Running Naked: Why I Analyze Data

I am sure the title of this post got your attention, mostly because the thought of a 250 pound Clydesdale running naked is just too … intriguing to pass up. It’s like a car crash video. You don’t WANT to look. You HAVE to look.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a data analyst by profession, so using numbers to validate reality (or to not validate it) is what I do for a living. It is what I am comfortable with in my life. I have a hard time taking things at Face Value. I am also pretty sure this drives people around me crazy. My normal response to most things is to question them, especially if it appears that the majority is very one sided. For example, last night I heard on the radio while driving home an ad for an insurance company. The commercial’s main point was that “92% of our customers intend to stay with us for life”. Pretty impressive, but my mind immediately goes to why the other 8% don’t want to stay with them for life. What happened to them that makes them not want to stay, and is so far removed from 92% of the other customers? In various groups I am involved in through Facebook this manifests itself when people start citing and or publishing studies showing their point of view is the correct point of view (especially regarding nutrition). My response is usually “OK, so Doctor A states that this is true, but your Doctor B says the opposite is true. Explain to me why Doctor B should be believed and not Doctor A.”

This is more often than not taken as an attack, as it was last night, but the fact is I really want to know the answer. Why should I believe one doctor saying that wheat (for example) is good for you, and not Gary Taubes in “Wheat Belly” stating the opposite?

So I say that to say this, even though I love numbers and tracking, it does not determine, nor effect how I feel, either bad or good. I am not that weak minded (believe it or not).

I have been put on lock down this week by my coach at ZenduranceNow as far as measuring and tracking is concerned. I am under orders to lose the watch and just go by how I feel. I understand what she is trying to do, and doing my best to comply. I find that I measure things without even know I am doing it (i.e. last night I was taking my pulse with my finger to validate how I was feeling).

I have been thinking on this and I want to clarify something, which I think many people believe about me because I do post numbers a lot. I do not, at ALL, let numbers dictate how I feel. If I do an HRV test, like I did yesterday, it’s not going to affect what I planned on doing that day (i.e. if my results say my HRV has dropped and I should take it easy, but I have a workout planned, I am still doing the workout). I use numbers more to validate how I feel. People get the impression that I am a “slave” to my watch and results, and it is not true. I like numbers, but I use them to figure out where I was having trouble and what may have been happening at that time. If I feel “out of breath” early in a run, or feel “tired” one day, the numbers (either HR or HRV) can validate that feeling I am having (or not). If I feel especially beat up after a long bike ride, I can look at the course upload and see if there were spots of elevation I was not aware of before setting out, or maybe I hit a wall around mile 35 because I ran out of hydration, etc. This was evident when Jennifer and I did the Century ride in Hartwell, Georgia last year. That ride beat the hell out of us, and we were confused why it felt so hard. When the data was uploaded we saw that there were portions that seemed like a flat to us, but was actually an incline for almost ten miles. It validated why we thought it was harder than what it seemed like. Last night was another example. Doing the warm up I felt like I was working hard. I would have put my RPE about halfway through at an 8, which happened very quickly in my eyes. So I used my finger and found my HR to be 148-ish, so it validated that RPE, and I backed off. Truth be known, if it wasn’t for numbers I’d back off WAY more than I normally do.

It also holds true to my diet, which is something that gets on the nerves of most people I know. I eat when I am hungry and I stop when I am not hungry anymore. Even though I meticulously log all my food, I really pay no attention to the total calorie count (I do, though, pay attention to the macro-nutrients percentages). This leads to a lot of people telling me “you are not eating enough”, but as is my point, the total calorie count I have eaten that day does not dictate how much I am going to eat. If I have eaten only 1300 for a day, and I am not hungry, I am not going to force another 800 calories in me just to get to that 2000 mark. It’s an example of, although I do track, it does not dictate my actions.

Do I track too much? Possibly. My watch uploads to Garmin, which in turn feeds Strava (for bike and run data) and Swim.com for swimming metrics. I log my food into My Fitness Pal, which posts to Facebook. My watch (920XT) tracks my walking through the day as well as my sleep patterns at night, which can be very helpful when having a rundown feeling all day, because I can look at the previous night’s sleep patterns and see if I was overly restless (which is normally the case).

I guess, to bring it back full circle, I am a true data analyst. I believe, fully, that decisions should always be data driven. It is not enough to “feel” like we do a good job here at Children and Youth Services, we have to be able to show, with hard data, that we do a good job. In Jennifer’s work, they cannot “think” they are on the right course in a new cancer trial, they have to show, with data, that the treatment protocol works. I look at training the same way. Staying on top of data helps us improve. We learn what works, and what doesn’t, by tracking workouts. We know by uploading data when a new training plan is having the effect we hoped it would, or if it is having an adverse effect that, without the data, we may never have figured out. Having hard data helped me figure out that even 60g of carbs makes me have inflammation, and that staying under 50g seems to be OK. If I did not track this I would have had no idea.

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