So you might be wondering why you haven’t seen a post on my SF Marathon. Well, it’s in part because it was a rough race and didn’t go as well as I expected. In addition to that, when I was relaying this story to my friend Derek (the one I interviewed recently) he encouraged me to share the honest truth with the folks over at Greatist.

So I wrote something that appeared last week in Greatist’s weekend edition, but I wanted to share it directly with my blog readers here. I think down the road, I’d like to do a piece on “things I’ve learned so far about running” but let’s start with this race recap.

What I Learned from My First (Blunder-Filled) Marathon

After many months of training, I ran my first marathon this summer. It was agonizingly hard, and I made a lot of mistakes both in training and in the race — but I made it to the finish line. Did it change my life? No. Did it make me a better runner? Yes. Was it worth the hurt? Definitely.

This is how I prepared for and completed that 26.2 mile race. Hopefully my experience and mistakes can help your own journey to completing that first marathon.

Deciding to Run

After graduating from college and finishing an NCAA career in men’s gymnastics, I spent a few unsatisfying years lifting weights to stay in shape. On a whim, I tried running in a pair of Vibram Five-Fingers (those minimalist shoes) and loved how they felt. I hated doing any kind of running as a gymnast, and despite a major knee injury requiring numerous surgeries, the minimal footwear made running fun and basically pain-free.

My competitive career as a runner began in July 2011 when I ran in the San Francisco Marathon’s 5k. The adrenaline rush from that first 5k was thrilling and got me rehooked on being a competitive athlete. In the months following, I ran more 5ks, a few 10ks, and even some half marathons.

Around the winter holidays, I thought to myself, “It’d be pretty awesome if I came back to next year’s SF Marathon and did the full distance. Seven months should be plenty of time to train.” For whatever reason, I felt that finishing a marathon would officially make me a “real” runner. And before I knew it, I had an SF Marathon registration email sitting in my inbox, and there was no going back.

SF Marathon 2012 Race Course

Training for the Race

The marathon distance was daunting, but I knew from my years as a gymnast that with the right training, the seemingly impossible becomes possible. I looked at several well-known marathon training plans, but they generally required running 5 or more times a week, and I wanted a plan with lower mileage to protect my knee. I ultimately turned to running blogger/coach Jason Fitzgerald to devise a custom plan for me.

I ran about three times a week: One easy run, one longer run with a few miles at a faster “tempo” pace, and a slow long run on the weekend. I lifted weights, used the elliptical or performed body-weight exercises on two other days, and rested the other two days. Continue reading

Good Strategy / Bad Strategy Book CoverI just finished a great book on strategic thinking called Good Strategy / Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why it Matters. It helped me understand what strategy really is both from a conceptual perspective and also concretely with case studies of companies like Apple & Nvidia and organizations like NASA and the US Army that had successfully implemented good strategy.

I highly recommend you check it out because the case studies really bring the concepts to light. But for your benefit and mine, here are some of the key takeways I got from it.

What Strategy is Not

Strategy or “strategic thinking” often refers to the work engaged by leaders of an organization, but just because someone is power is thinking, doesn’t make it strategic. A common mistake is to create goals, visions, budgets and/or “key priorities” and call that strategy.  They are NOT.

Strategy Has Three Elements

All good strategies have what the author calls a “kernel”. They are: a diagnosis of the primary challenge(s) and obstacle(s) faced by the organization, a guiding policy for how the organization plans to approach or overcome the challenge(s) and a set of coherent actions and resource commitments designed to carry out the guiding policy. Continue reading

The Launch Pad Book CoverIt’s that time again! I’m holding my 2012 readership survey to better understand my audience and make this blog better. I found last year’s survey very helpful and I made a number of changes based on the feedback I recieved, so I’m looking forward to doing it again.

To encourage you to participate, I’m giving away two free copies of a book on YC called The Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s Most Exclusive School for Startups.

As most of you know, I participated in the Y Combinator program to build Ridejoy. Journalist and business professor Randall Stross got a super close look at the Summer 2011 YC batch and shows exactly what those crazy three months were like for Ridejoy and 62 other companies. Vanity Fair published an excerpt if you want to check it out.

Derek Flanzraich is a good friend – we started off as blogging collaborators, writing about how to land startup jobs out of college, and now have followed parallel paths into entrepreneurship. Derek’s NYC-based startup, Greatist, is the fastest growth health and fitness site on the planet, with over 1 million (count ’em) uniques a month less than a year after launch.

In this honest conversation we had in late August 2012, he shares the hardest thing about doing a startup, how to really get six pack abs, the most important quality to creating sharable content and much more. Stay tuned at the end for a very special opportunity you won’t want to miss.

Jason = Grey background Derek = White background

[alert style=”grey”]Let’s start from the top: what brings you into SF?[/alert]

I’m here for the Health Innovation Summit hosted by Rock Health. We’re demoing Greatist and honestly it’s a chance to meet new folks and catch up with people. I haven’t been to SF in a while to see the city I like so much. We’ll set up a booth and just chat people up – any chance I can reach a relevant audience with Greatist, I jump at it. Rock Health is well respected as an seed accelerator for digital health startups. We’re good friends with many of the companies that have gone through the program and we also did an infographic on how The Future of Health is Your Smartphone.

[alert style=”grey”]Now, I know you recently went on an adventure to get six pack abs and wrote about it on Greatist as a series called Six Pack Abs in Six Weeks: The #Absperiment. Will you A) show me your abs now and B) summarize what you learned from the experience?[/alert]

You are not the first person to ask this question [about my abs]. They are gone. It took me 6 weeks to get them, 1.5 weeks to lose them.

[alert style=”grey”]Bummer.[/alert]

And that was a choice. I mean I couldn’t stop eating for a week after so maybe it was something in between … but anyway, the ultimate takeaway was that you can get six pack abs but the sacrifice that you have to make to accomplish that goal in a short period of time may not be worth it and may not be lasting. I came to the conclusion that I don’t necessarily want six pack abs, I just want to be healthy, happy and fit.

One other thing I realized was that I usually eat a lot more than I need to. [During the #absperiment] I basically cut my calories in half and honestly wasn’t that hungry. Now, I no longer order, for instance, double meat at Chipotle, because I realize I’m going to be full anyway.

[alert style=”grey”]For readers who want details how Derek did it, you can scroll to the bottom (I’m also throwing in a free picture of “Six Pack Derek”. Now personal experiments aside, what kind of content do you think really stands out? What are the most popular articles to read on Greatist?[/alert]

The most popular articles are really comprehensive, exhaustive lists that people can refer back to. We have some amazing user engagements for a content site. A lot of that is because we have pages that people bookmark and come back to. Continue reading

12 Life Lessons Learned at Burning Man

I recently went to Burning Man for the second time this August – it was a great experience, though very different from the first time I went in 2011. I’ve heard from veteran Burners that your first time at Black Rock City will always be your best.

I’m not sure that’s true yet. It’s definitely less mind-blowing when you know what to expect, but on the other hand, this second experienced allowed me to think more about what we all can take from the values, culture and experience of Burning Man.

1) Listen to your body

One of the 10 principles of Burning Man is “radical self-reliance” and it’s a critical one when you’re trying to survive out in the middle of nowhere. The 100+ degree heat, chalky alkaline dust, reduced sleep schedule and new diet of dried fruit, beef jerky and water forces you to really be mindful of your body. If you’re not careful, you can be hit with heat exhaustion, super chapped hands and feet, or a GI issue.

But why leave that mindfulness out in the playa? Back in the “default world” there are plenty of opportunities to be more aware of what you’re eating, how well you’re sleeping and how stress is affecting your body.

2) Be more open to new opportunities

There are so many things to do out at Burning Man – send post cards, connect with camp mates, volunteer to light lamps, dance on art cars or run 5k’s. I heard someone call it “Disneyland for adults” at one point this year.

But in most cities and of course with the internet, opportunities are everywhere. You can volunteer at a local homeless shelter or take up a new yoga class or study to become a bartender or just say hi to your neighbors. If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, just look around and find something that catches your eye. Opportunities to do interesting things are all around us.

3) Focus on the now

There’s a joke at Burning Man that everything runs on “playa time”. Meaning scheduled events often start late or perhaps not at all and coordinating anything is tricky (in part because of all those shiny opportunities we talked about).

In some ways that’s a hassle, but in other ways, it’s very freeing. People aren’t operating on schedules and tight timelines – instead they live in the moment. They’re not thinking about what they have to do next but focus on what they’re experiencing right now.

Obviously, we can’t all be like Arnold Schwarzenegger and work without a schedule, but if we can remember to catch our breath in a busy work day and realize that we’ll do our best work when we focus on the now, we’ll all be better off.

Continue reading