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Gasping at parkrun

I stopped breathing at parkrun last weekend.

longrun meadow parkrunNothing too dramatic, and no paramedics were called but I did go red and gasp a bit.

It was an entirely orchestrated warm up technique that follows my latest obsession with breath holding or apnea training for running performance. This particular warmup consisted of me walking as many steps as I could while holding my breath and pinching my nose.

It’s a perfectly lazy way to warmup and suits me very well. I have to walk to the start of the run anyway and it takes barely any effort to stop breathing for a few steps at a time. Certainly beats running laps in anticipation of the effort ahead.

I can’t walk very far, maybe 22 steps before I start gasping but it does seem to be surprisingly effective at clearing out the nasal cavities. The idea is that it would help me in the early stages of a run when I struggle to catch my breath.

So, fully warmed up, I set off on the run determined to manage at least a minute of calm and collected nasal breathing rather than adopting my usual steam train impression from the start.

Surprisingly I managed to run half the course with my mouth firmly shut and my breathing was the least strained that I’ve experienced it while running.

I would have continued with my mouth closed but my nasal passages were beginning to need some attention. Ideally I would have employed the nasal gobbing technique that you see many runners partaking in but it’s not part of my skill set so I didn’t bother and at 2.5k I started breathing through my mouth and promptly sounded like I was going to die sometime very soon.

Maybe next week I’ll pack a tissue.

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Atlas wearables wristband review

The Atlas wristband is an activity tracker aimed at athletes interested in free and body weight exercises.

When it appeared on Indiegogo around 18 months ago, it looked like the bees knees to me. I had just started weightlifting using the Stronglifts routine and imagined I might also dabble with the Olympic lifts one day.

Frankly the Atlas wristband seemed to be the perfect next gadget for my wrist. Never again would I need to tax my memory counting to five (Stronglifts is a 5×5 rep and set sequence) and I could throw out a manic crossfit style wod in the garden with every move captured for future analysis.

I ordered it at great expense and then the wait began. It was over a year from order to delivery so I was very lucky that I was still dabbling with weightlifting – not many of my fads last that long. Even then I had to wait a bit longer as my original device was dead on arrival.

When a working model did arrive I rushed outside full of glee for a Stronglifts session.

It was a complete flop.

I had set up a custom stronglifts routine with barbell squat, barbell bench press and deadlift included. I thought it might help the Atlas wristband to detect the correct exercise if it only had 3 to choose from. It seems not.

While it did manage to detect my the squat, it couldn’t count them accurately and refused pointedly to recognise my chest press.

I tried a few more times and had more success using the freestyle list of exercises rather than a fixed routine. It seems that the more exercises it has to choose from the better. It’s not that the Atlas device gets more accurate but it is more likely to register some form of exercise that can at least be corrected to the right form, either on the wristband or afterwards within the app.

If you can’t get the Atlas to register at least one of the exercises you can’t manually add it at a later point. I actually took to writing down my routine so I could alter the recordings after the event.

That was the last straw really, I had a perfectly good app for recording my Stronglifts routine and I didn’t see the benefit of creating yet another logging chore. The Atlas wristband went into the bottom drawer to await a firmware update or two.

Today I dragged it out again to see if the device was now working in a fit for purpose fashion.

Here are my squats, or are they actually deadlifts?

That still strikes me as a big fail.
It recognised the next set but only counted 4 of my 5 reps.

If you look at Amazon they have a mixed bag of reviews but on the whole people seem to be impressed. Maybe I’m just doing it wrong but as far as I’m concerned this device needs to go back into the bottom drawer or better still, eBay.

It’s acknowledged that the device detects exercises based on the movement of the wristband through space. It attempts to recognise the 3D path from a library of movements performed to a set form. You are supposed to watch the video and amend your form to match and it could be that my rendition of a squat or a bench or a deadlift just bears little resemblance to good form. I would prefer the device to cut me a little slack and recognise or learn what my squat looks like and perhaps with a bit more development time Atlas will do just this. There is the suggestion that in the future it will be able to learn new exercises so it ought to be able to learn old ones too.

It would be a pretty useful feature to tell me that my squats are off so that I can work on improving them, better at least than telling me they are deadlifts….

I just don’t think I have the patience to wait for many more updates and may have to go back to counting myself.

Overview of the Atlas wristband

Pros:

  • One of the few activity monitors directed at weightlifters
  • Wrist based heart rate monitoring
  • A varied list of exercises
  • Potential to give useful trend information
  • Potential to improve form
  • Atlas appear to be actively engaged in the improvement and development of the device

Cons:

  • Atlas wristbandAtlas can’t count
  • Atlas doesn’t consistently recognise exercises
  • Without the two points above the stats such as speed are pointless
  • The heartrate monitoring is a bit hit and miss
  • Its ugly and bulky and can’t be worn with wrist straps
  • Its expensive
  • Its impossible to read in daylight

 

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Sewerby parkrun – A View from the Back

Finding my new local parkrun last week gave me a renewed vigour to chase down my first milestone t-shirt. As this weekend we were away oop North, visiting my parents, it seemed the ideal time to try a bit of parkrun tourism and join Sewerby parkrun.

My home town has had its own parkrun since 2011, so is long overdue a visit.

I joined the relatively small running contingent just in front of the steps to Sewerby Hall, and listened intently as the lead marshall warned us about the cliff edge and the adverse direction of the wind. No time to worry about that for too long as the runners around me seemed to have heard a silent call to arms and were off.

I joined them. Slowly.

Sewerby parkrun turned out to be a fantastic course. It starts gently downward along the tarmac cliff top path and then turns at about 1.5km to head back up along the cliff edge on a slightly less reliable surface with the wind in your face, trying in a relatively uncommitted fashion to push you back and right, over the edge of the cliff.

I had my low point in this stretch but it is also a truly beautiful view, one of the best from experience of 5 different parkrun events.

Sewerby parkrun – a view from the back #parkrun #sewerbyparkrun

A photo posted by ? @warriorwoman (@warriorwoman) on

At the top of the cliff we then take a muddy off-road detour around the cricket pitch. I had a little chat with a marshall here, who joined me for a short jog. He reminded me that while it seemed windy today, it was actually a glorious day and this course could get much, much worse.

I bet it could. That wind could get menacing in the blink of an eye.

Off the cliff top now and back into Sewerby Park where we toured the grounds and circled the woods on a squidgy bark-topped surface.

In and out of the walled gardens and its on to the home straight. A very short home straight which I like as you only need to muster a 50m sprint. In the old days, Bushy Park used to have a 1km home straight and that used to kill me – I had no idea when to put the hammer down.

Anyway, back to Sewerby parkrun. My mum and dad were at the finish to cheer me on to almost last place and my mum actually joined me for the final sprint.

I’m afraid I forgot to tell her not to cross the finish line, partly because I had no extra breath for talking, and I’m afraid we caused a little confusion with the timing – sorry about that.

All in all, Sewerby parkrun is a fantastically varied course with supportive runners and Marshalls. You need good grippy shoes and have to work hard not to stop for the many scenic photo opportunities. It’s definitely one to recommend but beware of the forecast. This is a route where you will experience weather in its full glory, as Charlie_Z_Brown illustrates:

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Three Cheers for Tooting parkrun

I was alerted this week to a new parkrun at Tooting Bec. I’m grateful to blog7t for passing on this great news. I’ve been hoping quietly for a parkrun to appear on my doorstep for about 6 years now. Although I had earmarked Mitcham Common as my preferred location, Tooting Common is still only 15 mins away and will do nicely.  

It seems that there is a more vocal and active contingent working away to bring parkrun to the nation, or Wandsworth (@parkrun4wands) at least, and to those involved I am very thankful. 

The run itself is a 3 lap course which caused me some pre-run anxiety. I had always avoided 2 loop parkrun events for fear of being lapped by the entire field until I tried Roundshaw parkrun and realised my calculations were dodgy and that lapping is not a common occurrence. 3 laps is a bit different though and I was passed by at least two thirds of the field and some particularly nippy folks would have lapped me twice. 

  
Turns out that’s no bad thing though, for brief moments you are running in amongst the front runners and it feels as though their grace and speed rub off, if only a little. 

The last lap is admittedly painful. I started the 3rd loop as the sub-30 minuters peeled off for their final sprint. That’s quite tough to know the finish is just yards away when you have one more lonely, isolated lap to go. 

Still, it’s a pancake flat course, the runners are friendly and the many volunteers were super supportive. 

I’m very happy with my new local parkrun! Now I have no excuses not to target that elusive 50 t-shirt that I’ve been chasing for at least 10 years. Only 26 more to go. 

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Fitbit and Resting Heart Rate

Fitbit SurgeI’ve been so impressed by the Fitbit HR range of activity trackers that I’ve just posted my trusty Forerunner 920XT on eBay. I am no longer going to pretend that I may one day compete in another triathlon or go swimming more than say, once a year.

Instead I’ve opted for the Fitbit Surge and will be content with exercise auto recognition, continuous daily heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, step counting and GPS for my hikes and runs (when they start to happen again).

I am particularly bowled over by the auto exercise recognition. I don’t have to tell the watch I’m starting a session, it just seems to know. So my weekly badminton matches get captured and logged for the first time and my daily eBike commute is recognised for its gentle effort.

The one area that I HATE about Fitbit though, is its resting heart rate feature.

This should be such a useful feature for tracking wellness trends and readiness for training but Fitbit have decided to go it alone with the definition of Resting Heart Rate and have created a useless and erratic version that bears no resemblance to a true RHR.

Fitbit resting heart rateYour resting heart rate is supposed to be the lowest heart rate achieved while awake but at rest. So if I look at my HR while writing this slightly ranty blog post and my current heart rate is 64 but my Resting Heart Rate is 74, I know for a fact that 74 is not my Resting HR! My question is why doesn’t Fitbit know it?

This photo from Twitter illustrates the point nicely.

DC Rainmaker wrote an interesting article this week on continuous heart rate tracking and also commented on the disappointing, “conservative” approach by Fitbit to RHR monitoring.

The Fitbit help pages explain how they measure resting heart rate:

Your tracker estimates your resting heart rate by measuring your heart rate while you’re asleep and while you’re awake but still during the day.
For best accuracy, wear your tracker to sleep.  If you don’t wear your tracker to sleep, the tracker will still try estimate your resting heart rate while you are awake.

I find it hard to understand how difficult it can be to record the lowest heart rate while you are awake, especially if you don’t wear it while you sleep. The Fitbit does a very good job of detecting sleep and non-sleep so thats half the job done.

It feels to me as though they are taking my lowest HR during the day and then adding 10 or so beats for the heck of it.

If you haven’t already noticed, this annoys me. Fitbit have taken a fantastic fitness watch and then infected it with a great big flaw. I’d much rather opt for manual recording of RHR while ever their estimates remain so poor.

I do like the continuous heart rate tracking though:

Fitbit Surge continuous heart rate monitoring

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Lance Armstrong and The Program

Ben Foster joins his own program, taking performance enhancing drugs to convincingly portray Lance Armstrong in The Program. He develops an uncanny resemblance to the fallen cyclist and at times I can’t tell them apart as the film switches between archive footage and acting.

The Program

I’d guess that most people with a sporting inclination would know the nuts and bolts of the Lance Armstrong story, from cancer hero to lying and scheming drug cheat.

At the time I was so convinced by Lance’s story that I defended him against the naysayers like journalist David Walsh, right up to the point he sat down with Oprah and finally came clean about his betrayal. I felt naive and foolish.

The ProgramMy passions have run very high over this story, and The Program had the potential to throw my emotions all over the place. Unfortunately it missed the mark and was actually a strangely flat film, just a simple retelling of a journalistic investigation. Very low on emotion but an interesting story nevertheless.

There was a moment when Lance as a young, ambitious and successful American rider, was told by a fellow racer that he’d stand no chance in Europe where he was riding against cheats and lots of them. It was a terrible situation and I came close to forgiving him for his weakness, but that was swept away fairly quickly as we watched Lance bring his team onboard The Program, bullying and cajoling. Introducing them to the team Doctor, Michele Ferrari, who would administrate the drugs and teach them how to cheat the system.

I thought the doctor was one of the more interesting characters, he seemed to be driven by scientific enthusiasm and a drive to exploit human endurance potential, rather than money and power and I could imagine being convinced by him as either a young scientist or gifted athlete.

 

The Program

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Insomnia: The Activity Tracker Showdown

Many people will have gone to bed last night with a degree of melancholy angst. Like me they will have forlornly switched the alarm back on after the luxury of 10 back to back lie ins.

I fell asleep then woke, bolt upright at 2:30 am full of dread about my imminent return to work.

Two DotsI tossed. I turned. I got up and played Two Dots for 90 finger tapping minutes.

I contemplated cycling into work at 4am but thought better of it and dragged myself back upstairs where I promptly fell back to sleep.

Moments after, my 07:15 alarm went off and seemingly only seconds later the emergency 07:50 alarm blared.

Aargh. I need a new job. Should anyone have a spare job which would allow me to work from home and play with spreadsheets, I will take it.

Looking at the stats for my night I see there is a stark contrast between my two activity trackers of choice. On my left wrist was the Garmin 920XT on my right, a new Xmas treat, the Fitbit Charge HR.

Sleep according to Garmin

I think from my intro, I’ve made it clear that I did not have a great nights sleep. Why then would the Garmin declare this to be one of my best kips ever?

9 blissful hours asleep with only 18 waking minutes in the middle. What happened to the Two Dots interlude?

The Fitbit on the other hand appears to be a master at sleep tracking and insomnia detection.

It ascertained that I had completely given up on sleep as a concept and split my night completely in two, which is just as I remember it.

Fitbit sleep tracking

Insomnia according to Fitbit

Fitbit knows its sleep! Garmin is pants!

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Janathon and the Weightlifting Cat

Unbelievably it appears to be Janathan time again, it seems to come round quicker than Christmas.

My current fitness levels mean that I am a long way off being able to string together another running streak. Fortunately I stumbled upon a book that came just in time to give me a new challenge for January.

There is a popular squat a day challenge on Facebook that sees you aiming for about 3000 bodyweight squats by the 31st Jan. I will be ignoring this challenge in favour of one with a powerlifting slant.

The Weightlifting CatI’ve been doing the stronglifts routine for about year but me and my training partner – the cat, are characteristically haphazard with the frequency. It’s supposed to be a 3 day a week program but we’ve slipped to once or twice a week. That’s where the discipline of the squat a day program should kick my butt. By removing the optional nature of the routine I should progress more rapidly.

While its called Squat Every Day, I’ll actually be alternating some of the other big moves everyday as well, including the deadlift (almost illustrated below), shoulder press, bent over row and bench press.

More from the weightlifting cat.

A video posted by ? @warriorwoman (@warriorwoman) on

I’ve signed up for Cory Gregory’s specific program on BodyBuilding.com to ensure some variety and will be aiming for a squat PB every week. At the moment I am only up to 65 kg for the back squat so it will be interesting to see where I get to by the end of Janathan. I will spare you from daily updates of me squatting on the blog, although I will be all over Instagram like a rash.

Running will of course be thrown in for the occasional warm up – it is Janathon after all.

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DIY Portable Olympic Weightlifting Platform

Olympic weightlifting platforms are typically 8′ x 8′ so pretty huge and phenomenally expensive for what amounts to a few bits of plywood and some rubber. In my mind that’s a clear invitation for a DIY project.

portable olympic weightlifting platformI am not blessed with a great deal of DIY proficiency but that doesn’t stop me from bodging and hammering with intent.

I don’t actually do a lot of Olympic Lifting at the moment as I focus more on the powerlifting moves of deadlift, squat and bench but ideally the deadlift requires a dropping platform as well.  As we’ve recently re-laid our patio for the sole purpose of providing me with a level area for my power rack, I am quite conscious of the need to protect the sandstone slabs and I have not been dropping any of my deadlifts! Maybe I would have hit my 100 kg target if I wasn’t so scared of dropping it…..? Or perhaps I just need some more protein shakes….? Or maybe just some more effort.

If we ever intend having a BBQ on the patio again, I can’t realistically build an 8′ x 8′ altar to the deadlift without also booking in some Relate sessions, but surely 8×8 is mightily excessive anyway. If you can throw a barbell that far away, you can’t have loaded enough plates on it?

I was inspired by this instructables video of a modular olympic weightlifting platform, that cuts the standard 8×8 into a mini 4×8 platform in 3 portable sections.

I scrimped on the middle section (for now) and constructed two landing platforms, each 2′ x 4′, for the express purpose of saving the patio.

 

So I bought 4 sheets of exterior grade plywood from eBay, two really thick sheets would do just as well but I was hoping to save money with a 12mm sheet, it didn’t look up to the job so I ordered two more 15mm sheets to finish the job. I glued and screwed these together and then topped with a layer of horse-box matting.

I was constructing this during Storm Frank for added challenge, which I would recommend if you can arrange it! It was a bit of a bodge job, rough around the edges, but looks as though it could be up to the job.

I am admittedly still a bit nervous about dropping weights on it but can confirm that I’m not lifting enough to crack my platform and patio yet. Maybe that should be my New Years Resolution.

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Purition Protein Shakes

Over the last year or so I’ve been shifting my focus from running to weight training and have therefore become much more concerned about the protein content of my foods. Ideally I would aim to have a portion of protein with every meal or snack and that’s where the convenience of a protein shake comes in handy.

There is a massive choice of protein supplements on the market but some are packed with dross.

Here’s a snapshot of the ingredient list from Myoplex Lite, a protein shake that I have actually used in past but obviously haven’t scrutinised the rather unnerving list of oddities that I’ve been consuming as a result.Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 17.10.23

Screen Shot 2015-12-27 at 17.13.01In contrast, Purition protein shakes claim to offer “real food” shakes and their ingredient list contains only recognisable food products such as nuts and seeds.

One of the downsides of real food shakes is that they don’t mix terribly well, they don’t include fillers or milk powders and so shaking them up with water is not very successful. Instead you need to add to the milk of your choice and blend with a mechanical blender.

Here’s my pistachio purition shake blended with 250 ml of raw milk. The sediment begins to settle pretty quickly so you can either stir as you drink or deal with some grainy stuff at the end.

Strangely enough, the purition shakes taste like whizzed up nuts in milk, fairly bland and a bit grainy. Not unpleasant but not terribly exciting either.

They work fine on a “food is fuel” basis, packing 20 g of protein per sachet.

Purition shakes are recommended as either a breakfast or lunch replacement and cost about £2 per sachet before you factor in the cost of your milk of choice.

I am quite happy to have scrambled egg for breakfast which is the ultimate real food in my mind which only leaves lunch or a post workout snack as potential options.

My lunches are usually the least nutritious meal of the day but as I don’t have a blender at work I will have to experiment with pre-whizzed versions of Purition and make sure I give it a good shake before I drink. I’m sure it will be fine and will certainly be an improvement on a Pret sandwich.

 

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