In December, 2014 I completed a six night, seven day climb of Mt Kilimanjaro via the Machame Route. We reached the summit at 6:15am on December 27.
I had heard and read bad stories about people experiencing issues due to the altitude (19,346 feet) and trying to climb the mountain too fast. Since I was traveling so far to reach Kilimanjaro, an extra day or two on the mountain seemed like good insurance to help make sure I could reach the summit. Five nights, six days now seems very doable, but I am glad I had the full time to work with. Four of our five member climbing group reached the summit with International Mountain Guides.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (and doing a safari) was on my Bucket List for a long time. I always thought it was something I would do later on. I am now convinced that Kilimanjaro and Safari should not wait until retirement, but should be done as soon and as young as possible. It is both eye opening and inspiring.
Day 1: Machame Gate to Machame Camp
We met our local guides at the K’s Hotel, where we were staying, and drove to the Machame Gate. Here the guides and porters sorted the gear so that it could be carried up the mountain.
We took pictures of the local monkeys and snacked while waiting for the gear and paperwork to be prepared.
We started our climb around 12:30pm. I prefer to have more margin for error, especially on the first day, but it all worked out and we arrived at Machame Camp before dark. Our larger group separated into two smaller groups: me, Clint and Alison, from Seattle; Evan from San Francisco, Ken from Houston and our IMG Guide Max Bunce, who is based in Boulder. We had three local Tanzanian guides, Lyimo, Mosha and Robinson, along with about 20 porters.
When we arrived at Machame Camp, we completed some paperwork and found our tents, which were all setup. What a pleasant experience not having to carry and setup your own tent! You can just crawl in and take a load off.
Our Guide Mosha at Machame Camp
On arrival, hot drinks and snacks were typically waiting for us in the mess tent. Yum. Two or three cups of hot herbal tea quickly became my go-to hydration choice in camp.
The dinners were one of the highlights of the climb. We ate in a group mess tent and typically had a three course meal, consisting of hot soup to start, a main course with a protein, starch and vegetable, and dessert of fresh fruit.
Full Dinner Plate
From Machame we were able to see wonderful stars. I slept OK, getting a few good hours of sleep here and there. (My sleeping would get better the more days we spent on the mountain.) The morning presented a beautiful view of the mountain.
Mt Kilimanjaro from Machame Camp
Mt Neru from Machame Camp
Me and Clint with guides Lyimo and Max
Breakfast consisted of hot cereal, eggs and hot dogs, which we fondly came to refer to as “nitrates,” as in, “pass me some nitrates!” I found that two full bowls of hot cereal along with eggs and some nitrates was enough to get me through most mornings in combination with some water and one candy bar.
Nearby Mt. Neru In The Morning (from Machame Camp)
Day 2: Machame Camp to Shira Camp
Day two started off nice and clear. We were headed from Machame to Shira Camp.
Evan with Guide Robinson
As the day progressed things got a little wetter and foggier.
By the end of day two the rain was really coming down and we booked it on the second half with guide Mosha to Shira Camp. When we arrived, the rain let up and we were able to go for some short walks.
IMG Tents at Shira Camp
At dinner in Shira Camp, Ken let us know that he would be descending the next morning. Although he was doing great, his pace was slower than needed, and the third day was going to be a longer one. Ken was an incredible climber—he had done a Nepal trek in June where he made it to Everest Base Camp. We were disappointed to see him descend and would miss his sense of humor on the following days.
The mountain was always present during our climb, sometimes in the distance, sometimes right above us.
Mt Kilimanjaro in The Clouds
Every time the clouds rolled in, we worried we might get more rain, but little did we know that we would soon be getting snow!
Me Above Shira Camp
One of my favorite meals included pancakes and lime soup. Hard to explain how good this tasted when put together, but it was amazing.
Sunset from Shira Camp
Did They Meet On Tinder? (An Ongoing Joke Throughout The Climb)
Day 3: Shira Camp to Barranco Camp (via Lava Rock)
On day 3 we set off from Shira Camp to go up to Lava Rock at 14,600 feet. This would be the highest point on the climb so far. The idea was to help us acclimatize by taking us high during the day and then sleeping lower down, just a little higher than our elevation at Shira Camp.
Clint and Alison before setting off from Shira Camp
Climbing up to Lava Rock there was first fog, then hail… then snow. A porter generously gave up his dry spot under the overhanging rock and we ate our lunches standing up and in rain gear. Our guide Lyimo was always ready with a smile and an encouraging word.
Snow falling at Lava Rock
My poncho turned into a Toga…
Lyimo set a strong pace on the descent from Lava Rock down to Barranco Camp.
We were happy to arrive and get inside our tents and out of the rain.
At Barranco Camp
As usual, popcorn, cookies and hot drinks were waiting for us on arrival. We dug into these!
This was our first real taste of cold, as you can see from our hoods and other gear inside the mess tent at Barranco.
But man was the food good that night.
Pasta with meat sauce. Yum.
Then it cleared, just enough for us to see a spectacular sunset.
Sunset from Barranco Camp
Day 4: Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp
The next day we got an early start and had a short but exciting climb (about three hours) with a little bit of bouldering mid way up the Barranco Wall. Here are Alison and Clint making it look easy.
Hugging the aptly named Hugging Rock
Mt Kilimanjaro from Barranco Wall
The porters were incredible. We were always excited to see our bags going by on their way up the mountain.
Arrival at Karanga Hut, 3980 meters – 13,100 feet
It was nice to have a day that was short but steep. Gave us plenty of time to acclimatize and rest. I took the afternoon to read for a few hours and listen to music inside my tent, and to dry out some moist clothes during the warm sunny breaks in the rain. Not a bad view from the front door!
The summit was getting closer.
Before I knew it, it was dinner time.
Day 5: Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp (High Camp)
Now it was the day before Summit Day. Here’s our guide Max Bunce with Evan, moving up from Karanga to Barafu, our highest camp before the summit. This was another short but steep day, a manageable climb from Karanga to Barafu. We were definitely getting higher, as sudden bursts of activity would get the heart rate up a lot faster than before.
Evan with guide Max Bunce on the way to Barafu.
Barafu Hut (Elevation 15,300 feet)
We did some serious carbo loading around 4pm, our lunch-dinner meal.
Day 6: Barafu to Summit and Descent to Mweca Camp
After a few hours of sleep, we rose at 11pm to get ready for our summit bid. By this time we were experts at packing and getting ready. We bundled up in our full summit gear and ate some hot oatmeal. Around midnight we could see the lights from the headlamps of some of the climbing groups above us. It was a clear night with no precipitation.
At 12:30am, our group of Clint and Alison and I started our summit attempt, with Lyimo leading the way and Mosha following behind. Max, Evan and Robinson (the third of the three local guides) formed a separate group.
In terms of clothing, I started out in a top base layer of polypro long underwear and my Patagonia R1 fleece. On the bottom I had long johns and my thick but breathable cross-country ski/running pants.
About 20 minutes in I realized I had once again started out too warm and pulled off the fleece. We maintained a steady pace for over an hour, passing several groups until reaching our first break. On went the summit puffy and I we got some water and calories in. I found the Kit Kat bars to be especially good during this section. They were easy to break even when cold (unlike Snickers and Powerbars which become quite solid!). Kit Kats tasted good and went down easily. To pass the time, we tried counting in different languages, and even learned how to count to 10 in Swahili from our guide Lyimo!
After about four more hours of climbing we found ourselves at Stella Point, where I discovered to my dismay that my camera batteries were all dead! They had gotten too cold. Fortunately, Mosha warmed them up and by the summit they were all working.
NB: Keep your pocket camera and batteries bundled up and close to your body to keep them warm on the climb.
The section from Stella Point to the summit was not as hard as expected—Max had properly set the expectation that due to the thinness of the air, that relatively short section could take well over an hour. We arrived at the summit at 6:15am, just in time for sunrise.
Jumping at 19,341 feet!
Clint, Alison and me all smiles at the summit.
The Glacier, with Mount Meru In The Background
Evan with guide Max Bunce
After about 15 minutes on the summit, we headed back down. It’s cold up there!
Barafu Camp to Mweca Camp
We hustled down from the summit, returning to Barafu around 8:45am. It was time for some hydration, food and a bit of rest. I was too wired to sleep, but it was nice to have a little down time. From Barafu, we descended to Mweca Camp—a long and tiring down climb, for a total descent of 9,000 feet from the summit to Mweca. Between the rain, rocks and fatigue, it was no easy feat to shed that much elevation immediately after the summit climb.
Mweca Camp provided a great rest spot. We were tired but excited.
Day 7: Mweca Camp to Mweca Gate
The next morning we finished the descent, from Mweca Camp to Mweca Gate, in about 3 hours. By the time we reached the last stretch, Evan was literally running past everyone to finish the climb.
View of Kilimanjaro on our last day, from Mweca down to Mweca Gate.
At the suggestion of a friend, I had brought a few bucks with me and we bought some well-earned beers in the parking lot at Mweca Gate. From there we headed back to Moshi and the K’s Hotel. For a nominal fee, the hotel cleaned our muddy gear (including boots, poles and rain pants) and washed our clothes. We had a celebratory dinner with the local guides. The next morning, after some re-packing, we headed to Arusha Airport to fly to the Serengeti. Little did I know that our incredible adventure was just getting started!
For those thinking of doing the climb themselves, the next few sections cover my notes on Mt Kilimanjaro schedule, medical, gear and weather.
I booked my climb with International Mountain Guides (IMG). I appreciated IMG’s responsiveness to my pre-trip questions over email. The timing of their trip for the climb and safari worked well with my holiday schedule, allowing me to leave San Francisco Thursday night (11pm) on the 18th and return Friday mid day on Jan 2nd, just over two weeks total time. If I had more time I might extend the trip for a few days to see Zanzibar (one couple in our group did this) or to stop somewhere on the way home (the other couple in our group was stopping in Istanbul for a few days). However, I accomplished everything I wanted to in the two weeks I had. Two and a half days, three nights of Safari was ideal.
Our climbing group consisted of Max Bunce, IMG Guide; Alison and Clint from Seattle; Ken from Houston; Evan from San Francisco; and me. Ages ranged from 22 to 69. Ken’s wife, Camille, flew in later to join for the Safari portion.
We had three local Tanzanian guides and a full contingent of porters. I liked the small group size, which allowed Max to provide personally tailored (no pun intended) recommendations on clothing. I would say this was instrumental in reaching the summit in an enjoyable manner. His philosophy was that you should always start the climb or leave a break cold and that you would warm up within a few minutes. If you started out warm and comfortable, you would sweat and become chilled, and once your clothes were wet, it would be very hard to dry them out.
In terms of weather, I had a vision of warm and sunny since Mt Kilimanjaro is right near the equator. But of course at 19,000 feet, it is quite cold! Out of seven days on the mountain, we had three days of rain, four days of partly sunny to sunny.
The hero of our trip was Evan, a 22 year old diabetic who kept getting stronger the more he climbed. Monitoring his blood sugar level on a regular basis while expending an extreme amount of energy rain and shine was no easy feat.
I started Diamox (125 mg two times per day) the day before the climb (Sunday) and continued it through the day of the summit. The following factors likely were key to my successful summit attempt:
- Sufficient time to acclimatize due to route choice
- Effective clothing strategy that significantly reduced sweating and therefore fluid loss
- Supportive guides and climbing group
- Plenty to eat
In terms of training, I did no special training for Kilimanjaro. That said, I am a four time Ironman-distance finisher, including Ironman Lake Tahoe at 6,000 – 7,000 feet. My most recent race was Ironman Barcelona at the beginning of October, 2014. So I felt like I was in good shape (although certainly could have been a few pounds lighter) going into the climb. My legs were the most tired the day after we finished the climb, due mostly to the descent.
The only headache I experienced was after coming down from the summit to Barrafu Camp (the last camp before the summit). Since I only drank one bottle of water during the summit climb (8.5 hours) I attribute this to dehydration, not altitude. After I drank another liter I felt much better.
IMG’s suggested layering system worked very well. Max was adamant about having five total layers to work with and he was right on the money. Clint, one of the other clients on the trip, lent me a Patagonia synthetic hooded mid-weight puffy. This became my go-to jacket for the climb with the hoodie being especially important for keeping my neck warm. I was never a big fan of hoodies before, but for a high altitude summit, they are a life saver.
I found I could always go lighter on clothing starting the day or coming out of a break. By the fourth or fifth day I got the hang of this.
I had a three-quarter length Thermarest. I would absolutely go with a full length pad. The ground is cold. Cold feet — even on top of a pack or other gear — definitely hinders a good sleep. I would go with the highest end pad available (e.g. the NeoRest). Hand warmers help a lot on summit day. I brought three Nalgenes. Although you only need two for the climbs themselves, it is very helpful to have a third to use in camp. That way you can fill two water bottles before you go to bed (to be used during the next day’s climb) while using the third to hydrate during dinner, overnight and first thing in the morning.
I would also invest in a high quality rain poncho, maybe two (put the spare in your duffel). The one I bought from Sports Basement disintegrated on day three and I came to call it my rain Toga due to the need to hang the slivers of it over my shoulders in toga form. For our guide Lyimo his heavy duty, low hanging poncho was his go-to piece of rain gear. Although rain jackets and pants work, they also trap moisture inside (even with the latest Gor-tex) and cause you to overheat. A poncho keeps you warm and dry but lets in enough air to you stay dry. One of the only times it doesn’t work well is if there are strong winds.
I also brought my Kindle, iPod Mini, a Jockery battery for re-charging, my Canon SX700 (with its amazing zoom lens), and my Garmin 920 watch. There’s definitely some downtime in camp and it’s nice to be able to read and listen to music. Looking out at the valley below from my tent door, then leaning back and reading and listening to music was incredibly peaceful.
We started our summit attempt from Barrafu Camp at 12:30am and reached the summit at 6:15am, for a total of 5 hours and 45 minutes of climbing. Although we had some conversation (and I learned how to count to 10 in Swahili from our guide, Lyimo!), there were a couple hours in there between 3am and 5am where we were 100% focused on the climb, no idle chatter. We spent about 15 minutes on the summit and took a bunch of pictures. We returned to Barrafu Camp around 8:45am.
I was able to connect to Vodacom a couple times from the mountain, but was never able to get any data or texts to work. Evan reported success from a couple camps via Airtel. I would suggest either a global roaming plan or buying an Airtel SIM chip if you want wireless on the mountain. I suffered a bit of Internet withdrawal at first, but being completely offline for five days was incredibly refreshing and allowed me to clear my head, focus on the climb, and really unwind and relax.
Before the trip I had a medical checkup and received numerous shots, including Hep A+B, Tetanus/TDP, Yellow Fever and Typhoid. I also got prescriptions for Diamox, malaria pills and various antibiotics in case I developed stomach problems or an ear infection. The malaria pills were once a week pills and gave me an extreme headache for six to eight hours, worse than anything I had during the climb. I also took some Advil a couple times during the climb.
I flew through Addis Ababa and there was Ebola screening upon entering the terminal from the plane. Upon entering Tanzania, they were checking for yellow fever vaccination cards (since I was coming from Ethiopia). I was glad I had gotten the yellow fever shot state-side and had the documentation with me. They did not check this for every flight, e.g. the KLM flight from Amsterdam. I used Iodine pills for my water and hand sanitizer on a regular basis. I had a loose stool after two of the meals but did not experience any other medical issues.
My checked bags arrived when I did. They consisted of a roller and a small duffel. Evan was not so fortunate. His bags were delayed multiple days. Miraculously, once they did arrive, a porter was able to bring them up the mountain and deliver them to him on day two. In the meantime, the K’s Hotel was able to find him enough gear to get by with, including an extra pack, gloves and puffy. I recommend bringing your hiking boots and other hard-to-fit essentials in your carry on. You can rent, borrow or purchase many other items if absolutely necessary.
Lessons Learned on the Mountain
* Don’t be lazy in camp. That means, when you get into camp, get your pad and sleeping bag setup right away, fill your water, etc. In the morning, put your pad and bag away first thing, it makes the rest of the packing go a lot faster.
* Start out cold. Starting the first segment of the day or leaving a break, you should be uncomfortably cold. If you’re warm, you’ll overheat and start sweating and it’s really hard to dry out and stay warm after that happens.
* Weight is everything. Only bring what you need in your pack, no more. Every little bit adds weight—for example, you only need a one ounce sunscreen, not a three ounce. The higher you get, the more the weight matters. Weight has an exponential impact. An extra few pounds higher up could mean making your day multiple hours longer than it needs to be.
* Check your status coming into a break: Neutral; Add a layer; or Take off a layer.
* Clothing is very specific to the individual. In the same conditions, one person could be overly warm in a base layer while others could be cold with two layers on. Max did an especially great job customizing clothing and hydration recommendations to each individual.
* Commit to the break! If you are going to take a break, do it. Put your pack down, put a jacket on to stay warm, drink water and eat. Don’t stand around during a break with your pack on, underdressed and getting cold.
* Trust your boots (but check them before the climb). When scrambling over rocks or descending on rocks, trust your boots. In most cases they will stick and hold your footing. Don’t step on wet tree roots or branches, though—they’re always slippery.
Moshi – K’s Hotel
K’s Hotel (formerly Keyes Hotel) is located in Moshi, the smaller sibling of Arusha. I was able to buy a SIM card in Moshi and change money on my way from the airport to the hotel. On the second day (Sunday) the hotel drove our group into town where we found a working ATM, and were able to purchase items we needed for the climb, such as toilet paper (TP), large pee bottles (essential during cold nights) and other essentials.
The K’s Hotel rooms are sparse but comfortable, with air conditioning and hot showers. The staff is helpful and friendly. Wifi is only available in the dining area and is slower than an old 300 baud modem! Load up on Vodacom or Airtel credits instead to get data, it’s much faster.
Food service is reliable at the hotel and reasonably priced. They offer a daily soup, curries, burgers, and related items. Scrambled eggs and bacon are available at breakfast, along with fresh fruit such as watermelon, toast, peanut butter, and hot coffee.
I would like to have eaten at least one meal in town. In some ways, though, I am glad we stuck with the reliable hotel food, since having a stomach issue on the mountain would have been a real downer.
I was able to charge up my Kindle, iPhone, camera batteries and spare batteries in my room. The K’s is a great pre- and post-climb staging hotel. Not too fancy, not too basic. Thus the transition between hotel and mountain sleeping was a fairly easy one.
Barcelona, Spain—Sunday, October 5, 2014.
The morning started out with a torrential downpour, thunder and lightning. But the race conditions were perfect—nice temperature, not too hot, which made for a great race. I finished in 13:17.
Ironman Barcelona was my replacement for Ironman Tahoe 2014, which was cancelled due to heavy smoke conditions. Barcelona was flat, at sea-level and warm—basically the inverse of IM Tahoe, which I had completed the year before.
According to Garmin there are 1800 feet of rolling hills over the bike course and virtually no elevation change on the run. I enjoyed the course, although I found the bike course to be a little boring compared to Ironman France and Ironman Lake Tahoe.
This is for two reasons. Much of the course goes straight along the coast with minimal turns or hills until you get back near the start. As a result, there is not that much to look at—buildings on one side, ocean on the other! For lying on the beach it is perfect, for pedaling six hours, not quite as much! Also, there is not much elevation change. That means you really are riding nearly the entire time—unlike Tahoe and France where you climb climb climb and then rest on the descents. But these are very, very minor complaints—the roads were well maintained and the course well marked.
I flew into Barcelona from Moscow, where I had been for the previous few days. My bike arrived intact but my stomach and digestive system did not! I would eat or drink and within 20 minutes it was off to the bathroom. Not pretty and I was worried about how I was going to deal with nutrition and hydration come race day. The days leading up to race day I didn’t eat much more than some bits of bread, ham, eggs and chocolate.
Wednesday night after pulling my 23 kg bike case from the oversized luggage conveyor belt at BCN, I took the airport shuttle to the TRYP hotel near the airport. $130 for a decent room and full breakfast. (I’m including the costs of things in case it may be helpful in planning your own IM Barcelona trip.)
There was some excitement fitting the case into the back of the hotel shuttle—the wheels kept causing it to roll, but after we flipped it over onto the no wheel side it was fine. At the hotel, they stored the case in their luggage room so I did not have to lug it up to the room. I was overjoyed the case had arrived—I had been worried the entire trip with multiple connections that it would not make it. The temperature was just right—mid 60’s and I immediately fell asleep.
The next morning (Thursday) I woke up and did a few miles on the airport treadmill. My legs were feeling good but after eating a full breakfast, my stomach was still not cooperating. I headed back to the airport, bike case in tow.
At the airport I purchased a 30 euro Vodafone SIM card good for 900 MB of data and 60 minutes of calling. The apartment I had rented in Calella did not have Wifi, and the SIM card turned out to work perfectly—good reception and high speed data, akin to being on a Wifi connection.
I found the airport bus from BCN to Calella, where the race was taking place. The bus was a nice 7 euros 10 each way. Calella is about an hour north of Barcelona. It’s a scenic seaside town, with plenty of sports stores and full size supermarkets. At the bus terminal I met a nice Brit who was doing his first Ironman. We chatted and talked about the challenges of maintaining a relationship with non-cyclists—if there’s one topic that is sure to come up in an Ironman discussion other than which races someone has done, that is it!
The apartment was about 3 blocks from the bus stop (the second stop in Calella), and had a lift that made it relatively easy to get the bike to the apartment. It was the perfect base for the Ironman—a quiet bedroom to sleep in, full kitchen and outdoor patio, and a few blocks from the beach.
Thursday evening, the bike setup people I had coordinated with over email arrived just after 8:30 to setup my bike. I had done the same thing in Nice—arranging for a bike setup at the apartment. Great peace of mind and it worked perfectly. Within an hour my bike was setup, I grabbed a few CO2 cartridges from the setup guys, and I was ready to go. I was excited my bike had arrived intact and had no issues. On course, both the shifting and braking worked well. There is something incredibly comforting about having your bike setup while you wait—you can test it out after it is setup, ask for any needed adjustments, and you have the peace of mind of seeing it up until you bring it to transition.
Friday morning I took my bike out for a very short ride just to make sure it was all working. The shifting and brakes both felt good. After injuring myself on a pre-race ride just before Ironman France, I had no desire to do a heavy ride. I rode a few blocks, tested the shifting and headed home.
After that I walked to the expo, registered, and bought a race belt to hold my number, since I had forgotten mine. Check in was quick and painless. But here is where I learned the news that Special Needs bags were not provided by the race. If you wanted to have a special needs bag on the bike or run, you would have to give them to someone who would then hand them to you near one of the aid stations along the course.
I probably could have found someone to give a bag to, but the logistics seemed like more of a hassle than they would be worth. Also, I didn’t want to have to rely on the bags being there only to miss someone or find out the bags were not there. I changed up my strategy and decided to bring all the food I would need with me on both the bike and the run. This meant that my bike jersey was a little heavier than usual, and I did not have as many bottles of Perpetuem as I would normally have. Instead, I relied more on the on-course food and hydration. All the bottles on the bike course were bike-cage compatible, so that worked out fine. I ended up loading my bike with two bottles of Perpetuem with an extra scoop, one bottle of Gatorade. I used one Perpetuem during the first half, one during the second, and swapped in and out the Gatorade bottles as I rode. Had it been a hotter day or a tougher bike course, I’m not sure this strategy would have worked, but for the Barcelona course it worked great.
In the afternoon I headed to the beach and went for a swim in my wetsuit. It was pretty choppy but after I got going, things felt fine. Although I had swum in Aquatic Park in the San Francisco Bay many times, the water in Calella was a lot saltier. I could feel the burn in my nose and throat and it reminded me of Nice—although not quite as clear. But the temperature was perfect, not too warm, not too cold. During the race, I did see one athlete without a wetsuit, but it would have been a little cold not to wear one.
On Saturday, I went to the race briefing and learned that I would need to take my swim cap with my to bike check in. Other than that, I did not learn anything new and probably would have saved myself the walk. I headed home and then brought my bike and bags down to check in. Veterans will know that it is a lot easier to put your bags in the provided backpack, which I did, than to carry them and try to maneuver the bike at the same time! There was quite a line for bike check-in and I forgot a bottle of water and my iPod, but the time went quickly and my bike was soon setup. They had a bike mechanic on-site who was able to fix a clicking noise on my back wheel. I wrapped my seat with a plastic bag in case it rained and I hung my bags in the bag/changing tent—which was huge, at least 4x the size of the IM Tahoe changing tent. It was great, as you could change right near your bags during the race.
The morning of the race I woke up at a civilized 6am, since the race was not due to start until 8:30! Sunrise didn’t happen until around 7:15, so it made sense, but during the race I kept feeling like I was running behind due to how late the start was. I managed to get three eggs down.
Just as I was about to head out, I heard the thunder and saw the lightning—huge streaks. The sky opened up and it was pouring down. A torrential downpour. Having just had a race cancelled two weeks earlier, the thought crossed my mind that I might be headed for another cancellation. I put it out of my mind. A few kitchen garbage bags with holes poked in the appropriate places for neck and arms did the trick as I headed down to transition. After filling my tires and putting the bottles on the bike, I headed into the transition tent and ran into another athlete from San Francisco and one from Seattle, both of whom had also been to the cancelled Tahoe race. The SF athlete was easy to spot by his Sports Basement water bottles!
I put on my wetsuit and then walked the 1000 meters or so from the transition tent to the race start, clothing bag in hand. It was still pouring, thundering and lightning. I wore my swim cap and a garbage bag over the wetsuit. It was warm enough—but wet. I hung up my clothing bag. There was an ominous feel in the room, with people wondering if the race would be cancelled or converted into a duathlon. The race director kept announcing that they would be making an announcement about their decision soon. We all stood around in the tent, waiting. Outside the wind had picked up and it was cold and gray.
Then they announced that there would be a full Ironman—just with a 30 minute delay. I was relieved and overjoyed. I hung out in the tent another 50 minutes and then headed down to the beach. I warmed up in the water for a couple minutes and then went into the queue for the staggered swim start.
(As a side note, I am not a huge fan of swim starts staggered by age/gender. I would much rather have the start staggered by expected finish time.)
The swim took me longer than expected, 1:36. I saw one jellyfish, but other than that it was simply wetsuits and water. It had been a while since I had swum in choppy waters but the course was well marked and I felt good coming into T1. The sky had cleared and it was sunny and bright. I had a feeling things were going to go well from here. T1 went smoothly, I stayed in my same shorts and headed out on the bike course. The first couple miles are through town over speed bumps and grates so I didn’t push it. Once out of town I settled in.
Since Barcelona was a last minute choice, I didn’t have a real sense of the bike course. I had watched a video but between the distances being in kilometers and not having time to ride the course beforehand, I wasn’t sure what to expect. There are a few rollers coming out of town and then it’s steady going—with the headwinds being the only real issue.
There were plenty of refs on the course, but that did not prevent people from riding in huge pelotons of 30 or 40. I maintained my distance since my goal for the race is simply my own race goals. That said, there are some very narrow parts of the bike course where passing can be a challenge. Outside of a spin class a week earlier, I had not been on a real bike ride of any distance in four weeks due to the IM Tahoe preparation and cancellation. I was feeling good on the bike, although a little nervous about the hydration and nutrition due to the lack of special needs. Fortunately, the course was well stocked and six hours later I was headed into T2. It was already around 5 in the afternoon due to the late race start.
The run is basically flat, with one little hill. Crowd support is great for about three miles of it, and then there are three miles of the 4-loop run course that are pretty quiet. The only outhouses are mid way through the run course. I certainly made use of them—my stomach was begging for mercy. I had one of those “man, does that ever feel better” moments mid way through the run and then I was on my way. I had my mini-water bottle in my hand, which was great as there were not that many aid stations on the run course. Overall the course was decently lit. My only complaint is the lack of real Coke—the “cola” on offer tasted like medicine. The electrolyte drink seemed OK. There were some awesome bands/DJs along the way, which broke things up in a nice way.
Coming into the finish shoot I could not have been more excited. The race director was standing right in the middle with the microphone and the classic “You are an Ironman!” I held up three fingers signaling this was #3 and he said, “third Ironman!” which felt great. I crossed the finish line and headed into the tent where I sat down for a few minutes till I could get up and get some food. I had once again scratched the itch and the frustration and disappointment I had felt coming out of Tahoe #2 was gone, replaced by the exhilaration of completing another Ironman.
From there it was the long walk from finish to transition. Bag and bike pickup was quick and they were good with security. Bike in hand I headed back to my place. The next morning, it was up at 6 to pack. The bike mechanic showed up promptly at 6:45 and had the bike back in its box by 7:30. They kindly gave me a lift to the bus stop, where I hung out until the bus arrived at 8:20. Things could not have gone more smoothly and my bike arrived back in SF and appeared on the oversize bag conveyor belt a few minutes after I got though customs.
Notes for future races:
- It is worth all the hassle to bring my own bike. I had investigated renting a road bike for the race and was glad I didn’t. The Barcelona course is made for aerobars, especially with the wind. There is nothing like having your own bike for a long-form race.
- Bring water bottle and iPod to bike checkin
- Get new sandals for walking around, the flip flops I have scratch up my feet if there is sand
- Work on swim time
- Bring race belt
IM Barcelona was great. I really missed having all my friends and the big SF Tri Club group out on the course and cheering, but I am glad I got a race in while my training was still relatively fresh!
I’m looking forward to watching your movie, Dude, Where’s My Car?
Because, seriously, dude, where’s my car?! We just lived through a real-life version of the movie when your investment Getaround lost my girlfriend’s car—for a whole week!
No, I’m not kidding. This isn’t a spoof on your movie. This is the real deal. Some “dude” rented her car and thought he had returned it.
According to him he was “so wasted,” that he parked the car in a lot near his house rather than back in its rightful parking spot, a mile and half away. When he finally remembered that he hadn’t returned it, he didn’t even remember where he parked it! I mean, where do we even start on that one?
But then there’s the fact that Getaround didn’t figure out her car wasn’t in its rightful parking spot—for a whole week! Shouldn’t they have used software + GPS technology to figure that out? She called Getaround when she got back from from visiting family over the holidays to ask, “Dude, where’s my car?”
The good news is, they found her car. And the dude even remembered that he still had the key. It took them more than 30 hours to get her car back to her. That was frustrating.
If it were me I would have sent over a cool MINI from the Getaround fleet to make up for the fact that a) her car was missing and b) she might actually need to use her car to go somewhere!
Ashton, like you, I’m a huge fan of Marketplaces 2.0, and I love the concept behind Getaround. I think it’s awesome that you’re an investor in the company. I just hope no one else has to experience your movie in real life like we did!
I have to say, now that we’ve lived through this we really want to watch your movie. I’m sure it will be funny.
Thank you and all the best.
While I was in China, one of the questions I got asked a lot was “Why did you write Big Data Demystified?” I talked about my own very personal experience with Big Data, how I used it to measure my progress every week when I was training for my first Ironman and how I wanted to share that with others. I talked about my desire to take everything I had learned about Big Data and put it in one place–to create a lasting work that encompassed the knowledge I had acquired so other people could share in the learnings.
But then later, while I was talking with my Dad I told him that what I really wanted to say was, “I wrote the book because I love to write!”
To his great credit, he said, “you should just say that!”
I have always enjoyed writing. In eighth grade, I took a course called Expository Writing with Mr. Stewart. I credit that class with teaching me almost everything I know about writing. One of my favorite exercises was writing a Dr. Seuss-like story. Mine was called Horace The Hippo. It was a story about a Hippo who lost everything because of his weight problem and what he did about it.
I love writing because it’s a way to clarify my thoughts. It’s a way to communicate. It’s a way to generate new ideas.
People often tell me they want to write a book but they just don’t think they can.
How do you write a book? One word at a time.
It sounds so simple, yet it can be so difficult. People ask me if I ever get writer’s block. I do get writer’s block–all the time. My solution is to write one sentence. I may throw that sentence out later, but if I can write one sentence, then I can write another and another and… before you know it there’s a whole chapter.
People also ask how long it takes to write a book. The research for Big Data Demystified took me more than nine months. That was after I had already been in technology for years and built two storage companies. So I felt like I had a very strong basis for understanding the space and I was really digging into the details. The actual writing took 10 weeks.
There is a great quote by the famous conductor Herbert von Karajan. A flutist asks him when he should come in and von Karajan says, “When you can’t stand it anymore!” That’s why I write. When there is so much content in my brain that I can’t stand it anymore–I write.
Announcing The Big Data Landscape Conference 2014
The Big Data Landscape Conference 2014 brings together some of today’s leading independent Big Data companies with Silicon Valley’s most prominent Big Data and Cloud investors. The Big Data Landscape Conference 2014 will take place on Thursday January 23, 2014 at the new Hotel Zetta, San Francisco.
At the conference, David Feinleib, author of Big Data Demystified, will release the 2014 Edition of The Big Data Landscape. Feinleib’s Big Data Landscape and Big Data Trends presentation have together been viewed more than 150,000 times both in the US and abroad and are used as references by leading technology investors, buyers and vendors.
“Although more than 150,000 people have viewed The Big Data Landscape, it’s all too infrequent that investors and technology buyers get to interact with these companies directly,” said David Feinleib, Managing Director of The Big Data Group. “Our Big Data Landscape Conference offers direct, candid interaction with the CEOs and founders of the next breakout companies on The Big Data Landscape.”
The Big Data Landscape 2014 Edition includes mobile analytics firm Flurry and Big Data discovery firm Recommind, which are expected to go public this year. It also includes companies like Spunk, a leading operational intelligence vendor with a market capitulation above $7 billion.
“The companies at The Big Data Landscape 2014 Conference are meeting customer needs today and are backed by leading investors like Accel, Greylock, Lightspeed, Mohr Davidow and others,” says conference co-producer Bill Long of DISCERN Advisors.
The companies include Apigee, a pre-IPO provider of Big Data APIs and applications; Identified, backed by Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors; Qubole, founded by the former head of Big Data Analytics at Facebook; Splice Machine, founded by industry veteran Monte Zweben; Trifacta, founded by Joe Hellerstein, one of Fortune Magazine’s 50 smartest people; and Ufora, a transformational Big Data company for financial services.
The Big Data Landscape Conference is sponsored by The Big Data Group, Burr Pilger Mayer, DISCERN Advisors and Hotel Zetta.
About the Big Data Group
The Big Data Group provides advisory and strategic consulting services to technology buyers and vendors. The Big Data Landscape is a leading source for up-to-date Big Data market information and insights. The Big Data 100 is an annual listing of the top 100 Big Data Vendors.
For more information visit:
Discern Advisors is a leading boutique investment bank focused on Big Data, Mobile applications, SaaS and Cloud Computing. We are entrepreneurs, investors and advisors with 25 years of connections to the world’s leading technology companies and investors. Discern’s analysts benefit from the collective knowledge of our entire team, powerful information analytics tools, and proprietary data streams.
Burr Pilger Mayer
Burr Pilger Mayer (BPM) provides meaningful, comprehensive financial and business counsel. We are experts in accounting, tax, and finance, and our people are distinguished by their knowledge, discipline, and unremitting commitment to the success of clients. As the largest California-based accounting and consulting firm, BPM has served the Bay Area’s emerging and mid-cap businesses as well as high net worth individuals for the past 26 years.
About Hotel Zetta
Hotel Zetta has re-imagined the corporate meeting space into a place that’s fresh, vibrant and highly productive—the perfect setting for your next corporate function, meeting, or private event. If you’re looking for a dynamic location to meet in the heart of downtown San Francisco, Hotel Zetta is for you.
The Everything Store is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding Amazon and in growing their own business. Even if you don’t aspire to build a web site as large as Amazon, The Everything Store offers a fascinating history of Amazon and some insight into the operating principles and aspirations of the site’s founder, Jeff Bezos.
There are a lot of great takeaways for every aspiring entrepreneur and every aspiring executive.
When You Have To Strike Out On Your Own
Bezos came up with the idea for Amazon while working at hedge fund D.E. Shaw. He felt he had to leave because he would’t be able to realize his vision or build the company the way he wanted to within the framework of D.E. Shaw. There are lots of blog posts on the struggle people face when they decide to leave their jobs. What is clear is that Bezos felt he had no choice. He had to create his own framework to realize his vision. And he took a lot of the principles he learned–about hiring, for example with him when he founded Amazon.
Find A Big Wave
Bezos found a big wave–the growth of the Internet–and rode it. The growth was just too incredible to ignore.
Please The Customer
Bezos has long been focused on pleasing the customer. That is, putting the customer first. This is easy to say, but hard to do. Founders and executives alike would do well to remember this key business principle. In its early days, Amazon often ran out of product and had to send employees around to traditional retail stores like Toys R Us to buy items in order to fulfill orders that customers placed on the web site!
It’s not enough to sell books, Amazon has to sell everything. It’s not enough to provide two-day shipping, Amazon has to get to the point where it can deliver in 30 minutes. Like many great entrepreneurs, Bezos is on a quest to make the seemingly impossible possible. From Bezos’s point of view, current technologies and economic constraints are meant to be disrupted. They shouldn’t stand in the way of realizing the vision.
Sweat The Details
At the same time that Bezos looks to realize his big vision for Amazon, he also sweats the details. From branding to packaging, from the web site experience to product deliver, every detail matters.
Surround Yourself With Great People
In the book, Bezos is portrayed as a rather cold-hearted manager. Bezos brought in a lot of talented people. He hired from competitors to fill in gaps in his organization. He kept those who worked out and let go those who didn’t. The reality is that startups are fluid organizations. Not every hire works out. The key is to make hiring a top priority and surround yourself with great people. It’s clear that Bezos did that repeatedly.
There are many more lessons to be learned from The Everything Store. The book is provocatively written, fast-paced and a great read. It’s as much about Jeff Bezos as it is about Amazon, which is what makes it such a compelling read. If you don’t get distracted by the author’s flair for drama and rather see it for what it is–a device intended to keep readers engaged and sell more books–you’ll find yourself with more than a few insightful takeaways you can apply yourself.
If you haven’t read Mark Suster’s post How to Shorten Your Sales Cycle and Avoid Wasting Time, you should. But first I want to fill you in on three little-known secrets of startup sales hiring.
You Don’t Hire The Best Salespeople, They Hire You
What do I mean by this? When it comes to selling your product, the very best salespeople already know how to sell your product. They’ve researched it, they’ve sold another product like it, or they could envision selling your product into a set of clients they already know.
These are the salespeople who don’t spend their careers looking for sales jobs. They spend their careers looking for great products they know they can sell. And then they sell those products and sell, sell, sell some more. In effect, they’re hiring you, because they know you’ve got a product that’s a match for what they can sell.
I’m not saying that you can’t train people to sell your product. You definitely can. But the very best sales people will seek out your product because they already know how to sell it.
Great Clients Make Great Salespeople
At Speechpad, clients and partners contact us asking how they can refer or resell our video transcription product. Many of these people already know and love our product because they are users of it themselves. These clients would get high Net Promoter Scores or NPS, a measure of how likely your existing clients are to refer your product to new clients.
Like great sales people who already know they can sell your product, clients and partners who want to refer your product to other potential clients make great sales people.
Of course, there are companies we reach out to and partner with. But there are many more who contact us looking to partner or resell. We don’t hire them–they hire us and refer or resell our product to their own clients, partners and friends. We love clients like these because they are one of our best sources of new business.
To Sell To The Top, You Have To Sell From The Top
If you as a founder are not out selling every single day, how can you expect other people in your organization to sell your product? I’m not saying you’re going to have the world’s best sales technique, process or approach. But if you look at leaders like Aaron Levie of Box and Elon Musk of Tesla, SpaceX and Paypal fame, these founders are out selling every single day.
They are out there promoting their vision, their view on the future of the world. If you want to call high at your customers, the highest people at your company have to be directly involved with sales. That means both actual deal selling as well as visionary selling. Deal selling means helping to close new customers.
Visionary selling means creating space in the ecosystem for your company to exist by getting out there and being visible. Often, these two forms of selling go hand-in-hand.
Look no further than at two of the very best salespeople in the world, entrepreneurs Aaron Levie and Elon Musk. These entrepreneurs aren’t just selling their products, they’re selling their vision. They’re selling the dream. They’re selling it to anyone and everyone who will listen. They’re selling to potential customers, to potential salespeople, and to future investors (and current ones too).
No doubt there are days they’d rather just be working on the product. But they are out making room in the world for their products to exist. They are selling from the top.
You may be thinking to yourself that you’d rather code than sell. That you’d rather send an email than meet face to face with a person. When I first taught myself to program at age 12, I found the long hours of coding relaxing, mentally challenging and fulfilling. I still love to stay up till two or three in the morning working on the product.
I shipped my first ShareWare application at a time when I had to send out diskettes to people in the mail. There were times when I thought that was tedious, especially when I was sending out hundreds of diskettes a week. Fixing a tough bug or creating a new feature could be a lot more enjoyable than shipping another disk.
But I came to realize, as James Altucher put it in his recent post, that I have been selling, selling, selling ever since then. So when it comes to selling:
- You don’t hire the best sales people, they hire you
- Great clients make great sales people
- To sell to the top, you have to sell from the top
Now, get out there and sell!
Starting a new venture? Here are 5 recent posts you absolutely have to read.
5. If you want to know how Jeff Bezos and team mint money, read no further than Eugene Wei’s Amazon and the “Profitless Business Model” Fallacy.
4. Want to start the next billion dollar company? Aileen Lee’s Welcome To The Unicorn Club: Learning From Billion-Dollar Startups is for you.
3. Learn about the three key elements required to Be a Great Product Leader from Airbnb’s Adam Nash.
2. From Eleganthack: Users Don’t Hate Change, They Hate You.
1. Lessons on how to stand out in a very noisy world from social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk.
This fall I completed my third full Ironman distance event. Ironman Tahoe (IMT) stands out as one of the hardest goals I have ever set for myself and achieved. If I have one takeaway it is that if you set goals that are far outside your perceived limits, you are surprisingly likely to achieve them.
Reports have it that a record-setting 25% of participants did not finish (DNF’d). That has given IMT the reputation of being the hardest Ironman out there. And for good reason.
Ironman Tahoe took place at an elevation of 6000 feet. The elevation alone made it difficult. But the freezing cold weather—there was literally ice on our bicycle seats when we started the ride portion of the race—was what put things over the top.
For days after the event I felt like I was looking at the world through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. Everything seemed far away and appeared to be moving in slow motion.
I never considered myself an athlete. In high school I was that kid that always lagged at the back of the cross country running team. In grade school my Mom would call in on hot days to remind them that I needed to stay hydrated because I tended to sweat a lot. And as my friends from spin class can attest, my Mom was probably right!
One summer I was out of camp for two full weeks because I had leg pains from flat feet. The doctors took all kinds of X-rays and gave me a pair of crutches. It turned out that some simple shoe inserts cured the problem.
But all of that disruptive activity—the mental activity associated with going to the doctor, the implied limitations about my physical ability—had convinced me that I wasn’t an athlete. So it was news to me that I could complete an Ironman distance event, let alone three of them.
BHAG is short for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. It is not a term people often talk about when setting their own personal goals. Jim Collins and Jerry Porras introduced the concept in their book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. They were talking about organizations:
“A true BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines.”
Before my first Ironman, a friend of mine from the SF Triathlon Club told me two things I will never forget. First, that nutrition was the fourth and perhaps most important sport of triathlon. It wouldn’t matter how much training I did if I didn’t hydrate properly and take in enough calories to get me through the day. But he also said that people had been able to come back and finish races after bonking—a term for running out of energy mid-race.
Secondly, he told me if I could finish an Ironman, I could do anything. He was right. There is a certain confidence that comes from completing a physically challenging goal you have set out for yourself.
What I really learned was that your limits are in very large part determined by the size of the goals you set. Each time you accomplish a bigger goal, you realize you can accomplish an even bigger goal. Suddenly, “I could never do that” becomes “I could some day do that” and ultimately “I will do that.” That is the power of truly big BHAGs.
When it comes to setting goals, I’m not suggesting that everyone should go out and train for an Ironman. It is time consuming and requires many tradeoffs in other areas of your life. And yet I have found that such training also causes me to become more disciplined, more focused and more willing to set bigger goals.
The biggest lesson of Ironman training is that if you set goals within your limits, you will only achieve goals within your limits. If you set goals that are far outside your perceived limits, you are surprisingly likely to achieve them.
Getaround is a great idea. That’s what makes it so painful that the current experience leaves so much to be desired. I expect a lot more from Getaround, especially considering they just raised $13.9M in funding last year.
Recently, I referred a friend of mine to Getaround. She has a relatively new model car she drives only occasionally and it‘s at a great location in San Francisco. It’s nearly perfect for Getaround.
Unfortunately, Getaround has not been perfect for her.
To participate in Getaround Instant, which lets a renter access a car without having to meet the owner for a key exchange, some specially installed electronics are required. Unfortunately these electronics don’t work well inside my friend’s parking garage, which Getaround discovered only after trying to install them.
To work around this, the company proposed attaching a lockbox to her car. They asked my friend to measure the size of her car key “down to the millimeter!” Instead they should have offered to have someone go meet her to measure the key.
Once she did send them the measurements, they found out their lockbox wasn’t big enough. They had to call a meeting to discuss options. Over the course of this process (which has lasted more than a month), there has been at least one time where the company has not gotten back to her for a week. So add poor communication to an already bad experience.
My friend did have one successful rental. Someone rented her car for a weekend and it worked out great. But to cap things off, while she was out for an hour and a half, more recently someone else tried to rent her car. There was no advance notice, and because the Getaround Instant still isn’t in place, there’s no way for the person to rent the car. That’s an entire weekend rental lost. My friend wants to rent her car out but can’t.
I love the concept of Getaround and I’m excited that big name investors like Marissa Mayer and Menlo Ventures have the vision and foresight to invest in a company with such incredible potential to disrupt the future of transportation. I just hope the company can get its act together when it comes to turning that vision into reality.
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