I have a habit of taking on challenges, things that I decide to do that invoke a bit of anxiety, but I will be happy if I accomplish. Many times those are work-related assignments that stretch me, helping me learning things I’m interested in, or require developing skills that I am interested in.
Then, sometimes, I choose to stretch in other ways. This past year I took on two such that provide a bit of an opportunity for reflection.
The first one was something I heard about on Twitter. I shared it, and at least one colleague and one friend was interested. The colleague is not local, so he did it near him, and my friend and I did it with some of his friends. The event was Warrior Dash, which is a 3.5 mile course with 12 obstacles along the way. At the end, you get a funny hat with horns, and a free beer. It’s silly, but also a physical challenge, and it sounded fun. While I know I’m not particularly athletic in any one thing, I like to think (delude myself) that I’m fairly balanced across activities.
The obstacles ended up including climbing over cars, climbing under several things including a tunnel and a wire maze, climbing up a rope wall, jumping over hurdles, sliding down a watered down hillside, and running up a hill, across tires, up and down a haybale. The final two obstacles were jumping over fire, and then navigating a mud filled puddle. They really hype the last one, encouraging you to do a dive into it. Silly. Fun.
My goals were simple. At my age, and level of fitness, I was going to be happy just running the whole thing. I was not aiming to win, even my age group. I was nervous a bit (my usual plod around my mostly vertical neighborhood is 2.2. miles, which I alternate with a couple of torture devices that reside in my office, or in the summer in the pool a bit), but fairly confident I could do it. I didn’t do any specific training, either, relying on my overall level of fitness with perhaps a bit of extra effort on my usual routine.
Starting slow, not fighting to be the first in the wave of runners at my elected time but starting quite a ways back and pacing myself, was a wise move. About 1/3 of the way through I felt ok and picked up my pace slightly. At about 2/3 of the way through I felt the toll a bit, but pushed on. I passed some of the early starters (many folks seemed to have no problem walking at times, and there were a very wide variety of levels of fitness), but by no means did I make any great statement. I did ‘take on’ the obstacles, as they are the fun part for me. This worked mostly, but I confess that I cracked each of my knees as I hurdled the hurdles, and while I was successful getting over them, I could feel it. The mud part was surprising, as it seemed like you would just swim through it, but it really pulled back. It was a good workout and I was feeling the overall event for several days afterward, but not too badly.
Not sure I have to do it again, but no regrets.
The second event was fantasy football. There was a #lrnchat team the year before, which sounded fun but I hadn’t heard about it. I’d never done it, but as I played football in high school (long story, but briefly, with 900 in my graduating class we had not only a varsity a JV, but also a B team, which I could qualify for :), I follow pro football as a guilty pleasure. So it sounded like something to try.
Again, I didn’t expect to do well; I know my limitations; I have a college friend who’s a real sports fiend, and he has the type of knowledge to do real well. So my only goal was to do ok for my first year.
There were some hiccups getting started. The process starts with a ‘draft’ where teams (I named mine the Quinnstitute Inmates) take turns picking players. I didn’t like the default order, but the process to change the default looked ridiculously complex. A bad interface, with an insufficient lack of information, and I didn’t know who to ask. So I went with the default draft rankings. Consequently, while lucky in some respects, I also had some players that I shortly had to dump.
That was the second hiccup; the process of claiming players and releasing yours was opaque. It appeared that if you picked them, you had to give up a player (you don’t get them immediately, there’s a time when everyone can pick anyone available they want, but then who gets who is determined by a preference model). It was only after selecting the player to give up that you found out that you wouldn’t give them up unless you got the player you requested. Again a bad interface and resources.
This time, however, I was bold enough to ask in our league’s forums, and found great help. Apparently there’s also ‘smack boards’ where you can talk trash to the other teams, but it was quiescent this year (it certainly didn’t appeal to me). The dialog with the other players (teams) in the league was minimal, but good natured and helpful.
Overall, I achieved the modest success I was hoping for. I also found out that there’s a phenomenal amount of luck involved, even if you have good players. I suppose if you were even more into it, you would be better able to detect when a normally successful and called upon player would have a bad week, but I certainly wasn’t at that level. It was fun, and no regrets. Whether I’ll do it again (if I even have the opportunity) is an open question, but the decision is more about time and opportunity than any negative experience.
I did learn some lessons here. I found that if I set appropriate goals, I didn’t have too many problems living with the outcomes. I also let myself have the space to experiment and have fun, and it was. Learning is fun, even on seemingly trivial things.
I also found out that the ‘interface’ helps. The obstacle event was very well handled, with lots of guidance; there was little confusion about where to go and what to do. The web-interface to the fantasy game, however, needed a lot more ‘user-experience’ design. Perhaps there were more comprehensive information resources available, but I didn’t easily find them. And, fortunately, I can take Donald Norman to heart and say that if I can’t use it, it’s badly designed (it’s not me :).
I found I can be competitive. On the course, I did see a couple of people who were moving at roughly my pace, and I did try to beat them at the end (I had just enough left, and wanted to ‘leave it all on the field’). In the fantasy football, I did try to change my roster around to do the best I could when my seemingly decent team had some serious flaws (I’m not sure if I ended up with more than 1 player I started with), and I actively traded and juggled the lineup.
Learning is important, challenging yourself is important, and learning should be fun. Reflecting on it is important as well. It was worthwhile, and I will continue to find ways in my work and in my play that stretch me. I hope you do so too.