Last week we built our own Canadian canoe. How cool is that?
We went on a 4 day course in the lake district run by Orca Adventures and came away with an astoundingly good looking vessel that we were able to drop onto the water the very next day.
It was a tough few days, with the first full day of sawing being particularly shocking for the normally deskbound amongst us. We started with thin sheets of cedar ply wood and gradually pulled these together with thread and the occasional zip tie, into an ever more ship-shape canoe.
After Day 1 we had a fairly floppy shell of a canoe.
By Day 2 we had applied some rigidity by adding the gunwales and firmed everything with fibre glass tape along all the seams.
For Day 3 we waterproofed the lot with a coating of epoxy resin and started on the woodworking – handles, jigs and seats.
On the final Day we cursed a lot while we fitted the stubborn seats and then set too with liberal applications of paint. In the afternoon we watched it dry, for hours.
When we finally drove away, I don’t think either of us could believe what we’d achieved. We had had no idea what to expect and certainly did not think we’d be able to turn our hands to such craftmanship. Neither did ‘we’ think it would be quite so flipping big! Finding room for a 15 foot canoe, in a terraced house without a garage is going to prove interesting, and may get me into trouble again for having bright ideas.
Sailing a Handbuilt Canadian Canoe
With a newly built canoe sitting atop our car, it proved hard to resist the lure of the water. We were in the Lake District afterall so it felt rude not to.
My parents joined us for the momentous occasion as we dipped it’s (soon to be named Bob’s) toes into the River Eamont by Pooley Bridge. We took it in turns to be whipped round by the current until we fought rather limply to stay bobbing in more or less one spot, a sort of treadmill action for canoes.
We have some paddling skills to develop before I fancy going into deeper river water. I took much security from the knowledge that I could easily step overboard and push us back to shore in this ankle deep torrent.
Our next trip out was to Derwent water, a much deeper yet more tranquil site to practice our skills. I could get used to this way of life, especially if we remember to pack a drybag next time, stocked with fizz and picnic delights. With those preparations I could quite happily pull in the paddles and see where the lake took us.
I’ve always been a fan of fitness gadgets and during my running life I have followed closely the Garmin Forerunner evolutionary path, seeking ever more specialist and techy running gear. This culminated with the world-class triathlete standard, Forerunner 910XT.
Now, as extremely loyal followers would know, way back in 2007 I competed in a pool based sprint triathlon and am therefore entitled to call myself a triathlete. I have however, begun to face facts relating to my world-class status in the sport and it has led me to question the need for such focus on multisport functionality. Even with running as my mainstay, I couldn’t really find a use for my stride length and vertical oscillation stats.
Besides, what all these watches lacked was 24/7 heart rate monitoring and that is of course essential in this day and age. I could have looked to the new range of wrist based HR mounted forerunners such as the Forerunner 735XT but it is still a world-class triathlete watch at heart. Feeling more comfortable with my amateur athlete status I looked to the activity tracking world where a few devices have been emerging with GPS functionality on the side.
The Fitbit Surge
Although its been around for a while now, the Fitbit Surge stood out from the crowd.
It’s a neat wrist watch that doesn’t draw attention to itself, includes a GPS unit and is built on the Fitbit infrastructure which is truly outstanding for activity and sleep tracking as well as social interaction.
The Fitbit Surge does feel a little bit dated now, it is black and white (or black and grey) and it takes a little getting used to the low contrast screen but the watch just works as its supposed to.
The GPS picks up quickly and the runs are recorded without fuss, the default running screen doesn’t tell me my vertical oscillation or position against a virtual running partner but I find I don’t use any of that stuff anyway. Nowadays I just press start, run, press stop, stop and I’m done. The Surge does that extremely well and then it syncs in seconds and if I like, it’s up there on Strava before I’ve caught my breath.
Activity tracking is of course brilliant with the Fitbit Surge and you don’t even need to tell the watch you are doing something. I use my eBike to get into work, it’s a pedelec which means I have to pedal and my Fitbit therefore recognises it as an outdoor bike ride, my heart rate shows this to be a relatively relaxed bike ride (due to the assistance) but it recognises the activity nonetheless. It does the same for my badminton sessions although it marks these as Other activity type for me to amend at a later date.
To be honest, if you gave me a splash of colour and a brighter screen, the Surge would almost be my favourite fitness watch ever.
But then I took up swimming again!
For some reason I ventured into the Lido at Tooting and was completely hooked. The thrill of the cold plunge has given me an addictive buzz and a new activity to track which revealed a flaw in the Surge make-up.
It is not waterproof and will therefore not track swimming activities.
So, I could stick with the Surge and get a swim only watch (I’m ignoring the low tech option of manually recording my swims), or I could see what was available in the market for GPS activity trackers with swim functionality.
Enter the Garmin Vivoactive HR.
The Garmin Vivoactive HR
It claimed to do everything that the Fitbit Surge had to offer but with so much more: detailed graphical outputs on the watch display – in full crisp colour, automatic activity detection, sleep tracking, golf and ski tracking (like I care) and the big one, Swim functionality.
DC Rainmaker seems to love the Garmin Vivoactive HR and quite neatly points out the disparity in features available:
Vivoactive HR vs Fitbit Surge: On a pure feature basis, there’s really no competition here. While both units are priced the same, the Vivoactive HR has approximately 3,283 more features than the Fitbit Surge. Ok, maybe just like 80 extra features.
It’s true, you can do stacks of stuff with the Vivoactive HR and you can do it all so beautifully. The watch is a miniaturised version of the Garmin Connect app and provided you have your specs on you can see weekly charts of all your main stats. It’s almost glorious.
But only almost.
When it comes down to the battle of GPS activity trackers, with the aged Fitbit Surge vs Garmin Vivoactive HR, the young flashy whipper snapper should win hands down. But Garmin is not getting my vote this time. In fact after 3 weeks trialling it, I’ve packed the Vivoactive HR into its box and sent it back to Amazon as a bad job.
Problems with the Garmin Vivoactive HR
It’s not a great activity tracker for one and the auto exercise detection didn’t work for me once. You may say that e-biking isn’t real cycling and while I wouldn’t agree, Garmin obviously would. Despite the wrist unit registering my heart rate hovering around 120 bpm for the duration of my 40 minute ride into work, I arrived at my desk at about 9:30 am to find no exercise recorded and as a further slap in the face, the vivoactive HR was declaring me to be still soundly asleep. I think that’s pretty pants on both the activity and sleep tracking front.
Its next major failing and the nail in the coffin for my short life with the vivoactive HR was its swim tracking functionality. Firstly, its not very good at counting laps so I still had to keep count in my head. If you jostle during a length, perhaps to grab a wayward noseclip, or to sight the end of the pool, the watch records a new length regardless of whether that would generate a world record lap or not. I find that quite inconvenient although it seems to be a flaw shared by all the swim watches and one that Garmin make particularly tricky to correct post swim. In fact they don’t make it possible at all but you can use third-party apps such as the brilliant swimmingwatchtools to correct.
Secondly, the touch screen functionality of the Vivoactive HR makes it particularly unsuitable for swimming. I’ve managed to delete no end of swims, mid-swim, by unintentional screen swipes. I’ve pressed the button to pause the swim during a rest at the end of the length and then adjusted my goggles or swim cap only to find that the action has deleted the entire activity. Hopping mad doesn’t come close!
Surge vs Vivoactive HR
As a result I have deemed the Vivoactive HR to be wholly unacceptable for swim recording and therefore why would I not go back to the Fitbit Surge with its flawless execution, its superb app and its world domination of my friends list?
I can’t help looking for a fitness watch that would do it all and do it well though…….
I’ve been sent an assortment of sporty clobber to review this spring. Here are the highlights.
Specialized Echelon Helmet
Cycleplan sent me a new Specialized helmet to review this month. I’ve had my original Giro helmet for years and was quite happy with it although I’d been struggling to get a good fit in the last few months. The foam padding must have lost much of its volume and the straps were resisting further tightening with the result being a decidedly loose and wobbly helmet.
All this added to the contrast when I tried on the new Specialized Echelon helmet. There is a ratchet closure on the back of the helmet which you engage with an easy access dial. This tightens and loosens the plastic cage that rests on your head ensuring a really snug fit. You can amend it while riding if you have an unexpected big hair day and I am already completely sold on this added flexibility.
I’ve used it everyday for the last month and love it. It’s light, feels secure and has managed to keep my head reasonably dry through these horrendous storms we’ve been having. I’m impressed.
JimmyCASE Phone Case
When I was offered this open fronted case I wasn’t sure whether to accept or not. I usually go for a really crusty looking flip top case that protects every corner of my phone and I was worried that I would be adding vulnerability with the JimmyCASE.
I’m really glad I gave it go though, its such a beautiful, well-made case and as I seem to have developed butter fingers in recent weeks, I can also confirm that it is sturdy and protective and has held together for 5 quite dramatic phone drops.
It was offered to me as the ideal phone case for sporty types due to its ingenious elastic wallet on the rear of the case. This enables you to stash the essentials like credit card, parkrun token and emergency money without the need to carry a wallet or purse. I’ve got my oyster card and swim membership snuggly attached to my iPhone case and now can almost guarantee that I will never be without them.
It’s quite a pricey case $39 USD (with free international postage currently on offer) but it really feels worth it. The rear of the case is made from a lovely grained mahogany, you can choose the colour of the elastic wallet and the front of the case has a protective lip of rubber.
I’ll be sticking with JimmyCASE from now on and will be buying my own replacement when the next iPhone comes out.
These were sent to me to review under the guise of sports underwear. I don’t really think they have features that make them suitable for sports. They have seams for instance so you wouldn’t want to cycle long distances in them and there is rather too much pant for running in my opinion.
While they may not pass as active sportswear I do really love the style of TomboyX pants. I realise I probably don’t look great in them (I will save you that visual trauma), but I do feel great in them and am always very happy to use them apres sport. They are particularly cosy after a cold outdoor swim.
Wild by Nature – by Sarah Marquis
If you like Wild – A Journey from lost to found, I think you’ll love Wild by Nature.
The author is true explorer, made in the mould of latter day brave folk like Scott and Amundsen. Sarah Marquis won my admiration through the course of this book but I wouldn’t like to follow in her footsteps. This particular journey was 10000 miles from Mongolia to Australia and crossed some entirely inhospitable regions. Mongolia in particular stands out as entirely unpleasant place to go for a walk.
I can’t imagine knowingly making myself so vulnerable. In Mongolia she enters an illegal vodka yurt, desperate for water but finds only vodka and no friendly faces. By nightfall the unfriendly faces are following her on horseback, intending to intimidate and rob her. She’s entirely capable of handling herself against drunken buffoons but it seems every night is to be like this, with camps chosen for their obscurity from an ever-present threat.
My abiding thought while reading this was why? Why would you do that to yourself. I absolutely wouldn’t that’s for sure but Marquis still inspired me. I haven’t booked a flight to Outer Mongolia yet but I did turn my back on the treadmill this morning so I could run round the common. Squelching in the mud, observing the trees and the moss. Just being, for a while.
Nothing 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.
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.
A video posted by ? @warriorwoman (@warriorwoman) on
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?
A video posted by ? @warriorwoman (@warriorwoman) on
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
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
Atlas 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
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.
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:
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.
I’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.
Your 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:
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.
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.
My 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.