Perspective

The Worst Month of my Life?

Folks who’ve worked with me know that I love data.  Regular readers of my blog have probably gathered that too.  But I’ve also maintained that numbers don’t tell the entire story.

And this week, I have a great example of that in action.  Take a look at my most recent training numbers and you’ll see that things have been spotty.  I’ve vacillated between strong weeks and weak weeks.   Looked strictly numerically and it would look like things are not going well.

And if you think things look spotty this week, wait until you see next week.  I already know I’m going to miss almost all my goals this week.  Why?  Because starting Sunday morning I came down with the worst flu I’ve had in 9 years!  I wasn’t able to stay standing for more than 5 minutes until about 2 hours ago (Tuesday around 1pm).

Yup, looking at all that data, and you’d think that things are sucking pretty hard right now.

And yet, I’ve just had one of the best months of my entire life.  What gives?

Another Perspective

What happens is that numbers cannot and do not catch an entire story.  They are useful to be sure; you can bet the numbers saying I’m struggling with my swimming goals are helpful.  You can bet I weigh more now than a month ago.  But they don’t capture everything.  In the best of cases, they only capture what you intended to measure – and often they don’t even do that.   So you have to be careful to always look at numbers in context.

And here’s the context: In my case, the numbers I’m publishing are tracking my fitness goals, but they are not tracking my other life goals.  And despite a few weeks of missing gym goals and despite being so sick I couldn’t sleep for more than an hour at a time for 48-hours, some pretty amazing things have gone down lately in the other goals in my life.

What the Numbers Don’t Show

First, for those who don’t know, my wife J has been applying for teaching positions in Neuro-Oncology.  Her New York fellowship ends in June, and she’s now about to begin the first non-training phase of her medical career.  About three weeks ago, after a long process, she accepted a teaching and clinical research position at UCSF in San Francisco.  That means that come July we’ll be returning to the Bay Area.  We’re both extremely excited.  J is really excited about the job, and even though we love New York, being here has also taught us something valuable: we’re Californians at heart.

Secondly, I’ve been working on my company Vlideshow for about 5 months now.  Up until now it’s been a one-man-show, but over the past 6 weeks I’ve been working part time with a potential business partner in the Bay Area to see how well we might work together.  It went really well, and last week I travelled out for a quick trip (sorry for those I didn’t stop by and visit, but it really was a working session) to see how thing went in person.  The answer: things went pretty well, and just this week (and I still hope it’s actually true and not flu-induced wishful thinking on my part) he has accepted my offer to join me full time as a co-founder in Vlideshow.

To borrow a phrase from my friends Mike and Rick, I’m as happy as a pig in shit right now.

That’s a lot of really exciting change in four weeks, and one that doesn’t show up via metrics.  So despite the flu, despite a couple of aches and pains, and despite the fact that I’m probably 4-6 weeks behind on my swimming goals, looked at in context, the numbers look great.

The Point

The point is (despite letting folks know I’m returning to California) is that you must treat data as just one part of a story.

Think of it like the sound-track in a movie: it tells you something about what’s happening on the screen, but you’d be a fool if you didn’t open your eyes and watch the movie to see the actual story being told.

- Art

Nude Numbers 35

Nude Numbers are my weekly progress reports on my fitness goals. See About Running Naked for the philosophies involved.

Summary

Week 13 of the winter plan. It was a week of mostly misses; some planned (due to a business trip) and some unplanned (due to work getting the better of me). Strangely though, even though a very light week, I felt pretty weak and unmotivated during my Saturday workouts. Hmm… I wonder what that was about… (see next post).

Subjective Data

This was a week of big misses, but not entirely unexpected. From Sunday through Wednesday I was out of town on business, and didn’t have access to good work out facilities. Plus, the one day I had time to go running, the skies opened and I couldn’t find the motivation to start running in the rain.

Later in the week once back in NYC, schedule pressures conspired against me and I had to restrict my workouts to an hour on Thursday and Friday. Saturday I didn’t feel quite right, but still got yoga in. Oddly I felt really sore and tired for my entire yoga workout.

As it turns out, my feelings on Saturday turned out to be a portent of things to come… but more on that in the next blog post.

Objective Data

Blue lines == actuals; Gray areas == my target range for that week.

Weight Log Book

Assessment

It was a week of misses, but a few positive things came out of it. My swimming workout on Thursday, while short, was actually quite good. My form was much better, and I didn’t have to rest much between drills.

At this point, I’m pretty sure I’ll meet two of my three winter goals: the strength and weight gain goals. The swimming goal (1,000 yards without stopping) is unlikely to be hit, but I’m still trying for it.

Plan

As planned, I’m going to switch to a weight maintenance diet on 3/1 (well, technically 3/3: my brother and sister-in-law are visiting on 3/1 and I plan to pig out a little with them).

Also, I know that this upcoming week is going to be a big miss in terms of workouts because, well, read the next blog post for why.

Reminders

I’m still undecided between running a marathon in New York (November 2) or in Dublin Ireland (October 27). If you’re interested in running either with me, let me know. I’m not going to decide until around April. Also, if anyone is interested in doing the Philly Triathlon (June 21) with me, you’re welcome to join the team!

Presentation Notes

These notes are always presented in SOAP Note format. Click here for all the Nude Numbers posts.

Thanks for reading.

- Art

Nude Numbers 34

Nude Numbers are my weekly progress reports on my fitness goals. See About Running Naked for the philosophies involved.

Summary

Week 12 of the winter plan. I hit most numbers, but was too tired for Yoga again this week. I’m out of town for a lot of this upcoming week with a last-minute business trip, so my numbers next week will be below original plan.

Subjective Data

The plan was to lift lower-weight/higher-reps this week, so I did that while concentrating more on cardio/swimming. By the end of the week, I was again really tired, and had to cut out Yoga again (just too sore to go). Still, swimming progress did get better, and I’m now able to go 150-200 yards at a stretch between rests. Hitting a goal of 1,000 yards without resting by 3/31 seems at risk though.

I continued eating more, and my weight gain increased. This is to plan though, even if I don’t like the look of creeping over the gray.

I also did one long run on Thursday that (due to my not remembering how long the central-park drive is) was longer than plan by a lot. The good news is no lingering soreness from that.

Objective Data

Blue lines == actuals; Gray areas == my target range for that week.

Assessment

I’m getting concerned about the ability to hit my swimming target, but I’m also doing all I can to meet it at the moment. Not sure what else to do but keep practicing.

Also, I know the weight gain is to plan, but I still worry about it; it took a lot of hard work to cut out the excess weight I had before.

Plan

Despite my assessment, I’m not making any major changes to the plan. I’ll continue with the gain-weight diet through at least 3/1.

I’m going to miss most numbers this week due to a business trip I’m on. I’ll try to get a run in on Tuesday, but I have no access to a pool or a weight room during the trip.

And for the record, the upcoming lift plan is 50% of max weight, 12-rep sets, 5 sets, and 45 seconds between sets.

Reminders

I’m still undecided between running a marathon in New York (November 2) or in Dublin Ireland (October 27). If you’re interested in running either with me, let me know. I’m not going to decide until around April. Also, if anyone is interested in doing the Philly Triathlon (June 21) with me, you’re welcome to join the team!

Presentation Notes

These notes are always presented in SOAP Note format. Click here for all the Nude Numbers posts.

Thanks for reading.

- Art

Prioritization

Hey folks,

As you know, I try to update this blog at least once a week with non-training data. It’s important to me.

But I have to pass this week. I have a big trip next week for Vlideshow that I need to spend time getting ready for. So, as much as it pains me, writing the blog entry gets jettisoned this week. Have a great week, and I’ll post something (hopefully) more thought-through next week.

- Art

Nude Numbers 33

Nude Numbers are my weekly progress reports on my fitness goals. See About Running Naked for the philosophies involved.

Summary

Week 11 of the winter plan. The plan was to do a week of heavy lifting, and it was harder than expected; I had to cut out almost everything else to finish the week. Still, it looks like I’ll easily hit at least one of my three winter goals (my strength gain goal).

Subjective Data

I was better about eating this week, and I’m back to gaining weight again. Of course, some of it is going to the abdomen area, but I have some room to spare still for my target.

The plan was for a very heavy lifting week – 90% of max. This turned out to be more exhausting than I expected and I found myself cutting back on all other activities as a result. I ended the week very tired, with an especially exhausted back, but I had a lot of fun max-ing out in the weight room.

Objective Data

Blue lines == actuals; Gray areas == my target range for that week.

Assessment

I concentrated on lifting this week as I planned, but it was even harder than expected. As a result, I didn’t get the swimming, spinning, running or yoga done to plan. But that said, I listened to my body and it was clear I shouldn’t push harder.

It became apparent by the end of the week that, even though I’m in week 10 of a 30 week lifting plan, I’ve made a lot of strength gains already. Hitting my 5% increase goal for March looks too easy.

Lastly, I did get one longish (500 yards) swim in on Thursday, and that goal (1,000 yards without stopping by 3/31) looks hard.

Plan

This week is a 40% of max lifting week, so I plan to concentrate much more on the cardio and swimming. I’m going to try doing a short swim on lifting days to increase my comfort in the water. Other than that, I’m going to keep with the heavy diet (so I’ll go even more out of target weight range) for a few more weeks and will try to be “all in the gray” next week..

Reminders

I’m still undecided between running a marathon in New York (November 2) or in Dublin Ireland (October 27). If you’re interested in running either with me, let me know. I’m not going to decide until around April. Also, if anyone is interested in doing the Philly Triathlon (June 21) with me, you’re welcome to join the team!

Presentation Notes

These notes are always presented in SOAP Note format. Click here for all the Nude Numbers posts.

Thanks for reading.

- Art

Riding with the Devil (continued)

A Kimchi Valentine

I don’t like Valentine’s Day.

In high school, when I first realized the day had social significance, it was a source of dread. Who (if anyone) would give me a card? Who should I give a card to?

Once I got a steady girlfriend I thought it would get easier, but alas, now I had to figure out what to get her. Would my gift be too cheap(1) or would it send the wrong message? Now, thirty-three-years-old and married, I still dread the day a little.

But this week, I found the solution: I’m moving to Korea!

Why? Because in Korea, the girls give the guys gifts for Valentine’s Day(2). No worrying about what to get my wife; she’s just got to get stuff for me. What’s not to like!

A Naked Soul

For both of my long term readers, you’ll remember I started this blog to chronicle my attempts to become a better person, in mind, body, soul and spirit. I’ve spend a lot of time writing about my attempts to improve physically, and spiritually. I’ve demonstrated how my twisted mind thinks (at least in a business setting).

But I’ve spent relatively little time being “naked” and transparent with respect to growing my soul. I consider the soul to be the part of me that wants to and needs to give back to the community, and I last wrote about it in my post titled Riding with the Devil. In that post I said:

I have to force myself to find more diversity in life … So once I finish up with the current charity commitments I have … I’d like to try something that forces me to get out more in the community, and meet people who are leading wholly different lives from me.

So in this post, I feel it’s time to report progress.

Thank You

First off, thanks to two friends who gave me explicit suggestions for how to follow up on the goal I stated. Jane pointed me to Volunteer Match, and Brigitte pointed me her friend Neil in New York who is very involved in the community here.

Through Volunteer Match I found an organization (The International Center) that caters to recent immigrants who are trying to learn English. And through Neil I found a great after-school program (the New Song Learning Partnership) in Harlem that needed mentors and tutors to help current and recent high-school students improve in their classes, apply to college, and get a job.

Starting in November I began a six-month commitment at the Internal Center where I spend two hours a week helping new immigrants practice their English through conversation. And in December I began spending two to three hours every Saturday helping at New Song.

Thoughts so Far

Have I gotten what I was looking for? The preliminary results are a resounding yes.

For example, I discovered the fact about Korea Valentine’s Day during a conversation I had with a young woman from Korea. For the past three months I’ve been chatting with her and another young man from Korea, and learning a lot about Korea’s culture and practices, about how difficult it is to be a student in the US who speaks very little English, the real importance of family when you’re in that situation, and how much church groups really stitch together some of the gaps in our society. I’ve learned how different Korea’s social mores can be, but yet how familiar they are as well. And I’ve learned that even though folks come from a different cultural background, they share the same types of hopes, dreams and fears we do.

The International Center has definitely helped me meet people who lead wholly different lives from me. That’s been fun.

But it’s been the Harlem after-school program that’s been the most eye opening. I’ve met some really smart and fun kids who come from a totally different background than I came from. And it’s been challenging; I’m struggling to connect with some of the students. I find it very difficult to relate to some of the issues they have, and I don’t always understand what they’re saying.

Now, here’s the fun thing. The main reason I’m having trouble connecting is not because the students are black, or because some of them come from a less-affluent background. As I wrote about in Riding with the Devil, that reaction is wrong.

No, I’m having trouble connecting with some of the students because they’re teenagers and I’m a nerdy 33-year-old.

It turns out that in the past 15 years new slang, new technology, new pastimes and new teaching methods have been invented (did you know there’s a new SAT test format, and that you now get points deducted for wrong answers on some sections… I didn’t until four weeks ago).

But the great news is I share the challenge with a bunch of the other motivated volunteers, of various races and backgrounds, who all are trying to figure out how to bridge the age-gap as well. It’s hard, but it’s been very rewarding as well, and slowly I’m learning how to engage with the students.

My big ah-hah(3) has been that human beings, no matter what our backgrounds, have far more in common with each other than we have as differences. Now, I always intellectually thought this, but getting involved with these two great organizations has really helped me to emotionally know this.

From Here

I’m just starting with this, and I hope to continue being able to at least make this relatively small time commitment (4-6 hours a week). It’s been harder than raising money (sorry folks, but sending e-mails is pretty easy), because donating money requires far less time. But it’s also been commensurately more personally fulfilling.

I’m not planning to write much more about this, mostly to respect the privacy of the folks I’m working with, but I wanted to come clean on where my progress was. By the way, if anyone is interested in getting involved with either organization, drop me a line at aclarke at abclarke.com and I’ll hook you up.

- Art

(1) I’m from Cavan County in Ireland, and the cheapness of Cavan Men is legendary there, as is their general lack of intelligence. Cavan Men are the butt of almost all Irish jokes. See here and here for examples.

(2) OK, turns out Korea has “White Day” on March 14th where the guys are supposed to return the favor, but I figure I can fly back from Korea by then.

(3) My second big ah-hah is that Harlem has some kick-ass food! There’s a bakery on St. Nicholas and 116th (whose name I can’t remember) that’s the best I’ve been to in the city; and I’ve been to a lot of bakeries!

Nude Numbers 32

Nude Numbers are my weekly progress reports on my fitness goals. See About Running Naked for the philosophies involved.

Summary

Week 10 of the winter plan and, despite a minor cold, I’m still broadly on track.

Subjective Data

I continued to increase calories this week, although I found it harder than I expected. I’ve trained myself to not eat unless I’m hungry, and to eat small meals, wait 10 minutes, and then only eat if I still feel hungry. To hit 3,000+ a day calories I have to eat even when I’m not hungry. I did ok, but most days I only ate around 2,500 to 2,750 calories. It’s amazing how much of a habit light eating has become for me.

This week my swimming improved quite a bit. I’ve been getting aerobically exhausted really quickly while swimming, but on Thursday my coach watched me and suggested I try something odd – not expelling water in my mouth by blowing out. Instead, he said just leave my mouth open when I turn my head under water. Voila, the water just flows out, and I don’t waste oxygen expelling it. For some reason, this really seemed to help me control my breathing and increase the # of laps I need to take before resting.

On Thursday afternoon I finally caught a cold my wife had been incubating for a week. Getting the cold was annoying, but I was good and rested through it. That meant no Thursday run, no lifting on Friday, and no spin class on Saturday. I did sneak in a swim Saturday afternoon that I probably should have cut out, but I wanted to see if the breathing technique I found on Thursday still worked. The answer is yes :)

Objective Data

Blue lines == actuals; Gray areas == my target range for that week.

Assessment

This week, despite the cold, was another good week. And the cold symptoms were pretty mild and they’re gone now. I still feel broadly on track, and feel excited that my swimming is markedly better now.

Plan

I made a few adjustments to the plan moving forward this week. Next week is a HEAVY lifting week, and so I’m going to cut back on spinning during that week to focus on lifting instead. I’m going to try to do 5 lifting days of 45-minute sessions instead of 3 days of 90 minute sessions. I also pushed my running ramp-up out another 3 weeks; I don’t need to really ramp running until after March to be able to do the 10k tri-distance easily, and I have enough things going on right now between this and work to keep me more than busy. But apart from that, just another week to try to forge ahead with gaining weight, gaining strength, and increasing swimming endurance (i.e. the winter goals).

Reminders

I’m still undecided between running a marathon in New York (November 2) or in Dublin Ireland (October 27). If you’re interested in running either with me, let me know. I’m not going to decide until around April. Also, if anyone is interested in doing the Philly Triathlon (June 21) with me, you’re welcome to join the team!

Presentation Notes

These notes are always presented in SOAP Note format. Click here for all the Nude Numbers posts.

Thanks for reading.

- Art