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Entries in Fitness (7)


In search of the perfect smartwatch

Oh, and I'm possibly getting back to blogging :)

I currently own and use several wrist-worn devices, including (left to right) 3 watches: a Pebble, a Mio Alpha, and a Polar -- and my Fitbit Flex:

This is rather ridiculous. The Pebble is my daily wear watch, as it displays the time, and offers notifications from various phone apps (caller id, text messages, Facebook, etc.). The Mio watch is a fantastic heart rate monitor for running and biking - but is terrible for weighlifting and HIIT workouts (Hi-Intensity Interval Training). So for non-running workouts, I have a chest strap heart monitor that works in conjunction with the Polar watch.

The Fitbit Flex is very simple; the "display" is just 5 dots. The more dots that display, the closer I am to my daily goal of 10,000 steps. And I love the vibrating alarm that will wake me without disturbing my wife. There's also quite a bit that I can track via a phone app (or web app). But even after the years that I've had the Fitbit, I still struggle to master just how to properly activate it to see my progress; it requires some magical sequence of just the right tap-tap-tapping - and perhaps burning some sage or something. I rely more on the phone app to view / manage Fitbit data and functions.

And so, even though each of these has value in its own right, I wonder if technology has yet reached the point where I can find my ideal watch / fitness band. My requirements (in particular order):

  • Android compatible. I am not at all an Apple fan, and will only consider something from Apple if it interfaces flawlessly with Android and does not require me to have any manner of Apple account or iTunes, etc.
  • Displays the time
  • Allows me to change the watchfaces at will. I prefer an analog clockface most often, but at night prefer a digital display
  • Backlight
  • Audible and vibrating notifications, with the ability to manage those the same as I do on the phone. For example, I'd want the morning alarm to be vibrating only. Most notifications, if active, should be silent and without vibration, but I'd want calls / texts from certain Contacts to be able to alert me with an audible tone and/or vibration
  • Step-tracker
  • Caller ID
  • Mic and speaker. Yes, I want the Dick Tracy watch phone :) And I want to be able to say, "OK Google, send a text to so-and-so", and speak my message
  • Reliable heart rate monitor for running, walking, resting, and HIIT workouts
  • Ability to view / manage data via phone app and via web app
  • Battery that lasts at least a day (if quick-charge is available), or a battery that needs only infrequent changing.
  • Water resistant. Water proof would be nice, but I mostly just want something that is sweat proof, and can handle being out in a Florida tropical rainstorm.

Nice to have would be GPS, compatibility with Runtastic, and some manner of social networking (I really like the Fitbit community features).

SO ... I'll be doing my own research of course, but I am eager to hear from others. Anyone have any rave reviews to share - or any horror stories?


Survived the 10-miler. Registered for half marathon

This pic is me crossing the finish line of the Disney Tower of Terror 10-mile race on Sat 05Oct2013. Well, it was actually Sun 06Oct, since the blasted thing didn't start until 10pm, and I got stuck in the last group, which didn't start until about 10:30pm (past my normal bedtime). I averaged just under 10.5 minutes per mile, which I consider pretty good - especially given that the last grouping included a number of folks who were there to walk the course, and that meant I had to often pass people (walking 3 or 4 or 5 abreast ...ugh) ...often having to detour onto the shoulder of the road to do so.

Fortunately, I've been training part of the time doing a minimalist style of running, which has me striking the ground with the front or front and middle of the foot, rather than my more common heel strike (which is sort of like a Hulk Smash! to one's body). So in addition to being easier on the joints, the front-foot strike allows the foot and ankle to more easily adjust to oddities in the ground. Oddities like little holes, rocks, etc ...the things one might (and does) encounter when running off the pavement when it is dark outside.

I'd like to say that I ran the whole thing without stopping. But at mile 4 I really had to pee, and there were no lines at the portable toilets, so I took a quick relief break. It's amazing how much clearer one's focus becomes after such a quick stop :) ...and I likewise walked a few steps at each of the water stations where I drank a little. I tried, but just could not drink from a cup while running. A water bottle is no problem, but a cup? Nope. So there were several little walk breaks.

Overall, however, I felt pretty good afterwards. Until a day or so later. OMG, the front quads remembered that run for a couple of days! But most runners (and other sports enthusiasts) have poor memories or otherwise view through blinders when considering further activities. And so I am now registered to push a little harder. I've registered for a half marathon (13.1 miles) here in Tampa in Feb. Among the several good things about that: the run is in the morning - daylight!, the run is in Feb - cool temps!, the run is here in Tampa - no hotel fee!

I gave myself a brief time off, and then got started training. The training program is the "Ultimate 13.1" program (US$25) from Run the Edge. Most training schedules focus strictly on distance; run x miles on a given day. This program focuses on duration of each workout, and varies the speeds and combinations quite a bit, along with emphasizing the importance of cross training. So... hopefully in Feb I'll have a pic to post from completion of my first half marathon :)



Fitness is a journey..most important thing is to START!

A friend texted me today a bit frustrated with her fitness journey. And I know of at least a couple of other folks feeling the same. So hopefully this post will help someone...

The main point is that fitness is a journey. I think everyone who embarks on a program to lose fat / gain muscle / tone up / lower blood pressure / lower LDL / raise HDL / run faster and jump higher ...whatever it might be ...eventually discovers that there's no magic wand. What's required is a conscious decision to adjust one's lifestyle, and this can include any or all of diet, exercise, sleep habits, drug use (caffeine, alcohol, prescription drugs, illegal drugs, sugar, etc), occupation, and literally anything else that we do while alive. And I bet that ANYone who has realized some progress or met some goal ...wants more!

SO ...although I'd been quite healthy in years past (used to weight lift 2.5 hrs/day, 6 days/wk; ran an organized 10k each month, over the years did martial arts, played soccer, etc, etc) ...when we moved to Florida in 2004, I got out of shape. After a pretty bad report from an annual physical, and the doc telling me my triglycerides were about the worst he'd ever seen, I knew I had to get organized.

I started by walking a mile on the treadmill each day. At first even that was enough to feel like a workout. I should have kept track of what I did over what span of time, but I slowly increased the distance up to 3 miles.

Then I did Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred for a few months. At first, that was a killer! But as with any program, it eventually was no problem to do even the 3rd level (hardest program).

Next came various Beachbody workout programs. I did P90X - I think 6 times through the 90-day program - a year and a half. And after that did a couple of times through Insanity, I've done Asylum, P90X2, Body Beast, and repeated some of the earlier programs again. Sometime during the past year, I discovered the Daily HIIT website (HIIT = High Intensity Interval Training), and have been incorporating some of their workouts (all are free).

But now I've set a goal to complete a 10 mile organized run in Oct 2013. I am again humbled. 30 years ago I would run a 10k (6.2 miles) in under 45 minutes. I could run 6.5 minute miles for shorter runs. Now, however, as I get back into running, I find that the best I can do is about 9.5 min/mile, and a 5k (3 miles) is about my limit. So I'm following a training schedule of weight lifting 2 days/week, running 3 days/week, plyometrics (jump training) 1 day/week, and 1 rest day every week. Oh, and 4 years ago we switched to a vegan diet (all plant-based foods).

The good news: at my annual physical the past few years, the doc has been very happy - not only at my improvement (pretty good numbers all the way around) - but also to have a patient who, as she put it, "gets it", and addresses health concerns via lifestyle choices rather than medications.

The other good news: even though I'm frustrated that my current "run" is what I really consider a "jog" speed, and my max distance is not yet where I want it to be, I am definitely improving.

The bottom line: Take a step. Literally take a freakin' step (and maybe put a few thousand more after that to walk a mile). And just keep making incremental improvements - carefully - and your fitness journey is underway :)


What a wonderful run this morning!

There's a lot in play here, since I'm training for the Disney Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler in Oct. As their website loves to point out with the always-on countdown timer, I now have 110 days left to get in condition to run farther than I've ever run. Hey, I have no ambitions to do a marathon, or (yeah, right!) and ultramarathon (2 to 5 times or more the 26.2 miles of a 'simple' marathon). I just want to get be healthy – truly healthy and fit – and be able to comfortably run 5k's and 10k's. Many years ago, I used to run an organized 10k (6.2 miles) each month. That was decades ago :)

There were times when running seemed to trash my knees. The worst was 30+ years ago after finishing the Cascade Run Off; the last mile or two or three of downhill killed me, and I limped around for a day or two after that. A doc told me that if I wanted to be walking when I was 60, I should probably not run more than 3 miles at a time. I'm no longer certain that the advice should be followed.

Well ... now I've read Born to Run, and am in the middle of reading Eat and Run. I've had my running gait analyzed at Fit2Run in Tampa. I picked up some compression sleeves, compression socks, Skora BASE minimalist running shoes, and have a few other pairs of "regular" running shoes (main ones are Saucony Triumphs).

So what's the effect of all this gear and reading?

After decades of running with the Boom! Boom! of my heel-strike running, I'm now working on 3 fundamental changes:

  1. Striking with the middle or front of the foot
  2. Taking a short and more frequent stride (I used a metronome set at 90 beats per minute today for the first mile and a half to help me hold my desired stride .. 2 steps per tick)
  3. Breathing through the nose (at least on the inhales) and focusing on diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing). I thank vocal lessons, pranayama , and martial arts for making that easier to do!

And to make those things easier (more automatic) to do, I ran the first mile today in the Skoras. Since these are designed for "barefoot" running, one automatically does a mid- or front-foot strike (try running barefoot or in water shoes and you'll immediately notice that without the thick padding of common running shoes, there's no way you're going to want to slam down on your heels every time!).

The actual routine this morning (as per my training schedule to slowly ramp up to the 10-miler) called for running 2 miles. So I walked the first 1/4 mile and then jogged at 6 mph (10-min mile, so not what I would consider a run) for a mile. I then switched to the Triumphs for another couple of miles (went slightly more so that I'd jogged a proper 5k ...3.1 miles), and then did a 5-minute cool down walk followed by stretching. It all felt great!

I was tempted to keep going, but I know myself, and know all too well that I can easily tend to over train. My schedule calls for 30 min runs each Tue/Thu, and then a longer run on Saturdays. Next week (as per the schedule) is 3 miles, so my goal next week is to jog the first 1.5 miles in the Skoras before switching shoes. I also found that I do prefer using socks with the Skoras. On Thursday I wore compression sleeves and was barefoot in the Skoras, so today I tried compression socks – I'm experimenting. It's hard to qualify the why, but the socks felt better.

And I wish to thank Google Play Music, which I had going on my phone (via ear phones). I'm experimenting with Google's music service, and I quite like the mix that was streamed today. I have a lot of Green Day in my music collection, so Google's algorithm pulled me a blend of Green Day, Limp Bizkit, The Offspring, My Chemical Romance, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, blink-182, Guns N'Roses, Alien Ant Farm, Foo Fighters, Sum 41, The Ataris, Simple Plan. I've not heard of about 1/4 of those groups, and I pretty much liked it all. Sweet.

I should also state that I typically run on a treadmill. I like it. I can put on some tunes or a podcast, not worry about crazy Florida drivers or the Tampa heat. We keep the A/C at 78F during the day, so even in our workout room if I have the door closed, the temp doesn't get above the low 80's, which is much more comfortable vs. the normal 95F outside during the warmer 6 months of the year. And I like the flat surface – no crown of the road to mess with. But I will do some outdoor runs as well – as time goes on.

And with that ...time to clean up, grab a breakfast shake, and (if the thunderstorms don't start up) go hit the yard work! ...And I'm already looking forward to the next run :-D


Prepping for 10-mile run in Oct 2013: Day 1

I ran the Cascade Runoff 15k over 30 years ago in Portland. Since then I've only done 5k runs (along with various other things including martial arts, playing / coaching / reffing soccer, weightlifting - and a few years in there of doing very little!). Well I have now registered to do The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-miler in October (almost exactly 4 months from now). So it's time to get serious.

Yesterday Shirley and I went to Fit2Run in Tampa. This place rocks! Bobby, one of the sales folks there (none are on commission, and all are experienced runners /coaches and really know their stuff) spent a couple of hours with us. If you go, allocate an hour for each person. We talked about our individual goals and mentioned what (if anything) bothers us when we walk or run.

Next was standing without shoes on a device that displays an image (sort of like a heat map) to show where and how heavily each foot contacts the ground. Turns out that Shirley was not contacting at all in the arches (which she kind of knew already), indicating a need for orthotics.

Then we each had our running analyzed. Fit2Run has several treadmills, each equipped with a specially mounted video camera to record one's steps during a one-minute easy run. They make sure you have "neutral" shoes (no orthotics, no other adjustments) to get an accurate recording of how you really run. The recording is played back in slow motion several times, stopping as needed to analyze how and where each foot strikes, any rotation of the foot, etc.

And then with the knowledge of what, if any, orthotic is needed, and what general type of shoe would best accommodate one's running style and typical distances, we each tried on several different pairs of shoes (even though I have a pair that works fine, I prefer to alternate what pair I use with each run, and also replace the shoes after several months).

Final tally was a semi-substantial investment, but we had planned on this. We each purchased a pair of shoes, several pairs of good socks, some compression sleeves, and the orthotics. I also bought a pair of compression socks to give those a try.

My training: I may modify this, but for now, this is the schedule (2-page PDF) I plan to follow. For June I'll most likely do about 4 miles each Saturday, and then start increasing the mileage after that. Today I did 4 miles: total of a mile walked during warm up, cool down, and a little walking in the middle; 3 miles of running (really "jogging" is the more appropriate word, since I was going at a 6mph pace). The shoes, orthotics, and compression socks felt wonderful! I seriously would not have been able to do this without the compression on the calves, since I overtrained a little with some workouts a couple of weeks ago. Without the compression socks (which I used today) or sleeves (which I'd purchased earlier and used on a 5k last weekend), my calves would have been cramping within the first mile or less.

And with that has begun! 124 days until the 10 mile run!