Tag Archives: advice

Fitocracy; a swimmer’s review

fito iconWhat is it?

Fitocracy is a “social media fitness website”. It is intended as a fitness goals and tracking site integrated with an online community. I received an invitation for the beta (test) version in 2011 but didn’t avail of it for about a year afterwards. I signed up on a whim in January of 2012.

The day that I signed up was the first day of a 50k training week, 10k per day, which was probably the origin of the whim. After signing up I figured out the navigation pretty quickly and then entered the first 10,000 metre swim. Once that was saved I was met with a slew of popups and notifications. I’d apparently been awarded a range of Swimming Achievement badges and a lot of Points and Level-Ups.

How does it work?

At this point it’s worth explaining that the idea of Fitocracy was to replicate the idea of a video game, with Bonuses, special Quests, Achievements and Levelling Up. One enters each workout that one does and the Fitocracy system allocates a number of points to the account. The number of points allocated dependent on sport, duration and difficulty. You can’t enter previous workouts more than I think 10 days old though it may be two weeks. If you are entering workouts regularly this isn’t important and stops people entering a lot of fictitious history/workouts when they signup.

Apart from the regular ongoing training one can set out to reach Quests, which may be a combination of sports. And there are cumulative Special Achievement awards when you reach particular targets like running or cycling a total distance. Each of the Quests and Achievements are accompanied by badges.

Levels are awarded by total points, and each level is progressively harder to reach. The lowest levels may take only a couple of hundred to reach, by the time you pass above Level 40 each level is over 100,000 points and still climbing.

I can’t recall exactly but what I didn’t realise for a couple of days that by having my very first swim that I entered as 10k, I’d collected all the swimming achievements on my very first day. I also went immediately to about Level 5. By the end of the first week I was Level Ten. Over the next few months my upward climb was apparently pretty steep. The Administrators/Designers are constantly on the watch-out for trolls who join up and spent time logging lots of activities to get on the Leader-board and annoy the general members and these are nearly always obvious.

It should also be noted, that as with most Social Media sites, the designers need to be paid. In Fitocracy this is achieved by converting free members like myself into paying month repeat customers. Paying customer have more options such as their full workout history, special Fitocracy Hero titles, and the ability to duel each other. I did not convert to being a paying member.

There are Leaderboards for weeks, months, 90 day and all-time periods to facilitate tracking. Afterall without the tracking the points accumulation is useless.

The other key aspect of the site along with fitness tracking to be mentioned is the Social aspect. There are Groups and Friends and Followers and a feed like a Twitter Feed. There’s a Swimming Group and an Open Water Swimming Group, the former is large, the latter is tiny. Any member can start a group so there are the humourous groups, and shared interest groups or Location groups etc, with no limit on the number of groups you can join. And there are Props which are like, well, Likes, I guess.

So when you log you see the Feed of Everyone or your Fitocracy Friends or Groups (you can choose). The Feed includes the details of their workouts and comments recently also images and video links. All very Twitter-like. So you can interact with similar people to yourself, or people whom you think you can help or learn from.

Fitocracy Feed
Fitocracy Feed

How much did I use it?

I used Fitocracy from the middle of January until about June. I logged my training every day, which was easy for me and second-nature, as I’ve been logging my swimming into a by-now complex spreadsheet of my own for years, so I’d give a couple of minutes logging into the site. Then, just about the time swimming Manhattan last year I stopped for a few reasons I’ll outline below. I restarted about November of 2012 and stopped again a couple of weeks ago.

By the time I’d stopped using it the first time, I was in the Top Twenty of the all-time leaderboard, the only swimmer in the Top 50 at that point. When I restarted in November it was more a challenge as many of the leaders had continued to log and I’d dropped my mileage. By the time I stopped a few weeks I was back at the entry to the Top Thirty and I’d accumulated just over 1 million points. That’s sounds, well I don’t know what it sounds like. I stopped playing PC games after X-Wing in the mid-90s if that means anything and I have zero interest in them. I guess it does indicate that a swimmer with a constant training schedule can easily accumulate points.

The Pros and Cons of Fitocracy

Fitocracy’s utility is dependent on a few things, not least of which is your level of experience. I think the less experience of fitness you have the greater the benefit as you can follow and interact people with a greater level of knowledge. You can get advice on food, technique and programs. (At least, I gave advice to people on those subjects). Another benefit for those with less of a lifetime of exercise behind them may be the actual design, the incentive of chasing points or achievement badges. The social aspect will certainly appeal to many people.

If you are into gym work (why are you here) Fitocracy seems like it’s a far better fit. The gym people are by far the largest group and have a lot of granularity in their workouts, because the designers come from that background. However the site is really poor at understanding swimmer’s capabilities and goals. One of the reasons I stopped logging was that every day the default swimming distance measurement was …. fathoms. It wasn’t even a joke and it couldn’t be changed and it became increasingly frustrating. Every single time. That got fixed while I was away but the current default for swimming workouts is that it’s calm open water with assisted drills, what can only be called an unusual setup for any swimmer. So you have to change that every time you log. And the Swimming Group size is almost 30,000 with an average level of 8. By the time I stopped I was Level 43, the last swim I logged was 17k with Gábor and the system still wouldn’t let me do that would breaking it down.

There are four swimming Quests, the biggest individual Quest for swimming is 10k. There are three cumulative swimming total Achievement, which are 5km, 100k and 500k. Given I swim about a million metres a year… that 500 isn’t extraordinary. And recall I achieved all the Quests the very first day I logged on. Swim workouts are capped at either 20k or 5 hours. Sure, for most people those are inconceivable targets. But to the readers of this blog they are quite common. To work around this you could enter lots of individual sets but that again shows that a year after me starting doing these swims, and communicating with the designers, I’m still too far out from the mainstream to accommodate and I was never interested in breaking my sets down into the individual components to maximise points (which a lot of people do). If you are interested, as a distance swimmer, I can guarantee you will climb the leaderboard pretty quickly, even just doing a 20 or 25 kilometres per week average. I was, to the best of my awareness, the only marathon swimmer there, and while there were swimmers faster and younger than me the distance work accumulates points. But I doubt like me that as a distance swimmer points will make much difference to you. It was somewhat entertaining but that was pretty much it. If you cross sports more than you can find plenty of quests. I think I logged hiking once, never bother logging anything else.

Pros and Cons.

Pros: Fitocracy is free to join and will stay free if you don’t wish to become a Hero. It has interest groups, which can be on any subject, not just sports or fitness. The commenting and navigation is easy and quick if you are interested. There are nice supportive people on there and I didn’t see much of any aggressive or bullying behaviour and what I did see was in the earlier months of 2012. If you are getting into a program of exercise and fitness it’s probably a good supportive place. At the top of the leader-board, maybe the top 100 or 200, of the million plus subscribers, there is a lot of knowledge about various aspects of exercise and fitness and experts in many. There are both iPhone  and Android apps, though I never used either. You can change User name without losing anything else which is a nice feature more sites should have. The later you join the less chance you have of moving high up the leader-board. In fact I’d say there is no chance of anyone joining now making it into the Top 30 or 40, if that’s your goal. Though you can still target the shorter duration leader-boards for motivation.

Cons: Fitocracy, make no mistake, is geared for gym goers and beginners. The social aspect may be to more or less of your taste. The restriction on swimmer’s requirements in logging is frustrating and are specifically annoying for distance and open water swimmers. The forums which still existed when last I looked were useless. On the opposite usability side to the User Name change, there’s no way to delete your account. You have to ask in the useless forums and hope someone does it. On a free you don’t have full access to your own history. I see no reason to spend money on more detailed tracking which will always have less detail than my own logs which don’t cost anything.

happy-fred-414x444
This annoying animation now comes up everytime you log a workout.

Fitocracy failed for me in a few main areas.

  1. Lack of awareness or response to swimmers needs. Just a lack of understanding of swimmers in general, with little apparent signs of improvement despite the numbers of swimmers. I didn’t really learn anything from it. In retrospect it was only habit that kept me logging.
  2. The social aspect deteriorated. I knew maybe 20 people before I joined from elsewhere and none of them were swimmers. The feed became full of people thanking each other for Follows and Props. A bit like Twitter can be some days.
  3. The tracking gave me nothing I didn’t already have in my own log, where I have more detail. Sharing what I was doing didn’t really mean much to me, there are always people swimming faster and more distance than I am.
  4. Most importantly, the key let-down for me was that I did nothing as a consequence of being on Fitocracy that I would not have done anyway. If I compare Fitocracy with Blipfoto, which a friend convinced me to join to improve my photography, I’ve found myself tramping across fields and rocks, through mud to places I’d otherwise have avoided to photograph things I’d otherwise have ignored, and I’ve tried things I may not have and continue to learn. Since I’m not interested in other fitness exercises, this was limiting for me. The same limitation won’t apply to others.  

Fitocracy is very much dependent on your experience level and desire for more social media interaction about your swimming. It can become an easy habit as it did for me and if you don’t log your workouts already that may be of use to you, though without paying for membership that’s limited. It may be better if your sport is other than swimming.

MIMS medal.resized

HOWTO: Advice from MIMS 2012 for future applicants and swimmers

So let’s say you don’t feel like ploughing through the 5 parts of my MIMS write-up (you should though :-) ) but are wondering what recommendations I might have or what lessons I have to impart, or advice to give about MIMS, including the notoriously long application process?

Application Process

  • If you plan to apply, create your profile on NYCSwim.org months in advance of the application opening in November and start working on completing the various sections. Do it now.
  • Expect some document uploads to fail and having to re-upload them…the next day.
  • When in doubt add more rather than less information.
  • Be accurate in estimating your 1500m time. This is an essential part of getting your wave right and whether you are actually fast enough to complete (for slower swimmers).
  • If you have also booked and been accepted for any other big swim in the following year, note that also.
  • Estimate to spend from four to eight hours on the application process, excluding medical.
  • Get the medical done in plenty of time as you may require an X-ray or electrocardiogram and there is a medical form for your GP to complete.
  • Yes, you do have to write an essay and I have no idea how important it is in the application process. I suspect with absolutely no evidence, it’s a part of a winnowing process as is the kludgy upload procedure. If you give up at a messy long application process, will you complete the swim?
  • I will write a good swim essay for you for the mere cost of a pair of Visio View V200A-mr swim goggles!
  • You have to pay once you are accepted, not before the race.
  • Add second crew AND alternate before the entry date. You are fine with only one crew but the process is not amenable to adding crew later on.
  • If you feel there is any extra information that will help your process (e.g. in my case explaining why my Channel time was slow) put that in.
  • Book your accommodation earlier in the year.  Remember you have already decided and paid for the race so you can save money on accommodation by also paying up front.
shiny

Before Race Day and during swim

  • Don’t forget your checklist and feed schedule. It’s not a Channel swim, keep it simple.
  • Go wide and go deep. EDIT: BUT KEEP WITHIN THE SAFETY BOUNDARIES SET OUT IN YOUR SWIM BRIEFING. The primary reason for keeping the swim corralled toward one side is not to be awkward, but to protect the swimmer AND THE KAYAKER from suddenly-arriving cruise ships and to allow for time to evacuate. We always say, you must follow the safety rules. But given any allowed line, the outside is better.
  • 2012 was the first year all swimmers had trackers. These are all available on the NYCSwim.org website.
  • Make sure you attend the online swimmer, crew and course briefings. Don’t rely on  being able to view the videos later (two of them didn’t work afterwards for me). the briefing and documentation are excellent.
  • Don’t try to buy all your water the night beforehand. We picked up sequential 1.5 litre bottles every time we finished one which made it easier than carrying 10 full bottles back to the hotel.
  • Visit South Cove and the southern tip of Manhattan Island beforehand so you can get a feel for the initial period of the race. A walk over Brooklyn Bridge is recommended.
  • On race morning, don’t trust that the goddamn taxi driver has dropped you at the right pier. Only pay when you are sure or you might be literally 40 blocks away as happened us, (country bumpkins!).
  • If trying to get a taxi to/from Pier 25 / South Cove, don’t try to do it on the adjacent road as that’s a highway. Go one block over.
  • Don’t dismiss the water temperature variability.  There is a big difference in effect between 20/21° C. and 25° C. And a whole world, or at least hemisphere, between 14° C and 25° C. for us cold water swimmers.
  • If you are a cold water swimmer like me, rethink your feed plan. My advice is to decrease your Maxim (carb) feeds and increase your electrolyte feeds. You may also have to increase your volume somewhat from normal.
  • Keep your feeds on the boat cool and out of the sun. An ice cooler is recommended. Yes, this is alien territory for us cold water swimmers. Who ever heard of cooling feeds? :-) It will also help your crew keep comfortable to have cool drinks on hand. Temperatures this year were unusually warm, but there’s no reason it won’t happen again.
  • Make sure your crew will be as well protected from sun as from rain or bad weather.  An umbrella works well for sun, a hat is essential.
  • A day on a boat is a long time. Toilet considerations for women are not unimportant.
  • Make sure you have water to hand before the start, even if you have to leave an empty bottle there. Don’t trust the organisers to have water beforehand for you. Drink it all. Better to be over-hydrated than dehydrated.
  • If it is hot and sunny, use more lube than you would expect. Luckily I had used an entire 100mg of Channel grease, almost more than I used for the Channel because I saw no point in carrying it home, and therefore I was less effected by chaffing. (Though I still chaffed!). Some experienced cold-water swimmers were very badly chaffed afterwards for days after their lube had melted off while waiting for the start.
  • As a consequence of all the extra lube and suntan lotion, carry some a cloth or wetwipes to the start. Mind your goggles.
  • Suntan lotion. Then more suntan lotion. If you are a cold water swimmer, then SPF 50 Waterproof for Kids. Ronseal yourself.
  • Your bag is fairly well protected at the start line. You can probably shove a couple of most pre- or post-swim items in there if you like.
  • Don’t expect your pilot to have food even for himself, let alone your crew. Get your crew to bring sufficient food for themselves, the observer and pilot.
  • Feel free to bribe your pilot beforehand.
  • Stuff your waterproof camera in your togs and toss it to the boat at the first feed, so you can get shouts at the start since your crew won’t be around. I regret not doing this.
  • Make sure your crew has a camera. You will want to review the memories of the amazing sights.
  • I spent some time using Google Earth’s Street View to virtually circumnavigate Manhattan Island. But I was still uncertain with some of the key bridges, and the distances down the Hudson. I’d recommend familiarising yourself with more landmarks. It won’t make any difference except to give you a better idea of your location.
  • It’s a race. For most of us just because we are not seeded does not mean we don’t try our best to swim as fast as possible. Throw everything at it. Afterwards it’ll feel great to say to pool swimmers your longest ever race was 28.5 miles and you know you’ve raced. Race for the second or second-last spot if you want.
  • Do Not take the free post-swim massage if you are not used to having immediate post-swim massages. Ciarán & I felt fine beforehand and wrecked immediately afterwards. I am used to deep tissue massage but never immediately after a swim. Wait the usual  couple of days after the swim before having one. (It was also an excuse to try to hard sell me a followup session the next day when I intended to be enjoying myself).
  • Well, yes, I got sick. Four days after MIMS I developed a really nasty stomach bug that lasted over a week, constant nausea, unable to eat. Ciarán didn’t get sick. MIMS doesn’t have a request to hear from any of the swimmers if they are ill, unlike Cork’s Lee Swim. Nothing I could have done about this, it wouldn’t have stopped me, but just so you know. Occam’s Razor tells me it was the river rather than anything else.
  • Go wide and go deep. BUT KEEP WITHIN THE SAFETY BOUNDARIES SET OUT IN YOUR SWIM BRIEFING. See above.
  • Even if parts are tough (Start, Hudson), it’s an amazing, unforgettable swim. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself! And the shiny is nice.
lego New York