Doing it all the hard way...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

At work we're like one big family..

Strange how something that on the surface sounds so positive, when taken to its logical conclusion, realizes its full, brutal reality. You can't fire your uncle from your family, but you can fire him from your company....


I was a competitive runner in high school and college. I continued to run after college and I have completed ten marathons. I won’t even think about attempting any more. When I see Cyclocross courses with tough run ups, a broad smile comes across my face. Two knee surgeries have reduced my running to three to four miles maybe one day a week. Despite all the riding I do, I somehow still see myself as a runner. That belief is so deep rooted that even with running being just a small fraction of my training, I always expect to do well on Cyclocross courses that have a lot of running.

With this perspective I just expect my legs to hold up their end of the bargain. For the second time in as many weeks, I went for a run only to be hobbled by a wicked calf cramp. I look down at my legs in disbelief and wonder what is going on. Come to think of it, when I see my face in the mirror and wonder where all those horizontal cracks in my forehead came from.

Somewhere in a shoe box I have a photo of myself as an eighteen year old sitting on a bench in my running shorts. Although more than thirty years have passed since that photo was taken, when I close my eyes, I still think I am that guy. Then I go for a run and reality manages to get through my denial filter. I guess I should look for a better filter......

Beware of Timex employees

There are a few things in my professional life that I believe I do exceptionally well. Customer interaction would be one of those areas that I would point to as a personal strongpoint. My ability to listen to a customer and provide closed loop communication has been developed over many years. Customers like me and more importantly, they respect me, and the companies I have work for.

I was on a three-way phone call the other day and the customer was attacking the other party on the call. The other party took the abuse in a way that suggested they were experienced in getting beaten. In addition, the customer clearly spelled out what they wanted to happen, and the other party didn’t take the queue.

I had two takeaways from this call. First; the other party didn’t know squat about customer relationships. The second point and the subject of my rant today, was that if someone takes harsh criticism well, they must be used to it and that in and of itself, is cause for serious concern.

Taking abuse may be a good quality for a watch or a bicycle component, but show me someone who takes abuse well, and I’ll show you someone I don’t want to have on my professional team.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fear of being Boned?

I sleep like a pile of laundry. I occasionally have the usual dreams. No weird dancing dwarves or singing skunks.

Until today.

I’m in a roadside market, one of those places where you can buy milk, apples, a plaid shirt and a fishing license. It is fairly large and there are a couple shopping carts here and there. I am in the fruit section and I look to my right and there is Jay Buhner. Jay is a retired Seattle Mariner who played right field, hit a lot of home runs and was nicknamed, “Bone.” I don’t have any strong feelings toward him one way or the other. But he was in the market.

Just as I am thinking to myself, “hey, there’s Jay Buhner,” he picks up a bunch of bananas, a bunch about the size of an overflowing laundry basket, and plucks off a banana and throws it at me. He doesn’t look mad or anything, in fact he is kind of smiling. I start to run toward the back of the store and Jay chases me, chucking bananas as we run. The middle of the store is kind of Costco-like with tall shelves and merchandise on pallets. I keep running and Buhner keeps the bananas flying. I don’t recall if any hit me or not, but I kept running because (for some reason) I know there is a loading dock in the back and I can make my way out.

At the back of the building is the loading dock, and there is one with no truck so I run through it and jump to the ground. It is a sunny day and there is a blue sky with white clouds. I’m experiencing the usual frustration of not being able to run very fast in my dreams, but I hang a right and think to myself, Buhner is an old retired ballplayer, I can out run him. I’m actually five years older than him, but this is my dream so I’m sure not as old as I really am.

Just as I realize I’m free and clear my alarm goes off and I realize not only was I dreaming, but I must be losing my mind as well.

My calls to Sigmund Freud have not been returned, so if anyone cares to speculate on what this means, I’d love to hear it. Really…

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My commute

I’ve been riding to work a day or two a week for about a month. It took some time to secure a shower facility and get things squared away. I brought my camera last Wednesday and snapped a few pics. It was sunny, which was a first.

It is just over nineteen miles each way and my times have varied from 1:16 to 58:44. The route features several small hills, but no categorized climbs. I have considered doing it on a single speed, but my knee is telling me to just keep riding the geared bike.

I roll out from our place and cut through the parking lot of an elementary school. Then I get the view you see here.

After making my way through a sleepy neighborhood or two, I catch a bike lane and head toward the interurban trail.

While this may look like a flood basin, it is in fact the interurban bike trail passing under a pretty busy street.

The route follows the remnants of an old streetcar line that went from Everett to Seattle. A lot of the route parallels I-5. This is a view in Lynnwood Washington of I-5 and the many souls heading to work in Seattle.

After a moderately circuitous route, I am riding next to I-5, which is to my left hidden by a grassy hill. Along this area I typically see a rabbit or two each day. The rumor is the rabbits were liberated from a testing facility, and then let out here. It seems the stuff of urban myths to me..

A few years ago they put in this pedestrian bridge over I-5 and I personally appreciate it.

This is an area I call the green river. Because it is green and like the infamous green river killer, it is a perfect place to kill people and pile the bodies. It is generally deserted and could be kind of creepy to those more vulnerable than myself.

After this I come out by a mall and then a short jaunt on surface streets brings me to my destination. You all know what surface streets look like, so you’re on your own there.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Social Project

We all have had the chance to be part of a variety of different organizations. For some it began when we were taken by the hand into our kindergarten class. For me, the spectrum runs from volunteer organizations, to a cycling team, to an assortment of for profit companies.

The methods of leadership vary based on the organization. In a volunteer enterprise people are free to walk out the door (literally or figuratively) so they are typically handled with more tolerance than in a for-profit company. A drill sergeant as a little league coach usually drives kids (and parents) out of the sport. Conversely, a vice president who just asks that everyone “do their best,” usually finds himself (or herself) quickly looking for a new job.

I have always thought that in business leadership has two obligations, one to their owners to make money, and another to their workers to grow them and keep them employed. My belief is that these objectives are not mutually exclusive and that is the challenge of business. Some companies see these objectives as opposite ends of the spectrum.

A company is free to place themselves anywhere on that spectrum. I have recently become aquatinted with a company that appears to require nothing of their people and the performance of the company reflects that decision. The company, like an enabling parent, allows second and third chances to people who should be sent packing. While this kindness may sound generous, it put everyone’s job in peril.

The problem at this company, which I have dubbed, “The Social Project” is quite simply, leadership.

The Rubix Cube that challenges the folks at The Social Project..
One of the challenges in our global economy is when a leader from one culture leads group that has a different culture, or an assortment of cultures, messages can be lost. A word to the wise may be sufficient in some cultures, while a slap to the head isn’t enough in others. Add to the cultural confusion a liberal sprinkling of below average players and you have a recipe for disaster.

I recall a few years ago speaking with someone about a particular company we knew a few things about. He likened the company to a football team. He said, “They have a new head coach, and he has a great play book, but the players don’t know how to block.”

The last twelve months have seen a heated national debate about unions and corporate greed. As bad as it sounds, with rare exception, people need strong leaders to accomplish the company objectives. True leaders are a lot more rare than we might think. My experience is that without good leaders organizations seldom survive, and people lose jobs. There is no happy ending when unemployment is in the mix. A person who can keep people employed and at the same time make money for their owners is valuable asset to society. I have no moral problem paying those men and women plenty of money.

As I peer into conundrum that is The Social Project, I confess that I see no hint of leadership. I don’t know what those people are paid, but I do know they are not effective, and there is no accountability at any level. While I love my fellow being and show patience and kindness helping people in social situations and in volunteer settings, in a business environment, we aren’t supposed to do our best; we’re supposed to do our jobs.

People generally talk about sustainability as it relates to the environment. A situation where the inmates are running the asylum can’t last for long.

Pudding. We get pudding !!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Training update and recent riding highlights

An exceptionally asinine work schedule has left me little time to train, and in fact no time to plan my training. Like the mindless creatures of habit I so love to mock, I have been riding and doing weights with drone-like loyalty despite my lack of sleep and mental wellbeing.

This feeling of burn out culminated in my skipping what had been an “A-race” on my calendar without a second thought. Vance Creek, as well as the Washington State Masters Road Race Championships both took place without Evo this past weekend. I had done Vance Creek the last two years running.

Suffering at Vance Creek not so long ago..
This past week, I managed to commute by bike on Wednesday (nineteen miles each way). This foolishness was attempted after spinning and hitting the weights pretty hard on Monday and Tuesday. In fact, I did an extra set of squats (four sets instead of three sets of ten) which left my quads notably sore for my bike ride Wednesday. The ride into work was dark, but it was mentally refreshing. The ride home was wet, with a stiff headwind blowing rain in my face. The wind also made me feel as slow as molasses. This only confirmed my general impression that I was getting slower and not faster.

Hottie and I both worked hard in spin class Friday. Spinner John does do a really great class. He asked me if I was doing Vance Creek. I believe that if I had says yes, he would have driven down and rode it. On Saturday I went with Hottie on a 31 plus mile ride with 2,260’ of climbing. She is really getting in shape and it was a nice day to be out on the bike.

On Sunday I showed up for the team ride as I usually do. 2020 John had indicated in an email on an unrelated subject that he was training hard this weekend, and the Sunday ride would be done with “increased intensity.” 2020 John is a beast and when he says increased intensity, I pity the fool that tries to hang with him. HLAK Dave showed up. He is a former pro bike racer and is one of those guys that just can’t ride slow. When riding at the same speed as the rest of us, he even LOOKS faster.

As we rolled out, I noted we had no slow guys, but we had all our fast guys. Then we were joined by some fast friends. The stars were aligning for it to be a stupid fast day. When we got on the island, Scott didn’t even stop; he knew the pace would be wicked fast and that he would be caught and dropped like a flaming bag of poo. This unusual move caused confusion and a couple guys went up the road and a bunch followed the unwritten protocol and paused while layers were shed and bottle gulped. My previous attempts at Scott’s trick of getting a head start had met with bad results, so I decided the smart thing would be to follow Big Sam’s wheel and when we took off I jumped on.

Would my Squats pay off ??
I made it up the first hill just fine and was in good position. John attacked as we were forming after the hill and he got a big gap. The group soon showed its quality and we were strung out single file absolutely flying. In minute we had reeled John in. I glanced down at the cool Garmin….26 mph. We rotated and I took a turn at the front. I thought it pretty weak, but as I dropped back a couple guys offered the sweet words, “good pull.” Tim took a flyer and we brought him back to the fold. A few more curves and there was a split. I amped up the power and went around some fading riders and was on the back of a shrinking group. I looked down, 28 mph. We approached the only real climb and I was in about fourth spot. 2020 John was on the front and Fred who is also a bike racing felon was close behind. Dave passed me as did Big Sam and Tim. I fought my way up the hill and passed some guys and to my amazement, I was half wheeling Tim and the only guys in front of him were John and Fred. I knew from sad experience that Tim just drills the false flat (bike code for slight uphill) that goes for a half mile from the top of the hill so I made that my goal and I stuck to his wheel for all I was worth. I looked back and we had a huge gap on the other riders. I was out of breath, but the legs were turning.

They have you row on dry land so you don't drown...
Tim and I took pulls trying to catch Fred and John who had their own sufferfest going up ahead. Finally I cried, “Uncle” and we gave up the chase. Two minutes later a reformed group of three made up of Dave, Matthew and Big Sam joined us and we chased. Matthew took a pull and when he dropped off the front he couldn’t catch back on. Dave gave a brief chase only to meet a similar fate. Sam had my wheel and didn’t even think about coming around as I drove it across our finish line.

The way back started friendly only to escalate into an intense blazing brown blur. Tim took a flyer only to get nailed back. As we neared the end of our return lap and the final climb of the day I found myself on John’s wheel. I was indeed the fool to be pitied. On the hill, Tim jumped and I followed. I stayed in the saddle and I could feel I was at my limit. I passed John and waited to see what happened next. When I’m riding well and am pegged to the limit, it feels like my shorts are straps around my quads. The fire in my quads was exploding and my lungs were burning as well. I realized I had gone too early and just exploded. I clawed my way to the top and coasted down to the park to wait for the others.

Cooked Evo
I commented to Tim that I was confused because my device said we had ridden exceptionally fast, but that since I was in the mix, that couldn’t be right. He confirmed that the day was indeed notably fast, and then said I had really good form. I preemptively adjusted my helmet in case my head suddenly swelled.

Tim had to rub his eyes to make sure it was really Evo that was with him...
I removed my knee warmers for the low-key return to the neighborhood. I looked down and it reminded me of when I had knee surgery and saw my knee for the first time in a couple weeks when the bandages came off. Oh, THAT’s what they look like! This winter has been too long….

To the north, Hottie and SFW were doing their own long ride. The sunshine was long overdue.

Today I again did four sets of squats followed by a 2,000 row, in addition to the full weight routine. I don’t know what I would do if I got fast again. After being a fast guy and winning races in my younger days, and as recently as 2007, I have spent the last four years adjusting to being the slow guy. Well, if the chance comes along, I’ll take it.