Big Data

When I was a teacher, I hated it when people talked about data. I hated it because I taught writing, which was difficult to quantify, and I hated it because I like kids as people, so I hate the act of thinking of them as numbers instead of as a series of personal interactions. When a kid writes something like “If thumbs were considered fingers, then the whole world would be chaos.” How do you put a numerical value on that? Or when a kid who refused to write all year finally feels ready to write something and turn it in? How does that rate on a 1 to 5 scale?

But when it comes to exercise, I love data. Probably because I don’t really like exercise. I started running in graduate school, unless you count the two years of running track in high school that I was sort of drafted into so that there would be enough kids to run relays. Weirdly, going to grad school at Florida State made me want to start exercising because it was a body conscious campus where people sunbathed in front of the library and the gym was one of the nicer facilities on campus. It made me realize that I didn’t take care of my body, and while I’d always been thin, I wasn’t actually healthy.

So, I started running, and the thing I liked best was keeping track of workouts and crunching the numbers. If I could shave a hundredth of a second off my mile time, I was improving. If I ran farther it was a victory. I was never fast, but I could challenge myself and see my improvements.  That appealed to me. The side effect of that is that I am only active if I can measure it in some way. Basically, if I get off the couch, I want a gold star for my efforts. I went with a friend to walk her dog, and I recorded it on my phone so I could log the miles we walked. If Eric and I go for a hike in an area with poor cell reception, I feel a small sense of loss. If a girl goes for a walk in the woods and doesn’t log it, did it really happen?

This Saturday, Eric and I did the Red Poppy Ride in Georgetown, which was my first organized bike ride. I was a little nervous because I was doing the 14 mile ride, while Eric was doing 67 miles, which meant that it would be the first time I was riding alone. Fortunately, the conditions were pretty nice for a bike ride. It was cool and cloudy, and the terrain was fairly flat. As I started out, I felt pretty good, and I started passing people around me and riding at a nice pace.

I glanced down at my smart watch at one point, to see my data, but it looked like it was frozen. I pulled over and took my phone out to fiddle with it. After all, if I ride 14 miles, but I don’t know how fast I went, what’s the point? Plus, what if I actually ride 14.3 miles, but I don’t get credit for that last third of a mile? How will I know if I had a good average pace or what the elevation of the course was? I realized that my app was working, it’s just that my watch only updated my stats every few minutes for bike rides (it keeps real time data when I’m running). So, I started off again.

One of the things that Eric is really good at is stopping to appreciate what’s around him. As I was riding, I noted things like weird flowers on the side of the road or a farm with pigs. I haven’t seen a pig in a long time, but I couldn’t stop to take a picture of it because it would mess up my data. I didn’t have time to enjoy my bike ride, I was out to set a personal record. At about the halfway point of my short ride, I stopped at the checkpoint where they had fruit and snacks for riders. My ride was half over, and I hadn’t taken a break or gotten any water, which meant I was making good time. But I was super bummed I hadn’t taken a picture of those pigs. I took a couple of pictures at the checkpoint, and realized that it was a nice day and I should be savoring my ride a little more.

I challenged myself to stop and take pictures on the back half of the ride. To pause when I saw something interesting and not worry about my pace or the data I would look at later because maybe if I had a nice ride, but didn’t have photos to remember the cool things I saw, then my first ride was just a series of numbers and points on a graph. The nice thing about a bike ride is that it’s a fun way to look at the world around you and breathe some fresh air.

I did ride past a few things because it would be tricky to stop or because halfway up a hill is not the best time to pause and take pictures, but I did get a chance to document some pretty pieces of country, plus goats and that pig farm that I had passed earlier on the ride. I even wandered slightly off the path onto a road that ride organizers had helpfully labeled as WRONG WAY to take a photo of a concrete hippo in someone’s yard. What was I going to NOT take a picture of that?

I still finished the race in pretty good time (for me). That doesn’t mean I wasn’t a little bummed when I loaded up my stats and saw a mile were my pace was 5 mph. I could have ridden faster, and I realized I could have ridden farther and done the 27 mile ride. But still, 14 miles wasn’t bad considering that 2 years ago I was barely riding my bike and a year ago, I did a 12 mile group beginner ride that left me exhausted and defeated, wondering if there was a pre-beginner ride or Biking for Dummies ride I should be on instead.

The ride on Saturday made me want to ride more, and it made me want to build up to doing longer rides. It also made me want to take a few easy rides on scenic routes where the point is not about improving my times but about taking some pictures and enjoying a nice day outdoors.

Here are some of the pictures I took in Georgetown (about 30 miles outside of Austin).

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20140426_093856 Hey, Garzas? You guys are awesome!

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I wish I was as stylin’ as this little racer

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Thanks to YouTube, I am mildly obsessed with goats!

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Pre-race selfie

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Eric before he rode 67 miles. He did awesome, but afterwards, he was so exhausted that “It was hard to drive fast.”

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