The Zen of Excel

The Spreadsheet

I have a theory that computer spreadsheets and M$ Excel were born out of necessity. Specifically an ultra runner’s necessity to track their miles, calculate paces, distances and elevation. To enable them to plan their drop bag locations, the contents of each drop bag and how far it will be until the next treat awaits them at an checkpoint or aid station. I’ve seen a lot of spreadsheets in my time, ones that automatically calculate predicated pace based on weight, temperature, altitude and terrain. Some even factor in fatigue, running at night and other issues encountered over the course of a run. Truly, some of these workbooks are as technical as anything I’ve ever seen in my 25 years in the IT industry!

So it should come as no surprise that I too have a spreadsheet – innocuously titled “Running Stuff.xls” the shortcut icon sits on my desktop and it’s almost always open, hiding on the task bar – mocking me subliminally as I go about my daily work.

At the moment, this little 3MB file contains 13 worksheets, 4 of which are directly related to the Tahoe 200:

  • Tahoe 200 – Costs, hotel bookings, flight and car hire details plus a day-by-day schedule of times and activities. Plus packing lists and stuff I still need to buy
  • Tahoe CPs –  The 18 checkpoints, with distances, elevation, cut-offs and a fancy formula allowing me to calculate estimated arrival times based on a number of factors including fatigue, elevation etc…
  • Tahoe Drop Bags – Where I’m planning drop bags, and what’s going in them

And finally Problem Solving which is the real reason for this blog…

Earlier in the week I read a blog from a chap who’d run 200 miles solo across the UK which had some really interesting preparation strategies. The one I really liked was to write down every issue you could envisage and then a strategy to overcome it. He reasoned that the answer to everything aside from death or incapacitation was eventually – “Keep Moving”.

I do a lot of visualisation in preparation for big races, but this was new to me, so off I went to “Running Stuff.xls” and I created a new tab, “Problem Solving”. I added 3 columns – Problem, Type and Strategy and started filling in the columns…

Problem Solving

Problem Solving

Slowly, but surely the list got bigger, it’s currently got 48 items on with the last entry being “Nuclear War / Zombie Apocalypse”. I’d assume the race would be cancelled in this eventuality, but I have a plan for it anyway.

My point is I also discovered that – aside from death or incapacitation there is nothing that cannot be overcome. Yes, 200 miles is a long, long way – but 100 hours is also a long, long time and one step at a time, relentless forward progress will get me through. I’ve dropped from a couple of races where I’ve driven home, slept, eaten and STILL had enough time to finish the course as I sit at home wondering why I’m not out there instead of in front of the TV – I’m taking that thought with me to Tahoe. I’ve deliberately not booked accommodation for the duration of the race – it removes the temptation to quit and head for the motel when things get dark, as they will.

Five weeks until race day, there’s still some miles and hours to get in during August, it’s been a bit sporadic over the last few weeks. Hopefully the nagging, ever present taskbar icon will inspire and motivate me in these final weeks!

Look at me!

Look at me!

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2 Responses to The Zen of Excel

  1. Ronnie says:

    Wow – you have taken a mental construct from my mind and actually produced something physical worth having – I didn’t get that far! I’ve learned from this post, nice work. All the very best, I will be keeping my eye out for your victory blog. “Move Forward”.

    • Guy Mawson says:

      Cheers Ronnie – we never stop learning and adapting do we? Your blog was a great help to me, so I’m glad I was able to return the favour a bit 🙂

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