A 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.

Seven Years

I have memories of a small white kitchen where I first discovered how to prepare the perfect steak. Season the hell out of it, sear it on both sides at high heat, then pop it in the oven. There’s an art to knowing how long you sear it before it goes in the oven, and to knowing how long before you take it out. I still haven’t mastered it yet.

I was introduced to the tricky business of experimenting with goat cheese, fish pies, and Everclear cocktails. I was told that my NYC isn’t the same as everyone else’s, and that’s good. That I should embrace my version of NY. My world of pupusa platters, arepas, Crif Dogs, disco fries, Nublu, and NYU-discounted events. I was introduced to the wonderfulness of “recession specials” and “craptacular” beer buckets, indoor pétanque and drunken table tennis. I went to every street festival as though I was a tourist and every concert as though I was discovering the next soon-to-be mainstream band.

I was told to travel. To leave everything behind and to accept occasional loneliness because being lonely can teach you a lot about happiness. So I found myself taking 2-hour bus rides to beaches in the middle of nowhere, eating fish and chips while reading the paper at Manly, djembe sessions in Bondi, and holding bonfires at Tamarama.

I was encouraged to explore. To feel at home with my stubborn sense of independence. I kept traveling and went to Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Thailand.

I quit my job and I started working on Smashrun. It was like being given a new kind of freedom. I suddenly understood why nearly all the women in my family have owned a business. I still can’t explain to people how happy I get about receiving user emails that start with “I love everything about Smashrun” even when it’s followed with a “but”.

I struggled a lot with the startup transition. I realized, in Santiago, that I was out of my league 50% of the time, I absorbed information 25% of the time, and I probably fucked up the other 25% so that made for a very shitty scorecard.

I somehow managed to get over it. Someone reminded me that I’m capable and that I just needed to get my hands dirty, so I could learn by doing. That it’s not impossible to pick up any programming language I wanted to, or any foreign language for that matter! I was convinced to Duolingo five languages simultaneously.

I keep telling myself, “you can’t reclaim your 20’s”. That’s still the best advice I’ve ever gotten from someone.

I am reminded everyday that having a fulfilling life sometimes mean taking the longest route, being far away, being frustrated, failing a ridiculous number of times, missing deadlines, and being teased by hitting rock bottom.

Broke, but living. Currently, the title of my nonexistent book.

Seven years with this guy, and I can’t imagine being me without him.


This guy tolerates my Mean Girl episodes, silent treatments, and disturbing obsession with ramen. He would give up potato, because I want rice, and skip the documentaries to compromise on sci-fi. He would share whatever dish I order at a restaurant and switch with me, because I chose poorly. He would even switch beers even if he picked the best in the house and I ended up with something that smelled like someone’s foot and tasted like water.

He would chase down mosquitos for me like his life depended on it.

The only person I know who used to put chunks of steak and bacon in burger patties, and makes mashed potatoes with five different kinds of potatoes.

This guy makes the best seared scallops and steak I’ve ever had.

He also FOREVER ruined CGI for me.

Seven years with Chris. Eight countries. That adds up to a lot of beer festivals. It’s never boring and, while I know he’s just pulling my leg, I like to think that he’s telling the truth whenever he says to me that I don’t age. My kind of guy.

Here’s to more of living the good life.


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.