Friday, May 25, 2018

Behind The Glitz of a Dream Marathon Race

This is a follow up to The Great Wall Marathon Adventure which summarizes the whole trip.

Jessi and I just came back from a trip of a lifetime: running a marathon on the Great Wall in Huangyaguan China. The course is on The Wall (I feel compelled to capitalize it) for ~7 miles. The rest is run in the surrounding city. It's good that the entire race isn't on The Wall because... well... The Wall is brutal and probably couldn't be run for 26.2 miles.

You start by running 3 miles almost straight up a hill. Then ~3.5 miles on The Wall (2,582 stairs, the equivalent of 47 stories). Then around town for 13 miles. Then, if you finish all that in under 6 hours (remember this time, it's important), you get to go back on The Wall for another 2,582 stairs, and back down the hill you started on. You have 8 hours total. Here's what the elevation looks like (click on it to see a larger version... but I think you get the point):

This was my first marathon and Jessi's second. It's how we celebrated 10 years of marriage (technically in July, but we can't control when the event happens). My sister, Lisa, and her boyfriend, Jason, also joined us.

The pictures look awesome, and the experience was fantastic. It was truly a dream trip. But like any great success, this was a long time in the making and included a lot of hardship. Too often we only learn about the result, but I think it's valuable to also share what it took to finish.

At the starting line with Jiggle Bells playing in the background.
To start, we spent MONTHS training. Two weekdays I would run. Then Saturday morning I would do a long run before the family woke up. I learned to run with a lamp, and the places to avoid before the sun came up. Jessi ran during nap time and Sunday after church. We didn't have to run in snow, but in a lot of rain. As distances increased, so did the time. It wasn't easy to juggle schedules. We only ran twice together before the race.

Then in January, I hurt my knee. I went from running 20 miles in 3.5 hours to limping in pain after 3 miles. It was frustrating to have to completely stop running. I went from "ahead of schedule" to "doubtful to finish". The recommendation is to stop running for 8 weeks (!) and let your body heal.

I really had to trust the advice and cross trained for the 8 weeks. I learned I dislike swimming laps, but I woke up early 2 days a week and swam laps. After swimming, my nose would run the rest of the morning (something in the water?). Man, I really wanted to run instead. It was tough. With additional strength & flexibility training, lots of reading (I recommend "Your Best Stride") on my injury, and help from doctors at Corvallis Sport & Spine, I was able to get back to 20 miles in 4.5 hours... on flat ground with zero stairs.

I kept forgetting my goggles in the locker room. So I took a picture to show the staff ("These ones...again").

I felt mostly back on track confident I could finish in 8 hrs despite the hills & stairs with minimal knee pain.

Then, as we left on the trip Jessi got sick and didn't improve at all leading up to race day.

As a result, when we started up the first hill Jessi couldn't breath. Think asthma attack level of not breathing. I knew the run would be tough because she was sick, but this was bad.

We barely made it to mile 13, stopping regularly, and Jessi furious that she was struggling so much. We talked to a medic, and after hearing her symptoms told Jessi she was done: get in the ambulance to go to a local hospital for oxygen.

Predictably, Jessi was furious. "I didn't train for 8 months, push my kids around in a stroller, and come to China to stop half way!" The medic was polite, but firm. He told me I could carry on and still finish.

Leave my wife to fend for herself in some random hospital on the other side of the world?

Yeah, right.

We negotiated with him and determined we could keep going, as long as we went slow and stopped trying to reach the gate to the wall in 6 hours. After all, what’s the difference b/n stopping now and being picked up later? At least if we kept going, again much slower, we could enjoy more of the country side.

Then something amazing happened. We actually started having fun! By deciding to walk, Jessi calmed down, got out of her own head, and relaxed. We held hands and treated it like being on a relaxing date... up a spiraling hill that never seemed to end. (Yeah, that's the third peak in the elevation looked much smaller on the map.)

A hill in the middle of the run. We'll get as high as the hill in the background on the right
We were able to let go of the expectations of finishing and simply enjoy being together in China. We talked, we joked, and we bonded. We were of course disappointed, but recognized some things were out of our control (like getting sick). It's a great life lesson we want to share with our kids: when your life revolves around Christ, you can be joyful in tough situations because life is bigger than a race/achievements.

Eventually Jessi felt better, and we were headed down hill, so we started jogging again. We got 5K away from The Wall's gate and an official let us know we had 40 mins to get to the gate. We could make it!

This is when the training paid off. We walk/jogged and entered the gate to The Wall with 5 minutes to spare. So close!

Then the really hard part: those remaining stairs. Jessi powered on like a champ. At this point, I was happy to spend more time on The Wall and even thought it might be nice to have the bus pick us up at the top so we didn't have to go down the hill (my knee was starting to hurt at this point). We completely ignored the clock and just made progress one step at a time.

These stairs are brutal. We passed one guy who was laid out and waiting for the medic team to get him. We passed a lady screaming in pain as she was lifted onto a stretcher. It was surreal.

We got to the top of the hill and checked the clock. If we jogged down most of it, we could actually finish. Thankfully, down hill didn't seem to tax Jessi's breathing, so we went for it.

Here's a video of us near top, and my favorite part of the course. These stairs are the first thing I saw when researching this race, and what compelled me to suggest we do it.

We finished with 10 minutes to spare: 7 hours and 50 minutes.

It was both a physical and mental challenge and 3 observations:

1) I’m thrilled we finished. But not finishing would have also been great because life isn't about the achievement. It's about living each day and moment to the best of your God given ability, no matter what the circumstances. We did that, and celebrate that, not finishing or the medal.

2) I was the last male to finish with a time. On the way down the hill, we passed a couple other guys. I don't know if they also got to finish or got picked up, but it's sobering to think some people didn't get to finish despite going so far. One guy in particular had a great attitude and cheered us on as we passed him (we cheered back). I want to have his same attitude when facing challenges.

3) Slowing down and letting go of the result saved us. Had we kept pushing, we probably would have ended up in the hospital. At the very least, we wouldn't have enjoyed the event as much.

We probably won't run another marathon for various reasons (my knee injury & the training commitment to start), but we're glad we did it. It was a tough challenge that taught us a lesson about pursing a dream and being OK with letting it go.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Great Wall Marathon Adventure

To celebrate 10 years of marriage, Jessi and I, along with my sister and her boyfriend, went to Beijing, China to run a Marathon on The Great Wall.

The race was put on by an organization called Albatross Adventures and included 6 days, with a couple of tours like Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

It truly was a trip of a lifetime. Here were the highlights:

Day 0
We started the trip by dropping off the kids with my parents. It was great getting to spend Mother's Day with the whole family. Thank you so much to my parents and Aunt who watched the kids all week.

Day 1
We arrived and were free to explore the city. We rode the subway around and marveled at how many people there were. We packed those subway cars like sardines.

Unfortunately, Jessi got sick and I decided to head out at 1:30am to find a pharmacy. I couldn’t find the place the hotel recommended, so I walked to another location (btw, the iPhone X & iPhone 8 on whatever carrier AT&T partners with, allowed full access to Facebook & Google. Perhaps an upgraded SIM card?). Anyways, I rang the bell and a grumpy looking man came out. I held up my request using Google Translate. He looked at me, said "Bù" (which I knew meant "no"), turned around and walked away.

Are you kidding me?

I stood in shock for a bit. I was happy I learned a handful of words, like "no", so I could fully appreciate the moment. But really? I opened my maps app and walked to another place.

This time a lady was willing to help me. We used Google Translate to communicate, and it was magical. I'm so impressed with that technology. Using the camera to translate the text on the box was magical as well. The future is now.

Day 2
We inspected the wall. Here are some photos:

Day 3
We visited a market and the Qing Dynasty Tombs. The setting was beautiful.

Day 4
Race day. Here are some pictures. I have much more to say about the actual race later. Lisa and Jason completed the half marathon. It was Jason's first, and Lisa's tenth.

Perhaps the funniest part was the song selections of the band.

Day 5
We visited Tiananmen Square & the Forbidden City, but I was most impressed by two smaller shops. The first was a silk factory. They showed us the process from silk worms eating leaves to stretching the silk into a comforter. It was true craftsmanship. It's inspiring to learn about a business that's doing excellent work.

We also visited a tea shop and learned about different types of tea and how to make a couple of them. Again, it was a perfect example of passion and excellence intersecting.

In both places they also had professional sales people. They were knowledgeable, but not pushy. It was like they understood that they got to live their passion by creating, AND proudly selling, an excellent product.

I was in the middle of reading "Meaningful Work", which contributed to my wonder.

Day 6
I was impressed with China Southern Air. The food was good and the entertainment options were plentiful.

It was a great trip and I'm glad Lisa & Jason could join us. If you run marathons and want to see China, this is definitely worth it.

Update: I promised to say more about the actual race. Here it is: Behind The Glitz of a Dream Marathon Race.

Friday, January 05, 2018

2018 Goals: Focus

Last year I read a fantastic book called "The ONE Thing" by Gary Keller. The principle is that we, as humans, are bad multi-taskers. So, to create truly impactful results, we need to focus. Focus on one thing. It's not that there's anything wrong with being a jack-of-all-trades, but you shouldn't try to do everything all at once. Otherwise you'll spend too much mental energy switching tasks and never get into deeper thought and find creative solutions. This rings true for me. Some of my best solutions came after debating a problem for hours. I don't do that enough today.

So what should you be focusing on? What is worth spending copious amounts of time on? To figure that out, Keller offers a question:

What's the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it
everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

It's pretty powerful and works on so many levels. Here's how that works: What's the ONE Thing _______ I can do such that...

  • ONE Thing this year
  • ONE Thing this month
  • ONE Thing today
  • ONE Thing right now
  • ONE Thing with my family
  • ONE Thing with my job
  • ONE Thing with my finances

So, you can have multiple focus areas (family & job being the two most common), but you're only doing one of them at a time. Once you answer the question, remove distractions and work on it.

After I read the book, I set up a Friday afternoon meeting with myself to ask this question and plan out the following week. I created placeholders each week to work on my one thing (so I don't schedule over it), and during my personal Friday meeting I replace the placeholders with the actual one thing I'm working on. Finally, at bedtime I review my schedule for the next day so I'm ready to go when I wake up.

I'll be honest... I do that 6 out of 8 weeks... It's not a ritual yet...

That's a HUGE preamble to announcing my 2018 goals.

This year, I have two goals. Two goals, that if accomplished will make everything else easier or unnecessary. One is fun, the other is incredibly difficult.

#2 Learn Bass Guitar

This might come as a surprise to some, but I was once a music nerd. I played saxophone (of all sizes) through college. I played in big bands, a small improv group, and in quartets. I spent a year learning cello, and guitar for fun, played in a church bell choir, and volunteered with a middle school band. I also composed/directed a waltz in middle school, then wrote/performed a song in college.

Like sports, there's learned skills, accomplishment, technical challenges, and moments of unrehearsed brilliance. I genuinely love it.

Today, the closest I get to music is pushing the arrow button on a keyboard to advance to the next slide while singing during Sunday morning worship. The feelings are surprising similar (skills, accomplishment, technical challenges), but I long to get more directly involved in creating music again. I also think it'll be an opportunity to better explore a different form of worship.

So I'm going to learn bass guitar this year. Why bass guitar?

  1. I can practice at any time of the day and not wake up a sleeping family or scare the dog.
  2. Bass guitars are welcome in church worship, so I'll have a reason to play.
  3. There's something inherently cool about bass guitar (My brain's limbic system can't articulate it).
  4. Plus, it's the possible start of a family band where Jessi plays piano and the kids play something like the drums and guitar. :)

Defining success is simple: playing with the worship team once this year. That'll mean I learned bass well enough. I feel like learning 10 songs (and the scales/notes/rhythms that go with them) will be enough of a baseline to ask to play on Sunday morning.

I applied some Christmas gift cards to a new bass and it'll be here in a week. I'm going to spend January finding a time to practice, researching lessons, getting advice from other players,  and identifying 10 songs I want to learn. Then I'll learn the songs with an aim of playing on a worship team near the end of the year.

#1 Launch Majordomo Nationwide

Settle in for a genesis story.

I invest in real estate. Through that experience, I learned a couple things and decided to share my knowledge. I started up a website and started writing for it. The idea was simple: write helpful posts to bring people to the site. Create downloadable content in return for people's email. Ask landlords from the email list what their biggest problems are. Create digital products (software, online classes, etc) that fix that problem. Sell the product. I could make a business that helped people while earning some income.

Well, I got to the research stage of this plan and got the shock of my life. I was expecting people to say bookkeeping (which is the first position small businesses hire), or talk about dealing with irresponsible tenants.

Nope. It turns out that landlords invest in real estate for something called "passive income" and there's one thing that's the exact opposite of passive: property maintenance. The #1 reason landlords hire property managers isn't because of tenants or bookkeeping, it's because they don't want to deal with the maintenance.

And guess what, it's not just landlords. Nobody buys a home so they can do home maintenance. They buy because of location, size, location, cost, and location. They get excited about initial projects and future improvements, but people don't like the regular maintenance. Many people simply don't have time because of other priorities like family, jobs, and hobbies (which makes sense). And even if they had the time, they're unsure of what to do and when to do it. This results in items decaying over time, which leads to increased stress, loss of pride of their home, and real value lost in their property.

This is a problem worth solving.

For the past year, I've been working with a friend to solve this problem. We prototyped different solutions... scrapped them... did more brainstorming and testing... and we think we cracked it. We've moved into development and plan to release a beta version of the software this spring. Assuming the beta goes well, we want to open it up nationally by the end of the year. The data we're using to make this work isn't free, which means we'll need to secure funding to go nationwide (the plan is for it to be free for users).

So there's a lot wrapped up in this one goal: manage the development team to launch the beta and initial product on time. Get a meaningful amount of beta testers through content marketing and visiting home shows. Secure funding to launch the product. So much to do! We have tools, tactics and processes laid out to get there, and it'll take focusing on this single goal to get it all done. This is where the Friday meeting will be critical.

Saying No

So normally I have 7-8 goals each year. And this year it's only two. That implies saying no to lots of things. For example, I'm saying no to purchasing another investment property this year (the current market helps make that an easy decision). In fact, I'm moving a lot of the regular monthly tasks I complete off my plate. I'm also not playing any sports, signing up for evening activities, or tackling any large house projects.

Having said that, we still have fun things planned: Jessi and I are going to run a marathon along the Great Wall in Beijing, we're going to plant a garden in our front yard, I have some great books I'd like to read, and our kids keep growing and learning.

But my primary focus this year is launching Majordomo nationwide.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 Goals Review: Maker Year

It's time for the annual update on goals. This year was the Maker Year. I had a bunch of projects around the house I wanted to do (and I completed most of them). We also welcomed Samson to the family right before the start of the year. It turns out that having 2 little kids is a ton of work. Here's how I did for the year:

1) Get Sore 4 Times Each Week - SUCCESS
Not only did I run the Tough Mudder with my brother. I ran a second one with a friend, Lee, 3 months later. Plus, I'm signed up to run a once-in-a-lifetime marathon in May with Jessi, my sister, and her boyfriend. I also installed a pull-up bar in the garage which has been great to grab onto regularly throughout the week. I have the check-off sheet (pictured center) also helped.

2) No Desert or Treats for 1 Month - SUCCESS

I did it in January. I created a "Don't break the chain" calendar and it worked. I also got a smart scale in the middle of the year, starting tracking a bunch of data, and nerded out on it. It turns out that counting calories works really well for managing your weight. You quickly learn to minimize carbs and sugar if you want to feel full after hitting your calorie limit. What you eat is also twice as important as how much you workout. My weight & percent body fat are right in the range I'd like to be for the end of the year.

3) Send 1 Thank You Each Week - HALF SUCCESS
I didn't get one out each week, but averaged every other week. A lot of the notes were over email, but I also sent out a good chunk of them in physical mail. I'd like to keep this semi-habit going next year.

4) Complete a Bevy of Home Projects
We completed a ton of projects this year on the house. The planned for next year is really boring: improve insulation.

4a) Wood / Classic Construction - SUCCESS
The Standing Table
Here's what I completed this year:
  • BathroomIt looks great.
  • Standing desk. I selected the wood. Helped a woodworker turn it into a table. Then worked with a friend to weld the legs. I created a paint booth in the garage and then assembled it. Finally, I added a smart light stripe to the back for awesomeness.
  • Office shelves. I also installed new shelves in the office.
  • Dining table. It turns out IKEA had exactly what I wanted for a reasonable price, so we went this route.
  • Neighbor fence. Part of a shared fence fell down, so we replaced it.
  • Living room smart lighting. We used to have 3 lights in the living room. Now we have 9! I made a HUGE dust mess while drilling the holes.
  • Smart garage door system. It's so quiet and can be opened 4 different ways. We love it.
  • Smart blinds. I bought some new blinds for each bedroom and am using SOMA to operate them. The jury is still out on this. More later, probably.

4b) 3D Printing - SUCCESS
I only did one project, and I learned a lot, which was the goal. The new living room lights are Philips Hue lights. I have a bridge and each light connects directly to the bridge. We regularly have dance parties and Elinor likes to request changing different colors. Since the lights manage themselves, you need to keep the power on all the time. Then you use your smart device (Siri, Alexa, Assistant, or then app) to turn them on and off. But sometimes it's nice to simply turn a switch on and off! What to do? Well, Philips makes a remote you can attach to the wall. It comes with a nice wall plate and cradle. Normally, people stick it next to their switches and put some sort of block on the switch (most ugly: a piece of tape that says "do not turn off").

This called for a 3D printed object. I created a new 3-gage faceplate. But instead of having the 3 holes for the switches, I replicated the cradle for the remote. Boom! New switch for the remote. I simply removed the switches (wired them directly in the box) and put the new faceplate over it. Now the lights are on all the time and there's still a way to turn them on/off with a switch.

To model the project I used a free online CAD tool called OnShape. Once I figured out how to use it, with a lot of help from my brother, it was fairly easy (it helped to have a simple design). I started researching the other projects, but other priorities prevailed. But I learned what I set out to learn and feel confident I could create a 3D object in the future if needed.

4c) Internet of Things - FAILURE
I didn't even try. How sad. I would still like to do and learn about these, but they'll continue to be on the back burner for now.

4d) Food - FAILURE
The original plan was to replace our cooktop with a new one, and use that momentum to take a cooking class. It turns out that our cooktop is a non-standard size and isn't easy to replace... which means we didn't replace it (and probably won't for a while) and it ruined all momentum for taking a cooking class. We might get around to the class next year now that the kids are little older.

Final Thoughts
That's how I did for the year. Overall, pretty good. Having kids takes a ton of energy. It's good, but a lot of work. As a result, I didn't accomplish nearly as many personal projects as I expected. Next year will be about focusing on a few bigger items and doing them really well.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Smart Home Adventures: The Chamberlain Smart Garage Door Opener With MyQ Bridge

Here's a first world problem: Our garage door opener was old. The opener itself worked fine - though it was kind of loud - but most importantly, most of the controls didn't work. For example, I didn't know the keypad's code and couldn't figure out a way to reset it due to a lack of online instructions (and the previous owner didn't know the code either). Plus, our car remotes worked sporadically at best.

So you can image the HEART ACHE when we would go for a bike ride. We'd open the door pushing the inside button next to the kitchen entrance. Then we'd take our bikes out and leave them in the driveway. Then we'd walk back into the garage, push the button, and walk ALL THE WAY AROUND to the main entrance to get to our lonely bikes. Such a first world problem!

OK, so the justification for getting a new garage door opener was a little flimsy. But let's be honest, besides lights automatically turning on, what's the other smart home item you ALWAYS see in concept videos? Garage doors. That's what. And if you're on a quest to have the smartest home on the block, that means you NEED a smart garage door opener.

This was actually an update we wanted to make to our home right away. However, my main criteria for "smart" is that it needs to include Apple's HomeKit and work with Siri. Despite garage door openers being listed on Apple's website since the intro of HomeKit, it took until this summer for a manufacture, Chamberlain, to actually sell a product.

You could buy a smart garage door opener for a while, but all of them used their own app. Then Garagio, came out with a slick app and a lot of integrations included Amazon's Echo and IFTTT, but not HomeKit.

Then Chamberlain promised they would come out with a HomeKit enabled opener. Then they showed a concept of it during CES in January and promised it would be released this summer. Then on August 30th (way to cut it close guys!) they released it.

Chamberlain Smart Garage Door Opener With MyQ Bridge

You buy one of their wifi enabled openers plus a MyQ Home Bridge (if you don't need HomeKit, you don't need the bridge).

Install the opener by following the instructions. I didn't find it difficult, but I did need to make sure to take my time since order seemed to matter. Once that's up and running, plug the bridge into power, follow the instructions to connect to your home network, and you're done. That part was shockingly easy.

Here's what the bridge looks like:

Here's the garage door in action using Siri:

Super cool, right? Elinor loves it, which is awesome.

Other features I like

I like that there's a sensor on the indoor button which turns the light on automatically when I open the kitchen door. Apparently this is a standard feature now, but it's new and amazing to me.

I ended up getting their super quiet belt drive (because that was the only option at Home Depot) and it's amazingly quiet! I highly recommend this upgrade. Now that I've experienced it, I would specifically seek this out.

The app is fine. You open it and there's a picture of your door. Tap it, and your door opens. There's a companion Apple Watch app, but we'll use Siri and the keypad/buttons 99% of the time. Being able to see the history is interesting, though I'm not totally sure when I'll want that.

I like being able to see if my door is open when I'm not in the garage (the classic situation is laying in bed and wondering if you shut the garage door). I also set a schedule to automatically close the door at 11pm just in case it's still open. And included it when I set the "Good Night" scene.

So that's cool.

Do You Need a Smart Garage Door Opener?

No, but it's genuinely fun, especially if you have a smart watch. I like riding my bike home and telling Siri to open the garage door. Could I simply enter the keypad code? Sure. And if I'm honest, we probably wouldn't have upgraded if our keypad still worked.

If you're getting a new garage door opener anyways, I'd at least get a wifi enabled one. You don't have to use it, but having the option is really nice. Plus, I suspect that integrations with smart hubs like Amazon's Echo, Google Home, and HomeKit will continue to get better and having wifi will enable most of them.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

How a Laughing Baby Brings Glory To God

I believe in God.

I believe he created everything: the cosmos, earth, plants, animals, etc.

It's through that creation we know God exists and created us. In Romans 1:19-20, Paul writes:
"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse."
I also believe that God created us to bring glory to himself. See the following verses (emphasis mine):

  • "bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:6b-7)
  • And one [angle] called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3)
  • "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork." (Psalm 19:1)

Given that we were created for God's glory, it helps me let go of expectations for my life, release feelings of entitlement and accept certain inequalities in life. Avoiding hot topic examples... The point is that it's not about us. It's not about making everyone happy and attaining our own self-actualization. It's about bringing glory to God.

But I do question if this world... this life... is really the BEST way to bring Glory to God. I mean, I get the intellectual argument that glory is maximized when people make the choice to love you (and inherently some people have to choose NOT to love you).

But really? This was the best option?

And then Jessi capture this moment on video:

How awesome is that?!

It's moments like this that I'm reminded why God created us. I smile, feel pride, get excited, laugh as well. Could you image how much more magnified that must be for God?

Sure, there are moments when he shakes his head at us...

But overall, he must feel an incalculable amount of pride and joy over his creation. He must genuinely enjoy watching, and helping, us grow and learn. I do with my own kids - and I didn't even create them. Imagine that for all people, all things... Wow.

Thinking about it... perhaps this creation is a great way to bring glory to himself. :)

Thursday, June 08, 2017

How I lost 18 Pounds in 37 Days

I'm training for a Tough Mudder next weekend. A Tough Mudder is a 10 mile run with 20 obstacles in your way. It's a combination of cardio, strength, fear factor, and group effort. I'm excited and nervous. My training goals are simple: run 10 miles non-stop, do 40 push-ups, and weigh 165lbs. That would put me in enough shape to enjoy the event. Here's a trailer for the event:

So, I started running semi-regularly in the middle of April. My basic training method is two short runs in the middle of the week (3-4 miles) and a progressively longer run on the weekend (add 1 mile each week). Here's how I did:

Despite starting to run regularly, my weight continued to go up! So being a data person, I started tracking my calories (via MyFitnessPal) in addition to my weight (via a Withings Scale) and my motion (via Apple Watch). Here are the results (all the time periods line up):

Some observations:

  • I hit my goal of 165 lbs and running 10 miles non-stop! (I can also do 40 push-ups) I am very happy I won't be carrying those extra 18 pounds with me over giant walls.
  • The day I started tracking my weight, my weight started falling. That's how my body's built. I hated it when playing football, but now it's good.
  • Despite regularly increasing my miles, my peak calories burned stayed about the same. In other words, I "made up for it" the rest of the day by not moving as much.
  • There are days when I don't eat a lot. For example, yesterday I skipped breakfast and lunch; not on purpose, it just happens sometimes. MyFitnessPal yells at my when that happens.
  • My average weight loss has been 0.46 lbs per day, but can swing as much as 3 lbs each day! I'll be honest, this can be a little bit of an emotional roller coaster.

So? How did I lose 18 pounds in 37 days? I ran a bunch and ate less. But there's more behind it.

The Science

Science tells us that if you spend more calories than you consume, you'll lose weight. Now, how fast you lose weight and how much is muscle vs fat depends on the type of food you eat, how big the calorie deficit is, and the type of movement you do (strength vs cardio vs nothing).

As a general eating rule: eat/drink almost zero sugar, eat less carbs (breads & fruit), and watch your dairy. Protein and fats (ironically) are good for you because your body stores that energy differently. Whole foods are your friend. If you want to lose weight fast, good examples are the Slow Carb diet and Keto diet. I'm not following either of them strictly, but staying close to the principals.

As for exercise: try to incorporate movement into your day and strain yourself regularly to remind your body you need your muscles. If you can, ride your bike, stand at your desk, and walk places. You actually don't need to train for a marathon. According to FiveThirtyEight, the 5K, not the marathon, is the ideal race. The trick is to push yourself for speed; to exhaustion, and be sore when you're done. You can do this in as little as 4-7 minutes a day. Seriously. You also don't need a gym. For me, I find I need some sort of external motivation - like training for a Tough Mudder - to get me moving.

The Statistics

That's the science, which I know enough about to be dangerous. But statistics is my jam... and since I had the data... :)

I created a regression model to see which factor: Food, Motion or Runs, correlated the best. In other words, do I just need to watch what I eat? Can I make sure to hit a move goal by the end of the day? Or do I need some sort of intense workout? Or some combination?!

Here's what I found for correlations ( 1 = perfectly correlated. + means same direction. - means opposite direction):

  • Food: +.61
  • Motion: -.33
  • Running: -.32

It appears you are what you eat. What you eat is twice as important as how much you move! You can visually see it in the very first chart.

I took the food one level deeper and looked at my macro-nutrients. Can I eat whatever I want as long as I watch the amount? Or, do I also need to pay attention to what I eat? Here's what it looks like:

Here's what I found for correlations:

  • Carbs: +.54
  • Fat: +.07
  • Protein: +.002 

Well... Well... Well... It looks like science knows what it's doing. Carbs are bad and should be substituted for fat and protein when possible.

Key Findings

Want to lose weight? This should sound familiar:

Focus on your diet. Eat less in general, and really focus on eating less carbs. If you reduce your carbs, you'll naturally reduce the amount of sugar you eat. Use an online calculator or an app like MyFitnessPal to determine your daily target calories.

You should also exercise. You don't need to do extreme workouts, but focus on hitting a total movement goal (like 10,000 steps). Doing something of high intensity for a short amount of time is one way to get the overall goal, but isn't needed for weight loss (it is needed for building muscle).

It's nice to know my data supports the science. :)

Future Aspirations

My goal last year was to weigh 160 lbs and I didn't make it. I'm pretty close right now, so I'm going to go for it!

Finally, watching my weight is OK, but a measure I'm more interested in is percent body fat. If I can control this, my weight won't be an issue. Here's where I'm at right now (this, by the way, is why I have a Withings Scale):

According to the American Council on Exercise, I was average and just dipped into the "Fitness" category. If I get below 14%, I'll be an "Athlete".

My desire is to be below 15%. OK. My real desire is to get rid of a couple lovable handles. That way I'll be able to keep up with the kids as they get older. I don't do a lot of resistance training right now, and that'll need to change to help get this down. I have a big goal in mind of next year which should help me get there.