Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Friday, September 14, 2012

Why Even Bother Self Tracking Or Quantifying? 5 Good Reasons

Are sports-tracking apps and data gathering really worth your time in the fitness realm? Or are they needless additions to the time you spend in front of screens? Tracking data over time is an important, albeit not absolutely essential, part of your fitness routine, for a number of different reasons.

(1) You need to have a baseline point from which you can start to achieve or reach a goal. You need to know how you are doing over time. I can give you an example from today. I've been cold-water swimming, and working on spending longer periods of time in colder water (a great anti-inflammatory and fat-burning strategy). Today a web site reported the Plum Island, Massachusetts water temperature with an upper range of 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

I brought my trusty pool thermometer to the ocean – my own "tracking tool" – and found out that the temperature was 58 F. on the nose. I spent well over 20 minutes in the water without a wetsuit. This gave me a sense of accomplishment, hard data with which to compare with my past cool-water swim experiences, and it was the accurate tracking that made this possible.

The same concept can be applied to anything, like uphill walking. You don't know whether "walking my hilly course in 45 minutes with ease" is "good," unless you've walked the same distance over the same course before without feeling as strong. And if you track, you know the whole history of your personal records and perceived exertion on that walking route.

(2) Tracking provides you with a system for pursuing a goal, and thus an engine for reward, motivation, and accomplishment. We all know that fitness is a worthy goal; a downright virtue. But how to you get there in the first place? What information do you have that indicates you are getting fitter?

You can use some of the software tools I write about in Fitness For Geeks: the FitBit Tracker, EndoMondo, Garmin Connect, Fitocracy, FitDay, NutritionData, even some of the ones I didn't include such as Nike+, Foodzy, Traineo, Gyminee, and an...ahem...novel tool called Gympact that fines you for not exercising.

(3) Tracking also helps you set practical goals. If you couldn't do 10 pushups five months ago, you could set a goal to increase your pushup by two per month, and track that goal each month in the FitBit dashboard. You might not walk away in frustration after six weeks because "you can't do 10 pushups yet."

(4) Historial data. You know you couldn't run an eight-minute mile five years ago, because you have the data for those years. But you kind of forgot that. Now you look over your fitness data and you get that extra motivational nudge: "Wow I couldn't run a mile faster than 10 minutes in 2007, and now I'm running a 7:45!"

(5) Face it, many of us are helped by sharing our accomplishments, and while hypercompetitiveness isn't important, we all deserve a pat on the back for trying to get healthier and legitimately fitter. This probably satisfies a human drive to achieve physical goals with support from the tribe (a community hunt and gather?).

The self-tracking tools are all hooked into larger communities so you have plenty of people to cheer you on, even if it's just your friends and/or family members. You don't need to "over share" and go overboard with all the social media stuff, for the simple reason that you might counteract your fitness efforts with all the extra sitting time in front of screens.

Remember how fun and rewarding it was when you joined that running or polar plunge club, with a group of like-minded people motivating each other (okay, some of them were also looking for a date)?

Monday, September 3, 2012

10 Tips For Running Your First Mile: Getting Started

So you thought my power :: run ratio idea was worth a look and you want to run your first timed mile. How do you get started?

The obvious proviso is that you must be in reasonably good cardiovascular health first to attempt one mile of running. Here's ten tips on first beginning, then getting to the end of the track on your first best mile:

(1) Find a nice oval to train on, you know, a conventional track. Most towns and cities have a track that's pretty fast and comfortable to run on. This way you'll know what a mile feels like to run, because you will be running almost exactly a mile. Many ovals are 400 meters long, and you want to time yourself for four laps, or 1600 meters. This is just 10 yards short of a mile, the U.S. customary measurement.

(2) Start by walking the four laps, just to get a good idea of how long a mile is. In a way, you're training your brain for the distance. Running a mile has a lot to do with what's going on in your brain, including hypoxia, if you don't train properly! Running a fast mile, at least to me, is a bit intimidating, so walking the mile first is an incremental way of preparing yourself for the run. It's implanting a memory ("oh so this is what a mile feels like...").

(3) Now jog 400 meters or one lap of the oval – training for your best mile is going to take several weeks and we have to begin with baby steps. This includes getting fitted to and buying a nice feather-light pair of running sneakers, because you don't want to be plodding along in Army boots. That will slow you down, guaranteed. When jogging 400 meters feels good:

(4) Start sprinting the straight-aways on the oval, and walking or slow jogging the curves. Or the opposite – sprint the curves and walk the straight-aways. This is actually training for running on an oval. When this starts to get easy, which takes a while, start doing this for 800 meters (two laps), and so on. Remember that this is a good interval, or sprint workout in its own right. Each of these short sprints is about 100 meters.

(5) Run the inside lane to minimize the distance, because the more you swing to the outside lanes, the more time you're losing. It's amazing how running the oval efficiently will earn you many seconds. It goes without saying (don't you hate that expression "it goes without saying..." Then why say it?) that you should be well hydrated and reasonably well trained during this mile-training attempt. If you've recently put on 20 pounds, you're not going to run your best mile possible (ever run carrying a 20-lb. backpack while running)?

(6) To mix things up, run on a beach barefoot. Find a flat part at low tide. Stride 200 times and mark the spot. That's roughly 200 meters. Now do a couple of 200-meter sprints (or 100...whatever). You're learning how to run fast; teaching your brain and skeletal muscles how to dig deep for more speed. Running on sand is hard. When you return to the track or oval, it will seem easy and you'll feel like a gazelle.

(7) When you've been doing this for a few weeks, during one of your track workouts, run your fastest 400 and time it, then go home. Don't try to do this twice in a row, not yet. When that feels good, run your fastest 800. Practice running one 400 fairly fast, then a finishing kick for the final 400, in all your glory. This is how you'll finish your mile.

(8) You should be lifting weights twice a week during this whole process; running fast takes strength and muscle power. These are power lifts with your legs (front squats, power squats, leg presses; jumping up on stools). Have at least one rest day between weightlifting and your single or twice-weekly track workout.

(9) Finally, put it all together and run a mile, but do it in a fast, graceful, non-killer way. Fitness For Geeks describes a concept called "body speeds," or mindful running. It's running fast but conceiving of technique and gracefulness all along, not "eyeballs out." Note the time you ran. it will be in the ballpark of your best mile. You should smash this time by going all-out however, by about 40 seconds or more. You're still preparing for running your PR (or personal best) mile on the track. This is another baby step.

(10) Finally, after several weeks, it's time for your mile time trial. Remember to pace the mile – I favor saving a bit of gas for a nice sprint around the final bend and straight-away. Depending on time of year, run in the evening, when it's cooler. A dark track can be like a furnace under the hot sun. Psych yourself up in whatever way you know how. Run to The Who's "Baba O'Reilly." Think of your least favorite manager at work, and how they're probably betting against your ability to run a decent mile. Get mad. Then get someone to time your run beside the track, or use a watch or app. Go for it! The result is a good baseline for your quickest mile.