Saturday, June 2, 2018

Arctic running

Annual training for my Army Reserve unit was at Eielson AFB and Ft. Wainwright up near Fairbanks, AK this year. Even though my wife was born in Alaska (and even went to school at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks) I had not yet made it up and was excited for the chance to see a new place.

Unfortunately this is just a running blog post and not a fishing blog post as we went in April. It’s a slightly sad time of year where there’s not enough snow to go skiing or snowmobiling (or snow-machining as they say in Alaska) but too much snow to hike or fish (and the salmon aren’t yet running).

Eielson running

In spite of being an Army unit, we were staying on the air force base. The inn on base had a rather nice welcome packet that suggested a 1-mile, 5k and 10k routes.

This was a pretty good place to start although I found the 10k route to be closer to 5.2 than 6.2 miles. All routes were on roads with good shoulders or sidewalk and reasonable traffic.

For longer runs I found that running out past the power plant on base brought you to a nice open road that goes past the fuel farms, to the covered range where you come to a Y (64.655706°, -147.002964°). If you go right you get to the ski hill (Iceman Falls), a sheet range and a nice set of cross country trails (64.649480°, -146.979207°). These trails were a bit muddy for the time of year when I was there so I did not run any of them.

The base also had a nice indoor and outdoor track as well as an obstacle course / trail.

Beach Bum 5k

We were there over one weekend which happened to have the University of Fairbanks hosting a race. In traditional fashion I wanted to get there an hour early to get parking and have ample time to warm up. I need not have worried as there was about 50 people at the race.

Starting area of the race
The course made most of its 170 ft of elevation gain in the first mile. Once it leveled out on the north side of campus we got some great view of Denali before heading back through the center of campus to the start. It was a perfect low-key race to break up the annual training.

Charles and I at the finish

Hoodoo Brewery Run

The other running highlight of my time in the area was the weekly 5k fun runs from Hoodoo Brewing. The run was organized by Running ClubNorth. About 75 – 100 runners did an out-and-back course from the Brewery. Both times we went down to the Chena River but one week we went east the other week we went west.

While it was a fun run there was an advantage to getting back earlier as the beer line quickly got long.

Post Run Brews
Hopefully I get to go back and explore Alaska in the summer when there are more trails and salmon. Until next time.

States that I've raced in

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

My Deep Work Experiment


The idea of restricting my email checking and focusing more long periods on “deep work” had been brewing in my head for a while.  One of my favorite blogs, Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Erik Barker, talked about skipping email first thing in themorning. Another one of my favorite blogs, Study Hacks by Cal Newport, talks about restricting email (or as he suggests eliminate it entirely). One of the overarching themes of his blog is that we need to deliberately carve out more time to do the deep work that is both 1) what knowledge workers in our economy really get paid for and 2) what we find most meaningful. The issue when reading anything intriguing like this is to figure out how to apply this to my work. 

I decided I would try the following experiment for organizing my day and see how well they worked.

·        From 9 am – 11:30 I would pick 1 – 2 tasks to dive into (i.e., do deep focused work) on for 1 – 1.5 hours from
·        I would limit checking emails to before lunch (11:30 - noon) and leaving (16:00 – 16:30)
·        Immediately after lunch I would set aside another 1.5 hour block to focus on deep work
·        I would do shorter tasks (that could be completed in less an hour from 2 pm – 4:30 
·        Spend the first hour on Monday mapping out the week

Obviously externally scheduled meeting and meeting that I set up with other people could occasionally cut into these deep work times, but I wanted to be deliberate about scheduling shorter tasks.

Working Offline

One issue that I quickly learned in that I could not simply “not check” my email  - i.e., it was not just a matter of will power (although that was part of the problem). Even assuming I had the self-control to not flip to my inbox, I would often find that I need to go there to reference an email that someone else had sent me. Even as I quickly typed in my search for the needed email, I would inevitably scan the subject lines and often get diverted to answers one or two seemingly urgent and “quick” emails. Even if I somehow managed to avoid scanning the subject lines, the boldened emails in my inbox would weigh on my attention.

Either the building number of emails or one of the subject lines would taunt me and derail my concentration. The solution I found was the “Work Offline” feature.

How to reference your emails without checking them
This feature meant that nothing came in or went out (emails and schedule invites). I could still look at my calendar and search old emails. Emails that I composed when working offline sat in the Outbox queue awaiting their reunion with the interweb to go on their merry way.

Built in Pause 

Working offline gave me the chance to refine emails. Before I would dash off an email with some issue that came to mind. When I started working offline I started going back to these emails that were in the Outbox (i.e., queued up to send, but not yet sent) and adding to them as I came up with additional question or refining my questions to be more specific.

Occasionally, I would remove stuff from emails as I learned additional information from talking to folks. Sometimes I even deleted emails when I solved the issue brought I brought my emails back online.

The most selfish benefit was this this prevented me from looking foolish when I did NOT sent an email for a question that I just needed to do more legwork on. More altruistically, it reduced the number of emails clogging other peoples’ inboxes. Finally, in cases where I refined and edited emails, it got me better responses or at least reduced the number of emails that I needed to send (no more of: “oh, one more question related to this topic. . .”).

But you’re always busy. . .

Then I stumbled into an Outlook specific issue: by scheduling out my day it made it difficult for other people in my office to set up meetings with me. Outlook lets us look at other people’s schedules and see where open spots are. But by scheduling my days it made it look like I was busy and thus I was an impediment to these necessary huddles.

The solution here was another little feature of Outlook that makes me think I’m not the first person to try these things: you can set any block of time to show as free or busy to other people. So while I was trying to be deliberate with how I used my time, I also realized that in my office’s culture I needed to compromise and be selective on what blocks of time I labeled as scheduled.

Forcing better writing

Only checking email periodically also forced me to write better. Sometimes my work required input from someone else that was best done via email. In the past I might have fired off an email in the morning and worked on short tasks until they responded. Now I either had to send this email out the day before; wait until the next email check; or, if it was really important, call or talk to the person. While this initially seemed to be an imposition, it actually makes your email better. Consider the example email chain:

Me: We should discuss this.
Client: Yes, agreed.
Me: When should we discussed this?
Client: How about tomorrow at 1?
Client: I already have a meeting scheduled then, how about 2 pm?
Me: I'm busy then. Can you send me a few times that work for you?
Client: I'm free at times x, y and z
Me: Okay, time y works.
Client: Great

Under my new system, this exchange would take over a day. So instead I hadto think about how to craft an email to create less back-and-forth. So instead of the example six email exchange a new email might look like this:

Me: If you would like to meet to discuss this, send me two or three times that work for you and I will send out a meeting invite.
Client Yes, let’s discuss. I’m free tomorrow from 1 – 3 or the day after from 10 = 11:30.
Me: Outlook meeting invite for tomorrow at 2 pm


There were humorous and not that bad: folks occasionally bring goodies into the break area and send out an office-wide email.  In particular, I remember one day where I missed out on someone’s going-away cake.

I also occasionally miss out on last-minute generic group invites to go grab a snack or attend a quick meeting.

Closing thoughts, for now

As I expected, no one noticed or has been that bothered. The challenges have been there but no one has been left in the lurch. I did not need to change the whole office culture of email to reap the personal benefits.

It has been a process of weaning myself off of continuous email checking. I found that when I was trying to dive into a long block on a focused task I would take time to get my mind into what I was doing. I would often absentmindedly flip to the inbox for some “hit” that would distract me from the daunting task I was getting into. It was a habit – I was often in the inbox before my thoughts caught up.

The benefits of stress reduction and focused work were obvious from the first day. I still have a ways to go when it comes to planning for focused work and actually focusing on a task for an hour and a half or more but nearly a year in, this experiment has been successful beyond any productivity tip that I have tried so far.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Hobby sabbaticals

This past month I brewed my 50th batch of homebrew and called it a good run.

Once more, into the brew
It was not the first time I let go of a hobby. When I was deployed to Iraq and then Afghanistan I took up fly tying. 

First Iraqi Fly

Just as it was satisfying to drink a beer I had brewed it was fun to catch a fish on a fly that I tied. While both were fun at some level I realized that there are some good lessons in letting go of hobbies.

Testing it

Sweet carp success

You Only Save Money If You Enjoy the Time

It’s possible to save money by tying your own flies or brewing your own beer – but only if you make that your focus. It’s tempting to do some easy math and think that you save money on beer. For example, even with doing partial extract brewing where I buy a lot of liquid malt extract (the most expensive ingredient) I can brew 5 gallons of beer for around $56.

An 5-gallon keg of decent craft beers are averaging $70 so for a while I convinced myself that I was at least making money. However, I soon realized that this calculus neglected the 4 - 5 hours to brew and 1 - 2 hours it was taking me to bottle the beers.

And once I had kids time for hobbies came at a premium. While homebrewing was fun, I realized I would often rather be running or catching up with the kids and house projects.

Keep Fun Time Fun

It also started to feel like a chore to bottle the beer. I could have bought a kegging set-up and gear. But this felt like throwing more money after something that I was questioning. For some people brewing is a creative outlet to try really weird flavor or to make really world-class beer. I was brewing good beer but beer that I could buy in a store and that seemed questionable.


Finally, it takes mental space to maintain gear for brewing. Since I was down to brewing once or twice a year I would often find that some key piece of gear had broken the previous time and I hadn't replaced it. Or the kids had walked off with it. Our house had not missed the gear yet.

So long and thanks for the beer.

We'll Call It a Sabbatical

There was still a part of me that held on for a year or so after I thought about retiring. I feel the sunk cost of the equipment and time getting my experience. But at 50 batches of beer I can at least say I gave it a good run.

At the moment, I am phrasing it as a sabbatical from brewing. I still enjoyed it and might someday return to it when the kids are older or gone. Just like I might one day tie my own flies again. But for now I will focus on other priorities.

Someone's ready to brew.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Army 10-Miler

My opportunity

I was at my annual training in June this year and I saw a flyer to try out for the Ft. Hunter-Liggett Army 10-Miler team. I called the point-of-contact who told me to show up at 6 am in a few days. Ft. Hunter-Liggett did a rolling try-out. Over the course of two months if Ivan, the MWR guy running the show, had time you could run or submit a time. At the end of July he would pick the fastest times an notify folks.

I ran the course with LT Wade Phillips. The Ft. Hunter-Liggett time trial course had a slight uphill on the way out which made for a nice negative split on the way back. I ran a 63:07 and felt pretty good about my chances.

Army 10-Milers Past

This would not be my first trip to DC to run the Army 10-Miler. In Iraq I was fortunate to have met up with some other runners in my brigade who were in contact with the major in the division who was running the Ft. Campbell tryouts. Every Sunday they would transport runners from our brigade to the other side of Camp Victory to run around Saddam’s palaces and lakes. I made the team and shortly after we got back we all drove from Ft. Campbell to DC.

Camp Stryker Running Crew. 2 BCT / 101st Airborne Division\
I had a good enough time that the next year when I went to Ft. Leonard-Wood for the Engineer Captain’s Career Course I called up the MWR and get in contact with LTC Jackie Chan (yes, that was really her name) and trained with that team. We placed third in the Active Army mixed team category.

2007 Ft. Leonard-Wood Army 10-Miler Team
Every deployed post that I was at in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait put on some version of the race. It was free and always fun challenge over the usual 5k runs.

2014 Army 10-Miler in Camp Arifjan Kuwait

Transportation and Lodging

Army teams typically stay in the Crystal Gateway Marriott. It is stunningly convenient to get to the start. You could take the metro in the basement of the hotel but I got the impression that some years the Metro had not supported the race by opening early and that the years that it was open it was rather crowded. It is easier just to walk north along S Eads St. – it’s pleasant and a nice way to stretch out the legs prior to the race.

Getting to the start of a race with 25,000 doesn't get much easier
The other advantage of the Crystal Marriot or similarly located hotel, is that you are right next to the MountVernon Trail. This trails goes for miles and is free of road crossings. If you go north you are even blessed with nice views of the mall and its monuments.

Traveling into Reagan National Airport is the most convenient way to do the Army 10-Miler. There is an easy Metro that takes you one stop down to Crystal City (or into the city and other Metro lines). Dulles has public transit options but they involve a bus and transfers. There is enough to do in DC that there is no good reason to get a car.

Metro with the airport, hotel and race start. Doesn't get much more convenient


If you are active duty packet pick-up opens at 8:30. For the general public it opens at 10. While it might be tempting to sleep in, the line into the Armory explodes if you wait. At 9:30 we walked right into the building and had our packet and shirt in less than 10 minutes. When we left the line wrapped around the block and almost reached the metro stop.

Packet pick-up line around 11 am
The expo itself was nice enough and I found a good deal on some running shorts that I felt I was running low on (my wife throws away pairs long before my cutoff of being unable to tell which holes are for the legs).

Ft. Hunter-Liggett team at the Expo

 Race Day

We got to the race about an hour before the start. There were ample toilets (at least at more than a half-hour to the start). There was a nice section of the course that was closed to traffic but not part of the first mile that made for a good warm-up area.

I started near the middle of my wave. As with the New York City Marathon I should probably have muscled my way closer to the front. But the first split was still a little below my goal pace of six-minute miles (3:45 kilometers). I kept up a good shown until the halfway point when the rain, wind and temperatures began to get the best of me. I was somewhat relieved to learn later that it was not just me. After around 10 am the Army made the call to shorten the course andcall the event a fun run.

Pace at each kilometer
However, I did seem to weather the weather reasonably well. I passed a lot of folks in the second half of the race and even put in a strong split on kilometer 15. I crossed the finish in 1:01:47.

I waited around for LT Phillips (who I had run the time trial with many weeks ago). Our ringer, CPT Foster (who ran for a few of the All Army teams) had finished long before both of us. We found Ivan (aka coach) and my family who had come out. 

CPT Foster, Wade and I did a rather nice cool-down on the Mount Vernon Trail which was easily accessible from the northeast corner of the parking lot. We crossed a bridge and found ourselves on nice secluded section of the trail - a nice chance of pace from the crowded racing and warm-up.

We were fortunate to bring home the Army Reserve Mixed Team trophy (top four times with at least one male and female time)
Coach with our sweet trophy

Being a Tourist

I have been grateful each time for the opportunity to stay the afternoon after the race. There is so much to see around DC within an easy metro ride. The capital tour was a little challenging with two small kids but the mall was perfect.

Kid approved Washington DC tourism

I was grateful to the Army Reserves for the chance to run in DC again. My only regret was not getting to see more of my friends from the Kuwait Running Mafia. I’ll pick them up next time. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sleuthing new routes in Patapsco State Park

A while ago I wrote a blog about finding running routes when I travel. Since then I have given in and lined up my Garmin watch to Strava and Garmin Connect. Over the last year I have come to appreciate the benefits that both can provide in finding new routes along with other sources. My route sleuthing in Patapsco illustrated some of the advantages using this arsenal of resources.

Google Maps v. Garmin Connect v. Strava

After I first noticed the green space on Google Maps I looked up trail maps for Patapsco State Park online. The maps were great for getting the overall structure of the trail system and doing some basic route planning. But the disadvantages quickly became apparent when I started running. First the maps were made at a more general level of detail than I prefer. The maps only showed park roads and not rather convenient features like local roads and streams. The maps also did not show connector trails that were not completely within park boundaries.

Without Will Surles showing me this trail I never would have found this cool loop
For a while I had liked Garmin Connect for how it showed a heat map with my day's running route. The next two photos show how Garmin Connect showed trails that were not on Google maps. In the picture below Google Earth shows this trail in the Glen Artney Area just petering out at the Vineyard Hill Road. Note the area circled in red.

Red area showing a nice trail junction that is oddly missing in Google Earth
Garmin Connect turned out to be a little better. . . it at least shows a nice trail running along the power lines and connecting to some of the trails in the Hilton Area, but pay attention to the area highlighted in blue. . .

But the heat maps in Google connect show
Strava's maps seemed to have the most complete trails for Patapsco State Park. The areas highlighted in blue above is a nice trail that leads to the bridge over the Patapsco River and to a nice network of trails in the Orange Grove Area.

Finally, a reasonably complete and accurate representation of the trails

Bringing on the Heat

But what bugged me about Strava was that I thought the heat maps (which show where everyone rusn with more popular routes in boulder colors) required a premium membership. 

Well, nuts. . .

Then my friend showed me how to access this cool feature for free. . . you first:
1. Got to My Routes
2. Select "Create New Route"

3. Click on the Settings wheel and 
4. turn on Global Heatmaps

And Now for Some of My Favorites

The first part should be neat for everyone. This last part probably just if you find yourself in Baltimore with an itch for a trail run.


Patapsco State Park itself consists of three or four distincts and separate areas along the Patapsco River just west of Baltimore . I have come to really appreciate it as a great area to run when I do work in Baltimore. I primary focused on the Avalon area since it is closest to the airport hotels that I usually stay at. The trails are primarily single track dirt and surprisingly hilly minus the paved Grist Mill Trail. Most five to seven mile loops have about 800 – 1,000 total feet of elevation gain.

At first I accessed the main picnic / camping / parking area. This is the most central area and gives the best choice of all of the available trails. The main disadvantages of this area is that is has a fee (albeit a modest $3 or $4 – and waiver-able with a military ID) and, at least while I was there this past summer, did not open until 9 am (which was rather inconvenient for a morning runner like me).

See in browser

Fortunately, there are several other official trailheads on the periphery with room for six to a dozen vehicles.

Up and Down the River Loop

This loop has a nice mix of elevation gains and a challenging first half combined with an easy return along the paved Grist Mill Road. Options abound for ways to add miles.

East Avalon Map (Glen Artney Area)

This loop has options for running along some really beautiful streams and going under the railroad tracks via some neat stone bridges

West Avalon Map (Orange Grove Area)

This is a fun loop to do from one of the perimeter trailheads that gives a nice overview of the western half of the park.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Run, FIsh, Beer - The 2017 Lake Fork Flyathlon


I waited two years to do this race and it was worth it. I first learned about the flyathlon in 2015 when I read an article in 5280magazine about this new event that combined running, fishing and drinking beer. It was hard to believe it, but some genius had combined all three of my favorite things to do in my free time into one event. Unfortunately, it was too late to sign up for any of the events that year so instead I did one of the Sandbeech Lake training run listed in the website. The timing of the events did not work out in 2016, but finally in 2017 the stars aligned and I got to participate in the Lake Fork Flyathlon.

The basics of the flyathlon are pretty straightforward: you run a trail to a mountain lake orstream and try to catch a fish. You get a few minutes deducted off your time for every inch of one of the fish you catch. Then you drink a Colorado beer.

But all the events are about raising money for the preservation of native trout habitat in Colorado and the trails that access them.


There were two folks at this year’s event who were making a documentary (not out yet but you can see their site here). At one point they asked what I did to train and I did not have a good answer other than to say it was all the things I do anyway. With some more time to think on it, there were a few things that, while I wouldn’t call them training, helped.

Even before I learned of the flyathlon I had thought it would be cool to try running to fishing spots and I did some experiments with the gear I would need. This helped me test out what gear I could get away with as well as what configuration would work well for running.

Then few times this year I have taken an hour lunch break and gone fishing on Boulder Creek. It’s about a 10-minute walk from the office. I keep my fishing gear in an REI backpack tucked under the desk. This helped me work through quickly getting the rod out and a fly on the water – because like in the flyathlon my time was limited.

One of my friends testing out the waters of Boulder Creek


The group campsite was the East Elk Creek Campground which was a surprisingly large group campsite. As promised in the emails and Google Maps, it was about 4.5 hours from Lafayette (after a quick stop to get some growlers at Odd 13). As compensation, Routes 285 and 50 are awfully pretty and about as pleasant as driving gets.

I rolled in around 6 pm and found a nice secluded spot across the creek from the main gathering area.

View from the tent
I then reheated some frozen tortilla soup that Alita made the day before. Frozen soups are one of the best car camping meals. They double as a freezer pack while your driver and make minimal dishes to clean.

Flyathlon tailgating
I then started meeting folks. There were four brothers / brother-in-laws from across the state who were gathered for a fellows family weekend. While we were chatting someone from the dirtbag diaries podcast came up and interviewed us (they incidentally did a great podcast about the new national monument up in Maine and the challenges around making that come to pass).

Eventually we all gathered around the campfire for beers and talk of fishing. I went to bed around 11 pm. There were still several folks up having a great time.

Main Event

The race started at 9 am and it was about a 45 minute drive from the East Elk Campground to the start at the Red Bridge Campground (on the other side of the Blue Mesa Reservoir). I got up around 6:30 and did my usual breakfast of oatmeal. I hitched a ride with the four brothers / brothers-in-law that I met the night before.

Race start at the Red Bridge Campground
At the start Todd, the race director, filled us in on the rules. The road paralleled the stream and you could stop and fish at any point on the way to or from the five-mile turn-around. This year the bonus was three minutes per inch of fish – up to 14 inches when you get five minutes off your time per inch (so three hours of running with a 10-inch trout would get recorded as a final time of 2 hours 30 minutes).

The race got off to its traditional start of “shot-gunning” a light American lager – i.e., the flyathlon founder’s daughters shot a can of PBR with some bb guns.

I took off at a healthy tempo pace of 6:30 miles and found myself rather alone. Based on the advice of the brothers and others I decided to fish early. The first checkpoint was around a mile. There were a few campgrounds immediately after the checkpoint. I kept going for another few hundred meters until I saw a nice set of about three drops. This looked good enough.

The night before I had rigged up a stonefly with a flashback pheasant tail dropper. I started nymphing the first drop and in about five minutes had what looked to be a 10 – 12 inch rainbow. But then it became apparent that I had placed the net on the wrong side of my pack. As I tried to reach around the fish got off. I allowed myself a few second of regret and moved onto the next pool.

After another ten minutes I hooked up with a nice 7 inch brown. I snapped my picture and gave it another five minutes to try for a bigger one. I then decided that I was on the board and it was time to use my speed. I gave my fly set-up to another lady who had also decided that this set of runs looked good and was fishing at the top where I had started.

At the turn-around I took a pull of the Law’s Whiskey (a Colorado native) and booked it on back. Other flyathletes asked if I had caught my fish (and you can just run – although you get a “crippling” penalty and what’s the point of that really?). It appeared I had a good chance of getting the fastest male but I knew that a 7 inch brown meant that I would have to finish well ahead of second place. So I kept pushing.

I finished up in an hour and thirty minutes. With my 7 inch fish that meant an adjusted time of 69 minutes. To celebrate finishing (and I guess truly make it a flyathlon) I grabbed an Uplsope IPA.

I watched the second finisher come in and then I went upstream (away from the race course) to do a bit more fishing. By that time though the sun was pretty high and bright in the sky and the wind was starting to pick up. I came back to the finish area after an hour and talked with the other finishers.

Grand Finale

Back at camp the organizers paired me with the fastest female finisher against the flyathletes with the biggest and smallest fish in a cornhole competition. Sadly my cornhole skills were not on par with my running skills and the big and small fish team prevailed.

Then the big and small fishermen had a bb gun shoot-off for a custom built Sage fly rod. The guy who caught the smallest fish won handily. This fellow had brought his family all the way from Missouri for this event and so it was fun to see him take the “grand prize”.

The rest of the evening was the fine camaraderie that comes with all great fishing and camping trips. I was glad to have come and look forward to defending my title and maybe convincing a few friends that you don’t even have to run to have great time doing a flyathlon.

Run. Fish. Beer. Friends.