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First Impressions of the Fitbit Flex

I have an obsession for activity trackers. It’s the tracking that absorbs me and not the activity, unfortunately.
I’ve worked my way through 5 different makes and models, often wearing two at a time but at the moment I am taking the Fitbit Flex (donated by LV=) through its paces.

IMG 6318 First Impressions of the Fitbit Flex

Out of the box, I have to admit to feeling a little underwhelmed by the Fitbit, it’s not exactly stylish. It reminds me of one of those magnetic locker fobs you get at the local swimming pool and they are hardly a fashion statement.

It does have a display though, unlike the swimming pool locker fob, but it is only one row deep which means the visual feedback is limited and fairly uninformative.

It does do a pretty good job of counting steps though and its sleep monitoring is the best I’ve seen so far. It is admittedly quite hard to put to sleep, a double tap is supposed to do the trick but I find it requires a manic tap-tap, tap, tap, tap before it switches to sleep mode. This action is then reversed in the morning to inform the gadget that I’m up and ready for the day and by that time I tend to be frowning in frustration.

The sleep tracking results are immediately available on the Fitbit app thanks to the wonder of Bluetooth and I find the interpretation to be particularly clear. It splits your sleep into coloured zones relating to sleep, restless and awake and then lists out the time in each category and the number of individual episodes. This qualitative categorisation is particularly useful for comparing days and is an improvement on the offerings from Garmin, Up and Withings.

IMG 6316 First Impressions of the Fitbit FlexAlthough I’m very happy with the sleep aspect of the Fitbit app, the overall display is quite stark with an awful lot of blank space and it doesn’t feel as exciting as either the Up or Withings apps.

Another stand out feature for the Fitbit Flex is price. At £79 it is a lot cheaper than any of the other trackers I’ve tried so far and is a great way get onto the activity tracking bandwagon.

IMG 6317 First Impressions of the Fitbit FlexPros

  • Lightweight, comfortable fit
  • Excellent sleep statistics
  • Excellent value
  • Good battery life (about 5 days)

Cons

  • Not very stylish
  • Uninformative display on the wristband
  • No button on the wristband and it doesn’t always respond to taps
  • Minimal design to the app
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This Girl Can but hasn’t….much

IMG 6313 0 This Girl Can but hasnt....muchI was delighted yesterday to be awarded with the Janathon Baton of Shame for my exemplary performance in the lethargy and idleness arena.

I truly did mean well when I signed the dotted line and committed myself to daily jogging, logging and blogging, but then I got sick. I took to my bed at 22:30 on New Year’s Eve, having been struck down by what was destined to develop into a 3-week lurgy. It’s fair to say however, that people at work would describe me as having had a 5 day cold followed by a 2 week stint of sympathy coughing, aka making a great big fuss about nothing.

I tried to stay in the Janathon loop, posting reports on sporty books I had read and plans for exercises I was going to do when I recovered, but somewhere along the line I lost my jog, log, blog mojo and before I knew it, I was 21 days down.

IMG 6315 This Girl Can but hasnt....muchIf I can offer up a further defence of my partial commitment to Janathon, I would like it to be known that I have now ventured outside and run 6 whole miles in order to redeem myself. They were cold and arduous miles and the unexpected gradient caused me to cough and splutter pitifully. It was an absolute joy to be back in the running swing of things though, squelching through icy, muddy trails and getting lost in the countryside.

I may have reclaimed my running enthusiasm and hope to end the Janathon month as a Girl That Can:

Much as like my Baton of Shame, I do need to pass it on to another slacker. This time to someone who made a very public commitment but then failed at the first hurdle. And the baton goes to……@runforthequiet

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Confused Tabata

My schedule called for 6.5 mins of Japanese inspired, high-intensity, treadmill torture.

I set my phone app to beep at 20s and 10s intervals, indicating torture and relaxation intervals respectively, performed a gentle warmup and then attempted to coordinate the start button pressing on 3 devices – the iPhone app, the Garmin and the treadmill.

I was straight into 13 kph sprinting when I realised I was accompanied by a near cacophony of conflicting electronic beeps. The phone is thankfully alerting me to the near arrival of a rest interval while my watch is manically beeping at 172 bpm as I failed to amend the settings from my previous metronomic run.

This becomes entirely confusing. I’m trying valiantly to stay on the treadmill at break neck speed, while absent-mindedly concerning myself with my out of sync treadmill pounding. There follows a very brief interlude while I try to pound at 172 bpm, while sprinting at 12.5 kph and staying on the treadmill. Fortunately, as I realise I am failing, and the arse-about-tit motion commences, the iPhone sounds out a rescue chirrup, and I can leap off for a 10 s wheeze.

IMG 6291 Confused Tabata

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The Science of Fitness

It seems customary to invent Janathon exercises and as I’m not well enough to even rattle off two bed sit-ups, I’ve also created my own – the sport of reading sporty books. Preferably from under a duvet.

Screen Shot 2015 01 03 at 15.41.42 The Science of FitnessI was recently sent The Science of Fitness, Power, Performance and Endurance and it seemed like the perfect title for my new Janathon-ercise. Perhaps it would inspire me to create my new New Years fitness program.

It all started very well, it promised to be the most complete scientific exploration of fitness to-date, and stressed the importance of mitochondria (which I like), illustrated it with the impressive story of Greg LeMond and offered me the inspired sounding BEAST program to power my mitochondria and enhance performance.

It turns out however that BEAST stands for Bicycling, Eating, Avoiding toxins, Stopping self-destructive behaviour and Training with resistance, which as acronyms go, is just a bit too strained for my liking.

I had heard of Greg LeMond, although he was a bit before my obsessive Tour de France time, so I didn’t know his full story. He was a TdF winner in 1986, then almost had his life and certainly his career destroyed by an horrific accidental gunshot incident. He remarkably rebuilt his fitness levels and went on to another two Tour de France victories only to suffer an embarrassing decline as the lead from the gunshot pellets, still lodged in his body, started to leach out and destroy his mitochondria

So we are back on to mitochondria, the unsung heroes of athletic performance. I’m particularly interested in mitochondria and their role in performance and health after following the work Dr Terry Wahls who has had incredible success treating progressive MS by adapting her diet to one that is high in micronutrients that target mitochondrial health (see The Wahl’s Protocol). Here’s her famous TED talk on Minding your Mitochondria.

The Science of Fitness is a hard book to recommend as I can’t decide who it is aimed at. It reads like a school biology book and throws in a bit of Newtonian physics for variety. I can only imagine that the sort of person inclined to spend the afternoon reading school textbooks would probably already know this stuff and everyone else would be bored to tears.

I persevered and ticked off the chapters, admiring the citations which were longer than the chapters. I wasn’t too impressed by the nutrition section which opted for very safe advice, came down on the side of the “Mediterranean Diet”, whatever that is, and cited three papers from the Diet Heart health study.

Now if you want an interesting read that discusses the history of nutritional studies and the shocking way that scientists can gang up to prevent true exploration (the diet heart studies being a great example) I would strongly recommend The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz. You’ll also find an interesting angle on the “Mediterranean Diet” in there too.

Anyway I did read all the way to the end although I have to admit to skimming at an ever increasing rate. I expected the final chapter to detail some training programs for the BEAST program but it just fizzled out and left me with a rather tame, yet wordy, bullet list which I will summarise as follows:

  • High Intensity Interval Training multiplies mitochondria
  • Regular (at least alternate days) to stop mitochondrial decline
  • Build a base level of endurance
  • Strength training to build muscle
  • Avoid overuse training
  • Balanced diet
  • Enjoy it
  • Aim for iterative improvement

All in all, a tame and uninspired way to achieve BEAST status. I will be looking to the Unbreakable Runner to source my new program from, it follows a similar strategy but feels so much more gutsy and deserving of a BEAST acronym.

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A Metronomic Start to Janathon

This is the first Janathon where I haven’t logged a run within minutes of the midnight chimes. I did plan to, I had my kit laid out next to the bubbly but when push came to shove my cold and a deep sleep overcame me and I retired to bed instead.

A truly wild and rocking start to 2015!

So now I have a more sedate, mid-afternoon, Janathon kick off and today’s focus is running cadence.

Everywhere I turn at the moment I see information about running cadence, I feel bombarded. I’ve been reading about efficient cadence in Unbreakable Runner (a very good book about training with Cross Fit Endurance), I’ve been monitoring it on my new Garmin 920XT and this morning I received an interesting video email from James Dunne (Kinetic Revolution) on the subject.

It’s time to dabble. The last time I checked I was running with a cadence of 155 steps per minute. Rather unsurprisingly I am not the model of a lean mean running machine – the typically stated goal for an efficient cadence pattern is 180.

Here’s my attempt at running my legs off for Janathon, guided by the Garmin 920XT metronome feature which was beeping and vibrating at 172/2 bpm.

Dabbling with #running #cadence. 155 steps per minute followed by 172 steps per minute

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

Although I felt decidedly ridiculous at 172 spm, I don’t think the transition looks very noticeable on my video. In contrast, James Dunne’s  YouTube video illustrates a more dramatic change in form following a similar 10% increase in cadence.

I’m tempted to experiment further and see how long I can hold a cadence of 172 spm, I can see that footfall seems to be improved but it strikes me as a rather exhausting improvement.

 

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Move! The Cheek of New Gadgets

The arrival, this morning, of a new and exciting watch encouraged me to ignore my rapidly filling sinus cavities and venture out for a tentative jog.

I opted for a trail run around the local mud common and as anticipated it was tough and wheezy. I was so excited by the finish alert from my new wrist watch that I promptly slid over in the mud and lost myself a few seconds before I could reach the stop button.

On arrival back home I had to faff with running kit, now plastered with Mitcham clay and have only just managed to slump into my post run sofa pose. I’ve maintained this for all of 15 mins, just time to polish off the last glass of xmas Chardonnay when my new watch beeps and offers up the message “Move!”

IMG 6256 0 Move! The Cheek of New GadgetsComplete with exclamation mark!

What a cheek. I’ve just run 5k and walked 11000 steps, surely enough to be rewarded with a sit-down. It only started me with a 5000 step target so what on earth is its gripe?

I intend to wander through to the kitchen to find the last of the Leffe beer now, I hope that will be sufficient to quieten the Garmin gods.

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Personal Training Session – The Annihilation

I’ve been slacking on the barbell front and decided it was time to call in the assistance of weightlifting task master. I found someone local who used the term “beasting” when I enquired about his methods and so I promptly but nervously signed up for a few sessions.

Saturday was day 1 and I can confirm he was not lying about his methods. We moved through standard moves such as deadlifts, chest presses and dumbbell rows. I had my first go at rubber band assisted pull ups and finished with medicine ball slam downs which are now my all time favourite move. Some where in the middle I managed to destroy myself. I think it must have been somewhere near the 60th pushup and the first dodgy kettlebell swing.

By the time I left I couldn’t put my coat on and I struggled to lower myself into the car.

I knew I was pretty wrecked afterwards but I’ve been quite impressed by how shattered my arms are. I have severe DOMS in my triceps, the like of which I’ve never experienced in my upper body. I can’t dress and I struggle to drink because I can’t take my hands to my face. Quite odd.

Screen Shot 2014 12 15 at 08.22.32 Personal Training Session   The AnnihilationThe hand to mouth movement has been seriously hindered but it is not going to prove itself to be an effective weightloss strategy as I have mastered a modified action. I discovered yesterday, that if I take my drinks in very long glasses, I can polish off a couple of pints without any problem. I may look like a drinking seal with my two handed action but at least I won’t die of dehydration.

The last time I worked my upper body this hard was during a weekend wii fit bowling session with Rach.

I could barely carry the weight of my own arms, I would yell out in pain every time I sent the ball bouncing towards her TV screen and even managed to pull my left hamstring as I adopted the power crouch position.

I felt the need for a full body cast then and it wouldn’t go amiss now. In the meantime I will have to continue setting Lynn’s alarm 15 mins early so she can help me put my work shirt on.

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Helly Hansen and Pistols at Dawn

IMG 6144 Helly Hansen and Pistols at Dawn

It’s the middle of the day, the middle of a work day. I am focussing on this jumble of numbers and easing my way towards a stress headache when my phone vibrates to alert me to the fact that JogBlog has been running. Again.

Since I accepted her Helly Hansen Winter Duel Challenge 3 days ago JogBlog has run twice for a total of 15km.

IMG 6145 Helly Hansen and Pistols at Dawn

I find this particularly smarting because although I have been a lazy lard arse for much of 2014 I have actually been out for a run this week and I swear it was longer than the registered 1.07k. Not much longer admittedly but I’m going to find it hard to beat the near ultra running JogBlog if the Winter Duel app is going to continue to curtail my efforts.

I went out again after work and ran around the block 3 times. On each circuit I checked the app to find it had crashed and so pressed the resume training button. This led to a slight improvement in the recorded distance but it still robbed me of a third of my efforts.

I have it on good authority that JogBlog will not have much opportunity to run this weekend, so I may have to take my chances with the dodgy app and knock out the odd marathon or two to catch up.

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Winter Wolf and other Dirty Weekends

I seem to be lurching from one dirty weekend to another but who’s complaining?

Last weekend we were at Winter Wolf for our first attempt at the Leicestershire course. It has such fabulous quality mud that this is now my favourite adventure course. The black soggy clay grabbed me firmly above the knee and did its best to drag me under. I’d struggle and wiggle and sink to my thighs, leaving me to attempt an unsuccessful swim across the quagmire. It’s fortunate that there are plenty of other runners that are prepared to sacrifice themselves to the swamp in order to drag free a fellow runner.

Running was an additional challenge with an inch thick coating of clay but it got easier as each clod shed itself and then there were the river swims which washed free the grime, like wonderfully refreshing, ice cold jacuzzis.

This was wild swimming and running at its best.

 

IMG 6087 Winter Wolf and other Dirty WeekendsThe following weekend we were back in Sussex for our annual glamping holiday. It’s now become traditional to take a run along the West Sussex Ouse Valley Way, which is at its soggiest in November.

We started early enough to enjoy the morning mist rising from the fields and the plan was to get cold, wet and muddy so we could appreciate the native sweat lodge effect from within an insulated yurt with a blazing log burning stove.

IMG 6080 Winter Wolf and other Dirty WeekendsThe conditions may have been tame in comparison to Winter Wolf but the route did throw up its own challenges. I’m afraid we had to turn back after 5k as we found ourselves surrounded by a horde of fairly pushy horses. I attempted to drive a path through them but I changed my mind when the largest of the pack started to push me backwards in the mud and then attempted to eat my UP wrist band.

I hope all this mud is improving my complexion because it is not doing much for the appearance of my toe nails.

 

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Office Space Race

I haven’t been exercising much recently, in fact I managed to lurch from the Autumn Wolf run to the Winter Wolf run with only 4 training sessions between the two seasons. If I let that sort of lackadaisical attitude continue I’ll have to stop calling myself a running blogger.

IMG 6060 Office Space RaceWith that in mind I’ve been thinking about resurrecting the running commute. It’s the perfect way to sneak in exercise without having to commit too much additional time. It is however, a logistical nightmare and extremely difficult to look cool, calm and professional at the work end when you drag a crumpled shirt and packet of wet wipes out of a sweaty rucksac. Flexioffices contacted me last week to let me know about the #OfficeSpaceRace, a short run route designed to be completed in your lunch break.

Lunch break running has got to be the perfect alternative to the running commute and the midday blast of fresh air and energy offers so many performance enhancements. I rarely take a break at lunchtime but when I do it really improves my mood and the midday run adds to my ability to concentrate.

IMG 6053 Office Space RaceThis OfficeSpaceRace involved joining a series of flexioffice buildings in Shoreditch, creating a manageable 1.5m route ideal for sprint or interval training.

It’s not quite as scenic as running alongside the Thames but Shoreditch has its own unique appeal in the form of street art and impressive architecture. The streets are pretty wide too which is a huge bonus if you hope to be able to run in a straight line during the lunch break.

IMG 6065 Office Space Race

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