this is going in to my final year (ended up as final semester) of grad school), but my guess is not a whole lot.

At the end of the summer, I applied with Rosetta Stone to stay on (or come back?), half-time throughout the fall semester while I was still in grad school, and then starting full-time in January when I was done (either with a degree or not, I was pretty fed up with research, and had been for a while - even up in to November I almost told my advisor I was quitting). Also, on the suggestion of @drmathochist, I applied at a little place in Charlottesville, CCRi. I almost cancelled on the interview, since I basically knew Rosetta Stone would work out, and I'd enjoy it, but went anyway, and enjoyed it.

After sort of a crazy week(end) when I was debating between offers, I decided to go with CCRi (next slide, Outside (CCRi logo, boring slide)). I mentioned that maybe it's not the most typical company, but I don't really know about many others. It's a great small place, and the owner is a professor at UVA, so I think it's maybe closer to the academic end of the spectrum than other places. There's a laid back atmosphere, but lots of fun things to work on, and it's full of great people. I should mention that this was also my impression at Rosetta Stone. So while my idea of programming jobs might come from, say, Office Space, The Matrix, or Dilbert, there are other great jobs out there where you don't have to wear a tie or sit in a cubicle.

One of the things it was suggested I might talk about was what my typical day looks like (next slide). My schedule is pretty flexible, so I can get in whenever, and leave whenever, as long as I'm around for my 10am daily meeting (stand in a circle and say what you were up to yesterday, what you're planning for the day - easy, and helps you keep up with the work of others), and long enough overall to get work done. Occasionally I've got a telecon I need to be on, and once a month I need to write a quick progress report. I don't know what a TPS report is, and Lumberg never shows up and asks me to work weekends.

In grad school, you may work on the same problem for weeks or months (years) and not make much noticeable progress most of the time. These days, I do something different every few days. Longer tasks might take (me) a week or two, but I can always see my progress. I get to play with things at all levels, from the math/stats in the background, R for some computations, Java as a big framework, a database as necessary, and Javascript toward the front. While I've maybe dabbled in most of these things, I came in as (and remain) no expert (hopefully I'm improving). But the point is I can learn, and I expect anybody that's bothered starting grad school can say the same thing.

While most of my days are spent programming (which is awesome), other things come in too, to mix it up a bit. The telecons I'm still sorta getting used to (they still stress me out). But I also got to work on a white paper (here's an awesome thing we could do if you gave us money), and that was pretty fun. Every few weeks we might (depending on which project you're on at the time) have a "sprint planning" meeting, where you set some goals for 2-3 weeks out.

I talked a little about the project I'm on (upper-right), where we do threat prediction: given incident reports, where does it seem crime is likely? I also mentioned that I've learned that singular value decomposition is actually useful (I asked if any of them knew this, and didn't notice any hands up), and talked a little about how it's used for text analysis. Why didn't I know this when I was taking linear algebra?

Oh, and we've got a ping-pong table, so days typically involve some of that :)

Ok, fine, some recommendations (final slide). Again, I don't know why anybody would take advice from me. If somebody did, though, this is it: (1) Read. Hook up an rss reader, add feeds for things you are interested in (math or otherwise), and enjoy. (2) Share. Start a blog, show off the things you're doing, and you've got yourself a ready-to-go resume. Even if you've got no formal experience in something, you've got a free way to point people to something so they can see what you can do. I'd hazard a guess that what you can actually do matters more than what grades you got in whatever random classes you took in school to fulfill graduation requirements (especially because I doubt anybody looks that closely at your individual class grades). The flip side of "Share" is "Do". You gotta do something to have something to share. I hated grad school because I never felt like I should be doing the side-projects I wanted to be doing, that instead I should be directing my efforts at my thesis.

(3) Keep Your Eyes Open. Unfortunately, this recommendation could also be "Network", which I always hated hearing at job talks. I'm not a networker. At conferences I'd go and sit through talks, eat the free food, and basically not talk to people. However, look at the jobs I've had and how I got them. Jeff Holt sent out an email asking for people to work on a project, and I did that. From him, I got work with the publishing company. Later on, I put my resume in at Rosetta Stone because a friend suggested it. The same holds for my current job. For not being any good at networking, as I view it from job talks, I have to say that my network has gotten me places (that I want to be!). But since I don't want to call it networking, I'll say Keep your eyes open. Watch for opportunities, and try it if one comes along that looks interesting. You can actually get through grad school and have other jobs and run and read a lot. Of course, if you realize early enough in grad school that you want out, you could skip the grad school bit and just do the fun jobs and the running and the reading...

That's about it for my talk. There were a few questions afterwards. I'm almost certainly mis-remembering them exactly, but I think the general ideas are there...
  • How much programming would you say you need to have to get a job at a place like mine? I'm sure it depends on what other skills you bring to the table, but if you can learn stuff, that's probably the best skill. If you've got a class or two under your belt, and are otherwise smart etc., that's probably sufficient to be optimistic about sending in a resume. If you take up an interest in programming, outside of official classes, blog your learning efforts, and point people at that.
  • Why did you go in to math if you clearly like programming? I've been getting this one since before I started grad school. Apparently others know me better than I do. They were all right, too. But, in my defense, I wanted to teach college classes, and I wanted to teach math, not computer science. I'm not sure why, but I never really had an interest in teaching computer science.
  • There was a question about useful classes (or that I took to be about useful classes, anyway). I don't remember the last useful class I took. I know at least one early on had material I revisited several times, so was probably useful in that regard. None of the classes were (I think) honestly useful for my programming work. I didn't mention (because it didn't occur to me) that I did develop a better appreciation for category theory, and love the viewpoint it allows. And I did recently wonder if "persistent homology" might be useful at work, and certainly some early topology classes would be helpful there (maybe some late ones too?).
  • There was another question I think I didn't answer well, about what else I learned in grad school that was useful, not just course material. I guess what "soft skills"? I said that people always say that having a phd shows you can focus on a hard problem for a long time (and that, in my case, this isn't true, because mostly I focused on not thinking about my thesis). I think the best skill is being able to learn, and I don't think that I got any better at that because of grad school, necessarily. Certainly having the opportunity to teach a course the first time or two focuses your ability to learn. But you get that in your first year or two, and could still get out after a masters and not miss much. Also, being in grad school may have allowed a schedule for me that let me explore other things, which I may not have gotten to do if I'd jumped into a 9-5.
Chris told me my talk was sort of depressing (that's what happens when I talk about grad school, welcome to my world), but that I had some good points (he didn't say what they were, and I didn't ask). He also tells me that another postdoc in the audience found my talk "refreshing" (since other talks don't talk about how grad school sucks). And apparently I said some things one of the grad students in attendance has been thinking. Going in, I figured such a connection with one person was a suitable goal. I hope whoever it was got something useful out of it, besides just knowing that others have felt the same way (if that's useful).

If I'd lost my idealism about teaching in my first year or two of grad school, I hope that I would have had the sense to bail with my masters. I don't think I've picked up anything since then that I couldn't have gotten outside of grad school. I mean, my two big take-aways were running and news reading.

If I'd known, a year ago, that I'd be at a job like the one I now have (or that I was considering applying for them, that they were even out there), I would have started learning more about stats and things, and (hopefully) blogging my efforts, or some other "share"-ing.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Another Failed Run

Yesterday I ran part of the Bel Monte Endurance Run, wearing a black bib number that indicated I was in the 50 mile event. And I was, for probably the first 18 miles or so. I think at that point I was in the top 10. Over the course of the next 4 miles I spent more time walking (looking for some coverage for a pit stop, but also just trying to conserve energy on hills) than running. Within another mile or two out from the aid station at mile 22ish I started walking and never started running again. For the few little parts I did run in there, my legs actually still felt ok. But my brain had decided it had no interest in telling my legs to go, and, sadly, I let it get away with that.

While I'm certainly biased toward the CRCRunning team, I'd recommend this event to anybody looking for a run at any of the distances offered (50 mile, 50k, 25k). The trails are some of my favorite (admittedly, I don't get out much), and the volunteers are awesome (thanks, all!). There's a similar event in the fall, the Great Eastern Endurance Run / Ultra Race of Champions (anybody can enter, so do!), that I'm looking forward to.

The course started off with only a little free space before narrowing down to singletrack, and I was behind people who were setting what felt like a really reasonable pace (I was also behind, for a bit, a sorta creepy anesthesiologist, but perhaps I'll give him the benefit of the doubt). I skipped the first aid station, since I was running with my own over-stocked pack and still had plenty of water (and, admittedly, felt like passing some folks). I stopped briefly at the second aid station, and was feeling great, and still felt great at the third aid station. I think I was eating better than during my last race. I was being fairly good about taking gu and salt capsules on a regularish schedule. And though I ran with some 50k guys hoping to crack 5 hours (I hope they did) for a little bit, I think I was being fairly good about my pace/exertion.

After that third aid station (mile 13), we ran along a dirt road with some minor rolling hills. The sun was starting to peek out, and it was really looking like a pretty decent day (despite some pretty uninspiring weather forecasts from earlier in the week). I noticed some sluggishness on some of the hills, which caught me a little off guard, but it wasn't that bad and I kept chugging along. The course turned off the dirt road onto a jeep road and then there was about a mile to the next aid station. In there I started feeling generally sluggish. When I showed up the aid station, the RD, whom I know and am friends with, told me I looked low on energy, and I was sorta feeling that. But I wasn't feeling too bad.

From that aid station we were supposed to do an out-and-back and use a hole punch at the turn-around to punch our bib numbers to indicate we'd done it. The bib numbers came with holes already in them, and I made a joke about it, and how I was just gonna skip that section. I'm pleased that I was close enough to the front that I was the first to make that joke (I asked). I hope the aid station crew laughed for everybody who made it.

Anyway, I took off for the little out and back, but my gut was telling me that it could really use a pit stop. Unfortunately, the trees and bushes were all pretty bare, and it took several miles for me to find a place I was comfortable with. In that time I walked a fair amount (probably best, since I was looking away from the trail a lot). Eventually I found a place, but my gut was letting me know it still wasn't particularly happy with me.

So here I was, 22ish miles into the 50, and not particularly happy about it. As I took off, Alyssa, working the aid station, told me to enjoy. I told her I wouldn't, but at least with a smile on my face. I was expecting to be able to run most of this section, up until the switch-backs that take you straight up to Camp Marty. When I did run, it felt reasonably ok. But my mental game was faltering, and the physical game wasn't there to fill the void (or, if it was, my mind wasn't into letting it try). I knew I was not going to enjoy parts of this run. But I was really optimistic I could make it at least to mile 32, and hopefully 37, before I really hated running. I figured if I could do that, I could slog my way up the last main climb, and then totter down the remaining 7 or 8 miles of mostly downhill. But after mile 22, I was walking more than running, and probably before mile 24 I had stopped running entirely. (Thanks, though, to the awesome CRC crew and whatever volunteers made it possible to cross the creeks without getting my feet wet - something I was fairly worried about after that last wet run)

I walked all the way up to Camp Marty, told Marty I wanted to go home, ate a little, got my water refilled, and then continued walking as straight back to the parking lot as the trails permitted (which was not particularly straight). I think I was at mile 22 around 4 hours, and I made it back to my car, maybe 30 miles total, probably a little under 8 hours. I guess I just missed seeing the top one or two 50 milers finish (they passed me somewhere in my walking).

I wish I knew better what went wrong, in the hopes of avoiding it next time. I really think I did a much better job keeping my pace in check early than I usually do (though perhaps being in the top 10 for a bit belies this notion). And I also think I was doing better with the nutrition/eating aspect. On the day, anyway - the last few weeks/months are probably a different story. Perhaps I got my training wrong (not enough? not enough in the mountains? too slow?) or my taper (took it too easy? not easy enough? didn't adjust my diet appropriately?). Perhaps it's as simple as my gut being slightly unhappy, and kicking off the unhappiness chain reaction earlier than I hoped I was prepared for.

I know I've got a week mental game - I'm a quitter, no doubt about it. I almost never do anything hard, or that I want to not do. I really thought I could do the physical game long enough to compensate, but apparently I was wrong. Alas.

I'm ready to get back to training (might go out for a few easy miles this afternoon (I should have gone out earlier when it was snowing!)). The last two weeks, forcing myself to take it easier than I wanted, were not my favorite. Hopefully I can bring up my endurance, both physically and mentally. Time will tell.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Learning Run

This past weekend I ran in the "ICY-8", 8-hour "ATR" (Adventure Trail Run, apparently). The event was nice and low-key, and I'll certainly consider it again next year (and probably the longer variants throughout the year). There were two different loop options, one was 4.7 miles and the other was 8. Both had some hills, but it was all runnable (well, for the first few hours :)).

My goal for this run was 40 miles, and staying out for as much of the 8 hours as I could. I ended up stopping around 6:40, having covered 36.7 miles. I think that makes this the first running event I've done in which I didn't meet my goals. Which is probably, itself, a good learning experience. I think I learned a few other (transferable) things, and thought I'd share them, in case they can benefit somebody else, or help me remember them:

  • Sitting isn't a good way to control your pace. I decided early on that to get my 40 miles in, instead of keeping track of all those .7s, I'd just run 5 of the 8-mile laps. I figured 1:30 for each lap would be a pretty comfortable pace, and bring me in at a respectable 7:30 stopping time. My first loop was around 1:08, and the second was around 1:12. Since I was then 40 minutes ahead of pace, I figured I'd sit for 10 minutes at the aid station, and still be half an hour ahead. This also gave me a chance to snack, for better or worse (more on this later). I repeated these shenanigans for the next two laps, running each of the 8 mile loops at something like 1:15 and then resting to the 1:30 mark. I really think it would have been better to walk some of the hills as a way to keep my pace in check, instead of sitting so much.
  • Don't take your gloves off unless you're going to change them. It was about 40℉ and rainy all day. While I was dawdling at the aid station, I decided to take off my gloves, thinking maybe it was more hygienic for grabbing food. After I put the gloves back on and headed out for another lap, my hands got painfully cold. I decided it must have been because the gloves, without my hands to keep them warm, froze up a bit and then froze my hands a bit when I put them back on. I was glad I brought another pair I could change into after that lap.
  • Your feet will get crazy prune-y and probably blister when you're running in sloppy mud for a few hours. Changing socks seemed to help a little bit, but only so much. I didn't try dealing with blisters until I got home, so I'm not sure what to say about that.
  • Avoid opportunities to stop. I started my 5th lap still feeling fairly good, with about 2:30 remaining, and started doing some calculations. If I ran a 1:30 8-mile loop, I'd have a whole hour left, and figured I wouldn't want to shoot for a 4.7-mile lap but I'd be disappointed with myself for stopping an hour early. Instead, I decided I could probably get 2 4.7-milers in with the remaining time, and thereby go further and occupy more of the time. So I took the turn for the short loop. I might have made it a bit past halfway through the loop before I, apparently, hit a bit of a wall, as people say. I started walking, never really got back into a run before the final downhill into the aid station, plunked down in my chair with 1:20 remaining, and only got back up to change into warm, dry clothes (which felt amazing, by the way). If I'd opted for the 8-miler when I had the chance, that last lap would have sucked for rather a bit longer, but maybe I would have overcome my rut, and at least I would have met my goal.
I wish I had something specific I could take away from this run in regards to eating. I think I didn't do it right, but I don't know which parts of what I did were the most wrong. I didn't carry anything with me for the first lap, and had a hand-bottle of water on each subsequent lap (which I finished during the laps). I carried GUs for all but the first lap, and had one about halfway through two of the laps. Just when I was about to take one on one of the laps, I started feeling slightly nauseous. I figured GU wouldn't help so I just walked for a bit, and when I started running again things seemed ok. I also felt slightly nauseous on my last lap, which again discouraged me from having GU, and kicked off my walk to my finish. I think the big mistake I made, besides perhaps nothing on that first lap, was sitting at the aid station with all the food. They had a great selection, I must say. Chips, pb&j, skittles, boiled potatoes and salt, ramen (and some other soups), pierogies, quesadillas, grilled cheese... When I was sitting at the end, they had started making hot dogs. Quite a sampling for a guy who likes to eat, and thinks he has a pretty good excuse, running in the mud for a few hours. I didn't have any soup, and avoided the cheeses, but had some of just about everything else. I'm guessing this wasn't the right strategy. I think a powerbar somewhere in there would have been a good idea.

I'd say I learned I'm a bit of a quitter, but I already knew that. I can't seem to find it again, but last week I watched an interview somebody did with Scott Jurek, and he said something about how he likes to say "It's 90% mental, and the other 10% is mental too". I know that I don't have the "mental" (not the kind ultras seem to need). I think this run did get me comfortable with my physical fitness, so I can maybe focus on my mental game a bit more. Sure, I got tired, but I'm feeling pretty good in my recovery. I went out for a few miles yesterday (the day after the event), and nearly went out for some more today, but convinced myself I'd just run to work tomorrow. So I think my legs are there, and I still know I can improve them. Perhaps the disappointment from this run will help push me for the next one.

And there is a next one. I'm signed up for a 50 miler at the end of March. In fact, I just heard about this 8-hour run two weeks ago, and realized it'd make a pretty good training run (would have been better if I'd gone further, longer, but alas). I think a few of the issues I had on this run won't be factors for the 50 miler. First off, the 50 miler is a set distance (clearly), and not a lap course. Secondly, the 50 miler has worse hills, and that'll make it much easiest to incorporate more walking time. And maybe, just maybe, the course won't be quite as muddy.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Adapting to Full-Time

Starting with the new year, I've been working full-time (and more!) at a real job (not graduate school). It's truly a great place to work, I consider myself quite lucky to be there. While I'm supposed to be there for a 10am meeting, I can pretty much come in whenever I want and leave whenever as well. As long as the work gets done, the particular hours don't matter. Which is awesome. And the people are all very easy to work with, smart, and helpful. And there's a ping-pong table (and surprisingly many people who want to play). It's a great atmosphere. The work is great too, even if it does make me wish I'd taken useful classes sometime in the past 5 years. I've got a whole lot to learn, and it's things I'm excited to learn, which is great (even if I could easily totter into overwhelmed).

During the first week, I felt like I couldn't quite make it all work out. "It all" being work, sleep, running, reading, side projects, keeping the cats not too unhappy with me. Of course, I wasn't exactly expecting to. I think progress was made this past week, though. A big step was sorting out (to first approximation) running to and from work. I can get my miles in, and not feel bad about driving to work (it seems so silly to drive the 3 miles back and forth). I've also done a little bit to organize my online reading... buzzing through headlines and starring items to save for the weekend (Saturday morning with coffee and feed reading... fantastic), since I no longer have office hours for students to not show up for when I could get some quality reading in. I reorganized some of my folders, too, separating out some silly comic feeds, which I could maybe read when I'm pretty tired at the end of the day, from actual potential read-me articles. There's still some organization that could happen there (and some programming projects... :)), but that'll always be the case. Get something started and iterate, right? I'm trying.

I think a next thing to think more about is foodstuffs. Not just eating less (I seem to eat all day - still trying to get my running miles up enough to feel like it's warranted), but being better organized about grocery shopping and when to spend time cooking. I think I can get some lunch-preparing done on weekends (make a big batch of...), and try to have easy (quick, little cooking) food for dinner (sandwich, cereal) so that I still have some time/energy in the evening to work on side projects or read. I'm open to suggestions here (and elsewhere, of course). It also seems like running as my commute will help me trim down the number of grocery store trips I make - there's a grocery store right along the way on my usual drive, so it's easy to just stop in for milk, or cereal, but I ended up going a couple times each week. So if I drive to work once a week, I can use that to transport things I don't want to run with (clothes, non-perishable foods), and then also stop at the grocery store in that trip, that'll be good and efficient. Hopefully. We'll see how it goes.

I'm trying to avoid setting up a rigorous schedule for myself. I don't want to say "I'll drive to work on Mondays, and Tuesday I'll work on side project A, Wednesday will be project B, etc". I think that'll just get me frustrated when some particular day I'm really tired and don't get to a project (reading counts). I want to learn better to adapt and be flexible and still get things done when things don't go according to plan. Add it to the huge list of things to learn.

Anyway, that's me. Off to see about getting something done. Which, of course, almost never happens. So few things actually get to "done". I've got heaps of unfinished floating around. So I'll just shoot for making progress. Iterate.