Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Processes, Systems and Goals

A lot of the work that I do in my day to day revolves around processes and systems. How do we manage customer cases more efficiently, to get them to the right engineer with the right skill set in the least amount of time? How do I measure my team's performance? How do we make sure all the various stakeholders in a given situation receive the proper information that is important to them and get it to them quickly? I could list a hundred more challenges that we have created processes to solve. By creating a process, you can ensure that you are able to repeatedly conquer the same challenge and focus your efforts on the important work that needs to be done.

The key, however is not the process but the specific goal. Blasting an email to the entire company list would achieve a broad goal of communicating information. Without the focus on the specific, getting the right information to the right people without distracting people with unneeded noise, the odds of this process being successful is very slim. At Citrix, from the top down we are very good at setting a goal and then adjusting our process to meet it. This type of thinking does not have to be limited to your work life.

It sounds cold and analytical, but setting goals and processes in our personal lives can actually be very freeing and motivating. Over the past few years, when I've set specific goals for myself invariably things in that area of my life have improved. Any reader of this blog is well aware of my fitness goals and the running that I've done. I set a goal, devise a plan, gather data and track metrics, then adjust my process to target my goals. I've tried to tackle my personal finances, my weight loss and even career and education with in the same manner.

I'm certainly not conceited enough to think that I've been 100% successful in everything or that my way is the right way. I certainly wish I'd figured this out in my early twenties and not in my late thirties, but since I don't have a flux capacitor, I can't go back in time. I steal ideas from others all the time. I believe in art that is called inspiration. But for the most part in the last few years I've been able to pull things together fairly well. In the next few weeks I'm going to do some posts that talk about what I've done in each specific area of my life and hopefully someone out there can steal some of my stolen ideas to help themselves.

If anyone has any requests or suggestions, drop me a note, I'd be happy to hear them.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Atlanta Marathon Relay

After putting together a group to run in the Peachtree, I found out about the Atlanta Marathon Relay and thought it would be fun to put together a team. When I put out a call for volunteers, I got 8 responses, so we made two teams. We made up some cool t-shirts and had a couple of group runs to get everyone in the mood. Finally, it was race day.

The race is presented by the Atlanta Track Club and they are very organized. There were 4 legs, though they were not all the same length. The course is a loop of the city, starting at Atlantic Station and going counter clockwise, hitting most of the major sites around the city. I ran the first leg which was 5.5 miles through Georgia Tech and past Centennial Park, the Aquarium, World of Coca Cola, Phillips Arena, CNN and the Georgia Dome. It was a pretty cool leg, though there was about about 300 feet of climbing with a net gain of over 120 feet.

The weather was pretty great for running, in the high 40's at the start with a slight breeze. We car pooled down to the start and arrived about 5:30 for the 7am start. The people taking the later legs took buses out to the exchange points and the bus for the first exchange left at 6, so the timing was good. I ended up running in my short sleeves with gloves and my visor. I checked pants, a long sleeve T and jacket for after the race and kept a long sleeve T with me that I ditched at the start. I'm pretty happy with my clothing choice as I felt comfortable the whole run.

I headed over to the start and tried to stay as warm as possible until the gun. My plan for this race was to start slowly. I knew there were going to be hills and I didn't want to burn out too early. I knew the guy running the first leg for the other team was faster than I am, but I also knew that our second leg guy was the fastest of us all, so I wanted to stay close enough so he could pass the other team during his leg.

This race was awesome for an entirely different reason than the Peachtree. The Peachtree was full of energy and I talked a lot to the runners around me. This race was quietly inspiring. Here I was running 5.5 miles and I was surrounded by folks who were going 26.2. I was just grateful to be out there. I paced by effort up the hills, walked at the top of a couple of the longer ones and took advantage of the downhills when I could. The first half mile was difficult, probably because I didn't warm up, I had a lot of nervous energy, but once I got up the first hill I had a sense that this was going to be my day. I can't say that I was blazing fast, but I was strong and never once felt out classed by the course.

When checking out the race map on Friday, I noticed that I was going to run a small portion on Baker St. I thought this was pretty cool. Baker St. in Atlanta is right by the Aquarium and Centennial Park. When I turned left on to the street I was pretty pumped. After the turn, I was even more pumped. The whole 2 block stretch of Baker Street was downhill! This was probably about 3 miles in and I opened it up and flew down that quarter mile stretch. Man that felt good. Of course, in this race what goes down must come up, so I slowed again as soon as we turned back to find another uphill stretch past CNN and Philips Arena. Just before mile 5 I looked off to my right to see the sun rising in the East. Unfortunately there wasn't much more sign of the sun the rest of the day, but that was a pretty moment.

Soon, I saw the yellow flag and heard the commotion of the transition point. I saw my team mate, slapped the wristband on him and it was done. I was probably about 30 seconds late stopping my Garmin, but whatever. I'd done it. I got one of those fancy foil blankets, a banana and of course my medal! They bussed us back to the start/finish area and my work was done. Fortunately I had packed some warm clothes to put on, because as comfortable as I was while running was as cold as I felt when I was done.

I changed and made it to the finish line in time to see the marathon winner come through at 2:23, just an amazing time on that course. As the runners from each leg made it back we talked about our stories and our runs. The only negative was that for them, waiting around for their race start was a very cold experience. I was lucky to have done the first leg. In the end, my team won our little internal race by 2 minutes. Everyone had a great time and it looks like our Peachtree group is going to be at least a dozen for next year.

I'm in awe of people who can run 26.2 miles, I really am. At this point, its hard for me to imagine that I'd ever want to put in that effort. On the other hand, the dominating thought in my mind after finishing today is that I cannot wait to do my half marathon. I know this journey is going to be difficult, but I'm amped to get into it.

Race moments

  • In the first quarter mile there was a man standing on a corner with one of those big Swiss cowbells hanging on a leather strap, ringing and ringing. As I passed him, I heard a shout from the apartment building behind him, "Stop that F'ing Bell!!! I'm going to call the cops!" Pretty funny, but I'm sure Id be pretty pissed at 7am on a Sunday morning too.
  • Favorite sign "I thought they said Rum!"
  • Coming down Baker St. I saw a race photographer aiming at me. I flashed a smile and the rock n' roll horns, I hope that picture comes out good!
  • As we were waiting for the first woman finisher a woman came running down the chute. They put up the tape and were cheering her in when they suddenly realized that she was part of a relay team and not the women's marathon winner.  Lucky for her they noticed too late and she got to run through the tape like a Kenyan!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Lily's Run 5K Race Report

Today was a pretty moving day and while I didn't have the best race physically it always feels good to be around inspiring people. This is the fourth year they've held this race to benefit a group called Kingdom Kids which helps provide relief to the families of children fighting cancer by fulfilling a wish for them. The race started for Lily Anderson, who is now 11 and still fighting this terrible disease, but also benefits several of the kids supported by the organization. Their stories are inspiring and heartbreaking. The courage of a little girl to face such unimaginable difficulty makes our regular every day challenges pale in comparison. The fact that suffering like that has to exist in the world breaks my heart. I ran this race last year and was certain that I'd do it again this year.

The race itself has moved to a new venue, one which I have run in the past and I know is quite difficult. Worse yet was the 1pm start, which isn't my best time for peak performance and add the fact that I ate a terrible breakfast, my mind was already in the wrong place to do well today. I'd decided I would just go do what I can and enjoy the day, especially since my girls were going to run the mile fun run as their first race ever. They were super excited and that wore off on me.

I started too fast as much of the first mile is downhill and completed the first mile in about 11 minutes. I was hurting already and knew the rest would be tough.  There's a long uphill stretch in the second mile and I walked about half of that hill. Fortunately the race turned around at the top of that hill and I was able to roll a bit down the hill on the way back. I just tried to maintain a steady pace around 12 minutes when I was running. At this point I was passing a lot of people who went out fast and were walking, so at least I had that going for me.

Mile 3 went a little better and I walked a couple steep inclines but made sure to run in between. There was one guy who was walking and started to run a bit as I passed him in the last quarter mile. I was afraid he was going to try to pass me so I gave it my all, helped by the downhill to the finish and came across the line about 37:45. Nowhere close to my fastest time and honestly not one that I'm proud of, but I put in the effort and made it around.

Afterwards there was a one mile fun run. I asked the girls if they wanted me to run with them, but they said they wanted to do it themselves. "I want to be a brave big girl," one told me. So they headed out on a loop around the school where the race was while my wife worried about them. At the word go, one started out like a rocket, running fast with some of the other kids off the front while the other loped along at a steady pace. By the time they'd come around the other side where we could see them again, they were both walking. The fast one started running again as soon as she could see me though. As they reached us we told them that they had to go around one more lap and she asked if I'd run it with her. So I took off with them both. My "fast" daughter was about 50 yards ahead of the "slow" one, who just wanted to walk more. I tried to stay in the middle of the two of them and whenever I got close to the front one, she'd turn around, see me catching up and take off. It was pretty funny. She kept turning around and taunting me, which raised a few laughs from some of the people around us.

They both finished running, which was great and both told me separately later that they had fun. Overall it was a great race. Even being disappointed in my own performance, it felt great to come out to support some great kids who need our help.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cycling, Doping and Lance Revisited

A year and a half ago I started this blog with a post I felt very passionate about writing. I think it was around the time of Tyler Hamilton's appearance on 60 Minutes and the cracks in the wall around Lance Armstrong's reality were beginning to form. In that post I argued that the cycling world would be better served if all those of that era would just tell the truth, confess to what they did and let today's riders move on without that spectre hanging over them.

This week, the USADA released its evidence and argument in its case that Lance Armstrong and others surrounding him engaged in systemic cheating. No less than 11 of his former teammates signed affidavits telling the story of the doping they did, how many of them knew of or witnessed Lance's cheating and the reasons behind their decisions.

So now I have my wish, most of the riders that I respected have come clean about what was going in in their era. All except for one, of course, Lance. Is it within the realm of possibility that he didn't cheat? Yes, but that would mean that over a dozen people have decided to lie under oath about being dopers in order to be vindictive to the man who made it all possible for them to earn the wages they've earned over the past 15 years. No, as I've said before, its impossible to believe that there was no cheating going on.

In the end though, its not the doping that is the most disturbing part of the stories I read. Everyone was doping. Lance needed to dope to stay in the race. Lance did it better than anyone else around and beat them at their own game. Fine, I can accept that. What really bothers me are the stories of bullying, of intimidation, of careers ruined for daring to make a decision different than that of Mr. Armstrong. Anyone who left his cadre through the years tells similar stories of threats, explicit or veiled. We've all seen Lance ride up the road to chase down a break with a rider who dared to say something about him or his Dr. in the press. Levi Leipheimer tells of his wife receiving threatening text messages from Lance after testifying to the Grand Jury initially investigating this case.

I can forgive doping. I can't forgive being a jerk. Yes, he's done a lot of good things for the cancer community. His positive impact on the sport of cycling means that people actually care about this stuff. But an asshole who does some good things is still an asshole. If you're going to think that your version of the truth is important enough to destroy other people, then you are an asshole.

I'm glad that this story broke after the cycling season ended and I hope that next year once the Giro and the Tour roll around that people pay attention. There are some fantastic young riders from the US who are out there making a difference. Taylor Phinney and Tejay van Garderen did fantastic things this year and bring hope that majesty of the sport of cycling will continue long after the smoke of doping dissipates.