Monday, September 12, 2011
I saw a lot of blogs about running, or wanting to run, this evening. Some folks are relaxing by running a few miles, some are gearing up for half marathons, some are wondering if they could actually run a 5K.
I am not a runner. I've said that many times, and each time I've said it, it was true.
I'm a veteran walker. Even at my most out of shape, I probably could have walked 5 miles. I can certainly walk a 5K in 45 minutes, if I push the walk a little.
Once a year for the past several years, I've pretended to be a runner at the 3.5 mile Chase Corporate Challenge that runs in Rochester, NY at the end of May. A couple of times, I managed to run the first two miles. Once I didn't manage to run the entire first mile. I've never been able to run the entire course. Finishing has never been in question; I could always walk 3.5 miles after running to exhaustion.
Right now, I'm doing the 5K My Way running program. I am so much not a runner, that I couldn't do Week 1 when I decided to train. I had to do two weeks of remedial training before I was good enough to start the program.
Today I did Week 2, Day 2. The program at this point is walk 1 minute, run 4 minutes for 7 cycles, total time 35 minutes. I covered 4.32 miles in that 35 minutes. That's the exact same distance I covered Saturday on Week 2, Day 1, same routine; but this time I had more hills.
As I was running the 5th cycle, it occurred to me that someone observing me at a random instant during my training would have an 80% chance of thinking I'm a runner. Someone observing at a random geographical location would have a larger chance of thinking I'm a runner, because I cover more than 80% of the distance in the 80% of the time I'm running.
By the time I get to the end of the program, it's going to have me run 40 minutes continually. I'll have to think about where to run that one; it looks like I'm going to need a longer route than I have used to date. That's Week 4, day 3, so I have a while to think about where I want to do that. Then on Week 5, it backs off to 30 minute runs; I'm not sure why. Maybe I'm supposed to work on speed at that point?
I am not a runner, but I've trained to the point where my calves feel normal the day after I run 28 minutes in 7 segments of 4 minutes each. I've trained to the point where my resting heart rate is a bit lower than it was when I started. However, I'm not yet where the training is supposed to take me.
I am not a runner. But in 3 more weeks, I will be.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
It's been a day of competing themes.
At church today, our interim minister preached on looking back and looking forward. Looking back, we had the remembrance of 9-11. At 10:28 am, the chimes rang and worship was interrupted, as our lives were interrupted 10 years ago. This happened to fall during the children's moment, teaching remembrance of 9-11 to people who weren't born yet then. Looking forward, today was Rally Day, launching the new church year tied to the academic year.
Rally Day came with sundaes this year. Brownie sundaes, with brownies that looked like 3" squares. I dithered a bit, then spotted a brownie that was 1" by 3", where someone else had already cut off a smaller portion. Told the server to use that one, and one scoop of ice cream. He gave me a smaller scoop than I was thinking, but that was good. Having measured a tablespoon of salad dressing or barbecue sauce many times, I felt confident in estimating a tablespoon of chocolate syrup.
That small brownie sundae satisfied my social eating urge, and was more enjoyable than a "full sized" sundae would have been a year ago. Scarcity makes is special. When I got home and entered the parts, I was surprised how easy it was to work around. High calorie dessert, and good nutrition. Competing themes.
Today was also planned to be a day of mostly rest, though I did want to get my 10K steps in. Spent the early afternoon dealing with household paperwork, getting stuff caught up that had been waiting for a convenient time. Along about 3:30, I looked at my pedometer and saw a bit over 3300 steps.
I'm not going to get 6700 more steps inside a 1225 square foot house. It's a day between 5K training, so I'll take a walk. Maybe walk the route that I've been thinking to add to the running route, for when I'm running longer and need it to be longer. Put on my cargo shorts, grab my e-book, and go to the door.
It's raining. Well, not really raining, but kind of sprinkling and the pavement is wet. Hmm. Change from cargo shorts to running shorts. Put the e-reader away. I'm now dressed for running, but I'll walk. It won't matter if I get wet.
Walk the proposed neighborhood route, which turns out to be 4.65 miles. Not as long as I'd hoped, but the new addition has an uphill that should be brutal if I'm trying to run the entire route. I can see myself wanting to put that in when the training is going well. If I can successfully train to run that route, the hill in the first mile of the Chase Corporate Challenge won't bother me at all.
The sprinkle did change to a light rain, but changed back to a sprinkle before I got home. All in all, it was a pleasant walk. It was also a walk that wouldn't have happened, pre-Spark; the rain would have scared me away. A pleasant walk, recorded as exercise (4.1 mph pace), but the point wasn't really the exercise. The point was the 8K or so steps I got in, and looking at that brutal uphill in person instead of just mapping it.
Looking back, looking forward. I went to look up what I weighed on 9/11/2001. My daily records only go back to 12/31/2001, but I wrote some ranges down of what I remembered from when I was weighing but not recording daily. I wrote down that I was in the 212-216 range in September-November 2001. A lot of history has happened since then, and a lot of personal life has happened as well. This morning I weighed in at 181.4. I'm 10 years older, but healthier, more fit, and at least 30 pounds lighter.
Looking forward, the start of the church year also means the start of bell choir and vocal choir practice on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. It's a time when it's easy to fall off the exercise bandwagon, because other commitments take up time. I thought ahead a bit, and decided to convert from Sunday-Tuesday-Thursday 5K training to Saturday-Monday-Thursday. Did Week 2, Day 1 yesterday. I'll do Week 2, Day 2 tomorrow.
That's going to squeeze out some weight lifting. Can't be helped. There are only so many hours in the week, and I can't throw as many of them at exercise in the fall as I can in the summer.
With luck, when I get through the 5K training I can live with shorter runs on my lunch hour plus a longer run on Saturday, and go back to lifting weights Monday and Thursday evenings. In the past, the Mon-Thurs weight lifting schedule would have been watered down by evenings needed for shopping or other household maintenance stuff; but now I'm an empty nester. It could work. Or I could get two weeks into that, and find that it implodes from being too much to attempt regularly. Don't know until I try.
Less time exercising probably also means slower weight loss. That's okay. SP says I should be losing slower this close to my goal, anyway. The change in life's tempo will be an opportunity to see how to adjust the system to deal with a changing life.
Such are my thoughts on this lazy Sunday, as I look back and look forward.
Friday, September 09, 2011
This morning I weighed in at 182 even on a scale that weighs to a fifth of a pound. I am 5 feet, 11.75 inches tall. That calculates out to a Body Mass Index of 24.856, just below the "top of healthy" number of 24.9.
This is the first time I've seen a BMI in the healthy range. The last time I weighed this little, I'd never heard of BMI.
Of course, BMI is not a perfect measurement. It relates weight to height squared, when all good students of math and physics know that weight would be more properly related to height cubed. And it measures weight, not volume. The implications of this are first, seriously athletic people with significant muscle mass can have high BMIs and be healthy; and more subtly, taller people will be healthy at higher BMIs than shorter people.
During past weight loss efforts, when I bounced off 188 or 185, I wondered whether my weight lifting had built so much muscle that I couldn't get into the nominally healthy BMI range. That turns out not to be the case; I got strong before, but got enough protein to build muscle at the cost of eating too many total calories. In the back of my mind, I probably knew this; but I was in denial.
When I started with SparkPeople, I figured that the proof of the system would be if I could get down into healthy BMI range. The system has proven itself. Yes, this is a one day low. I may weigh more tomorrow. But the day will come when I will consistently weight 182 or less.
Achieving a BMI in the healthy range was a goal in 2005. It was a fantasy in 2006. I came within 2 pounds of it in 2010, before I put some of the pounds back on. And it was a reality this morning.
But to tell the truth, for something that I've wanted to achieve since 2004, it's kind of a non-event. Really, 182 is just a number on the scale. Lower numbers are on the way. I was more excited that my calves felt normal this morning after doing the 5K training yesterday evening. That's an indication that the 5K training is working, and I may yet become a runner.
If you can stand one more financial analogy, BMI is to fitness like a good credit score is to personal finances. Take care of the finances, and the credit score takes care of itself. Take care of the fitness, diet, and exercise, and eventually the BMI will take care of itself.
Thursday, September 08, 2011
On a weight lifting forum I follow, a poster whose opinions and expertise I respect said,
"The impact of exercise is always a bit difficult to predict for all sorts of reasons.....fitness level, type of exercise etc. and also compensatory behaviour for the remainder of the day. Folk who do any amount of meaningful intense exercise usually slow down a bit for the rest of the day, so a butt-kicking workout that expends an extra 500 or so kcals doesn't necessarily generate a 500 kcals deficit even if food intake doesn't change."
Now, this was said in the context of a community where "a butt-kicking workout" means something really substantial; but it strikes me there's some truth in it for just about all fitness levels. From the very overweight person whose butt-kicking workout is a quarter mile walk with no time limit, to the serious runner whose butt-kicking workout is a marathon, we all probably back off a bit on other physical activity on days when we push ourselves to the limit.
Even if I'm not pushing myself to the limit, if I run on my lunch hour I'm not burning as many extra calories as might be thought. That run is replacing a brisk walk that won't be made up at any other time of the day. In effect, I'm slacking off in recognition of doing more than usual.
So why do we do those butt-kicking workouts, if they don't burn as many calories as we think? Because the offset from backing off other activity in the day is a short term effect. Another thing the quoted poster said was that the extra muscle mass from strength training doesn't really burn very many extra calories while we're resting; what it does do is let us burn more calories without noticing, because the physical effort isn't as significant.
And that's why exercise is so vitally important to weight management. It's not the short term effect of the 603 or 644 calories (depending on which calculator I believe) that I burned in my 36 minute walk/run this evening, less what I didn't burn from the walking I might have otherwise done. It's the long term effect of the calories I burn that aren't even counted as exercise, because it feels natural to run to beat the light getting across the street, or I walk faster when I'm going from one place to another, or it's more convenient to move the 40 lb. box of cat litter than to walk around it, or it just because it *feels good* to run a little in nice weather. Those are calories that wouldn't be burned if I weren't exercising regularly, and get burned without noticeable effort on my part.
That, and the quality of life is better when I can move an inconvenient 40 pound object without thinking about it, or walk up the stairs to the 5th floor because I don't like crowded elevators, and the physical effort of doing stuff like that just isn't a consideration.
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
It seems to me that the SparkPeople site tries to do two different things with the fitness tracker and exercise, and the two are not always totally compatible.
First, the fitness tracker is a motivational tool to get me to actually DO some exercise. So far, it works quite well for that purpose.
Second, the fitness tracker wants me to adjust my fitness goals, which are used to feed the nutrition tracker's calorie range goal. (And maybe macronutrient range goals as well?) I don't know all the details of how the nutrition tracker calculates the goal ranges; but it's pretty clear that if I tell the fitness tracker I'm going to burn 700 more calories per week, the nutrition tracker will tell me to eat 100 more calories per day.
Some time ago, I made the decision that I would use the fitness tracker primarily for its motivational purpose. I no longer debate whether one set of 5 TGU/Windmill combos on each side is "worth" a Spark Point. I use the tracker to track them, and it gets me to do them. Good enough. On the cardio side, I use the fitness tracker to record intentional exercise. That is, if I go for a walk and the major purpose is to be moving, I record it. If I go for a walk to get someplace, or to stroll and enjoy the weather, I don't. I don't count mowing the lawn, because I don't need the SP motivational push to get that done. (Though the past weekend's result might imply a bit of denial in that last sentence.)
Since I'm firmly committed to using the fitness tracker primarily as a motivational tool, that puts me in an uncertain position with respect to measuring calories burned and determining nutritional target ranges. If I understand the instructions correctly, I'm supposed to count cardio as stuff that puts my heart rate at 60% to 85% of the maximum. But that's not my guideline for motivational tracking. A walk at 4 mph might put my heart rate at 54% of the max, which falls short of "exercise" by the cardio definition; I don't know how many fewer calories I burn because I'm below target heart range.
I also have a problem with the calorie estimates. Cycling at 13 mph calculates out to almost twice as many calories as walking at 4.2 mph for the same lenght of time. But my perceived rate of exertion is much lower for the cycling. At least one of those calculations has to be wrong. In practice, I've cycled a lot less since starting SP. Part of this is not wanting cycling to artificially pump up the calorie burn count, and part is wanting to get steps for the pedometer. (That stupid 10K steps per day motivational trick, y'know.)
Then there's strength training. The fitness tracker gives me no calories burned for lifting weights. There is probably no good way to approximate calories burned by strength training; the variables involved make the cycling/walking comparison look simple. But I know that lifting weights can burn a lot of calories, even if it isn't cardio. In 2005, strength training alone was sufficient to take me from very slow weight loss to a defined downward weight trend as I increased my strength.
All this comes together with other random information to create a large uncertainty in my mind. I dropped 16 pounds in my first 7 weeks on SP. That's 2.2 pounds per week. With a goal of losing 21 pounds from where I started with the site, it's recommended that I lose a half pound to a pound a week. I've read a rule of thumb that the maximum fat you can lose is 1% of your body weight per week. If I'm under 200 pounds, losing more than 2 pounds per week would then imply I'm losing more than fat.
On the one hand, it looks like I'm losing faster than I ought to this close to goal. On the other hand, I'm clearly becoming more fit. I'm running longer periods, my resting heart rate is going down, and I'm lifting more weight without aching as badly the next day. Then there's the transition to maintenance. I suspect one reason SP recommends losing at a half pound per week for the final 10 pounds is to make the transition from "losing" to "maintaining" a smaller adjustment to lifestyle, increasing the chance of successful maintenance.
So I sit here paralyzed by analysis, and don't increase my target calorie range. I have made some small efforts to eat toward the middle of the range instead of the low end some days. I'm also mindful of the fact that next week I start evening commitments on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The additional time spent on these cannot help cutting how much exercise I really get. I don't want to get used to eating 300 more calories per day, then have that level of consumption be too much for my exercise level in the fall.
One thing SP has given me, for sure, is a way to adjust my eating by small amounts and know that I've made the adjustment. If it turns out that the weight starts going up when the summer exercise frenzy cools down, I can tell the fitness tracker that my calories burned goals are lower and it will lower the ranges for me. If I see that I'm losing weight uncomfortably fast for where I am, I can tell it I'm burning more calories and it will raise the ranges. I can make the mechanism work, and I can follow the ranges.
Now if I can just figure out when I need to adjust the ranges, I'll be all set.
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