Tag Archives: pace

Why do bad things happen to good companies?

Last week, I attended a Finance conference were one of the speakers (a coach and keynote speaker by the name Martin Carper) delivered a talk titled “Why do bad things happen to good companies?” (1).

Martin opened the speech with the fall of the Medici bank collapse at the end of the XV century, followed by the more recent sound cases of  Enron scandal (fraud accounting), the BP oil spill (in the Gulf of Mexico), Volkswagen emissions scandal (rigged tests on diesel cars). Why all those companies which seemed so good found themselves immersed in such crises. Were they so good? Those companies were filled up with outstanding individuals, following well thought, proven processes, yet they found themselves caught in fire. As it turns out, those companies were not so good after the fact. Investigations revealed major frauds, wrong incentives schemes, bad attitudes.

The reason according to Martin: the key to keep being good is about mindset.

He proposed the audience a couple of quick exercises:

  • triangles“Rate yourself as driver in relation to the rest of the group”. Studies show that 80% of the individuals to whom this question is asked, rate themselves above average. The key: Illusionary superiority.
  • How many triangles do you see here?” “Does anyone see more than 4, 6… 8 triangles?

I was one of those in the audience seeing plenty of triangles. One new triangle after each couple of seconds. But there are none. “A triangle is a polygon with three edges and three vertices“. There are no three edges in any of those figures you may think you see.

This trick helped him to introduce what is commonly known as System 1 thinking, the kind of short-term memory, quick way of thinking, as opposed to System 2 thinking; the more rational way, responsible of the complex thought process used to solve difficult problems. The difference between multiplying mentally 3×3 or 17×23. The difference between driving home or finding your route in an unknown place with the only help of a chart (without a GPS navigator). This terminology of System 1 and 2 was introduced in the book “Thinking, fast and slow” by the 2002 Economics Nobel prize laureate Daniel Kahneman (1).

The speaker then recommended to pause, and, in order to have the correct mindset to avoid those bad things from happening, he invited us to adopt what he called the 3 Ps:

  • Pace. He stressed the need to combine the different ways of thinking, systems 1 and 2, with their respective speeds. Not to be driven always by automatic processes into a purely system 1 way of thinking. He used the classical adage “Festina lente“, meaning “More haste, less speed”.
  • Position. He called for taking a step back to see the overall picture before taking action. To analyze the situation, see all possible options before chosing one. He showed the difference in the layout of a captain’s deck vs. an admiral one in a major British navy ship.
  • Perspective. Here he mentioned an anecdote from Jan Carlzon, the CEO of the SAS airline during the 80s and beginning of the 90s, and credited with the transformation of the company. To stress that small things mattered, Jan would check on and insist that coffee stains be cleaned in the lavatories, as it served as an indicator to the everyone (including the customers) of how seriously SAS took all maintenance procedures. Otherwise, if a coffee stain had slipped through the processes, what other faults could have done so as well.

(1) His speech shares almost squarely the title with but has no relation to the Harvard Business School case study published in the 90s by the authors Benson P. Shapiro, Richard S. Tedlow and Adrian J. Slywotzky, in which they introduced the concept of value migration.

(2) This a fabulous book, published in 2011, on the mental process and the biases of our mind, which references plenty of psychology studies made by different researches along decades. I read it back in 2013 and I strongly recommend it.

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Dublin marathon (2016)

Last Sunday October 30th, at the time that this post is being published, together with my friend Serna, I was in the departure line of the Dublin marathon, the “Friendly marathon” according to one of their lines, the 4th largest marathon in Europe with about 19,000 people registered, almost 17,000 finishers.

I subscribed to the marathon last July but I had it in mind sometime before, right after having completed the marathon in Albi, which didn’t go very well. This time I tried to follow more closely the training plan and I did it. If I arrived to Albi with just 530 km of training in the legs, I arrived to Dublin with above 660 km (in the previous 16 weeks), still a bit short but somewhat better. I had also managed more long runs and intervals sessions, even if I wasn’t doing them as fast as in previous years.

weekly-mileage

But not everything in the training period of 16 weeks had been rosy. Since late 2011 I use some insoles to compensate for a slight difference in the length of the legs, which normally doesn’t bother me, but when you’re clocking nearly 2,000 km a year hitting the streets you start to notice it. I hadn’t got new insoles since 4 years ago and the ones I used were rather worn out. I knew I had to change them but I kept postponing it, until I ran the Toulouse half marathon on September 18th, after which I simply couldn’t walk for two days. Visits to the doctor, podiatrist (x2), the physiotherapist (x6), plenty of pain killers, medicines, etc., and I managed to continue the training after a 10-day break (week 11-12 of the plan).

Having gone through that I was rather happy with just being able to be at the departure line of the marathon and running it without major problems, knowing that, despite of the injure, I had trained well enough.

dublin-route

At first sight, the route of the race didn’t seem very appealing. It gave the impression that instead of taking the runners through the city centre, we were taken far away around the outskirts. Despite that, the atmosphere during most of the race was great, overwhelming. There were plenty of Dubliners almost in every street, crowds cheering at the runners, “Keep going!”.

The organization of the race was superb. From the management of the departure, with minimum waiting time, plenty of facilities, good spacing between starting waves so running was possible from the beginning, to supplies during the race, and a nice round medal at the end, or goodies that included a finisher t’shirt, a frontal lamp or a reflective running vest.

There were plenty of pacers. We decided to start with those of 3h50′ and see for how long we could keep up with them. The truth is that after about 7 km we took some metres of advantage and we kept running comfortably a bit faster for many kilometres. Some time after the half marathon my friend, who hadn’t managed to complete a moderate weekly mileage along the training season, dropped and I kept going forward. I was telling to myself to go on one more kilometre at pace (“run the kilometre you’re in“) until the moment when I would face the wall and then see how I could manage it. The fact is that I never faced it (“trust the training“).

dublin-pace

This marathon has been the first one in which I have managed to complete what is called a “negative split”, that is running the second half marathon faster than the first one. In my case, I completed the 1st half in 1h53’34” (not very fast, doubling for a 3h47 marathon) and the second half in 1h48’50” (doubling for a 3h37′). Every segment of 10k I did it faster than the previous one. This is something that you’re not fully aware while running, but you notice it. You push forward and the legs respond well. You say, let’s go for the 33rd km and see, for the 34th, 35th, 36th, 37th… at some point you think I am there, I’m not going to slow down at all.

marathon-comparison

It has not been the fastest marathon I have completed (that was in Rotterdam 2014, this one in Dublin has been my second fastest), as I started more conservatively, but I enjoyed every minute of it.

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Athletic World Records vs. my times (speed vs. distance in log plot)

Two weeks ago I published a post where I showed a graphic of the different world records in athletics with the speeds and paces.

I received a comment from Uwe, a reader of the blog, suggesting to plot it using a logarithmic scale. At first, I wanted to show how the long distance runners could almost keep a speed (between 20.5 and 23.8 km/h) for distances from 5 kilometres to 42, a marathon. However, Uwe convinced me to make the plot and here it is:

Athletics World Records vs. my times (speed) - logarithmic scale for the distances

Athletics World Records vs. my times (speed) – logarithmic scale for the distances.

In this view, what it is interesting is to appreciate the different slops of the lines connecting the different records. There you can see how:

  • 100m and 200m races are fully anaerobic where Usain Bolt is capable of maintaining an average speed of above 37.5 km/h. You can see in the explanation in the Wikipedia how these two races (both lasting below ~30 seconds) use as energy source high energy phosphates.
  • races from 400m to 1 km are still a high intensity activity, with some anaerobic component, though another energy source enters into play: anaerobic glycolisis. And as we have heard often in descriptions about 400m races, the consequence of rapid glucose breakdown is the formation of lactic acid.
  • from then (1.5 or 2km) on (up to 42km) professional runners are able to keep a high speed out of aerobic metabolism (using adenosine triphosphate, ATP). Of course, speed decreases with distance, but from the 26.2 km/h of a 1,500m to the 20.5 km/h of a marathon the speed decrease is of -22% for a race 28 times longer!
  • for ultramarathons (over 42k) speed starts decreasing at a higher pace, though Wikipedia only offered the 100k time. Probably more data can be found in the web to try to find with more accuracy up to which distance the long distance stable pace could be maintained.

Uwe, you were certainly right. This view offers another very interesting perspective to the game :-).

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Athletic World Records vs. my times (pace & speed)

I have many times commented with friends and acquaintances how impressive professional athletes are, what does it mean running a marathon in barely over 2 hours…

Many amateurs (not to mention sedentary people) would not keep up pace much longer than 100 metres. Each time I have made this comment to someone I had to verbally make some numbers for my interlocutor. I am sure these verbal calculations were not always well understood and digested. Following the adage “an image is worth more than a thousand words”:

Athletics World Records vs. my times

Athletics World Records vs. my times

Red lines show speed (in km/h; decreasing as race distances get longer). Blue lines show pace (in mm:ss / km; increasing as race distances get longer). I have included a table so you can compare the numbers.

I took athletics world records from the Wikipedia. You can find my times in the page “Races” of this blog. I only added a tag to the records that most of you will recognise, as they were achieved by well-known super stars.

There are many catches in the graphic. Two impress me the most:

  • I could have kept up the pace of Patrick Makau in his marathon world-record-beating performance for 100 metres… but not for 400m! (see black dotted lines).
  • How once we enter into aerobic exercise, we’re able to almost keep up speed despite distance increases. The difference in speeds between Bekele’s 5k (23.77 km/h) and Makau’s marathon (20.48 km/h) is only 3.25 km/h!

***

NOTE: I am not a particularly fast runner, thus don’t take the times and paces and interpret them as if no amateur runner could keep up pace for more than 100m… some will keep it up somewhat longer. I just wanted to share the idea.

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Paris 2012: my first sub-4-hour marathon

During 2000 and 2001 I ran 3 marathons in Madrid. The best time I achieved then was just slightly above 4 hours, 4:00:41. Then I didn’t train much for them and I paid for that during the races.

Running in Paris (@ km ~26)

Last Sunday, in Paris, I ran together with my friend Serna and my brother Jaime my 5th marathon. For this one I had a training plan to go through for 17 weeks. That training plan amounted to over 1,100 km running, and a series session per week. I started a bit late with it, then I had trouble in the adapation to the new soles, injures… in the end, during the last 4 months I ran almost 500 km, or about 45% of the plan and did only 5 days of series.

Even if I was under trained, I managed to recover from the injure about 2 months before the race. I run as much as I could during the weeks following the recovery: 330km in 7 weeks, including 4 consecutive Sundays with a run over 20km in each of them.

The result: I completed Paris marathon in 3h45’35”, just at my target time before starting. My first sub-4-hour marathon. You can’t imagine how happy I am for that.

Some curiosities related to the race. You may find the route we followed in the diploma below. Some of the views while running were superb (Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde, Les Champs-Élysées, Place de la Bastille…), even if when running a marathon you don’t get to enjoy much the views. In the diploma you will see as well two times and positions. This is due to the fact that it took me 11 minutes to reach the starting line. Positions are calculated taking into consideration net times (deducting time to starting line, “real”) and arrival order (“official”).

Paris 2012 diploma.

You can also see below a small graphic prepared from the info recorded by my Garmin. There you’ll see how until km. ~29, I managed to run below my target pace to achieve 3h45′ (that was 5’20” per km). There are some kilometers before km. 29 in which it took longer, that is due to stops (“WC”) or slowing down to take drinks at every 5km. From km. 30 it was hard to maintain paces even below 5’30”. In the last 12km I burnt the 2-minute buffer I built in the first 25km.

In order to keep the rhythm in the last kilometres, it is extremely important not only the long runs (I got the one and only “muscle warning” at km. 39) and the series training, the famous Yasso’s to keep “speed” and endurance.

Pace (mm:ss) per km.

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