I’ve always been skinny. Maybe weak is a better descriptor. I was embarrassed to lift in high school because every member of the girls basketball team could lift more than me. The solution to that problem was obviously NOT to avoid the weight room, but my high school self had a pretty fixed mindset.

I began lifting in college with the tennis team and continued sporadically in the years after I graduated. During that period, about five years ago, I was exposed to GORUCK , completing their challenge event with my friend Matt Brand.

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GORUCK offers an even more challenging event called Selection which has a measly 5% completion rate. I wrote about it previously, signed up, and never attempted it after dislocating my shoulder (that was my excuse at least). It’s an extremely demanding event, well above my current ability. In order to complete it, I would need to become much stronger. That’s why I decided to build a power rack.

The power rack allows me to work the big three lifts of bench press, squat, and dead lift. I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to weightlifting, but at least now I can embarrass myself in the privacy of my own home. The design for my power rack was based on this YouTube video:

I bought all the necessary supplies at Home Depot for a total cost north of $200. It took around four hours to build. I also cut pieces of plywood to have a wood platform over the carpet.

For weights, I first looked on Craigslist, but was able to find a barbell weight set cheaper online at Wal-Mart (with free shipping!).

I’m pleased with how the power rack turned out, but it is pointless if not used. My plan is to read through Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength to learn proper technique and then develop a weekly strength training regimen. The ultimate goal is to complete GORUCK Selection in the Fall of 2020.

This was the 5th goal I accomplished in a very productive month of August (what a delayed post!). There’s only four months until I turn 30, but if I keep making consistent forward progress, I should accomplish 20 of my goals.

Learning to Swim as an Adult

Posted: February 23, 2019 in Uncategorized

I should be an Olympic swimmer. 23 time Olympic gold medal winner Michael Phelps is thought to have a perfect body for swimming with his 6’4″ height and disproportionately wide 6’7″ armspan. I’m 6’6″ with a 7’0″ armspan and webbed toes! My mom was an All-American swimmer at Purdue, her sister an All-American at Notre Dame, and her brother an All-American at Auburn (he also swam in the Olympic trials). My Mom never pushed swimming, instead signing my sister and me up for sports she enjoyed watching (basketball, baseball, volleyball) rather than attending weekend long swim meets.

In late 2012, at age 23, I decided I was going to do triathlons with the large goal of completing an Ironman triathlon. There was one big hurdle though, I didn’t know how to swim. I wouldn’t drown if you tossed me in a pool, but my swimming could best be described as a thrashing doggy paddle.

My first swim ‘workout’ was rather embarrassing. I was determined to learn to properly swim, which meant wearing the skin tight ‘jammers’ as well as sticking my face in the water to exhale and breathing to the side. I would swim a little bit, choke on some water, stop, start swimming again, choke on some water, until I got to the end of the pool. Thankfully the pool at 24 Hour Fitness was only five feet deep so I could stop and collect myself midway. Here are the the notes I wrote in the Garmin activity tracking software after a couple of those first swims:

December 29, 2012 –Swimming 1

January 2nd, 2013 –Jan 2nd

January 8th, 2013 –Jan 8th

January 10th, 2013 –Jan 10th

January 13th –
Jan 13th

January 15th –
Jan 15th

January 17th –
Jan 17th

The all caps in that final note is reflective at how excited I was to swim one length breathing properly (a laughable accomplishment now). It took nine workouts, but I finally figured out how to breathe properly. Later that summer, I successfully completed the 500 meter open water swim in my first triathlon. A year after that, I was one of the first people out of the water at that same triathlon. Four months after that, I completed a 2.4 mile open water swim in route to completing my first Ironman.

Thinking back on it, learning to swim was such a rewarding experience. To go from a complete novice to proficient in two years is a very empowering feeling. If I can learn to swim, what else can I do if I sidelined my unreasonable fear and anxiety?

There’s so many things I’d like to learn to do! Riding mountain bikes, rowing, welding, programming, wood working. and automotive repair are a few. What if I picked a project and jumped in feet first like I did with swimming?

Goal #30 on my 30 Before 30 List was to track my time by the minute, and happiness every couple of hours, for a month. This is supposed to be one of those life improvement hacks. By tracking time, I would find out where my focus is and how long it really takes to accomplish tasks . By tracking happiness, I could pinpoint the activities that bring me the most joy.

Track Time By The Minute

Over the last 75 days, I’ve tracked my time by the minute using a phone app called SaveMyTime (Android only). Every time I open my phone, the app prompts me for what I’ve been doing since I last opened my phone and then calculates my total time for each activity for every day. The app also bunches activities into customizable categories (I’ve got Productive, Wasted, Nuetral, Sleep, and Friends/Family). The app is great and includes all the features I wanted.

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So what was the take away of 108,000 minutes of continuous tracking? Not much. What was very evident was how unproductive I am with my time. I could give you exact  numbers, but I’m to embarrassed to share them.

I have tons of free time, and nearly complete flexibility, yet am not getting much done. I’d estimate that I’m currently working at 10% of my potential, meaning if I focused more, and increased effectiveness, I could get 10 times as many things done. I’d like to do better with Lethal Engineering, triathlon, and my business, but only seem to do well at one at a time, to the detriment of the others.

I mentioned in my Goal #27 and Goal #29 posts how productive I was when I woke up at 4:30 every morning and eliminated news, social media, YouTube and Netflix. The past 75 days, I’ve confirmed that I do waste a lot of time on those activities (several hours a day) and that by eliminating them not only could I free up that time, but improve my focus.

Track Happiness Every Couple of Hours

For this portion of the tracking I utilized an app called Daylio. The app prompts me every two hours from 8 am to 8 pm for a happiness rating of either Rad, Good, Meh, Bad, or Awful. I would have preferred a scale with greater resolution (like 1-10) as I only really ever used three of the moods (Rad, Good, and Meh).

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Tracking my happiness for 75 days, I was able to confirm that I am a generally happy person. Being productive with my work would yield a ‘good’ mood. Exercise instantly increase my happiness, usually to ‘rad’. Hanging out with friends and family was the easiest way to keep a consistent ‘good’ or ‘rad’ mood, as evidenced by the streak of ‘rad’ over Thanksgiving.

Takeaways

I’m most happy when I do things that I deem productive, rather than wasting time. So why don’t I do those productive activities more often? I’m not sure. I feel like I reach these little stopping points of anxiety, and rather than pushing through, I get distracted and move onto something entertaining that requires no work. That passive consumption is so easy and temporarily elicits the positive emotions I feel at the completion of difficult work.

I’ve trained myself to automatically reach for distractions whenever a feeling of anxiety or boredom arises. To fix this, I’m going to work on becoming more conscious of those moments and then work to break my automatic response to them. The idea being to sit with the uncomfortable feeling, rather than seeking immediate reprieve, and as a result, increase productivity and happiness.

Goal #19 on my 30 before 30 list was to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. This idea was hatched by my friends Mike and Sarah, and they let me tag along on their adventure.

I did zero specific training preparing for this climb, and bought all my gear one week before, hoping my base level of fitness would suffice for what I assumed was just ‘a long hike’.

There are several routes up the mountain and we settled on the Lemosho route provided by Trekking Hero for it’s scenic views and high success rate.

Day 0: Travel

I met Mike and Sarah in Chicago, we did an escape room Sunday night, and flew Ethiopian Airlines to the Kilimanjaro Airport on Monday morning.

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I began feeling the altitude during our layover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at 7,000 feet. I was a little worried as Mike and Sarah were each given over 20 Diamox pills, which are used to prevent altitude sickness, and I was only prescribed 6. We arrived in Tanzania, paid $100 each for a visa, and then took a 45 minute ride to our hotel in Moshi.

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Day 1: Lemosho Gate to Mti Mkubwa Camp

Our day began with a five hour drive to get to the trailhead. We stopped in town for supplies and would also make quick stops along the side of the main highway to pick up porters, our transport van slowly filling to capacity.

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We checked in at the Londorosi gate and then drove another 45 minutes to the Lemosho trailhead. The guard with an AK-47 at the trailhead was a little disconcerting.

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Our group was made up of five Americans, one Canadian, and two South Africans. Five of us were in our 20’s, one in his 40’s, and two 60+. We saw some monkeys as we hiked through the rainforest, which would end up being the only wildlife we would see on the mountain. This day was a little bit of a shock. We hiked for a little over two hours, and only three miles, but I was tired at the end of it.

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Day 2: Mti Mkubwa Camp to Shira I Camp to Shira II Camp

This was our longest day of the entire trek, consisting of 11 miles of hiking spread out over 9 hours.

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Our hike up Kilimanjaro was fully supported by a small army of people. Our group of 8 climbers was assisted by a total of 30 guides and porters. I had a small backpack that I carried during the day while a porter carried my 90L duffel bag that held all my other gear. We would leave camp, the porters would pack everything up, come running past us carrying all of the gear, and have camp setup before we arrived.

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We quickly got above 10,000 feet on this day, which was very noticeable on the uphills, as my breathing became unexpectedly labored. We saw the peak of the mountain for the first time as we crested one ridge, only to dip back down to Shira I camp where we had a boxed lunched consisting of fried chicken, fruit, and assortment of carbs.

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The rest of the afternoon we hiked across the Shira Plateau. It started to rain in the afternoon with an accompanying fog as we rolled into camp at 12,500′.

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Camp was great. Everyone had their own tent, except Mike and Sarah, who had a two person tent, meaning you put two people in a one person tent. There was also a large dining tent where we ate all our meals. Breakfast consisted of porridge, crepes, toast, and eggs, while lunch and dinner were made up of some combination of fruit, rice, soup, and or noodles. Coffee and Milo (similar to Nesquik?) were served with every meal.

Day 3: Shira II Camp to Lava Tower to Baranco Camp

Starting on this day and continuing the rest of the hike, the views in the morning were spectacular. To one side, we had an unobstructed view of the mountain. To the other, we could look down at the city of Moshi, veiled in a layer of clouds.

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One member of our group dropped out early in the morning. The guides did the best they could to assist him, carrying his day pack and water, and having a guide stay back with him while the rest of us went ahead, but in the end, the task ahead was too daunting.

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This day’s hike involved a lot of ascending right from the start. After a couple of hours we got up 15,000 feet at Lava Tower. We ate lunch for an hour, giving our bodies a chance to acclimate to the altitude, before descending down to our camp for the night. As we worked our way back down, it started pouring rain. The weather on the mountain could change rapidly. Clear skies one minute would yield to a downpour of sleet the next.

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The guides were great, maintaining an easy pace and telling us where to step on difficult sections.

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The weather cleared up as we arrived into camp.

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Day 4: Baranco Camp to Karanga Camp

This was a short day, what would be the first of two prior to our summit night. We got a late start and could already see a large traffic jam forming up the Baranco Wall. This was the most technically difficult part of the climb, requiring actual climbing and scrambling rather than just hiking. Like, you could fall to your death if you had a big enough misstep. Watching the porters navigate this section was hair raising. They would create their own routes up the wall to avoid the traffic jam all while carrying large 30 lb duffel bags. We probably waited an hour on the face of that wall while the groups ahead of us navigated the technical terrain.

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There was a landing at the top of the wall, which we arrived at just as the clouds rolled in.

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We hiked for another two hours, including a very steep dip in and out of the Karanga Valley, before arriving at Karanga Camp.

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These next details could be titled #FirstWorldProblems, as in things we take for granted in the United States, but aren’t guaranteed in the developing world. If I could change anything about this hike, it would be the bathroom situation. There were bathrooms at every camp, even with urinals, but no toilets. Instead, there was a hole in the ground straddled by two bricks. The foreigners were not adept at using such restrooms as evidenced by the bodily waste that didn’t make it into the hole. It’s difficult to describe that smell with words. Some of the outfitters had there own portable toilets, and If I were to do this again, that would be an upgrade I’d gladly pay for.

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Day 5: Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp (Base Camp)

This was our second short day. We got to base camp before lunch, dropped off some gear, and then climbed another 600 feet for altitude acclimatization.

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After returning to base camp, I took a two hour nap, woke up for dinner, and then went back to bed to try to catch some sleep before our summit attempt, which would begin in the middle of the night.

Day 6: Barafu Camp to Uhuru Peak to Millenium Camp

We woke up at 11 pm for some coffee and cookies and started hiking at midnight. The full moon meant a headlamp wasn’t needed. I wasn’t sure if Sarah was going to make it. She had started feeling sick a couple days prior and looked miserable as we began our summit hike.

Coming into this trip, I thought Kilimanjaro was just an easy hike. Something anybody of decent fitness could do. The hike to the summit was much more difficult than I imagined it would be. I’d say the difficulty was equivalent to running a marathon. Breaks were very short compared to the previous days. Trudging along, I could really feel the effects of altitude. During this six hour climb, we would go from 15,000 feet to over 19,000 feet. We were moving at a snails pace, but my heart was pounding away.

The climb seemed never ending. In the dark, we would think we were coming up to the top of the mountain, only to realize that we were just cresting a ridge that obscured the other half of our climb.

Reprieve from the constant ascending finally arrived when reached Stella’s Point, which marked the rim of the crater and the end of the steep uphill climbing. The sun began to rise, and we made our final push to the summit.MVIMG_20190121_063928.jpg

I was elated when we reached the summit. The unexpected difficulty of the last six hours made arriving at the summit that much more gratifying.

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We spent a quick ten minutes on the summit for some pictures and then made our way back down the mountain, taking a shortcut route on loose dirt. It was a controlled slide all the way down. Dig heel in, slip a couple of inches, fight to maintain balance, rinse and repeat. We got down to base camp, took a two hour nap, and then continued descending down to Millennium camp.

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Day 7 Millennium Camp to Civilization

It was a four hour hike back to the Mweka Gate which marked the conclusion of our trek. The beer lady was doing good business. We got our finisher’s certificate and rode back to the hotel.

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Summary

Climbing Kilimanjaro was a unique experience. It was my first time to Africa and my first multi-day hike and mountain summit. I have no desire to complete any of the other ‘Seven Summits’, but am grateful for having the opportunity to do this one. The entire trek was tougher than I imagined, which will make it more memorable. Thanks again to Mike and Sarah for planning everything and letting me join in on the adventure!

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I Got Glasses

Posted: October 20, 2018 in Uncategorized

I’ve got a queue of 32 blog posts that I’ve started but haven’t finished/published. This was one of them. This little preamble is to tell you that I don’t think this post will be very good, but I’m trying to get 25 posts out to accomplish Goal #14 on my 30 Before 30 List.

I’ve needed glasses my entire life. As a teenager, I’d wear them for two months, only to lose them and go a couple of years without them. My vision is bad, but manageable.

Last year, I finally grew tired of squinting at my computer monitors and set up an appointment with an optometrist. What an improvement! I feel like I have a super power. It’s such a minor change but has had a noticeable impact in my work. I can see my monitors! No longer do I need to lean in to read spreadsheets or small text. Two hours of effort for the appointment and I fixed a problem that had plagued me for years.

What other simple changes could I make that would have a noticeable impact on my quality of life?

 

This will be a quick one…I registered for the Sioux Falls Half Marathon with my friends  Barb and Matt.

I had amassed a total of 18 mile of running between completion of Washington Island Ultra on July 28th and the start of this half marathon on September 9th. No bueno.

It was a great race. Starts and ends in the Denny Samford PREMIER center. Parking was simple, the bag check was quick, and starting a race in a heated arena is great.

I ran very close to an evenly split race, even without a watch. 1200 people ran the half, course was not too crowded.

HALF MARATHON

My finish time was 1:50:15, that’s an 8:25 min/mile pace. Races are a great benchmark of current fitness and my current fitness is bad. It will be a long road if I want to accomplish Goal #8 of qualifying for the Boston Marathon

 

Why?

Goal #29 on my 30 Before 30 List wast to go a month without news, social media, YouTube, and Netflix. The purpose of this goal was to eliminate distractions and to focus on behaviors that are more fulfilling. I knew this goal would be difficult because all of those distracting activities have become ingrained habits. Downtime in the day? Check Google News. Feeling anxiety with work? There’s an hour of YouTube videos to ease that discomfort!

You Need To Be Well Informed

At what point does information become entertainment? I grew up being told that it’s my civic duty to be a well informed citizen, but well informed about what? When is the news not worthy of my attention?

I’d argue that news is worthwhile if I’ll take present or future action with information received. I’d estimate upwards of 95% of the news I consume is not actionable, it’s entertainment. Should I tune in to around the clock coverage of some boys trapped in a cave half way around the world? Of course not, but I did. It was the perfect kind of news: drama filled! My caveman brain loves that shit. Are the lives of 12 Thai boys important? Of course, but I wasn’t going to do anything to save them.

I want to make informed decisions based on trends, aggregates, and long term studies, not daily anecdotes.

It’s Meant To Be Addictive

Prior to this month of abstaining, I would spend several hours each day perusing the News, Social Media, Netflix, and YouTube, even when I had more important things to do. Why?

The brightest computer scientists in Silicon Valley spend hundreds of thousands of hours to make these platforms as addictive as possible. The more I consume, the more ads they can show, and the more money they make. The stories that get the clicks bring in the money. Outrage sells. Manufactured conflict and drama are all crack cocaine to my pathetic brain.

Results

I should have mentioned in my previous ‘Wake Up Before 4:30 AM‘ post that I pursued that goal simultaneously with this one, making it difficult to tease out cause and effect. The overall results were very promising as it was a productive and invigorating month. I accomplished five of my thirty goals in addition to posting two Lethal Engineering videos, publishing three blog posts, and completing a record number of ‘units’ of work.

It was a very quiet month, as if the volume was turned down on the outside world. Everyday became similar to the one before and the one after. There was no drama in my day. Anxiety of the world coming to an end evaporated. It was kind of boring, but extremely relaxing at the same time.

The extra free time allowed me to focus on the items that affect me and that I can have an effect on. I spent an increased amount of time on activities that I find gratifying including writing on this blog, creating Lethal Engineering projects and videos, exercising, and reading. All those activities are more difficult than watching television or scrolling social media, but are undertakings that I know bring greater happiness.

I didn’t perfectly abstain from the distractions. There was a 95% reduction, giving in to watch Netflix with my wife on a couple occasions.

What Did I Miss?

Nothing. There was not a single piece of news that I wish I hadn’t missed.

I visited my parents shortly after wrapping up this goal and watched the nightly news with my dad. My goodness! What an entertaining 30 minutes! I felt fear, happiness, and sadness, all sandwiched between five expertly placed commercial breaks.

It is so easy to slip back into the old habits and that’s exactly what I did in the weeks following the completion of this goal. The contrast between the months of abstaining and consuming has been stark. This is a goal that I need to implement long term.