A Game Plan and a Half: How Good Prep Saved An Over-Worked, Under-Trained Dad from Half-Marathon Disaster

I’m not a runner, but I run. I’m slow as shit, but I run.

My slowness is the result of a couple of things. At 5′ 6″, I have to take quite a few more steps to cover the same amount of ground as my taller friends. At 170 I’m still about 20 pounds over my ideal weight, though I’m way down from my highest weigh-in at 234.

However, after running a decent-ish 5k (28:11) earlier in the year, I decided I needed a new, big fitness goal, and rather rashly signed up for the Rock n’ Roll Denver Half Marathon.

I was thinking about a lot of things when I signed up – having a life accomplishment that none of my friends had achieved, the athletic challenge of competing in a long race, and the glory of crossing the finish line as “All I Do is Win” blared from my headphones.

What I hadn’t counted on was my training schedule.

I work a full-time job, I’m a husband to a beautiful woman, a father to our young child, and I also run a couple of professional side projects. The upshot of this is that I’m usually burning the candle at both ends already.

The only truly free time I have to train is during my lunch break, and occasionally – if there’s not a birthday party, family get-together, softball game, emergency choir practice, etc., etc., – on the weekends.

Most days, I would eat my lunch at my desk before taking a break and cruising over to gym a couple of minutes down the road, where there was a running track and temperature-controlled environment that made running during all weather simple and straight forward. It also had a shower facility, a lifesaver for my coworkers who undoubtedly would not have appreciated the post-run stank that comes with going back to work without a good dousing.

However, even my lunch break training was a bit spotty – there were days where the most time I had between meetings was half an hour. Training those days simply wasn’t happening.

Try as I might to make a schedule that would work for me, life’s shenanigans made any training schedule impossible to stick to. The result was a halting, uneven method of training. I’d run 3-4 miles (any more and I wouldn’t have time to shower up before my next meeting) 3-4 days a week, and sneak in a longer run on Fridays or Saturdays.

I found that at a heart rate of 140 bpm, I could run for seemingly as long as I liked, though it was rare that I got a chance to run more than 4 miles.

As the days ticked away, and I couldn’t find the time to increase my mileage, I began to panic. I somehow managed to slip in a 7-miler a week before the race, but that was as far as my training took me. I was bolstered by the fact that I still felt strong after 7 miles, and terrified by the fact that a half marathon required almost double what I had done already.

Another reality of my training was that it was all indoors and on a track, at around noon. Though I had run a few outdoor sessions, none had hills, none were done in the 40-degree weather that was predicted for race day, and none were done before 10 AM. The shock of the pavement had to be considered as well.

What did I do? What could I do?

I studied, a lot. I read up on strategies for running hills and chose one to try – keep a consistent, fastish pace up one side, and cruise down the other. I read about how to prepare for race day, physically and mentally. I found out how to flow through the porta-potties, gear check, and parking in a bout an hour. I read about not experimenting with new gear less than two weeks before race day and laying out your gear a night previously. I discovered the absolute necessity of using body glide on one’s nipples and nether regions to prevent a bloody, painful mess that one wouldn’t want to discuss with anyone else.

I practiced with in-race energy intake, probably looking like an idiot munching on Extreme Beans after running on the track for 20 minutes. I read up on how to keep warm before the race and selected an old hoody that would become my pre-race warmup. I got into a routine of cheerios and fruit before my runs, to keep my stomach from launching a mid-race rebellion.

I worked on my mental game. I would try and get myself mentally ready for a run around 7 AM, even though I was usually in my car on the way to work. In my training runs, I never completed 3 of the 4 miles for that session – it was always 3 of 13 miles. I ran like I was going to run 13 miles, even though every run was well short of that mark.

Pre-Race

Looking confused on my way from the car to the start area. I wasn't sure I'd remember where I parked. Spoiler alert: I didn't, and walked around for about half an hour after the race trying to find the right lot.
Looking confused on my way from the car to the start area. I wasn’t sure I’d remember where I parked. Spoiler alert: I didn’t, and walked around for about half an hour after the race trying to find the right lot.

My best-laid plans were almost thwarted before I left the house.

I laid out my outfit, packed my gear bag, and reserved a nearby parking space the night before. I had good breakfast of cheerios and fruit, and was feeling well-hydrated and fueled. All set to head out the door, I went to find my keys.

I couldn’t find them.

The result was tearing madly enough through the house to cause a horrific mess while doing it quietly enough to not wake my wife and son.

Although I found the keys hidden in my wife’s purse, I was already a half hour behind schedule. I hopped in my car and tore downtown, parked, and used the half-mile between my car and the starting area as my warmup run.

I still managed to get to the starting 40 minutes before the gun was set to go off, though I was 20 minutes behind the mental schedule I set for myself. I managed to hit the porta-potties to drop the bombs and apply body glide as directed, check my gear, pop some caffeinated gum and get in a quick stretch before heading to my corral. I had hucked the throwaway sweatshirt I had been wearing in my gear bag as I was feeling very warm from my dash run from the parking lot, and was down to just my usual cool weather running gear:

  • Compression undershirt

  • Long-sleeve tech shirt

  • Short sleeve tech shirt on top

  • Running Belt with my phone, 3 packs of energy beans, and caffeinated gum

  • Headphones

  • Garmin Vivoactive HR

  • Sunglasses

  • Bandanna

After standing around for about 10 minutes waiting for the corrals in front of us to be released, we were finally ready to go.

I was about mid-corral, looking up at the start banner, and surprised to find that I was quite confident. My training may not have been what I wanted, but I was prepared as I could possibly be.

Miles 1-3

I turned on my Garmin as we crossed the line and turned it immediately to HR mode. In the only race I had run before – the previously-mentioned 5k – I made the mistake of going out more quickly than I would have liked and had to pull back more than I wanted to in the middle. I knew that mistake would be fatal, but whether it was adrenaline, caffeine, or some other combination, I was sitting around 165 bpm for the first mile, no matter how slow I felt I was running. My first mile was still at a 9:05 pace, way above where I wanted it to be.

I pulled back even more and began to interact with the world around me. I knew one other person running the race, but she was running with her yoga studio and we hadn’t made plans to meet. So I high-fived the odd spectator, thanked every police officer I passed. I had front-loaded my race day playlist with chill out music, and did my best to get my mood in-tune with my music.

Around mile 3 I eventually found my groove and the 2:30 pacer was in-sight, but my heart rate was still at 160 bpm. I was feeling good, though, so I decided to just go with it. We cruised through downtown, around by the Pepsi Center, and headed towards the one big hill that threatened to de-rail my “run the whole thing” goal – the run up Wewatta Street behind Coors Field.

It may not have been a challenge for some, but for me it was a mountain. I was starting to feel a bit fatigued as we approached the hill, so I popped the first of my energy beans before we reached the bottom.

Miles 3-6

As we started up, the pacer was putting some distance between herself and me. Unmoved by her charge, I took my steady, quick pace up the hill and kept my feet moving. I managed to get to the top, still running and still feeling good. With a smile I cruised down the other side, with the 2:30 pacer still in-sight, though further away than she was before. Finding my groove once again, we meandered through downtown and a few much smaller hills until turning onto 17th street to head towards City Park.

Miles 6-9

I found myself oddly inspired by the interaction I was having with the people lining the race course, and the run up 17th street gave me a unique opportunity to give back a bit of what I was getting. The course takes its turnaround at mile marker 10, which is the end of 17th street after running a couple of miles through City Park. The left side of the street (which I was on) was heading in, while the right side was filled with the faster runners on their last 5K to the finish. I hugged the middle line and cheered on the faster runners as I ran down 17th, clapping and shouting encouragement especially to those who looked less fresh. I popped another pack of beans and kept my legs moving, trying not to think about the fact that I was now heading into personally-uncharted running territory.

I felt a tap on my shoulder and – lo and behold, the one person who I knew running the race somehow found me in the sea of runners. Her yoga group had decided to stop for a rest, but she had decided to charge on. At this point I was running a pace where I had lost the 2:30 pacer, and decided to to just be happy having a running buddy for a bit. We ran together and held a breathless conversation through the park until her yoga group caught up with us around mile 9.5 – and then promptly decided to take a break again. Though she hung back with her group, we had made up time on the pacer, who was now in-sight (though maybe a quarter mile off) once more.

Miles 10-13.1

I had the 2:30 pacer in-sight and about 5k to go. I made a point of hugging the center line of 17th as we made the turn and gave encouragement and high fives to the runners bringing up the rear. I slowly and steadily made up ground on the pacer, and caught her as I popped my last pack of beans at about mile 11.

Once I passed her I finally flipped my watch to check my time and pace. I was feeling good, and running a little bit ahead of my 2:30 goal. In fact, 2:25 might be reasonable.

I decided to go for it. I took my phone and turned on Van Canto’s version of “Holding Out for a Hero” (a weird choice for my favorite running jam, but there you have it) and turned on my tiny afterburners.

I was going to give this last two miles everything I had left in the tank. I burned my way down 17th and fought the urge to slow at every step. I didn’t check my watch for anything now – I was either going to make it under 2:25, or fail my newfound goal while giving my absolute best effort.

As I turned towards the finish line in front of the Civic Center, I could hear the crowd but couldn’t see the finish. I hadn’t afforded any energy for the small hill up to the capital steps that hid the finish line from view. I pleaded with the small crowd there to give me some noise and encouragement; they responded admirably. In a moment of pure, blissful coincidence, as I crested the hill and started down the other side to the final sprint to the finish, “All I Do is Win” came on my headphones.

I was feeling great. The finish line was all downhill from there – literally – and I started to wave my arms to pump up the crowd as I turned the final corner. Their kitten-esque roar spurred me on, and harkening back to my days as a sprinter in high school, I threw myself into the final 400 meters. I hit my watch a few seconds after crossing the finish line, and was overjoyed to see it showed 2:24:58.

Post-Race

Fighting both the tears in my eyes and the immediate tightening of my calf muscles, I took one of everything from the finisher’s chute, got in a quick stretch, picked up my medal and gear bag, and went home to my waiting son, who had been with his grandmother that morning while my wife sang in the church choir. After his grandmother had left and he had gone down fro a nap, I got my clothes off and got one foot in the shower before my son woke up absolutely wailing from a nightmare. After a quick hug, diaper change, and a story, he was back down, and I was back on my way to the shower – only discover that my nipples were on fire.

The body glide had done only part of its job. I made a mental note to try athletic tape next time.

In the end, finishing was a bigger reward than I could have imagined. I spent the rest of the day hobbling around the grocery store, the park, and my living room as we painted it, all with the biggest smile on my face.

What’s Next?

What started as a rash decision to obtain a far-reaching goal had become reality. As I write this today, I’m not sure what route to take. A full marathon seems out of the question for the very reasons my training schedule put me behind the 8-ball while training for a half.

Is it time to step back and check off the 10k distance I jumped? Focus on the 5k? Try a spring triathlon? Hang up the shoes and never run again?

No way.

I’m not a runner, but I run. I’m slow as shit (finishing 225th out of 360 in my division), but I run.

Modern Image Loading Best Practices (Via StackExchange.com)

Why answer StackExchange questions?

I’m a firm believer that you need to do something each day to build your skill set. Like so many other technology professionals, one of my favorite proving grounds is StackExchange.com.  I’ve long used the site to hone my front end development skills, but in the past year or so I’ve spent some time becoming a more active user on the UX Stack Exchange community.

These days, I try to drop by and answer a question there every day.  I do this for a few reasons.  Most importantly, answering questions allows me to tackle practical UX problems on a daily basis– problems that I am likely to encounter in the real world at some point in time.  It’s also a great way to meet other UXers, to build the community’s overall skills, and correct errors in assumptions or logic on my end.

Today a good question popped up, and I took a stab at answering it.

Spinner vs Blurry for image loading in 2017?

Q: My client is a photographer, his website contains 3 types of images:

1)Homepage Full screen background gallery images

2)Gallery slider images

3)Blog posts with images

I can’t decide which option to choose for each one.

When it comes to enjoying the experience of watching photos, is it ok to use the spinner?

Or should I blur them while they are loading?

A: Due to its perception of fast load speed and ability to give users content to focus on while waiting, use the ‘blurry loading’ technique on pages with multiple large images.

Much has been written about the need to load page content quickly, with some studies showing that even an extra half second delay can lead to a 20% increase in page abandonment.

The purpose of any loading progress indicator, whether a simple spinner or a more complex system, is to give feedback that the page is, in fact, loading, thus reducing the user’s perception of time passed and giving them a reason to wait. For this reason, however, progress indicators have come to have a negative connotation as users correlate their appearance with a lack of overall site speed.

Conversely, the blurry image approach is meant to give the impression of speed in loading without actually increasing page load time. Especially on pages with multiple large images, this approach works because it gives users content to focus on while waiting for other content to load. It provides faux speed to the user by giving the impression of faster loading without necessarily delivering extra speed.

It’s worth noting that there are several different implementations of the blurry image approach, each with its own load time and usage considerations.

Pectoralis Major’s points on the utility of lazy loading and the necessity of using a consistent approach across pages are well-founded, and should be adhered to if at all possible.

Red Swingline Staplers: My Best Communication Tool

Red Swingline Staplers as Communication Tools

I use my red Swingline stapler every day, though I can’t recall actually stapling anything in years.

The colour of the stapler is no coincidence, as my first encounter with a red Swingline was the cult classic Office Space. In the movie, Milton Waddams defends his prized piece of office equipment from theft and destruction at the hands of unscrupulous coworkers.

For Milton and millions of office workers worldwide, the red Swingline has become a symbol of those pieces of our work life for which we would, if ignored, set the world on fire.

My stapler’s daily use is as a reminder that everyone has red-stapler issues in their work life, and that a failure to communicate on those issues could have dire, unforeseen consequences.

It’s an important reminder, to be sure. Our placement in our company’s organization and workflow means that communicating as a UX professional is both imperative and, at times, extremely difficult.

Here are a few important lessons to learn to help avoid those red-stapler situations.

Learn and translate new languages

My wife and I do not speak the same language.

My wife is an Archivist, and I’m a User Experience Engineer. Unsurprisingly, there is very little crossover between the world of antiquities and modern technology and design. Any dinner table conversation that begins with the inane question of “How was your day?” can lead to a whole meal spent translating different professional terms and concepts into language the other can understand.

This simply goes to illustrate this point: no one speaks the same language. Our individual collections of idioms, slang, and jargon is unique to each of us. What’s more, our own language changes and evolves depending on the group of people we’re interacting with at the moment.

Read more at UXMastery.com


Related: Programmer Humor: How IT People See Each Other (Warning: Middle Fingers)

Kids’ UX: Why Childhood Experience Design is a Growing Art

Most of what we know about the psychology of HCI (human-computer interaction) and human learning principles is based around studies conducted on college students.

This is one of the primary complaints about the study of psychology in general. We have mountains of data pertaining to 18-25-year olds. Much of what’s been studied has varying applications to either the psychology of older adults or children. And very little about kids’ UX has been studied.

SesameStreet.com: While many websites can ignore Kids' UX, some websites must rely on it.
While many websites can ignore kids’ UX, some websites must rely on it.

As such, there is an opportunity for emerging specialists in the fields of either adult or childhood learning UX.  It’s a great skill to build, as we should all spend some time every day sharpening our UX tools.

To help us out, the Nielsen-Norman group completed a couple of interesting studies into children’s usability.  NNGroup.com produced 170 recommendations for childhood usability.  Additionally, they were able to make some general statements about how childhood usability differs from adult usability:

A matrix of the differences and similarities of adult vs. Kids' UX, taken from nngroup.com.
A matrix of the differences and similarities of adult vs. Kids’ UX, taken from nngroup.com.

Some of the more interesting findings:

  • Kids are generally much more wary of giving away personal information online, whereas adults are “recklessly willing to give out personal info.”
  • Multiple/redundant navigation is more confusing for children than it is for adults.
  • Kids often do not use the back button, whereas it’s an absolutely necessity for adults.
  • Real-life metaphors are much better digested by children than by adults.

If you’re interested in reading the full report, you can purchase a license to the report for $188.

A few additional resources:


Note that all screenshots used in this post are claimed as “Fair Use” for educational purposes.  To use them on your site in a commercial perspective, please be sure to contact their respective owners.

This post was driven by a discussion in the UXMastery.com community

Programmer Humor: How IT People See Each Other (Warning: Middle Fingers)

Programmer Humor: How IT people see each other.
We all have a lot of negative stigmas to overcome.

Though the above image is a great example of programmer humor, the very nature of human existence is a tribal one.  From time immemorial, humans have banded together in small groups for the purposes of protection, sharing of food resources, and camaraderie.

The modern workplace is a reflection of this, with a few twists.  Instead of protecting against beasts and burdens, we now protect against rogue stakeholders.  We share work resources like helpdesk professionals and software licenses instead of food.  And our camaraderie is limited in most cases to the 8-5 workday hours.

So it’s no surprise that we get content cropping up like the above image, submitted to reddit today by /u/super_good_aim_guy. It couldn’t be more accurate.

I couldn’t agree more with this matrix, especially as someone who’s worked as a Front End Developer, UX Engineer, UI Designer, Project Manager, and done some moderate System Admin work.

From a Designer perspective, which is closest to my current role as a UX Engineer, I’m not surprised that the view of Designers in general is pretty childish.  To Developers, we add seemingly random complexity without adding value.  QAs and Sysadmins tend to have a knowledge of the requirements, but lack an understanding of the “why” behind the knowledge.  Project Managers, who have a better overall view of a feature, tend to have a more favorable but practical view of our work.

So what can we do to increase our overall image and promote understanding of our design process among the other business tribes?

  • Include as many relevant people as when running through our baseline UX process.
  • Communicate our goals and and desires through whiteboarding and iterative designs involving our business partners.
  • Provide consistent, engaging designs.
  • Design with empathy for developers, QA pros, PM’s, and Sysadmins.

Taking these precautions should be a part of our everyday work, unless we want to be seen as childish monkeys.  That’s bad.

Leadership & Mentoring in the UX World

I hang out (probably more than I should) on UX Mastery’s great forums.  It’s a great way to network with different professionals in the world, and to try and help anyone who might need a hand on anything from real-world UX issues to help getting into the industry.

Today, one user in particular posed a few questions about leadership and mentoring within the UX world that I found particularly interesting.

screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-9-45-04-am

That got me thinking about my role in the UX universe as a whole.  Admittedly, my influence is minimal compared to the titans of the industry, but that doesn’t mean I don’t play a part in any way.  How would I answer these questions?

After a bit of thought, I decided to chime in and give the best response I could.


@HAWK is right– true leaders prefer to be acknowledged by their peers rather than self-declared. That said, I’ll do what I can to answer your questions.

1) My thoughts:

i.) The web design industry, as a whole, does not have a good understanding of the difference and value propositions focusing on both user interface and user experience. While the two are often related, they are also often confused. Muddying the waters is the fact that many professionals in our industry are asked to perform a variety of functions that, ideally, would either be performed by both a UI and a UX professional. The crossover is negating some of the gains of having two separate teams focusing on different elements of each. To get a feel for the difference and why it’s important, please feel free to check out my blog post on the subject. Educating young professionals and corporate leadership on the difference is one way I work to negate the impact of this issue.

ii.) Many professionals come to the UX industry from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. In truth, you don’t have to be a good technology professional to be a good UX’er– you need to have a passion for solving problems, a drive for improvement, and the ability and empathy to see things from your users’ perspectives. As a result, UX professionals come from a variety of backgrounds. Here on UX Mastery, we have architects, engineers, journalists, and a variety of other professionals.

This is both a strength of the industry, as it means we have a wide variety of valuable and interesting skill sets to draw from, but it’s also a detriment in that many look to get into the UX industry without having a common skill set. Furthermore, the skill set employers ask for is often at odds with the value of the skills of a potential employee could offer.

Defining that skill set and working to create a common conception of what basic skills a UX’er should possess before getting into different areas of the business is one of the reasons I’m here on UX Mastery. I personally had careers as a sports journalist, freelance web developer, digital sign developer, restaurant server, retail manager, call center phone jockey, and corporate trainer before I finally settled into this career. Each job taught me something valuable to my UX career, and I feel that I have a lot to offer the community at large. I’m here on UX Mastery offering my experience and thoughts in every way possible to try and lessen the impact of gaps in knowledge or experience within the community.

iii.) The wide variety of technology requiring UX focus, along with the variety of different roles a UX’er might pursue, make finding a niche difficult for many people. Simply put, there’s a lot of opportunities out there in the UX world at the moment. Different people might be more well-suited to different careers at different points in time.

As an example, I’m currently mentoring a really great young professional who’s trying to get his foot into the UX world. His background is in the financial world, where he interacts with customers and provides technical support on a daily basis. Due to his relative newness to the industry, his affinity for statistics, and his excellent people skills, I’m guiding him towards exploring a career as a UX Researcher, a career very different from a UX Designer or Engineer role.

By providing online and in-person mentoring, I’m doing what I can to help new professionals build their skills and find their niche. My hope is this will, in some small way, help to eliminate this barrier to entry for many who would be well-suited to the UX world.

2.) Being successful and being a leader are two very different things. Some of the most successful people I know are people who merely follow orders to a T, providing excellent execution of the ideas and thoughts of others. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. I merely use it as an example of how the two aren’t necessarily correlated.

To be successful, I’d recommend anyone looking to get into the world of UX do three things– build the basic skills required of every UX professional, find a niche within the industry to focus on, and to find ways to get practical, real-world experience.

I talk a bit about the first two points in my answer to your first question, but when it comes to building real-world experience it can often be difficult to find opportunities to which you can contribute. @seyonwind, perhaps, can provide some insight into some ways to get some good experience ahead of trying to enter the industry full-time as his work ethic and diligence in volunteering for UX-related projects and causes is apparent to all who know him, online or not. My advice is to work on your own projects, to volunteer for open source projects, or offer your skills to charity (catchafire.org/ is a great place to start.)

To be a leader, it’s imperative that you seek to serve the industry in any way you can. For different people, that means different things. For me, it means hanging out in places like this and answering questions for the interested and inquisitive individuals like you. For others, it takes the shape of volunteering their services to nonprofits, blogging on the subject of UX, and providing mentoring services for young professionals.

3.) Who knows where UX growth will come from in the next 3-5 years? One of my favorite areas that hasn’t had much discussion, but will need a lot of UX attention, will be in self-driving cars and related applications. Tesla right now is leading the world in this area, but major and minor players alike will create quite a bit of competition as they enter the industry. That means more specific UX jobs for the industry.

4.) In general, corporate leadership will need the ability to better understand the value proposition of investing in user experience. At the moment, it feels like a bit of a reaction to buzzwords rather than true understanding of the UX professional and their value that’s driving the UX industry.

I hope that helps! Apologies for any typos– I’m hammering this out before a meeting and not giving it my usual once-over before I post as said meeting starts in just a minute or two. Let me know if I can clarify anything or provide any additional context :slight_smile:


What do you think the challenges that UX as a whole will face in the coming years?

Featured Article: Native Apps are Doomed

By Eric Elliott for Medium.com

From now on, I won’t be building any more native apps. All my apps going forward will be progressive web apps. Progressive web apps are web applications which are designed to work even more seamlessly on mobile devices than native mobile apps.

What do I mean by “more seamlessly?” I mean that most web traffic comes from mobile devices, and that users install between 0–3 new apps per month, on average. That means that people aren’t spending a lot of time looking for new apps to try out in the app store, but they are spending lots of time on the web, where they might discover and use your app.

Progressive web applications start out just like any other web app, but when a user returns to the app and demonstrates through usage that they’re interested in using the app more regularly, browsers will invite the user to install the app to their home screens. PWA’s can also benefit from push notifications, like native apps.

Read the full article at Medium.com

Three Great Fall Hikes Near Denver

When fall begins to roll in, it means that hiking season is quickly coming to a close. With a beautiful weather forecast for the weekend, now’s the time to get in one last good hike for the season. Here are three parks close to town (but far enough away to feel away from it all) that could be on your list this fall.

Matthews/Winters Park
Difficulty: Moderate
Cost: Free

Matthews/Winters Park
Matthews/Winters Park gives one of the best views of Denver’s “Hogback” and Ken Caryl Valley.

Located right next door to the famous Red Rocks amphitheater just west of town, this hike features a walk past a historic cemetery and hike up a ridge with a beautiful view of all Denver and Red Rocks itself. A common path is a loop that runs over the Village Walk Trail, up the switchback on Cherry Gulch Trail to the top of the ridge, and Red Rocks Trail AWAY from Red Rocks, which leads back to the Cherry Gulch/Village Walk intersection. The switchback section of the trail is a bit rough, but the view is worth it.

This is a great trail to take if you want to fit a hike and Red Rocks into the same day. You can visit Red Rocks and then take a hike, or you can actually hike from the Matthews/Winters parking lot all the way to Red Rocks, though you’re looking at a much longer hike if you decide to go that route.

Roxborough State Park
Difficulty: Variable
Cost: Park Entrance Fee (< $10, see website for more information)

Roxborough State Park is a jewel of the Denver area, offering views of red rock formations and scenic hikes without going too far from home.
Roxborough State Park is a jewel of the Denver area, offering views of red rock formations and scenic hikes without going too far from home.

This is one of the most beautiful places around Denver, bar none. It may be a bit late to catch all the fall colors, but this place absolutely glows with color this time of year if you can catch any of it. Apart from that, Roxborough has a host of trail options that make it really easy to control your difficulty and mileage. Tougher trails include the hike up Carpenter’s Peak, a moderate to steep switchback trail with a summit height of 7,160 feet.

Cottonwood Canyon
Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
Cost: Park Entrance Fee (< $10, see website for more information)

Cottonwood Canyon
Cottonwood Canyon offers a choice between hiking the canyon rim or floor, literal flocks of birds of prey, and historically significant sites.

Cottonwood Canyon is a beautiful hike through a river gorge and canyon, with the option to get up on top of the canyon itself, past a crumbled, out-of-use dam that was one of the first in the state. I often see birds of prey hanging out above the canyon, playing in the wind currents. The hike through the canyon can get more chilly than the rest, so make sure you pack a warm, long sleeve shirt for that particular section.

Others to Consider

Cherry Creek State Park – Located very, very close to our office, this state park is part reservoir, part flat hiking trails. Great for a quick getaway.

Golden Gate Canyon – More of a mountainy feel, but still with great views of the Denver/Boulder area.

Mt. Falcon Park – A beautiful hike in the pine trees with several sites of historic significance. One of the big draws, apart from the scenery and wildlife, is the cornerstone for the “Summer White House.” This was laid here, and although construction never continued, you can still visit the cornerstone and learn more about the site’s history.

Meyer Ranch Park – A moderate hike through the pines west of Denver. This hike is all about experiencing the forest and wildlife, and has an excellent payoff at the end. Moderate difficulty.

Deer Creek Canyon – One of the best “mountain-y” hikes for its proximity to the city.

Hayden Park on Green Mountain – Completely exposed, but moderate difficulty and the best direct view of the city in the metro area.

When are Ageless, Genderless User Personas Effective?

On the web, everyone is equal.

This is a problem, especially for those of us engaged in the business of writing user personas.

It should be no secret by this point that the how-to of creating user personas is still up in the air.  There is a modicum of agreement that personas should be based around the analytics gathered on the website in question.  How treat data in comparison and contrasts with your target audience, and how to synthesize that comparison into user personas, is still widely up for debate.

So where do we start when it comes to building user personas?

One of the most helpful resources I point newcomers to is usability.gov, which has a list of some great user persona standards. Among other things, they suggest you provide a persona with an age and gender.

This is a tricky bit, however.  There are many who want to treat everyone in all walks of life with equality, including some industry leaders that believe in removing age and gender from personas. The argument they provide is that these facets of a user don’t provide relevant context, and only add biased, unproven assumptions to the equations. Personas, they state, should be based on story archs, and not on aspects of the user that provide useless context to that story.

On a certain level, that makes sense.  We all make assumptions about people of different gender and ages based on our own experiences and the influence of the different people and institutions in our lives.  We’ve probably all heard that women are terrible drivers, or that teenagers don’t care about the world around them.  In general, we’re fighting a battle against the stereotypes we as individuals and as a culture use to label these groups.

This extension of ethnocentrism is the antitheses of what the world wide web is all about– providing the same opportunities to explore, learn, and consume to individuals the world over.

There are others (myself included) that believe the usefulness of a persona is at least two-fold. A persona allows you to synthesize data captured from analytics into usable format, true.  They also allow for designers to design for actual human beings rather than the generalized “user” that is so often discussed around the conference table.

By putting a face and name with a set of requirements, you’re suddenly working to make Susie Shopper’s experience better, not some nameless, faceless, un-relatable “user.”  Your work is more personal. You feel like you’re connecting with and solving the problems of actual customers.

Removing aspects such as age and gender only serve to de-personify the persona, which seems a bit of a contradiction of terms.  So long as we’re aware of our own presuppositions and actively seek to counter them, there’s no problem with keeping age and gender as part of our user personas.

But that’s not the only issue I have with this approach.

But wait! There's more!
But wait! There’s more!

The difficulty we run into here is the age old “ideal vs reality” conundrum.

I absolutely agree that men and women should be treated as equals.  Everyone, regardless of age, should have the same fair treatment when it comes to their web experiences.

However, the fact of the matter is that there is a good deal of difference to how men, women, and different age groups consume user interfaces and experiences.

According to a study conducted by the Worcester Polytechnic Institute,  women notice and use different aspects of a UI than men. Women, for instance, are more prone to notice people and faces, whereas men are more drawn to dynamic color choices. There’s also empirical evidence that things such as font choice may have a large effect on how men and women consume user interfaces.

The study on font consumption in UI dealt specifically with cars, but has far-reaching implications.
The study on font consumption in UI dealt specifically with cars, but has far-reaching implications.

Additionally, the age range of your demographic should affect your UX design, especially if you’re designing for older audiences. There’s a significant amount of research and knowledge behind understanding how older adults interact with the web.  Things like font choice and size, which you might expect has a larger impact for older audiences, actually have negligible effects on usability for older adults, while persistent and consistent navigation have a huge benefit.

While it may be politically correct to have the concept that “women are no different from men,” and that “age doesn’t matter,” the reality of the situation, when it comes to UX at least, is that there’s a distinct difference between the groups.  How this difference is applied will vary depending on you site’s demographics and target audience.

If your site is age and gender agnostic, then by all means, go ahead and strip out this information.  If not, ensure that your user persona, as well as your assumptions about that user, are based on a solid scientific grounding, and not your stereotypical presuppositions.

As UX professionals, it’s our duty to provide everyone an equally effective and awesome experience, tailored to our users’ collective needs and wants.

Afer all, on the web, everyone is equal.