New Runner Mistakes: What Engineers should take away from Failure

When a person decides to train for their first marathon, they begin to realize how much they must shift their lifestyle if they want to reach certain goals.  This can be adding more exercise to your routine, modifying you eating habits, and increasing your running.  With my “head on” personality, I dove straight in with the no sugar, no more booze, must be up early everyday to run and must stick to a firm training schedule.  I was doing so well for 9 weeks.  Then one of my friends had a birthday party scheduled the night before my longest training run.  I enjoyed myself with my friends until the wee hours of the morning, and had the worst run of my life.  I learned from this mistake just as I have learned from the mistakes I have made in my engineering career.

For the new engineers coming into the industry, mistakes will be made.  How you act on those mistakes and use them in the future is what will help you to have a successful career.  Mistakes are how we learn and improve for our future projects.  By following a basic guideline, you can turn failures into success for the future.

Step 1:  Admit that you Made the Error: This is the most difficult part for people starting a new career. If you are unable to acknowledge that you made the mistake, then you will never be able to evaluate objectively to find what went wrong.

Step 2:  Learn:  Evaluate what occurred and retain this information, so that the error will not be repeated in the future.

Step 3: Do Not Fear Failure:  Once you have failed you have hit the bottom.  The only way to go is up! New engineers tend to beat themselves up when a mistake is made, but the best thing to do is accept responsibility and move on.

Step 4: Find Innovation: When a failure occurs, this opens the opportunity to try something new and creative to resolve the error.  This also helps you to be less restrictive on taking risk.

So, what was taken away from my running mistake?  I have learned that drinking large sums of alcohol after 9 weeks of sobriety is not recommend.  I am no longer 20 years old, and am unable to recover after staying up all night.  It’s also okay to modify my training schedule when there are events that I want to attend that could affect my run.

Work Smarter and Train Harder: Time Management Tips from an Engineering Runner

It requires a lot of dedication, determination and discipline to be a superb distance runner.  You can’t just wake up one day and say, “I am going to run 50 miles in under 6 hours today”.  If you try, I guarantee you will not succeed.   Runners have to evaluate the season and adjust their diet accordingly.  For me, this means my diet becomes clean; full of whole foods, tons of veggies, and I deny myself the joy of brownies or refined sugar. With this change comes the added task of meal preparation and scheduling the appropriate time to supply my body with fuel. The next task runners must do is setup their training schedule for the season.  Mine consist of five running sessions, (various types of runs), three strength training sessions, and one Yoga/Pilates session per week. People have asked, how do you keep up with such a rigorous workout routine when you are a manager, college student, and wife?  My answer is:  Time Management Skills!  The same skill that helps me in my engineering career.

Several new engineers have asked how I fit everything I do into my schedule.  Simple.  I have many years of practice developing my time management skills.  Without these skills I would not be able to maintain the amount of work I perform in a day.  There are several techniques to improve your time management skills, but I will share the few I have identified to be beneficial in reducing stress and increasing productivity.

Plan:  Scheduling tasks needs to become a habit.  I carry a planner and list task as I identify them.  I like to categorize task by work, home, school and health.  At the start of the day form a to do list, prioritize the items so you can focus on the essential tasks.

Deadlines:  Now that you have a task list you need to set deadlines for when these task need to be completed.  This will help you to avoid procrastinating on the task which results in a negative effect on your productivity.

Do Not Multitask:   Even through most of us believe multitasking is an efficient way to get things done.  The truth is, the human brain functions better when we focus and concentrate on one thing.

Take Breaks:  Too much stress can take a toll on your body and have a negative effect on your productivity.  Go ahead and schedule in your break time. This helps you relax so you can return to your tasks energized.

Be an Early Bird:   When you get up early, you are more calm, creative, and clear-headed.  Your energy levels start to decline as the day progresses affecting productivity, and you may not perform as well.  My solution is to assign the tasks that require less creative thinking and problem solving for later in the day.

Time management skills are an essential part of making your day just a little easier. Find what works for you and stick to it. When you accomplish something, celebrate it! How you celebrate your accomplishments is up to you. But for the runners my word of advice is to keep whatever you choose to do healthy, make sure it’s something you really enjoy, don’t do it in excess, and don’t let it cause you to get further behind.

Teamwork to the Finish Line: The Importance of Working on a Team

Long distance relay races are a fun experience that all runners should try at least once. Every runner on the team plays an important role; whether they are the best trail runner, the fastest distance runner, or the runner who can sprint up a mountain at a six and a half minute pace.  Relay races require you to be accountable, because you do not want to let the team down.  You will push yourself for the good of the team to run your best.  You can learn from your teammates, picking up skills, enabling you to become a better runner.  During your leg of the race, your team is cheering you on giving you that internal feeling of bliss.  When a teammate is running their leg of the race, you cheer them on, encouraging them to reach their full potential.   Teamwork has so many benefits and we see these benefits in our professional careers as well.  Let’s evaluate the importance of why teamwork matters.

Promote Synergy and Unity in the Workplace

Teamwork has the group focus on a shared vision, and encourages cooperation from all persons.  Each individual knows their own responsibilities and the importance of their output is being relied upon by the other team members.  This creates an environment based on loyalty, trust, support, and respect, which also results in a more efficient work group.  Teamwork reduces the risk of not having success in developing, formulating, and implementing new and innovative ideas.

Improves Efficiency and Productivity

Teamwork allows the workload of a project to be shared.  This results in reduced pressure on individuals, and helps promote task completion within a set time frame.  It permits goals to be more attainable, enhances the optimization of performance, and improves job satisfaction. Teamwork encourages a more efficient work output at a faster pace.

Provides Great Learning opportunities

Teamwork allows the group to gain insight from different perspectives and the learning of new concepts from more experienced coworkers. Experienced coworkers can expand their skill set and discover fresh ideas from newer coworkers.   Teamwork encourages innovation to problem solving and endorses the generation of ideas more effectively.

 Offers Different Perspectives and Feedback

A team environment will allow the group to brainstorm collectively which can increase the success in problem solving.  Sharing differing opinions and experiences strengthens accountability and can help make effective decisions faster than when done alone.  Good teamwork structures provide your organization with a diversity of thought, creativity, perspectives, opportunities, and problem-solving approaches. Team effort increases output by having quick feedback and multiple sets of skills come into play to support the project.

Teamwork is an important concept in all aspects of our lives.  In engineering, just as in relay racing, teamwork can promote a greater sense of accomplishment when racing towards a goal that you would not have been able to achieve working alone. This combined with a sense of belonging, appreciation and recognition, can drastically improve the groups self-esteem.

Inspirational Quote: Do dream of wining; train for it! -Mo Farah

Leave a comment about your teamwork experience.

Ethical Dilemma for the Running Engineer

A runner had entered a difficult trail race hoping to beat their Personal Record(PR), from the past year.  The trail was a torturous single track trail, with three elevation gains of 1600 feet.  The runner was doing so well, that they were going to pass their old PR by approximately 30 minutes.  At that very moment the runner heard a snap.  Another runner fell to the ground in pain, unable to complete the race.  The runner has to make a choice at this point, to lose achieving a phenomenal PR, or leaving the injured runner out on the trail to complete the race.  Engineers face these types of ethical dilemmas every day.

When entering into the engineering workforce, ethical dilemmas occur frequently.  Unfortunately for the new eager worker, black and white answers to these dilemmas, such as the one for the runner, do not exist.  You will need to rely on your moral judgement.  So how do you determine the correct decision and maintain your integrity?  Here are some basic steps to follow:

  • Gather Facts:  You never want to jump to a conclusion.  You may not have all necessary information.
  • Define the Issues:  Determine the ethical basis for the issue you want to focus on.
  • Identify the Affected Parties:  Determine who the stakeholders are.  See things from their perspective.
  • Identify the Consequences:  Think of both the positive and negative for the affected parties, and the magnitude of the consequences.
  • Identify the Relevant Principles, Rights and Justice Issues:  What obligations are there due to the ethical principles of the situation? What obligations do you have due to the rights of the stakeholders?
  • Your Character and Integrity:  What specific virtues are relevant in the situation and how do you want to be remembered.
  • Potential Actions:  Think.  Are there alternatives you have not considered?  Determine if you have been unnecessarily forced into a corner.
  • Check your Gut:  Intuition is a good source in decision making; knowing something is not right.

Remember, making the decision is only the first step, the second is being prepared to justify your response to those who disagree.  By following the steps above, you will have all data required to stand your ground.

As for the choice the runner made at the beginning of this blog…I would never leave another runner out to dry!  I helped the injured runner to a location out of the sun, and we waited together for another runner to show up before I left to get help.  In the end, I finished the race two and a half hours over my PR, but I gained a running buddy.

Please leave your comments or story of similar dilemmas .

You Can Take a Break (Down Time for Engineers and Runners)

When a runner enters the mindset of racing season, they spend a large amount of time clocking miles, focusing on proper eating, performing strength training, and stretching.  This causes stress on their body and mind.  Due to this, runners need to schedule a rest and recovery period, a break, into their training schedule.  This gives their body time to recover and repair muscles, which will encourage fewer injuries and can improve their success in achieving a Personal Record (PR) or goal.  For the runner’s brain, a break allows for reduced stress, since most runners are type A personalities and feel anxiety over the slightest deviation in their training and preparation routine.

Engineers in the workforce, have times they are immersed in a project and forget everything that is happening around them. In the world of strict deadlines and having quotas to achieve, we tend to ignore the fact that our minds and bodies need a break.  It has become part of our nature to sit in front of our computers for hours, not leaving our desk even for lunch.  Engineers show up to work early, stay after hours, and bring work home; the brain is placed under large amounts of pressure causing us to lose focus, become forgetful, frustrated, and depressed. In the end, we are burnt out due to this high amount of stress and anxiety in our lives.

Is this actually helping your work performance?  NO!

So how do you become more efficient, focused, and happy?  We take our break to recharge our minds.  To get the most out of a break, you will need to mentally disengage from the work at hand.  For some engineers this is difficult to do, but here are some suggestions that can lead you back to a productive path:

  • Get outside and go for a 15 minute walk.  Going outside has been proven to alleviate mental fatigue by relaxing and restoring the mind.
  • Read or watch something that will make you laugh, giving you a positive sensation.
  • Find a place away from your desk and let your mind wander. This allows your creative side to generate new ideas to help with problem solving.
  • Try to learn something new, which will help you feel confident.
  • Help a colleague out.  This gives you a feeling of social connectedness, resulting in a comforting and positive feeling.

So remember it is okay to take regular breaks, which will benefit our max performance, and rejuvenate us so we are able to achieve that next big goal.

Words of Wisdom:  Write down at least three positive things each day. This will help you focus on the good in each day over the negative.

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How the Digital Age in Engineering Compares to a Treadmill

When going to the gym, there are always those people you see running on the treadmills. One day you overhear one of these people tell their gym buddy, “I have been training for a 10K every day.”  Are they really prepared for that 10K?  Treadmills can only prepare a person to a certain point, they do not consider all elements that are part of running outdoors.  Treadmills allow you to have a faster pace than a road because the belt assist you. Treadmills have more “give” than pavement, which means your body will not be prepared for the impact.  Treadmills are unable to simulate outside elements such as terrain changes and weather.  Treadmills are a great tool, but until you head outside you cannot determine how your body will react.

In the world of engineering the treadmill represents simulations/modeling programs.  New engineers are educated about all the new innovative technology they can use to determine an outcome of products during processing.   Simulations/modeling are being used throughout industries across the globe, but sometimes engineers forget that these digital advancements should be used as a guideline since they are unable to predict all variables that can occur.

Setting up physical experiments will allow you to consider the surrounding environment in your industry.  Let’s evaluate the benefit of using a physical experiment through an example. A young engineer uses a simulation program and discovers the best method of producing good bar product off of a rolling mill.  The engineer informs the project lead of the discovery, and insist on updating the production practice. The project lead decides to run a physical trial before implementing the change.  Before the first bar is placed into the mill the project lead realizes the simulation requires the rolling mill to be set at maximum speed.  The simulation was not able to consider that maximum speed could damage the rolling mill, costing the company a large amount of money.  The simulation also was unable to determine the safety factors of the employees who would be working with the material at the rolling mill.

A second item to consider before using simulations is time and resources.  Currently, simulations/modeling take a large amount of time to input all the data for accurate results.  If your department had a deadline to uphold, it may be faster to setup that physical experiment.  You will always want to take this into account before starting a project; what is your time frame, what resources are available, and which method will be cost effective?

So, simulation/modeling should be treated like a treadmill, they are able to help guide you in the right direction but should not be used as the only dependable source.  Before even starting a project take a step back and ask yourself, “Should I start on a treadmill, or will it be more beneficial to just head outside and hit that pavement?”

Words of Wisdom: Today, try to get away from your desk and go outside.  This will help reduce stress and improve your memory.  Fifteen minutes is all you need!

Soft Skills to Succeed in Engineering from a Runner’s Angle

When you long distance run there are tools and skills all of us crazy runners know we need; such as the proper shoes, endurance, hydration source, mental strength, solid fuel source, knowing the route, etc.  What is not realized by a beginner runner are the other skills required to develop and maintain a good running career with minimum injuries.  These items can be: modifying you’re eating habits to have adequate nutrition at the right time, performing quality interval training in order to increase speed, strength training, correct breathing pattern, and keeping an appropriate speed so you will not deplete your energy before the finish line.

When entering the engineering workforce, the same concept is applied.  You have been through college and gained your standard professional skill pertaining to your field of study.  This is excellent, but most classes do not emphasize the importance of soft skills that are required. For an engineer to thrive as a professional you must be able to navigate the group dynamics in a workplace.  Following are a few examples of necessary soft skills for success.


When entering the workforce, engineers must interact with individuals from different backgrounds; they may or may not share the same technical knowledge.  It becomes essential to have discussions in terms that everyone can understand.  This is referred to as knowing your audience.  The same concept applies when using written communication.  If you are unable to be understood when relaying information on a topic, then you will not advance.


Most individuals become engineers because they want to “make things happen”.  Engineers get themselves deeply absorbed in projects to the point that they forget the most important aspect; we are working for our customer’s needs (internal or external).  Always try to look at a project form your customers viewpoint because they are the priority.  If you lose track of what the project is about, this can result in providing a product that may work but not for the intended use.


Engineers usually have great problem-solving skills, but creativity is lacking. Engineers must work under many constraints of projects, some of these restrictions will require innovative thinking.  An example where this can occur is if you found what you believe is the to be the best method to implement a project, but it is out of the budget for the company; you will need to find a unique method to implement a project with the same result but stay in your budgetary limitation.  Creative engineers can always see new angles to find solution.

As engineers there are not many options for soft skills training so you must find methods to practice these skills.  I enjoy practicing these skills by signing up to run races; this allows for interaction with all types of people, having a feeling that we’re all in it together rooting each other on, and evaluating the best method to achieve my next personal record. Find your why to practice your soft skills and you will be on your way to the finish line (Success).