A few races under my belt

Posted on Sep 7, 2014 in Cycling | 0 comments

Good news! My ankle is back. I had to take two weeks off from all activity and over a month from running. It’s still a bit tight and I tweak it lightly now and then, but I don’t think I suffered any long term damage. I had to forego the first trail racing series race of the fall and will likely opt out of the next one or two just to give myself more time to heal and strengthen, but I may get back out there before it’s over. Or maybe it is time to give up on running altogether.

Anyway, I’ve done a slew of bicycle racing over the past two weeks. I began not feeling in the best of shape due to the training missed from the ankle, but all has gone pretty well and I’m much stronger now for it. As racing is going to be a weekly or more frequent thing this fall, look for roundups such as this.

August 24, 2014 – Kruger’s Kermesse. This would be my first race on the new cyclocross bike. It is quite nice and well above my capability so my equipment is no longer an excuse. I’d only been on the bike twice before, and being so much faster than my old steed, I wasn’t prepared for its capabilities. My negative splits (later laps being faster than earlier ones) indicate that. The race is for cyclocross bikes, but it is called a “farm crit.” There are no obstacles so it’d be a pretty safe ride for the fresh ankle. And it was fast (I averaged 17mph off road). I did pretty well, picking folks off the whole way, and finishing 7th in the “C” class (there’s beginners, my group, guys who are pretty good, and then guys who are great).

August 26, 2014 – Tuesday PIR. On two days rest, I made my way up to the local speedway to attend the last of the weekly races that occur there. They are held on Monday and Tuesday nights, which makes for A TON of races per season, but this was the first I managed to get to. I wasn’t able to preride the course, but being a 2-mile circuit, there were a handful of “easy” laps in which to learn it before things got serious. In my last proper road race, I broke my wrist by getting ansty. This time I stayed calm, found my way behind the wheel of a strong looking guy with plenty of room to maneuver, and field-sprinted to 3rd overall. I actually won the field sprint as the first two guys sprinted early and we didn’t reel them back in. I was gaining ground on them both without really feeling like it was much effort so I’m pretty sure I could have had the overall win had I known to go earlier, but that’s part of the game. Just a comfort thing that will come next season when I do the races more regularly. For most of these guys, they had done dozens of this same race already this year. Of note, this race was with Cat 4s too. Race average was about 24.5mph. I think flat and fast is my jam. Can’t wait until next year.

August 30, 2014 – Gran Prix Ryan Trebon #1, David Douglas. The first proper cyclocross race of the season took place just across the river in Vancouver. Picked my buddy Dolan up (who won his race by over a minute!!! Yeah, dude!), made our way there, got a bit of a preride in, and… raced. I was pretty pleased with my performance; I felt strong, but was majorly slow in the singletrack technical sections, which will just come with practice. It was a wet and muddy one so it was really true CX action. So wet that I was constantly wiping sweaty rain from my face and eyes, which led to some aggro… Some jerkoff riding behind me told me to keep my hands on my bar. I wasn’t swerving or anything, and, well, he was behind me. I kindly told him to eff himself. Looking at the results, I found he was from Seattle. It all makes so much sense. I didn’t have my typical strong finish and dropped about four spots on the last lap to end up in 11th place. Kind of a bummer, but c’est la vie. Also dropped my chain on the final corner so I had to run across the finish line. Good enough to get my name announced over the loudspeaker and not lose any places so “woot.” GPS boom.

September 6, 2014 – Gran Prix Ryan Trebon #2, Het Meer. Another one across the river in Vancouver. Gave Dolan a ride again. Unfortunately, he didn’t blow away his field because they bumped him up a class, where he still managed 11th place. Dude is having a great year. This race was again very “real” CX except for the fact that there was a beach section. I watched some videos of folks nearly killing themselves in the sand and chose to run it, but that didn’t help me from killing myself. I got a good call-up at the start of the race, but wasted it completely as I unclipped the wrong foot and mentally froze over the first barrier. From there, the mental mistakes only piled on. I crashed half a dozen times and have a nice raspberry on my hip and scrapes up my leg. Pretty lightweight damage for bicycle crashing, but man… brutal day. Every time I’d make ground on and/or pass a competitor, I’d go down and have to chase again. The guy who finally finished just ahead of me had to find it comical as I think I passed him 2-3 times only to finish behind him. I would have likely gotten him, but we went from 2 laps to go to finished (no bell/final lap). Kind of annoying as I was saving something for that final lap that we didn’t get. Regardless of the mental mistakes, this was a pretty good course for me as it featured a lot of long flats to power down so I still managed 10th place. I’m just going to put this one behind me and work on my off-bike skills this coming week. There will be chaos — keep pedalingGPS it.

To add insult (and injury) to injury, I tore up my hand riding past a thorn bush after my race, and when unloading Dolan’s bike at his house, saw there was a branch attached to it, pulled it off, and the one monstrous thorn that was on it entered my thumb. I didn’t leave the couch the rest of the day.

I’m pretty optimistic about the season… Just need to keep practicing that off road riding and I’m sure to see some podium time.

After a solid two weeks of racing, a full training cycle following the sprained ankle, and all culminating in a crash-a-thon, I’m ready for some rest. No racing planned for this week and an abbreviated set of training (maybe only 6 hours). GOGO recovery!

A whole bunch more photos are available on Facebook if you’re friendly with me over there.

In Loving Memory

Posted on Sep 4, 2014 in General | 0 comments

I haven’t posted about it yet, but if you’re reading here, you probably already know. My mother passed away on June 21, 2014, due to complications with her treatment for brain cancer. Ultimately, she didn’t die from cancer or any of the side effects of it. I’ve not really made that public until now, but I kind of needed to get it off my chest. After such a lengthy and unprecedented journey, that really sucked. I’ll be posting more regarding cancer, dying, and Mom in general as I feel comfortable with it, but for now I leave you with a slideshow I created for her services and recently added some of her favorite songs to:

Portland Trail Series (Summer) #3

Posted on Jul 31, 2014 in Running | 0 comments

Trail running is stupid. My stance is firm on this despite a wobbly ankle.

Was having a great race (I was with the guy who finished 8th) when halfway in I came to an off-camber, downhill, and sharp turn. It happened in a flash so I don’t know if it was related to a root or rock, but the bottom of my right foot was pointing left for an instant and it hurt. I hobbled to a walk and quickly realized this wasn’t the kind of ankle twist that you can walk or run off. Race over, man.

Being halfway through the race also meant I was as far from the start as possible. I hobbled my way down the single track trail, pulling off whenever I heard footsteps behind me. Being a great race, there were a lot of footsteps behind me so that .5 mile off the small trail took forever. Luckily, it was fire road after that, but the first post I came to was marked “1.75″ (the race started at 0). I figured it’d be roughly a 30 minute walk, but I didn’t properly account for hobbling as opposed to regular walking. It took FOREVER. On the way I found a nice walking stick to take the load off my foot, and as I neared the end a group of three women from the race met up with me in order to give me company for the remaining bit of the walk. Portlanders are the best.

Once I got home, ice and ibuprofen. With any luck, this’ll be a 2-3 day thing and I’ll be back out to race next week. Already feels a tiny bit better, but I’m still hobbling around and am not able to ride today (last day of the month – was supposed to ride 50 miles in order to complete 1250km in July so extra bummer to not reach that goal).

A wee bit swollen.

So trail running is stupid, my ankle hurts, I’m failing a monthly goal, and blah. I suppose I’ll live.


Portland Trail Series (Summer) #2

Posted on Jul 25, 2014 in Running | 0 comments

Another race down. Fortunately, this went much better than the last. I went out rather slowly and picked my pace up all the way through the finish. Pacing myself, a novel idea, no? I don’t know if my result was much or any better because I beat some people I had lost to last week and lost to some I had beaten last week. But I felt better about it so I’d have to think I ran better.

Anyway, this course was more of the same. Up a trail, down another, back up again, and back down again. It wasn’t until the final downhill that I began feeling fatigued. I had run with another guy the entire race (we got to chatting after he slipped and fell trying to pass me on the inside of a turn – it had rained) and once he got by me around Mile 2, I kept pace with him and was even gaining towards the end, but as soon as we hit that downhill he flew away from me and caught and destroyed the two folks we had seen off in the distance the whole race. In that final downhill mile, he put 30 seconds on me. Pretty nuts.

So yeah, back to the fatigue bit… Running downhill is harder than uphill. On that final stretch, my quads and left foot couldn’t handle any more pounding so I was more or less sidestepping the whole way down. I went just as fast as everyone other than the guy who blew everyone away, but it’s clear I have much room for improvement there. Unlike riding elevation, where I suffer on the way up, but my weight helps me on the way down, you seem to suffer for having extra weight both ways when running (up because duh and down because of the pounding). I’m sure my muscles will harden up with more practice, which I’ll be getting over the next ten weeks or so of weekly races.

I no longer hate trail racing. It’s clear I’ve got a lot to learn (I’m sure there are best practices for running up and down that I could stand to read up on), but my body isn’t hating me as much as after last race and I’m sure it’ll only get better. Do I love it? Not quite yet, but I’m also not ready to rule it out as my next addition.

GPS - Official distance is 5.95, but I only got 5. Similar difference last week. I’m not sure what to attribute the difference to, but everyone else’s GPS matches mine.

Book Review: Lean UX

Posted on Jul 22, 2014 in Books, QA, Tech | 0 comments

Work book review!

I grabbed this one for its relevance to what we’re currently working through. It builds upon the principals from Lean Startup, which I haven’t yet read. In hindsight, I probably should have read that first, but this book stands up pretty well on its own.

Who would I recommend it to? Anyone with their hand in UI/UX design, which should be everyone out there.

The premise is that designing a user experience is difficult to do in a lean environment. All too often we get caught up in the old BDUF approach. Collaboration is the key and it starts at the design phase. Someone from every discipline of your team should be involved from the start to the finish. This establishes ownership and understanding of the goal and product. There’s no more “Oh, my job is done, on to the next thing and I’ll half-assedly glance back at this other thing now and then.”

One of the key suggestions for getting great UX in a fast moving environment is to design toward outcomes rather than a backlog of must-have deliverables. Similar to how a backlog is created (or how one should be created), customers are polled. Rather than having one person responsible for that interaction, the entire team is. How? Regular user acceptance testing. Get the product in front of actual customers and see what they say. Have everyone view the results. This book and idea are primarily focused on UX, but it can go for any feature of the product; getting more people involved in understanding customers can never hurt.

My Highlights (brackets = paraphrasing, indented italics = my comments):

  • “Get out of the deliverables business.”
  • [Your] most urgent task [should be] delighting customers.
  • It is time to break down the silos, unite the clans, and get to work.
  • The biggest lie in software is Phase II.
    • Just don’t do it… From the start, create a 2nd release. Give it a real version number.
  • You’re not going to get it right the first time.
    • Don’t try to. Make the roughest of plans and iterate. Don’t be afraid to ship UX debt, but do be sure to note it in the backlog and address it appropriately.
  • To generate the best solutions quickly, you must engage the entire team.
    • And do so in a meaningful way. Don’t e-mail out a spec and ask for comments. Call out specific people for comment. The project manager should ensure that someone from each group has signed off.
  • Working software [is better than] comprehensive documentation.
  • [Respond] to change over following a plan.
    • Don’t code to a spec that you know isn’t perfect. Just like your code, it will never be. Roll with it.
  • “Lean Startup processes reduce waste by increasing the frequency of contact with real customers, therefore testing and avoiding incorrect market assumptions as early as possible.”
  • [Minimally viable products don't have to be made from code]. Each design is a proposed business solution — a hypothesis. Your goal is to validate the proposed solution as efficiently as possible by using customer feedback.
  • Their involvement must be continuous, from day one of the project until the end of the engagement.
    • This is in regard to folks from different disciplines in your team.
  • Keep your teams small — no more than 10.
  • Understand what the users are doing with your products and why they are doing it.
  • Research involves the entire team.
  • Give potential customers a chance to provide feedback on your ideas sooner.
  • The success or failure of your product isn’t the team’s decision — it’s the customers’.
  • Rockstars, gurus, ninjas, and other elite experts of their craft break down team cohesion.
  • The answer to most difficult questions the team will face will not be answered in a conference room. Instead, they will be answered by customers in the field.
  • Frequent failures lead to increased mastery of skills.
  • The team’s focus should be on learning which features have the biggest impact on the their customers.
  • Our goal is not to create a deliverable, it’s to change something in the world — to create an outcome. We start with assumptions instead of requirements. We create and test hypotheses. We measure to see whether we’ve achieved our desired outcomes.
  • The hypothesis statement is the starting point for a project. It states a clear vision for the work and shifts the conversation between team members and their managers from outputs (e.g., “we will create a single sign-on feature”) to outcomes (e.g., “we want to increase the number of new sign-ups to our service”).
  • None of your metrics will be meaningful if you don’t have a benchmark in place.
  • It’s much easier to pivot from a failed approach if you haven’t spent too much time laboriously documenting and detailing that approach.
  • [Promote] “individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” – Agile Manifesto
  • Style guides create efficiency.
  • [With style guides,] reviews become more focused on the core product.
  • Build MVPs that allow you to observe and measure what people actually do, not just what people say.
  • Usability testing should be a group activity.
  • [Iterations should have themes.]
  • [You should have iteration planning meetings.]
  • [Scrum meetings offer little value without the above because nobody cares or knows what anybody else is working on.]
  • Proactively reach out to your [support team], product owners and executives.
    • Nobody knows the customer better than the support team. They should have regular views and chance to comment on what you’re working on.
  • Your organization needs to adopt a mantra of “competencies over roles.”
  • Break your big teams into what Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos famously called “two-pizza teams” (http:// www.fastcompany.com/ 50106/ inside-mind-jeff-bezos). If the team needs more than two pizzas to make a meal, it’s too big.
  • “Speed first, aesthetics second” (https:// twitter.com/ jasonfried/ status/ 23923974217).
    • Iterate, iterate, and iterate. Don’t spend too much time on any one design. Makes it that much easier to throw away when it is deemed deficient.

A decent read and pretty quick read. If you’re interested in UX in the slightest, you ought to give this a go.

Portland Trail Series (Summer) #1

Posted on Jul 18, 2014 in Running | 0 comments

Trail running hurts, and there really is no cross-training for it (unlike road racing, which is more about cardio [that I can get on the bike]). I’m in great shape, but not for this and it showed. Up and down, and up and down turned out to be the murderer of quads, hamstrings, and calves. Two days later and I’m walking pretty funny. I’m pretty sure I used and spent muscles that I didn’t know existed.

So… This was my first ever trail race. I realized that when they asked the crowd at the start who was new to trail running and maybe 2% of the other folks (capped at 100 runners) and I (without hesitation – then I second guessed myself, but realized it was in fact true; after hundreds of races, this was new to me) raised our hands. I’ve run on dirt before, but nothing in the DC area comes close to the trails out here. Rock Creek might be considered a trail out this way, but it would be in the “flat” category. In preparation, I ran once the month prior and had three other runs on my trail shoes since moving west. Totally prepared for ~5 miles up and down trails on a 1100ft ridge.

Why did I do it? Heather’s coworker told me it was awesome. I suppose it could be at some point, but I’m not there yet. I think I may be too much of a numbers person; you can’t really pace yourself by time, you never really know how much further you have to go, and you can’t compare one performance to the next. Those are all things I love about road racing and cycling; they’re so quantifiable.

Not too much to say about the race other than I went out a bit quicker than I probably should have, walked up a massive hill with said coworker of Heather’s (he caught me there and pulled away the rest of the race), and am not too pleased with my overall performance. I guess my expectations should have been a bit lower? Bah. I suppose I could blame it on riding my bike for a full day a few days earlier, but I honestly felt pretty rested otherwise I wouldn’t have even showed up so “bah” on that too. All was not bad, though; I won a free pair of socks that are pretty awesome (wearing them now) and valued at 1/3 of the series entry fee!

So my running will now consist of these weekly races, which combined with the fall series that I was brilliant enough to already register for (have to get in early) will occupy me until the end of October, and a weekend maintenance run of 2-4 miles.

I’m hopeful that things will get better as my body learns to do what it has never done before, but… ow… and the races only get longer from here.

Official Results 

Seattle to Portland 2014

Posted on Jul 16, 2014 in Cycling | 0 comments

A few months back, a high school friend/tuba buddy contacted me on Facebook. She has been living just outside of Seattle for a few years, but is going to have to leave the area shortly to finish up/continue her nursing “stuff.” On her bucket list was a ride I didn’t know about, the Cascade Bicycle Club Group Health Seattle to Portland. 203 miles over two days. I had ridden a century before and it wasn’t the most enjoyable thing ever. Doing it two days straight? Ugh, but I obliged her. If anything, it’d force me to do some proper training, and Lord knows I may never get another chance to do this with someone again (I’d not do it solo) so I might as well get it out of the way.

About ten days before the event, out of the blue, my friend asked me if I’d like to do it in one day. Without hesitation, I replied “YES!” I’m not sure why I didn’t hesitate, but I suppose the thought of a single ridiculous effort interested me more than two slightly less ridiculous efforts. An added bonus is that it greatly simplified the logistics of camping in a field for a night. Given the life events that occurred a few weeks prior, I needed simplification, especially since I wasn’t even in town and would only be back for a couple of days beforehand.

Also given those life events, my training was a bit stunted and I didn’t manage get any long rides in all season (I typically do hard efforts for 20-30 miles, which prepares you very little for riding all day), but I was feeling pretty good about my general fitness so I knew I could get through it. At a certain point it becomes mental more than physical anyway.

Friday night, I pick Heather up straight from work and we head up to my friend’s house. A bit of traffic getting out of town, but then it is smooth sailing with a quick stop for some burgers and gas. A few miles later and we arrive. Said friend lives in a house with an absolutely stunning view of Puget Sound. We unload the car, setup an air mattress, and grab some sleep for the short night (arrived at 9PM and need to be riding by 5AM – she lives 30 minutes from the start too).

Wake up, grab some coffee and bagels, pack up the car, short drive up to U of W, get stuck in traffic trying to get to the appropriate parking lot, decide to park it at the local QFC (like many others), and go from there. After a quick half mile cruise to the start, we’re off. 203 miles to go.

We stopped every 25 miles or so, but sometimes when things were rough we’d only make it ten (that happened once, after lunch). I’m not going to provide details on the stops and in-between, but suffice to say this was a really well put together event. If you needed a break, there was one at most 5-10 miles away. The volunteers were amazing, plentiful, the food options were above satisfactory (I did start to get bored with the same options over and over again), and I really can’t praise the ride organizers any more. They managed to safely get 10,000 cyclists (25% do it in one day) the length of an entire state. No small feat at all.

So how did it go for us? We didn’t know what to expect. 14 miles per hour? 20? Would we find a nice paceline and cruise along only doing work every few minutes? Would we even be able to do this? It turned out that we were two of the stronger riders out there save for the paceline that started right from the gun and supposedly rolled through the first 100 miles in four hours (“gun” was 4:45AM – we didn’t get there until 5:15 or so due to the unforeseen traffic so we missed out on riding with the more serious folks). One or the other of us ended up pulling pretty much the entire day. I think I can count on my hands how many minutes of rest we both got. We’d take a few turns in the wind and then look behind at the folks eating our drafts, but nobody would ever come to the front. That turned out to make it a hard day, but it was also eye-popping; when moving we averaged about 19mph (GPS shows 18, but that counts walking through rest stops for minutes at a time). My friend turned out to be more up for the ride as she was smiling the whole damned way and towards the end was pedaling away from me.

My body more or less ran out of “go” at mile 90. The hardest part of that was realizing we weren’t even halfway. Five hours on the bike and not halfway home. Ugh.That first 100 was likely harder than the second because there’s no good way to tell yourself that you’re getting there; you always have 100+  miles to go, which in itself is a tough ride. When you’re already beat, it hurts to think about. Following 100, you can at least count down. Interestingly, from 90 until about 130 miles, I had nothing in the tank. From 130 to 180, I found a second wind, but lost it as we approached Portland. Tough day. It certainly didn’t help that temperatures were above 90. It was literally not possible to get enough fluids into one’s body; I’d fill myself completely at stops and during segments, but bathroom breaks told me I wasn’t fully hydrated. Did I mention that it was a tough day?

All in all, I’m glad we did it. No small feat and one that I’ll always cherish – especially that finish. I’d go so far as to say this was mentally tougher than a marathon. Physically? I was able to walk without looking odd the next day so I’d have to think it was easier on my body. Then again, I do still have some numbness in a couple of fingers and a toe. :P

Will I do it again? Maybe. I’d need the right group, and I’d probably not do it next year; the suffering will be too fresh in my mind. If someone does convince me, I’ll be doing the two-day at a leisurely pace or the one-day with a really solid group that can help do the work and aim for less than 10 hours (20mph).

We finished in just over 11 hours for a GPS-claimed average of 18mph (as mentioned earlier, this includes walking around rest breaks so I’m certain our average was more like 19). 203 miles. 7000+ calories.

A special thanks goes out to Heather and my friend’s husband. They both had to do the round-trip with us by car and were both there for hugs at the finish (I didn’t hug him, but would have if he offered). Thanks, guys!

Click here for the Facebook photo album.