The Audiobook Habit

Adam Fortuna

Adam Fortuna is a developer, crossfitter, foodie who lives in Orlando, FL. He blogs about programming at evaleverything.com and tweets often.

There are so many (good) podcasts out there it’s easy to get swept away by them. About 2 years ago I was subscribing to over 30 of them, many of them news that overlapped with each other. Around this time, I decided to take a break from podcasts and binge listen to all 5 Game of Thrones books. For reference, that’s over 200 hours of content.

After about 2 month of audiobooks, I switched back to podcasts and found I was able to unsubscribe from nearly everything and wonder why I listened to many of them in the first place. After that, what I listened to changed dramatically — focusing on storytelling, education and entertainment rather than news.

Stopping this deluge of information in podcast form was similar to when I stopped reading RSS feeds (thanks Google Reader for going away!). It was information I didn’t know I didn’t need.

Habit Forming

I have a tendency to take things to the extreme. Why do something if you’re not going to go all the way? Marilyn knows that whenever we’re watching a TV show, we’re not going to just watch one episode, we’re going to watch the entire series from episode 1, in order.

This same tendency that can cause a lot of wasted time when listening to podcasts, actually helps out for marathoning audiobooks. From when I wake up in the morning and roll out of bed, if I’m not talking to someone, programming, reading or watching TV, I’m probably listening to an audiobook. People around the office have no doubt seen me walking around with earbuds in. This resulted in 45 books in 2013 and 39 books (so far) in 2014.

Podcasts

We started a Cereal and Serial listening club at work for the Serial Podcast.

I have missed out on some amazing podcasts in that time, and there are a few I’ll still make sure to listen to. Freakanomics, RadioLab and Serial (for example) are all amazing, as well as too many others. Rather than tuning in each week for most of these (ie, all but Serial), I’ll let them pile up then binge listen to 3-6 months of backlog in a few days. For other podcasts, I’ll only pickout the episodes I like where they’re touching on topics of interest, rather than listening to every episode regardless.

Seems obvious enough to do this, but when you’re the habit of watching every episode of a TV show, skipping an episode of a podcast seems like you’re not getting the full picture.

Positive Implications

What did this change have on my life? It wasn’t immediately apparent, but a few things stand out. By tuning out tech gadget podcasts, I noticed my consumerist tendencies declined. By stopping some of the financial podcasts, I worried about investments less which resulted in less shifting money around and ultimately a more successful Bogleheads style strategy. By not tuning in on specific days each week for news, I had a less structured listening schedule where I wasn’t immediately listening to whatever was available, and instead choosing what to listen to.

Creativity Inc

Creativity Inc, 2014

Listening around the house has helped me stay on track while getting things done. My entire garage was reorganized during a listen of Foundation. Unstuff your Life kickstarted a house cleanup that still proud of. Creativity Inc began an amazing conversation at Code School that resulted in some effective changes to the way we work. Quiet: The Power of Introverts was a interesting look at what gives me energy and helps drive me (and is a book I wish I had been able to read in middle school).

Development

The drive for additional data on what I was reading led to the creation of an Ember.js Application for managing them, as well as a Code School course on what I learned building it. Lately, my obsession has been AngularJS, and I have learned a huge amount re-implementing it in the new framework. The next step is some crazy data visualizations using D3, which I’m exited to have some data available to experiment with. If anyone wants to hack on it with me, the code is public on GitHub at adamfortuna/scribe.

The inspiration for the books app was inspired by a few fellow programmers who have done the same. Derek Sivers tracks what he’s read, and tends to read business and personal improvement books. Pamela Fox, a fellow programmer in the education space, also tracks her books (we share a distaste for Neuromancer). Any other programmers out there do the same?

Recommendations

Hyperion

Hyperion, 1989

If you’re looking for recommendations, the easiest thing is to checkout which books I’ve rated as 5-star on Goodreads using the handy books page. 3 Books I recommend to everyone (although completely different in nature) are Ready Player One, Hyperion and The Stormlight Archive Series (the last being the Fantasy equivalent of Game of Thrones — minus the sex).

On a side note, many thanks to Adam Rensel for the continued amazing book recommendations! If anyone else has suggestions, I’m all ears. Lately I’ve been eying the NPR Top 100 Scienve Fiction and Fantasy list as a good reference point, as well as this amazing visualization of which ones to focus on. The books page also shows what I’m reading on the right, by tapping into GoodReads “currently reading” indicator.

Back in high school, I got kind of into anime. My friends and I were the ones hanging out in anime IRC channels, and trekking across the state to conferences to meet with others of our kind. Although my love for anime isn’t what it once was, and I get winded playing 9 foot songs on Dance Dance Revolution, that started a fascination with Japan that has stuck with me. It lead to me taking Japanese language classes in college, getting really into Kurosawa and Miyazaki movies and wanting to someday travel there.

A Last Gift

I’d talked about traveling to japan with my mom during this time. Some of the places we’d go and the sites we’d see. When she passed away 2 months after I graduated college, I put a lot on hold. Rather than traveling or developing websites in my spare time, I was cleaning out and fixing up the house I grew up in. This meant driving from Orlando to St. Petersburg (90 minutes) on weekends for almost a year. It was without a doubt the most stressful time of my life so far.

On the weekend before my birthday, when the house was almost ready to sell, I was spending my weekend clearing out my moms room. In her closet, within a suitcase, I spotted a bank envelope. Written on it were the words “Adam to Japan fund”. I scratched my head and opened the envelope. Inside was $1,000 in cash, with a ledger on the side denoting deposits to it over the last year of her life. The thought behind this hit me hard, and I still tear up remembering it.

That was my moms last birthday gift to me.

The Trip

Fast forward almost 8 years later. Marilyn and I have been together since before finding that special envelope, and had also put off this trip in favor of various other amazing trips. Towards the end of last year we decided this was the year and finally made it a reality.

The tl;dr of the trip is that it was amazing. We spent 4 nights in a hotel across from Nijo Castle in Kyoto, experienced mineral baths and amazing meals for 2 nights at a ryokan in Hakone and finished our trip by exploring Tokyo for 7 full days.

During our time in Kyoto, we took a food and sake tour with a local, who grew up in the midwest. We explored ancient shrines like Fushimi Inari and Kiyomizu-dera temple. Fed the sacred deer in Nara and explored the amazing temples of Japans first capital. We saw a Maiko (Geisha) performance in Gion, the historic home of the culture. We explored the ancient castles used by the Shogun. At only an hour away, making the side trip to Osaka resulted in some amazing okonomiyaki and culture shock.

In Hakone, we shed our shoes and enjoyed pampering and 12 course kiseki meals at a hundred year old ryokan. We took a ropeway tour of the mountainside and ate eggs boiled in Owakudani, a natural hot spring, before taking a ship across Lake Ashinoko.

With so much to do in Tokyo, there was no shortage of nightlife, food, shopping or culture to fill a week. We loved the feel of Hakajuku, littered with crepe stands, cafes, boutiques and second hand stores. Were were wowed by the sheer amount of people and lights in Shibuya. Walked through the blooming sakuras in Ueno park. Watched gamers and otaku wander the 6 floor arcades and model stores in Akihabara. Fullfilled a lifelong dream and visited the Ghibli museum. Woke up early and had sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market. Had drinks at the Park Hyatt — famous for its role in Lost in Translation. Finished the trip with a very odd show — The Robot Dinner Show.

What to Expect

We did a lot of research before our trip, and it paid off. Going to Japan without some preparation will mean missing out on a lot of opportunities to make your trip better. Here are a few of the things we encountered that either came as a shock to us, or that seriously help out if you know about them ahead of time.

  • Bathrooms don’t usually have soap or towels. Most locals carry a small cloth to dry their hands.

  • Public trash cans don’t exist in Japan. If you have trash, you’ll probably need to carry it around until you get back to your hotel room.

  • There are many, many vending machines in Japan providing cold and hot drinks, instant ramen, beer, cigarettes and more. Next to each you’ll see a recycling bin. This is because it’s common for someone to buy and consume a drink right there. We didn’t see people drinking on the go. Either you bring it home or you drink it there. (If you’re a tourist it’s OK to do this though, no one’s going to be mad.)

  • People follow the law. Beer and cigarette vending machines don’t require an ID to purchase, but yet there isn’t an epidemic of kids buying them. The same machines in the US would either be policed or constantly empty. Same goes for simple things like waiting for the crosswalk to signal before crossing at 2am in a rural area.

  • Get a Japan Rail Pass to travel between cities using the Shinkansen (bullet train). You can also use it on the Yamonote line in Tokyo. You’ll need to reserve and have this delivered outside of Japan though. They give you a voucher, which you show at a JR office to get a full pass. There are JR passes in major airports, allowing you to grab it when you arrive. Make sure the station will be open when your flight gets in.

  • When it comes to trains, getting around between cities is easy using the JR Pass. You can show up at a station and make a seat reservation for the next available train. Since they leave every 30 minutes, you won’t be waiting long. You can also walk onto an “unreserved seat” car without a reservation.

  • For travel within cities, you’ll probably be using multiple companies subway lines. In Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo this applies. If you use the Google Maps, it’ll route you through this, but you’ll need to learn how to use the ticketing systems at each. All have an English option for the subway, but don’t have one for buying bus passes. We stuck entirely to subway and taxis for our visit.

  • Assume no one will speak English. It was always a nice surprise when people could help us, but don’t assume. It’s worth learning a few phrases like ‘sumimasen’ (excuse me) and ‘Eigo ga wakarimasu ka?’ (Do you understand English?) will help immensely.

  • The level of service everywhere was amazing. Restaurants, taxis, trains, hotels and anyone we talked to in the streets were very nice and no one was rude. Even with the communications barrier, people gave you their time with a smile.

  • Lots of articles on Japan mention you’ll be taking off your shoes often. Don’t listen to them. We took our shoes off a total of 3 times in 2 weeks (not including at the ryokan). Wear comfy shoes though. You’ll probably be walking a lot more than usual.

  • Get a mobile cellular device with wifi. We rented a pocket wifi from Pocket Wifi for about $80 which served as wifi for both of us and provided unlimited bandwidth. They delivered it to the post office at Narita Airport (outside Tokyo) and we picked it up right after we arrived. There were also some vendors in the airport selling these. Make sure the post office is open when you arrive though.

  • You won’t find any fancy breakfast places outside of ryokans. If you want breakfast, try a 7-11, a Dennys or a 24-hour noodle shop.

  • Some things you’ll want to reserve before you leave. These include a Japan Rail Pass, a pocket wifi, Ghibli museum tickets and imperial palace tours.

  • You’ll be going up more than you expect. Although most consumer shops and restaurants are at street level, on multiple occasions we had to take an elevator just to get to the entrance of a business. This was true for stores, restaurants and bars. These shops can be easily missed without exploring.

  • It rains a lot in Japan. Tokyo gets more rain than Orlando, Portland or Seattle (almost as much as Portland plus Seattle). You can buy umbrellas for $5 every few blocks in the city, and you’ll see piles of cheap, broken umbrellas in the touristy areas after a storm. These aren’t torrential downpours, but they are enough to drench you.

  • Almost every meal we had was between $30 and $70 total. Ramen meals came out on the $30 side for 2 people, while more fancy Japanese style meals with sake or beer were more like $70. Our entire food spend for 2 weeks was less than the cost of a night at Jiro.

  • Malls aren’t like malls here. They’re more like our department stores, with small, distinct stores very close to each other that all open/close at once.

The Days

What follows is a breakdown of the trip, day by day, with more pictures than I’ve ever included in a post. If you’re curious about Japan, or want to see some amazing sites, read on!

Seeking Mentors

Earlier this week, I stumbled upon an interesting blog post about How to Be a Mentor that included a variety of great advice on the subject. It occurred to me how many tips I could take and also how many mentors I’ve sought out in just the past year or two.

Fitness

One of the major advantages to something like CrossFit is the personalized coaching. Getting a training session with an extremely experienced trainer 3-5 times a week isn’t something that seems unusual. More days than not I start the day with a challenge from Mike, Josh or Jason.

Olympic Lifting

Recently I started attending an Olympic Lifting class at the gym, with a focus on a few select movements — clean, jerk, front squat and snatch. The coach for it, Mike Koenig has been an amazing trainer over the last 2 years I’ve been working with him, and I’m excited to see how the added emphasis on these lifts helps my progress.

Yoga

Another unlikely addition to my fitness regime over the past year has been adding in a dash of yoga. Every Wednesday at Envy Labs, we push the ping pong table aside and do a yoga session. Courtney Singleton has been an amazing instructor at easing me into the yoga world, in a non-sweaty introductory way that has helped my flexibility, and surely my performance in other fitness aspects as well.

After I strained my ankle a little over a year ago, yoga was one form of exercise that felt best for it. By Wednesday I’m somewhat sore from working out, so having yoga mid week has helped as a recovery tool.

Running

Around the office, it’s been Aimee Simone who has continually helped bring people together for runs – often around downtown Orlando. The path around Lake Eola is a beautiful run, and this time of year it’s something to take advantage of. Aimee also spearheaded the Yoga initiative which is always accepting new members.

Piano

Growing up, I remember going to my flute lessons in my karate gi. I didn’t play flute for too long, maybe 2 or 3 years, but left always wanting to play piano. My dad was always an inspiration to me in the area of music. Throughout my early years, the house was filled with piano or guitar strings, which I came to love waking up to.

Last year I decided to take the plunge and buy an electric piano and find myself a teacher. I’d put this off for quite a while mostly because I know it’s not something that’ll happen overnight. For the last year I’ve been attending classes with Al at Winter Garden Music near my house. Al’s the kind of guy who you’d give any piece of music to and he’ll play through it verbatim on the first run through. With his help and encouragement, I’m slowly improving, but I have a long ways to go.

Programming

When it comes to programming, there’s something you can learn from everyone you meet, so it’s impossible to list out any kind of complete list of mentors. My coworkers at Envy Labs push me to learn, teach and grow, especially Eric Allam, Carlos Souza and Gregg Pollack.

Not all mentors are as hands on as the in person list above. Some mentors are idea creators and code writers who you interact with through the product of their work. Ever since stumbling on Inventing on Principle and Learnable Programming, I’ve been following (stalking?) Bret Victor. I’m reasonably sure it’s normal to have Google Alerts setup for whenever his name is mentioned.

Working at Code School and always trying to push the envelope when it comes to how we teach, just seeing these kinds of inspirational ideas helps immensely. Following the specific approaches Bret mentions isn’t the important takeaway, but attempting to understand a concept from a students perspective and giving the tools for them to feel powerful when learning is an important goal to strive for.

I’m still working my way through his lengthly list of Links 2013, but I’m looking forward to reading all of them.

Seeking Mentors

One interest I mentioned in my 2013 Year In Review post was my desire to dive deeper into the JavaScript world. Part is this is reading through more JavaScript code by other people. If you’re reading this and come across any interesting JavaScript code or blog posts the year, feel free send them my way. If for no other reason than it’s more material to cover on the 5 Minutes of JavaScript podcast Carlos and I have been releasing every Thursday.

Seeking out mentors doesn’t happen overnight. Finding programming mentors may be difficult outside of the workplace, but most people I talk are more than willing to guide people – just no one asks. If you respect someone and want advice, don’t be shy to ask them.

This is my annual recap of what’s happened in my life over the last year. I’ve come to realize every 5th or 6th year is extremely active, while the other years seem to be less so. This year was not one of those 5/6 years, but instead more about personal growth and finding balance in my life. The biggest parts of my life this year were: Marilyn, Code School, CrossFit, audiobooks, learning Ember.js, and learning Piano.

Travel

I didn’t travel all that much this year. The biggest trips were Rails Conf and WWDC – both week long conferences attended with coworkers.

  • Rails Conf in Portland, OR
  • Was extremely lucky to attend WWDC in San Francisco
  • Sanibel with Marilyn for her birthday weekend
  • Went to Miami for Distant Worlds, a Final Fantasy Concert

Events and Entertainment

The most random event this year was Distant Worlds. Marilyn and I were discussing “What musical acts would you absolutely love to see that you haven’t?” and I mentioned Nobuo Uematsu, the composer behind the Final Fantasy games. After looking to see if he had a tour coming up, there was one in Miami 2 months out. Considering he’s only performed in the US 10 times in 10+ years, we really lucked out!

If you like movies, I’d encourage you to create a Letterboxd account and friend me!

  • Saw a load of movies, my favorites for the year being: Somm, Gravity and Stoker
  • Went to the Florida Film Festival Premiere, followed by seeing a number of awesome movies
  • Attended Megacon for the 15th straight year
  • Lots of audiobooks — 45 total for the year. My favorites were Hyperion, Maphead, His Dark Materials and Bossypants. Many more were amazing.
  • The TV Shows I looked forward to most this year were Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Homeland and Breaking Bad
  • Went to BarCampOrlando and presented on “R Programming for Ruby and Rails Developers”
  • The Postal Service concert viewed from the balcony at Hard Rock
  • A hilarious Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine concert at House of Blues
  • Saw Kevin Smith live at the Plaza Theater
  • Distant Worlds Concert
  • Only played a few video games, including more Skyrim, Final Fantasy VI, Bioshock and Final Fantasy XII

Body

2011 was about having fun and keeping interested (when it comes to CrossFit). This year was more about testing my limits and seeing how I could improve. Towards the end of the year I did start to plateau when it comes to working out. I suspect it was due to an awful diet and lack of sleep.

  • Worked out usually around 3 or 4 times a week, nearly always at 8am
  • Stopped by CrossFit Portland with Casey when in town for Rails Conf
  • Participated in the CrossFit Open with a few other people to see how I matched up. My best performance was in the 20% percentile, but most were in the 4%
  • Continued doing yoga at work on Wednesdays. Great way to relax and prevent injury
  • Did Murph in 51:17 for Memorial Day. Confident I can do better next time!
  • Ran in a Warrior Dash outside of Orlando with a few friends. Muddy and cold, but a load of fun
  • Running around Lake Eola in downtown Orlando after work occasionally when not too hot out

The FitBit is awesome, but it doesn’t understand how much I hate wall balls.

  • Got a FitBit for Christmas, with the hope of monitoring my sleep patterns and general fitness. When I keep track of things, they generally get better.

Work

Worked at Envy Labs entirely on Code School all year long. My main focus has been on putting out awesome courses and trying to improve education through technology.

Work mantra: always ask “What Would Bret Victor Do?”

  • Changed job titles to “Technical Director at Code School”, whatever that means.
  • Helped released a ton of Code School courses over the last year. A total of 17 went out in 2013
  • Helped write and worked on Try jQuery, a free way to learn jQuery in the browser (and linked to from the jQuery site). Followed up by writing jQuery: The Return Flight
  • Helped write the Ruby/JavaScript side of Code Schools Core iOS 7 course, which lead to a few blog posts about it
  • Wrote and helped implement Warming up with Emberjs, a course to learn Ember.js from scratch. Basing the implemention on everything we’d learned about teaching programming in the browser.

Great Meals

I tend to remember amazing meals far longer than I probably should. Here’s a few that stand out.

Having coffee at Victoria & Alberts is a magical experience.

  • Went to Victoria & Alberts restaurant with Marilyn for our Anniversary
  • Had a great birthday dinner with Cask and Larder with Marilyn, my Dad and Paige
  • The Chefs Table of Edgewater for mothers day with Marilyns family
  • Went to Cask & Larder for an Envy Labs lunch
  • The Chefs Table of Edgewater dinner with Alli and Jeff
  • Had Marilyns Birthday dinner at Pharmacy with tons of friends
  • Stone Crab Festival in St. Pete with Nate and so many friends
  • Food and Wine Festival with the Envy Labs gang

Personal

Seriously, the little girl in the Piano lesson after mine is soo much better than me.

  • Bought an electric piano and started taking lessons every week. Still not very good, but making progress
  • Cleaned out and organized the garage and attic to where we actually know where things are
  • Launched a programming blog called eval everything, where I’ve been writing about anything technical topics that are interesting
  • Updated this blog from it’s previous setup!

Next Year

Looks like I’m in the 45% of people who make New Years resolutions.

Continue learning piano. For me this means doing more practice at home as well as keeping up with lessons.

Get into Angular.js development, which we’re using for a new Code School project. Kind of have to do this one for work anyways, but I’ve been wanting to do it too.

Get more into JavaScript testing frameworks out there. I’ve let my JavaScript go untested for far too long.

Invite friends over more, typically to play games or anything really. Too many times this year we said “we need to have a game night”. If you ever want to have a game night, just let me know!

Keep track of things more. Kind of an obvious one, but “What gets measured gets improved” has always been true for me. I’m already doing these — some all the time, some intermittently.

  • My Todo list in Things
  • Workouts and fitness goals in Evernote
  • Piano practice in Evernote
  • Audiobooks in my book log
  • Sleep in FitBit
  • Expenses in Google Docs
  • Weight via Withings
  • Monthly goals in Evernote

Confident that 2014 will be an amazing year!

As of November 1st, I will have been doing CrossFit for 2 years. What started as a casual twice a week workout, slowly grew up to four and sometimes even 5 workouts a week. It’s been an amazing, life changing experience that I bring up in conversation entirely too often. 2 years seems like as good a time as any to reflect and detail my experience so far.

Fitness Background

Earlier in life I used to work out often. I had a good routine of jogging in the morning, and weight training after work a few days a week. This went well, but I didn’t love it. This routine was thrown off when I changed jobs and I spent nearly 3 years doing absolutely nothing that required raising my heart rate.

That might have continued if not for my friend and coworker Casey Jenks who co-founded CrossFit Kings Point. After a few months of hearing about this CrossFit thing, I decided to check it out.

Getting Started

Box: Term for a local CrossFit affiliate

So let’s say you want to try out CrossFit. What should you expect? Well, after joining a local box, there’s a period where you’re learning an entire new vocabulary and trying new movements every week. I started slow, at only 2 days a week. 2 days a week is better than 0, and getting a sustainable routine is an important step.

CrossFit Kings Point

Inside CrossFit Kings Point

Your First Day

Core iOS 7

CrossFit Kings Point and most CrossFit gyms start people off with some type of “On Ramp” program. The way it currently works is you come in for your initial workout and you’re paired with a trainer in a small class, possibly even alone, and taken through all the exercises for the day. A typical workout might look something like this:

EMOM: Every minute on the minute AMRAP: As many rounds as possible

Strength: Weighted Pull Ups
3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3
Rest 2 Minutes between Sets
Or
10 Minute EMOM of Muscle Ups
(Based on your ability)

Then, 7 Minute AMRAP
7 Burpees
7 Pull-Ups
7 Box Jumps (24/20)

WOD: Workout of the day

Going into your first day can be intimidating, but having someone there walk you through it can be amazing for getting started. For something like this, you’ll learn about the structure of the workout — namely that there will be a skill portion where you’re moving slow but working on strength, followed by a WOD where you you’re moving fast for 7 minutes.

You’d learn about using bands for pullups which provide additional help if you’re unable to do body weight pull ups. The trainer would also walk you through the individual movements, showing you what it means to do a burpee, a pull-up and a box jump.

Every gym has a different way of introducing new members to fitness, so check out how the gym near you structures your first days and weeks.

My First Day

CrossFit has many named workouts that you can use as a benchmark for your progress.

My first workout was a “Half Cindy”, which consisted of doing 5 pull-ups, 10 pushups and 15 squats in that series over and over for 10 minutes (an AMRAP). Even with the assistance of a band, I struggled to not throw up after 5 rounds. Even with that awkward feeling, it felt amazing. I scheduled my next workout immediately and didn’t look back.

On a side note, wecently we did “Cindy”, which is the same workout, but over 20 minutes. I managed 17 rounds this time, without using a band. Amazing to be able to look back. Maybe in another year, that number will be 20 — or more?

Avoiding Injuries

Bouldering: Rock climbing on a wall no higher than 12ft without a rope.

In 2 years, I’ve had 2 injuries, and only one was CrossFit related. I strained my ankle bouldering and couldn’t run for a month. In that time I continued working out, but instead of running, I’d row. Other ankle related movements, like squats, weren’t a problem. Workouts can always be scaled back based on injuries if you make it clear with the trainer.

I’m not counting torn hands, bruises or scrapped knees as injuries.

My only CrossFit related injury was on such a light, simple movement, it’s hard to believe it ended up with me not being unable to walk straight for 3 weeks. I was doing a stiff legged deadlift with a light 56 lb kettlebell as a warmup, and on the way up I heard my back crack. I knew right away something was wrong and I had to lay down and limit my movement right away. My trainer (Mike), insisted I sit out and stretch rather than participate in the workout. Within half an hour I could barely move without intense pain.

I managed to get it looked at that day, which lead to some pain medicine for it, followed by a massage. Luckily for me it was nothing serious — just a back strain. My back was a persistant spasmed state for a number of weeks, but I was able to return to working out after a week and a half off by adjusting the workouts for my limitations.

Diet

When it comes to diet, there’s always two — what you aim for and what actually happens. I go through periods of focus with my diet, which generally lead to larger gains. Between them is my usual, mostly-healthy diet.

Paleo

There may or may not be shirtless before/after pictures of me for this Paleo Challenge.

For the month of August 2012, I participated in a “Paleo Challenge” competition run by my gym. The goal was to eat no grains, sugars, salt, vinegar, rice, chocolate — or other things considered non-paleo for the month. This generally meant eating meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, olive oil and not much else. I cut out fruit as well to try to lower my sugar intake even lower.

The result of this was that I went down from 8.2% to 6.8% body fat over the course of a month. At 132lbs, that’s almost surely the slimest I’ll ever be in my life. At that rediculously small size, I didn’t have any visible 6-pack. Genetics still plays a factor in something like that.

I don’t follow paleo now, although I do tend to eat more meat and less sugar than the average person. Some things, like salt, are annoyingly difficult to limit, and the occasional beer/wine throughout the week is still an indulgence. The biggest takeaway from the paleo education is understanding how different foods affect my energy level, moods and training goals.

Weight

I haven’t talked about weight all that much because it hasn’t been a goal of mine. Going into my first workout I weighed around 155lbs. My first 10 months ended up shedding 20lbs of that going three times a week. In the year since then, I’ve managed to put that amount back on, mostly as muscle.

During this time, I’ve never had a “goal weight”. Instead I’ve aimed for periods of eating a caloric deficit, followed by periods of eating a surplus.

Tracking Progress

I don’t plan on doing CrossFit at any kind of competitive level, but I do enjoy pushing myself and seeing improvements over time. I’m securely in the “intermediate” tier on the arbitrary CrossFit Strength Standards document for my weight in all movements.

I really want to do something with the Evernote API for tracking personal bests, volume and progress.

For tracking my own progress, I create a new Evernote note for each day, and tag it with each movement, and the name of the workout if there is one. Pulling up previous times and maxes on a given lift are as easy as looking at other notes with that tag. I’ve been keeping a single Max Lifts note containing my current progress as a quick reference.

The Open

One other way of tracking progress is participating in The Open, the very base level of competition. The Open consists of 5 workouts that you perform at your local gym. Every athlete around the world performs the exact same workouts, with the same weights, which allows for a global ranking. The top 30ish in each region participate in “Regionals” where they do a few more workouts. The top 3 from each region then move on to “The Games”. This is the big event that’s broadcast on ESPN each summer.

There is a huge thrill in being the same starting pool as those who go onto to The Games, even if it’s a completely different level. It’s similar to the US Open Golf tournament where anyone can participate, but the amazing thing about The Open is how many people join due to its distributed nature — 150,000.

For the last 2 years I participated, even though in both cases still a beginner. During the 2nd year I analyzed my progress and progress to compare against the field at large. The result? I was in somewhere between the 4% and 21% percentile for all of the workouts. I’m already looking forward to seeing how I compare next year!

Finding Friends

One of the biggest surprises about starting CrossFit was making so many friends. After 2 years at LA Fitness, the longest conversation I had with anyone was “Are you done here?”. At the gym I go to, there are other regulars at the 8am class I attend, which has lead to meeting smart and driven people that I wake up to each day. That’s not to mention the amazing trainers who help shape your progress and provide inspiration.

Being a developer and tending to find myself at developer events and developer conferences, spending time with people outside my profession has refreshing. The group I’ve come to know includes trainers, chefs, salespeople, flight attendants, former gymnists, students, parents, and too many more to list. Ages range dramatically from teens up to 60s and higher. During many, if not most classes, there are more women than men.

Worth every penny.

Tim Dikun, a coworker, friend and fellow CrossFitter, mentioned the biggest diversity gap in his CrossFit Year in Review post: income. CrossFit isn’t cheap. While a month at 24h Fitness is $10, a month at a CrossFit gym will run somewhere around $150/month or more.

Try It Out!

If you’re interested in trying out CrossFit, don’t be intimidated. Everyone is a beginner at some point and knows what it feels like. I’ve never talked to anyone at the gym that didn’t greet me with smiles.