33rd Birthday Musings

Birthdays are always good times for reflection and this year I'm feeling particularly introspective. Perhaps it is because 33 is a number of great significance to one of my good friends or perhaps it is because my last multiple of 11 year was so impactful (graduating from college, meeting Katie) that this birthday feels . . . auspicious!

At the same time, 2012 so far has felt . . . stretched. In all candor, I am struggling to keep up with everything I'm working on. First and foremost is my cleantech startup, Smart Office Energy Solutions. I love the work we are doing, the success we are having (awards, customers, etc.) so far, and our future opportunities. Moreover I continue to be humbled by the faith our investors have placed in us. With all this, though, I am feeling mounting pressure to make this a huge success. In baseball terminology my entrepreneurial career so far has yielded a few singles and no strikeouts (So maybe I'm not swinging hard enough!) but no home runs yet. Given the upside of this venture, it is clear to me that this has the greatest potential of any of my previous attempts to be a grand slam so I am pouring my time, energy, and emotion into making that happen - not only for me, but for our "extended team" including employees and investors.

This year I have been thrilled to start teaching entrepreneurship at Rice as well. This was in answer to a call by Rice's top leadership to help inspire and empower Rice students to pursue paths of greater impact. The teaching experience has been incredibly rewarding thus far and I am honored to have been entrusted with it. It is a lot of work, though! Perhaps future semesters will be easier but teaching something the first time requires a great deal of time and thought - if you care about the outcome for students, which I do passionately.

I also care a great deal about trying to foster entrepreneurship at Rice specifically and, more generally, within Houston. This has led to me engaging ever more frequently with several sets of stakeholders in discussion of a new initiative to bring together Rice's commercial and tech powers that be for a new initiative to catalyze entrepreneurship in an entirely new way.

Concurrently, I continue to volunteer at Rice in other ways: as a Lovett College associate, an active member of the Grad-degree Alumni Committee, and as co-chair (with Katie) of our Centennial Homecoming this year. I'm trying to create more of an alumni community in Houston too for my other alma mater, IMD. The rest of my volunteer efforts go to Give Watts, which has more opportunity for major impact and more traction than ever before.

Through all of this I'm trying be the good husband that Katie deserves (and a good "father" to Max!) while also keeping up my health, fitness, and rest. Of course these are the most important priorities.

As best I can tell, there are ~20% as many hours in the day as there need to be to accomplish everything I'm working toward. I am furiously pursuing all of them and continually trying new ways of working smarter-not-harder to increase efficiency. There is nothing new about this; anyone who knew me in college will recognize the same patterns! At the same time I am deathly afraid of failing at any of these efforts, especially as it seems that so many people are depending on me.

It doesn't take too much psychoanalysis to find clues about why I live in  a perpetual state of overcommitment. I suspect that having a father who died when I was pretty young imbued me with at sense of mortality. Somewhere in the back of my mind is a sense that it could all end tomorrow which, coupled with a strong motivation to have a major impact in the world, leads to a fervor - a desperation, almost - to achieve at least some of these goals before it's too late.

Don't misunderstand me, though; this is not a hidden plea for sympathy. I love my life. I am excited by and energized by all these frenetic threads and I wouldn't have it any other way. My blood pressure is really low!
Ever since I first heard the term "deferred life plan" I immediately related to the desire to live in the now and never lose sight of my dreams. If I were hit by a bus tomorrow, I may not have accomplished nearly what I had set out to do during my short time in this world, but I would at least be satisfied that I have lived every minute of my 33 years. I have loved passionately and relentlessly pursued goals consistent with the values that I hold dear. These, I believe, are fundamental to the human experience.

At a moment like this, reflecting on my past and anticipating my future, I can't help but be overcome by how blessed I am. I stand on the shoulders of giants; I would be nothing without the friends and loved ones who have been and are with me. I apologize to you all for your emails and voicemails that go far too long before I respond; I'm definitely falling down on the job. Know, though, that I live in a constant state of gratitude for and wonder at your presence in my life. Thank you for making my 33 years such a joyous journey . .  . here's to many, many more!

A Birthday Feast for the Ages

Last night capped off 36 hours of wonderful birthday celebration! Thursday evening my favorite wingman took me and a couple of other friends out to Experience Hendrix, a Jimi Hendrix tribute tour featuring several blues legend performers. It was a great show, covering the entire Hendrix canon. Some notable performers were Dweezil Zappa (son of Frank Zappa), Robby Krieger (of The Doors), Jonny Lang, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Awesome!

Then last night Katie put together an exquisite dinner with a few friends. We began the evening with 1998 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut La Grande Dame, which went really well with light caviar. This was not your elegant, airy champagne; it was very fruit-forward and dense - delicious!

We served the main courses all at once: zucchini salad, sardines in puff pastry, eggplant pesto on fresh sourdough, and thai beef (although we used grass fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free buffalo instead). Each of the recipes was taken from Cooking With Flo, a cookbook authored by a friend of ours to document the exquisite recipes of Florence, the hotelier we met during our visit to Cognac back in 2008. Scrumptious!

The wines we served weren't those you would classically pair with any of those dishes but hey, it was my birthday and we were going to drink what [the royal] we wanted! The theme of the night was 2001 Brunello di Montalcino, an excellent vintage not just for wine but also the year I met Katie. In fact, exactly 11 years ago yesterday Katie gave me a hug for the first time- and the rest, as they say, is history!

Before we dove into the Brunelli, though, one of our guests brought another wine to celebrate another vintage - 1979, the year I was born! The 1979 M. Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône Belleruche was exquisite, vivacious, and had plenty of life left (as I hope I do!). Our first two Brunelli were 2001 Castello Banfi Poggio alle Mura and 2001 La Poderina. Again, these weren't necessarily natural pairings with our food but they were great on their own and the La Poderina especially went well with the buffalo.

As we moved onto pecorino and gouda cheeses, we brought out the other two Brunelli: 2001 Castelgiocondo and 2001 Casanova di Neri Tenuta Nuova. As you may recall, I've had negative experience with Castelgiocondo in the past but this was my first time actually drinking their wine. It was good, but not good enough to cancel out my grudge from that visit. The Casanova was Wine Spectator's 2006 wine of the year. I'm not sure it's that good, but it was definitely my favorite of the night and will keep getting better over time.

Completely stuffed, we moved on to dessert: homemade blueberry cobbler and chocolate cake (Good thing I was carb loading for Sunday's 10k race!)! For this course we had a Sauternes-like late harvest wine from California. Imagine my surprise then when I took my first sip and it was . . . spicy! It turned out that this was not the dessert wine we thought it was. It was experimental jalapeno wine our friends had made and bottled in a dessert wine bottle! While it certainly wasn't for everyone, I happen to love spicy wine so it was a perfect end to a fabulous evening.

Five hours of wine dinner . . . great company . . . and a spicy surprise . . . what better way to begin my next trip around the sun?


Bayou City Classic 10k 2012 Race Report

Despite horrible running conditions, I PR'ed in yesterday's Bayou City Classic 10k. I hadn't raced a 10k for nearly a year but theoretically my fitness has improved since last March and I've been mixing in some 10k training runs since January.

My goal with this race was to beat my 44:41 PR (set in last year's Capitol 10k) or, at the very least, beat my 45:43 course record, set in last year's Bayou City Classic. There was no cold or injury this year and I had had a good week of running taper, carb loading, and general recovery/preparation so I was hoping for a very solid performance.

I set my race plan based on a 44:42 time, hoping to beat it by at least two seconds:

1. Fast start, covering the first half km in 2:01 (4:03 / km pace).
2. Settle into race pace, running nine kms of 4:31 each (pretty flat course)
3. Pick it up for 400m uphill in 1:42 (4:17 / km pace)
4. Turn the corner and sprint the final 100m in 18s (3:09 / km pace)

A potential wrinkle developed as the race approached and it became increasingly evident that we would be running in the cold (10 C, ~50 F), wet (100% chance of rain), and wind. I wasn't sure exactly how this would affect my run. I didn't think my Vibram Five Fingers Bikilas would sponge up too much water and I don't wear enough clothing when running to become too water logged. I guessed that the biggest hamper for runners in these conditions would be mental. All in all I figured the inclement weather probably hampered me less than other runners so I wasn't too worried about it.

Saturday morning arrived and, sure enough, it was pretty miserable out. The race starting line was only a few blocks from my office in downtown Houston, so at least I was able to stretch and prepare a bit in my dry office. At T-15 minutes I left the building to warm up for 10 minutes and join the front of the runners at the starting line.

Despite the poor weather there were still many people present, with attitudes ranging from "let's get this over with" to "bring it on!" You can guess which group I fell into. :-) The officials seemed to be in the "let's get this over with" camp; at exactly 8:00 they very quickly said, "Runners get set," and blew the air horn. My shirt, shorts, and Vibrams were already soaked as I crossed the starting line half a second later - we were off!

The first half km breezed by in 1:57 (average heart rate of 162 BPM) with plenty of room for runners to spread out and find their paces. As I passed my office, I tried to slow down a bit. My next km finished in 4:12 (174 BPM) and the one after in 4:16 (172 BPM). 25% finished and I was 38 seconds ahead of my target and feeling good. My next kms were 4:22 (171 BPM) and 4:27 (170 BPM), finally arriving around the base pace I was planning on.

I crossed the halfway marker at 21:21, not a bad 5k time in and of its own right, and prepared to turn around to head back along Memorial toward downtown. My next kms were 4:28 (173 BPM), 4:29 (172 BPM), and 4:32 (172 BPM). 75% finished and I was 55 seconds ahead of my target. My pace was clearly slipping, though, and I really felt like the wind was against us now. I had to squint a lot to keep gusts of rain out of my eyes and sometimes had to waste energy avoiding huge puddles. My toes were feeling a little numb too - more motivation to finish quickly!

The next two kms really slipped from my target race pace: 4:37 (174 BPM) and 4:43 (175 BPM), with the latter going mostly uphill. I had lost ground and was now only 39 seconds ahead of my target - good enough for a significant PR but not good enough to attain my 2012 goal of running a 10k under 44 minutes. With only half a km left, though, it was time to push!

Even though the next 400m were mostly uphill, I really cranked them out, finishing in 1:27 (3:37 / km pace @ 178 BPM). As I neared the final turn, I could hear someone speeding up and trying to pass me. I turned on the juice, though, and crushed the final sprint in 13 seconds, (2:10 / km pace @ 183 BPM), and never saw the challenger (looks like I beat him by only one second according to the race results).

Final time: 43:43, a new 10k PR (by nearly a minute) and course record (by two minutes) for me in pretty poor conditions! I finished #101 of 1,176 runners (91st percentile), #89 of 617 men (86th percentile), and #8 of 76 men ages 30-34 (89th percentile) - all big improvements from last year.

While I am pleased with the result, there are clearly areas for improvement. For example, my second 5k was a full minute slower than my first 5k. Each km I ran was slower than the previous, so I seem to have fallen prey a bit to a "fly and die" race pattern. Wind may have contributed, but it can't account for the entire slowdown.

The post-race party was excellent - lots of great food and Saint Arnold there to provide good beer to replenish all those lost electrolytes. As I cooled down it became clear to me how cold my extremeties had become in the race as a reached out to pet a chocolate lab and realized that my fingers were frozen into a sort of claw! A long hot bath as soon as I got home helped thaw me out.

The Capitol 10k in Austin is only two weeks away. It's a pretty fast course so I'll have a chance not only to improve on my time but also to run a more consistent race. In the meantime the sun is finally peaking out in Houston, so I'm hoping for a couple of weeks of good training weather!