Push On

I just realised that I haven¹t announced that I achieved my IPPT Gold last Saturday. Third one in three years. Full points for all three too.

I almost make it seem easy.

But the fact is, it was anything but.

For the past couple of months I’ve been training really hard for this and the half-marathon  coming up this Sunday (the “army half marathon”). I’ve amazed myself with disciplined long runs and early-morning interval sprints, mixed with properly executed HIIT, towel-pull-ups, rope jumping, box jumps, and other classic strength training devices.

Still, I almost didn’t make it. Despite all I’d done, despite how much I prepared for this, I almost gave up on the Gold after the first lap of the 2.4km run. I just didn’t feel comfortable.

Too hot.

Too sleepy.

Too much water moving about in tummy.

It was just all too much.

This has got to be at least my 20th “all-out” 2.4 run (the others are just for fun or training or nothing serious). And yet I’ve never really gotten used to really running the 2.4.

No matter how much I’ve prepared for it, the run itself is always gut-wrenching; stomach-turning; bloodcurdling; and prone to thoughts of giving up.

I guess it’s useful for people who look on in awe at people who do get the Gold to think, sure, it’s easy for them. But it’s not. At least not for me. Thoughts of how much pain I’m going through and of giving up hardly leave my mind at all.

Perhaps the difference, then, is that even with all my fear and thoughts of failure, I push on.

The importance of domain knowledge for a business analyst

I was part of team working on an analytics project that sought strong reasons to back up a major business decision, but found myself contributing much less than I’d have wanted to.

It wasn’t technical ability that I was lacking in. Rather, it was a distinct lack of industry/business knowledge that bottlenecked my value.

I’m not too sure if it’s just me, or if it’s something all those involved in professional analytical work go through, but at the start of my career I thought that technical knowledge was the main thing that would propel me to ever greater professional heights. I had never thought that domain knowledge would be that important, much less vital to doing good analytical work.

Technical skills look good on the resume, and are probably the first thing employers look for when seeking a suitable candidate to fill their analytical roles. But once in, technical skills are often secondary.

Sure, you may know your way around a MS Excel, Access, or SQL. But it’s really what you do with it that counts. And if you don’t know your business, your industry, you can’t really do much.

But let’s not discount the importance of technical skills. I find that the most useful technical skills to an analyst are those that allow you to perform automation and ETL (extract, transform and load) activities (especially when datasets are large or not primed/ready for proper data analysis), and spreadsheet or statistical software. The former helps tremendously in preparing data for easy exploration and analysis, and the latter for the exploration and analysis themselves.

But after that, it’s all domain knowledge, baby.

When I was working on the analytics project, people were bouncing ideas off each other. But being relatively new and not quite as well-versed in the concepts, lingo and accents(!), much of what they were saying were lost on me. It took me a while, with lots of emails and question-asking, before most of the project started falling into place.

So, I’m just saying that you can’t discount business knowledge when it comes to data analysis, and just as much effort should be spent improving that knowledge as that which is spent on technical knowledge.

Have meat if you’re usually vegetarian

For the third or fourth time in a couple of days, through chance alone, I came across four websites espousing the benefits of “mixing things up” through changes in habits. All four recommended “having the vegetarian dish if you normally have meat”.

Why not the other way round? Why not have meat if you’re normally vegetarian? I’m pretty sure that would be a pretty “out of your comfort zone” moment.

Running with Music for my Long Run

Just last week, for the first time in a long time, I completed a long run (one lasting more than an hour). In fact, it the first time in years that I completed one without the Galloway-recommended walk breaks.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Galloway method of taking walk breaks every few minutes of running. It’s probably the thing that kept me running long for so many years relatively injury-free.

But I must say that I missed running without it, something I didn’t know I missed until I tried it again. Because it made me realise how just running felt. How raw. How animalistic.

I felt like I was running for running’s sake, not because I had goals I wanted to reach.

There was one more thing that I did for the first time in a long time: run with music. For this run, I brought my trusty iPod Shuffle along. It wasn’t something I had intended to do, but because I noticed my motivation to run flagging more than Lance Armstrong’s reputation (I kept asking myself, “do I really need to run this? Could I skip rope for a long time and substitute it for the long run?”), I thought it might have been a good idea.

Cutting long runs short wasn’t entirely out of my area of expertise.

I’d previously sworn off listening to music while running, thinking it was (a) distracting and “impure” – “real runners listen to their bodies, not music”; and (b) dangerous – running deaf is almost like running blind. But I thought it was worth experimenting with again (and some people think it’s actually good, so that’s good), and if I kept the volume low and was extra vigilant along vehicular roads I should remain relatively safe.

Besides, this was a gift from the missus. And it was nice to bring a part of her (by association) along for the run (somewhat like why you wouldn’t want to wear a serial killer’s sweater, only in this case I would want to bring along the gift).

Before the run, I did a search for some nice workout songs. You couldn’t imagine how excited I was when I found that there were websites that had the BPMs (beats per minute) of songs and even had the recommended running speeds the songs were good for. If I’d known this was available I might well have had reintroduced music into my runs earlier.

Unfortunately for me, I can’t stand running with my phone so streaming running music was out of the question. But fortunately for me, I’d already had plenty of songs that were of running-music-ready, and so I loaded these up into the Shuffle and made my way out.

I must say that the Jog.fm 5 minutes per kilometre playlist was close to perfect. Other than a couple of songs that had starts that I felt were a little too slow, most of them matched my cadence and attitude and I blew my recent training personal bests out of the water.

If you hadn’t tried it (or like me, gave it up a while back) I say bring it back, and go on out for a personal best.

Three more weeks to my second try at IPPT Gold, and I’m really excited.