On Indulgence and Order

This past Christmas break, I learned an insight about myself.  In order to feel truly rested during a break, I need two days to myself.  This insight came as a result of the frantic pace that comes with Christmas – cramming to finish as much work as you can before shut-down, travelling all over to visit family, tending to personal projects and end-of-year business, etc.

Two days probably sounds like an overblown indulgence to you, but I realized that in order for me to feel a sense of rest and recharge, I need two consecutive days for my own uses.  With one day, I get a chance to catch up on things – sleep, bills, messages, work, etc.  But two days gives me more freedom to do what I usually need to do – binge.  If I only have one day to myself, I can’t “binge” on whatever it is I want to binge on.  If I were to binge during that one day, I would feel like I’ve just put off doing work for a day, and now everything is piled up further.

But if I have two consecutive days, I get one day to binge, guilt-free, on whatever it is that I want to do (sleep, food, video games, Netflix, YouTube, etc).  I get a chance to get it out of my system, guilt-free.

The second day, then, is my chance to put my life back together.  I can plan out my tasks.  I can take care of personal maintenance tasks.  I clean and de-clutter.  I get a chance to breathe and focus.  It puts life back into order after the mess that comes from indulgence.

It has also made me realize that I’m not balancing things out well in my life if I have to wait for extended vacation breaks to get two consecutive days to myself.  I really should be more mindful of what I schedule for my weekends.

I can only follow this model of binge/purge and order because I am privileged to have a good job and stability in my life.  I recognize that this is not available to everyone, and I appreciate that I’m at a point in my life where it’s something available to me.  For that, I’m thankful.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

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Zombies, Run! 5K Training App Review

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This blog post is not a paid sponsorship.

On Friday, I completed my last training mission for the Android version of the Zombies, Run!  5K Training app by Six to Start.  While this is supposed to be an 8-week training program, I’ve been at it since mid-October.  Having completed the program, I wanted to give some of my thoughts on the experience.

Overall, I loved it!

Imagine taking an audiobook about a zombie outbreak, and attaching a step-counter/GPS tracker to it.  That’s what the app is at its core.

Story

You play the silent hero, Runner 5.  The adventure opens with you in a helicopter bound for the Town of Able.  While en route, your helicopter is shot out of the sky, and you are forced to make your way to the settlement with the help of Able’s radio operator, Sam.  Once you make it to town, you meet a diverse cast of characters who you “interact” with throughout the 8-week plan.

The bulk of your interactions take place with Sam and Maxine, the town’s doctor, who also serves as your training coach while you build stamina and prepare to take your place as one of the town’s Runners.  The Runners are a group of people who are sent out on missions outside the guarded walls of town to run messages, look for survivors, gather supplies, and occasionally serve as decoy bait to lure zombies away.

While managing a zombie outbreak is bad enough, you still have the lingering question of who would shoot down a helicopter from the middle of the zombie-infested countryside, and more urgently, who is stealing supplies from the town’s quartermaster.

I found the story very immersive.  It brought me back to my old radio drama days from high school, with well-acted characters and sound effects to help you believe that you are being chased by zombies.  The creators took time to ensure the voice acting was well-done as you rely on the characters to help you experience the story.  There is no narrator telling you a story, but instead the story unfolds around you while you run.

Despite the fact that this is a training app, there is a surprising amount of story given to you.  You learn a bit of the backstory of the main players, and there is a lot of world building going on about life and the history of the zombie outbreak.  You learn a little bit about the politics of the various surrounding towns, and you get swept up in the human drama.  Indeed, your final mission is not just a 5k run, but a race against the clock to make a critical delivery to someone you’ll never meet but means the world to a close companion of yours.

The App

I found the app easy to use and well-designed.  As I mentioned above, the app is basically an audiobook and a step-counter.  There is a bit more to it, but those are just extras that help with customization.  The app tracks your progress in one of three ways – a GPS tracker that lays out your run via a Google Maps integration, a step-counter if you want to use a treadmill, and an estimated distance tracker for use on rowing machines and ellipticals (how many minutes it takes you to go 1-kilometre).  I chose to use the step-counter feature despite using an elliptical, which meant my in-app distances were skewed, however I corrected the distances with the tracking done by the elliptical itself.  I also used my Fitbit to track caloric expenditure and heart rate, since they were calibrated to my height and weight.

The best part about the app is that you can choose to use an external audio player when the app isn’t talking to you.  I used both Stitcher and Spotify and found that the integrations were smooth.  This allows you to listen to music on the run.  When the training app needs to deliver information to you, it pauses what you are listening to and continues the story, before switching back to your preferred audio.  Even taking phone calls mid-app worked well.  There was only one time where my music didn’t start back up after I took a phone call.

One note of caution is that the first 3 or so weeks of the app are free to use, but you need to pay a nominal fee ($5.49) to unlock the rest of the missions.  While this might be annoying, or a bit of a barrier for people, I liked it because a.) I’m in favour of companies making money off of users to keep creating good content; and b.) letting you use the app for free lets you test it out.  By the time I was ready for week 4, I wanted to find out what happens next, and I thought a buy-in of around $5 was worth it to continue on the adventure.  The full (non-training) app uses a subscription model, but still allows you to trying things out before you need to unlock the full app.

Training

I found the 8-week program to be a little easy for me, but using an elliptical meant that there was only so much crossover I would experience.  If I were to have tried running, I suspect the app’s difficulty would have been scaled more appropriately to me (and my knees would have taken a beating).  But the main purpose of the training is similar to most other “couch to 5K” training programs – get you moving a couple days per week while the difficulty is slowly ramped up.  I appreciate this approach, as it is enough to challenge you, but easy enough to keep you coming back for more.

To keep the difficulty scaled for me, I would often run through rest breaks, and I ensured that I kept the resistance level at a good place to maintain a heart rate of around 140bpm.  To ensure I was running fast enough, I monitored the elliptical’s RPMs, and used the following markers:

  • 40-50rpm: slow walk/rest
  • 50-60rpm: brisk walk/warm up
  • 60-70rpm: steady running pace
  • 70+: hard exertion/sprint

Before each mission, you can review what the day’s exercise routine will look like.  The training sessions involve a combination of walking and running periods, and some sort of ancillary movement to develop your leg muscles, such as knee-ups, skipping, and body-weight squats.  Some days are straight training, where you get little story development, but learn more about the people you are interacting with.  However, some training days morph into mini missions where you need to divert due to zombies or pick up critical supplies nearby.  One time, you even risk you life to help a downed runner in the field.  This is probably what kept me so engaged.  If it were just a disembodied voice telling me when to walk and run, I doubt I would find it very engaging and would have likely lost interest quickly.  However, because the training prompts are integrated into a narrative, and the characters are cheering your development on (because you are expected to take you place as a member of the community), it breaks the monotony of running up into more interesting chunks.

I’m not entirely sure to what degree I improved my cardiovascular health.  Because I didn’t feel like I struggled with the difficulty, it’s hard to measure my progress.  The best I can estimate is that my running distances did increase over time, even if you were to control for the duration of walking in the training cycles and the differences in run duration from week to week.  Despite having not measured with any amount of accuracy what my abilities were pre-Zombies, I’m fairly confident that I am in a better state of cardiovascular health having completed the training program.

Final Thoughts

If I have one complaint, it’s that the narrative move from the training app to the full app ends up restarting the story a bit.  The first mission in both the training app and the full app is  the same, meaning your story doesn’t really continue after the training app.  I suspect that once you start running the story missions, things will feel more integrated, but I was a little sad to have to “meet” Sam and Maxine for the first time again after having “developed” a relationship with them while I trained.  This is a relatively small nitpick on my part because narrative and story are important to me, but it’s not something that takes away from the experience.

I have already recommended the app to friends of mine, and I officially recommend it here.  I got well more than $5 in value from the app’s minor cost.  This is a well-made app that is easy to use, and integrates well into my exercise routine.  It makes exercise fun and engaging and the story is compelling enough to keep me coming back for more punishment.  If you are looking for a way to help you commit to a cardio routine, but you are starting off from scratch, this is a great option if you don’t mind running from zombies.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

2017 Sleep Check-In

This is it!  I’ve finally hit the end of the sleep challenge and I can finally look back at a year of data and see if I can spot anything interesting from the data.  This post will give the quarterly update from October through December, and then I will look at the results from the entire year.

For those just coming on-board with this post, in 2017 I set out to track my sleep each month with the target of sleeping for at least 7-hours.  I used a Fitbit Charge HR to track my sleep and I gave monthly updates on my progress.  I also used a few quarterly updates that looked at data over longer periods of time to see what sorts of trends and patterns I could extract from the results.  While I wanted to try and maximize my sleep, in truth I am terrible at keeping a nightly routine, so at the mid-point of the experiment, I set the goal of trying to get at least 10 nights in each month where I hit my target of 7-hours.

To see a recap, you can go to the individual posts below:

You can also see my quarterly updates:

First, let us look at the fourth quarter’s results.

Fourth Quarter – October through December

Q4 sleep
Note: 1’s denote nights where I hit my target.

The fourth quarter results fall in line with what I’ve been seeing over the course of the year.  Sundays prove to be the most consistent night of 7+ hours of sleep, followed by Saturday.  Monday usually gets a high number of hits, but this time around it appears that I’m not sleeping as well when I transition from weekend to work week.  I don’t have an explanation for this, other than I probably am going to bed too late (as opposed to lost sleep due to anxiety of going to work the next day).

And now, time for the final reveal!

Sleep Results for 2017

The grand total for the year are:

January – 4
February – 8
March – 6
April – 7
May – 4
June – 7
July – 11
August – 11
September – 9
October – 8
November – 7
December – 10
Total: 92

Out of the 365 nights of sleep for 2017, I hit my target 92 times, for a 25% success rate.  This is a very strict number, which reflects poorly on the overall experiment, but one bit comfort I take from this is that, as I have pointed out a few times over the course of this challenge, the data is skewed when we look at the time I spent asleep, versus the amount of time the Fitbit tracker tracked me as asleep.  Any amount of sleep disturbance or restlessness meant that the device wasn’t counting it as sleep time.  So, while I might have been asleep for over seven hours if I had any kind of restless sleep, the quality sleep tracked came in under 7-hours.

Is there another way of seeing the data to determine if the 25% rate is overly skewed?

Time spent Sleeping

We can adjudicate this by looking at the actual time I was asleep, versus the target sleep.  This way, any nights where I slept more than 7-hours would pull my averages up and cancel out some of the nights where I slept less than 7-hours.

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sleep
*Note: for simplicity, I rounded the sleep values to the nearest hour.

For 2017, the Fitbit tracked me as sleeping 2,137-hours.  If I assume 7-hours for all 365 days, this would give us 2,555 hours of sleep.  Viewed from this perspective, I hit 84% of my target sleep, with only a 418-hour deficit of sleep spread over the 12 months.

The problem with tracking only the successes throughout the year is that it ignored any sleep that falls under 7-hours.  Month over month, my progress tended to looked bad and reflected poorly on my ability to set goals and maintain progress.  While it’s true that I was failing in hitting absolute targets of sleep, the presentation almost suggested that if I didn’t hit my sleep target it was because I wasn’t sleeping at all.

So, while I was only 25% successful in hitting targets, I was able to get 84% of the sleep the target would imply.

One note of caution – if I’ve learned anything these last two years, it’s that I’ve learned and reflected on what it feels like to be sleep deprived.  Running a theoretical sleep deficit of 418-hours for a year might not seem bad, but in practice is something to be concerned about.  Sleep deprivation has consequences that affect me in many ways, such as my ability to resist temptation, my productivity at work, the likelihood that I will exercise, and my interpersonal interactions with friends and family.  There was one time where in my sleep-deprived state, I let a door swing shut before my dog was fully through the threshold, and it caught him in the rear paw.  Despite a yelp of pain from him, there was thankfully no physical damage to his paw.  Still, I felt terrible about my carelessness and it was a reminder that my ability to focus and pay attention is compromised when I don’t sleep.

Moving Forward

Tracking my sleep for this blog was an interesting experience.  I do not plan to continue giving regular updates as I progress through 2018, though I will still be monitoring my progress in my personal notebooks.  I found a lot of value in seeing the aggregate results.  The monthly updates were mostly in line with my intuition, but it was still good to objectively see how poorly I am with sleep.

It will be an ongoing work of progress to do better.  The main takeaways from this experiment are that,

1.) I’m terrible at maintaining a disciplined nightly routines to go to bed at a reasonable time;

2.) working at the bar, even 2-nights per week, dramatically impacts my sleep during the week; and

3.) I need to pay more attention to the things in and out of the bedroom that cause disturbances in my sleep (such a the dog jumping on the bed, evening alcohol consumption, and potential sleep apnea due to my weight).

There are many avenues I can explore to improve the quality and quantity of sleep I get each night.  Perhaps, I will explore them in time.  However, it’s time to put down the measuring devices and enjoy a bit on unquantified time.

Thanks for following this journey of sleep.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

December 2017 Sleep Check-in

My November sleep check-in fell short of my target of 7-hours, so I was hoping to rally stronger in December to close out the year-long experiment.  Let’s see how I did for December.

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10/31 times (December 1st was cut-off on the far left of the image)

Success!

I managed to hit my target of 10 nights, but only just barely.  This is thanks in large part to my time off from work from December 23rd through the end of the year (5/9 nights).  One item of note is that I also managed to get 3 nights on the 14th, 16th, and 17th (Thursday, Saturday and Sunday), which is unusual for me.

On the other hand, I still had long stretches of time where poor bed-time habits and a lack of routine caused me to fall short of my target.  My lack of intentionality nearly lost me the challenge for another month.  This has been a persistent problem with the sleep challenge all through 2017, which suggests a lack of priority in sleep overall (though I’ll leave that reflection for the 2017 Sleep Review).

At the very least, it feels good to close 2017 and kick off 2018 on a positive note.

Happy New Year!

Ryan

November 2017 Sleep Check-in

My stats from the October sleep check-in were below my target, so I was hoping to get things back on track for the month of November.  Let’s see how I did.

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7/30…

Double-ouch!

Not only did I miss my target again, but I did poorer overall than October (8 of 31).  Sadly, this is less an issue of poor quality sleep (you can still see a fair number of nights where I was really close to the target line, suggesting I was in bed for at least 7-hours, but I had disturbed sleep), and more a problem of me not having a solid night-time routine.  This time last year, my problem was that I couldn’t tear myself away from the internet at a reasonable time (remember when I used to shut-off my internet via timer?), whereas this year my problem is that my partner and I don’t get ready for bed at a decent time, and then stay up chatting passed 11pm.

I know that I will be doing better in December since I’ll have time off from work before and after Christmas, which will make up the bulk of the time I hit my sleep target.  Still, I should strive to hit more nights during the work-week, rather than leaving it up to the weekends to catch up on sleep.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

What I’ve Been Reading (As of November 20th)

I haven’t updated this series since August, so I thought it would be a good time to check-in on what I’ve been reading as of late.

Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett

This book came as a recommendation from Jujimufu (aka. Jon Call) on YouTube.  In addition to putting a greater focus on fitness and health, I’ve been trying to be more mindful of the physical state of my body.  I know that carrying around a lot of extra weight is hard on the joints, but I do a lot of stuff that is also bad for my body, such as poor lifting mechanics, sitting and slouching in my chair at work all day, poor mobility and stretching habits, and not addressing niggling pains in my knees.  I picked this book up to help me be more mindful of good body mechanics, improve both my flexibility and mobility, and to address common pain I feel in my joints.

Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel

I first stumbled across Esther Perel through a TedTalk she gave a few years back, and again through the Audible Original mini-series released about her couples therapy experience.  I heard she recently released a book on infidelity, which got me looking at her other books.  I decided to pick up Mating in Captivity since I am getting married next year and it seemed relevant to future-me (the idea of sustaining passion in a relationship over the long term).  Are there problems with my love life?  No, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn something from an expert to ensure I’m mindful of my relationship moving forward.  If I want to be the best partner that I can be, then it means I should pick up good practices and insights wherever I go.  Long-term relationships are subjected to a lot of life changes (career, family, children, age, economy, etc.), and I’d rather be aware and exposed to things that threaten to cool the passion over time to better handle them down the road.

The Bookshop on the Corner (A Novel) by Jenny Colgan

This was a splurge purchase through the Bookbub mailing list I joined (they send daily lists of discounted Kindle ebooks on Amazon’s website).  The story is about an ex-librarian who decides to take a chance and buy a large cargo-truck to turn into a mobile bookshop.  I’m about a third of the way through the book and am enjoying the story so far.  It partially takes place in Scotland, which was a happy coincidence for me (I traveled to Scotland in July of 2016).  Truthfully, one fantasy I have is to retire and own a bookstore.  While this might not be an accurate picture of my future, I can still dream, can’t I?

Find Your Why by Simon Sinek, David Mead, and Peter Docker

A burning question for me concerns itself with purpose.  In a broad sense, I’ve been reflecting on purposeful living and articulating my values, but in a narrow sense, I’ve been exploring what gives me a sense of purpose and accomplishment at work.  Because I lack that definitive feeling of purpose at work (that I’m working on what I’m meant to do, whatever that means), I’ve been doing some soul searching, working with a career adviser, and reading this book.  I’m not very far into the book, so I can’t provide a lot of comments from it, but I liked Simon Sinek’s previous books, and so I’m looking forward to working may way through this one.

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

This list wouldn’t be complete with an update on which Pratchett Discworld book I’m on.  I just finished Moving Pictures last week, so I’ve just now moved on to Reaper Man.  Death has been a favourite character of mine, so it was nice to return to a Death-centred story.

These aren’t all the books I’ve got on the go (shamefully, there are books on my previous lists that I’m still plugging away at), but it does give a good snapshot of what you’d likely see in my hands.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

 

Ellipticals and Zombies!

In my search to find exercise routines that I can make stick around long enough to build habits from, I am experimenting with a running app and a new piece of home equipment.  My fiancee and I have recently purchased an elliptical machine for our home.  While I was initially hesitant about the cost when I was already paying for my gym membership, I have since come around to the convenience of using the machine at home.

One issue I’ve had with fully embracing exercising at home is my limitations.  Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I drop our dog off for daytime boarding, since both my fiancee and I work during the day (it gives our dog some socializing time and exercise).  This means that I have to be out the door a bit earlier than I otherwise would need to be, which cuts into time I could be at the gym.

I have been going to the gym Tuesday mornings for the last month and a half, but Thursdays are a write-off because I work at the bar Wednesday nights and don’t get to bed until 1am at the earliest.  Outside of weekend, this means that my morning exercises are limited to body-weight work, or the rowing machine that currently serves as a clothes rack.

Enter: the Elliptical

The elliptical, on the other hand, allows me to jump on for 30-45 minutes in the morning, then I can immediately shower and get ready for work and still get out the door in time.

(Note: I realize that these are not good excuses for why a more disciplined approach to my morning wouldn’t fix my problems.  While this is true, I’m trying to address these shortcomings with solutions, rather than relying on a fantasy alternative reality where I am a morning person.)

The elliptical is also good because it’s low impact on my knees.  I’ve recently discovered that 330lbs is the magical number where my knees are starting to hurt by the end of the day.  Ideally, I want to get  back into running, like I had done in undergrad, but I know that my knees and shins wouldn’t hold up to the abuse of trodding at my current weight.  The elliptical provides a good middle-ground to improve my cardio in the interim.

ACK! Zombies! RUN!

The last hurdle is that cardio is pretty boring.  This is where the zombies come in.  I’ve downloaded the Zombies, Run! 5k Training app (this is not a paid sponsorship; I just like the app).  It’s a fun spin on the Couch to 5k (C25K) training systems that gradually build a person’s endurance over a multi-week period to get them from complete novice to a 5km run through weekly drills and timed runs.

I’ve used it for a couple of weeks as of writing, and I’ve been enjoying the experience and sharing my “runs.”

My experience with the app have been good so far.  I like that it allows for external audio to play while the app is running.  I run Spotify in the background for music, then the running app interjects periodically to give me instructions, such as when to run and when to walk.  The app makes these instructions fun by forming them in terms of a story about a town fighting for survival during a zombie outbreak, so when you are running, it is from zombies that you can “hear” behind you.  The training is framed as you learning to be a better runner for the town (runner scavenge for supplies out of town, hence why they need to learn to run faster from zombies).  It adds a sense of purpose to the training, and provides a fun context to help you progress the story along.  At its core, it’s an audiobook laid over a GPS/step tracker.

Because I can complete a mission in under an hour without leaving the house, it fits well with my time restrictions in the morning.  I’m enjoying the experience and I hope to keep this going beyond the 8-week training module.  Combining this with lifting weights at the gym a few days a week (or the occasional YouTube lead yoga session), it provides a sense of novelty to keep me engaged in the process.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan