I’ve discovered there are two distinct groups of cyclists I run into on a regular basis: those who track and those who don’t. There aren’t many people who fall in between, and I definitely fall in that first group. I am a bit of an obsessive self-tracker, but I haven’t always been that way.
What I Track
There are two major free online applications I use to track myself. One is Endomondo, which is an online tool with a smartphone app. Endomondo tracks mileage, speed, route, and altitude of a workout. I usually run the app during my bike rides, though I have a friend who does not have a smartphone and manually enters her rides when she gets home.
I also use Calorie Count to track my weight and calorie input and output.
Why I Track
There are lots of very good reasons to not track your every bike ride, meal, and weigh-in. It takes extra time, effort, and brain power, and it’s often easier to skip on those ultra-busy days.
That being said, I tend more towards the geeky, goal-driven type of personality. I like gamification as much as the next nerd girl. Tracking what I am doing and the effects those actions have appeals to the data-loving, game-making, goal-oriented part of my brain. Tracking keeps me accountable to myself and allows me to turn what might otherwise be a chore into a challenge. It’s the same philosophy that has me bike commuting, rather than working out in a gym; it’s replacement with a reason, instead of adding another thing on my list.
How I’m Really Terrible at Self-Tracking
As with marketing (my day job), the most effective tracking is tracking that happens regularly and consistently. Even though I love the data when I do track and it pushes me to do more, I go through fits and starts. I first signed up for Calorie Count in October in 2009, and used it for a month. Then I used it for another 4-ish months in 2010, and another 6 months in 2011. In 2012, I’ve been using the program and app for the last 10 weeks or so. I downloaded Endomondo in July of last year, and used it for 3 months before shelving it until March of this year.
In other words, I’m not great at self-tracking. I’ll go through fits and starts of being obsessed with self-tracking, but I always manage to find out something more about myself. I never thought I would be the type of person that could do 100 miles on my bike, but self-tracking proved to me that it could be done in 15 days. I found myself dragging many days, and tracking what I ate helped me realize it was because I wasn’t getting nearly enough protein while biking a lot. I was able to use Endomondo to convince a good friend that she could bike a mile (or 6!), even though that sounded like a very long distance.
Taking a Balanced Approach
Even though I obsessively self-track, I try to be careful to take a balanced attitude towards the whole thing. One day, when I was feeling particularly down on myself about a very caloric lunch, I found @fatnutritionist on Twitter, who quotes Ellyn Satter in describing normal eating:
Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it—not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life.
In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.
Give Tracking a Try
In the end, I like self-tracking because I like having a springboard for a positive feedback loop. It doesn’t matter how you track–a pedometer, a GPS app on your smartphone, or even a manual jotting down of how long you spend on your bike seat. So what do you do to challenge yourself?
Taking another look – Added 6/19/12
Self-tracking, today, allowed me to realize that in 311 days I managed to improve my time on an uphill ride, showing significant progress on a ride that I had just assumed would always take me a very long time. The post:
Today’s biking happy: last year, on August 13, I rode the 3.89 miles from close to my current DayJob to home in 41 minutes, 36 seconds. 311 days later, today, I rode the same 3.91 miles in 29 minutes, 5 seconds. It’s only 2.4 mph faster, but now pedaling home doesn’t take any longer than catching the bus.
I also went back, and on August 13 of last year I weighed in at 382 pounds, today I weighed in at 359. I made the ride 31% faster, and I weigh 7% less. Success takes a while, but self-tracking lets me see it!
By guest blogger and generally awesome woman Andrea Parrish–Spokane-based co-owner of Savor Sweets and Hydra Creations, photographer, and all-around netgeek, as her website will tell you.
Posts by Andrea
- Are you a “tracker” type?
- What motivates you in that?