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and now, for something completely different.

Addicted to Data

No no no, I’m not talking about Star Trek TNG.  I am talking about the data that my fitness-related devices spit out.  I ran to work this morning after having to leave my bike there last night, and I felt naked.  You see, I left my Garmin attached to my bike, so for my entire run here this morning, I have no heart-rate data, and no distance data, no time data, no elevation data, no location data… it’s just wrong.  And that’s when I realized:  I’m addicted to data.

You see, I’ve run this route to work many times, and I checked the time on my phone before I left and when I got here (so I did 7.6km in 50ish minutes), but that’s no longer enough information for me.  That got me to thinking about the data itself and why I like it so much.  I think it’s the graphs.  I really like those graphs.  I like to try to make as smooth a line as possible through data.  Jaggedy spikes somehow tells me that I’m doing something wrong, or that I’m not fluid or something.  I like clean data to the point that traffic lights tick me off when I reach them on red, because it interrupts the capture of the data in a smooth fashion.  Here’s what I mean:

Green box? It's a stupid traffic light messing up my data collection! The rest of the data is on the move, as evidenced by the pace plot (blue line).

I like clean data to the point that on a run to work a couple weeks ago, when I dressed a bit too heavily, I took my gloves off mid-stride and struggled to jam them into the side-pocket of my pack without stopping.  I could have taken 30 seconds to pull the pack off, unzip the top, stuff them in, zip it back up, and put it back on, but no.  They fell out of the pocket about halfway across Varsity, and if I hadn’t been in the right spot with respect to the gloves, I wouldn’t have seen the shadow of their fall created by a street light, and I wouldn’t have stopped to pick them up.  Sheesh!  I thought about something similar this morning as I was layering up, and decided to not wear the outermost layer  I have.  “I can just pull it out and put it on if I need it.”  So I jammed it in the backpack.  So, with all that effort for the gloves, why was I willing this morning to potentially stop mid-run, interrupt the flow, and pull out the jacket?  “Well, I’m not tracking this run anyways.”  Wow, I like data too much.

I think that the psychological effect of the data on me motivates me to continuous action and better performance.  When that data gets loaded up in software later, the plots are right there: the data doesn’t lie.  If I slack off, it shows.  If I post my slacking off somewhere (e.g., this blog), then my shame is revealed to the world.  Gotta get better data.  More impressive data.  It forces me to be honest with myself.  If I think back to my original experiences with the Withings Scale, it was the data that drove me to create a nice looking plot with the kind of trend line in it you’d want to see in that context.  I was motivated to make that line trend down.  Contrast this with my lack of recording this morning:  there was honestly a point when I thought to myself “I guess it doesn’t matter if I stop to walk for a bit, I’m not tracking this.  It’s like a rest day, doesn’t count.”  Don’t worry, I didn’t stop.

This is the sort of stuff that I think about when I’m running alone.  Geez, I hate running.  🙂

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2 responses to “Addicted to Data

  1. Owen Weldon February 8, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Which Garmin do you have? Every year I look at them and then decide they are not worth the price since I only tend to run about 3 months of the year (Feb – May oddly enough). They do look cool though. My iphone app tells me how far I’ve gone in how long but not specific details about how fast I ran where or other goodness like heart rate, etc.

    • sulfurlad February 8, 2012 at 2:17 pm

      I have the Garmin Edge 305. I am considering a new device because I’m worried my Garmin is starting to die. After what I’ve put it through, I’m amazed it hasn’t died sooner. 🙂 As you can tell from the post, the cost of the device has been completely worth it for me. Also, I plop it on whatever bike I’m using on a given day, or just drop it in my pocket if I’m running.

      For software, I use SportTracks (built by an independent developer, it’s not Garmin software). See what kind of data you can get out of your iPhone app, and if you can import it into software for further visualization. When I got my device, the Garmin app was pretty junky and this third party app was excellent. I haven’t tried the Garmin software recently, but my historical data is currently all stored in SportTracks.

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