Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Participation in a CPATH Workshop

Here's an article that I wrote for the Carolina Communique about my participation in a CPATH workshop back in June:

Do you rely on developers for critical information? Then ask yourself this: would you benefit from them being better communicators? Raise your hand if you have ever struggled through a complex explanation of a software feature, or have puzzled over a terse response to a multi-part question. Isn’t it at times like those that you wish that developers had learned, in addition to algorithms, programming languages, and logic, how to speak and write more effectively?

Well it turns out that we’re not alone. Computer science and software engineering faculties keenly recognize the value of good communication skills, and they want their undergraduates to acquire them as they earn their degrees. They know that having these skills not only make graduates more competitive in a global economy, but that cultivating them actually improves learning, engagement, and attainment of core engineering skills.

This was the context when, in June, I was invited to attend a CPATH (CISE Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Computing Education) workshop at NC State about "Integrating Communication Components into the Computer Science Curriculum." Supported by a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation, this specific CPATH project aspires to build curricula that enhance Computer Science and Software Engineering (CS/SE) students' technical and communication abilities. They want to do this by integrating writing, speaking, reading, and teamwork activities into instruction and assignments throughout students' four years of undergraduate study.

Achieving this would not require additional courses. Communication outcomes could be woven into the requirements of core CS/SE classes. For example, you could have students in an introductory course present the results of code and pseudocode inspections to the entire class. Students in more advanced classes could work on complex projects in teams and organize and share results. Throughout their four years, students could write papers about various topics such as data representations, programming control structures, program constructs, and object-oriented programming concepts.

The workshop that I attended brought together academic researchers from NC State and Miami University of Ohio with industry professionals from NetApp, Fidelity Investments, Microsoft, EMC, and other companies. During breakout sessions, small groups of researchers and professionals considered the most critical skills needed by CS/SE students. Among the questions that faculty asked professionals was “what communication abilities do you expect a recent CS/SE graduate to possess? “ And “which of those abilities do they generally not possess?” They also wanted to gather specific information about the kinds of teams that graduates would participate in after joining the workforce.

After those breakout sessions, each small group reported to the assembled participants. The whole group identified common themes across reports and then determined gaps between industry professionals' desires for CS/SE graduates' communication abilities and faculty-developed program-level communication outcomes.

One signficant gap identified was listening. Studies have shown that though is the communication skill we use most frequently, it is the one in which we’ve had the least training. That skill profoundly affects someone’s ability to contribute to a team and to produce a deliverable that meets a target audience’s needs. Another important gap was the ability to tailor material for the needs of a specific audience. The faculty knew that communicating to a technical audience was important. The industry professionals stressed that, after being hired, software engineering graduates would need to communicate effectively about highly technical topics to a variety of non-technical professionals.

I made a point of asking that developers be more diligent about inserting useful comments into their code. But a participant from Microsoft took issue with my point, saying that detailed comments could become a legal liability under certain circumstances. I had never thought of it that way.

The assembled faculty was going to take the data gathered during our June meeting and draft a set of learning outcomes to apply to various CS/SE classes. They planned to meet again in August to review that draft. The hope is to begin applying new learning outcomes as soon as is practical. I hope it’s not too long before rookie software engineers surprise us with their good communication skills.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Satori Walking the Dog

I was walking the dog the other evening and everything that had been filling my mind emptied. With profound lightness, I found myself doing nothing, absolutely nothing, but walking the dog. She strained against the leash, then hesitated, then sniffed the ground, then walked nicely by my side, then stopped dead in her tracks and rolled in the grass. It was me, the dog, the leash, the sidewalk, the grass, the smell of grass, my steps, my breathing, her panting, her pink tongue bobbing in rhythm with her breathing, the heat and humidity, the occasional car passing by, and that was all.

This did not last long. Other thoughts intruded. The dog needs a bath. Reality shows are more artificial than scripted shows. Those who inveigh against a public option for health care very likely have an elderly parent on Medicare, but these folks seem oblivious to the irony. And what if they lost their job - how would they pay for health care then? I should go to the Myrtle Beach Marathon web site and sign up. Why do my kids consistently leave the lights on after they leave the room? Why does it take only minutes for a tidy room to look like a cyclone blew through after my kids get home from school? When am I going to put to paper that Runner's World piece that I've been writing in my head for about for two years now? I need to get together with an old friend for lunch. When will the dog stop chewing on everything?

I enjoy walking the dog, but I am stressed by the responsibilities of being a parent to the dog. I have less formal responsibility at my current job than at my previous one, but I have a lot more to do, and what I do is a lot more rewarding. My father is gone, but his presence has never been stronger. I am learning a lot, but I don't think that I know very much. I am older, but I have never felt fitter. Most nights I sleep soundly, and I probably should get more sleep. I have reached a healthy weight, and I wonder whether I should try to lose more. I love my kids more than words can ever express, and some times I feel like disowning them. My wife and I have been together for over 23 years, and we continue to discover new things about one another.

I have found it pointless to whine about the unfair things that happen, or to rail against the obdurate opposition to common sense and empirical evidence that some individuals evince. Arbitrarily bad things happen despite our best efforts to guard against them. Rather than be paralyzed by an unwelcome or unpleasant events, I try to embrace them, deal with them, and move on. I often fall short though.

A thunderclap under the clear blue sky.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Communicate your value

Here's my latest contribution to the Carolina Communique:

These are tough economic times. Many of my colleagues are now without jobs or are scouting openings because they feel insecure about the jobs that they have. What can we technical communicators do? Put our writing skills to work for us.

One thing that I learned during my job search in 2007 is that you should always keep your resume up to date, regardless of how secure you feel in your current position. I also learned the value of creating and maintaining a marketing plan, which focuses your time and effort when you are searching for employment. Whether you are out of work or employed and pondering your next career move, both documents are critical to landing a rewarding job.

Your resume sells you to prospective employers. You want to tell hiring managers about your career to date, but want them to be eager to learn more. As you write or revise it, think about how you want it to direct an interview. Some tips I’ve picked up for writing an effective resume include:

  • For every accomplishment that you list, be sure that you actively did or delivered something. On many resumes that I have seen, including my own at one time, there were bullets that described being a “member of a team” that did something. That’s fine, but a hiring manager is not considering your team, she is considering you. What was your specific role on the team? What did you contribute or deliver? Did you bring the team together? Did you lead it? Did you organize meetings and take minutes? Did you facilitate brainstorming? Were you the key presenter?
  • For every way that you describe yourself, whether as a team player, a goal-oriented project leader, and so on, be prepared to tell an anecdote that illustrates that quality. If you do not have such a story, replace the item with one that allows you to tell such a story. You get bonus points if your accomplishments tie to your qualities. For example, if you say you are a goal-oriented project leader, it helps if you follow that up by reporting that you led a team to deliver a large and complex documentation set on an aggressive deadline.
  • Focus on deliverables and accomplishments that clearly contribute to the trajectory of your career. If you point out that you were a volunteer for the United Way, do not list it on your resume unless you can clearly explain how that experience prepared you for the position for which you are applying. Did working for the United Way help you develop fund-raising skills? Did you solicit contributions by phone or in person? That might not be a bad item if you are looking to fill a sales position. If you report that you were on the Citizens Advisory for Cable TV, ask yourself, “so what?” How does that accomplishment lead you to where you are now? If you don’t have a clear answer, drop the accomplishment. If the answer is, “that experience gave me insight into understanding customer media preferences, and that insight informs my skill in writing clear material for specific audiences,” keep it.
  • Use strong verbs in your resume. In your summary, you can say that you have “experience producing materials that facilitate understanding and clarity for internal and external users” or that you “write and edit clear, direct content that helps users get work done quickly.” The second phrase is more powerful and persuasive than the first, because you can picture someone getting work done by reading content, whereas it is tougher to imagine someone having their understanding facilitated by whatever it is you do with materials.

A resume tells a prospective employer what you have done and how your experience makes you the best candidate for an open position. A marketing plan, on the other hand, guides you in selecting the best position for your skills and experience. A resume explains what you did – a marketing plan captures what you want. You want to precisely define the target market for your job search so that you do not waste time – yours or your interviewer’s.

A few simple steps can help you get started developing your marketing plan.

  • Identify the industry or type of organization for which you want to work. If you have spent nearly all your career in the computer industry, it is logical to target that industry. But will you limit your search to that industry, or will you consider others? What about pharmaceuticals, health-care, or energy? Going to a new industry may mean that you would have to consider a less senior position, but if hiring in the computer industry is tight, a less senior position might be better than none at all. By expanding your range of target industries, you may find a job that exercises your talent and skill better than you had ever imagined.
  • Do you want to work for a big or small company? Would you prefer a Fortune 500 company or an up-and-coming firm? Do you feel more productive in a large or small workgroup? Give some thought to these questions.
  • Identify the geographical area where you want to work. Are you rooted to where you now live? Would you be willing to relocate? If so, what locations interest you? Would you be just as willing to move to Maine as to Maui? In tough times, the answer may be “wherever there is a paying job,” but consider the expenses of moving, both in terms of money and spirit, before accepting a position purely because of pay.
  • Also think hard about your personal preferences in terms of work/life balance and career aspirations. Think about the kinds of tasks that you like to do, day in and day out. In a tough job market like the one we are in, we cannot let personal preferences rule our decision-making, but we cannot ignore them either. A workplace is where you spend the better part of your life. Is it important to you to work in a supportive environment where ongoing learning is encouraged? Can you sit alone at a desk and not say a word to anyone all day, or do you need to interact with others? Ask questions during the interview to give you a sense of these things.

When you finish your marketing plan, it will look something like this:

  • Professional objective with preferred function: for example,”Technical communicator who wants to lead projects and communicate complex technical material to a variety of audiences. Preferred functions include writing and editing, project management, and making technical presentations.”
  • Competencies: for example, “writing and editing, project management, team building, motivating others, mentoring, budgeting.”
  • Target market characteristics: these will include all your personal preferences, such as “within 25 miles of Raleigh, NC” and “a large, diverse workgroup.”
  • Provide a list of specific industries and companies that appeal to you.

Your marketing plan helps you focus the conversation whenever you discuss the kinds of jobs that you prefer with your network of contacts. Your contacts will have an easier time referring you to others because they clearly understand your target position. And sooner or later, one of those referrals will result in a hiring manager perusing your resume. That well-written resume will guide a successful interview. That interview could lead to you landing the job that you want and deserve.

As tough as these times are, you owe it to yourself to be prepared for job loss. Use your writing skills to create a marketing plan and resume now, so that you can put them to best use for an employer later.

Glide into gratitude

When I find myself getting irritated over someone being late to meet me for lunch, or when a car repair takes longer or costs more than expected, or whenever my plans are unexpectedly thwarted, I make myself stop and notice my irritation. I do not judge it, and as I observe it, its power over me dissipates. I start to formulate a plan B. OK, I’m standing here waiting, what can I observe? Or, this is a good time to become more aware of my breathing. OK, I cannot access the Internet, what do I have on my local hard drive that I can work on? OK, I cannot run this morning, so what about this afternoon, or tomorrow morning? There’s always an alternative.

When I find myself getting impatient with the tedium of a task at work, I stop myself from getting discouraged by reminding myself that I am lucky to have a job with a supportive company that provides so many perks and benefits. I remember that I am learning new things and being paid to do something I love and do well. Smile and quietly spread cheer and enthusiasm from the time that I log in until the time that I click off my desk lamp.

When I get irritated with my kids over a snarky remark or an undone chore, I stop myself from letting that irritation turn into full-blown anger by reminding myself how truly wonderful my kids are and what incredible human beings they are becoming. It wasn’t that long ago, or it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, that they were toddlers following my every step and emulating my every action. I tear up when I review old photos of them and see the unadulterated delight in their eyes and smiles. Sweet little children no more, they are nevertheless fundamentally kind, caring, and loving individuals of whom I am so very proud. I am so lucky to have them in my lives. They will be out of my house sooner than I know, so I should relish every minute that we share the same roof even though they leave dirty dishes on the table, lights turned on, and clothes strewn on the floor. Count to ten, hug them, and kiss them good night every night.

When I find myself tuning out my wife when she complains about something or tries to prod me into action on an overdue domestic task, I remind myself how lucky I am to have such a loving partner who has put up with me for over twenty two years. We are not young anymore, but so what? We are approaching old age together, committed to one another until the end of our days. Do or say something kind or affectionate for her every day.

When I fret over a sore heel or a cramped hamstring after a run, I stop myself from letting that fretting develop into full-blown self pity by reminding myself that I am fortunate to be able to run at all. I remind myself how precious my health is, and that I must work to maintain it, and that this work will never stop as long as I’m alive. Stretch, take anti-inflammatory medicine if necessary, and run again tomorrow.

Has aging made me more appreciative? Have the recent shocks of my life shaken me awake and made me keenly aware of the countless blessings I receive every day? Has realizing that everyone suffers in some way made me more tolerant and more thankful for friends and family? Does it matter? Be here now. Notice the momentary negativity, do not judge it, and glide gracefully into gratitude. Am I always successful with this emotional aikido? Of course not, but I don’t mind the practice.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Not the best, not the worst

Earlier this week, well wishers asked me how I fared running the City of Oaks Marathon. My response varied in length and detail depending on who asked, but it pretty much boiled down to this: 4:11:52 gun time. It was not my best marathon, but it was not my worst.

It was 6 seconds slower than my third best. It was faster than Richmond, my first Raleigh Marathon, and Disney. I ran faster at Myrtle Beach and two Raleigh Marathons. It is square in the middle.

When the gun sounded a little after 0700, it was in the 40s. I started way too fast. I did not have my Timex Bodylink system to give me ongoing feedback on pace and heart rate, so I had to rely on my watch at the mile markers to get a sense of pace. I settled into a rhythm after the first 5K.

The field was crowded the first half, but I minimized weaving in and out of traffic as much as I could. I kept telling myself "smooth, smooth, smooth." I felt fluid and loose.

The course was challenging. Going up Ebenezer Church Road wasn't as daunting as I had feared it would be, but later miles showed that it took its toll.

Grace met me at the intersection of Graylyn and Ebenezer to run about a mile and a half with me into Umstead Park, at about mile 15. I felt really good at that point, bouyed by my strong attack of Ebenezer Church Road. But a twinge in my calf a little after mile 16, going up the short hill between the stone bridge on the Graylyn trail and the T intersection with the Reedy Creek trail, punctured my confidence ever so slightly.

I was surprised and delighted to see Christopher in running gear at mile 20, announcing that he was going to cover the last 10-K with me. His arrival was a true blessing. By that point, it had gotten hot. My confidence was deflating more rapidly as the twinging returned.

Bad cramps started shortly thereafter, and didn't let up. My calf would cramp, then relax, then my hamstring would cramp, then relax, then my quad would cramp, and so on. Christopher kept me focused on keeping my upper body loose, my arm swing fluid and correct, and on moving forward. It made all the difference in the world.

The last two miles were terrible. There were times that I was reduced to swinging my arms in an exaggerated arc and walking like a circus clown simply to keep moving forward. Christopher encourged and coached my every step.

Afterwards, he sent me e-mail saying "maybe we should call you Crampy instead of Wheezer." Here's my response:

I’ll answer to either.

I took a look at my splits:

Bib# Name Div 10k Pace 13.1mi Pace 2ndhalf Pace Chiptim Pace Guntime
369 Michael Harvey M50-54 53:52 8:42 1:55:59 8:52 2:15:28 10:21 4:11:27 9:36 4:11:52

Here’s a big “duh” moment – I had a rough second half. But things would have been far, far worse (dare I say Richmondesque?) had you *not* been there to coach me through my numerous cramps. I thank you again, my friend. You kept me focused on moving forward, not on my miserable legs.

Perusing the results, I see that I wasn’t alone in my misery. Take a look at the runners who finished with me:

William Hefron M25-29 49:17 7:57 1:46:30 8:08 2:24:46 11:04 4:11:16 9:36 4:11:38
Larry Spero M40-44 53:09 8:35 1:56:21 8:53 2:14:52 10:18 4:11:13 9:36 4:11:45
Brian Mims M25-29 52:46 8:31 1:52:02 8:34 2:18:58 10:37 4:10:59 9:35 4:11:50
Michael Harvey M50-54 53:52 8:42 1:55:59 8:52 2:15:28 10:21 4:11:27 9:36 4:11:52
David Zarbatany M45-49 50:28 8:09 1:46:13 8:07 2:23:41 10:59 4:09:54 9:33 4:11:53
Sarah Phelps
F30-34 50:51 8:13 1:50:45 8:28 2:21:09 10:47 4:11:53 9:37 4:12:05
Kerri Fisher F40-44 56:59 9:12 1:59:56 9:10 2:11:48 10:04 4:11:43 9:37 4:12:20
John Rohrs M40-44 53:19 8:36 1:55:21 8:49 2:16:21 10:25 4:11:41 9:37 4:12:34

Even some runners at the front of the pack experienced a slowdown:

Michael Combs M20-24 37:30 6:03 1:19:01 6:02 1:28:29 6:46 2:47:30 6:24 2:47:33

Did I start out too fast? Perhaps, but I felt *good* going into Umstead Park (mile 15). I felt a twinge in my right calf going up the small hill to the T intersection with the Reedy Creek Trail (past mile 16), but I recovered quickly. Did I not hydrate enough? I don’t know – I drank *something* at every water stop and I had 6 bottles of G2 Gatorade. Was I under conditioned? I don’t think so. Was it a tough course? Well “duh!”

What does this event have in common with my other marathon misadventures?
Cold start – warm-to-hot finish
Clear, low-humidity day – you sweat like a pig but you don’t feel the sweat
Many miles in direct sun

So the planets did not align. However, I’m only 6 seconds (man oh man oh man) off my third best marathon time, despite finishing those last miles at a crawl.

She’s a cruel mistress, the marathon. Next time, I think I’ll run a flat course.

The Tuesday afterwards, a fellow marathoner told me that he was impressed with my time and would be delighted to match it in his upcoming event. Others offered their congratulations. Anne, as always, kept me grounded, reminding me that a) no one puts as much stock in my finish time as I do and b) the fact that I ran and finished a marathon is remarkable by itself.

The marathon is a tough race. Duh! I achieved 1:48 and change for the Inside-Out half marathon earlier this year on a cold, cloudy day. I extrapolated from that finish to shoot for a competitive time on the City of Oaks. But City of Oaks was not on a cold, cloudy day.

The physical challenges compound when you double the distance, and a large set of intangibles (weather, hydration, confidence) exacerbate those challenges. As I said in my response to Christopher, the planets have to align. I have to accept how they align, learn from my experience, and attempt to apply what I learn to my next race.

And, as Anne points out, I should be glad that I can cross the finish line at all. I should enjoy the event no matter what time it takes me to complete it. I've run seven marathons so far. I need to look forward to my eighth, and beyond.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Wall

I planned to run 20 miles yesterday, but I had to stop and walk after about 18. I chose to run a challenging out and back course through Umstead Park. It was a warm and humid day, but I held back and sipped water more frequently than usual. I felt fine up until around 16 miles, when I started to feel slightly lightheaded and dry. By that point, I was out of water and had half a bottle of Gatorade left. About two miles from home, my right calf started to cramp. I stopped, massaged the calf, and walked a bit. Each time I tried to run again, the calf cramped.

It was a long walk home.

I'm following a more rigorous marathon training schedule than I had for previous marathons. My speedwork earlier in the week had gone very well, and an easy run the next day felt great. But my experience yesterday shows me again how important it is to hydrate the day before and during a long run. It reminds me that heat and humidity continue to be my running nemesis.

Luckily, it's early in my training schedule. I have time to adjust, and three more 20 milers on the calendar. I can drink more and hope for cooler weather.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Accessibility: Usability for Everyone

Here's an article I submitted to the STC Usability and User Experience (UUX) newsletter:

Technical communicators and usability professionals share an interest in how easily someone can use technical information. How efficiently can someone glean the meaning of technical text? Is the experience of acquiring information satisfying or difficult? Can someone retain the information so that, after a period of not using it, she or he can easily reestablish proficiency?

Most of our usability discussion and research focus on those who have no functional impediments. But what about those who do? What about the software engineer with impaired vision? What about the IT professional who cannot hear, or the technical writer with limited range of hand motion? How do we best serve someone with dyslexia?

Addressing these questions is the domain of the field of accessibility, which studies the degree to which a product is usable by as many individuals as possible. A primary focus of accessibility is on persons with disabilities and how they access products through the use of assistive technology. This technology enables them to perform tasks that they were unable to accomplish, or had great difficulty accomplishing, by providing alternative methods of interacting with products.

While some individuals are born with disabilities, nearly all of us face the possibility of reduced function as we become older. Vision degrades as we age. Our dexterity diminishes and our hearing fades. Many of us probably have already increased the default font size on our browsers or have switched to more ergonomically satisfying keyboards. We might have adjusted filter keys to compensate for slight hand tremors. Perhaps we have cranked up the volume for e-mail alerts. At some point, we may want to stop typing altogether and use speech recognition software exclusively. Thus, accessibility might become more than simply an academic subject for all of us – it will become a practical imperative. As the elderly population grows over the next several years, the accessibility of technical information to that population will become a more critical factor in its design and creation.

What is another compelling reason for us to study accessibility? The U.S. government mandates that all Federal agencies make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. These requirements are defined in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, with the intention of eliminating barriers to using electronic and information technology and encouraging development of technologies that will help achieve that goal. Moreover, conformance to Section 508 guidelines is an increasingly heavy weighting factor in Federal procurements from its vendors. Information technology includes computers, software, firmware and similar procedures, services, and related resources. Electronic technology includes telecommunication equipment, information kiosks and transaction machines, Web sites, multimedia, and office equipment. Not only must the information technology itself, but also the technical support and technical documentation must be accessible. If you provide information or electronic services to federal agencies, you must respond to Section 508.

Federal agencies that acquire electronic and information technology use a tool called the Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPATs) to help them access how well Section 508 guidelines are met. The VPAT is essentially a checklist that spells out relevant accessibility criteria and asks companies to describe product features that support the criteria—and any deficiencies—and to provide supporting remarks.

There are eight distinct VPATs that correspond to the functional capabilities of specific technologies:

• Software Applications and Operating Systems – covers alternative access to applications, such as screen magnifiers for those with impaired vision and alternative keyboard navigation for those who cannot rely on pointing devices, such as a mouse.
• Web-based Internet Information and Applications – covers guidelines based in part on checkpoints and techniques developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium.
• Telecommunications Products – covers access to people who are deaf or hard of hearing
• Video and Multimedia Products – focuses on accessible alternative representations. For example, audible content is translatable into text and presented as closed-captioning. Audio description of important video content is provided through the secondary audio programming (SAP) channel within a standard analog video broadcast signal.
• Self-Contained Closed Products – are expected to provide accessibility as standalone units, without the support of external assistive technology.
• Desktop and Portable Computers – focuses on keyboards and other mechanically operated controls, touch screens, use of biometric form of identification, and ports and connectors.
• Functional Performance Criteria – concerns general accessibility criteria – for example, is at least one mode of operation and information retrieval provided that does not require user vision?
• Information, Documentation, and Support – covers user guides, installation guides for end-user installable devices, and customer support and technical support communications. Such information is to be available in alternative formats, such as Braille, large print, or cassette recordings, upon request at no additional charge.

Addressing accessibility issues has a practical effect on what we produce. These days, many technical documents include a section about accessibility in their introduction. If you’re familiar with the structure of the VPAT and have access to your product’s VPAT, you’ll have an easier time writing this section for your document. Also, as we design compelling graphics to communicate complex technical points, we might also need to author text alternatives for the visually impaired. As we work with usability specialists to make interfaces more intuitive, we can act as accessibility advocates.

What should technical communicators do to become more knowledgeable about accessibility? Find out whether your company employs accessibility analysts, and then talk to them. Research the topic on the Web and through groups like the STC UUX and AccessAbility SIGs. Attend relevant workshops. Knowledge of the area can become a marketable point on your resume.

As technical communicators, we put the needs of our audience first. Enlarging our audience is of benefit to them and to us. Caring about the changing needs of our audience as it ages is sensible. Learning about the area of accessibility is professionally smart and personally practical.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


I ran a new PR, 1:48:10, at the Inside-Out Half Marathon this past Sunday. That's over three minutes faster than my old PR, which I ran this past November on a much flatter course. And it's over eight minutes faster than the last time I ran the same course.

And I placed second in my age group.

I was not expecting to do this well, especially as I was running without my tunes.

Here are my splits (the wide variation shows just how hilly the course was):
(GPS lost signal on the 1.1 miles)

Without a doubt the cross-training and the pool plyometrics have helped increase my overall strength. It was a very cool and damp day, and I always run better in those conditions. But because it was such a challenging course, I expected in the best case to meet my old PR, 1:51:52, not beat it.

So this week all runs are easy runs. And my kids and I are going to sign up for a 5K at the end of the month. I am going to have to think hard about what goal time to set.