Keeping small pains from becoming big problems

I usually run three days a week, like clockwork. Monday is a track workout, Thursday is a short run, Saturday is a longer run. It usually adds up to about 10 miles a week unless I’m training for something (like a 10k race or a 15k with the flu).

Here we are on January 16, and I haven’t run at all this year. Last time I ran was December 29, 2018, about six weeks after I finished my first Half Marathon.

It’s really frustrating, but it’s also necessary.

I have been battling a couple of overuse injuries for a few months, just sort of hoping they would work themselves out if I kept training with good form. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. This time it didn’t work and it made things worse.

I noticed I was struggling to keep up a good pace, and that maintaining good form was more and more challenging as I tried to compensate for various aches and pains.

I should’ve stopped running right after the Half Marathon, but I was too stubborn.

Now it’s time to pay the piper. What would’ve been a week or two of rehab has probably ballooned into a month, all thanks to my stubbornness.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how there’s a fine line between “Just tough it out!” and “Why didn’t you stop before you hurt yourself?!” It’s really hard to see that line in real time, and it seems like the only way to really know where the line is is to look backwards and find it.

But I also think that identifying that line is a skill that can be honed over time.

The best way I know to hone that skill is to constantly monitor pain points: Is it better or worse than last time? How hard is it to aggravate it? Can I work around it? What’s the upside to continuing? What’s the downside if this turns into something bigger?

I’ve been doing this with my business lately and it has helped me identify some small pains that I can resolve before they become big problems. That makes things easier for me and better for my customers.

You can use this sort of analysis with your career. Small pains often become big problems if left untreated, so it’s worth identifying those small pains and thinking about solutions before they become big pains.

It’s the beginning of a new year, so this seems like as good a time as any to start planning ahead to make 2019 more productive by finding and fixing small pains before they become big problems.

Take a few minutes and ask yourself, “What are some small career pains that could become a big problem if I don’t handle them now?” You might find some easy wins with a big payoff for very little effort.

My 2018 Year In Review: Finally making a good living

It’s been three years since I quit my day job to build the Fearless Salary Negotiation business. It’s finally paying off.

I didn’t think this year would go so well for my business, especially considering that I was almost out of runway only 18 months ago. But my 2018 income is very close to what it was when I quit my day job in 2015, and now I have the freedom, flexibility, and personal satisfaction that comes with making a living from something I built from scratch.

The decision to double down on salary negotiation coaching in 2017 continues to pay dividends as I work with more clients and raise my rates to capture more of the value I create with my work.

That’s the business side of things.

Personally, things are great. I’m fortunate to have a very close group of friends. I’ve gotten better at running, and I’m pretty good at making omelettes. Of course there are things I would like to work on for 2019, but 2018 was amazing!

Here’s a Table of Contents so you can jump to wherever you want…

2018 Goal Review

So how did I do this year? Let’s take a look at my 2018 Goals.

Make a good living

The goal was I want to make $10,000 per month in net revenue in 2018. More specifically, I would like to do that by selling $5k in products and booking $5k in coaching per month for the year.

I missed this goal, but not by very much. And each $5k sub-goal is pretty close to what I actually did.

The difference between hitting and missing this goal comes down to a consulting retainer that ended in September after about a year. If that kept going, I would’ve made it.

I also could’ve made it if October wasn’t so horrible revenue-wise.

To be honest, this is bonkers to me. I didn’t actually think I might hit this goal—I just wanted to make sure I set an ambitious-but-achievable goal to maximize my earning potential in 2018.

I did hit a secondary goal, which was to double revenue year-over-year from 2017 to 2018. I did that from 2016 to 2017, and it seems like “do twice what I did last year” is a reasonable goal that can be achieved through good planning, execution, and moderate growth.

More traffic

The goal was I would like to build my organic search traffic to 100,000 unique visitors a month.

This one is interesting. I did hit this goal, but then traffic fell off and settled in around 80,000 visitors a month.

2018 Organic Traffic

The good news is that with more traffic came more revenue, so there was a direct benefit to this goal.

Improve at Sales

Here’s that goal: My goal is that 2% of email subscribers become paying customers within the first 30 days.

This was a huge miss. HUGE miss.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is I did build one funnel—the one that gets the most traffic—that pretty consistently converts 1% of subscribers to customers for a $47 product.

So there’s a lot to build on there.

Help other businesses get more search traffic and email opt-ins

Ehhh, I did some of this but not very much. I worked with a few clients to tweak their SEO, and I worked with some clients on their content strategy. But I just didn’t feel motivated to push this part of the business.

I think there are still things to focus on in my core business and I didn’t want to get too distracted.

Running goals

  • 10k – Sub-8:00 pace Hit it with a week to go in 2017
  • 5k – Sub-7:00 pace (currently 7:14)
  • Mile – Sub-6:00 pace (currently 6:08) Ran a 5:54 mile in August
  • 400m – Sub-60s pace (currently ~64s~ 62.75s)

I’ll write about this later, but I also ran a PR for 15k and finished my first Half Marathon.

A detailed 2018 Year In Review – Business

At the beginning of this year, I felt like the trajectory was in the right direction, but I still had some concerns. I started the year in a bit of a cash crunch as I was still digging out from the financial hole I dug to get through 2017.

To free up cash for 2017 taxes, I had parked some expenses on a 0% credit card. It looked like I would be able to pay it off before the interest rate jumped in August, but it would be close. I also decided all 2018 taxes would be taken off the top and held in a dedicated account so I wouldn’t have to scramble to pay taxes this year.

Saving ahead for 2018 taxes plus paying down that 0% card meant 2018 could be sort of a financial grind. I knew that was likely when I made those decisions in 2017, and now it was time to pay the piper.

January was mediocre, but then things took off: February was my best month ever, and March, April, and May were all consecutively better.

By June, I was out of the woods and starting to replenish my savings. It was almost exactly one year from “Uh oh, I might have to get a day job.” to “This seems to be working and I have some room to breathe again.”

With the exception of a horrible October, the second half of the year was great (but not quite as strong as Q2). I may be doing enough business that I’m able to spot some seasonality, but I’ll have to wait and see.

For now, things are good with the business and I finally feel like I can relax a little and enjoy what I’ve worked to build over the past few years.

Salary negotiation coaching

In June of 2017, I repositioned myself as a salary negotiation coach for experienced software developers. Before that, I was basically positioned as an author who also did some coaching.

That shift in focus is what saved my business.

I kept pulling on that thread in 2018 and it continues to pay off in a few ways.

First, I’ve gotten more and more reps negotiating job offers with big tech firms, so I know their playbooks. This has made me more confident and gives me the tools to pitch my coaching offering more effectively.

Second, I’ve been able to raise my prices so I earn more for my work by reaching a more experienced market where my work has more value. Basically, I’ve enabled more and more experienced software developers and senior managers to find me when they have job offers, and their job offers are usually very substantial, which means their improvements are often substantial.

The combination of those two things is what has really enabled my coaching business to take off.

I also really like what I do. It’s fun to help people who’ve worked so hard to build a valuable skill set actually capture more of the value of the skill set they’ve built.

Product sales

Selling digital products is at once a boon to my business and an enigma. Traffic and sales were up this year, but I continue to suspect that I’m selling far less than I should given my traffic levels, and the quality and value of my products.

This has to be a focus for me in 2019. With over a million visitors to my site in 2018, I should be selling a lot of products.

Email list growth

I hit some pretty big milestones this year. I was this close to hitting 35,000 email subscribers before I pruned almost 10,000 subscribers. Since I started building my list in January 2015, I’ve had more than 60,000 people join my list. About 20,000 of those unsubscribed over time, and I pruned another 12,000 or so.

The churn is normal. The pruning is sort of controversial among my peers. But the bottom line is I had a ton of people on my list who were not opening or interacting with any of my emails, and I don’t think it’s good for anyone if I keep emailing those folks.

So I’ll end 2018 just shy of 30,000 active email subscribers. That’s crazy to me. I had 600 subscribers after my first full year doing this. Now I get more than that in a typical business week.

Now I just need to get better at aligning my product offerings to my email subscribers’ needs.

Consulting retainer

I also had a fun opportunity to consult with a very successful business. It was an unusual arrangement without any real parameters: Just come hang out, observe what we’re doing, and make suggestions to help us improve.

It worked really well for a while and it was a ton of fun, but the business itself eventually became so active that I found myself lost in the shuffle. I would love to do more of this sort of thing, and it’s good to have this experience so I can help define the desired outcomes—for myself and for the business—of this sort of engagement better in the future.

Essential Salary Negotiation Email Pack

Last year, I made a small product called The 15-Minute Counter Offer. I was trying to learn more about how I could help folks finding FearlessSalaryNegotiation.com when they needed help negotiating a job offer.

What I found was that most of those people were in a real hurry—they had just a few hours from the time they found myself site until they had negotiated their offer.

So I built The Essential Salary Negotiation Email Pack to help with their specific needs in a very short timeframe. That product, plus The Salary Negotiation Crash Course—a more in-depth-but-still-streamlined, end-to-end job offer negotiation course, offered as an upsell to the email pack—made almost $12,000 in 2018 and I didn’t start selling it until April.

This is by far my most successful new product and I hope to create a similarly successful offering for folks who aren’t sure how to ask for a raise in 2019.

Overall stats

Here are some high-level stats for 2018 (all as of December 26):

Traffic

There were 1.023 million New Users on FearlessSalaryNegotiation.com, and 90% of those were from organic search traffic.

My email list

Here’s an updated list of end-of-year email subscribers:

December 2015: ~700
December 2016: ~2,500
December 2017: ~11,500
December 2018: ~28,500

In 2018, I had 24,300 new email subscribers, but since I pruned about 12,000 recently, active email subscribers is “only” 28,500.

Here’s a graph of my email list growth in 2018:

2018 Email List Growth

No hockey stick this year—just consistent growth.

Conversion rates

They’re basically the same as they were last year—about .4% of email subscribers purchase something from me in the first 30 days. The consistency is a little deceptive as I did significantly increase conversions for one funnel, and I also significantly increased opt-ins for all other funnels.

Last year, I said, “If I hit [5% opt-ins and 2% conversions] by the end of 2018, I should be able to hit my revenue goals.”

On one hand, it’s really frustrating to see such a huge miss. On the other hand, I almost hit my revenue goals anyway, so if I actually find a way to get those sorts of conversion rates I’ll be doing very well.

A detailed 2018 Year In Review – Personal

Two things stand out when I think back on this year: traveling and running.

Travel

2012 was the beginning of a years-long plan to build a business and stop working for other people. That’s vague, but it’s about as specific a plan as I had in mind.

I started by getting a good-paying day job to leverage my prior career experience and newly-acquired MBA. I used that income to start paying down debt as aggressively as I could, and I began slowly acquiring the basic skills I would need to (eventually) build a successful business.

For the next few years, I was either paying down debt or saving up a runway while basically working seven days a week on my day job and side projects.

In 2015, debt free and comfortable with my runway, I quit my day job to focus full-time on building a business. For a little over two years, I worked really, really hard seven days a week. I think that sort of work was necessary to build the basic infrastructure of my business, but it was also very taxing.

In 2017, I decided the seven-days-a-week schedule needed to end, so I sort of re-entered normal society and focused on community. Either the foundation I had built would facilitate a real business or it wouldn’t—it was time to find out.

So I stopped working so much, but I still wasn’t earning enough to take non-business trips or anything like that. I had to pass on a number of super fun trips to avoid burning too much of my savings.

That changed in 2018 as my business actually started to take off.

Ski trip

I went skiing for the first time since high school and I loved it. My friends go on a ski trip every year, and I was always a little jealous I couldn’t make it. But I also remembered absolutely hating skiing, so it didn’t sting too badly to miss that part.

I figured I would give it a shot this year, mostly so I could say, “See! I went skiing and it’s still awful!” But it turns out I really liked it, and that getting ski lessons is actually very useful. Who knew?

I had a blast and I can’t wait to get back out there in 2019.

Our group at Vail

Boston

I also went to Boston with a couple college buddies in June. It was amazing. I hadn’t taken a trip like that in a very long time, and it was everything I hoped for.

Classic Allen face

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

Running stuff

At the end of 2017, I asked “Am I a runner now?” In hindsight, that question was pretty naive. The answer is vey clearly no.

Runners run a lot more than I do. But I am a hobbyist and I made progress on my hobby this year.

My first 15k

In January, I ran my first 15k and it did not go well. Turns out that running a 15k with the flu just isn’t a great idea. But I finished and my time wasn’t terrible (for a guy with the flu).

My first 15k

Sub-6:00 mile

One of my original running goals was to run a sub-6:00 mile. It took me a few tries and about 18 months, but I smashed that goal with a 5:54 in August.

My six-minute mile time with 400m splits

This may have been my most satisfying PR yet because it as almost exclusively mental. I had to try and fail a few times to understand exactly how to run a fast mile, but once I understood it I was able to knock it out.

15k PR on a training run

I was prepping for a Half Marathon and I ran an 8:00-flat pace 15k. This wasn’t even on my list of goals, but it felt pretty good. When I started running at the beginning of 2017, I set a goal of running this pace for 10k. So it’s cool to run that time for a longer distance.

15k training run - 8:00 pace

My first Half Marathon

I was planning to run a Half Marathon earlier in the year, but the aforementioned flu ruined my training and I bailed. Plus, the Half I was going to run would be during the winter and the weather was going to be awful.

A wise friend told me, “Do you really want your first Half Marathon to be a miserable experience? Why not just wait for a better one?” So I did.

I ended up running a Half in sunny, 60º weather and it was a pretty good experience. The one hitch was that the course was only 12.1 miles, so I literally had to go the extra mile to finish.

At least we got cupcakes at the end.

My first Half Marathon (with cupcakes!)

I ended up with a pretty good pace of 8:24. I was very happy with my race strategy as I felt I did the best I could, and I’m certain I could go quite a bit faster with better training.

That said, I doubt I’ll run too many more Halfs. I’m glad I did it, but it really took a toll for like two weeks after the race.

2019 Goals

I’m going to keep things pretty simple this year.

Double revenue again

I have no idea if this is possible or how I will do it, but I don’t think it’s a crazy goal.

Can I double product revenue? I think I can, although I don’t quite know how. I have the traffic and products to do it. There are also a lot of sub-goals that I won’t write about here, but which I think will help with this high-level goal.

Can I double coaching revenue? Yes, by more consistently booking clients and continuing to raise my rates.

This year, I earned pretty much what I earned in my last year of full-time employment. That feels amazing. But I didn’t quit my day job to make the same money I made before. I quit my day job to earn multiples of what I was earning before (among other things). So I want to continue pursuing that as long as it doesn’t require me to return to being a hermit.

Sub-7:00-pace 5k

I’ve been chasing this one for a while, and I probably should’ve tried to knock this out when I ran the sub-6:00 mile earlier this year. Unfortunately, I was battling some injuries and decided to slow down before I really hurt myself. I would like to check this one off the list.

Sub-60-second 400m

I’m honestly not sure if I can do this or not. For one thing, I’ve got nagging injuries that basically prevent me from sprinting. But if I can get healthy, I think I’ve learned enough about proper running that I can do this.

This wasn’t one of my original running goals (I wasn’t sure I’d ever break 70s), but I think it’s still an achievable stretch goal. Or maybe it’s not. I dunno.

More trips

I travel to relax, and I’d like to do that more this year.

I’d like to take another trip with the Boston crew this summer. That trip was a lot of fun and I think the three of us are pretty much an ideal traveling group.

A trip to Europe would also be great—I miss Italy—but I don’t have anything specific in mind yet.

Going the extra mile in my first Half Marathon

I got peer-pressured into running a Half Marathon a couple weeks ago.

Also I was promised free cupcakes at the end of the race and I have a very, very hard time saying no to cupcakes.

So I did some light training, re-aggravated some nagging injuries, and ran my first Half ever.

How’d it go?

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with my performance. I ran an 8:24 mile pace and finished in a decent time and I finished 9th overall out of 99.

Half Marathon Split Times

But I also ran out of gas on the back half and I couldn’t find enough energy to push for the end of the race. My mile splits just sort of kept slipping and slipping until I finally finished.

Part of this was my training—I didn’t run more than 9.3 miles before the Half—and part of it was probably nutritional (I should’ve had some gel packs or something).

Overall, it’s a good result and I’m happy I finished.

Nagging injuries

Unfortunately, I went a little too hard in my training two weeks out from the race. I didn’t mean to, but I felt so good on my longer training runs that I just sort of kept going.

I started on Saturday with a 15k (9.3 miles) and smashed my previous PR with an 8:00 even pace. Then I did an easy-ish track workout on Monday, but also threw in a fast 800m (a PR of 2:44). Then on Thursday I ran a fast 5k (7:26 pace).

I felt really good after all those runs.

Then on Saturday, eight days out from the race, I ran a medium-pace 10k (7:54) and that’s when things started hurting. I’ve had a nagging groin injury for a while, and it lit up during this run. Then my knee on that side also started hurting, probably because I was changing my gate to compensate for the other pain. My calf on the opposite started aching too—also probably compensatory.

So I went from feeling amazing to having a few dings that would still be sore on race day.

Fortunately, I was able to get in for a sports massage session, and that calmed things down enough to finish the race.

Still, it’s been 10 days since the race and my calf and groin still aren’t quite right. I just have to take it easy for a while so things will heal.

And this also confirms for me that I don’t think running a full marathon is even remotely a good idea for me.

Pacing myself

Since I hadn’t run this far before, I started off by taking it easy. I held back on my first mile and it still only took 8:15. I was hoping to end up at 8:15 for the entire race, and I felt great at this pace—I thought I might actually hit it!

Once we settled in, I was able to start keying off my cadence and how I felt in general. I felt great for the first several miles, but I also knew I wouldn’t feel too great for the last few miles. So I picked it up a little bit and passed a few people, but still held back.

The middle of the race was pretty hilly and painful, and I was happy I hadn’t pushed too hard earlier.

Once I got near Mile 10, I thought I might try to push and pick up the pace. I did push, but my pace started slowing as I just ran out of gas. I’m fine with that—I expected to get tired on those final four miles since I’d never run that far before.

My biggest problem was muscle fatigue—my muscles (especially my calves) just were not used to running that far. My cardio felt really good the whole time—I was never even remotely out of breath, had no side stitches, nothing that indicated I need better cardio.

But to go faster, I’ll need to increase my cadence from an average of 171 SPM to at least 175 SPM. To do that, I need better muscle endurance and more late-race energy.

I feel like my plan and strategy were very good. I’m not sure I would do anything differently if I could run this race again.

How I’ll improve for next time

This is actually pretty simple:

  1. Train better. I think I’d be much better off running a few 11–12 mile training runs in the weeks before the race. I think that’s the only way to get my muscles used to doing that much work. It will also give me a chance to slowly push my cadence higher and get used to running faster.
  2. Mid-race energy. I drank a few ounces of Gatorade at the mid-way turnaround, but that was it. I should’ve had gel packs or something for a late-race boost. I don’t know much about this, so it’s something to look into before my next race.

I’m very happy that my cardio was strong for the race, and not surprised that my calves got tired. I can fix that.

Going the extra mile

But the most interesting thing is that I got a rare chance to literally experience a figure of speech: I went the extra mile.

It’s not quite as crazy as it sounds, but it still felt pretty crazy at the time.

This particular race was totally disorganized. It was so disorganized that the actual race distances weren’t right. Not even close, actually.

About 10 minutes in, I realized the course couldn’t possibly be 13.11 miles. It was an out-and-back race, and I could see that the shorter distances (5k and 10k) weren’t right because I got to their turnaround points before I should have.

So I started prepping myself: “Josh, you’re going to be tired when this is over. But you’re also going to need to keep going past the finish to get the full distance. That’s not gonna be fun, but you didn’t come out here to run ALMOST a Half Marathon, so you’re gonna keep going until you hit 13.11 miles.”

Sure enough, I crossed the finish and my Watch said I had only run 12.1 miles. So I ran past the guy handing out finisher medals, grabbed my medal, and just kept going for one more slow, painful mile.

But when I finally stopped, I had completed an actual Half Marathon and I’m glad I did that even if it probably looked a little strange to everyone else at the finish line.

Of course, I’m still a little dinged up—my calf and hamstring are both strained—but I finished a Half Marathon and I got to experience a real-life figure of speech to boot.

Next time I hear someone say something like, “We need to go the extra mile here.”, I’ll know what that’s actually like.

Would I have tricked you with this Halloween costume?

As you can see, my friends and I go all out on Halloween—we do not mess around:

Wonder Woman Halloween Ensemble - 2017

That’s our ensemble costume from last year. I played Charlie, the military-looking guy on the right side (Wonder Woman’s left side). Friends and strangers alike have commented on how much I looked like Charlie, right down to his posture and facial expression.

That’s pretty cool!

But my appearance as Charlie was built on a dirty little secret…

I hadn’t even seen Wonder Woman and I had no idea who Charlie was before I put on the costume.

WAT?!

I did just enough to pull it off. Here’s what I did once we finished my makeup:

  • Watched a one-minute Wonder Woman clip featuring Charlie
  • Studied pictures of him on Google
  • Asked friends to describe Charlie to me

I didn’t need to be Charlie for Halloween, I needed to look like Charlie for Halloween, and I only had to keep it up for a couple hours.

In a weird way, I’ve built an entire business on this concept. My customers don’t need to be negotiation experts—that’s my job!—they just need to know enough to negotiate a job offer or two and then they can go back to their normal lives.

They can do this through self study or even hire me to coach them through it.

Maybe it’s time to update my coaching page to say “I’ll show you how play the role of ‘Expert Salary Negotiator’ next time you get a job offer”.

The many ways we say yes and no

I’ve been thinking a lot about how imprecise “yes” and “no” answers can be. Here’s what I mean:

FRIEND: “Do you think we’ll make it to the move in time for the previews?”
ME: “Yes.”

Here’s how yes and no translate to numbers:

Yes | 51–100%
No | 0–49%

My friend asked me a yes-or-no question, and my response was “Yes.”, which is a direct answer to the question, but it could mean a wide range of things. I could be saying, “We’ll definitely be there for the previews!” or I could be saying, “I think it’s more likely than not that we will be there for the previews.”

Although there are only two answers, each answer can mean many things, which means “yes” and “no” are actually pretty vague answers.

I think we all intuitively sense this, and that’s why most of us wouldn’t just say “yes” or “no” to that question.

If a friend asked me the question above I might respond with “Probably!” or “Probably not.” or “I think so!” or “I doubt it.” or something like that.

Although those answers are still one word or just a few words, they convey a lot more meaning.

Those answers encapsulate two ideas:

  1. Whether I think we’ll be there in time for the previews
  2. How confident I am in my answer

Here’s what I mean…

Question: “Are we going to make it to the movie in time for the previews?”

Answers:

A hundred percent! | 100%
I’m pretty sure! | 80%
Probably! | 75%
Probably. | 65%
I think so! | 60%
I think so. | 55%
I think so? | 51%
Maybe. | 50%
I don’t think so? | 49%
I doubt it. | 45%
Probably not. | 35%
I doubt it! | 25%
I don’t think so! | 20%
Now way, LOL | 0%

And of course those interpretations will vary by person, culture and many other criteria.

It’s also interesting how the punctuation—how emphatically we give our answer—can make a difference. “I don’t think so!” (with an exclamation point) seems more pessimistic than “I don’t think so.” (with a period).

One last thought: I struggled to come up with “yes” answers for 80% and 100%, and “no” answers for 0% and 20%. Maybe my vocabulary just isn’t strong enough, but it seems like that’s sort of a gap in the English language.

It’s fascinating how many things we can say with so few words.

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.