Sunday, June 03, 2012

The Importance of Feedback

It's been 1.5 years since I wrote my last post, and when I look back, I realize that I never got around to completing that one itself!

But, thinking about that post and my absence from blogging and many of the activities I used to do a few years ago, made me wonder how much things have changed, so, I thought I'd do some analysis.

I decided to start with one of my (or at least what used to be one of my) favorite activities - running.

When I initially started running somewhat seriously, about 4 years ago, it didn't take me long to realize that I needed to set up a baseline, some benchmarks and track progress against them if I was to know whether I was moving in the right direction. I initially did this passively by writing it up on a whiteboard on my fridge, followed by something a little more structured - the text entries on this blog, followed by attempting to map and track my runs using, followed by writing my own little app that would allow me to store by runs passively (a simple few ruby on rails pages that took user input and stored them in a mySQL database on my local machine)

And then, one day, I discovered that there are tons of apps out there that do a really good job of helping you track your runs (or bike rides, hikes etc ...) using your smartphone's capabilities. I ended up settling on cardiotrainer to track my apps and have for the most part of about 2 years now, been religiously tracking my runs and bike rides there.

So, this is where I have been tracking my running/ biking performance for a while now. Taking a random snapshots from that, reveals the following:

First link on that page - Run from Thursday (3 days ago): 6.29/ 57:26 = 9:09 pace.

Compare that to:
this run on Apr 8th, 2012: 9:45/ 1:23:19 = 8:49 pace (of course this was flat course on the beach sand)
this on Feb 19th, 2012: 7.68/ 1:08 = 8:53 pace (lot harder climb than this morning)
this on June 9th, 2011: 6.4/56 = 8:47 (same route as today).
this on Apr 30th, 2011: 6:31/ 52 = 8:22 (same route as today)
this on Mar 6th. 2011: 7.5/ 54 = 7:14 (same route as today, but, a little longer loop on the way out)
And then, there's my last official half marathon performance (Bryce Canyon on July 17th, 2010): 13.1/ 1:43:18 = 7:53 average pace per mile.

From that data, it is clear to see that I have basically been on a downhill, as far as cardiovascular fitness goes, the last couple years (without going into details, I'm just going to say that life's been "busy"). But apart from that, what's more interesting is that the Mar 6th, 2011 run (7:14 pace average over 7.5mi) is a clear outlier!

I'm beginning to wonder if just tracking my distance, time, pace and type course (elevation) over a period time has given me this much insight, would tracking some more data help even more? Further, could this be applied to other facets of life as well? For instance, if I somehow knew what I had eaten the night before that Mar 6th, 2011 run or how much sleep I had gotten, or what sort of week was it, would that help?

Am I taking this too far? Am i going nuts?! - I sure don't think (and hope) so!
Fortunately, research supports that too. For instance, some searching reveals that there are a whole bunch of people out there thinking about stuff like this. One such group happens to be Quantified  Self or QS. I hope to research more into this topic in the coming days!