Dec 20

This is a recording of the story I told on 12/18/20 for the Lisbon Digital Nomads Christmas Storytellers event of climbing and falling off the world’s largest active volcano:

That was both the closest I’ve come to death as well as the most physically demanding challenge I’ve ever undertaken. Shoutout to Frank wherever you are.

^^ If you know, you know ;-)

Jun 22

I just got back from hiking the Grand Canyon with five friends. We did 30mi in 3 days leaving from the South Rim with full packs, camping out at Bright Angel campground, visiting Ribbon Falls and hiking back out via Indian Springs. Here are some photos:

Friday was one of the most physically demanding days I’ve ever had (2nd only to hiking Cotopaxi back in ’95). Before I jump back into the grind I want to take a few moments and preserve some of the “afterglow” of this experience. I don’t have a structured post in mind here but there were a handful of little things that stood out that I want to jot down for posterity:

  • It’s mind-blowing. Pictures (even amazing ones) don’t do justice to the sheer hugeness of the Canyon. I know that sounds cliche but it literally robs you of your breath when you first step to the edge of the Canyon from above. Hiking into it yields a whole next level of appreciation of how huge this thing is. I had just watched Episode 8 of “The Cosmos” where they talk about how the Canyon offers scientists “chapters of an open book” for being able to look back to the formation of the Earth. It’s one thing to watch this on Netflix and hear it academically but to put your hands on rock that’s been around for over 1 billion years is just surreal.
  • Bullfrogs at night sound like crying newborns. We stayed a stone’s throw away from a running creek and at night on the walk back from Phantom Ranch you hear all the night sounds of the creek. The bullfrogs have this eerie cry they make that messes with you because nowhere at the bottom will you see a newborn baby yet at night there’s this constant sound of like 20 crying infants. It’s weird.
  • Speaking of the creek: both days we were there we would just lie in the creek and let the water rush over us. Zoning out with friends just staring up through the cottonwoods at the high walls of the Canyon was one of my favorite moments of the trip.
  • Appreciation for mornings: I am not (and never have been) a morning person but due to the extreme heat there (113F deg the day we left) we had to wake up at 3:45am. As jarring as that was, once you get over the grogginess it’s absolutely gorgeous in the early morning. I’m planning to try and morph my sleeping habits to become more of a morning person. I feel like after dark I gravitate to time-wasting activities while in the early morning it’s just more geared towards time-appreciating activities.
  • We went when it was a new moon so it was pitch black at night. I was the only one who didn’t have a tent (I had a hammock instead) so I slept in the open under some of the brightest clearest stars I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if it was satellites or UFO’s or whatever but there’s a lot going on up there we don’t normally see. I wish I had a better camera that could have captured the night skies down there. It was amazing.
  • You’re capable of far more than you think- physical limitations are largely mental. It took us 3hr30min to hike down and 6hr15min to hike back out. On the way out I was out of gas shortly after the halfway mark so for another three hours I was running on some alternate fuel source. Chris, Tyler and I hiked as a unit most of the way and I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have made it on my own. But that’s weird if you think about it. Hiking as a unit you become part of a larger organism that has more energy – you cannot underestimate the power of others to help summon this elusive “mental fuel source” that is always there buried within you.
  • I forgot how much Motley Crue kicks ass. Chris had thought ahead and brought a little bluetooth-enabled boombox. At one point after some particularly grueling switchbacks we were all exhausted but he fires up “Kickstart My Heart” and instantly we all get our mojo back. Crazy how music (like friends) can summon that alternate fuel source.
  • Hiking poles are essential. I (stupidly) thought I’d save the $20 rental fee and just go without them. That was a mistake. I’m 6’7″ and my height makes my knees extra-susceptible to impact – they were blown about 75% of the way down. We then had a 12mi hike the next day and still had to get back out. Fortunately Chris loaned me one of his poles on the way back out but the damage by that point had already been done. Ace bandages and Ibuprofen helped but if you’re considering doing it just spend the money and get hiking poles for reducing the impact on your knees. Also, don’t buy new hiking boots the day before the trip. That was just idiocy on my part and I’m paying for it with a blister the size of a 3rd big toe right now.
  • Social media fasting feels good. I’m too wired-in and slave to the dopamine hits of checking my phone for useless stuff in situations where I should just look up. Man it was nice to not even have the capability to use the Internet down there. I slept for 17hrs straight when I got back home. Granted, most of that was paying off a sleep deficit and physical exhaustion but I think some component was also the reduction in ADD from being unwired for a few days. I need to make a more concerted effort to ditch my phone in daily life above the ground.

That’s the gist of it. If you’re considering hiking the Canyon I highly encourage it. You can hike down to whatever depth you’re comfortable with. If you do though please respect the people coming up with full packs who are running on fumes. Towards the top we encountered a lot of day tourists who were oblivious and didn’t respect the right of way to the people coming up. That was pretty infuriating given how zapped we were. Also if you go, do it with friends and be conscious of ensuring constant water consumption and add electrolytes. Apparently someone died down at Indian Springs this Thursday. Your decision making becomes cloudy as you get dehydrated so it’s a vicious spiral once you hit that point (I know because on the way out I failed to fill at the last water stop although I stopped to wet my hat, stupid). Anyways the Canyon is amazing. Go experience it.

Oh and lastly, go check out the band The Lone Bellow. We were fortunate to catch them at the Tilted Earth Festival in Cottonwood this weekend after the hike. Magical performance. Just check out these harmonies. Rarely do songs give me goosebumps but this one did:

UPDATE 7/16/15: Chris from our group had a GoPro going most of the time in the Canyon and just published an _awesome_ montage video from our hike. Check it out:

May 06

You’ve wanted to get into running but the times you’ve tried it your joints end up aching afterwards. Or you’re winded after the first mile and wind up doubled over with stomach cramps. Or the most likely scenario: you just find it unbearably boring. I had all of these reactions when I began my running career 1000mi ago.

I made a New Year’s resolution this year to get to 1000mi of tracked runs before I turn the big 4-0. Tomorrow is my 40th birthday and I just today hit the 1000mi mark on carefully orchestrated regimen of 3mi runs.

I’ve never considered myself to be a runner (and frankly I still don’t) yet 1000mi and who knows how many millions of steps later, I have some perspective to share on what I’ve found to be effective. Running this experiment has yielded lessons not just in the act of running but also in the dashboarding and discipline required to “fly the ball” all the way down to the day. I’ll explain.

In the spirit of Tim Ferriss’ “minimum effective dose” I want to share a short summary of a few observations I’ve made throughout this journey that are the 2-3 hacks you can apply to take your running to the next level. Here are the core lessons I’ve had over this journey:

  1. Minimalist running: I wrote about it on Quora here a few years back when I adopted this style with switching to the Vibram shoes (the funny “gloves for your feet”). This has yielded the single greatest benefit to my running by making the runs interesting. For the reasons I wrote about back in 2011, going minimalist brings you more into the present and gives you greater connection to the ground. As hippie-sounding as that is, it just makes the runs more interesting and therefore increases your odds of sticking with them. The other thing it does is forces you to adopt…
  2. Forefront-strike running: which is related but not the same thing. This is a style of running where you land on the pads of your feet. Here is a great video for teaching you how to adapt your form if you run like most people with a heel-strike. The mental visualization that worked for me once I transitioned to this style was thinking about leaning forward like I was on a Segway scooter pawing the ground to constantly catch myself in a controlled forward fall. This eventually becomes less awkward and starts to feel totally normal. You might look a little weird at first but when your joint pain evaporates from running this way, you won’t care how you look. Also, be advised you’ll be exercising a subtly different set of muscles- be prepared to have calf muscle aches and potentially Achilles heel tension when you switch to this style. In my case these aches disappeared after the first 3wks.
  3. Lactic (or Lactate) Threshold running: This was something I adopted at roughly the same time I switched to the forefront strike style. You can read more about it here but here is the crux: people who run and get winded are burning glycogen stores. You can slow your pace initially and train at a level where you don’t get winded and build your stamina, gradually increasing your speed over time to the point where you’re running as fast as those folks who burn glycogen, only you’re burning fat stores and not getting winded. If I didn’t experience this I would call BS but it’s real. It’s like becoming a hybrid car and switching over to running on electric. You can run for ridiculous distances continuously without getting winded and it has the bonus of melting away bodyfat. I don’t proclaim to know all the science behind this but I can vouch that it absolutely works. Some people use sophisticated heart monitors to determine their lactate threshold- I just trained until I knew where my “getting winded” point is and would back off until I wasn’t hitting it. At this point I run 8:30min/mi without getting winded. When I started I ran at the embarrassingly-slow 13min/mi pace. It doesn’t matter where you start- just slowly up your pace to push your limits and then back off until you don’t get winded.
  4. Training at altitude: makes you like Superman when you return to sea level. There’s a reason athletes spend gobs of money on these hyperbaric chambers. They simulate high altitude conditions for training and then sleep at sea level conditions. This basically changes your blood chemistry because your body habituates to operating with depleted oxygen levels so your red blood cells go Chuck Norris and over compensate. I can confirm this definitely has a noticeable effect. I spent two summers living and running up in Flagstaff, AZ (7,000 ft). When I visited a buddy in Santa Monica it was like I was running on the sideways escalator at the airport just cruising at sea level. It was as if the ground gave less resistance. I doubled my normal distance and could have kept going with no issues.

These are the main epiphanies and leverage points IMO that you can take advantage of to ratchet up your running performance. One thing I would NOT recommend is going completely barefoot. I tested the limits of how far to take the minimalist running by doing a run with no shoes at all about a month ago and wound up with a plantar’s wart the size of a quarter on my left heel.

This was a month ago with still 30mi left to run in the challenge. When it happened I was sure given how painful it was that it almost certainly spelt the premature death the whole effort but thankfully, because I had adopted the forefront style, it actually hurt less to run than it did to walk. I was able to run the remaining 30mi without issue and the wart is now nearly gone after getting the nitrogen treatments. I learned that these things come from skin contact with the HPV virus so I would encourage others considering the full-barefoot approach to think twice and wear at least some form of minimal footwear. And use flip flops in any kind of gym shower environment.

vibramsMy friend Bryan uses the Luna Sandals and swears by them. I’ve still got my one very worn-out pair of Vibrams that I’ve been using since 2011.

Anyways, these have been my main observations. I used the RunKeeper free account to track my runs. A nifty feature of that app is the social discovery aspect when you go to a new locale, it allows people to upload their favorite runs so you can show up in a new area and see the ones that are most popular. Very useful if you travel a lot. Let me know if you have any questions and good luck in your pursuit of running. It’s been a great way for me to stay in shape while also forcing mandatory zen out time to clear my head and chew on problems without the distraction of a computer screen. If I can help you get into running let me know what obstacles you’re grappling with and I’ll happily share any wisdom I can.
This is a screenshot of the social discovery aspect in RunKeeper FWIW:

PS. We just today opened up the Grid7 Academy where we’ll be teaching startups and entrepreneurs everything we do for clients. Sales & Marketing Automation, Customer Development, Lifecycle Marketing, Leadgen… be one of the first to enroll here.

Feb 15

I went paintballing with a group of 11 guys this past weekend in the desert north of Phoenix. It was the third time I had ever been and we all had a blast. It was surprising how many people were up there – probably close to 100 when I was expecting about 10… Anyways, while the experience was killer, there’s a simple tweak they could make to take it to the next level.
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This particular operation (or any other savvy paintballing outfit) should add a premium feature to their game play. They should learn from skydiving and offer helmet cams and then sell the footage back to the players. I don’t know what the exact economics would need to be but quick googling shows there are sub-$100 waterproof cameras that could easily be mounted on the players masks. Take it a step further and put a close-circuit TV in the deadman box (place where people accumulate after getting shot) , have the helmet cams transmit wirelessly in real-time and broadcast gameplay live from multiple angles. Affix helmet cams on all referees and make it truly cinematic with the ability to see the final firefight showdown after you’ve been shot.

Once you’re knocked out it’s still fun to come back and debrief with other folks in that area but you know you’re missing a crazy final battle that’s happening out of sight. It would incredibly badass for them to add this real-time window into that action without too much cost or extra effort required. The other benefit is that they’s then capture all that footage to a hard drive daily and have the ability to burn you a DVD at the end for $20 ($50?, $100?).

This paintball place doesn’t need more players – it needs a way of extracting more money from their existing player base and making the game more memorable to drive repeat business.

There is an absolute opportunity here to offer something extra that makes the experience more engaging while simultaneously giving the paintball company a high-margin new product to sell for essentially no cost. And the byproduct is footage they can not only sell on-site, impulse-purchase to the players but also to build up a knowledgebase or have fodder for educational DVD’s, to acquire highlight reel film for their promo collateral or best yet: post it to FB on players’ behalf and offload all their marketing costs to them. All of that drives more repeat business and higher-margin business. We used Groupons for this outing but if this place builds up their organic crowd they can cease the Groupons and keep the full price for themselves…

Anyways below is some point-of-view footage I took from my iPhone on one of the rounds we played if you want a flavor of what it’s like. In 3min I managed to run into a cactus, jam my gun, cap some guy in the head and then take a barrage of cross-fire myself. Good times.

POV of Paintballing in the AZ Desert from Sean Tierney on Vimeo.

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Feb 08

It’s been exactly one month to the day since I started the Paleo diet and I wanted to share some factual results as well as some completely subjective observations. If you’ve not heard of the Paleo diet, this is all the rage right now amongst the startup community. It’s very similar to the Atkins diet only as best I can tell it’s more of an overarching philosophy that we should attempt to live more like cavemen. It’s seemingly based on the idea that our bodies evolved over a million years to process the food we’ve had access to in the wild. Since we’ve only gained access to farming, grains, dairy, processed foods, refined sugars, etc in the last 330 generations or so, we’re not evolutionarily equipped to handle those foods. So the gist is we should eat how our bodies are currently evolved to eat.

The Results

So first objective results: I’ve hovered around 210-220lbs since I was in college. On January 9th my weight was on the low side of that continuum at 212lbs. I did a bodyfat measurement that same day at my gym using a handheld Bioelectrical Impedance Method scanner and got a reading of 15.1%. This morning (for the first time since high schoo) I weighed in sub-200 at 197lbs on the same scale I used before. I registered 17.4% bodyfat measured on the same BMI device (at roughly the same time in the morning to equate for variables like water weight, food intake, etc). Those measurements are perplexing because I seemingly gained 2lbs of fat and lost a bunch of lean muscle mass.

Here’s the before and after photos taken on Jan 15th and Feb 8th respectively:

I can hear it already: “you’re just sucking it in on the after pic.” Trust me I’m not – a 15lb weight differential remember… so let me say that again for emphasis:

I’ve lost 15lbs in 30 days with only one visit to the gym and by maintaining my regular running schedule of 3-4x per wk.

Subjective Observations

Now here’s a brain dump of purely anecdotal and factually-unsupported observations:

  • General affect – I feel fantastic, noticeably more energetic and with more mental alertness than I can remember having felt in… well, forever. I’ve seen comments in various forums that remark on “a positive correlation between the paleo diet and douchebaggery” – lemme say this is not me being douchey. This is me relaying the subjective assessment of feeling more healthy than I’ve felt since high school.
  • Permanence – I had gone through Bill Phillip’s “Body for Life” program two years ago about this time and achieved decent results. That program however required fairly intense discipline and once finished I gravitated probably 60% back to my former eating & exercise habits. Having done only one month of Paleo I can attest this feels more like a permanent lifestyle change. Fresh foods and free-range meats are just more appealing now, which brings me to a weird observation…
  • Surreality of the average grocery store – The typical grocery store feels extremely false now. I only travel about 4 of the 30-some aisles when I visit, the rest of them seem… for lack of a better word, fake. Brightly colored boxes & cartons with obnoxious labels masking pseudo-food made mostly of corn products. It’s hard to describe but it’s similar to the foreign feeling I had when I stopped watching TV for a year and eventually came back to it.
  • Diminished need for sleep – This may not be entirely caused by the dietary change (this period happens to have coincided with an uptick in activity on two startups I’m involved with) but I now sleep about an average of six hours per night where before I required eight in order to feel rested. I have considerably more energy and sleep less.
  • Substantial weight loss despite no gym activity – The Body For Life program had me in the gym three days per week weight lifting, alternating the other three days running and taking one day off. I’ve continued the running this past year (barefoot style using vibram 5finger shoes – the ones that look like silly gloves for your feet) but gym-wise I only went once during this whole past month. I run approximately 3-4 times each week on avg of about 30min and 3mi each run. This has been a constant though over the past year leading me to draw the conclusion that the weight loss I experienced this past month is almost entirely driven by change in diet.
  • Concerns

    So as awesome as I feel right now, I also know I feel pretty awesome after drinking a bottle of champagne ;-) This isn’t all roses and my concerns are the following:

    • The average life expectancy of cavemen is estimated to have been around 35yrs. To my knowledge there’s been no longitudinal studies conducted that have tracked Paleo vs. control groups over time to compare the effect on life expectancy or prevalence of late-life diseases. Not having dairy was probably fine if you only ever lived to 35 and didn’t have to contend with later-in-life conditions like osteoporosis. I’m extremely interested if anyone has data on a study that speaks to the long-term health effects of this diet (even 5-10yr data for a related diet like Atkins). I’ve asked on Quora but no takers yet.
    • Riffing on that question: so how do Paleo folks get enough of key nutrients & minerals like calcium given the absence of dairy from the diet?
    • What is the typical impact on one’s cholesterol from being on Paleo? I would think consuming as much meat as this diet advocates would potentially become problematic cholesterol-wise for folks unless maybe the absolute amount is irrelevant given the right HDL/LDL ratio.
    • How and where are people finding the grass-fed meat advocated under this diet? I have yet to see it in any major grocery stores. I’m assuming there are butcher shops that specialize in this and that it will be pricy. My friend Bryan introduced me to a concept called “cow pooling” which sounds interesting.
    • Lastly, how are folks affording to eat under this program? Holy cow (pun intended) this is expensive livin’ – about twice of what I normally spend on food.

    At any rate, all in all it’s been a positive experience thus far and I’m glad my friends talked me into trying it. I have not yet read the Paleo Solution which I understand is sort of the seminal work on this diet. I did go off the rails last Friday for my friend’s birthday and have no less than 5lbs of pizza, some assorted cheeses, 2 slices of chocolate cake and a couple beers – all of which are not on the agenda for Paleo. And consequently I felt like ass the next morning as a result. I think having cheat days actually helps with diet compliance not just because it allows you to satisfy a craving but because it also negative reinforces the behavior you’re exterminating. I’ll share future thoughts as I get further down the road with this program.

    If anyone has some decent answers to the above concerns please do chime in and share.

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    May 18

    Today concluded my 12-week Body For Life program. I committed to posting the before & after pics so let’s get this out of the way- here’s me in my boxers 12 weeks ago and today:

    I learned a lot from this process and I’m happy with the results so far (nothing ends today – I’ll be continuing the training and the diet without a doubt). I did miss my goals of single-digit body fat and doubling the weight I can lift but I was able to move the needle from 18%BF to 14% and I can lift an average of 40% more now than when I started. Another twelve weeks and I’m confident I can attain both of those goals.

    I figured I’d share some of the things I’ve learned that were non-obvious and that could be helpful to others considering the program. And let me preface everything by saying I have zero affiliation with Bill Phillips or his company. I just like his philosophy on eating and exercise and the motivational and instructional value of his book. In no particular order here’s a braindump to round out my last post of commentary from the halfway mark.

    The Workbook

    As I mentioned previously, the iPhone apps for tracking food and exercise are impractical as they add too much friction to the process of recording stats.  While they are better in that they give you nifty progress graphs, you’re not optimizing for viewing, you’re optimizing for ease of capture. It’s ultimately about how much weight you put up next time and even the best app I found still required too much effort to enter stats. Print out the booklet in a combed binder at Kinko’s for $15 and use that instead. I had them do the first and last pages as cardstock because your book will weather its abuse better that way. And a combed binder works best of any binding because it makes a handy place to store a writing instrument.

    You live with this book for 12-weeks. It becomes an irreplaceable, authoritative archive of how/when/what you lifted and ate. Do yourself a favor and in big permanent marker put your name, phone, email and a nice note asking people to return it if found.  

    I found the “actual vs. planned” distinction to be overkill. I think I only planned my meals and workout on the first day.  Realistically if you belong to a big gym and go at highly trafficked times you won’t dictate which machines you can use so you end up playing it by ear.  Same thing on meal preparation – it’s pretty unrealistic to plan out your meals for the week. You’ll end up getting a bunch of stuff at the store and deciding “at runtime” what to prepare. Lastly, I found his notation of tracking water consumption as a meal line item to be cumbersome. I just put hashmarks in the margins as a rough guess of how many glasses and at what point throughout the day I had them.

    Customize the routines to your accommodate your goals

    I found the program to be slanted towards fat loss as opposed to muscle gain. If I were to have followed the orthodox program I’d have only one upper body workout on alternating weeks – I found that unacceptable. Instead I altered the program to better fit my goal of muscle gain and would rotate pulling one muscle group out of the upper body day and focusing on it intensely on an adjacent cardio day.  This seemed to work well especially since 20min for cardio leaves a lot of room for doing other exercises. 

    Google doc for streamlining grocery shopping

    I’m not a big fan of grocery shopping (or any shopping for that matter). I find it tedious and almost always end up ping-ponging back and forth across the store because I forget an item in produce and then realize I needed some random cleaning product, oh and then the banannas, oh and then a toothbrush, etc.  I did come up with a simple way to streamline things: make a google spreadsheet with all the items you could possibly need ordered by physical location right to left in the grocery store.  Here’s . Of course I didn’t need everything on each visit but it’s way easier to skip items you don’t need rather than to forget the ones you do. 

    Value of removing decision making

    Much in the same way that Getting Things Done alleviates the burden of decision making and turns your todo list into a set of executable units, the BFL program does the same for eating and working out.  You know exactly what to do each day when it gets to a meal or workout- simply refer to the relevant page in the book and build upon what you did before. I believe this accounts for 50% of the magic of the program. The other 50% are the motivating stories from the book and Bill’s somewhat-cheesy but clearly genuine interest in helping people get over the hump and achieve their fitness improvement goals. 

    Certain exercises can be done everyday

    pulllupbarI found that abs and pull-ups are exercises that can be done everyday. I hung a wide-lat pull-up bar on my back patio and made a habit of doing a set when I woke up and before I went to bed. It cost a total of $50 for all the materials and took about an hour to set it up. Basically I drilled a hole through the beam and fitted it with a chain that held up the bar via a c-clamp. Doing a set of pull-ups and situps every morning and evening has become a habit.

    Tupperware + cut fruits & veggies = awesome

    I used to pay $7 for the pre-cut bowl of cantaloupe slices- what a waste. You can pay $.80 for a fresh whole cantaloupe and spend 10min cutting it up and have more and fresher slices that you save in a tupperware container for the rest of the week. This works with fresh veggies as well. I still buy packs of frozen but typically buy a fresh vegetable and then cut it up and store a few servings in the fridge for the rest of the week.

    Burn your boats


    I’m a fan of publicizing goals. I believe when you make a goal privately to yourself it’s very easy to blow it off and fall short. Posting them in a conspicuous place however puts the power of peer pressure in your favor: you know that people will be reading it and will hold you to it.  A number of times I was on the fence about blowing off the gym or having a dessert and I thought about the idea of posting a before an after pic that looked identical. I posted a set of goals on my bathroom mirror when I started and I don’t mind posting them here because I know my friends that read my blog will help hold me to them. Ultimately it’s about doing whatever you need to to get motivated and stick to your commitment. 

    Well tihat’s about all the observations I have.  To be clear I did this using no supplements other than protein shakes and power bars. The majority of the change manifests towards the last part of the 12wks but if you stick to the plan a transformative change is possible in a short time.  I encourage anyone considering a diet / exercise program to check this one out. I’m very happy with the results and plan to continue the regimen of eating and exercise indefinitely. If you’re local in Phx and want to borrow the book, I have a very dog-eared and chewed up copy that I’m willing to lend anyone who asks.

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