2016 Focus: End Of Year Review

At the beginning of 2016 I wrote about my focus for the year. I’ve posted a few updates throughout the year but want to take some time now to do a final review.

2016 Goal: Write 50 Blog Posts

2016-goal-writing

Self Grade: 10/10

I was able to, thanks to a heroic effort in December, meet my goal of writing 50 blog posts.

Here is a chart I found interesting. Blog posts per week vs miles run per week. While I got most of my running in during the first half of the year, I did the bulk of my blog posting towards the end.

Though I hit the target number, this isn’t an ideal way to do it. Part of my reason for setting goals like this is to set a habit that I view as positive. I believed that if I focused on writing posts for a year, I would get used to the process and continue doing it for years. The best way to do that is likely to have some regularity to it, rather than a huge spike at the end to hit the total number. Because of that rush to the finish, I am somewhat burned out.

To avoid that in the future, what I might do is explore setting up cutoff points so the target is evenly dispersed and I can not make up for past misses. If I had broken last year’s goal up to one post per week – I would have hit 29 of 52. Perhaps I would give it some flexibility though by breaking it up by month of quarter – that way I would have some room to absorb busy periods or particularly difficult to write posts.

Finally, incase you missed any (or don’t believe I wrote 50) – here they all are:

  1. 2016 Focus: Goal, Theme, Challenge & Exemplar
  2. Experiment: Family Feedback
  3. Health: Finding My Limits
  4. Setting Goals – How I decided on 2:37 for My Marathon Target
  5. Increasing Our Standard of Living
  6. Benjamin Franklin Types of Things
  7. Is Clinton Support A Gender Issue?
  8. How Are You Liking Seattle?
  9. COR 40L Waterproof Dry Bag Backpack
  10. The Bike Counter
  11. In America Today
  12. Thoughts Before My Marathon Debut
  13. Race Report: Jack & Jill Marathon
  14. Two Steps
  15. 2016 Focus: Mid Year Update
  16. Product Management & Collective Action Problems
  17. Passing My Athletic Peak
  18. Measuring Maturity Development
  19. Roots and Fruit
  20. Thinking Of Our Possessions Less
  21. Response: The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans
  22. Achieving Goals
  23. How We Use Time: Consuming, Processing & Producing
  24. Parenting Is An Exercise In Discovering Gratitude
  25. How We Use Time: Investing, Enjoying and Giving
  26. Should We Work?
  27. Run a Sub 2:37 Marathon – Training Plan
  28. The Chief Bottle Washer
  29. Running a “Marathon”
  30. Planning A Goal
  31. S.T.O.K.E.D. – Six Minimalism Tips
  32. To The New York City Marathon
  33. What Makes A Great Rivalry?
  34. How Could This Happen?
  35. Water
  36. How The Kroleski Family Does Toys – Our Rotation Process
  37. Getting Rid of A Collection
  38. Vaccines
  39. Measuring My Health
  40. Adding Efficiency Through Business, Government and People
  41. Team Loyalty In Sports
  42. Problems and Profits
  43. Yearly Focus – v1.4 Release Notes
  44. Chapters
  45. Today We Worship Our God(s)
  46. Steps I’m Taking To Get Sick Less
  47. Three Day Per Week Marathon Training Plan
  48. Race Report: New York City Marathon 2016
  49. The Day I Didn’t Run
  50. 2016 Focus: End of Year Review

2016 Theme: Health

Photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/pz1hGy

Self Grade: 6/10

I wrote three blog posts about health this year – one about why it was important to me, one about how I quantified it and one about steps I was taking to improve an aspect of it. All of those are the culmination of a good bit of thinking on the topic.

I would have scored myself higher had I read more on the topic from external authors. I was really synthesizing more than pulling in new information and I think I should be doing more than that for my yearly theme.

 2016 Challenge: Run a Sub 2:37 Marathon

2016-challenge-marathon

Self Grade: Failure OR 9/10

My fastest marathon this year was 2:42:23, which was ~5.5 minutes short of my goal. So using a binary scale I would have to mark this a failure.

I’m ecstatic with the results of this year though. The reason I do these yearly focus challenges is to get myself to focus on something. I believe that by doing less, I can do those things better and achieve results that are exponentially greater than the sum of what I could achieve by splitting my focus.

In terms of setting focus, this was a monumental success.

At the beginning of the year I had never raced a marathon and it had been close to a decade since I was in good running shape – since I would have called myself a runner. I wasn’t completely sure I could get into this kind of shape again – that I could train like this – that I could avoid injury.

I am proud to call myself a runner again. I succeeded in focusing on it this year. I ran three marathons total, Jack & Jill, Big Sur & New York City – finishing in 1st place, 37th place (top 1.5%) and in the top 4% respectively. I ran a 4th of July 10k in my wife’s home town and won that as well. I also locked up KOMs (the fastest time) on a couple of Strava segments in my area. In total I ran 1,627 miles – straight through the midsoles of five pairs of shoes.

Here is a picture of all the shoes I wore through the year and the medals I got. Funny that the medal for winning Jack & Jill is smaller than the participant medal. The 4th of July race didn’t have a participant medal, only one for winning my age group.

I also had one of my most exciting running incidents when during a late night run I was attacked by an owl. I was actually on the local news as: ‘Greg Kroleski Attacked by Owl While Jogging’. Success.

All of this and I would still call my time commitment ‘manageable’. I ran or cross trained on 183 days total, exactly 50% of 365. Across those days I spent a total of 214 hours running. When you add in time for getting dressed, showering, stretching, etc. I would say my average amount of time invested per day was ~1 hour. That seems like the high end of the reasonable range for a yearly challenge.

All in all, this was a model year for me in terms of setting focus without overdoing it. I am going to be doing some thinking about how I can repeat this in future years.

2016 Exemplar: Benjamin Franklin

2016-exemplar-benjamin-franklin

Self Grade: 4/10

The original intent of the exemplar category was to learn more about what made that person tick and then implement a few of their practices. My focus was really split across the items this year and so this was the item that got the least attention.

I am about 100 pages away from finishing the lengthy Walter Isaacson biography and feel that I have a pretty good sense for who Ben was. The thing I did not get to do much of was implement his practices. If I had more time, that is where I would have spent it.

Steps I’m Taking To Get Sick Less

In 2016 I set a new record – the worst kind – I got sick more than I ever had before in a year.

A total of six instances that averaged about a week each. 40 days in which I was ill enough to skip running, some of which I was bad enough to call in sick to work or at least work a partial day. This was an outlier year – my typical year involves one cold that knocks me out for about a week.

Though I usually try to fight off colds without intervention from a doctor, this year I gave in a number of times and got on meds. On the third trip I asked my doctor what was up and he calmly explained that the combination of kids, an open office and public transportation and marathon training were doing me in.

So armed with that information, and since health was my theme for the year (great timing), here is my approach to try and avoid getting sick as much next year.


I view getting sick as a two part equation – how strong my defenses are and how strong the attack is. My job is to ensure that on as many days as possible, my defenses are stronger than that the attacks coming at them. Here are a few ways I am doing that.

Providing My Defenses With What They Need

Ensuring My Body Has Adequate Nutrition

The immune system is my internal defense against colds. It can only operate at full strength if the body has all of the necessary building blocks – in a body those include the macronutrients as well as a number of vitamins.

So in order to make sure my defense is strong, I am making sure all of the building blocks are there in ample supply. I am usually pretty good at supplying my body with everything it needs through a well balanced nutrition, but have lately been double checking my math.

The one substance I do not get a ton of from food and do not have ready access to in Seattle is vitamin D. Because of that I’ve decided to supplement it with a daily vitamin. This isn’t something I view as a long term solution, I don’t believe vitamins are an efficient a source of nutrition, but vitamin D is one I’ve heard uptake from vitamins works decently.

Drinking A Ton Of Water

Along with nutrition, I’ve found that drinking enough water is a great way to keep my immune system strong. The way the body uses water, maintaining salinization levels is a top priority and then supplying other systems comes after that. In my non-professional experience, even running 10-15% low on water intake can reduce my body’s ability to operate near capacity greatly, which I suspect is a result of critical illness defense systems being the first ones which water is taken from.

As a side note, I prefer to drink body temperature water. I’ve found it creates less strain on the body to intake.

Limiting Defense Drainers

Along with reinforcing my defense, in order to keep it strong I need to ensure I am not wearing it down myself. These next three items all relate to that – I have found that no single one wears me down completely, but all together they can combine to weaken my immune system. Part of my strategy is to monitor all three and if any one takes a hit, to ensure the other two do not simultaneously.

Monitoring Health Draining Substances

I have noticed that a few substances, when ingested, can affect the strength of my immune system and overexposure to them can make it vulnerable.

Sugar and alcohol are two that I watch the closest. In my experience, I don’t consume enough of either to totally take down my defenses, usually it is a slight increase in either along with a few other external factors that all add up to a weakened immune system.

Rather than eliminating both from my life completely, I try to maintain a normal low level of consumption for each and drop to near-zero levels as needed. For example, if someone in my family or that sits near my at work gets sick. Essentially this is a boost through omission of a normal negative.

Keeping My Sleep Average Up

One of the other ways I tend to wear down my immune defenses is by not sleeping enough. It usually isn’t a one night thing, negative results will often occur after a busy period in which I sleep towards the lower limits of my range for multiple nights in a row. Sometimes that is because I am up late doing something, other times it is because I am up at night or early in the morning, mostly due to child-related things.

I’ve found that if I run thin margins of sleep, inevitably a bad night will occur with one of my kids and I won’t have the sleep reserve to withstand it. That will result in my getting sick.

My approach to maintain this is to make sure my three-day trailing hours of sleep is within a normal range. This means that if for some reason I sleep an hour less than I like one night, I need to make sure to sleep my normal amount or slightly more the following nights. Since wake up time is not in my control and usually around 7am, that sometimes means I need go to bed at 9pm in order to catch up.

Limiting My Intense Training

When I was training for a marathon earlier this year I ran about a dozen runs of 20 miles or more. That takes me around 2.5 hours and usually involves some stretches of increased intensity. The result is that my body is extremely worn down. I have hard from other marathon runners that after races they often get sick, due to the strain of the race on their body. My training regimen had me hitting near-race effort three weeks a month for six months.

In order to keep my defenses strong, I am not going to do that again. I don’t have the margin available to be running myself ragged like I would if I were a professional runner that had all day to recover – or a non-parent that had predictable sleep and fewer germs in the house.

If I do come to a stretch of time where I decide to take on some intense training again, I will do so knowing I need to be running optimally in items of the other defense drainers on this list. That means lots of sleep, no alcohol and very low sugar. In my experience I can handle one of those things being sub-ideal, but not two or more.

Minimizing Attack Vectors

Now that we’ve addressed, how I am preparing my defenses, my immune system, we look at the side of the equation that has to do with what is attacking those defenses. There are parts of this I can control.

Hand Washing

The volume and intensity of germs I am exposed to from touch is much greater than those that are airborne. It is much more likely that I touch and object and then touch my mouth and get germs that way than it is that I simply breathe something in.

Because of this, I have recently started washing my hands like a doctor – both in frequency and process.

The amount I am washing my hands has probably increased by an order or 3-5 times. I wash them more often randomly, and also after touching things that I wouldn’t have thought twice about previously – riding the bus, cleaning up toys, using a conference room phone, cleaning a child up, etc. I now think about these things as dirty and treat my hands the same way you would if you had paint on them, I try to touch only what is necessary until I can wash them.

It might sound a bit germaphobic. Whatever it takes.

One thing I’ve been cautious of is drying out or roughing up my hands too much. I’ve heard that if you wash your hands too frequently you can actually make them rough and make it easier for germs to stay on them. The goal of washing isn’t to scrub them raw, it is more to do a rinse that slips off anything clinging to them. I am still trying to figure out the best soap for at home – I am often at a sink where I don’t have a choice.

Sinus Flushing

This post isn’t about what I do when I am sick, but I want to mention an item that has recently been migrating away from being a sick-time only process. You can look up what a neti pot is elsewhere if you aren’t aware.

My doctor mentioned to me that doing a sinus flush when I think I am getting sick can be a great way to flush germs out of there early so they don’t have a chance to reproduce. That makes sense. I think of this a lot like washing my hands, the goal is to minimize the time of exposure.

As of now I have started using a neti pot as early as the first signs of being stuffy, but I might start using it in a more as-needed defensive manner, or even as a regular cleaning.

Fresh Air

Although I stated above it is much more likely that I will get sick from physical contact with a germ saturated surface, airborne germs are still an issue.

To decrease the amount I am exposed to, I try and get fresh air daily. If nothing else, that gives my body a half hour to an hour where it is being exposed to air that doesn’t contain as many or the same germs.

We are also running a few devices in the house to keep the air as germ free as possible. We recently got a dehumidifier because we read that germs can survive longer and in higher quantities in air that is humid. We are trying to keep the house around 40-50% humidity, which is sometimes difficult in wet Seattle. We also have a UV air purifier which we run at times to help clean the air.

In the summer I am more apt to leaving the windows open and airing out the house, but that is a hard proposition when it is 35-40 degrees outside. We should probably consider doing room-by room airing during the day when certain rooms aren’t in use. The toll on the heat bill is likely worth the savings in sick time.

Conclusions

What I will say about all of these steps, is that my intensity ebbs and flows, as I think it should. When those around me are sick, I go on high alert and really double down on things, where as I take some time to relax a little if the threat seems low.

Kids all healthy, maybe I’ll stay up late and have a beer tonight. One of the kids has a cold? Probiotics & neti pot, then a 9pm bed time – just to be safe.

What am I missing? What else do you do to avoid getting sick?

Measuring My Health

This year I set out to think about the topic of health – what it meant and how to achieve/maintain it.

It should come to no surprise to anyone that knows me or reads this blog that my first goal was to figure out how to measure it. How to turn an abstract concept into a concrete number. Here are my thoughts.

The Old Way

I used to think of my health on a given day as a percentage. 100% was full health – defined by my normal self when I had no ailments. If I got sick or injured I would think of myself as operating at some lesser degree – almost like how you would measure the output of a factory.

100% means all machines are working at their expected capacity – if anything goes wrong then you measure the difference as a percentage.

I have frequently used terms like – “I’m getting over this cold, feeling 90% today” to describe my state. I could picture the green battery icon filling up like my laptop when it charges.

The Problem With That

As I thought more about health and what it actually was this year, I started to realize that was an incomplete view.

The old view assumes a fixed maximum. It requires you to define 100%. You might set that benchmark based on your average day, or your best day this year or perhaps some day in your prime, when you were younger than now. Some people even benchmark themselves off of others – they know they are without their health and measure that based on a comparison to their peers or average people.

All of these views break down when you try to exceed your maximum. If you want to become healthier than ever before, or than anyone you know, you quickly start to realize you will eventually exceed 100%. That way just doesn’t work.

The New Way

I have now started thinking of health as a number on a limitless scale – more like a bank account or hit points on an RPG character. The number can grow indefinitely, and it can also be compared across time and people.

I don’t actually have numbers to go along with it (yet) but if, say, I typically operate around 4,350 points, and am recovering from a cold, I might be operating at 3,915 for the day – which happens to be 90% of my former level. At the same time, I can fully set a goal to get my health up to 4,500.

This was a big shift for me.

What is it that I’m measuring?

Now that I have a way to measure, I need to define what to measure.

When looking for definition, I sometimes find it easier to define something by what it is not – to look at the negative case and use that to build out my positive definition.

As I thought about what it meant to be healthy, I realized it was easier for me to define what lack of health looked like. In my mind, it is a state when you tire easily, can not accomplish tasks that are possible for your peers, become injured or generally can not bear the impact of stresses on various systems. For example, someone with an unhealthy heart will be told not to attempt something that puts a lot of stress on the heart, lest theirs fail during the activity.

So thinking about that, essentially health is a measurement of how much of a beating we can subject our organic bodies to before they break down. Before we injure a muscle, break a bone, have an organ system fail (heart attack), get winded or allow an intruder to break through our defenses (catching a virus).

So our measurement, will include the amount of stress various attributes of our health can stand up to before failing.

My rough model so far includes a few attributes, like strength, stamina & efficiency – each of which is applied to the different systems; muscular, cardiovascular, immune defenses, energy processing, etc.

So if you were to play it all out, a measure of my health would be a list of some few dozen of attributes-system combinations, each with a specific number that measured how much stress that thing could take before failing.

As a concrete example, I just ran a marathon, which required that my cardiovascular endurance was really high. I spent the first half of the year getting sick a lot though, so I know my immune resilience was low.

How We I Use This Tool

All of these made up numbers are only important if they are put to use. They are a tool to allow me to make better decisions and get more out of my body.

Using them gives me a mental framework to think about my body’s health measurements as defense systems and various stresses as attacks on them. If ever my defenses are lower than the attack strength, my health will fail.

We might calculate that walking 10 miles requires about 2,000 points of muscular endurance – if we do not have that, and attempt the task, we will likely injure a muscle. We might similarly conclude that flying on an airplane will subject us to 1,000 points of immune attack, if our immune stamina is lower than that on that particular day, then we will fail and get sick.

With that knowledge, we can think about each of our personal measurements – which ones are being subjected to the hardest tests, how likely they are to fail and what we can do to invest in fortifying them.

Using my marathon example, I built up the cardiovascular endurance by running increasing distances over a six month period. That particular attribute is one that doesn’t go away quickly – so even though I have stopped training now, I can still go run 10 miles on a whim.

Meanwhile I know that my immune stamina can change on a daily basis based on how much sleep I’ve had and how healthy I have eaten that day. So when I know I am going into a situation where my immune system is going to be under a particularly heavy attack, I fortify myself by sleeping more and eating healthier. I also work to reduce the attack intensity by doing things like washing my hands to remove germs.

Conclusion

At some future point I will need to flesh out all of the attributes I am measuring a bit more as well as define some actual scale for measuring them. As it stands now, this is a mental framework that I already find gives me better leverage for tackling the problem at hand.