Category Archives: outlier

Genetic Potential Fitness

GPF, Genetic Potential Fitness

What is Genetic Potential Fitness? How do you apply the concept to your favourite hobbies? Did you know it need not have anything to do with your physical fitness? Can you possibly measure it accurately? How could you estimate it? How does it vary through your life? What is an optimal level for your performance target? What should you do to ensure that your performance stays optimal?

What is GPF, Genetic Potential Fitness?

In a recent media interview when I made reference to Genetic Potential Fitness, a term I coined when proposing a framework for lifelong assessment of progress, I meant for it to be relevant for all your dimensions of existence. Although, at first, because of the word ‘fitness’ in the acronym, GPF appears to be relevant for sporting activities, it is applicable for just about every dimension of human endeavour. Or even where you are not consciously making an effort.

Your performance at anything you do, whether it be playing a game of chess, writing poetry, painting or running a marathon is a combination of the genes that came from your parents and the nurturing of that aspect of your life. You cannot do better than your genes will permit – a fast tortoise will never overtake an average rabbit – but how good can you get? As good as your genes will permit!

It is important to note that I am not saying that only your genes solely determine your actual performance. As a matter of fact, I live my life believing and professing quite the contrary. What I am referring to is an upper bound on your actual performance – and if your actual performance is 50% about your genes, then the other 50% is driven by all those parts that were in the roots of the Wellness Tree.

Your GPF has nothing to do with what others are doing

When I first had an IQ test about 30 years ago two things became clear to me around that time. One was bad news, the other good. The first was that deterioration was guaranteed (bad news) but the second was that the rate of deterioration was significantly under my control (good news). From that time on, just being smarter than over 99% of the population in a very narrow dimension of existence was not what was all important for me. My own performance relative to myself is what matters. I made direct reference to this when I spoke to you about what you could do regarding Competing and Comparing, Targeting Happiness Maximization.

What therefore became more relevant for me three decades ago was the need to have a strategy to maintain that specific measure of (mental) fitness as close to what was genetically possible for the next 80 years ahead. And the same for all the other parts of my Wellness Tree. This theme also appeared when I told you why I do not care much about your podium finish (or mine)!

What does GPF apply to?

I spoke a few days ago about the Wellness Tree but what about achievable targets for those many branches of wellness? Your fitness levels in physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health are all equally important. From those branches, even if you pin-point a very specific leaf e.g. controlling anger, you can have a quantifiable measure that can be improved upon. Perhaps the measure chosen for a specific leaf is open for debate – for instance, what measure correctly captures how mindful you are? Having said that, it should be possible for you to focus on ways to work on your performance in that dimension.

Because you can think of GPF being applicable to anything you do, there are literally millions of versions of it depending on the granularity you decide to look with. For instance, you could have your GPF with respect to muscular endurance, or specifically running, and even more specifically, running marathons, and to be yet more specific, running long distances uphill. In summary, the concept of GPF can be used to focus-in with depth, or it can be used to zoom-out to look at your life from a broader perspective.

Can you measure your GPF exactly?

I do not believe that you can measure your true GPF exactly. Because you are typically so far from your genetic potential in most things, and perhaps a little closer in a few that interest you, you rarely ever have a precise measure of it. Perhaps if you are competing at an elite level e.g. Olympic swimming, you can have a narrower estimate range for your GPF in that specific sport – in fact specifically for the stroke that you specialize in. For the rest of us, non-Olympians, GPF is a measure that we are typically very far from. In fact, even the Olympic athlete is likely to be close to his GPF in only a specialized set of activities that her focus is on e.g. 50m backstroke.

Estimating GPF

Although you cannot measure it exactly, what you can do is estimate your GPF. If you work really hard on your squash game for 12-24 months you could get to a level that is very close to (but lower than) your GPF for squash. Because you are close to it, estimating your GPF is likely to be more correct. However, if you have never played water polo, during that same period of squash training, you are likely to be very far (much worse) than your GPF in water polo. And, because you are far from it, confidently estimating its level within a narrow range is difficult.

Estimating your GPF is easier when you are closer to it

How can GPF be useful for you?

So, if your GPF is something that is far from your current ability and is difficult to estimate anyway, what use is it?

Each of the three individual terms provide clues to answer that question. One of the benefits of giving serious thought to the concept of GPF is that it allows you to think about what you might be naturally capable of, given your genetic foundation. The other benefit is that it allows you to think about your potential and thus it can be a realistic motivating factor in your practice. And, finally, to the extent that the term fitness focuses your mind on the various branches of wellness, that is a good thing too.

How does your GPF change through your life?

You will have gathered by now that your GPF is a useful benchmark about where you could get to given your genetic material. Your GPF will change throughout your life for various reasons and depending on the activity or measure you are considering. Some physical fitness measures e.g. muscular endurance peak in the second or third decades of our lives. Typically flexibility is highest closer to birth. Some skills based measures deteriorate faster than health based measures of fitness. Your IQ (as measured by standardized tests) will have peaked in early adult life. Some measures of emotional health can get stronger as we age. Perhaps some measures of spiritual health continue to strengthen as we go through life all the way up to the point of death. And, it may be that something like wisdom necessary increases through life, almost by definition.

Your GPF varies differently through your life depending on what it is focused on

If you examine the roots in the Wellness Tree you will see that many factors feed into the branches. Because life is typically path dependent, your GPF will also be altered by what you feed the roots for the branches to flourish. At a microscopic level, your body literally turns genes on/off based on the exposure it faces. So, you can think about the various factors (roots of the Wellness Tree) and how they might turn certain genes on/off.

Although I said earlier that your GPF has nothing to do with others, there is of course an environment that is created by others too that affect your life and possible gene expression. This could be as sinister as second- hand smoking or even third-hand smoking, or as benevolent as a best friend with an excellent sense of humour.

What is an optimal level to be at relative to your GPF?

Depending on what you are measuring this ought to vary considerably. For instance, if you enjoy playing your piano for recreation, perhaps being far from your GPF is desirable or at least not a problem. On the other hand, if your interest is in performing for others then perhaps you will want your performance at the piano to be pushed closer to your GPF. Or it might simply be that taking your playing closer to your GPF is precisely what makes you happy, even though you play for no one other than yourself.

The largest constraints we typically face are those of ‘time’ and ‘money’. And for most of us, the constraint that is typically binding is ‘time’. So, with constraints of this nature and many different areas of interest, it is natural to think of a portfolio of interests and trade-offs between them in terms of proximity or distance to their respective GPFs.

And as you go through life, your interests and preferences will change, as will your constraints. If you think of your basket of interests, the decision for each constituent in that basket will also vary. Perhaps running marathons is of less interest to you now that you have taken up Latin dance and bread-baking. Approaching these changing interests in a structured manner will allow you to be at greater peace with the decisions you make. Even Olympic athletes cannot simultaneously maintain fitness close to their GPF in more than a few areas.

How do you get to your target level relative to your GPF?

The simple answer is “it is complex”. If you look at the Wellness Tree again, you will see the myriad pathways to the roots of the tree. To ensure that any branch flourishes will require you to engage as many of the paths in some optimal manner. I shall explain this in more detail in future conversations. For now, the key thing to remember is that your GPF is your GPF, that your GPF varies over your lifetime, and you can do things to get yourself to get closer to it at any age – but only if that is your wish. There is no compulsion!

Puru

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

As Beautifully Simple as PuruTheGuru’s Wellness Tree

The Wellness Tree – CLICK to ENLARGE

I have grown it for you, and here it is today, The Wellness Tree from Puru The Guru.

Quick Background

A few weeks ago, I presented you with The Better Life Infographic. That infographic pertained to information, thoughts, feelings, actions, results. However, almost every day someone I mentor asks a question about the benefits of ‘this’ or the problems associated with ‘that’. The ‘this’ or ‘that’ could range from anything like ‘running while listening to music’ or ‘the impact of drinking coffee on the effort to regenerate the beta cells of the pancreas’ or something as banal as ‘body-sculpting to get a 6-pack’.

The Wellness Tree

For living life well, I believe we need to focus on our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. These branches of the tree of wellness will be healthy and grow well if the driving factors that feed into them, the roots, are managed well.

Most things in life are multifactorial, and so it is with wellness. Some things have a small impact, some large, some a positive impact, some negative, and in most cases the impact is non-linear. In addition, things can get confusing from interactions between two or more factors. On top of that we have the impact of my favourite variable, time! In practice, almost nothing stands still as time flows. So, as I’ve said before, details matter.

Fruits from The Wellness Tree

In the weeks ahead, you will hear from me on a wide range of topics. I grew this Wellness Tree as a backdrop to describe various concepts, discuss many hypotheses and present guidance – usually with, sometimes without, evidence.

This tree probably won’t grow much above the ground i.e. I am unlikely to change my definition of wellness. However, below the ground, the roots might start branching further as the weeks go by as and when I decide to fill in further detail as relevant to the topic, or based on my mood. For instance, if you look under wellness->activities->social the root has not branched out further yet – but, perhaps, it will! Whenever the tree grows in any part, the ‘last updated’ will have a fresher date. Keep an eye on that!

I suppose one more thing to point out at this stage is that often what we think is important for good health is just one part of myriad changes we can make in life for living it well. For instance, it might take you a while to even locate ‘exercise’ in that tree, and when you do, you might continue to look but will not find something as powerful as ‘running’ in it. At least not in this version of 8th May 2017. That should also not surprise you if you have already read what I have said about why you need not run.

Learning from The Wellness Tree

You would do well to spend time looking at this tree as often as possible over the next few days. (Go ahead, bookmark this page, or save the image on your smartphone.) I suspect that, if you do, over time certain new thoughts will come to your own mind that you will be happy to explore further to live your life well – to live it better.

I will chat again soon, perhaps about that 6-pack question – or perhaps about the regeneration of the beta cells of your pancreas…who knows? We’ll see!

Enjoy the fruits of The Wellness Tree by focusing on the roots

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

How Green are my Movements? 100 Days of Data

It is worth reflecting on HOW you move

Global warning: This conversation might make you plan your life towards benefiting the planet.

Quick Background

With a clear interest in protecting the health of our planet, and a strong belief that data tells us more than what we would ‘choose to remember’, I started collecting data about my transportation modes at the start of this year. Yesterday was the 100th day of the year. Here are some thoughts on the subject that I felt were worth sharing with you.

Since the Summer of ‘69

“Mummy” is no longer a mode of transport for me

In the summer of ’69, my father was navigating a Boeing-707 flight from London to New York that he did on a weekly basis when my mother packed her bag in their home in London, dropped my elder sisters off at a friend’s and drove to the hospital where I was born a few hours later. Apparently, my father was pleased when he was given the news, “it’s a boy”, upon landing at JFK Airport.

A few years later, growing up in Mumbai, I loved cycling, and although my father drove a British car on Indian roads, we were always encouraged to walk wherever we could. Those were the 70s and 80s, times when even the upper middle classes, if they owned a car, typically owned just one.

Cycling back from lectures

Moving ahead in time, as a student of engineering and management at the University of Cambridge I learned a fair amount about inefficient modes of transport from a ‘green perspective’. In fact, since the start of motorized transport, the rule at that university was “no cars permitted for undergraduates” and so, no matter what your social status, you would typically move around Cambridge by bicycle or foot. Whether it was to the boat house to row early in the mornings, or to parties in colleges across town, the common feature about the transport was green. The environmental benefit of such a culture will be obvious to you even if you were to visit Cambridge this summer.

Mumbai: when motorized transport is so slow, pedestrians will walk on the road (PC: Mid Day)

Mumbai: when motorized transport is so slow, pedestrians will walk on the road (PC: Mid Day)

Moving ahead another 30 years, back in Mumbai today, it is awful to see how the city has only become worse in many respects, as each decade has rolled by. One of these, familiar to anyone who has spent even a few hours in the city, where I spend a good chunk of each year, is the terrible state of roads, and inefficient use of public money. The popular media has published many reports [see this for an example from 9 years ago, and this one more recent] on how most tax dollars are spent on providing facilities for the limited number of car users when in fact the largest percentage of travel is done by public mass transportation (bus, train, metro) or bicycle and foot. What makes the situation sadder still is that despite the disproportionate allocation of tax money to the roads, those roads are in a terrible state and the transport on them crawls along – and that is when it does move! May God help you if you need an ambulance for an emergency in that city!

From BMW to Bicycle

With many claims to be green and being someone who generally likes to walk his talk, I thought it would be interesting to collect broad level data on my transport modes. My first car 24 years ago was a BMW but for the last 10 years I have not owned a car. In Mumbai, I own a bicycle instead. I have a strong preference for ‘as green a form of transport as possible’. Public transport is not particularly comfortable in Mumbai but I have typically opted for a bit of personal discomfort to benefit the city.

Bombay Bustle – Bicycles Faster than BMW

Data Collection and Behaviour Change

Normally, the commencement of data collection about oneself tweaks one’s behaviour (for instance, there is some evidence that those who weigh themselves daily, tend to lose more excess weight than control groups who don’t). Because of my choices for many decades now to minimize my carbon footprint from transportation, there was no sudden change in my travel methods. In my on-going quest to understand myself, the data simply gives me a better handle on my claims about being greener than the next guy stuck in traffic.

Simple Data Collected

Easy to record the data every night

All I recorded each day was the number of different journeys I did and their modes of transport. Often to meet someone, I might cycle to the station, take the train, and then walk at the other end. In many European cities that is not unusual at all. In Mumbai, a city that could really do with what I call CTW (cycle-train-walk) it is very unusual – especially for those who live in million dollar homes!

What I recorded was simply a count of the number of journeys, not the kilometres travelled. Given that the two transcontinental flights that I did take in February were of 8000km length each, whereas most of the bicycle journeys are for just a few Km, the story would be quite different if represented by carbon footprint. Having said that, there are clearly some journeys that cannot be done by greener modes of transport. Mumbai to London for a week with family is one of them!

How Green are my Numbers?

Breakdown of # Journeys by Mode of Transport for 100 days

How Bad am I?

I could be doing much worse

At first I felt terrible that I was not at 90% green. But then it struck me that I was still doing a lot better than most well-educated and reasonably wealthy people in pretty much most of the urban centres of India. Not that they ought to be anyone’s benchmark, but still.

What can you do?

You must not leave it up to your government to make the change you want to see. Even as I clicked on “Publish” for this article, I received this news snippet from a friend. If the news reporting is correct, it is tantamount to expecting people to eat less because grocery stores are shut on a Sunday. No, I’m sorry, that will not work!

Wherever you live, and in everything you do, you always have hundreds of choices daily. Every decision that you make that helps the planet, will help you in the long run. You might think that ‘since the bus is going there anyway, I might as well ride it’ is a green choice. But even getting off a stop earlier and walking 500m does have a positive impact on the planet. Whenever you are green, you can probably go even greener. If you collect data about yourself, you are more likely than not to make wiser decisions. I urge you to try that.

It is not about competing with your neighbour

Although it is not a bad idea to compete with your neighbour to be greener (why care what he drives!) you should keep your focus on simply becoming better yourself. Once you appreciate that everything you do has a definite impact on the only planet you have, you will make other changes that are better for your own health too. For instance, unless you are predominantly plant food and drink (please say NO to milk whenever you can!) human it is likely that giving up meat and dairy (yes, Mrs Vegetarian, give up milk – it did not come from a plant!) will have an even bigger positive impact on the planet than taking that bicycle to work. Better still, do both!

My Lucky 13

Today is day # 101 of the year 2017. I plan to take my son to an afternoon appointment a few kilometres away. He is visiting from London after 2 years but is comfortable cycling wherever we need to go in Mumbai. If he can do that at age 13, I reckon that just about everyone in this city can.

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Attempting Work-Life-Balance? Instead, plan for Time-Optimized-Living

Daily Work-Life-Balance is great, but what about Time-Optimized-Living?

Daily Work-Life-Balance is great, but what about Time-Optimized-Living?

Happiness warning: This conversation might make you plan your life towards greater lifelong joy.

From Work-Life-Balance to Time-Optimized-Living

I hope you have what the world calls ‘work-life-balance’. Perhaps you have figured out some method in your busy life that works for you in achieving that. But what if you are still missing something? Something much bigger that you had not given much thought to! In fact, I am willing to bet that the vast majority of people with ‘work-life-balance’ are missing what I think is of greater and overriding importance. So, today, I am going to talk to you about what I call ‘time-optimized-living’. I will also suggest a few tips for your journey towards achieving it.

I am addressing Everyone

This topic is of relevance to everyone. I consider myself lucky to have friends with accomplishments in various domains. Blockbuster movie stars, championship sportsmen, international sportswomen, fashion models, poets and book authors, award winning surgeons, globetrotting dentists, journalists, tech entrepreneurs – the list can go on…

As I state very clearly to billionaires or to those with a millionth of that, we all have only 24 hours in the day, but we don’t all have the same number of days. And it’s not clear that for a given 24 hours, that each of us spends it wisely. Yes, we all do things that we think maximizes our happiness (and often it doesn’t even do that). And, yes, we all try to do it with intelligence – but do we do it wisely?

Time is Money – Demonetization in Different Currencies

Thank God I’ve had a lot of minutes!

I am quite obsessive about time and how I use it. Besides being disciplined about punctuality with meeting times, I like to keep track of how my time is used once a meeting commences. Humans are not naturally programmed to have a supremely optimal handle on time. Besides the circadian clock that is controlled naturally by the light-dark cycles driven by the earth’s rotation, human perception of the passage of time is very subjective. That subjectivity is captured beautifully by Einstein’s quote about a pretty girl, a hot stove and the passage of time. Most of this relates to short time spans – a minute, an hour, a day, a week or even a year. But what about longer periods – multiple years, decades or even large lifetime fractions? Unfortunately, the phenomenon of mishandling time, at a practical level, gets worse – for individuals and, therefore, for society.

You WILL die – you WILL leave it all behind

I would like you to now internalize this ultra-simple graphic of your financial life. Whether you are one of my billionaire friends or one of my friends who struggles to make ends meet, ignoring debate about the slope or the lengths of any of the lines, this pretty much captures it succinctly. What is clearly not up for debate is that you came to this life with nothing and you will go with nothing.

A picture worth remembering

Satisfying our Professional Passions or Hobbies

Partly because of the need to survive and thrive, but mostly because corporations tell us we need to do it, we spend a very large part of our adult years uncontrollably engaged (I wrote ‘enslaved’ and as an afterthought changed it to ‘engaged’) in some form or the other by the corporate world. Whether we have very satisfying professional careers, whether we started off our adult lives with large amounts of endowed wealth or whether we build profitable businesses from scratch ourselves over decades, the connection to the world of business is strong. And that is perfectly fine, as long as there is balance. And by ‘balance’ I mean balance in all time-intervals of life. In that ‘all’ lies the key to my message.

Do you think working to make too much money is risky?

Work-Life-Balance does NOT necessarily imply Time-Optimized-Living

We are all aware of the general idea of ‘work-life-balance’. Whether your business is in New York and pays lip service to it, or in London and encourages it, or in Mumbai and doesn’t care about it, you will have a decent idea of what it means – even if you do not have it. We even have businesses that are built around that concept (hey, why work in the kitchen when you can order in, with a few clicks on your smartphone? never mind that this habit will kill you slowly).

Now, here is the central point of my chat today. What I would like to draw your attention to is the distinct possibility that, perhaps, if you focus on daily or weekly work-life-balance, you are highly susceptible to incorrectly reaching the conclusion that you have achieved a state of time-optimized-living – balance across the time span of, not a working day, or a work week, but over your expected lifetime. Although work-life-balance is very important, it is only one, perhaps necessary, component of time-optimized-living – it is not time-optimized living.

We think we have a good handle on certain time spans

Mind you, if you do not even have work-life-balance then it is near impossible that you have time-optimized-living. I have friends, some younger than I am, who have shortened their lives significantly with the false belief that a terrible lifestyle to accumulate financial assets is some form of time-optimized-living. Intelligence being applied, I’m sure, but wisdom, not!

Do not let it be a vague fear; face it, deal with it, and then move on

Money has Time Value, Time has Money Value, in all Denominations

In my career as a finance professional I have been fortunate in being able to work in settings where the intellectual focus of problem solving has spanned across time horizons of micro-seconds to multiple decades. Typically, in any of these settings, at any future horizon under consideration, the typical goal is to maximize benefits with respect to the costs incurred. Whether it is to execute thousands of stock-portfolio trades a minute, or set strategic asset allocations for pension funds with future promises to beneficiaries, 70 years from now, the problem statement is clear – maximize profits, minimize shortfalls, keep costs low.

In my years of advising professionals on their career plans or individuals on their wellness, it is evident that, as humans with cognitive biases of all kinds, we do not necessarily optimize across all the relevant horizons in optimal ways. Because the human species is not specifically designed to do this well, that is nothing to be ashamed of. However, the “wise person” inside of you ought to be extremely conscious of it – that ‘awareness‘ is the first step to positive change. Being focused on daily or weekly ‘work-life-balance’ without also paying attention to lifelong time-optimized-living is similar to studying very diligently for medical school entrance exams when, in fact, you want to major in computer science! You might even get into and go through medical school, but you will have thereby missed the big picture of where your true happiness might lie.

Practical Tips for Thinking about Your Solution

Everyone has different circumstances, so a one-size-fits-all solution cannot work. However, the problem-solving framework for every one of us can be common. Here are just a few tiny pointers on the heavy stones in your bag.

Financial

Create a simple spreadsheet model that simulates your future financial wealth. It needs to have just a few columns, for example:

[1] month (e.g. May-2019)
[2] future income
[3] future expenses
[4] their difference i.e. monthly savings and
[5] accumulation of savings shown in [4].

Even a simplistic approach such as this is extremely powerful in the insights you will gain. You can even assume, to get started, that your investment return on savings will be 0%. Once you have set it up going out into the future, you will begin to place appropriate weight on the true risks of living with less wealth. In fact, if you do not do this, you run the risk of focusing on the accumulation of too much wealth beyond your needs! It might seem odd that someone with a doctorate in Finance is suggesting that you worry about the risk of accumulating too much wealth, but the actuary in me is saying precisely that!

When was the last time you knew someone yourself who died penniless? On the other hand, when was the last time you knew someone who died with a fair amount of wealth left behind? My guess is that the former is quite rare and the latter very common. Food for thought, eh!

In many urban cultures (e.g. Indians, Chinese) there is a popular lifegoal of working towards leaving ‘a separate home for each of the kids’. If that were to happen for you by chance, that’s great. But to have that as a general goal, to me, is clearly unwise. As for ‘wedding costs’, if you are reading this, you are from a socio-economic background that would normally imply that your child should be able to have a wedding that they can afford for themselves. Pay for a decent well-rounded education, and that’s all.

Medical

A very real fear that many humans have is that of healthcare costs when they’re much older. Given that physical health is so closely tied to mental, emotional and spiritual health, this is a concern that I do think you should take seriously, especially because it pertains directly to you – and not to someone else in your generation, previous generation, or future generation (see previous points about leaving homes for your kids or paying for their weddings). The vast majority of my conversations with you over the last few years have been about precisely this aspect – your physical existence and, if you’ve been paying close attention, to other dimensions of your existence.

The best medical insurance you can get for yourself is an improved lifestyle! Anything you pay for over and above that in term of insurance premiums should really be just for the unexpected large medical problems. [Note, of course, medical insurance companies do not exist to make your life easier, they exist to make profits for their shareholders. So, watch out for exclusions, deductibles, sum insuredsub-limits and other features that might leave you ‘open to risk’ when you are least prepared for it.]

Recently, an old friend who was forced to quit what he described as “the corporate banking rat race” wanted to get back into it very soon because, in his own words, “I will get medical cover”. Besides the numerical value of providing that perk being meagre (cost of medical insurance being small in the grander scheme of things) it was going to ‘allow’ him to continue complacently down the same path of unhealthy living that he had been taking for decades. Please do not get me wrong – I have nothing against working for large corporations per se; what I am against is unhealthy living – across all time horizons!

It is not easy, but it is definitely not impossible

If I were to grade the people whose lives I know fairly well, on a scale of 0-to-100 for time-optimized-living, they would span that entire range. Even the wisest urban yogis will not get very close to 100. And, perhaps, the most intelligent among us is closer to zero! Developing wisdom will help us get closer to 100. But, we have to work towards it, on a daily basis. It definitely doesn’t just happen overnight – even if you have had a sudden and unexpected heart attack!

Although I talk about lifelong time spans, do not leave it until some future day. Whether you die later tonight, or 10 years from now, you will go with nothing. You have been guaranteed that. Get started with a plan for time-optimized-living today.

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Race Start Logistics – Chaos, Flow and Entropy

Should you really be up front in the crowd at the start line?

Have you ever run one of the big races in India like the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) or the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM) and had varying experiences about the ‘flow of crowd of runners’? As the number of racers has grown and the increased focus on logistics for handling them has tried to avoid making a mess and avoid a human catastrophe, I have been curious about the flow of runners at the start and its subsequent impact along the route. Today’s conversation, with some interesting pictures, is about that. Takeaway lessons for you, racer, pacer or race organizer, will come soon.

Roadmap

I will first talk about the distribution of runners and how it transitions from start line to finish line. I then introduce you to my idea of ‘disorder’ in a race, with a measure that I call the Race Entropy, and show how that beautifully captures the flavour of the ease of flow within a race. I use the case of the Mumbai races (SCMM) to show how start-enclosures have helped with achieving less disorder (but significant room for improvement exists). I also show what impact the extreme pollution scares in New Delhi last winter had on the race that was held at that time (ADHM2016).

Gross Time, Net Time, Mat Crossing Time

I have shown you numerous graphs in the past of race finish times. These are typically histograms of ‘net finish times’ that show how many runners cross the finish line within each time bucket, where each bucket might be just a few seconds wide. What you will have probably never seen until today is a similar picture of what happens at the starting line.

How do we spread ourselves out over time?

Because not everyone crosses the starting line at the same time, there is a ‘spreading out’ or ‘distribution’ over time of runners crossing the starting line. This distribution is what leads to the need for recording gross finish time and net finish time.
The gross time is based on the natural clock time – the same clock for all the runners.
The net time is the specific time taken for each individual runner measured as, starting at their specific start line crossing (time = 0) and ending at their crossing the finish line.
Many races have RFID timing sensors placed under mats over which runners pass at the start/finish line, and so we often use the terms ‘starting line’ and ‘starting mat’ interchangeably.

Easing Flow

If your race’s logistics are handled smoothly, the fastest runners would be placed right up front at the start line and the slowest runners placed towards the back of the crowd. In the extreme scenario of the runners being released in descending order of their speed, in the hypothetical situation of constant speed for each runner, the number of ‘overtakings’ would be 0. No one would overtake anyone despite everyone running at their race pace. This would ensure a smooth flow of humans across the starting line and thereafter.

Smooth flow of runners ranked in order of speed

In practice, although it ‘feels good’ to overtake other runners, the truth is that it always involves some risk. Besides the physical risk (of impact) if the runner being overtaken sends you negative thoughts as you try to glide past him, that cannot be good for your soul.

Consider now, the worst situation for race start ordering, the slowest runner being placed right up front and the fastest runner at the back of the pack. In the extreme situation of N runners placed in such a reverse order of their speed, the fastest runner would have to overtake N-1 other runners to finish 1st. The runner who comes in second would have to overtake N-2 runners to come in 2nd. And so on for all the other runners… And, therefore, {ignoring the school maths proof}, the total number of ‘overtakings’ for all N runners would be ½*N*(N-1). Let us call that measure MaxPossibleOvertakings – e.g. for 10,000 participants placed in this reverse order MaxPossibleOvertakings will be 49,995,000.

Flow disrupted when runners not ranked in order of speed

For any given race with an actual ordering at the start line, we can also easily add up the minimum number of ‘overtakings’ that would have led to the actual finish ranking observed. Let us call this MinPossibleOvertakings.

Having defined a measure for the actual starting/finishing rankings of runners and the theoretical measure with maximum disorder, let me now tell you about what I call the ‘Race Entropy’ of an event. If numbers or equations faze you, hang in there, there’s nothing particularly complicated in what follows.

Entropy

Borrowing from Thermodynamics, I define the measure of disorder in a race as being the ratio

Entropy – a measure of disorder in your race

If the runners are released in the perfect ranking of their eventual times, so that there will be no overtaking, the Race Entropy will be 0.
If the runners are released in the perfectly reverse order, the Race Entropy will be 1.
If the ordering is purely random chance, the Race Entropy will be approximately ½.
We hope that the Race Entropy for any race will be less than ½ and closer to 0.

Start-End Ranking Plot

We can also visualize this order and disorder with what I call a Start-End Ranking Plot – a rank for crossing the finish line plotted against the rank for crossing the start line. This example plot shows the two ends of [1] perfect order and [2] perfect disorder as well as [3] the case of purely random start ordering.

Start-End Ranking Plot: Avoiding disorder or wrong order is a worthy effort

Start-End Ranking Plot: Avoiding disorder or wrong order is a worthy effort

With this distilled single measure of disorder, Race Entropy, and the Start-End Ranking Plot, let us now examine a couple of interesting stories from the Indian recreational marathon scene.

Case 1 – Chaos to Order: Introduction of Enclosures for SCMM

The first year that I happened to run a distance race, quite by chance, was the flagship Mumbai Marathon in 2010 (SCMM2010). I remember being at the start line and witnessing the undignified pushing and jostling. It was pretty much ‘law of the jungle’ up there akin to the local trains I took to work daily. It was a free-for-all, first-come-first-serve type start, so everyone pushed up ahead, with no real attention to ordering themselves naturally by expected finish time.

Race Start Enclosures

Race start enclosures or ‘holding areas’ were first introduced to the Indian running scene in January 2012, at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon. These enclosures, now common in the races with large numbers of participants, are set up with the philosophy that the fastest runners are kept together and typically go past the start line first, the slowest ones last, and the ones in-between following the same principle. In order to decide which start-enclosure you wait in before you start the race, race organizers request a recent race timing certificate from you at the time of registration. Based on this ‘previous timing certificate’ you, the customer, are allocated a start enclosure, specified visibly on your racing bib.

Pre/Post Enclosures

Start Enclosures help ensure reduced Race Entropy (disorder) despite an increase in competitors

If we examine the difference between 2010 & 2011 compared with 2016 & 2017 there is a noticeable reduction in Race Entropy despite the number of participants rising. Having seen the Race Entropy drop between 2010 to 2017 despite the massive increase in participation, we can see the Start-End Ranking Plot which corresponds to those numbers and the picture tells us the same story.

Comparing the Start-End Ranking Plot for 2010 with that from 2017 indicates a clear move away from high disorder towards greater order.

Population increase need not be a problem if mismanagement is replaced by better management!

Case 2 – Pollution Reduces Race Participation: Massive Reduction in Delhi Disorder

The flagship race of New Delhi, soon after the worldwide scares in the media about the city’s air pollution levels at the end of 2016, saw a massive reduction in actual participation on race day (ADHM2016). My simple but sensible estimation method tells me that 40% of those who had paid and were registered to race did not show up on race day. This is almost always fortunate for the race organizers and those who do show up to run. The race experience is always better for such large races when the turnout is lower {fewer people chasing the same resources including, quite literally, air, water and land}.

What did the fearless who turned up experience?

What is interesting is that the Race Entropy was so much lower (20.3%) than in 2012 (32.0%) when the ADHM first introduced start enclosures. It was also considerably lower than the previous year where in ADHM2015 the Race Entropy was 26.8%. Perhaps, the general time trend in Race Entropy shows that the running population itself is becoming slightly mature and sensible as a group about the race start. For ADHM2016, it is possible that a predominance of experienced runners showed up and many of the newer runners stayed away. Or, perhaps, managing fewer runners with arrangements for many more (who did not show up) induces lower Race Entropy (lower disorder). All my friends who ran ADHM2016 had a fantastic experience. As luck would have it the weather was (described by a mentee who ran) ‘absolutely perfect’ and my guess is that the reduced disorder added to a better overall experience.

Pollution Scares: Did the drop in crowding make humans more relaxed and reduce irrational crowding?

Once again, comparing the Start-End Ranking Plot for 2017 with that from 2012 when the number of participants was similar and start-enclosures had just been introduced indicates a clear move away from high disorder towards greater order.

Did the reduced crowd density encourage more orderly behaviour?

Summary and Way Forward

I introduced the concept of ‘disorder’ or Race Entropy to characterize the (lack of) ease of flow within a race. I showed how the introduction of start-enclosures based on ‘expected finish time’ helps reduce this Race Entropy (disorder). So, besides features such as aid stations, route marshaling, medal quality, pricing of race entry tickets, and post-race refreshments Race Entropy serves as a superb single measure to capture the overall race experience for those who turned up.

I will write again soon and provide guidance to you the racer, race pacer or race organizer based on this dimension of analysis.

Until then, try to not bump into anyone 🙂

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

SCMM-2017 The 2-hr Party Bus with PuruTheGuru

The 2-hour Party Bus with Puru

The 2-hour Bus with Puru

To register FREE to be on the 2-hr FunRunParty Bus with me click here right now.

Registrations for the Standard Chartered Mumbai (Half) Marathon 2017 closed a few months ago. Since then, barely has a day gone by when someone or the other has not asked me if I would be a pacer again for the race coming up in 2 weeks on 15th January 2017.

Those whom I have paced at previous editions of the race in 2013, 2014, 2015 have asked if I would pace a faster time this year (for a repeat experience of success) and many have used my own reasoning (in many previous articles) that I pace a slower time to serve a greater number of runners. In 2016 while I helped promote running for fitness by shooting this movie at the SCMM, I reached out to help thousands of runners with achieving their race target through freely available customized pacing bands. Those bands are available again for 2017 – the numbers remain unchanged, because so does the race route – the small print has been updated! Please use them, they’re free, and they work beautifully!

This year, to give at least some of you the experience of running with me as a pacer in my ‘home race’, I invite those who have trained to do something close to 2-hours to run on my ‘2 hour FunRunParty Bus’ on race day (click here). So, if you have trained to run between 1:50 and 2:10 you might consider being part of my bus. I guarantee that for whatever time that you are able to be with me, you will have fun. Simply go to this link to register and I shall be in touch with you. Let your friends who are aspiring to finish in that time range know too so that they can be part of the fun with us! We already have many runners from across the planet registered to be on the bus

Do check out the pacer bands and print out as many as you think you need. Useful tip: if you are not sure if you can finish in 1:59 or 2:04, you can use the pacer bands for both, just stay within the corridor they set for you! If you think you can do something around the 2-hour mark, do it with me… go ahead and register here.

Looking forward to meeting you on race day!

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

SCMM-2017 – Free Gifts

Free Gifts for Your SCMM-2017 Target

Get to the Finish Line within your Target Time
If you are running the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) on Sunday 15th January 2017 and want to get to the finish line within your target time then I have the perfect gift for you. Pace bands that are calibrated specifically for that race!

Quick Background
These wonderful gifts are free and available for you below. If you have not read about the (technical) background behind the creation of these gifts for you, you should definitely read more about them here. The actual gifts (to download) and instructions-for-use (video) are below.

My Dream Wish – Your Gift
I have a short fun video to show you how to use the bands. The links to your free bands are below, just scroll further down. We have designed, specifically for the 2017 edition of the SCMM, the following:
-Pacer Bands for the Half Marathon
-Pacer Bands for the Full Marathon
Scroll down to pick the one that’s right for you…

Instruction Video for your Band (93 seconds)


Your Half Marathon Bands – CLICK on as many as you wish – it’s your choice

Choose PINK or WHITE

Look Good, Run Well

1:39 (click)
1:44 (click)
1:49 (click)
1:54 (click)
1:57 (click)
1:59 (click)
2:04 (click)
2:09 (click)
2:14 (click)
2:19 (click)
2:24 (click)
2:29 (click)
2:34 (click)
2:39 (click)
2:44 (click)
2:49 (click)

Your Full Marathon Bands – CLICK on as many as you wish – it’s your choice

Choose WHITE and print on COLOURED PAPER if you want

Choose WHITE and print on COLOURED PAPER if you want

3:14 (click)
3:19 (click)
3:29 (click)
3:39 (click)
3:44 (click)
3:49 (click)
3:59 (click)
4:09 (click)
4:14 (click)
4:19 (click)
4:29 (click)
4:39 (click)
4:44 (click)
4:59 (click)
5:14 (click)
5:29 (click)
5:44 (click)

 

Disclaimer for other races
A word of caution to remember –  these bands have been calibrated specifically for the SCMM-2017 route and elevation profile. Although they might (approximately) work for other races of similar distance, they will not be ideal and you might find yourself being ahead or behind of the band at certain points of that other race.

Click, Print, Cut, Wear… Pose… and Run!

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Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.