Another weekend at The SHOP

Last weekend I underwent an epic 36 hours of working out at The SHOP in Dallas. As you might recall from my previous post about my first SHOP experience, it is not for the faint of heart. The SHOP is run by Drew Skaggs (S.H.O.P. stands for the Skaggs House Of Pain), a member of Rice's 2003 national championship baseball team. After graduating with degrees in Chemical Engineering and pursuing a career in commercial real estate, Drew finally stopped pursuing a "double life" (working to pay the bills and pursuing his interests in his offtime) and devoted his efforts fulltime to his passions: fitness, nutrition, strength, conditioning. He was already an incredible resource of information about the most cutting edge research in these areas but now that he is living and breathing it fulltime, The SHOP has become a mecca for elite athletes. Drew is more than academic, though; he practices what he preaches and leads by example.

To set the context, I'm in better shape than I was during my first SHOP visit in January. With Drew's help  I've added three pounds of muscle, shed four pounds of fat, taken a minute off of my 5k PR, and taken 80 seconds off of my 10k PR. I was only going to be in Dallas for about 36 hours but Drew promised that we could do plenty of damage in that amount of time. To add to the excitement, we were joined by a mutual acquaintance, a former professional athlete, who is quite a fitness enthusiast himself. He happened to be in Houston so it was easy for him just to drive up to Dallas with me.

We arrived around 8:30 PM Thursday evening, changed clothes and immediately hit The SHOP. As had happened last time, Drew took me way out of my comfort zone with many exercises and movements I had never done - or even heard of - before. We started with Turkish Get-Ups using a dumbbell or kettlebell. I have no idea why the Turks would ever want to get up that way but it was a really intense way to begin a workout! We followed this with heavy dumbbell Farmer's Walks superset with ab wheel rolls. At this point it was clear to me already how out of shape my forearms were because they were completely exhausted already!

We finished off the workout with anaerobic conditioning. Drew set up three stations: battle ropes, mountain climbers, and the airdyne bike. Each us was at one station performing 20 seconds of maximum intensity exercise. Then we rotated stations and rested for 40 seconds. We completed a full circuit three times and I never thought 9 minutes could last so long! My heart rate peaked in the 190s and finally we were done. Drew made his famous SHOP recovery shakes and then we were off to bed for recuperation.

No rest for the weary, though, as we were up at 5 AM for pre-workout nutrition: omelets with plenty of fresh veggies. Some other SHOP regulars joined us at 6:30 for workout #2. We began with heavy deadlifts. I used a trap bar instead of a straight bar just because I'm less accustomed to it. Next up: single arm dumbbell bench press superset with kettlebell swings. Then we wrapped up with overhead press superset with single leg glute bridges. For post workout nutrition we had second breakfast at Company Cafe, where I had a deep bowl of sweet potatoes, eggs, and grass fed buffalo - Mmmmm!

My business meetings took me most of the day Friday, but I made it back to The SHOP in time for workout #3: Wrestlemania! Drew has been studying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu so we rolled out the mats and he taught us a few moves. Then we had six two-minute rounds of one-on-one grappling, with one person sitting out to rest each round. The goal was to get the other person to submit without any intentional punching, kicking, or other strikes, just grappling. Just as I remembered from my days wrestling back in school, such an experience is absolutely exhausting. Maybe people with great technique are less exhausted by it but, for me, I basically end up with all muscles flexed all the time.

Because I didn't really know what I was doing, my approach can best be described as a "turtle" strategy. Each round I found myself pretty quickly with my face in the mat so most of my effort was focused on countering my opponent's attempts to manipulate me into a submission hold. While I was mostly "successful" with that - in that I managed to fend off such attempts until the end of the very last round, when I found myself in a choke hold - I wasn't "winning;" I was "not losing." Next time I'll need to take more risks to get more offensive practice. Still, it was a lot of fun and a heck of a workout.

Friday evening we grilled up steaks and salmon that Drew had caught in Alaska. Add some spinach with lots of garlic, tomatoes and avocado, Napa cab, and raw milk white russians (in honor of all the Big Lebowski references we had been making) and it was a heck of a meal. Then back to sleep before the final round.

Saturday morning we woke up early again for sprouted grain english muffins with peanut butter then began workout #4. As most of our muscles were pretty decimated by this point, more crazy lifting would have just led to overtraining. Accordingly we focused on mobility first with lots of PNF stretching. We then superset forearm captains of crush with reverse situps on the incline bench. My torso was already so sore from all of the stability work that I wasn't able to do much on the situps.

We then changed location to a hill near The SHOP. I don't know exactly how long the hill path was (estimate: 200 meters) or how steep (estimate: 10% grade) but we sprinted up it three times and then recovered with SHOP shakes. As we returned to The SHOP it had been almost exactly 36 hours since we had arrived and we had completed four killer workouts.

Looking back, two insights stand out to me:

1. We really didn't do that much. The volume of our work was pretty significant for a 36-hour stretch, but nothing exceptional for four separate workouts. However, the quality of what we did was through the roof: difficult exercises conducted with 100% focus and maximum intensity. This corresponds with my desire to work out smarter, not longer, and it's an aspect of The SHOP that I love: a commitment to results, not simply to tiring you out.

2. Most of what we did was new/different (to me, at least). No matter how optimally you train, there is always benefit to mixing it up and shocking your body out of its adaptation. This is another aspect I love about The SHOP: because Drew is so committed to staying abreast of - and even innovating beyond - the cutting edge of fitness research, I can always count on it for a shock.

I'm back in Houston now and I still hurt. My neck especially (the muscles, not the spine) is reeling from the wrestling. There was a time when I had a 19" neck that would have been ready for it. While my narrower current neck is certainly more practical for finding bow ties that fit, I could have used the extra bulk during Wrestlemania! I am thoroughly convinced that it is no coincidence that "SHOP" has the same number of letters as "EPIC" because that's the only way to describe the 36 hours and 4 workouts we undertook. Now I'm pumped and ready for more - but maybe after a little R&R . . .



Last week was a great week that brought many accomplishments both professionally and personally. First off, I am pleased to announce that Smart Office Energy Solutions closed its second round of funding! While our first round comprised mostly smaller investors with whom I already had a personal relationship, this second, larger round was made up of more professional investors - both as individuals and as companies. Once again it is an honor to have had such faith placed on our shoulders and once again we will do everything within our power to ensure an overwhelmingly positive outcome.

And now, with this round closed, we've wasted no time in launching fundraising efforts for our next, much larger round. I pitched to two VCs last week and have already had very positive feedback/interest from one. As I have expressed before, fundraising is new for me and it is easy to become frustrated with the time and attention it takes. However, each of these small successes re-energizes me and keeps us moving forward.

Another piece of good news came in last week when we were selected as semi-finalists for the Cleantech Open, a prestigious nation-wide contest between cleantech startups. It is an honor to have been selected among such talented companies and we will work hard in the next round to live up to the "hype."

Finally, business meetings took me to Dallas toward the end of the week so I used the opportunity to squeeze in some time at The SHOP while I was there. I will detail that experience in a subsequent post but suffice to say that the incredibly intense workouts were exactly what I was seeking.

It was a great week so now I'm working on making this one even better!


Atlas Shrugged

At long last, after several months, I have finished reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. While reading The Fountainhead back in high school, I fell in love with Rand's school of philosophical thought, Objectivism. I always meant to follow up by reading Atlas Shrugged but between college, startups, and the myriad other distractions in my life I just never quite made time for the 1,000+ page novel. Finally, at long last, I have accomplished this task and it was interesting to read it 14 years after I read The Fountainhead - my perspective has changed a lot since then!

The Good

Rand's advocacy of free market capitalism certainly resonates very strongly with me. I'm not anti-government but I do believe that the government has a pretty focused role to play in the maintenance and advancement of society. Capitalism is an efficient system for fostering innovation, advancing ideas that are worthwhile and discarding those that aren't. The capital and where it flows provides an intrinsic metric of success, incenting businesses to evolve, streamline, and innovate.

When the government gets too involved not only does it lead to wonky results due to decision-making by people with little business experience, it also mucks up the entire capitalist system, blurring the incentives and obfuscating the metrics of success - further compounding the wonky results (I have blogged before about such wonky results.). I'm glad to have read this book now, after 11 years as an entrepreneur and business executive, as the government meddling in business affairs (e.g. the Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog Rule and Directive 10-289) evoked much more significant responses in me than they would have back when I was a student!

That said, in this book Rand argues for an extremely laissez-faire, almost anarchist, form of capitalism, which I do not support. The government does have a role to play in business and that is to set the rules of the system in which the market operates. These rules include fair laws and equitable taxes with frequent review and update. After that, businesses should be left free to optimize their operations around those rules.

I also bought into Rand's theme of Sanction of the Victim, the willingness of the successful to suffer at the hands of the "evil" (In this novel, "evil" is done by mooches and looters who have no capacity to achieve in and of their own right.), feeling guilty for the "sin" of their achievement. This corresponds with Transactional Analysis, specifically with the playing of games. It is easy to blame the "evil" person/company/country/organization but it takes two or more actors to play a game and they all are equally complicit in the result.

Rand's "rational egoism" or "ethical selfishness" still resonates with me in many ways but not nearly as much as it did in high school. If "self" is extended to represent collective units such as "family" or "company," I think this position is a good operating principle. However it must not be followed myopically and it must not be considered absolute. Part of what makes us human is that we have the capacity for love and human empathy, not just for maximizing self interest 24/7/365.

The Bad

Rand's philosophy really falls apart, though, on her premise that rationality is every human  being's highest virtue. Here I disagree completely. Human beings are inherently irrational creatures although we spend an enormous amount of time and energy rationalizing irrational decisions we have already made - consciously or subconsciously. Several times in the novel characters are derided for sharing their feelings or instincts. This is flat-out wrong. We can either ignore / suppress our emotions or we can embrace them, even capitalize on them.

Again, our capacity to feel is a critical element of the human experience and, without it, life is less rich, less meaningful. This shows in Rand's characters who never seem to know joy. She writes that they are joyful when they achieve something great but it isn't very convincing. The moments of greatest joy in my life have been almost entirely irrational and they have involved people, not achievements. By condemning irrationality, Rand really misses the boat.

The Ugly

Because of the dogged focus on rationality, the characters in Atlas Shrugged simply aren't believable. Or, even if one believes that humans like them might exist, it is hard to identify with them. There is some dialogue, of course, but the book feels like one preachy monologue after another. Because of this inability to write "human" characters and because of her insistent commitment to rationality, I wonder what Ayn Rand was like - and I suspect that she repressed a significant amount of her own feelings.

More practically, Atlas Shrugged is too long. The story could have been told in 1/3 the pages and without sacrificing any character development (since, as described above, the characters weren't really developed). A prime example is Galt's radio address, which really is the expression of Rand's philosophy packaged up into one monologue - and what a monologue! After three hours of reading, of Galt repeating himself over and over again, of rhetorical questions and allegories, I finally finished his address. There was a lot of great stuff in there but it was way too long - if it had been a real radio address, he would have bored his audience to tears and no one would have followed. In Atlas Shrugged, however, people around the country are inspired by this message - once again exhibiting Rand's inability to grasp how humans really work.


I'm really glad to have read the book and I would recommend it for others as well. My reaction is very mixed: the businessman in me loves it while the human in me rolls his eyes at it. The fact that it evokes such strong and mixed reactions is a good thing and I'm sure I will have many lively conversations about the book. I just wish that Rand would have understood the latter reaction and found a way to reconcile her philosophy with it.


Houston Heights 5k 2011 Race Report

Saturday I set a new 5k PR at the Houston Heights 5k race. As we are now in the time of year when Houston is murderously hot and humid, I had intended to be done with races until late Fall. However, our Norwegian intern, Anders, who is a much more accomplished runner than I am, pointed out that this would be our last chance to run in the same race before he headed back home - how could I pass up such an opportunity?

My previous 5k PR for a certified course was 20:58, set back in February. In theory I should have been in better shape now, but it would also be much hotter/more humid now so I didn't know exactly what kind of performance to expect. With race-time temperatures expected in the 80s, online calculators were predicting that I would run up to a minute slower than my cool weather potential. Plus, now I'm a married man and I'm sure that sets me back a few minutes too! :-P

I disregarded the weather for my race plan, though, and set a strategy to set a new PR. The course would be very straight and flat so there was no need to worry about adjusting for turns or hills. As usual my intention was to start and finish very strong with a fast, consistent pace in between:

KM 1: 4:04 (Big burst at the start then settling into my pace after 200m)
KM 2: 4:17
KM 3: 4:17
KM 4: 4:17
KM 5: 4:00 (4:17 pace for 650m, cover the next 260m in 60s - 3:51 pace, and sprint the final 90m in 15s - 2:47 pace)
Race goal: 20:55

The morning of the race was definitely pretty sticky. I didn't allow as much time between my big breakfast and the race as I usually do, so my GI was grumbling a bit as I warmed up. My stomach settled down right before the start, though, so all was well. I found Anders, we wished each other luck, and then we were off.

The first km went very well. Heights Blvd is a wide, straight street and there was plenty of room for runners to spread out after the starting line. I had a good start (~3:30 pace) and then eased back, finishing this km in 3:58 with an average heart rate of 166. Heading into the next km I was 6 seconds ahead of my goal and my heart rate was 174 - right on target.

The second km was consistent and felt strong. I finished it in 4:13 with an average heart rate of . . . 174 - my heart rate had stayed steady as well. I was now 10 seconds ahead of my goal and feeling very good.

The third km worried me a bit as it included a 180-degree turn (as we turned around and headed right back up Heights Blvd). I finished it in 4:12 but my heart rate had now begun to climb, averaging 178 throughout the km. 60% through the race I was 15s ahead of my goal with a 180 heart rate and straight, flat road ahead.

The 4th km was once again consistent (My heart rate stayed at 180.) but I struggled to stick to my pace, finishing in 4:18. A woman in green who had been just ahead of me (and who had a coach biking alongside her) began to extend her lead. Still, I was 14s ahead of my goal so I would set a new PR barring any disastrous meltdown.

The next 650m were again a struggle and I completed them at 4:20 pace. My average heart rate for that leg was 183 and my current heart rate was 185. Still, I was 12s ahead of my goal as I kicked it up for my penultimate push.

My pace was good during this push, 3:44, but something unexpected happened before I completed the 260m. Anders, who of course had finished several minutes prior, had come back along the course and was encouraging me on. I was 13s ahead of my goal, my heart rate was now 189 and, with 120m left, I began my final sprint.

I could see the woman in green way up ahead of me and, urged on by Anders, I committed to beating her. I passed several guys along the way but, for whatever reason, she was my focus - my nemesis! I blew by her maybe 5m before the finish line and it felt great! I had completed the final 120m in 23s (2:55 pace) for a final time of 20:44.9, 10s below my goal and a new PR by 13s! Perhaps most interestingly, my hear rate soared to 197 - the highest I have ever recorded - during the sprint.

I cooled down, found Anders, and together we jogged back along the course to find Katie and run her in. By this point it was getting very muggy and we were incredibly thankful for all the tree shade along Heights Blvd. Some others from our office had come out to support us so we all met up - but we runners kept our sweaty distance!

Anders finished 2nd overall with a 16:06 time - very impressive. My 20:45 was 69th of 1,022 runners (93rd percentile), 60th of 495 male runners (88th percentile), and 8th of 71 males 30-34 (89th percentile). It was a good race with decent competition, plenty of room, a nice course, and effective organization - I'll hope to run it again next year.

Also, to make this run more meaningful, I ran it in honor of GIVEWATTS. Some family members sponsored me and I managed to collect enough donations for three watts of clean renewable power to be installed at a school in East Africa. Over 10 years those three watts will create approximately $2,250 of value there, so this aspect of the race was much more impactful than my PR!