How the right environment makes all the difference

In March, I ran a 10k training run (a little more than 6 miles) in just under 50 minutes. That’s slightly faster than a pace of 8:00 minutes per mile.

March 10k Training Run Time

That was almost six months ago.

Then I stopped running more than 5 miles at a time and started training for shorter distances (like a mile) and just trying to get through the miserable Florida summer.

The first signs of Fall have arrived, which means race season is coming up and I need to start training for longer distances if I want to run a half marathon this year.

So I decided to try a 10k training run this weekend to see how it felt. I ran the same route as I did in March, but this time was significantly faster: It only took me about 48:30, which is a pace of 7:44 per mile.

October 10k Training Run Time

Ninety seconds is a pretty big improvement considering I hadn’t run that far in six months. That’s a big improvement over my previous personal best, and it felt great to run such a good time. 

Can you guess what I did differently to run so much faster this time?

Think about it for a second, then scroll down to see the answer.

Spoiler below!

Are you ready?

The answer is: Nothing.

I’m pretty sure the difference was the temperature.

When I ran that 10k in March, it was 79 degrees outside. When I ran on Saturday, it was only 72 degrees.

There are lots of studies showing that race times improve as temperatures drop (to an extent, of course).

So it feels good to run a personal best, but most of the improvement was just the lower temperature. My job was to train hard enough that I could finally take advantage of the improved running conditions once the weather cooled off.

Sometimes, the conditions just aren’t right to get the result you want. But as long as you keep preparing and putting in the work, you can make sure you’re ready to capitalize once the conditions are right.

Here are some other examples that come to mind:

  • Starting a business
  • Getting a raise
  • Running for office (a different kind of running, har har)
  • Inventing something
  • Planting plants

For all of those and lots of other things, timing is often the crucial ingredient that dictates success or failure.

Learning a skill, practicing, looking for ways to improve, waiting for the right moment to capitalize is often the key to success. And a big reason to keep working is that it’s not just doing the thing, but being prepared to do the thing when the conditions are right that makes all the difference.

I ran all summer in hot, humid weather, just waiting for it to cool off. I called those runs “maintenance runs”, and my goal was usually to run at an 8:00-per-mile pace regardless of the distance.

Maintenance runs were not fun and it often took a few hours to fully recover from them. But I knew they were helping me build strength and endurance that I could use later on when the conditions were right.

Sure enough, the weather cooled off and I smashed another personal best. That gives me confidence going into race season, where I’ll be able to capitalize on favorable running conditions after all those months of training in the Florida heat.

Before you write something off as a failure, consider whether the conditions are right for success. If they’re not quite right, keep working so you’re ready to capitalize next time there’s a good opportunity.

Would you be as calm as Maggie?

Imagine that you’re learning to fly an airplane. You’ve already spent hours and hours flying with instructors, and now you’re flying solo.

You just took off on a solo training flight and the tower radios with the following news:

“…your right main is now missing from the airplane – it’s fallen off the airplane. Say your intentions.”

What would you say?

I know exactly what I would say and I’m not going to write that here. But let’s say it translates to roughly:

“AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

I’m generally very calm under pressure, but this would freak me out. I don’t know much about flying (I flew Cessna once, and that’s about it), but it seems like one of the main objectives of flying an airplane is to land the airplane (I did not land the Cessna—my uncle took care of that).

And the tower just said, “One of the things you need to land the plane just fell off. State your intentions.”

I’m not sure I’d be all that calm.

Maggie, on the other hand, remained calm as a cucumber and landed her plane like a pro.

That seems sort of like a spoiler, but it’s really not. The beauty of this recording is in the story itself—knowing Maggie lands at the end only makes it better.

Do yourself a favor and watch this—it’s well worth your time:

WATCH: 17-YEAR-OLD STUDENT PILOT LANDS HER PLANE WITHOUT A WHEEL!

Then I’ll share just a few of my thoughts.

All done? Wasn’t that fantastic?!

Every now and then real life gives us a story that’s better than the best screenplay or audiobook. This is one of those times.

Three things stood out to me in this recording.

Maggie’s voice over time

She’s cool, calm and collected at first (:59 in), then she sounds a little concerned, but not overly so (1:13), then it sounds like the full weight of the situation sets in (1:30), then she sounds much more relaxed once an instructor jumps on the radio (3:00).

Even when she was talking with the air traffic controller, she wasn’t nearly as calm as when talking to the instructor. Talking to the right kind of expert for that situation made her a lot more comfortable.

Once she knew she could rely on a veteran pilot’s expertise to help her get down, she knew she was going to be ok.

The importance of her training

Most of the instructions she’s given mean nothing to me because I’m not a trained pilot. I just hear a bunch of lingo punctuated by words I technically know, but don’t really understand.

If I were talking with that instructor, he would’ve had to stop every few seconds and explain basic things to me. I’m sure he could’ve done it, although it would’ve been a lot more work.

But Maggie already knew how to fly a plane, so they could skip over basic definitions and jump straight to the tactics to land the plane (even without one of its wheels).

It’s a lot easier to conquer difficult situations when you already have a grasp of the basics—then you can jump straight to tactics to help you get through it.

Everyone says “Good job, Maggie!” when she lands

It’s great to hear everyone applauding Maggie and acknowledging that she’s the one who actually landed the broken airplane. Sure, they helped, but Maggie had to execute the plan to land safely. She executed the plan to a T.

As a teacher, instructor, or coach, the most satisfying thing is to see your student deliver a perfect performance. That’s how you know you did your job well.

There are lots of other great things about that video—it’s definitely worth 12 minutes of your time to watch it!

The breakthrough that helped me smash the six-minute barrier

Earlier this week, I ran a mile in under six minutes for the first time. It felt really good for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s nice to achieve a challenging goal and it felt good to cross it off my list and see some results from all the hard work I’ve been putting in.

Second, I had already tried and failed to run a six-minute mile twice—both of my previous attempts were about 6:11—and that was really frustrating. I had been so close yet I felt so far away and it really stings to be totally exhausted without much to show for it. But not this time! This time I got it done.

What’s even better is that I had a significant breakthrough with this particular goal, but it’s difficult to describe without some context.

My one-mile run in almost-real-time

Before this attempt, I made a lap-by-lap plan so I knew exactly what I needed to do. It’s one thing to know I have to do four laps in 360 seconds. It’s another to know exactly what I needed to do on each lap to make that happen.

Here’s a summary of how I felt throughout the run—I took this down as a note on my iPhone once I managed to catch my breath and stave off some leg cramps:

First lap—1:27 I wanted to start fast because I knew that I could go much faster than the 90-second pace that I required. I added about 10m to that first lap to make sure I ran a full mile, so I wanted to be sure that I got around with time to spare on my 90-second-per-lap limit. That would give me some cushion if I slowed down later.

Second lap—1:28 I already felt tired, but I knew that would happen and had already prepared myself to just keep pushing and try and maintain the same pace through the second lap.

Third lap—1:32 This is when the mental fatigue really hit me. By this point in my run, my brain was repeatedly shouting STOP THIS RIGHT NOW!

I told myself that I was going to finish running a mile either way and if I just kept going at this pace it would be over quicker.

For the final 100 meters of the third lap, I basically had to get myself to focus on a six-minute pace again knowing I had been gradually slowing down and that I had probably used up most of the cushion from the first lap.

Fourth lap—1:26 I actually felt pretty good going in because I knew it was almost over. I’d also kept some energy in reserve, which I think was a result of my recent training to keep my legs working when I’m tired.

I started picking it up with about 300m left and began kicking with about 200m left. I went pretty much all-out for the final 100 meters although I never got into a full-on sprint.

My six-minute mile time with 400m splits

Even though I had been monitoring my time after each lap, I was really surprised to see a final time of about 5:54. That’s a significant improvement over my previous times. I actually had a little left to give at the end and the overall run went about as well as I could’ve hoped.

Before I say any more, take a minute to look back at that recap and see if you notice a theme.

My big breakthrough

Do you see it? There’s almost nothing about the physical difficulty of running a mile. The entire recap was almost entirely about my mental state throughout the run.

I started fast because I knew I had to. I got tired, but I knew that would happen so I just kept pushing. I told myself I would finish the mile regardless of how long it took, so I might as well just get it over with. I felt great and had some left in the tank, but I may have left some time on the table because I relaxed a little when I realized I had hit my goal.

It was all mental.

The last two times I tried to run a sub-six-minute mile, I lost too much time on the middle two laps. Those two laps are really tough because the initial adrenaline rush has worn off, yet there’s still a long way to go.

I expected to lose time in the middle due to physical fatigue, but I had also lost time due to mental fatigue because I wasn’t totally prepared.

I suspect I’ve been physically ready to hit this goal for over a year now. I just had to try it a couple times to see my own weaknesses and find a way to work around the mental fatigue that slowed me down.

And now, of course, I’m wondering if I can get that time down to 5:45. We’ll see.

How to get different results from the same old routine

I work out six days a week. Here’s my schedule:

Monday – Running – Track workout (usually sprints)
Tuesday – Weights – Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
Wednesday – Weights – Leg Day™
Thursday – Running – Medium distance (3.5 miles or so)
Friday – Weights – Back, Biceps
Saturday – Running – Medium distance (4.5 miles or so)

This has been my routine for a little over a year now.

It’s usually fine, but this week my legs are super sore, so my most recent Saturday run and Monday track workout were very painful.

That’s weird, right? I do the same types of workouts on the same days of the week every week, and suddenly my legs are so sore I can barely move? What happened?

My “weights” days go through a slow progression from high reps, low weight to low reps, high weight.

Last week was my first week back on high reps (15 reps) and now I’m paying the price. My legs don’t like that jump from low to high reps at all, so I’m basically going to be sore 7 days a week for the next month and then things should return to normal.

This is interesting because it shows that you can make significant changes within your regular routines without actually changing the routine itself. And those changes within your routine can teach you a lot about the other parts of your routine.

For example, now I get to see how much different my performance is when I begin my workouts on tired legs. I also get to train differently for my medium runs—my focus is more on maintaining a good pace even though my legs are tired as opposed to pushing my pace faster from week to week.

This has me thinking about other tweaks I can make to existing routines that might teach me something. Some ideas I’m batting around:

  • What if instead of 3 cups of coffee in the morning, I have 2 or 4? How would that affect my productivity in the morning and throughout the day?
  • What if I read a book with my coffee instead of reading the news?
  • What if I move one of my weight workouts to an earlier time in the afternoon?

None of these changes would change my actual routine, but they may still affect me in ways I might not anticipate. I could learn a lot by making small changes, which is nice because it’s a lot easier to make those small changes than to try one of those “I’m gonna try a whole new routine!” experiments that inevitably fail.

The War will be won on the Western Front

…or at least that’s what we’re counting on.

Some friends and I are playing a game of Axis & Allies: WWI 1914. We started about 10 days ago and we’re probably half way through the game.

Axis & Allies: a 1914 - Eastern Front

The early stages of the Eastern Front

I’m playing as Russia and the US along with my other Allies—France, the UK, and Italy. In the beginning of the game, the US sat out (just like in WWI), so I was only responsible for Russia and the Eastern Front.

It was immediately clear that the Eastern Front was a big challenge for Russia. My job was to hold the line as long as possible so the US could enter the war and swing things in our favor on the Western Front.

Fortunately, France and Italy have been playing well and getting lucky, so things are going well for us over there. I’m pretty sure the Allies will win the war on the Western Front.

This game is a lot of fun because it’s a good mix of strategy, tactics, and luck.

The luck component seems a little frustrating at first, but it’s a pretty true to how things actually happened in WWI.

A few countries would send a bunch of infantry to a battle front and although they might have some idea what would happen, the outcome would be uncertain until the battle actually finished. Maybe one side’s tactics were stronger, or maybe the weather thwarted one side’s game-plan.

In the real War, there were several battles where hundreds of thousands of soldiers were lost and nothing really changed.

The same is true in AA14 (my unofficial shorthand). We do the math on the possible outcomes, line up a bunch of infantry and artillery, then roll the dice to see what actually happens. Sometimes there’s a big swing, and sometimes nothing changes at all as both sides lose a lot of infantry and artillery.

It’s important to have a pretty good overall strategy, but the key to the game is to adjust our tactics any time we get new information. If there’s a big battle that goes our way, we may have more options available to us. If we lose a big battle, we may have fewer options and it might make sense to change course or ramp up our risk tolerance.

Lately I’ve noticed that this is true in my business as well: I make the most progress when continually update my current plan to match the information I have and to maximize the opportunities available to me.

When I get stuck on a particular plan without incorporating new information, I often make mistakes. My business is growing because I’m making fewer and fewer of those mistakes—hopefully I can maintain this trend.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for…a 15-minute drive to get ice cream?

I bet this precise conversation happened 1,522 times here in Gainesville this summer:

“Have you seen the new Avengers movie yet? It’s great!”

“Nah, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet, but I plan to.”

“When you see it, make sure you go to the new theatre – it’s awesome!”

“Oh yeah? Ok, I’ll check it out!”

Other than a slowly degrading mall, we’ve never had much shopping in Gainesville. There have been rumors of a new Town Center circulating for years, but they’ve finally started building it and the buzz is building.

We all thought a Town Center was a good idea, but we weren’t sure where they would build it.

All the options seemed pretty bad because there just wasn’t space for a big development anywhere in the city. They would have to build somewhere on the outskirts of town, so people would have to drive a bit to get to it.

This is sort of a Catch-22: How do you build a big shopping center over several years if nobody is willing to drive that far to shop?

For starters, you would build at least one or two things worth driving to and use those things as anchors while the other things get built.

What would you build first?

In Gainesville, the answer was a fancy new movie theatre: a 10-screen Regal RPX theatre with comfy reclining chairs, huge screens, and great audio. It’s the first new theatre here in over 20 years and it’s lightyears ahead of our other theaters.

It didn’t take very long for all of my friends to find it and recommend it—now it’s our go-to theatre because it’s so much better than the others.

I’ve been out to “Celebration Pointe” (with a silent ‘e’ so you know it’s fancy!) several times to see new movies, but there was no way I would’ve gone out there to buy clothes or eat dinner.

But now they’re starting to open other shops around the theatre and I’m already acclimated to driving out to Celebration Pointe so it’s no big deal to drive out to shop or just hang out in the common areas.

Last week, some friends and I drove 15 minutes to get ice cream at Kilwins and then hung out and talked in a pergola for a couple hours. We never would’ve done that if they hadn’t been so intentional by opening the movie theatre first.

The big picture and overall vision matter, but so do the individual steps you take to implement your plan.

An amazing 4th of July

This 4th of July was the opposite of last 4th of July in almost every way. I won’t recap all of last year, but it was a harrowing experience.

This year, everything went swimmingly.

Getting down to Sarasota

We went down a little later this year and arrived at dinner time on the 3rd. We ate at a place called Pop’s Sunset Grill and it wasn’t bad. It was nice catching up with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while.

The view from Pop's Sunset Grill

After we dropped our stuff off at the house, we made a run to Kilwins. This is a nice tradition, but it’s not quite as special now that we finally got a Kilwins in Gainesville a few months ago.

That being said, I ended up with the largest single scoop I’ve ever had (I described it as “a pint on a waffle cone”) and it was delicious.

We wrapped things up by playing Pictionary (my team got destroyed) and then Taboo (my team won easily). Word games are my bailiwick, but I’m terrible with drawing and visual stuff.

The 4th

We took our time getting started on the 4th, hanging out and drinking coffee until 11 AM or so. We had a big group this year, so we split into two and decided to do shifts on the wakesurfer.

My group was on the beach first, and we played some bocce (my team barely won) and goofed off in the water while the first wakesurfing crew had fun in the Gulf.

After a couple hours, we did a pretty quick shift change and had to change locations because the Gulf got too choppy. We made our way to the water sports area and got to work.

Wakesurfing

The thing about water sports is I have never done them and I don’t particularly like water. I mean, I went tubing a couple times as a kid, and would occasionally find myself on a lake, but that’s about it. So I’m terrible at them and it takes me a bit to get the hang of them.

And so it is with wakesurfing. I tried for quite a while last year and could never even get up on the board, so I had a pretty clear goal for this year: Get up on the stupid wakesurfing board at least once.

I almost got up on my first try, and then failed probably eight times in a row. I was getting pretty close to just calling it quits when everything fell into place and I got it. I quickly got up four times in a row and got that monkey off my back.

Me, wakesurfing

That’s the good news. The bad news is I never really had a good run, so I still haven’t really experienced the fun part of wakesurfing. But I guess that’s a goal for next year.

The festivities

When our shift ended, we headed back to the house for a traditional 4th of July cookout. There’s something comforting about grilling burgers and hotdogs on the 4th. And the desserts this year were phenomenal—some kind of frozen lemon pie and a delicious blueberry cobbler.

The skies looked pretty good before we got on the boat to head out into the Gulf, but they looked ok last year too. I think we were all a little nervous that we’d get caught in another lightning monsoon even though all signs pointed to good weather.

It was cool and breezy the whole time and we got to see an amazing sunset.

Sunset on the Gulf

The beach and Gulf were significantly less full than last year, and there was hardly anyone on the water for the fireworks.

I think part of it was that the 4th fell on a Wednesday, and part of it was people shying away from another run-in with a lightning monsoon. The end result was basically a private fireworks display for our crew and it was amazing.

Fireworks on the Gulf

Fireworks on a boat

We didn’t make it back early enough to get Kilwins so we just jumped straight to games instead. This time, we played Mad Gab first. We only got through about half a game before we quit because it was too easy and our scores were basically identical. We audibled over to Taboo and my team pulled out the win.

Everyone turned in surprisingly early this time, probably because we were all pretty tired from the day’s festivities.

Heading home

Our return trip was pretty uneventful. We rolled out around 10 and just headed straight home. It was nice to have a super easy day after a pretty busy couple of days in Sarasota.

A great week in Boston

A couple buddies and I went to Boston and it was a ton of fun. We did exactly the right amount of stuff so we had a great time without feeling burnt out.

Day 1: Travel and dinner at Carmelina’s

Our travel there was pretty uneventful, which is always great. We got lucky in Orlando when they pulled us out of the regular back-check line and moved us to the fast lane since we were likely to miss our flight if we stayed the course in the regular line.

By the time we actually got to our apartment in Beacon Hill, it was around 5:00.

We were already hungry, so we decided to head to the North End with a hope and a dream that we could get a table at Carmelina’s. A couple of us had heard that it’s a great place to eat, but it’s typically booked out.

I actually tried calling ahead to try to get a last-minute reservation, but they were basically booked solid for the next few days. I made sure to tell the host that my buddies and I were in town for a few days and were hoping to try Carmelina’s while in Boston so he would remember us and have pity on us if we talked to him later.

Sure enough, we walked over and managed to get a table on the sidewalk because they had a no-show. It was a good meal and a great way to ease into Boston.

Our view from Carmelina'sCarmelina's meatball appetizerAll of us standing in front of Carmelina's

We all split a meatball starter and a few entrees—the carbonara was the best one.

Afterward, we walked across the street to Mike’s Pastry, which we’d heard was a must-visit place. It did not disappoint. I got a caramel pecan cannoli, and my friends had to sort of lure me out of the place because it was chalk full of delicious-looking treats.

Mike's Pastry box of treatsMy caramel pecan cannoli

We took our cannolis to a table at The Greenway to watch the sun set and enjoy the Boston weather. It was like mid-70s all week, which was a nice change of pace from the Gainesville summer.

Rick looking at something on the Greenway
We were already pretty tired and full of carbs, so we headed back to settle into our flat and call it a night.

Day 2: A whale of a time

We heard that whale watching tours are fantastic in Boston this time of year, so we got on a boat to go see the whales.

I spent the first 45 minutes feeling progressively worse until we finally got to the viewing area. Although I felt terrible, I was determined to see at least a couple whales for my trouble, so I forced myself to stand, posted up on the rail and waited for a couple whales to pop up.

Technically, I saw some whales.

Once I saw them, I sat back in my seat and didn’t move for the next two hours or so trying to keep it together until we could get back on land. I’ve never been seasick before, and I do not recommend it.

Seasick on a whale-watching boat

I don’t think I really got right again until a couple days later.

Once back on land, we made a beeline for a local market where a couple of us got lobster rolls for lunch. They were tasty.

Boston Harbor from the boat

Then we headed back to the flat to recover and get ready for the highlight of our trip…

Fenway

My buddy Rick is a lifelong Red Sox fan, but he didn’t attend his first game at Fenway until this trip. We saw a satisfying route of the Angels, including several home runs and some great defensive plays.

Fenway Park entranceRed Sox game at dusk

Aside from a random business guy loudly talking about his business behind us (we all wonder what will become of his COO Gary, who he mentioned several times), it was a fantastic game and a great time.

We did it right, dropping some coin on concessions for dinner and Rick even got a new hat to replace his old well-worn hat that probably should’ve been retired a couple years ago.

Classic Allen face

I have a lot of “Allen makes this face at a sporting event” photos

And of course we got the full experience with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and “Sweet Caroline”.

After the game, we walked back to Beacon Hill. This was probably our best walk of the trip, clocking in at nearly an hour and taking us through several great neighborhoods.

We got back pretty late, so we turned in to make sure we were ready for a big hiking day on Wednesday.

Day 3: The Freedom Trail and un-split lobster tails

The main event for Wednesday was the Freedom Trail. But before we got started, we spent some time at Boston Common and the Public Garden.

It took some searching around the Frog Pond , but we eventually found the bench from Good Will Hunting. It was surprisingly hard to find—we all expected some sort of memorial for Robin Williams or something—but it was just a bench by a pond.

Good Will Hunting Bench at the Frog PondThe Freedom Trail

Then we set off for The Freedom Trail.

This was the hike that everyone told us we had to do. We found a podcast that had little two-minute blurbs about several of the stops on the Trail, but I was jealous of the tourists with guides telling them all about each stop.

The Freedom Trail

If I did it again, I would get a tour guide or an audio tour or something to make sure I learned a lot along the way. Visiting the sites was great and seeing so much of Boston was fantastic, but I didn’t learn as much about the history as I would’ve liked.

Paul Revere

Still, it was a fantastic hike that took us all over Boston and lasted about five hours. There’s something really cool about standing in spots that are well-known pieces of American history while looking around to see the hustle and bustle of the modern world—a fun juxtaposition.

The USS Constitution

After we finished the Freedom Trail, we walked over to the USS Constitution, which is the world’s oldest commissioned naval vessel that’s still afloat.

The USS Constitution (and a random dude)

Although it’s called Old Ironsides, its hull is entirely made of wood, which makes it a really beautiful boat. Some of the crew told us about its history and pointed out some of the unique characteristics of the ship while we bobbed and weaved between the low-slung beams and around the columns below deck.

It was really neat to actually walk around and feel what it was like to be below deck surrounded by cannons in such a tight space.

Below deck on the USS Constitution

We were all pretty much exhausted by this point (we had been walking for six hours or so), and we headed back to the flat to recover before heading out to dinner.

Lobsters

For dinner, we made our way to Yankee Lobster in South Boston. Rick and I got the twin lobster and it was really good. This was my first time breaking down a whole lobster and it was quite an experience.

They didn’t split the tails for us, so we had to do some work to get to the good stuff. I prefer to work as little as possible when I eat my food, but all the work was worth it in this case.

Lobsters from Yankee Lobster

As an added bonus, Joan Jett, Styx and Tesla did a show right next door while we ate. So we got to eat delicious lobster and take in a free show to boot. (I’m pretty sure we also helped some people sneak in through a back gate near our table.)

Drink

After lobsters, we walked to Drink, which is a small bar where the bartenders make you whatever they think you’ll like. It was a great place to relax and catch up since we hadn’t all hung out in a long time.

Back to the flat!

Day 4: A small excursion

By Thursday, we were all starting to get a little tired. We had been walking everywhere pand I still hadn’t quite recovered from being seasick, so I was happy to take it easy all day.

Night Shift Brewing

We got a late start and headed to Night Shift Brewing out in Everett. We each got a flight and then just hung out talking for several hours.

It was a really cool space and surprisingly cozy for such an industrial building.

Although this his probably the easiest possible tourist activity, I struggled to stay awake and was pretty happy when we decided to head straight back to the flat and chill until dinner.

Trattoria Il Panino

For our final dinner in Boston, we found our way to Trattoria Il Panino, which was amazing. This was my favorite meal in Boston by far.

We started with a charcuterie board (who doesn’t love a good charcuterie board?) and again split a few entrees. All three entrees were fantastic: Veal Saltimbocca (veal medallions), Ziti alla Amatriciana, and Ravioli con Aragosta (lobster ravioli in crab sauce).

Charcuterie board

Entrees at Trattoria Il PaninoThis would’ve been the ideal time for a final stop at Mike’s, but we were all so full we couldn’t drag ourselves over there. I regret this now.

It was starting to get late and we all needed to pack up for our travel day on Friday, so we walked back to the flat.

Day 5: Heading home

Our flight wasn’t until around 3:00, so we had time to see a little more of Boston before we took off. One of my favorite parts of this trip was that we were in Beacon Hill, a beautiful neighborhood where everything is very walkable.

Beacon Hill

The view from Starbucks

We decided to head back to Boston Common and split up for a couple hours so we could each do our own thing.

I found a shaded bench by the Frog Pond and spent a couple hours reading and listening to music to decompress and take it easy after a good week.

Reading by the Frog Pond

Our travel home was pretty uneventful except that the Chick-Fil-A we built our homeward route around ended up being closed for renovations. This was easily the saddest moment of our trip. But we all managed to overcome the adversity on the field by enduring a trip to a futuristic Wendy’s run by giant iPads.

Our drive back to Gainesville from Orlando went by quickly as we listened to NBA podcasts and talked basketball most of the time.

All in all, this was an amazing trip with great friends and I think we did it right.

How salary negotiation coaching is like cooking a tricky pasta recipe

My favorite Italian recipe is technically called Penne allo scarpariello, but I just call it “the penne dish”.

A couple of friends brought it back with them after they spent a year living in Salerno, Italy. I was hooked the first time I tried it, so I asked them for the recipe.

Here are all the ingredients:

  • Penne pasta
  • Campari tomatoes
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Butter
  • Salt
  • Red pepper flakes

And here’s the basic process to make it:

  • Cook the tomatoes in butter
  • Remove the peels when they break
  • Add salt and red pepper flakes
  • Add grated parmesan and a little more butter
  • Cook the pasta
  • Mix the pasta and sauce
  • Eat

The penne dish

It’s delicious! And the process to make it is pretty simple…assuming you know what you’re doing.

As you can see, there are only six ingredients, and yet I ruined it the first couple times I tried to make it on my own. Both times, I missed something small that ended up being a big problem.

So I went back to my friends and asked them to show me how they did it.

I immediately realized where I had messed up: The first time, I had the heat just a little too high, and I overcooked it; the second time, I had the heat a little too low and the cheese didn’t melt properly so it had a funky, gritty texture.

Now I can make the penne dish in my sleep and it’s perfect every time. My friends love it and I love making it.

But when I share the recipe with other people they never try to make it. Even though there are only a few ingredients, it’s too intimidating knowing that there are subtle things you have to get just right in order for it to work.

So I always offer to show them how to make it—just like my friends showed me—pointing out the subtle things along the way. Then they get it.

Salary negotiation is exactly the same way

I wrote the book on salary negotiation—it’s called Fearless Salary Negotiation and thousands of people have read it and used it to make more money.

It’s a detailed recipe with a few simple ingredients for getting paid what you’re worth. And it works for a lot of people who have used it to earn a lot more throughout their career.

But sometimes there are more nuanced situations where a subtle tweak here or there can have enormous benefits. And sometimes, people just prefer to have someone else—an expert—do the work for them.

My very first paid coaching client already had a copy of my book, but she still reached out and asked if I would help her with her salary negotiation. I was a little surprised that she reached out, but I knew I could help so we got to work.

We were able to improve her job offer by several thousand dollars, and I was really happy for her. But I couldn’t quite understand why she reached out and asked to pay a steep fee to work with me rather than just buy my book.

I had to know why she hired me instead of trying a DIY approach, so I asked her, “Why did you hire me instead of just reading my book?”

Her answer gave me everything I needed to know to build a thriving coaching business: “I just wanted you to do it for me.”

That’s why I offer one-on-one full-service salary negotiation coaching for experienced software developers. For those who just want someone to do the work for them, and for folks who can stand to make a lot more money with a subtle tweak to my salary negotiation recipe, salary negotiation coaching is an amazing value.

I recently worked with J.B., an experienced Software Engineer who had a strong offer that we turned into an amazing offer:

Testimonial from J.B., a Software Engineer

And the best part is that I love negotiating job offers, so it’s a lot of fun for me while being valuable for my clients.

If you or someone you know might benefit from salary negotiation coaching, here’s where you can learn more and apply for a 15-minute intro call:

>> Learn more about salary negotiation coaching

My first ski trip since high school was awesome

The Monte Carlo at Breck

I lay on my back, staring up at the blue sky. I assume it was beautiful, although I can’t really remember because I was desperately trying to catch my breath at 11,000 feet above sea level.

I looked past my feet, up the mountain to find my ski. My friend had already found it and was bringing it down to me.

“I. Don’t think. I’ve. Ever. Been. This tired.” was all I could say.

Our group had just accidentally gone down a Blue run, which we later found out was basically a Black, and it had not gone well. I tried my best to maintain control, but I had gone down the un-groomed part of the run, which meant I was basically skiing down a black on ice.

This moment was one of many that we would later call the #VailFail, and it was definitely a low point. But around this low point was a week of high points and a lot of fun.

Skiing for the first time in a long time

Last week, I went skiing for the first time since high school. All of my previous skiing experiences were terrible, so I wasn’t expecting to have much fun.

Fortunately, my friends insisted I try skiing on real mountains with real snow, so I went to Breck to give it a shot.

I had an amazing week and really enjoyed skiing. It was a lot easier than I expected and I picked it up faster than I thought I would.

So this will be more of an old-school day-by-day recap of my trip, mostly for posterity.

Day 1: Traveling there

A few of us rented a car and drove from Gainesville to Orlando, where we flew Southwest directly to Denver. Then we rented cars and drove from Denver to Breck. Everything was entirely uneventful, which is how I prefer to travel.

Once in Breck, I immediately felt the altitude and got winded just walking up stairs and doing other simple things. I also got a low-level headache that persisted for a couple of days despite all the water I drank.

We rented a ridiculous three-story house that slept 13 people. “The bunk room”, which I shared with three other guys, was crowded but fun.

That first night, we got our ski gear, settled in, and went out for our first crepes of the trip.

A picture of a giant crepe

These crepes are delicious and enormous.

Day 2: Lessons and getting settled

Everyone I talked to said, “You should definitely take lessons on your first day. It’s the best way to learn the basics.” This was great advice, which I think they learned to give after other training methods failed.

For example, I think they used to teach newbies how to ski using a sort of Scared Straight methodology (“This is a blue run. You will fall a lot, but by the time you make it to the bottom, you’ll be ok at skiing.”), which probably isn’t the best way to learn.

So several of us split into groups for snowboarding and skiing lessons. There were only two of us skiers, and our instructor was Dave. There were two other folks in our group, which meant Dave only had to work with four students—that was great for us.

My first ski lesson

We gradually worked through the basics, and I felt pretty good right away. Skiing was already less awful than I remembered. By lunch time, my friend and I had progressed past our two fellow students and were quite a bit more comfortable with the green runs we were doing.

Just before lunch, Dave took my friend and I on a couple runs while the other two members of our cohort took a breather (they were very tired and frustrated, and I think Dave correctly assumed the best thing was for them to rest so they didn’t get hurt). We did our first blue and it went pretty well—we could see that we were making real progress already.

After lunch, we did a few more runs, worked on some more advanced (for us) techniques, and officially graduated to “Level 4” (of 5?), which felt pretty good.

We finished the day by meeting up with most of our other friends to ride up and do the 4 O’Clock Home run (which is mostly green with a little blue up top).

One of the nice things about the awesome house we rented was that we could almost ski in and ski out. It was super convenient to walk for three or four minutes, put our skis on, and hit the lift. And it was even more convenient to ski down the 4 O’Clock, pop our skis off, and get home in about 5 minutes.

Our only in-house group dinner

After we finished skiing, some of us headed off-site for some hot-tub time while others went shopping to get supplies for our only in-house group meal of the week. I sautéed asparagus for everyone, which meant I got to hang in the kitchen and meet new people as they passed through to see what we were up to.

This was probably my favorite meal of the week and I’m hoping we do at least two of these next year.

Body Body Body

After dinner, we played Body Body Body, which is like a live-action version of a game called Mafia. I’ve always liked Mafia and I like Body Body Body even more.

There were about 10 townspeople and 3 mafia members. Once the mafia members have identified each other, we turn the lights out, crank up spooky music, and wander around the mansion in the dark. Mafia members kill townspeople by mock-slashing their throats. Once a townsperson has been killed, they stop walking and drop to the floor. The game continues until someone finds the “body” and shouts “Body body body!” so that everyone can turn the lights on and run to see who died.

Then the game moves to the more typical “Mafia”-style game where everyone talks things through and nominates a couple people they think might be in the mafia. Eventually someone is voted out and the game resumes unless the mafia have all been discovered. The game ends when either the mafia are all voted out or there are equal numbers of townspeople and mafia remaining.

The game is a lot of fun and we played pretty much every night. My only regret is that despite playing 10+ games, I was never mafia (which is the most fun part of the game) thanks to a series of unfortunate events that culminated in our narrator tilting and skipping one game, causing some logistical snafus that caused us to redraw for spots the one time I actually drew a “Mafia” card.

C’iest la vie.

Day 3: First normal ski day

Lessons were physically and mentally exhausting, plus I was still feeling the altitude, so I was admittedly not super stoked to hit the slopes again.

Fortunately, a couple of experienced friends, who arrived later than the rest of us, were heading out for their first day on the slopes and offered to take me along and help me slowly work up from Greens to Blues. (Shout out to James and Jen for being awesome teachers.)

By lunch, we were doing Blue runs and I felt pretty comfortable. They were a little fast for me, and I didn’t quite have the control I wanted, but I was able to move down them pretty quickly, mostly maintaining control, and without falling. All in all, a pretty big win.

By the end of the day, I felt comfortable on Blues, which was pretty remarkable considering I had taken beginner lessons the previous morning. Some of the group took a short Black to finish the day, but I skipped it. I was super tired and just didn’t want to risk hurting myself with two days left to ski.

Mi Casa

We went to a local Mexican restaurant for dinner, and it was pretty good. Although… my stomach didn’t take too kindly to it. Normally, this would be no big deal, but an upset stomach plus altitude meant Day 4 at Vail would be challenging.

Assume there was hot-tubbing, Body Body Body, and probably crepes

The evening routine was pretty consistent. Here was our view from the hot-tub:

Hot Tub View

Day 4: #VailFail

This brings us full circle to the beginning of this post. We decided to make a day trip to Vail, which is about 45 minutes from Breck. At first, it was a smaller group, then it expanded to be almost everyone. In theory, the skiing is better at Vail, plus we could get an awesome group picture at a famously beautiful spot on the mountain.

But, all the best laid plans…

We arrived at Vail and easily got onto the mountain thanks to some great planning by the more experienced members of our crew. Our first order of business was to rendezvous at the top of Lift 37 for the infamous picture, and then we could all split off into groups based on experience level.

Our plan was to take a long catwalk to another catwalk that would drop us at Lift 37. But a Vail employee convinced one of our crew that there was a better way: We could cut out a lot of catwalking by taking an easy Blue after the first catwalk.

“We have a lot of beginners. Is that Blue going to be ok for beginners?”
“Definitely!”

We knew we were in trouble pretty much right away. The entrance to the first catwalk gave a lot of folks serious problems. I made it down to the catwalk without falling, but it was a dicey run.

Once we eventually got across the first catwalk, we stopped to regroup before heading to the beginner-friendly Blue we had been promised. But first, we had to wait out a pretty serious windstorm that made me thankful I brought my balaclava since the wind-driven snow felt like a sandblaster to the face.

Another ominous sign.

At last, we all get around to the entrance of the beginner-friendly Blue and we realized… this was not beginner-friendly. It was super steep and icy—not good for beginners. I tried my best to take shallow angles and control my speed, but I just wasn’t good enough to manage it. I fell over a few times—nothing serious—before heading to a part that another skier said was probably a less-steep way to get down.

Turns out I was heading for the most steep part of the run, and a more experienced skier in our group later told me, “I saw you heading over there and thought, ‘He needs to turn back the other way or this could get really ugly.'” I did not turn back the other way. Things got pretty ugly.

This is the part where I wound up sliding head-first down the mountain on my back, losing one of my skis in the process. Ironically, this may have been the best outcome for me once I chose this particular path.

We later found out from another Vail employee—a friend of the group—that this was basically a Black run and that beginners had no business being on it. There was a groomed section, which they considered a Blue, but most of us had not taken the groomed section. (This might be my only regret of the trip—if I had known about the groomed section, I may have gotten down with little trouble.)

Exhausted from accidentally attempting a Black run, I caught my breath and chugged half a bottle of blue Gatorade, then made my way down to the second catwalk. As I worked my way across the catwalk, the wind picked back up—it was getting worse.

Most of us met up at a natural stopping point before heading down to Lift 37. Bad news was waiting for us there: Lift 37 had been closed because of the wind; only Lift 36 was open; there was no way to ski down.

A few of us had made it onto Lift 37 before it closed. Some of us were stuck waiting for Lift 36. And others had been so far behind that they were blocked from the catwalk and could not even make it Lift 36. We were now scattered all over the mountain.

The lift line at Vail

They had also been slow to close the catwalk, so people continued pouring in as the line backed up. We waited there for over an hour, totally exhausted and dehydrated.

By the time we got off Lift 36, it was after 1:00 PM. We had been on the mountain for over three hours and had almost nothing to show for it. We finally made it down to our next rendezvous spot where we were able to regroup and get a less-spectacular version of the picture we had been chasing for the past several hours:

Our group at Vail

And here is where we coined #VailFail. We had been on the mountain for about four hours and had almost nothing to show for it. The back side of the mountain had been closed, we had done like 1.5 runs, we didn’t get the picture we were chasing, and several of our crew were wiped out from the initial “Blue” that we descended.

We split up by experience level and managed to get a few runs in before calling it quits and meeting up at The George for an early dinner. Even the Greens at Vail were pretty steep and challenging—some of them harder than the Blues I had done at Breck.

After the high of making such quick progress the day before, this was a pretty serious low for almost everyone. I was glad the day was over and that we would be back at Breck for the rest of our trip.

Day 5: Redemption

This would be our final ski day, and I was really happy to be back at Breck. I spent most of the day doing Blue runs, which all felt really easy after the runs we did at Vail.

We all met for lunch on Peak 7, where there was a food court with a fantastic view of the mountain.

The last real run I did was Monte Carlo, which is a really long, fun Blue. A friend got some photos and video of the run so I have a record of where I was skill-wise after my first real ski trip. I felt much more comfortable than I expected, but can also see that I have a lot of work to do.

The Monte Carlo at Breck

I finished the day paying it forward: A less-experienced skier in our group and I did a couple of super-slow Blue runs to get down off the mountain. This gave me a chance to help someone the same way I was helped on Day 3, and also gave me a chance to really enjoy the views and reflect on how much I had learned in just a few days.

On Wednesday, I had no idea what I was doing and felt accomplished for scooting down the bunny slope without falling over. On Saturday, I was helping another skier get down Blues to get off the mountain.

Day 6: Traveling back

After a long week, I was ready to get home. But first we had to drive back to Denver, fly east for a few hours, rent a car in Orlando, grab dinner and drive back to Gainesville. We would be lucky to get home by 11 PM.

But on our way to dinner, we passed Andretti Karting and our crew couldn’t resist. Actually, I could totally resist—I was about 5 hours past my “have fun while traveling” limit—but the other four in our little group were all about it.

So after about seven hours of traveling, we stopped off for some kart racing. My only options were to just sit around and watch them race, or to join them and hope I could compete despite how tired I was. We warmed up by playing a reaction-time game and two quick-shot basketball games (I won two of three of the games I played) while waiting for our track to be ready.

The race was really fun except we were surrounded by terrible drivers who kept puttering around the middle of the track. All of us would’ve gone much faster if we hadn’t had to work around the slower drivers. I tied for 2nd overall, and I felt pretty good about that.

Our Andretti Racing crew

Then we finally started our drive home from Orlando, talking about the Oscars most of the way.

I finally got home around 1:00 AM and immediately crashed.

Planning for next year

Before this trip, I had decided I hated skiing. Now I’m looking forward to heading back out next year. My friends were right: I hadn’t really skied before, and skiing out west is much more fun.

Hopefully I’ll be shredding Black runs by the end of our next trip.