Friday, October 28, 2011


So, my buddy Jeff sent me this article, with the intention of getting me to write another post.

The article is focused on measurements and measuring.  As the article states, there are two ways of measuring: the "ontic", which relates to a scalar measurement (think of a ruler); and the "ontological", which relates to an experiential measuring.  It may be helpful to describe them as "quantitative" and "qualitative" measurements (despite the fact that these terms are not wholly accurate to what they are describing, I think most people will get the general gist of the distinction between the two types of measurements).

The article goes on to point out the fallacy that we, as a modern society, seem to have fallen into; everything is quantifiable, and by taking the time to quantify, categorize, and analyze our lives, our experiences, we can thus improve ourselves in meaningful ways.  This notion of quantifying and categorizing is illustrated by IQ.  We rank people by a quantity, a score on a test, and categorize them based on predictions related to that score.  However, how can this test really quantify intelligence?  What, exactly, is intelligence anyway?  What are the characteristics of intelligence?

I work in software development, and have spent a fair amount of time doing database development and design.  I have spent quite a bit of time contemplating the practical implications of data, of quantifying and categorizing and aggregating data, of scales and descriptors and attributes.  In software, we even have data about the data (called "meta-data", in case you were curious).  Developers need to have distinct rules, discrete types, quantifiable measurements; computer software doesn't work otherwise, because the computer can't think.  But we can.  And we can measure things in different ways.

And this is where the crossover from technology to ourselves becomes most important.  People want to categorize and quantify their lives, their experiences.  My day can become a series of tasks and minutes, tagged and logged and tucked away in a spreadsheet so that someone else can go over it to review my worth, my contributions.  Running becomes data to be analyzed later, a collection of facts that are disassociated from the actual act. 

But there is more to my day, there is more to running and training and racing.  If I want to be the best that I can be as a runner or developer, I need to embrace the experiences, measure those against a different scale.  To be a better person, I can't simply rely on collecting a timesheet; I need to be able to measure the quality of the work I do.  I need to use different scales, different measurements, to really get an idea of where I am, how I'm doing.

Think about it this way: Most of the time, I feel alright.  Not up, not down, nice and level.  Then something happens, and I feel different (happier, sadder, doesn't matter).  How can I measure this?  How do you quantify emotions?  You might be able to put it into a scale, but that scale is rather personal.  Your sense of measurement doesn't have a definitive, definable beginning and end.  You might be happier or sadder, but how do quantify the degree?

And that's where I think a lot of people break down in their approach to training.  Running and racing is not about the data, and it is definitely not a process that can be run through a Six Sigma type of approach to eliminate "defects".  You need those runs where you feel like hammered shit, or blow up completely and limp home.  That's how you learn what you can do.  And you can't really quantify that experience come race day; you gotta feel it, you gotta learn to walk the razor's edge and not get cut to ribbons.  Most of the time, you don't walk it perfectly.  But every so often you can pull it off, that beautiful execution.  And that feeling, that experience, is immeasurable.


I have spent some time on various message boards, and the same questions inevitably get asked time and again.  These questions/discussions are called "comets", because they come back repeatedly.

The one topic that I enjoy answering is something along the lines of "How do I go about training?"  I mean, the question is so innocent, and so vast in its potential.  Truly, a great question for a message board time-killing session.

In the interest of saving myself time, however (and to potentially draw people to this blog), I am going to discuss my thoughts on how you go about figuring out your training.

The most important thing is to have a good understanding of your goals.  Not just running goals, but your goals in life.  On top of that, you need to know what's most important to you.  Running doesn't have to be the end-all be-all (nor should it be, most likely).  But, by knowing what's important to you, you can decide how much you want to devote to running, and allow you to set realistic running goals and training.

 So, step one is to take some time and think, really THINK, about you and your goals.  Not just running goals, but all your goals.  We're not talking wants and desires, but actual goals.  According to Wikipedia, a goal " a desired result an animal or a system envisions, plans, and commits to achieve - a personal or organizational desired end-point in some sort of assumed development."  So that dream you have of retiring at age 30 or becoming a billionaire?  Yeah, that doesn't count, unless you actually commit to it.

 Once you know what your goals are, you need to prioritize them.  What do you feel is most important in your life?  If being a good parent or spouse is your top priority, then list it as such.  Work on down the list until you have them organized.

With list in hand, start looking at what you actually do with your time.  It helps to spend a week or so keeping notes of what you do, how long you spend doing it, even how it makes you feel.  For you data collectors, you'll love this.  For someone like myself, who struggles with remembering where I put my keys, this task can be daunting.  Go at your own pace, and don't get discouraged.  By tracking your tasks, you can get a real determination of how you spend your time and what you do on a regular basis. 

Finally, you compare what you actually do against what your stated, prioritized goals are.  Through this comparison, you can determine what tasks support what goals, what tasks don't support any of your goals, and also gives you insight into how you either help or hurt yourself.  If you find yourself spending a lot of time on tasks associated with a low priority goal, either you should reconsider its priority or you should reconsider how you spend that time.

At this point, you're sitting there wondering what this has to do with message board questions asking about how to train.  Well, the HOW of training is dictated by the WHY of training, and the WHEN ("when" in this case meaning the time you can devote to training), and finally the WHO.  Also, it helps you to determine if perhaps your goals for your running and training are inconsistent with the resources you have available.  If my goal is to run a sub-3 hour marathon, I need to be aware that there may be some serious training involved; if this goal is bottom of my list, I should consider setting this goal aside for the time being, or re-evaluating its importance in my life.

How you train for a race or goal is heavily influenced by how much time you can devote to the task of training.  The workouts you do, the miles you travel, the effort you put in, all of that comes down to your goal, and your resources.  My free time affects how I train; my body affects how I train; my mental and emotional state, my knowledge and experience, they all affect how I train.  If your goals are in harmony with the resources you can bring to bear, then you can work happily towards them.

Ultimately, the question isn't "How do I train", but more correctly "Why am I training in the first place".