The scope tug-of-war

Most people don’t realize how small we are. We don’t have a group of engineers or dedicated client support. We don’t have “ambassadors” or interns. There are only two of us building and maintaining Smashrun full time, and a third who’s trying to balance a full time job with our startup, which means that we have to be ruthless about scope.

Ideas are plentiful and it’s easy to get excited about a new idea! If we had a forum, I bet “Suggest a new feature” would be the most popular section.

All new features are at the tip of something big

On the surface, a lot of things might seem simple enough to implement, but there’s always unforeseen overhead costs that go hand in hand with developing new features and improving existing ones. When features are closely tied to one another and, when there are a lot of interdependencies, it gets tricky whenever you build new things on top of it.

From a design perspective, I have to constantly make room for new additions, swap out unpopular sections of an existing page, or create an entirely new interface that is expected to grow into something larger.

  • When you make room for something, inevitably, you’re making a decision to emphasize this new addition over an existing feature.
  • When you swap out existing features, you’re at risk of upsetting the small group of users that still use that functionality.
  • When you create an entirely new interface, you have to ensure that it’s discoverable, learnable, and usable.

From a technical perspective, if there’s new data that we’re importing, we have to figure out how we store it, in what form, how we retrieve it, and how we display it.

There’s also a more prominent multiplier effect when working with numbers. If the cost of delivering a particular feature is something like:

(x # of variables) times (y # of runs) raised to the nth power of number of users

…we’d have to seriously think hard about our server costs or spend even more time (than the crazy amount of time we already do) thinking about performance optimization.

This led to our development principles

Every time we’re on the fence about adding something, every time some new tech catches our attention, or a new suggestion pops up in our inbox, we go back to these guideposts:

Minimize Noise
- Noise is unnecessary information.

Manage Attention
- Users only have so much bandwidth. Every decision to emphasize one thing is at the expense of something else.

Try to Extend Before Branching Out
- Build on top of something vs. creating something entirely new.

Weigh Support Costs Before Building
- Consider ongoing maintenance and 3rd-party dependencies.

Understand the Target Demographic Before Building the Feature
- We’re not our customer, but saying ‘yes’ should be an informed decision.

Features providing a social good should be accessible to all users
- Paid features should essentially support the development of features that benefits the largest number of users in the biggest possible way.

With these in mind, we’ve gotten better at this tug-of-war. I certainly have. The drawing board has gotten much bigger, but there’s something kind of fun about understanding the scope of something from ideation to design to testing and implementation.

I imagine a silly giant iceberg and ask how far down the base we’re going in order to build something new. If we’re heading too far under water, it’s probably worth shelving for now to revisit at another time.

Running Events

Every race is an excuse to celebrate my training, so I’m always on the lookout for my favorite distances. Although, it’s gotten much tougher to find the right events. Mainly, because I’m traveling so much, but also because races have become really expensive.

How is it ever acceptable for anyone to pay $100 for a half marathon?

So, I do a lot of searching, but there’s really no site that can filter by cost, which makes no sense to me. I even went as far as consider creating a website that listed every race but categorize the heck out of it for super awesome filtering by:

  • length,
  • terrain,
  • elevation profile,
  • location,
  • type (fun run vs. adventure trail, for-profit vs. charity-driven etc.),
  • number of participants,
  • and, of course, by cost.

Someone should’ve built that site already. I’ve looked and I haven’t found it.

Why don’t certain events include a route of the run? That’s so lame.

Seriously, just give me an elevation profile when it matters.

I need a better site for race listings. Does anybody know one that lists all or most events internationally, notes the size of each event, and/or has a filter for cost?

I’m currently using http://marathons.ahotu.com/, http://aimsworldrunning.com/Calendar.htm, and http://www.runinternational.eu/. Your go-to online resource(s)?

On HR Training

I have a very unsophisticated relationship with my HR monitor. For a $70 piece of equipment, I really should do more with it than just strap it across my chest before a run and view my HR alongside pace after my run. This thing isn’t even comfortable.

Really, it should make it easier for me to check my resting HR every morning. Because, who wakes up and checks their HR before getting out of bed?

I’m whining but, I also get the point. I know that it’s what you do with the HR data that matters, not necessarily how often you track it. All else being equal, everything really comes down to average HR and how it changes over time. Just compare runs of the same distance, performed at the same perceived effort level.

As your aerobic fitness improves, you’ll be able to do the same run, at the same pace, but with a lower overall average HR. Told you. Unsophisticated.

It’s surprisingly accurate. You just have to be honest with yourself about the different factors that affect your training.

Of course, sheer repetition plays a key role in why my oversimplified method works. Being disciplined about consistency helps. I bet there are other runners who probably do something similar.

There’s not much number crunching. No secret mathematical formulas. No need for rebalancing or creating some sort of index for validating intensity. Just a simple trend line. Really, what more do you need?

There are theories…

There are a lot of different methods espoused by the running community when it comes to heart rate training. I imagine somewhere on this planet, there’s an entire physical library section dedicated to it. It’s why I consider heart rate zones a “black hole” in athletic training. It’s so easy to get sucked into the details.

There’s the age-adjusted method, the Karvonen Method, Joe Friel’s LTHR zones, Zoladz Formula, Jack Daniels VDOT estimates sort of, the Maffetone Method, and a plethora of other takes on how to create your heart rate training zones. How you navigate these different theories can make or break your progress. If you overshoot your thresholds, you’ll pay the price.

So I often wonder, why do I even bother with it?

Runners and our need for structure. I like the occasional reminder of what works and what doesn’t. A top running coach put that together? I’ll take it! You don’t learn if you don’t try, and I don’t mind testing different training methodologies.

Besides, there are few things more definitive than your heart rate. Assuming that you don’t have a fluke HR monitor. Aerobic fitness isn’t something that can phone it in. You either have it or you don’t. You’re either improving or you’re stagnant. Occasionally, it’ll go down, but that’s expected when you’re detraining or just running for maintenance.

All the different theories are just guides. I guess it’s why a lot of runners who do train by HR tweak their zones all the time. The theories are just there to give us a general idea of where the cut offs are for the different zones. It’s entirely subjective. Although, it gives you a starting point.

Study the pro’s, take what works, learn from everything else. Repeat with all other training methodologies.

The irony of Montenegro’s “wild beauty”

Everything appeared lush and green. Every shade of turquoise or blue under the sun seemed even more dramatic along the Montenegrin coast. Is that a snowcapped mountain facing the Bay of Kotor? This bay is huge! The bus driver isn’t exactly taking his time. He’s zooming around the Bay of Kotor. There’s large puddles from the rain. The road is hella slippery. Sharp turns over a mere two hour bus ride is not exactly my forte.

Welcome to Montenegro! Are those advertisements along the cliff wall? On one side is a stunning show of the Adriatic Sea. Endless horizon, wispy clouds, and so much sky. No islands in sight. Not at all like the islands that seemed to converge upon Split. Look, they’re advertising furniture on that cliff face! Interesting choice.

In Budva, the Old Town was an unusual mix of konobas, English pubs, beer gardens, and Chinese restaurants. Everyone has a kid. You could probably trip on a stroller if you’re not paying attention.

Along the water, you’ll find fishermen offering their boats as a taxi to one of the many beaches that you can only reach by water. You can even take a water taxi from Budva to Sveti Stefan!

Back in Przno, there’s maybe five restaurants, a few bars, and a really big casino, which appears to be the highlight of this once quiet fishing village.

The brightly lit building with spotlights is Casino Maestral. Along the Adriatric, the "maestral" is the name given to the pleasant summer breeze.

The building in the center is Casino Maestral. On the Adriatric, “maestral” means a pleasant summer breeze.

Just behind it is the hilly community of Podlicak, our home for the month of May. The rent was unbelievably low for the shoulder season (but nearly triples for the peak season). We had a great setup for work and we were reasonably close to the city.

There were trails leading up to the mountain near where we stayed, but it literally felt like running up a mountain. We also didn’t learn until after three attempts at reaching the ridgeline that horned vipers are quite common around these parts. Chris practically stepped on one in our neighbor’s backyard.

That meant, I couldn’t really wander around the rocky trails by myself. So I was left with running the route to Sveti Stefan and back. There was a coastal path that almost connected Przno to Budva, but it required a 400m walk along the main road. Why are there no sidewalks? Further south is another town, Petrovac, which had a few trails nearby but it was a hike to get there.

The thing is, though, there used to be plenty of trailheads around the area. Looking at satellite views of Przno, we could see where the paths begin but when we’d go there, there would be a condo being built on top of it. Or the trailhead is now behind someone’s private property so you can’t get to it. There is just so much development everywhere. It’s not hard to imagine that, in ten years time, there just won’t be much wild beauty left along the coast.

For now, it’s still pretty incredible once you gain a bit of elevation, and Miločer really does feel like a park early in the morning. Although, if you start anytime after 7:30am, all you’ll hear is construction work in every direction.

Sveti Stefan from Miločer Park.

Sveti Stefan from Miločer Park.

Some of the best views of Sveti Stefan were all from the hillside.

Some of the best views of Sveti Stefan were all from the hillside.

The view from our local bar.

The view from our local bar.

Storms rolling in...

A familiar view of storms rolling in from our top floor apartment.

One of the beaches in Budva, viewed from the citadel.

One of Budva’s beaches, viewed from the citadel.

I can see the appeal. The beaches are beautiful and a swim in the ocean will change your entire perspective of this city.

From Split to Przno

We were chasing clouds on our way to Montenegro. They just sort of sat along the road like spectators to a show of travelers passing through. As if to say you think Croatia’s beautiful when it sunny? Wait til’ you see this.

After Arcos, Split felt more like a home to my running. There’s no shortage of hills, trails, pedestrian paths, and ideal running weather. You can run along the shoreline to one of the smaller seaside towns south of Split or run north towards the tip of the peninsula within Marjan Hill.

Marjan, itself, is mostly a dense pine forest with both marked and unmarked trails. Some areas are rocky and remote, others are better paved and well-trodden. It’s often one breathtaking turn after another, with the wind at your back, and wildflowers, blackbirds, and butterflies to keep you company on the trails. Whereas, the main path towards the city is lined with agave plants, wild fennel, and wild asparagus.

Marjan is also a giant open playground for little dogs, kids, mountain climbers, hikers, and cyclists. Yet, for as many people who visit Marjan each day, it’s not hard to find yourself alone for miles at a time. It’s a place to be alone and to feel like you’re somehow part of this city.

So leaving it, was pretty tough. Actually, leaving Split meant saying goodbye to a beach that’s a 5min walk away from us. It was goodbye to wonderful cappuccinos by the riva, great beer selections, and unbelievably fresh seafood.

DSC_0005

10255161_10102850187563079_3030303134889826989_o

IMG_1174

DSC_0282

Yet, there was also something exciting about being in transit again. We needed a temporary place while we figured out a more permanent stop. So we took a bus south – to Montenegro.

Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life. –Kerouac

IMG_1256

This picture was taken from our bus and that long stark grey wall of mountains make up most of Croatia’s mainland coastline, which is about 1,777 km long. I think we’ve seen 1,500 km of it between Split to Pržno and back to Split then towards Rijeka before turning inland to go to Zagreb.

The trip to Pržno was about 7 hours including an hour and half stopover in Dubrovnik. It’s probably the shortest trip I’ve ever taken for multiple stamps in my passport on the same day. Although, perhaps, one of the few bus rides I’ve ever taken where the prospect of careening off a rocky cliffside didn’t seem outside the realm of possibility.

Dubrovnik was not at all what I expected. We didn’t see much of it, since we were essentially just passing through. Although, the Old Town was somewhat of a surprise. There were just so many tourist knick knacks being sold on the street and maybe twice or three times as many tourists as you might find within Diocletian’s Palace. The sheer size of the Old Town’s walls were unreal and so was the slice of pizza that made my day.

Best photo I got out of our rushed visit was with this guy in the background. I think it's awesome!

Best photo I got out of our rushed visit was with this guy in the background. I think it’s awesome!

So we continued even further south and, about three hours later, we finally made it to Pržno. An odd little tourist town that used to be an old fishing village. Pretty much the best view we’ve ever had for a temporary office space and home.

10264172_10102856282498779_6836261849677576842_o