Friday, November 28, 2014

Problem Solving: It's All a Matter of Perspective

Performance management applies to so many different areas of my life lately that it has been difficult to recognize how significant this has been. The amount of work I need to apply to different extensive projects, and by extension my enjoyment of doing these projects, has both depended on the way I am training myself to look at each challenging step along the way. In this vein fully embracing each step and activity has not necessarily been a part of my grand strategy. Currently my perspective is to over-identify problems. I am no longer first and foremost a problem solver, I am a problem finder. I don't see problems as obstacles to hurdle I see them as things that require work and diligence. In this way I know that there are no short-term goals, only short-term problems to be climbed over on my way to long-term objectives.


Often you can only choose to address one or two at any time!

This wasn't always the case, for most of my career I've self-styled myself to be a 'problem-solver,' now as I've grown and developed in both my career and personal life I've come to learn that the problem solver is only as effective as their ability to identify the problems. Solutions are actually often relatively simple and straightforward, asking difficult questions and posing abstract problem scenarios can be extremely challenging and creative. A truly great problem solver cannot be effective if they don't have the proper perspective required to identify the truly significant problems and challenges they are currently or soon will facing. Some of the worst teams I have been involved in have all suffered as a result of poor problem identification and prioritization. In this way it is surprising to me that there are so few articles written on the subject of problem identification and athletics. I know I've been frustrated with coaches in the past who've not seemed to be able to grasp a problem I've tried to present to them. Of course the other hand is that I've often brought up concerns that bothered me personally but that were not relevant.

You have more important things to be focusing on right now!
Using problem solving is only as effective as your ability to problem identify. In this respect it may be better to over-identify problems while having an efficient system for prioritizing your solution management. At the least you will be less likely to be completely surprised by outlier events that pose a challenge to you meeting your objectives.

Monday, November 24, 2014

2015 Triathlon Goals

As with the start of any New Year, if not a time for making resolutions it is definitely that time when you need to start planning for the upcoming year. This last year I managed to execute on a number of major goals related to my career, schooling (mainly the whole graduating aspect), and of course health and fitness. Granted last year was relatively light in the whole racing department, this is something I am hoping to expand on as I finally finish school and begin working. In addition this is the year I turn 29 (a big number!) and the last opportunity I have to prepare for the grueling and highly-competitive 30-34 age group. For the coming year I have decided to adopt a much more proactive approach to the use of racing as a training motivation, especially considering that my 'A' race doesn't take place until the end of August! Rather than simply selecting major goals sprinkled throughout the year (letting them fall where they may) as I did last year for 2015 I have split my year into months. Although I have more objectives for the coming year than just racing I've decided to limit this post to what is also the major theme of my blog - that being health, fitness, and triathlon.

Gear Purchases

TYR Hurricane Cat 2
2015 Specialized Tarmac Sport

Saucony Kinvara 5

Profile Design Aerobars


Fitness Goals

Swim - 1500m @ 18 min, Bike - 25 miles @ 1 hour 2 min, and Run - 10km @ 35 min

Monthly Breakdown

January

January is a big month, after all it is the start of the entire New Year! Happy 2015 everyone! I don't have plans for News Years Eve so if you are doing anything be sure to let me know! Anyway I digress. This is basically the month I recover from the holidays and return to my training program. I don't have any events planned for January because I want to focus on training for an event in February.

February

February is my birth month! That shouldn't affect my training or race planning any way. I decided to run in the Hellyer Half Marathon in San Jose, CA. A couple of considerations went into choosing this race over the much larger and more established Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon mostly its come down to that this will actually be my first half marathon, this event is much closer to home, and I would prefer a smaller crowd and easier logistics. I haven't set a specific goal for this race as it's something I typically do closer to, long-term I am hoping to have a 1:30 half. Needless to say most of February will be run focused, which is good because it is winter!



March

For March I decided to celebrate 1/4 of my heritage which is Irish with a St.Patrick's Day race. This will be fun because I can wear all green and maybe a shamrock headband or something outrageous. If all goes well in February this will be my second ever half marathon! For this event I should be taking the lessons of the Hellyer Half and applying them in a way that I should hopefully be better able to complete this event with ease in good time. Other than that I think this may be a bit of a fun run so I won't be taking my ranking results too seriously assuming I place near the top of my age group.



April

Breaking from my prior two-month tradition of running half-marathons my first triathlon of the season (and my second tri ever) takes place in April. It is the Half Moon Bay/Silicon Valley Sprint Triathlon in Half Moon Bay, CA. This will be my first ocean triathlon and also the first race I have done at sea level. Going into this event should motivate me to be doing the open ocean swimming that I need to practice. Ideally I will have an easy race and can grab a confidence boost before I jump into the much longer swims required for the International and 70.3 events which is my current long term goal for at least the next two years. Looking at last years results suggests that this will be a relatively small event.


May

For May I'm hoping to step up the distance a bit by completing a bit of a longer event. The Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon is at the extended distance race for this class of event with a 1200m swim, a 16mile cycling leg, and finishing off with a 5 mile run. This event should be my longest to date and more closely will resemble the International events I plan on doing later in the season. By this time I hope to have practiced my open water swimming to the point where I am not troubled by the open water aspect of this event. I have visited this reservoir before is lovely and I have a good idea regarding road conditions and topography. Other than the swim this should be a very straightforward event and hopefully the first one where I can use the bike that I want for the year pictured above.


June

For June I decided to do a third USAP Events branded triathlon this time it will be the California International Triathlon taking place in Pleasanton, CA. This will be my first official Olympic/International triathlon. I chose this event because it is a lake swim. I am hoping that I will be more comfortable doing later season races at altitude and in the open ocean at this distance if I can start with a lake swim. The lake its self looks fairly small and I am hoping that I establish a realistic timed trial of my fitness for future races.


July

The Firecracker 10k is a race I have been looking forward to doing for a couple of years. There is no real fitness objective here other than to have a great time. Well I guess that it is incidental that the 10k distance also applies to my coming 'A' races so I could be doing this as a Time Trial but mostly I've been wanting to just make it out and enjoy the course. You can check out a preview on the events webpage which shows just how nice the day will be.


August

In August I have two major events planned. The first being the Crystal Springs Trail Run which is held in Woodside, CA. The Half Marathon for this day is actually one of the shorter events being held. I will never have done a trail run to this point. Mostly I am interested to check out some of the Ultra-runners and trying trail running for the first time. There was a January option for this event but I think that the weather will be nicer in August.


The second main event for August is the Lake Tahoe Olympic Triathlon, this is a special event to me because it is also my first triathlon. I have a race report up from the event I did this last summer in which I knew that I wanted to return. This is where I am hoping that my hard work improving my swim will finally pay off, if not this is going to be a very painful event as I have keen memories of suffering on the swim from this summer. Basically the altitude will throw a wrench into all of my training and preparation. I'm hoping to have a fun time in a beautiful location. Other than that I can't really set realistic goals as I know from last time that hypoxia will be the ultimate limiter. This event has proven to be the most motivational for me throughout the year. Tahoe is something of a local race and attracts may Bay Area, Northern Californian, and Nevada residents. I feel that it is a worthy challenge and something that I want to excel at in the future.



September

September will be my final racing month as I have it currently planned and is also the time of the year in which the Santa Cruz Triathlon takes place. This may be the most popular event I have planned and is likely to have the largest competitive field. I simply love the location and the course is spectacular. I am looking forward to getting comfortable with bigger fields and also the longer ocean swim. In this case we swim right around the iconic pier. Assuming I have survived the Lake Tahoe Triathlon at this event I am hoping to me much more comfortable on the swim as it will be my return from the altitude of Lake Tahoe. This is a decidedly local event and some of the best triathletes from the Bay Area will be competing.


2015 Banner Coming Soon!

October/November/December 

Currently I have nothing planned for these months other than decreased training load and possibly an ad hoc fun run with friends. I am looking forward to reporting on my progress throughout the year and redoing a post similar to this in November or December of 2015!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Reflections Triathlon Offseason

Apparently I missed an important date that was the date in which offseason officially started. The reason I know that I missed this is because everyone is already doing it am I am only just now catching up!  If you don't know what offseason is it's when triathletes take anywhere from 2-weeks to 2 months off from their normal training regimes. Most people typically won't stop training or exercising entirely but most will greatly reduce the amount of time and intensity invested in the pursuit/addiction that is triathlon. The theory behind offseason is basically that there are no more major races until spring, also that it is the end of the year meaning that most people's 2014 plans will have been executed and time needs to be spent resetting mentally and physically for the upcoming 2015. Some commonly understood activities of offseason that don't apply to the rest of the year include:

It Is Offseason There Is No One Here!

  • Stop working out! (Seriously stop it!)
  • Ok if you're going to do anything mostly do high intensity work on your weak area, for me that is a couple days this week swimming. 
  • Sleep in. 
  • Plan your next race season, I use competehub.com you can find me there. 
  • Plan your workout schedule, factor in changes to your life in the coming year. 
  • Drink lots of beer and find some of that weight you have been avoiding during training season.
  • Catch up on everything non-triathlon (reading, work, hobbies, friends, family, etc.)
  • Meditate on your prior year.

Let's face it if you are like me taking a break off from training means that you've just rediscovered a whole lot of free time. Even a moderate training regime takes up about as much free time as any serious hobby. This is why most triathletes I know obsess about productivity and lifestyle planning. This sounds great in theory but as anyone who functions under a loaded and stressful schedule will tell you there are sacrifices to be made. For me a common situation is where I have predetermined a plan or course of action; however, as a result of the demands of the program once I am involved in it I have trouble taking a step back properly to reassess. This is one reason why I utilize coaching and another reason why an offseason is so important to me. I will never be as able to properly assess my results and the effectiveness of my plan as when I am completely removed from the day-to-day grind of completing those set of objectives. At a minimum your offseason should be at least two weeks in length, but more importantly when you return to training and competing make sure that you are genuinely refreshed, refocused, and better attuned to what you need to be doing this coming year.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Persevere Through Failure Don't Embrace It

Quitting isn't always bad. In fact there is probably more written on how to fail and way of embracing and learning from failure than there are on maintaining. It's getting to the point where the tagline 'embrace failure' is cliche and turns up in some form or another without clear definition almost everywhere you look in motivational, business, and sport writing. This leads me to believe that we must fail a lot. Afterall we a spending a lot of time learning how to be good at it! It is true that I have failed and given up on a lot of different activities, hobbies, interests, occupations, and lifestyles in my past. In fact one of the character traits I am most proud of has been my willingness to adapt to new circumstances (i.e. give up on the old) and embrace new experiences. On the other hand I also have goals some of which require intense dedication and effort. If I were to stop before I reach the end of them the negatives of failure would far outweigh the pain and suffering it will take to finish. What is more important than failure? Obviously it is learning from your mistakes. OK so do I need to fail to learn from mistakes? I don't think so. What I would be better off doing is practicing ways of not-failing by learning from the mistakes and failures of others. Afterall there are somethings I really really don't want to fail at.

Sometimes, Failure Isn't An Option!

It turns out that most athletes quit their sport as a result of injury. Injury prevention is sometimes a factor that you forget about until it's too late. It's hard to imagine how this sort of failure can in any way be good. Being forced out of something you love to do would be extremely difficult and traumatic. Unless you are planning to fail in a safe way related to sports it doesn't seem like there is much benefit to the activity. In fact the job of most coaches is to prevent an athlete from failing.

Tired? Injured? Or Just Feeling Like Quitting?

Another kind of failure is the desire to simply quit after a certain length of time pursuing an activity. As time progresses it is obvious that what was originally an interesting and engaging activity may become less exciting for the participant athlete. Even people who are passionate and love a sport may eventually come to a point where they feel ready to turn their efforts onto a new pursuit. In many cases the motivations and goals that enticed the participant to join the activities in the first place no longer exist or can be satisfied in other ways. A lot of people simply experience burn-out by pushing themselves too far too quickly, they are unable to step-up to the challenge of a higher competitive level, physical factors prevent sport specific excellence, increased interest in another activity or sport, and possibly an extremely unpleasant experience related to the sport. Quitting something is never a black and white issue. Any number of these factors could be a good reason to leave the sport. Ultimately you have to ask yourself am I leaving because I think that failure is OK or am I leaving because I can succeed better doing something else. If you are accepting your failure just because you believe that failure is somehow always a good thing you probably aren't leaving for the right reasons. So don't give into failure because you think you will learn something where you could have persevered and accomplished something great, give into failure when you won't be getting returns on your invested effort.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Ironman Arizona IMAZ Course and Race Preview

Ironman Arizona (IMAZ) is a very popular and highly demanded late season Ironman. It is late season in the sense that it is mostly already fall time for most of North America but in a sense it is one of the earliest qualifiers for Kona 2015 so look at it how you will. Formerly held in April this is the 9th running of a very successful Ironman course and location. This years event features the debut of Olympic triathlete Brent McMahon and former hockey player Heather Jackson.

As is common for these events expect that most of the competitors won't be getting much sleep tonight. Today will be spent either registering, or in transition doing final gear checks. If you arrived after Thursday you've missed the traditional underpants run.



Swim (Cool & Murky):
Expect a crowded swim start as is typical at these events. In most cases the starting line for this event will be spread out enough that most athletes can avoid getting beaten up too badly. Hopefully everyone remembers that foot massages are not always welcome and the swimmers can spread out without too much difficulty. Weaker swimmers generally seed to the back of the pack but there is always a shuffle between the stronger and weaker swimmers. With cool 65 degree water wetsuits will be legal and are recommended for helping reduce those swim times. Tinted goggles are a must swimming into a rising sun. There were a few reports last year of record breaking swims making some wonder if the course is short or if there is an unreported lake current that is helping. The water does have poor visibility. Watch your footing on the way out aluminum stair have been know to break toes (like my coaches big toe at Ironman Texas for example)!



Bike (Flat & Fast):
The bike course starts with three out and back loops making for congested roadways and mental havoc as competitors have to avoid other racers and keep track of their location. As with most things that are repetitive keeping focused may prove difficult for some. The elevation profile for this course makes a perfect pyramid three times for each out and back. This course is tempting for an all out hammering of the hills with time to recover on the back side, for most who attempt this will also be a reminder of just how far 112 miles really is. This course is gorgeous by the way, if you've never been to Arizona or Utah before expect to be blown away. By midday there could be the additional factor of a rising wind as the course heats up, worst case here would be a crosswind otherwise a tailwind will help more than hinder. Because the course the pretty much flat(ish) and the road is in perfect condition these factors will highly favor those able to hold an aero position comfortably the longest.



Run (Rough & Dry): 
This is a fairly flat course and possibly one of the reasons for IMAZ's reputation of being beginner friendly. That being said it is still a full marathon and deserves all the respect it is due. Rumors of poor surface conditions continue to dog optimists like me. Most competitors will enjoy looping back to greet friends and family a number of times. Anyone who was seeded over from Ironman Lake Tahoe will be taking a huge break on this leg (not to mention the bike to be honest)! There is a hill, also known as 'the hill,' most won't be sprinting it even though it is relatively short.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Struggling is Good

Most people do their best to avoid struggling as much as possible. I know that I go out of my way to make my day-to-day and weekly activities easier. On the other had I was recently watching a documentary about the production of a film where it turned out that every time it seemed that the challenges were too great the solutions the producers came up with ended up making the film very popular and original. If the production hadn't suffered the results would have been much less impressive.



It turns out that struggle is one of the most motivating forces in peoples lives. Struggling humbles people and forces them to apply their skills or hone their talents in order to solve the problem they are currently facing. Thinking back on myself and the times where I struggled and faced opposition were also the times where I tried hardest or came up with some of the most creative solutions to the problems that I faced. Sport is a constant struggle on a number of levels. Everyday is spent working to improve and reduce the effects of fatigue or injury. A lot of what is required to improve is repeating and practicing the same skills and routines over and over again. This is a different kind of struggle than most people expect. Often I face the struggle to be consistent and committed. This is only one example. Another common example comes from needed to make sacrifices, accepting limitations, or even having to seek and ask for help. If you can manage to balance all of these competing demands and focus on your goals you are much more likely to someday succeed. In this way struggling is good, it motivates and makes people look at their situation honestly. Struggle often defines a persons character and makes their success stories more inspiring.

Monday, November 3, 2014

5 Important(ish) Things I Am Going to Do This Week

It's the monday after daylight savings, which means Christmas is almost here (the connection is pretty direct). November is always an interesting month in that regard. It's kind of the last chance to salvage (or continuing crushing those goals) the year, it's also the lead up to Christmas and generally recognized as the start of flu season. I've had a great year so far including many new experiences and met most of my goals with some still to be defeated (perfect!). Planning for the next two months involves finishing my Accounting degree (finally!) and escaping the arctic chill here in Canada for a move to sunny California (so long suckers). But that's all big picture stuff, what I am going to do this week to make sure that I am on track for the remaining 9-ish weeks of the year?

1. Do my homework! 

Being almost finished a degree can be tough, really tough. I want a diploma, my professors want to give me tests first. I've done tests, plenty of them, in fact I'm pretty much through with test taking for a while. Not that I don't still have a bunch to do, and not that I'm really caring anymore. I'm a learner, I love learning, I hate taking tests. I guess I can thank the modern school system for turning my love of learning into something I know I won't be doing best when my motivation is largely GPA related. Whatever, time to buckle down, make those sacrifices, and earn a few more A's, or B's, it really doesn't matter that much anymore.

You Want Me to Memorize What?
2. Reset my circadian clock

Daylight savings sucks..! Oh wait this is the good one. Daylight savings rules..! Nothing like literally setting the clock back to wake up earlier to make me feel like a well rested champ. On the other hand it usually isn't long before I'm sleeping a bit late again. This is an opportune time to go for broke and be that early bird out to catch the juicy worms. Not to mention that I will be joining a Masters Swim club in the New Year that starts practice at 5:30a daily! Time to hop on the early morning red-eye bandwagon.

4am? At Least No One Will Hear Me Crying

3. Lists of all kinds

For me making a list is a fun and rewarding activity. I enjoy the experience of sitting somewhere comfortable and contemplating whatever topic with a friend or even alone. Usually I forget about the list shortly after or I am not able to complete all of the different items but it is always such a relaxing activity to me. Lists help me organize, clarify, and be more productive. I should be making more of them for fun and to help keep my life manageable.

Step 1: Making a List of the Lists I Am Going to Make!

4. Think about the future

This is another activity for me like lists that is almost entirely wishful thinking. On the other hand for the many hours I may spend thinking about where I am heading, what things around me are changing and how events have unfolded in the past there are bound to be at least a few valuable conclusions. Now I'm not really a futurist or anything. But maybe I could be!? Mostly I should be thinking about the coming weeks, months, and years of my life and what actions I can be doing now that will help me going forward. Not a bad use of time actually. Some of my classmates don't even know what area of Business they are interested in!

Is it Too Early to Get Into Forestry?

5. Write more blog posts! 

I'm just going to leave it at that. Not that I don't need this to-do as a reminder here!

They Don't Write Themselves People!