Rich here.

One of the more fascinating – and unexpected – aspects of migrating from martial arts to triathlon as my primary sport has been importance role of metrics, and how they have changed my views on security.

Both sports are pretty darn geeky. On the martial arts side we have intense history, technique, and strategy. Positional errors of a fraction of an inch can mean the difference between success, failure, and injury. But overall there is less emphasis on hard metrics. We use them for conditioning but lack much of the instrumentation needed to collect the kinds of metrics that can make the difference between victory and defeat in competition.

For example, very few martial artists could gather hard statistics on how an opponent reacts under specific circumstances, never mind translating that to a specific strategy. Nor do we measure things like speed and power in specific physical configurations.

Some martial artists track some fraction of this at a macro level, but generally not with statistical depth. I remember that when training for nationals I knew I would be up against one particular opponent and I studied his strengths, weaknesses, and reactions in certain situations, but I certainly didn’t calculate anything. Besides, some 16 year old kid kicked my ass in the first round and I never went up against the person I planned for (major nutritional failure on my part). Oops.

A lot of strategy. Sometimes metrics, but not often and not solid. And a lot of reliance on instinct and core training. Sounds a lot like security.

Triathlon is on the opposite end of the spectrum – as are most endurance sports. There is definitely strategy, but even that is defined mostly by raw numbers.

I have been tracking my athletic performance metrics fairly intensely since I moved mostly to endurance sports (due to the kids). This started around 10 years ago, although only over the last 3 years have I really focused on it. Additionally, since getting sick last summer I have also started tracking all sorts of other metrics – mostly my daily movements (Jawbone Up, which isn’t available right now), and sleep (Zeo). For the past year I have kept most of this in TrainingPeaks.

I’m learning more about myself than I thought possible. I know what paces I can sustain, and what distances, to within a handful of seconds. I know how those are affected by different weather conditions. I know exactly how what I eat affects how I perform different kinds of workouts. I know how food, exercise, and alcohol affect my sleep. I have learned things like how to dial in my diet (no carb no good, but mostly natural with a small amount of processed carbs hits the sweet spot). I know how many days I can go on reduced sleep before I am more likely to get sick. I even figured out just about exactly what will cause one of the stomach incidents that freaked me out so badly last year.

I pretty much track myself 24/7. The Jawbone counts how much I move during the day. The Zeo how well I sleep. My Garmin 910XT how well I swim, bike, and run. A Withings scale for weight and body fat. And TrainingPeaks for mood, illness, injury, training stress (mathematically calculated from my workouts), and whatever else I want to put in there. (I have toyed with diet, but don’t really track calories yet).

I measure, track over time, and then correlate to make training and lifestyle decisions. These are not theoretical – I use those metrics to change how I live, and then I track my outcomes. I know, for example, that I can optimize my training in the amount of time I have for triathlon, but my single sport performance drops to predictable degrees.

All this for someone back-of-pack and over 40. The pros? The levels to which they can tune their lives and training are insane. And it all directly affects performance and their ability to win.

But, as with everything, the numbers don’t tell the full story. They can’t precisely predict who will win on race day. Maybe the leader will get caught behind a crash. Maybe they’ll miss just enough sleep, or hit a crosswind at the wrong time, or just have an off day. Maybe someone else will dig deep and blow past everything the numbers predict.

But without those numbers, tracked and acted on, for years on end, no pro would ever have a chance of being in the race.

Security today is a lot more like martial arts than triathlon, but I’m starting to think the ratio is skewed in the wrong direction. We can track a lot more than we do, and base far more decisions on data than on instinct. Yes, we are battling an opponent, but our race lasts years – not three five-minute rounds. And unlike professional martial artists, we don’t even know our ideal fighting weight, never mind our conditioning level.

Believe it or not, I wasn’t always a metrics wonk. I used to think skill and instinct mattered more than anything else. The older I get, the more I realize how very wrong that is.

On to the Summary:

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Our posting volume is down a bit due to summer, vacations, and a ton of work travel. Don’t worry, it won’t be forever. Probably.

Favorite Outside Posts

  • Adrian Lane: Bridging the Gap Between Devs & Security. As a developer I hated to be told what to do. Tell me what you want, and I’ll build it within my constraints – particularly tools and coding standards. If dev & security don’t meet face to face to ‘humanize’ their problems – and clarify what the business actually needs – you are just asking for more stuff (i.e., security), resulting in friction.
  • Rich: Idoneous Security: The Security Poverty Line, and junk food. Read. Now. Then think “elitism” and “real world”.

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