Sunday, June 28, 2009

Review of Garmin Forerunner 405 cx

Alright. I've had this new toy for nearly a month. I guess it's time to get myself in gear (Ha! Get it?! Gear? Oh, nevermind...) and write a review. (The alternative is to actually think of something something interesting to write about, and my brain is too fried for that. A five mile hike in too much sun/heat with too little tree cover was just miserableness and more than a little cranky.)

For anyone interested, I did do a review nearly two years ago of my Forerunner 305. At that time, I compared it to my 301. This review will probably follow suit and compare it a bit with the 305. You may want to know that I have nothing else with which to compare it; it's been Forerunners the whole way for me.

You may also wish to note that I'm talking about the 405cx, not the regular 405. The cx part is the straw that got me to finally bite the bullet and upgrade my GPS/HR monitor (can I mangle any more cliche metaphors?). The key about the cx is that it uses heart rate information to improve on its calorie calculations.

Well, let's go ahead and start there: calorie calculations. While I can't vouch for their actual, ultimate accuracy, I will say that they are clearly improved from previous Forerunners. You see, here's how the calorie calculations went before: You took thirty minutes to climb five miles up a hard hill. That's 300 calories. You took ten minutes to speedily coast back down that hill. That's 700 calories. OK, sure, the numbers are pulled out of my rear end, but the reality is that the Garmin looked at velocity/distance only and did not take other factors like elevation change properly into account. Now? It knows that you worked much harder climbing up than coasting down (or hiking up the mountain vs. strolling back down). Again, it's nearly impossible to know exactly how accurate the calculations really are, but they are within reasonable ranges, so I'm trusting them until they prove untrustworthy.

Probably one of the most striking improvements over the 305 is the appearance. Size-wise it's actually nearly the same. But factor in shape and it's a whole new ball-game. There's no way that I'm going to go to work and just casually wear this thing as my watch, but it looks much less like I took a computer and strapped it to my wrist. (The surprising downfall here is that it now looks a little more odd when strapped to my handlebars.)

Here I have it strapped to my wrist next to my normal watch. (You may admire my fantastically fuzzy German arm, if you wish. But do so silently, please.) You may not see it from the photo, but this does lead to one annoyance (of a few) with the 405 cx: because the antenna is part of the watch band, part of the band is rigid. This actually leads it to sit awkwardly on my wrist, almost facing farther away and causing me to turn my wrist more to read the dial. This sounds almost inconsequential, but it's annoying to not be able to adjust it.

Continuing on with the "form factor", there are two more major changes. One is the bezel. Rather than pushing buttons to navigate through menus, you run your finger along the bezel in a circular motion. You also switch between modes by touching and holding the bezel. Some people love the bezel; some people hate it. I'm pretty neutral. I mean, it's OK, but it's nothing special. I can use it through my medium-thick running gloves, but if it gets too wet (from rain), the bezel becomes unresponsive until I dry it off. Not a big issue for me, but it might be big for someone in, say, Seattle where residents have gills (so I hear). It's water resistant, so it doesn't break, per se; it just becomes unresponsive until it's quickly dried off.

The other issue is driving me a bit battier. They've moved the start/stop buttons from the front back to the side. This means that I can accidentally stop a workout by pushing a button (with the back of my hand, I guess). This has happened once when strength training and twice when hiking. Little is more irritating than finding that a significant portion of your workout has gone unrecorded because you somehow inadvertendly pressed stop. Definitely a negative.

One final note on form: The strap is more difficult to open and close. This may soften over time. The 405 cx does come with two velcro straps for sizing or preference, but danged if I can switch them out. I know how to switch out the straps, but I just can't get use the fork-thing to grab and slide the little doohiky enough to get it unattached. (If you had the watch, you'd understand.) So I'm dealing with the default rubber(?) watch band. It does look nicer than the velcro probably would, so I'm coping.

OK, enough about form. Let's move on to function. Back to the heart rate monitor. The connection between the watch and the heart rate strap seems vastly improved. I barely get the watch "woken up" or put the heart rate strap on when the watch tells me that the heart rate monitor has been detected. Wow. No loss of signal; no interference. Re-pairing with other accessories (foot pod and bike sensor) is just as lightening fast. I'm impressed.

Speaking of lightening fast, can we talk about GPS signal? It used to be that I'd have to stand around for quite some time before I got a good signal. I'd have to stretch, fiddle with the bike, or do something else to keep myself from looking too lame while the 305 searched for satellites. I think I even once had a neighbor wonder if I was trying to figure out how to break into his house while I was just standing there waiting for my 305 to get its act together. No such problem with this watch. On a slow day it takes maybe five seconds to get a signal. Niiiicceee.

And once it gets a signal? It's locked on. I have yet to have a problem from buildings or tree cover. It used to be a little bit of a joke to forgive my poor 305 (worse yet, the 301) for thinking that it took, say, 3.51 miles to climb up the wooded mountain trail and, say, 3.68 miles to come back down on the same path. It's a tiny antenna and it's doing the best it can, I'd say. Corners get cut; things happen. Not with the 405cx. One distance up, same exact distance back. Maybe one one hundredth of a mile in difference. I sure can't complain about that.

I can complain about the software. Same cruddy training software as the 301 and the 305. I was excited about Garmin Connect, but it's really nothing to get excited about. Other online software does much better. Sure, it may be "prettier" than Buckeye Outdoors, but it doesn't have half the power. So I'm sticking with Buckeye and SportTracks.

Regarding the software of the unit itself, there is good, and there is bad. Let's start with the good. The virtual traing partner is an interesting novelty, but not without its flaws. (Racing against a virtual partner that goes at a steady pace is slightly frustrating when you have stop lights and hills to contend with.) Chances are, though I haven't used it yet, that the courses feature will be much better because I can race against a former "me", using data from a previous workout.

Another good: Garmin listened to me and finally made "today's workout" a snap to access. Two taps on the bezel and I'm presented with the workout I had scheduled for the day, ready for me to press enter and begin. Only problem? Apparently I'm only allowed to do one workout per day. If you schedule more than one, too bad. I had hoped that, having completed the first workout, it would automatically switch to the next scheduled workout for the day. No such luck; I have to go through a few menus to access the advanced workouts. Ah, well, can't have everything, right?

On to the bad. First, if I want to switch from running mode to biking mode (they eliminated "other" for some unfathomable reason), it takes no less than nine bezel swipes and taps. Not a killer, but definitely an annoyance. If I'm going to do an advanced workout which already is set up for a particular sport, though, it will switch automatically, so it's not an annoyance I have to deal with often.

On to the really bad. If I switch from biking mode to running mode, certain things will switch automatically. (For example, I have it to auto-pause when I'm stopped when biking, but to not auto-pause when running. It remembers and falls in line.) However, the data fields it displays do not switch over. Let me give you the big example. When I'm running, I want to know what? Pace, of course. But when I'm biking, I couldn't care less about pace; I want speed. The 405 cx? Doesn't switch the display between the two modes. Seriously, Garmin? That's a huge oversight. That means that I have to set it up to display both speed and pace, unless I want to go through the hassle of reconfiguring the data fields to display every time I switch from running to biking or back. I don't want to do that, so I'm having to use precious screen real estate to always show both, which means I'm always faced with looking at something I don't care about.

Beyond that, though, the 405 cx is extremely configurable in its display. Do you want to see three things per screen? Two? One? How about three on the first screen and two on the second and get rid of the third? Done. (You can set the Garmin to automatically switch between the screens if you want, and the speed is also configurable. I like this feature.) And for your options as to what data to show, it's insane. There are not enough data screens to show all the things I'd want to show (not that I need all of them, mind you). Just to list a few of the many options for the data fields: There's time elapsed, of course, and time of day. There's cadence (current) or average cadence or just your cadence for the current lap. There's distance and elevation and heart rate (with variations). You can have it show your heading (N/S/E/W) or pace or speed or - I kid you not - sunset in case you really want to push your run to the edge of daylight.

The one significant feature missing from the display: GPS tracks. I liked that I was able to see my little GPS tracks on the 305. No, it wasn't as good as a map, but it was nice to be able to see where I had already been so I could easily track back to the known trail/path. I can't do that now. I can have it tell me how to get back to the start (or a marked waypoint) with an arrow pointing the way (as the crow flies), but what if I don't want to get back to the beginning, but rather want to get back to the path? No such luck. This isn't a deal-breaker for me (obviously), but sure is a sad feature to lose.

OK, let's see, what have I missed in this (huuuuuggggeeeee) review? Ah, yes, the new feature that is supposedly soooo fantastic: the wireless ANT sync. Yes. My computer now can grab my workout from my watch without me having to hook it up. Big whoop. Sorry, but I just don't care much about this one. Sure, I guess it's one less cable and one less docking cradle, but, well, it's just not that big a deal. And it does have times where it fails, so it actually takes longer to wait for it to attempt another transfer. Really, I'd rather just hook it up and have it sync the first time, every time.

And... um.... Hey, I think I covered it! Oh, wait, no I didn't. A couple more things.

The beeps are a little quieter. I can still hear them over my music (yeah, yeah, shame on me for exercising with headphones, moving on...), but I have to be careful about the volume. It does have different tones when you're going too fast vs. going too slow, which is good. It still plays a cute victory song when your workout is finished, which isn't good or bad but still makes me inexplicably giddy and happy.

Also, I've focused mainly on comparisons against the previous model, so let me mention a big selling point (to me): The customizable workout programs. Seriously, you can create a workout for nearly anything you want to work on. Want to work at a particular pace? Done. Heart rate? OK. Distance? Easy. A combination? Okiedokie. Alternating between various stages? No problemo. Intervals? Warm-up, main set(s), cool-down? Done, done, and done. I seriously can't imagine training without my Garmin guiding me through specific workouts. Again, the reporting software leaves quite a bit to be desired, but, again, this is easily remedied with the donation-ware SportTracks. (I wonder if I donated already. Either way, I should probably donate (again). It's good stuff.)

OK, I think that's it. Feel free to ask any questions. One thing's for sure: The hike did not damage my propensity toward verbosity.

Overall, I'm happy I switched to the 405 cx. The improved calorie calculation, snappy accessory re-pairing, and vastly improved GPS signal are not insignificant changes. (I think the elevation reporting is even improved.) Sure, there are some "quirks" which make me want to slap my forehead, but I haven't found the perfect GPS/HR monitor yet, so gradual improvement will have to do, even at the cost of occasional slip-ups.

Friday, June 26, 2009

More to Mock?

Confession time: I watch tv. A lot. Too much. Well, I guess most of the time it's just on in the background while I'm doing something else. (Sadly, the times that that "something else" is using my $800 elliptical are way too infrequent. Well, the elliptical will be waiting when winter is back.)

Sorry, I'm rambling. I have a point today. (Yes, really.) More and more frequently, on Fox, I'm seeing commercials for a new dataing "reality" show. Ah, but before you storm off in disgust, know that there may be reason for you to be even more (or less?) disgusted. There's a twist, you see. Whether this twist makes the show better or worse is a complicated issue, but I'm leaning to worse.

The twist? I'll explain it the same way the producers do. You see, the average woman on a reality show is a size two. The average woman in the US is a size 14/16. So, this show, titled More to Love, aims to bring reality back to reality tv by casting this show with regular sized women... who appear to actually be around size 18/20 or 22/24. (Why use actual "average" women when you can use women who are clearly well into obese?) Although, I'll give them credit. They did choose women who have the lovely, shapely, overweight-with-an-hourglass, Rubenesque figure that I could only dream of at any weight. (I can't find pictures of the cast, but I did find a site that has a video of the promo here.)

And, yes, the guy is overweight himself and clearly has a penchant for women of size. So it's not a show with the nastiness of Average Joe or any of those shows where these "beautiful" (on the outside at least) people are shocked and stunned to be paired with less-than-stunning people. Oh, the horror. Pardon me while I finish rolling my eyes.

OK, so what's the problem, some of you may be asking. Sure, sure. Part of me wants to believe that this show will get the public to see inner beauty, and even the outer beauty of these contestants. It's equality regardless of size, something I've championed, right? The producer even says, “We want to send the message that you can be the size you are and still be lovable... We aren’t going to thin these girls down so they can find love -- that’s a backwards message.” (source: James Hibberd's The Live Feed.)

So, OK. That actually sounds decent. But, let's remember, this is Fox. And a dating reality show. No good can come of this. (Can it?)

Let me switch to my problem with these dating shows in general. I've always wondered: Why do these twenty-five women, who seem fairly attractive and confident, throw themselves at (and fight over) a man they've just met? What is going on in their heads? There's an air of awful desperation, and that comes out very clearly during their "confessionals"... not to mention the all-too-soon and all-too-public intimacy on many of these shows. (No, I'm not a prude, but let's be real.) There is a very big, disturbing "wrongness" in these shows and the way they exploit people. (No, I don't regularly watch any of these shows, but I have watched enough to get a general idea.)

So, if these size two women have such a hard time looking sane on television, how will it be any better with "real" size women? I'm so very, very afraid that it won't. Let's face it: There's already a very real stereotype that overweight people are less intelligent and less capable. Do we really want to feed into the belief that they're also blubbering, desperate idiots? I know I don't, but I expect that this show will do just that.

I hope I'm wrong. I really, really do. But I just don't think I will be. And that saddens me.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Checking In

Not much to say today, but I promised (to myself) that I would try to post no less frequently than every other day during the summer. (Have to keep the brain cells going somehow, right?)

So, I'm keeping up on my weight training and making some good gains in strength. The scale isn't moving in any significant manner, but I've decided that I don't care. Ha! Just kidding. Sure, I care, but it is what it is, and here's what's making me feel much, much better about it: My bodyfat is steadily dropping.

For example, last Saturday, my super-secret spreadsheet showed me that, while I had only lost 0.2 pounds in averaged weight, I had lost 0.6 pounds in averaged bodyfat. So I gained lean body mass. Sure, 0.4 pounds in lean body mass may sound incredibly insignificant, but considering how much lean mass I had previously been losing, this huge. (Typically, about half of my weight loss would be lean body mass. Yuck!) Would I rather still be dropping bodyweight? Sure, of course. But this is what it is for now, and as long as I'm progressing in some way, I can't be down on myself. (And, as regular readers know, I am progressing in many ways.)

One last note: My 5k is next weekend! Egads. Because I've put all my faith in lactate threshold training, I actually haven't run a solid 5k this year (without stopping). Of course, with only eight days between now and then, and my planned "taper" (ha!), I'm certainly not going to try now. However, I suspect that, once I put aside heart rate and lactate threshold for the race, focusing only on a reasonable and maintainable pace, I'll actually be able to run the whole thing.

The only thing that makes me a bit nervous (yeah, there is this) is that the 5k is about 2,000 feet higher than my stomping grounds. Yes, that change in elevation could be a problem. Or maybe it won't be. And if it is? Oh well, I'll do better next year. At least I'm getting out there. That's more than I can say about myself this time last year.

Well, that's it. Now stop reading silly blogs and go do something.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Rule #2 in Cycling: Everything is Relative

No, I don't know what rule #1 is (yet), but today's lesson is certainly right up next to it. But first, I need to show you a picture of my bike:

Now, why do I start with a picture of my bike? Because you have to see my digital set-up. If you look closely at the handlebars, you'll see two gadgets. The one on the left is my (since-replaced by the newer model) Garmin Forerunner 305. To the right of it, the light blue thing, is my iPhone. Yes, I bought a rig to hold my iPhone on my bike. What of it?

OK, you may wonder why I did such a thing. (Or, you may be a fellow iPhreak, slowly nodding in approval.) It started out innocently enough. The GPS on my Garmin doesn't show me a full map, nor does it allow me to plan out a route out ahead of time (without actually doing it beforehand). With iPhone GPS and the right app, I can now do both.

Better yet, I've finally figured out how to download routes other people have laid out on Bikely. Rock. On. I can pre-load them on my GPS and follow the route without having to worry about trying to follow a cue sheet and peering at street signs. Sure, some are insane routes that I can only envision doing in the distant future. (Up and over Mt. Rose, anyone... and back??? Um, yeah, that'll wait a while.) But most variations on a fairly familiar theme. In other words, I'm fairly familiar with the area, but they're giving me some new streets to try. Nice.

Today, feeling a bit tired, I decide to follow a route called "20-Mile Flatter Loop". I take a quick glance and decide that it's perfect; it mostly meanders through a fairly flat part of South Reno.

I drive down to the part of the loop closest to me, set up, and set out. Man, I must be tired, I think to myself. I'm fighting as hard as if I'm hitting a headwind, but the trees are stock still. (Later, after looking at the elevation profile, I realize that I'm climbing a hidden hill right off the bat.) And then I hit a real hill. Still, I'm having a harder time than I should. I am, honestly, struggling. I don't recall ever having a "bad ride" in the same way people sometimes have a "bad run", but it looks like today was one.

So, anyway, I finish climbing that hill. It was actually a back way to Windy Hill, so I don't blame myself for struggling; it's always a hard climb for me. But I turn a hard left (almost a U-turn) and swing back down the hill, back into the flats. This is going to be a nice ride, I tell myself. This valley is a particulaly beautiful, almost rustic part of Reno.

A while later, my GPS tells me to take a turn I hadn't taken before. It goes from beautiful to spectacular. (Except, well, the smell... Someone must have laid out the fertilizer.) And, again, I'm climbing. I'm cursing myself for my weakness. Seriously, I'm bottomed out in gears and the incline really isn't that hard. But it goes on and on and on.

And on. I keep cresting, figuring that this is where I'll cruise back down.

Only to find another hill right after a very shallow dip.

This is the "flatter" route?!? Flatter than what?!?

Yes, everything is relative.

It's the hill that won't die.

At one point a quail runs across the street in front of me, but then takes a glance at me and decides it can slow down to a walk. And it does. I kid you not. Let me tell you, to be dissed by a quail is a special kind of insult.

I keep waiting for some cyclists to come whizzing past me, but no one ever does (thank goodness!). A group does pass me the other way, with big happy grins on their faces. Sure. They're going downhill. Actually, it almost looks like the last guy had a touch of respect in his smile, as if to say, Good for you, girl. This is a tough climb! Or maybe I was just delirious from lack of oxygen and imagined it. Either way.

Finally, after more than seven miles of this off-and-on climbing, I hit the final crest and launch into a fantastic 3.5 mile straight descent, during which I lose over 600 feet of elevation and top out at a slightly frightful 42.37 MPH. Yes, the point-37 is important, and, yes, that is my record speed.

The rest of the ride is nice and flat. And some of it is so new that it's not even "on the map"! For a while, it looks like I'm off-roading it. I never would have found some of these streets if it weren't for the Bikely and the iPhone GPS.

Here's a lovely shot I took during the flat part.

So, overall, a decent ride (considering I didn't mean to do anything more than an easy, flat 20), and it was a good experience to follow a route that I found on the internet.

But, most important, it was a good lesson in checking elevation profiles before heading out. A "flatter" ride to one cyclist can very easily be a "tougher" ride to me. Everything is relative. Everything.

EDIT: For anyone interested, here are links to the two parts for my iPhone bike mount: ATV holder and Rail with Swivel. You can get a more svelte holders, but those will be good only for one specific item. The ATV Holder is very generic and will last me quite some time. FWIW, these are not affiliate links.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Ban Hammer

There is a very small number of foods "banned" from the house. I aim for everything in moderation rather than any sort of deprivation, but I occasionally find a food which is best kept out of my cupboard, where its siren song is muffled through distance to the point of nonexistence.

Alas, I am forced to consider an addition to the banned from the cupboard list: Nutella.

Please join me in a moment of mournful silence. In a few days, that is... Once I finish this jar. No sense in being wasteful. Surely you understand.

Friday, June 19, 2009

If You Hate that it Happened...

I think it's universal that we humans tend to look back and play "what if" games. What if I had stayed in college the first time around? What if I stayed with my high school boyfriend? What if I lost weight the first (or second or tenth) time that I tried? How would my life be different? Would it be better?

Sadly, many of us answer these questions with regret. The "what if" game turns into the "if only" game. Once that happens, it's no longer a game; it's far from entertainment.

But yesterday I found the consolation/inspiration in the oddest of places: an old episode of This American Life. At one point, a descendant of a woman involved in a significant tragedy addresses the issue of regret. Does she regret what happened to her ancestor? Her answer:

If you hate that it happened, then you hate that you are... And I don't hate that I am.

Those wise words reach well beyond her family's tragedy. They resonate in my heart as a lesson of acceptance of my own past. I can't hate those choices of my past; without them I wouldn't be. Without my mistakes, I wouldn't be the strong person I am today. I've had this thought before, but I never had such eloquent words to describe the attitude.

If you find yourself playing the "if only" game, I entreat you to remember her words. Do you hate that you are? Surely not. Then you cannot hate that it happened.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What's in a Name?

It may (or may not) suprise you that I sometimes get flak for the name of this blog. I'm honestly surprised when people scold me for the name (and genuinely laugh at some of the looks on the faces of the few friends I've told about this blog), but I guess your reaction depends somewhat on your personal experiences and values. For me, it's just funny. It's also a bit of social protest. But, despite what you may think, it's not self-deprecating. Really, it's not. To explain, I'll begin with a couple of snapshots from my life.

First, let's travel back to childhood. I remember very clearly being really bothered by a Sears catalog (back when those catalogs came out once a year and were approximately the size of telephone books). I was perusing the clothing section of the catalog and hit what would now be called the "plus size" section, but for kids. The clothes for larger kids weren't labeled "plus size". They weren't labeled "for fatties" (but how hilarious would that have been?). They were labeled as clothes for "husky" kids. Husky. Say the word out loud; let it roll around in your mouth. Husky.

I was appalled. I knew I was overweight, and I knew that, somehow, this was something for me to be ashamed of (not that I agree, mind you, but I'll get there later), but this euphemism disgusted me. I loudly announced to my family that I never wanted to be called "husky". Overweight, fine. Fat even, fine. But husky? Don't you dare. The reasoning behind this verbiage eluded me. Obviously someone decided that overweight kids would prefer to be called husky, but I certainly was not one of them and could not imagine that any other overweight chld would like the term.

Fast forward to about a year and a half ago. I think I mentioned that I teach middle school children. They can, you may be shocked to hear, be darlings. For the past two years, I've been blessed with the sweetest, most empathetic group of middle school kids I'll probably ever have the pleasure of working with. But I digress.

I was trying to explain the meaning of the idiom "pot calling the kettle black" to a group of these seventh-grade girls. As an example, I was going to go with an easy one: the hypocritical hypothetical situation of me teasing someone else for being overweight. So, I begin to set up the scenario, and I say, "I'm bigger than most other teachers, right?"

They were appalled. "Miss ____! You should have more self-esteem!"

Wait, what? Why does talking frankly and matter-of-factly about my size constitute low self-esteem? I said it in the same way that I might have said that my hair was shorter than another teacher's hair, or that my shirt was blue. But they, bless them, believed that there is something innately wrong about being overweight, and to admit it was, somehow, a sign of low esteem. I can't blame them, because they're just children, but I'm amused and nonplussed to see this attitude around me constantly. People always have scolded me for calling myself fat... even when I was nearly double my "ideal" weight.

Honestly, even now, I'm not sure why someone should be ashamed to be overweight any more than they should be ashamed to be inactive or to be a smoker. It's a personal choice. Is it the best choice for a long, healthy, and happy life? Obviously not, but there are plenty of other poor life choices that don't have this sort of stigma.

Fat is a description. It is an adjective. It is no better nor worse than tall, short, blonde, or brunette. (Note that "fit" does not have this neutrality, but that's because people work hard to be fit. They don't work hard to be blonde.)

Hell, even NAAFA uses the word fat! (And, yes, I was once a card-carrying member. I still support the cause in principle, even if I don't want to look like a typical member.) Anyway, in my title, fat is a description. That's all. Hopefully it won't be a description for much longer.

OK, but there's a bit more. Over the years, I've grown weary of the many ways in which overweight people (I'm talking about more than twenty pounds, mind you) are actually limited in their attempts to become fitter. Sure, yes, nutrition/diet is important. But so is activity. But what happens when we want to become active? Obstacle after obstacle.

Are you overweight and want to hike or run? Good luck finding technical clothing that fits. No, it's not impossible, but it sure is difficult. Cycling is nearly as bad, but thankfully there's Team Estrogen for plus-sized cycling apparel. Want to swim for exercise? Ha! Good luck finding a suit which has shoulder straps which won't roll off your shoulders halfway down the pool. (After a great deal of searching, I finally found a fantastic plus-size Speedo suit.)

If you lament the severe lack of fitness wear for overweight people, "normal"-sized people look at you funny. "Why on earth would they make activewear for fatties?" they ask. Well, duh, if we can't dress ourselves, how the hell are we supposed to start exercising for weight loss?!?

It's even worse if you start listening to some of the "experts" about what overweight people are supposed to do to lose weight. Putting aside the ridiculous low-calorie diets that doctors and nutritionists will push (I've mentioned before how those are cruel recipes for disaster), what do they say for weight loss? Walk. Walk, walk, walk, walk, and walk. And watch your heart rate - don't let it get above 70% of your maximum, fattie!

ARGH! Now, don't get me wrong, if you like walking, good for you. Personally, it bores me to tears. And if I had to stay below 70% of my calculated maximum? I think I'd die. Even 80% is ridiculously low for me. If I want to be active, I want to feel like I'm doing something! I want to breathe hard, I want to need to recover, I want to "suffer" from the exquisite pain of soreness the day after. I want to train like an athlete.

And why shouldn't I? Why shouldn't any fat person? Why, indeed, must anyone wait "until I lose this forty, fifty, or hundred pounds" before embarking into athleticism? I think that anyone who suggests that an overweight person "wait until" a certain weight before running or lifting weights or any kind of movement that that overweight person wants to do is doing an grave disservice.
Now, am I saying that someone who is carrying around an extra hundred or more pounds should go out and try to run a marathon just like that? Heavens, no. They need to train responsibly and push themselves just to their current limits. Similarly, the 110-pound weakling who's been playing video games and living off of Mountain Dew and Cheetos every day for the past year should respect his (or her) current limits and train responsibly.

But just because one is fat, doesn't mean that one can't train like an athlete. Fat athlete. It's not a contradiction, and it's not an insult. It just is.

OK, so now that we've covered the history of the name of the blog, it seems appropriate to touch on the future of the name of this blog. I think that some of the reactions out there (aghast comes to mind) are because people think it's limiting. It's as if they believe that I've decided that there's never a time I won't be fat. Considering the flaws in BMI, perhaps I always will be considered fat. But if it means I look like this, or this, or even this, I'm perfectly OK with it. (Note: I know that the last two take a great, great deal of dedication in the weight room, more than I'd probably ever give.) Side note, what would I want to look like if I could pick any body? Dear Gods, it would be something like this:

(Photo source: Vanity Fair Exhibit, Hilary Swank by Norman Jean Roy, 2004)

Now, surely, genetics makes this little more than fantasy for me, as does the damage I have done to my skin over the years (stretch marks, excess subcutaneous fat cells, etc). But that doesn't mean that I should waver from my resolve to change my body into something much closer to my ideal. But, again, I digress.

However, the question that remains is... What happens when I'm no longer "fat"? Do I keep the title as an ironic homage to whence I came? Do I change it to "(Formerly) Fat Athlete"? Do I change it to "Phat Athlete"? I don't know, and I don't think I need to decide any time soon. But I do know this: The title is not meant as deprecation. It's funny. Better still, it does serve as a challenge against assumptions and, I hope, occasional inspiration. Most importantly: If anything keeps me from attaining my goal(s), it most certainly won't be the name of this blog.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Dose of My Own Medicine

I haven't vented for a while. I'm due.

In various places, at various times, I've repeated a few related mantras. It's all about the math. Watch the trends, not the numbers. Be patient.

But, and you may be shocked to hear this, I am not perfect. Although I know my mantras to be spot on, well, sometimes they're just not "enough". You start to question things, wondering whether the assumptions you're working with are correct. Do I really have my correct BMR? Do I burn as much as I think I do when working out? Am I eating in my sleep?!?

It's all about the math.
Watch the trends, not the numbers.
Be patient.

To understand my frustration, let's look at the raw data. Sure, I'm out of school so I'm a bit more sedentary than normal. That's why I set my "metabolism" in FitDay to, well, sedentary instead of "seated, some movement". That's shaving nearly 600 Calories off of my calculated BMR. So, of course, I'm upping the exercise. For the past nearly two weeks, I've burned an average of nearly 800 Calories more than I've consumed. So, my weight loss should be continuing as it always has. But let's look at the raw data.
  • June 6: 194.6 (hadn't been following the program faithfully because of end-of-school stuff)
  • June 7: 193
  • June 8: 193
  • June 9: 193.8
  • June 10: 194
  • June 11: 194.8
  • June 12 194.8
  • June 13: 194.6
  • June 14: 194.8 (mega exercise day - burned about 2,000 more than I ate)
  • June 15: 194.2 (ok...)
  • Today: 194.8 (argh!)

It's all about the math.
Watch the trends, not the numbers.
Be patient.

Not helping. Not "enough".

Maybe it's time for a free day. Those tend to help me break plateaus. But, but... I don't want to possibly derail the work I've been doing. I want to charge forward, get as much progress as possible for the summer!

Perhaps I need to cut calories a bit. Maybe I burned more at work than I think. Seriously? Well, maybe. Yelling at kids all day long sure gets the heart rate up. (I joke, I joke. I don't yell at the kids. Much. But they are middle schoolers, so, you know.) So, then, what? Cut calories?

It's all about the math.
Watch the trends, not the numbers.
Be patient.

Still not "enough".

So, I look away from the raw data (which I should't even be looking at, but I do) and review the trends. Weightbot (iphone) tells me I'm losing weight so slowly that it'll take 398 more days to lose 40 pounds. OK, but weightbot really doesn't have a good averaging system. (And, still, according to weightbot, I am losing weight, albeit at the pace of a turtle's funeral procession.) Let's look at the better system: physicsdiet:

The one above is my 30-day progress. See the big red spike? That's what happened when I completely blew off diet and exercise for a few days and engaged in some celebratory stuff at work. My planned maintenance is actually the level line right before the big spike. But still, what does it tell me? I'm losing about 1.17 pounds per week with a calculated deficit of nearly 600 Calories. OK. But that's for thirty days. What about just the past two weeks?

Um, OK. Still trending downward. Even better with an average weekly loss of 1.71 pounds and a calculated deficit of over 800 Calories. Actually, that's pretty on par with what I've been doing. OK, OK, but what about just this week? Certainly I've flatlined for the last week, right? Or, perish the thought, reversed the trend?

Seriously, thank goodness for math. You see, I'd be looking at the bottom of the graph, the data points, and be convinced that I'm gaining weight. But math takes other data into account and reassures me that, even just during this week, I'm losing weight. Sure, only 1.05 pounds per week, but I'm losing, it assures me.

I'm having a hard time buying it.

It's all about the math.
Watch the trends, not the numbers.
Be patient.

I'm trying. I really am. I mean, consider some things. I've (re)started weight training and am pushing myself with tough cardio. Muscle is denser than fat, so that would explain a lack of weight loss. I've started supplementing with BCAAs, which can help with ideal body recomp. That means that I may be reducing muscle catabolism (using muscle for energy rather than just fat) and building muscle enough to look like a plateau. But, it could be any of the less ideal things listed above.

It's all about the math.
Watch the trends, not the numbers.
Be patient.

So, yes. Patience is a virtue. And necessary. But difficult. Sometimes near-impossible. But not actually impossible.

So, I'll stay the course. Give it a few more weeks before I scream in frustration. If nothing else, even if my weight is staying the same, my fitness is improving, so it's not like I'm wasting my summer opportunity.

Honestly, I don't like the taste of my own medicine, but I'll swallow it. Anything else would be madness.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Gravity is Losing its Grip

I have long joked that I'm very gravity-bound. Let's face it, enough normal weight people avoid hills. Suggest that they strap on an extra fifty or so pounds and fight the hill and they'd laugh themselves silly. And yet, that's the world I currently live in. So, yes, I am very gravity-bound.

Nevertheless, I went out for a fairly hilly ride yesterday. I modified a ride listed on the local bike club's website so that I would start and stop at my home. The good news is that I had plenty of options to cut the ride short if needed. At the same time, starting from home causes a problem.

You see, I live on the side of a mountain, so to speak. That means that, when leaving from home, I have two options: Go screaming downhill and hope I'll make it back up, or push it uphill a little and then putz about the rolling valleys, still having to deal with some uphill before making it back home.

The original ride works it out perfectly: Work slowly uphill, putz about in the valleys, then cruise leisurely back down to the start.

Why, oh why, couldn't I live in the valley? (Ironically, the North Valleys are all higher than Reno proper, and somehow that's not a valley. Too bad, I'll call a spade a spade and Reno a valley.)

Ultimately, however, living on the side of a mountain/hill can become a positive as it forces me to work harder at the end of a ride. See? I can make lemonade when need be.

I wouldn't have even attempted this if it weren't for the fact that a while ago I got brave and proved to myself that I could make it back up the big hill down into the valley. This tested my bravery so much that I had to break it up into pieces. I went down a third, I went back up a third. Survival check? Clear. So I went down two thirds, and came back up the two thirds. Still breathing? Yep. Resolved, I went down the whole thing and came back up the whole thing. I was tired, I was worn out, and I was proud. My father, honestly, was surprised at my accomplishment and stated, "Hmph. You're in better shape than I thought." (That's his way of saying he's proud. He's German. That's as good as it gets.)

Sidenote: This is the hill that reduced an out-of-shape, under-prepared, and ill-equipped (bike-wise) me to tears. Literally. I was bawling like a little girl who lost her mommy at Disneyland by the time I got home. (Note that the plan was to take the bus once I was "done", but that plan failed miserably, forcing me to walk/ride the whole way.)

Back to the point. This planned route would take me uphill a bit, then out East, which guaranteed, no matter how I sliced it, that I would have to trudge back uphill to get home.

Have I mentioned that I'm very gravity-bound?

Nevertheless, I had escape plans. Plenty of options for cutting the ride short.

So, I trudge out. Honestly, from the very beginning, I'm wondering if I'm just going to cut this planned ride, guessed to be 25-30 miles, down to an easier ten. I'm tired. The littler hills are already getting to me. I finish the loop around the valleys north of me, about a ten-mile loop, and then I stop here:

This is the view down the gentle, sloping hill I just finished climbing. That quick left you see? That leads quickly back home. I had a decision to make: Go back home, or face this:

You see where it looks like the road (world) drops off? It does. It's not the going down that worries me; it's the coming back up, albeit elsewhere. I've actually climbed that particular hill and it's a bear. But it's screaming fun to go down.

So I do.

Cursing my insanity the whole bloody fun way down.

I'm going to pay for this, I tell myself. What am I thinking? I ask myself.

Screaming down the curvy hill at about 35 mph, I don't have any responses other than, "Wheeeeeee!"

So I make it down the hill and am now in the valley east of my home. To get back, I have to do some climbing, but nothing I've never done before. Decision number two: Take the shorter, known way back, or go forward into the unknown?

Surprising myself, I go forward. I'm somewhat reassured because I have to do some climbing again. This, I reason, is a good sign. See, I reassure myself, I'm not digging myself into anything I can't handle.

And then the road (world) drops off again.

Now, screaming down a much longer descent (both in altitude drop and length), I peak out at only 29 mph. This gives me a little more brain power to think with. I wonder to myself, How much will a cab cost to come drive me out of this hole I'm dropping myself into? Luckily, I didn't complete the math for an answer, or I might have begun literally screaming.

So now, I've made it into the next valley. This ride will be quite an accomplishment, I think to myself. Now I just need to go south through the valley, then back across and fight the long climb home. I wonder how much climbing I'll have to go to get out of this valley. Then I realize that I'm still going downhill. Gently, yes, but still downhill.

This, I realize, does not bode well.

I hit the bottom of the valley, finally, and it's all straight uphill back home. Sure, there are a few little downhills to act as reprieves, but somehow there's always a red light waiting for me any time I gain any momentum. True story. Every single time. Ugh.

I don't realize it until I look at the data after arriving home, but I've effectly doubled the distance and climb of "my" hill. That's a heck of a lot of climbing (for me).

On one of the little peaks, I take a quick break to finish off my clif shot bloks and survey the area. Don't get me wrong, but this picture sums up a lot of Reno to me.

A Wal-mart in the lower right corner. Downtown with casinos in about the center. Beautiful mountains and gorgeous blue sky above. The clouds are somewhat unusual for Reno, but what are you going to do?

Oh, just for the fun of it, here's a shot of what I love about Reno. This was in the farthest valley, just before I realized that I was still going downhill.

What a beautiful green valley. There are, most certainly, gorgeous parts of Reno. (Despite what many tourists, never stepping foot out of the casinos, think.)

So, anyway, I made it home. On my bike. The whole way. No tears, no cab ride, not even any walking.

I'm damned proud of myself.

Here are pictures of the route and the elevation profile.

Yes, some riders eat this type of route for breakfast; however this is, undoubtedly, the hardest ride I have completed in my adult life. And I completed it! Gravity is definitely losing its grip.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Better Late than Never (According to Some, at Least)

Sorry to the millions of you who flocked to this site yesterday, clinging desperately to the promise of more graphs. I have failed you. My deepest regrets.

Um, yeah. Moving on. In fact, I'll even suggest that most of you will probably want to quickly click away from this post before you get sucked into the vortex of pointless data. You have been warned.

Still here? Okiedokie. Good for you. So, I ran with my newest toy, the footpod, yesterday and today. Here's a picture of it on my newer and shinier running shoes.

If you look at the size, you might think that it would get annoying. The truth is that it attaches so securely, and is so light, that one forgets about it almost immediately. It virtually "disappears" as far as I'm concerned. It has two parts, one for underneath the laces, and they clip together very easily and eliminate any flopping. The ease of clipping and unclipping is important for me, as I rotate shoes. (That's one of those things I once heard "real" runners do, so I was quick to adopt it. The truth is that it really does seem to keep the shoes fresher, so don't sniff at the idea. Get it? Huh? Huh? Ah, well, sometimes the jokes really are just for me.)

So, what did the footpod tell me? Actually, I'm somewhat surprised. My cadence when running really isn't all that bad. Again, not great, but not awful. An ideal running cadence is 85-95, depending on whom you ask). When I'm running along, it's in the low eighties. Humph. Have I mentioned that I'm surprised? Well, I am.

Actually, I can't take credit for the cadence. I select music by BPM, and I've been slowly raising the BPM of my running music. So it's a bit of an artificial cadence. I'll have to run without music one day to see what I do without music to "march" to.

At long last, here are some graphs for your viewing pleasure:

This is my average cadence per split. I worked intervals today. The six highest cadence spots are me running hard work intervals. The slightly lower cadences are when I switched to a slower run. This is somewhat problematic because it shows that I'm using a higher cadence to speed up rather than a longer stride. Then again, I'm enough of a beginner that this should probably be at the bottom of the list of things to care about.

Higher on the list of things to care about is my heartrate, so here are two HR graphs. The first is average per split, and the second is by time.

I was working Lactate Threshold intervals (zone 5a). The weird thing is that, when looking at the average per split, I was almost never in my targeted HR zone for work intervals, and was frequently too low. When looking at the graph by time, you see that I quickly overshot zone 5a, and then had to work to get my HR slightly lower into the desired zone. Now, it may be worth noting that this HR zone has a range of four BPM, so I'm actually impressed by my control.

I think what's coolest about working with a heartrate monitor, and what many might find counterintuitive, is that it helps me get in touch with my body. You see, when I was running with the couch to 5k plan, I'd run when it said run and walk when it said walk. It didn't matter if it felt like I was going to pass out during the run intervals; I had to finish my running time. I pushed my body hard and I was going to survive even if it screamed for reprieve. And that's what running became: survival despite anything my body was telling me.

But now, I notice when I'm breathing slightly hard, very hard, or not hard enough. I frequently realize that I should slow down before my Garmin has a chance to tell me to slow down. I'm not quite as good at realizing when I should pick it back up, but maybe that's because I'm enjoying the easier work. Really, I'm finally learning to listen and respond to my body's signals.

I imagine the cadence sensor will do the same for me later; I'll recognize when I'm running at a proper cadence for the flats, uphill, or downhill. It'll get to a point where the footpod provides confirmation of what I already know rather than telling me anything new.

Funny, you'd think that a gadget would actually shut me off from body awareness, but the reverse is true. So, who cares if I don't really "need" these gadgets; they're helping make running so much more enjoyable for me. Really, isn't that the most important part?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Whew! Done and Done. (And Graphs!)

My two goals for the day: A ride or a hike, and weight training (modified). Both met.

The ride was fairly smooth. I went out with the intention of completing an easy ride and selected a non-hilly route near my gym. The first half happened to be (slightly) uphill and against a headwind. It was an in-and-out, so the second half (amazingly enough) was downhill and benefitting from a tailwind. I am a genius. Really, it was the perfect ride for still-recovering quads.

So this seems like a good time to describe a couple of my new toys. First, I bought a Garmin Forerunner 405 cx. I'll do a complete review comparing it to the 305 later, when I've had more time to play with it. For now, I have mixed opinions. But I'm sticking with it for the pure love of more accurate caloric burns (based on heartrate changes - yay!).

Since I was shelling out money for a new GPS/HR monitor, it seemed only fitting that I should keep the blood flowing from my wallet and get some accessories. (What, isn't that how you budget?) So I bought two more toys. The first is the bicycle cadence sensor. Why? I don't know. But now I can confirm that I'm pedaling at a decent (not perfect) cadence. Why do I need to confirm that? I don't know that either. But I do know one thing: New graphs! Sqeeeeeee!

Ahem. Sorry. What does this graph tell me? Beats me. But it's green. And a bar graph. Actually, I know a little more. This is a bar graph for average cadence of one-mile splits. My cadence is a little low. That's not good. (But not awful, either.) It was higher when I was going uphill and against the wind, so it shows that I'm not trying to power through challenges. That's good. Most importantly, it's more data for me to crunch. That's always good. Right? Right? Right? Um, ok. Moving on.

My other toy is a foot pod for my Garmin. That does a couple of things. One, it will give me a running cadence. This, I know, I need to work on. My running cadence is pretty low. I won't say that I'm a "bounder", but I do know that I'm wasting energy. I just got it today, so I haven't had a chance to try it out. However, you can definitely expect more graphs tomorrow. Wait, maybe I shouldn't have told you that. The other thing it'll do is let me get more accurate distance and speed information when gps is weak or indoors on the treadmill. Yes, really. Treadmills are notorously awful for speed and distance, so this is a good thing. If not exactly vital. Oh well.

But, here's the coup de grĂ¢ce: You can now go to Garmin Connect and see some of my activities in graphic detail. Why would you want to do that? I don't know. What's with all the questions today, anyway? But if you have some sort of sick curiosity, you can go here and see today's ride. You can see the map, and play with the data for yourself. The problem with Garmin Connect is that I can't turn off the maps without making the whole thing private, so most of my activities will likely be private. (Call me paranoid, but I'd rather not let the world know where my front doorsteps are.)

Whew! It's been a dataful day. (Get it? Ha!)

Oh, I almost forgot the best part! I was just looking at my HR data at the Garmin Connect site (yes, again...) and wondering why it got higher for the latter part of my ride. Oh, yeah. I was racing(ish)! Yep, on my solo ride, I was racing to catch up with the Garmin's virtual partner. He was beating the pants off me in the beginning (of course), and I was hoping to catch up at the end. I had set him at a fairly slow speed. I did catch up, but lost him in the end again. Ultimately, he beat me by fourteen seconds. Dernit. But I'll give Garmin credit: the virtual partner can be motivating. This did exist on older Garmins, and I'm sort of surprised that I had never used that feature before. I'll be sure to use it more frequently. Just wait until I start using the courses to race against myself.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Ugh. (But with a Promise)

Today was a bleh day. My quads are killing me. It's official that I fried them with the squats/lunges on Monday and then completely burned them with yesterday's run. (So much for aiding recovery.) I've done the foam roller thing a few times, but it's not helping as much as normal. I'm still walking funny, or feel like I am, and I'm having problems getting up and down. The biggest sign that I'm in trouble: I'm wishing that we had a handrail for our whopping three steps out our front door. I'm surely a sight hobbling up and down our front steps. (I'm pretty sure I saw the older gentleman walking his little dog past our house chuckling when he saw me.)

So, anyway, I took today off, despite how much the road was calling to me and my bike (and my new cadence sensor - yay!). Sadly, my appetite did not take the day off. I had a weird afternoon "binge". No explanation, no excuses. Let's just say that I got in enough carbs that I should have plenty of energy tomorrow. For whatever I do... so I'd better do something.

But I highly doubt that my legs will have recovered enough by tomorrow to do my planned strength training. I am optimistic that I might be able to get in either a hike or an easy ride (or maybe a swim) tomorrow, but lunges and squats are out. So is, I believe, running. Um, yeah.

Nevertheless, I've made a promise to myself: Even if my legs are still aching tomorrow, I'll still hit the weight room at the gym. Just because my legs are off the hook doesn't mean I can't do upper body and core work. The legs will just skip a session. No biggie. I've made a commitment to strength training twice weekly, and I'll do the best I can to maintain it.

Do I get a gold star now?

Wait, even better: Will you just promise me that if you happen to see an overweight woman gingerly lowering herself with both hands onto the weight benches tomorrow... you won't laugh. At least not out loud. OK, at least not louder than the music in her (my) headphones. That's reasonable, right? Right.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Spirit Was Willing, but the Flesh Knew Better

Boy, did I have a bright idea today. Sure, my legs were a little sore from yesterday, but not too bad. (Despite predictions, I was not infirmed.) I decided that I should go on my scheduled run today and, really, that should help with healing, right? Nevermind that today's scheduled run is my first attempt at a harder interval run (sub lactate threshold, for those remotely interested). I'll be fine, right? Right.

Add to that the fact that I overdressed. Fifty-eight degrees on a sunny day does not call for a long-sleeve top and knickers. What was I thinking?

So, here I will narrate the conversation between the spirit (willing) and the flesh (worn-out).

Scene: A few yards into the run.

Flesh: Um, you're kidding, right?

Spirit: No. This'll be great! Just what the ol' legs need!

You think so? And what the heck is this? You call this a warm-up?

Um, yeah. The warm-up needs some adjusting with the new HR zones. Don't worry, we'll be fine. Just take it easy until the legs loosen up.

Loosen up? You think it's going to get better than this? If you haven't noticed, we're in pain here.

I noticed. I'm waiting for that to go away. Hey, listen to that beeping. Time to run our first work interval! It's faster than we're used to going, eh?

Ow. OK, it's a fairly short interval. We can work with this. But not for long.

Ah, that's the spirit. Wow, this is a bit harder than our previous runs, eh? But that's great! This will be a great way to improve even faster.

Um, yeah. Whatever. Is the six minutes up yet?

Just... about... now. Whew! OK, now we rest for a minute and a half. This time we'll walk, but eventually we should be doing slow jogs for our rest intervals. Wow, that went fast, didn't it? OK, here we go!

Wait, what? Again?!? You've lost your bloody mind, you know that? Once was enough, but twice?!?

Watch the attitude, flesh. You just do as you're told, and we'll fight through this together. We'll be fine. We did the first interval, we're going to do the second, and then we're at the halfway point.

OK, now I'm done listening to you. I'll let you finish this one, but after that, we're through.

Oh, come on. Where's your spirit? Oh, yeah, that's me. Um... Where's your determination? If we want to get better, we have to work hard. Whew. Is it hot out here, or is it just me?

Yes, it's hot. That's why we're dripping wet. Small clue. Here's another clue.

Ow! That hurts!

Yeah. That's my clue that we're done running. D.O.N.E. Done.

OK, fine. We'll walk the third interval and get back at it for the fourth.


What was that?

Um, nothing. Carry on.

OK, hear that beep? That's our signal! Let's finish strong!

I finished quite some time ago.


No. Listen, you're lucky I'm letting you make it home without calling for help. And just so you remember who's really in charge here, we're going to walk like a 95-year-old woman for the rest of the day. We're going to have to use the sink and bathtub to support ourselves as we get on and off the "potty". Seriously. We need to rest these legs. You may know determination, spirit, but I know toast. And that's what these legs are: crispy, burnt toast.

True story.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Whew! I Did It.

I finally went to the gym... for some weight training. It was clear that my "bodyweight only" routine wasn't getting me anywhere. Not because it wasn't valid, mind you, but because... I never did it. (Funny how that works.)

Of course, the fact that it's summer break (yay!) isn't hurting. I've committed to a twice-weekly full body routine, completed in paired super-sets (gotta keep that heart rate up). The plan is that, a little more than two months from now, I can maintain any gains (and, ideally, continue to make some progress) with a once-weekly routine. (Of course, the routine may not stay exactly the same as it is now. But that's neither here nor there.)

Only two problems: First, I completely overestimated my ability to do dumbbell squats. And lunges. Egads! I may be bedridden tomorrow. Second, I'm a bit less sure of my ability to maintain proper form. I'm not sure why I was so confident in the past and am suddenly so much less confident. If my lack of confidence continues, there's always the option to have a few sessions with a personal trainer. It just seems like that's something I should save for fine-tuning further down the road. Bah, who knows.

Anyway, the point is that I finally lifted, pushed, and pulled some metal plates. I'm dreading tomorrow's DOMS. And I'm tired. But, most importantly, I'm feeling good.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

My Training Plan is Going Well, So Now...

Yep, you got it. After I just posted a lengthy description of all the evidence that my current training program has been working... I'm about to change it up. Before you begin berating me for messing with a good thing, do note a couple of things:
  • Changes in training are relatively minor adjustments - fine tuning, if you will
  • Changes in names and labels of zones are a bit more significant

Why change things? Well, I just finished Total Heart Rate Training, by Joe Friel. It, like another book I have (which was a too-technical monster I just could not bring myself to finish), pushes training zones by Lactate Threshold (LT) rather than maximum heart rate (MHR).

Let me back up a moment. I noticed quite some time ago that the standard percentages of MHR just never worked for me. My HR would shoot up and stay relatively high, even when I wasn't feeling very taxed. Although it would drop back quickly, my HR even during "recovery" or even walking periods was "too high" according to those charts. Seriously, if I followed the standard MHR percentages, I don't believe I'd ever have gained any fitness; I'd still be walking slowly, frustrated, and wondering why I can't keep my HR down. I don't think it's because I was that out of shape; I believe it was because the MHR percentage guidelines are bunk. Don't get me wrong; I'm sure they work for some people. They just don't work for all people.

When I discovered how to calculate training zones by the heart rate reserve (HRR) using the Karvonen formula, I was relieved. This made much more sense for me. The zones fit much better with my rating of perceived exertion (RPE) levels. Not perfectly, but better.

But even sites which explained the HRR kept mentioning that LT training was superior. Fine, I'm sold. But first. there was the problem of the book I couldn't finish. And then, even after finishing Friel's easier-to-read book, I couldn't bring myself to go through any of the tests "necessary" to approximate my LT. (Yeah, yeah, it's simple enough. But whatever.) Nor could I bring myself to pay the money for a real LT test. Come on, now.

But then, Friel mentioned the correlation between an RPE of 7 and LT. Additionally, there's a switch in breathing (ventilatory threshold (VT)) which strongly correlates as well. I thought back to my runs, particularly my end-of-the-run sprints, and it clicked: I can really approximate my LT now. I used today's sprint to confirm/adjust my approximation.

So here it is: 171, give or take one bpm. If I follow the table down and look at the purposes and descriptions of the various zones, it all clicks exceptionally well. Some adjustments may have to be made, but I think I've got a good starting point here for training by LT.

So, yes, I am changing the game plan mid-stride. But I was just about to add in interval training anyway, and I'm sure the benefits outweigh any costs/risks of messing with a good thing. I'll post updates when appropriate. (That's a good thing, right? Right? Don't answer that.)

Friday, June 05, 2009

Running Update

I haven't talked about my running progress in quite some time. I started training with HRR zones back in February, and gave an early assessmet in March. (Warning: Both posts would work well as sleep inductors, so click with caution.) Also, for those not following along closely, I should probably mention that the 5k I was training for back then was cancelled. I didn't flake. Really.)

So, anyway, I guess it's about time I re-updated. The "ok" news: I still take walk breaks during my zone 3 runs. But I still do much better than I did a few months ago. Here are some charts for comparison. (Have I mentioned how much I love data? Particularly in graphic form? Mmmmm... data....) Anyway, the important part is what's above and below the dashed line. Above is walking; below is jogging.

Here's early March:

Here's late May:

So, you can see a few things are happening. First, I'm stopping much less to walk. Secondly, the stops are much briefer. Thirdly, I tend to hit higher running paces without much more effort. (It actually looks like, if I would just learn to slow down a bit, I might just be able to do a zone 3 base run without walking. But I've tried and it doesn't seem to work. Yet.)

On to the better news. My zone 4 "tempo" runs. (Yeah, yeah, these aren't really tempo runs, per se, but play along, will ya?) Now, this might be a little misleading, so you want to pay attention to the times. The first graph is a 16 minute tempo run. The second, from today, is a 24 minute tempo run. Also, and this is important, any time I had to walk on a tempo run means that I couldn't keep my heart rate out of zone 5. I was red-lining, as some might say. Today, I stuck pretty easily in the middle of zone 4, except for my "sprint" at the end.

March 5:

June 5 (today):

Isn't it pretty? OK, maybe you don't appreciate graphs quite as much as me, and that's OK. But trust me, it's pretty. Really. Oh, just a little bit more data: That 16-minute tempo run? The run portion was run at a 12:38/mile average pace. Today? 12:03, baby.

Do you think it's time to add some interval or fartlek training? Yeah, me too.

Monday, June 01, 2009

A Letter to Future Me (and Maybe Some of You)

I have a friend who has been fighting a similar battle with weight. She's much closer to her target than I am, and she's becoming disheartened by the sagginess that she's now facing. Her body, like mine, is not that of a twenty-year-old, and doesn't simply "snap back" the way she wishes it would. (Would it even snap back so much at twenty? I don't even know, but let's not get on this tangent now...)

The encouragement I gave to give her skin/body a year to tighten was no consolation to her. She wants the tight body she's working for, and she wants it now. The reality that she may never get that body without surgery looms over her. I can't say as I blame her for her frustrations. There are times already when I'm lying in bed and wondering if the squooshy parts of me will simply become floppier squooshy parts of me... and how I'll feel about that. Sorry if that's too much detail, but it is what it is.

But, at the same time, is the alternative any better? I think the answer is very clear. At least, it is clear when we're thinking, um, clearly. (I may need a thesaurus.) I wonder if I'll soon be where she is now, wondering whether all the work for a thinner-but-flabbier body is worth it. So, while I'm here at a sort of mid-point, I'm going to write a preemptive letter to that doubting self. If and when I reach that cloudy point where I wonder if well-fed flab isn't better than well-worked sag, I hope to return here and regain clarity.

Dear Skinny Me:

If you're reading this, you're likely struggling with some floppy bits. Here are some things to consider before diving into that pint of Chocolate Haagen Dazs.

How many things are you doing right now that you'd never have done before? Back in May, you went kayaking. Without hesitating. Struck that off your life list, right? Would you have done that at 250? How many other things are you doing now that you'd never have done "back then"? How much did you let your weight limit you? Remember, that was what this truly was all about. It wasn't how you looked in a bathing suit so much as it was about whether or not you were willing to go swimming in public. Your weight stopped you from living the life you wanted to live. How about now?

How heavily are you breathing at the top of the stairs? Oh, not at all? Pretty nice, right? How are you enjoying those hikes? Nice views, nice company, right? Can you strap on an extra 80-100 pounds (on top of your 35 poun backpack) and do the same hike? Bummer. It's not just about self-confidence, it's about fitness. Your weight held you back in more ways than one.

How much is any flabbiness bothering you with any of the above? Didn't think so. Listen, you knew you weren't going to be a supermodel at any weight. That ship sailed a long time ago... if it was even ever in this hemisphere. You may not love how you look nekkid right now, but you've got near-nekkid pictures you can pull out for some comparisons. Is that huge belly really better than the floppy tummy? How about those calves? See how the skin is so tight it looks like it's about to burst? Don't you like your shapely calves better right now? What about those extra chins? (Are you kidding?!?) Has it been a year since you hit goal? If not, then give it time. Your body may surprise you. And even if it has been a year, see above.

Now, forget how you look. Is this even about that? Sure, it's a bonus, but it's not The Main Thing. The main thing is your health. Seriously. You know that. Remember those overweight people who had to use scooters primarily due to their weight and related problems? You were headed down that path. Sure, you could do a lot at 250... and 37 years old. How long do you think that was going to last? It wasn't and you know it. The high blood pressure was a gentle warning. What was going to happen next? But now where are you headed? Rather than spending the last ten to twenty years of your life sitting around in constant discomfort, pain, and weakness you're going to have the health and vitality to travel and truly enjoy your retirement. That's huge.

Darn it, just look at your accomplishments! You've done things even you weren't sure you would ever accomplish! And now you're wondering whether it was worth it? Let me tell you, from here at the midpoint, it is. You know it is.

Now go for a run.

A Touch of Inspiration

I don't have anything fantastic to say today, but I thought I'd share something I found on i can read a while ago. It makes me smile and, somehow, makes me feel my humility while reminding me of my potential. I hope it does the same for you.

(via allposters via i can read)