Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

Running Workout Types: Knowing and Manipulating These Runs to Optimize Your Training

The goal of training is to be able maintain a higher pace or speed over a set distance.

Naturally, we run different speeds at different distances. With training we can extend our ability from a shorter distance at a higher speed to a longer distance at a higher speed. Training is about the steps we take towards improving speed and endurance over distances, and one of the best ways to do this is through different running workout types.

I started running about two years ago and learned many lessons through this journey. One notable lesson was when I started training for my first marathon was when my coach and his plan exposed me to a wider range of workout types.

The key scientific insight about training for smart runners is that you need to leverage different types of running stimuli in order to build up different physiological changes. For example, you run shorter and harder segments with rest periods to build up your speed, and you run longer and a slightly easier to build up your endurance foundation. Finally to prepare for your target race at a target time, you do race simulations and tempo runs during your training to prepare your body and mind for that target speed over the full distance.

In this post, I want to define some of core run workout types you can do and how those different runs can contribute towards your training.

Don’t Turn Left at 24km: My Story Training and Running the Chengdu Panda Marathon

As I ran down the hill and towards mile maker “24 km,” I imagined the journey to come. A sense of relief entered my mind. I’d finished over half of the race (15 miles) and a mere 18km remained.

Sure, I’d never run anywhere near this distance before, and I’d only been running consistently for about a year. But I was determined, I had trained, and I was going to make it. In spite of the obstacles, both physical and mental, I was on my way to completing my first marathon in China.

The marathon I had chosen was the aptly titled, Chengdu Panda Marathon, a pristine marathon that twisted around the mountains and rivers of Mount Qingcheng and Dujiangyan, two UNESCO Heritage sites dating back to 250 BC.

As I neared the sign, I just had to remember one thing: Don’t Turn Left at 24km. I repeated the message to myself, “Don’t Turn.” That’s all I had to do.

I turned left. It was Friday, and with two days to go before the actual event, I turned and headed towards my home. A bit over a year before, I’d bought a house here in Qingcheng Mountain, one of the most revered of Taoist mountains, and I’d started running at about that time too.

At the foot of this mountain, I’d started a new journey, a journey of running. Training had taken me to nine countries and on nearly 200 runs. I’d clocked over 150 hours and 1400 kilometers running to get here. All of this lead me back to my new home, Qingchengshan.

This was more than just a run; it was homecoming.

Tracking Your Blood Pressure, a Vital Sign

Blood pressure is one of our vital signs, and having either elevated or low blood pressure can be a important sign of health problems. Both high and low blood pressure are highly correlated with various diseases and elevated mortality and morbidity risk.

Fortunately, for self-trackers and health-conscious individuals, blood pressure (BP) is both extremely cheap and easy to measure. All you need is a simple device to record your BP non-non-invsasively and, if you want to check your results over time, a method to log these results.

Once you have it logged a few times, it’s easy to understand your blood pressure numbers, do some simple analysis, and, if your numbers are off, to start an intervention to get your blood pressure under control.

In this post, I want to share some observations on why and how to track your blood pressure as well as how to understand your blood pressure readings too.

Ultimately, my takeaway is that I personally don’t need to check my blood pressure everyday using a blood cuff. Hopefully one day our wearables will be able to capture our BP. But at the same time, blood pressure is an important metric and devices are affordable. This situation translates into periodic BP checks with a cuff each month or quarterly. This kind of habit can ensure nothing unusual happens in your underlying health and gives you a solid data point long-term too.

How to Export Your Trakt Watching History for Free (and Do Some Data Analysis)

Trakt.tv is a great, free service for tracking your TV and movie watching. You can manually log what you watch or use additional integrations and tools to automatically track everything on Netflix and other places.

Whether your goal is to decrease your TV addiction or mere curiosity at knowing which shows you watch and when, Trakt is one of the best ways to quantify your media consumption. I’ve written previously about how track your TV and movie watching using Trakt. Personally my main usage is seeing my weekly viewing time statistic, which I can employ in my data-driven weekly review as a data point to better gauge how much tube time I spent and, if excessive, potentially take action.

Let’s go one step beyond the actual tracking and start leveraging our data. But first things first is getting our data.

Tracking services that don’t allow you to export your data should be avoided and honestly have a very bad data policy. Fortunately, Trakt provides a few options to export your data. One option is to become a VIP premium member and to download a CSV export directly from Trakt.tv. Alternatively, you can use a data aggregation service called Zenobase to pull your watching history directly from Trakt.

In this post, we will look at how to export your data from Trakt using Zenobase. First, we will look at how to integrate Trakt with Zenobase; second, at how to do basic data analysis around media time; and third, from there you can use Zenobase’s tools to explore the data, create visualizations and even download a full export of your TV and movie watching history on Trakt.

Build Your Own CRM With Evernote: A DIY Power Tool for Smart Networking

Here my basic recipe for building your own flexible networking tool using Evernote and LinkedIn.

Your network matters, and in an information-overload world, increasingly the tools and processes you use to manage your network matter too.

I use a combination of LinkedIn and Evernote as my DIY power tool solution for managing my contacts and all of their information and to create various networking processes.

While enterprise CRM solutions exist to manage your network and sales funnels, I’m a huge fan of this DIY solution of LinkedIn + Evernote. LinkedIn is the largest professional network. It provides us with raw contact info and personal data of nearly everyone out there. Evernote is the “Swiss Army Knife” of productivity tools. It provides a system for collecting notes on people, adding tags appropriately and is fully searchable. Evernote is an ideal choice for organizing and prioritizing all these connections and their information, and, with tags, Evernote can even be tweaked to create smart networking workflows.

I’m a long time fan of Evernote, and excluding my web browser, it’s the tool I use the most. I use Evernote for a number of functions like writing, task management, and reading articles One of the best descriptions is that Evernote is the equivalent of a digital “shoe box.”

In this post, I want to share how I have bridged this “gap” between the massive, informal network on LinkedIn and a “lite” CRM setup using Evernote. I put this DIY solution together several years ago, and it continues to be as one of my favorite productivity “hacks.” In the first part, we will look at LinkedIn and how to use it as your primary contact list and a method to quantify your “raw” network. In the second we then turn to Evernote, which is a note-based information management system and how you can create your DIY CRM using Evernote. Finally, we will conclude by mentioning some of the more technical aspects of networking, network information and smart process-based networking.

Science and Stories of Running: More Book Reviews on Running and Endurance

“In mind’s special processes, a ten-mile run takes far longer than the 60 minutes reported by a grandfather clock. Such time, in fact, hardly exists at all in the real world; it is all out on the trail somewhere, and you only go back to it when you are out there.” -Once a Runner

I’ve read quite a lot of books on running. As an obsessive autodidact, reading is a big part of how I learn. Not surprisingly, there are two parts to my journey to becoming a better running: running and reading.

I read a lot and I find long-form books to be one of the best ways to learn. This post is a followup on my previous post, “Some Great Books on Running,” where I reviewed nine other books on running.

In this post, we will look at several recent books I’ve read about running and endurance training. I will provide a short summary, review and rating of six more books.

Before jumping into my specific book reviews, I first wanted to share a few broad lessons I’ve acquired.

Track Your Podcast Listening With Screenshots

Looking for a simple “hack” to track your podcast listening? Take a screenshot every time you listen to an episode.

If you are a hardcore podcast listener, like me, it is difficult to remember what you’ve listened to and when. It’s similar challenging when you want to share a great podcast episode with a friend.

For the last year, I’ve been building and using a collection of tools to better quantify and track my podcast listening. But one simple habit or “hack” has been the basis for most of my podcast tracking: screenshots.

A recent chat exchange made me realize that this simple, habitual step is a great starting point for anyone who wants to keep track of their podcasts listening behavior.

For example, the other day I was chatting with a friend about what she had been up to all summer. When a random topic of mutual interest came up, I mentioned that I had just listened to a podcast on the very same time topic. She, of course, asked me to share it. I immediately went into my screenshot photos on my phone and browsed through my recent history. Eventually I pulled up the episode’s screenshot and shared it.

In an ideal world, my podcast listening app would automatically log and visualize all of this, and it would provide me with a better tool for tracking, showing my listening history and sharing.

As I shared in the “Dev Update: Building a Podcast Tracker App”, the current version of my podcast tracker is a simple website I’ve already built that let’s users log their podcast episodes manually. We are working on the next version that will be cross-platform for listening, tracking and managing your listening history.

For now, I recommend that anyone trying to better track and quantify their podcast listening to take a screenshot of the episodes they listen to. It only take a second and it’s an easy first step to denote the media you consume.

By initially logging my podcast listens with screenshots, I have entire folder of photos on my phone that I can look back on. I can see what I listened and with the meta-data, when and where. The fact that I had been “logging” my podcast with screenshots also makes it easy to share with friends later too.

If you want to go beyond this initially logging, I’ve built a simple tool to log them into a podcast aggregator. You can then check your listen time as a total, by week and by podcast channel. Moreover if you want to do your own data analysis, we provide an export. Contact me directly if you want to become a beta tester.

Tracking can come in a lot of forms. The majority of quantified self tools focuses on body, fitness and health tracking, like step counters, heart rate, and fitness. But I personally think there is a lot to be gained through comprehensive media tracking. For media tracking, you can log the books you read with GoodReads, you can record the shows and movies you watch with Trakt, and you can note the articles you read with Pocket, InstaPaper or use a DIY Article Reading Solution with Evernote.

Unfortunately there isn’t a great solution yet for tracking your podcast listening. So for now, I highly recommend the simple “hack” of taking a screenshot for every podcast episode you listen to. If nothing else, it’s easy to look back at your podcast listening history, and, if you want to go one step farther, you can log it manually elsewhere.

Best of luck and happy tracking!

Why You Should Do Regular Blood Tests: Benefits of Blood Testing and Blood Tracking

Blood testing is one of the most powerful ways to know about yourself and your health. If you are tracking other aspects of your life, then I recommend tracking your blood too. Blood testing will tell you if you have a disease (or predisposed to one), how your organs are functioning, the effectiveness of medicines, supplements, or fitness regimes, or even if you are pregnant. Blood tests are quite easy and fast, and they provide a wealth of information.

Blood is a bodily fluid that handles several important biological functions. Like checking the oil to know a car’s engine, you can understand the state of your body and its organs by testing and examining your blood and its constituent parts.

While blood testing may come with a periodic medical check-up, they are often reserved for when you have a medical problem and need a more intensive evaluation for a disease. By contrast, I would argue that everyone should get their blood work done regularly and not exclusively when you are sick. Moreover, everyone should gain a basic understanding about what is blood testing and how to read lab results. Your blood tests can help you optimize for wellness and performance. You should consider tracking your results too.

For me, as a self-tracker, understanding my blood and blood testing are logical extensions of a more comprehensive regime to track my health, productivity and life. Blood testing is a form of professional manual tracking. They aren’t hard, but unlike other forms of passive or manual tracking, blood tests require professional equipment, time, and money.

Blood testing can cost as little as 20-50 dollars to several hundred dollars depending on the specific tests. Personally I get my blood tests a few times a year, including at least one comprehensive health panel per year. I use various DIY blood testing services like Life Extension.

Unfortunately, like much of the medical space, blood testing can feel highly professionalized and difficult to understand for the layperson. This is unfortunate since blood testing results shouldn’t be the domain of experts nor exclusively used when you are unwell. In fact, blood tests should be something any health-conscious person can get done regularly and can easily learn to understand.

In this series of posts on blood tracking, I want to look at a range topics related to blood and how it can be used to help self-trackers and people in general understand their health.

Admittedly this is a topic that can get pretty technical. Even getting started tends to unravel into a new vocabulary and obscure acronyms. I’ll do my best to approach an explanation of blood testing step by step and cover the essentials and most useful aspects.

My emphasis is on how to use blood testing as a measurement for getting feedback on your body and yourself. I want to use blood testing as a framework for being “data-driven” in your health decisions and health tracking.

Here is the plan: First, in this post, we will look at why you should do get regular blood tests and some of the basic aspects of blood testing. In later posts, we will be examining some of the best blood tests, how to read your initial results and how to track your blood work over time. While the main focus will be some of the most common blood tests, I will highlight a few specific blood biomarkers and blood tests (like Vitamin D and Homocysteine) that are particularly beneficial. Finally we will look at some resources and steps you might use to create a data-driven process around your blood testing, your health changes and lifestyle improvements.

Let’s get started by looking at what is blood and blood testing.

Types of Self Tracking: Passive vs Manual Tracking

There are a lot of different ways to track and quantify your life. Before getting overwhelmed by all the kinds of tracking and even the time it might take to setup, let’s first categorize the types of tracking.

Broadly speaking, you can separate tracking into two categories: passive tracking and manual tracking. You can then separate the types of manual tracking according to the effort, time and/or professional equipment required to measure something.

In general, the best form of tracking is passive tracking, but there are several examples of both simple manual tracking and more intensive manual tracking that are worth the effort and provide extremely valuable insights.

We shouldn’t forget though that tracking itself is just the first step in a process to become data-driven and, ultimately, to optimize your life. Don’t just track. Use it to make better decisions and changes.

We can breakdown tracking into three categories: passive tracking, minimally manual tracking and professional, manual tracking. The difference lies in the amount of on-going action required to track the thing and need for professional help or tools for measurement.

Running in Koh Tao: Where to Run and Hike on This Diving Paradise?

Are you heading out to the diver’s paradise of Koh Tao, Thailand, but not sure about keeping up your running?

I recently spent about a month in Koh Tao, Thailand, a small rocky island in the Gulf of Thailand, and I would summarize running options in Koh Tao as: running along the roads, lots of hills, hot and humid conditions, and don’t be afraid to get wet.

In spite of its small size, there are a few routes for running and hiking on Koh Tao. It’s not ideal running situation, but with nice beaches on all sides, it’s easy to end any run with a swim. My best advice: prepare for some steep hills!