Category Archives: Fitness And Running

Challenge of 2015

I started my running hobby with a challenge in August 2008. I was 27 and I was physically in the worst shape of my life. I decided to challenge a few friends of mine to run a total of 300 km by Christmas. None of us were active runners. All of us made the goal and I personally managed around 450km in the three and a half months leading to Christmas. Six months from starting I ran my first half marathon and another 3 months later completed the first full one.

Challenges and goals are great motivators.

Last new years eve a friend of mine, Adam, and I decided to do a year long challenge. My goal was to do an average of 10 chin-ups a day while he’d do 100 press-ups everyday. Carrot at the end of the stick was that we’d both stash away £1 per successful day towards Whisky. Yes. In a few weeks time, we’re both going to spend £365 on whisky..

10 chin-ups a day isn’t exactly that many or a difficult task to complete. As long as you stay on course. At start of June, I was doing them at the rate that would see me finish the required 3650 repeats by first week of July. Then I stopped. Last 4 weeks I had to play catch up and do around 28 repeats per day.. Still, I managed it.

This year, I want to step it up a notch. Here’s the two challenges:

  1. Run an average of 5 km per day for the whole year or a total of 1825 km
  2. Do 15 chin-ups everyday

I’ve never done a charity run before because I always thought I’d want to do something that truly pushed me. Something like the Trans Alpine Run or Marathon des Sables. Or run more kilometres and more consistently than I ever have before. For a whole year.

For the record, this year I only ran about half that. And there was only one month (July) where I ran enough to keep at that pace. This is also going to be one of the busiest years of my life so far with Uuni taking over the world which will mean plenty of long-haul travel. And you know, we’ve got two boys under 4.

It’ll be tough and I’m not at all sure if I’ll be able to make it but I’m definitely giving it all I can.

UPDATE TO RULES AND TARGETS:

Like last year, I’m still raising money to spend on whisky. £1 per day. Only difference is that this year, each end of month is a deadline. For example on 31st of January I’ll check if I actually ran 155 km and did 465 chin-ups. If not, then that month doesn’t qualify. I also can’t carry over extra kilometres (or chin-ups) but at the same time, the clock is reset so if I don’t do anything before November, I can still collect £31 for December.

Of course, you could look at it so that at the end of each month I need check if I’m still on track with the progress but this would make it really difficult to catch up, especially with the running. I need this challenge to inspire me to exercise through out the year, I don’t need it to discourage and de-motivate me in July, if I’ve missed a month or so.

I’ll collate progress throughout the year here

  1. January
  2. February
  3. March
  4. April
  5. May
  6. June
  7. July
  8. August
  9. September
  10. October
  11. November
  12. December

Seven minutes to get you fit

Seems like every day we get a new bit of research saying that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the best way to increase and maintain a good level of fitness. Often these exercises take the form of stationary cycling or track running with 20-seconds on maximum effort, 10 seconds rest. (When I’ve not been running for a few weeks, I normally do a few 4 x 1000m interval sessions and that gets me right back where I left off.)

The New York Times reports on a straight forward routine that only requires a chair and a wall (and your own bodyweight) to do. It’s a circuit of 12 different exercises performed back-to-back in seven minutes.

The exercises should be performed in rapid succession, allowing 30 seconds for each, while, throughout, the intensity hovers at about an 8 on a discomfort scale of 1 to 10, Mr. Jordan says. Those seven minutes should be, in a word, unpleasant. The upside is, after seven minutes, you’re done.

While I’m really not thinking about giving up running, I don’t do enough strength training. This looks like a good routine to try out.

Challenge: Once a Day

Almost three years ago, I challenged myself and three friends to the 300 km challenge. Aim was to run at least 300 km between 23.8.-24.12. All of us made it. And at least for Ville and I, it rekindled our passion for running. Since then, we’ve both ran marathons and half marathons.

Running is, of course, still a big part of my weekly routine but currently with a small baby, it’s difficult to find time for it more than a couple of times a week. I’ve been trying to start doing more press ups and stomach crunches to build a bit of strength and see if it could also help my running. Trying and failing.

And because of that, it is time for another challenge. It’s called Once a Day. The aim is to just do something physically active everyday for the rest of the year. Something that doesn’t necessarily take that much time and is easy to do where-ever you happen to be.

Few rules:

  1. Walking doesn’t count unless it’s purposeful, raises your pulse and is at least about 40 continues minutes. In other words, 5 minute stroll to the shops doesn’t count.
  2. Sick days are off days (harsh, I know).
  3. If you’re to do ‘fitness circle’ moves like stomach crunches, there has to be at least two other moves to accompany them.

Counting starts on 1.8. and ends on 31.12. That’s 152 days. Are you with me?

Tested: Nike+ GPS for the iPhone Review

Nike+ GPS iphone app main menu view copy
Nike+ plus has been around since 2006 when it was first introduced as a peripheral for the iPod nano. It worked by having sensor in the sole of your compatible Nike running shoe which sent the data to your iPod. When syncing your iPod to your computer, you could then send your exercise data to the Nike+ website for storage and sharing. Main issue with the Nike+ sensor is that it’s essentially a pedometer, it counts steps. There’s nothing wrong about using a pedometer, you just need to be aware of their limitations. Don’t expect better than ±10% accuracy.

In comes Nike+ GPS for the iPhone. As the name implies, it uses iPhones (3G, 3G S or 4) GPD receiver to track your run and you don’t, obviously, need to buy any hardware. I ran over 140km split across 10 exercises with the app. It’s not masses but I’d say it’s enough to get a good idea of what the app about. Much of the review is about how I would use it and the kind of training I’m doing so keep that in mind. I didn’t test the features I couldn’t care less of.

The Good.

It’s only $1.99 (£1.19). Nike+ kit for your iPod nano is around £20. I think for that, anyone wanting a little bit of encouragement for your runs should get it and try it out. I really like the map view of the run with each kilometre (or mile) marked. What makes this even cooler is that you can switch to a ‘heat map’ view. This creates a gradient with green-yellow-red to mark the fast and slow parts of your run. Is that useful? I’m not sure. As it doesn’t take into count the effort you’re putting into the run, yellow or red might either mean your running slowly or you’re running slow because it’s an up hill (website has an elevation view as well but it’s only directional. Read: inaccurate). Nevertheless, it’s fun little feature to show off your run with.

You can also label your runs with your mood, weather conditions and write a short note to remind yourself how it went or what type of run it was.

If you’re Nike, you can have the likes of Paula Radcliffe and Lance Armstrong do voice overs for the app. So they did. Yesterday, Lance congratulated me for the fastest 10k I’ve recorded with it. Another time Paula said I just did more exercises this week than the week before. Nice touch.

I was also impressed with it not draining the battery too badly. I would leave for 3 hour run with a full battery and return with at least 60% left. Your milage may vary, I’m using it with the iPhone 4.

The Bad

Heat map display should have a way of increasing the contrast around the areas where you’re actually running. To explain. Say I’m on a 15k run around the streets of London. There’s bound to be places where I have to stop or walk for ten, fifteen steps. These spots are marked as your slowest pace for the exercise although they might only count ten meters of the training session.

If Nike is listening, I’d recommend ‘crushing’ those areas off of the scale and marking them in black thus leaving more contrast for the actual run. At the moment all of the heat track just looks a bit too similar all the way through.

The Ugly

For the past two years, I’ve done more or less every one of my runs with the Polar RS200 SD. It’s extremely accurate. On my last marathon in Edinburgh, it was only 300 metres off. That’s less than 0.5%. People who have tested these, say that it’s more accurate than the current GPS based running computers.

That said, I’m very disapointed with the accuracy – or the lack of – with the Nike+ GPS. It can be that the iPhone’s Location Services isn’t giving it accurate data but most runs it’s been off by a considerable margin.

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

Nike+ GPS iPhone app exercise heat map view detail 2 copy

Fig. 4

Look at the fig. 2. That’s a heat map of a run I did on 3rd October. Notice anything strange? Was I really running at 1:23/km pace? Pace faster than Usain Bolts pace on 100m. That fluke is caused by the GPS getting mixed up and it thinking that I’m in two very different places almost at the same time. The GPS tracking isn’t continuous, it pings the satellite every few seconds and if the location is very different between those two samples (see fig. 3), it wont think there’s something wrong. Instead, it’ll think I’m Clark Kent and thus capable of such speeds.

Not only does that screw up how the heat map is show. More importantly it throws of the total for the exercise. In the case above by almost two kilometres. Also, it’s not only limited to these large ‘once of’ inaccuracies. Look at fig. 4. At least when running in a city, there’s a constant jiggle on the route. This, over time, adds a fair bit into the over all distance. Trees and bridges are another weak spot. I think Nike could do a lot in software to improve the accuracy even if the GPS data isn’t perfect.

The last straw for me personally was yesterday. I was on a 10+10+10k run (cleverly to mark 10/10/10*) around my usual route through Tower Bridge and Westminster, when on the way back it stopped my exercise at around 24k mark without telling me it had done this. If you’re collecting data from your runs, nothing is more annoying than incomplete data.

Conclusion.

I think it’s OK for some runners. I wouldn’t recommend it to long distance runners or anyone wanting a reliable way of recording runs that are longer than 10k. If you’re a beginner runner and want some encouragement, go for it. Me, I’m sticking with the RS200 but will also give RunKeeper a try so stay tuned for another one of these reviews.


*Take this a step further:

Running 10+10+10k in training for a marathon is fitting as 101010 is 42 in binary and marathon is just over 42k. #running

(to quote myself)

Slight Sense of Panic

Somehow it’s managed to creep up on me, only 28 days till the Athens marathon. I do feel a lot better about it today than I did a week ago. Then my thinking was along the lines of “I’m now as fit as I should’ve been four weeks ago, not good”. Since then I’ve managed one set of 5*1000m intervals and a 29k long run. Both of which went as well as I could’ve hoped.

Still, there’s only so many days left and I need some drastic measures to make sure everything goes OK. 1) I need to make sure I wont fall ill again just before the run, which is what’s happened before last two marathons I’ve signed up for* and 2) that I’m fit enough to run uphill for 30k.

Here’s the plan. I’ll concentrate on three different types of runs: interval runs at 5-6*1000k and steep, slow up hill runs with about 6-8 repeats. Both are great for breathing and intervals are good for those fast twitch muscle cells. Then there’s time for just two long, up to 30k, runs. I’d like to do three but it gets too close the race day.

Last seven days will be crucial as I don’t want to fall ill but I can’t train too hard either. I think it’ll be ok. Just need to be careful.

Apart from not training enough over the summer, another cause of slight panic is my lower back and both knees. I had some back pains before Edinburgh but never had any problems with my knees which is quite worrying. One reason could be the couple of extra kilos I put on after the wedding and munching sashimi in Japan, where we went for our honeymoon. To combat this, I’m quitting beer, candy, croissants and cakes until the race. My aim is to loose 4 kilos in the next 4 weeks. Very doable and will make a massive difference in the race.

That’s about it, I’ll try and do another update in few weeks time to see where I am at.


*I had to pull out of running in Athens last year and this year before running in Edinburgh, I was still ill on Wednesday (race was n a Sunday). I think it has something to do with tapering down my training too early and too much. The body just gives up thinks now it’s ok to be ill. (Similar to why people are often ill on weekends and on holiday.)

We’re In The App Business, Baby

There’s few things better in life are than the feeling of achievement. Unlike most project that I work on this took more or less only 3 weeks from idea to a product.

Last summer after running the Edinburgh marathon, I thought that there must be a better way of creating split times when preparing for a race. (Split times are used by runners to help them run at a consistent speed through out a long race.) Initially I though it should be a website that would help generate them I quickly let go of the idea as I didn’t think I could recoup the money I’d need to invest in it. As you probably know, I’m not a programmer, and I would have had to hire someone to come code it for me.

Then around mid April this year I was listening to an interview of Ryan Carson on the Pipeline podcast where he was talking about the importance of passive income. In the interview, Ryan mention a website called smartpassiveincome.com where the author, Pat, blogs about different passive income streams that he’s been able to create. One of many things he’s doing is developing iPhone apps. As he’s not a developer, he outsources the development work via various outsourcing websites. I guess hearing how little you can have something developed inspired me return back to the idea of making something that helps runners create those split times.

The process itself was almost scarily fast. I mocked up about four or five screenshots in Photoshop to see how the app might look. I then posted a job on a freelancer outsourcing website. Few days later I had enough proposals to choose from and in another 2 weeks the app was ready! Once the ball was rolling, it took surprisingly little time to get it finished.

So what’s the app then? It’s called Split Times. Check out the video below to see how it works. Or get it in the App Store, it’s only 99¢.

Uncertain Future of Polar

My running computer of choice is the Polar RS200 SD, which includes a wrist watch, a heart rate monitor (HRM) and a foot-pod which accurately measures my speed and distance traveled. I’ve been using it for almost a year now and can’t imagine running without it. I’ve ran more or less 1500 km with it so far.

With the way things are going, it looks like it’ll be my last Polar. They have stopped innovating outside their watches. My 7-year-old model of a watch already does 100% of what I want from it during a run but even the newer models do little for me after a run.

This post is a about things I think are necessary for them to do so they can survive.

1. Embrace the Mac

Polar customer support when I asked them about their plans for developing an app for the Mac:

“We’re following the Mac market share closely but so far don’t think it’s big enough for us to concentrate on.”

Concentrate or take notice of?

Market share illusion

I know many of the few PC-using readers of mine will think “here we go again, another Mac fanboy upset his Mac wont run something”. And it’s true, I am upset. It’s a real shame Polar doesn’t make a Mac application. It’s a shame for me as a runner and it’s a shame for Polar. They will end up loosing me as a customer because of it.

The Mac has about 9% market share of personal computers and it’s growing. But market share is a cold statistic that doesn’t take into count either the actual human or the computer behind the number. In June this year in the US, Apple’s share of over $1000 computers was a massive 91%. Those are sold to people who care about the quality of the product they’re buying and are willing to pay more for it. They have more disposable income.

My last argument to shatter the market share illusion comes from a games developer:

Consider this:

  • Out of the several hundred thousand downloads of Tribal Trouble. the Mac is responsible for 23%!
  • Out of all sales of Tribal Trouble, the Mac is responsible for 47%!

[Oddlabs Blog]

This is after they decided to port their popular PC game to the Mac. There is less choice in games and software on the Mac but this should not be seen as an obstacle but rather as an opportunity.

Competition

The four leaders in the market of running computers are Polar, Suunto, Garmin and Nike with their Nike+ product.

Neither Polar or Suunto make a Mac app. Garmin does and it looks pretty decent. Nike+ syncs with nikeplus.com using iTunes on a Mac or a PC. On top these there’s a slew of apps for the iPhone (just search for ‘running’ in iTunes store and find out for yourself).

(Out of the iPhone apps I’ve only used RunKeeper. For free you’ll get duration, distance, pace, speed, total rise, elevation versus speed and path on map and if you pay a little – £5.99 – you’ll get some extra social features. RunKeeper still, in my experience, has it’s downfalls but I’m sure those will be fixed one day.)

Talking about the iPhone, it has been seen as, like iPods, a ‘gateway drug’ that often leads into buying a Mac. People get used to the easy user interface and the fact that ‘it just works’ and end up buying a Mac as a result. Apple has sold 40 million iPhones and most of them are not Mac users. Yet.

I recently went to few specialised running shops here in London and asked what customers are buying and why. Result; Polar is popular but more and more people are buying Garmin ‘because it supports the Mac’.

I also did a quick survey amongst 13 friends of mine who are active runners. 9 out 13 are Mac users! That’s 70%.

So what should Polar do about this?

I’m not suggesting that they should necessarily go ahead and build a Mac app. It would be nice but at the same time they’d be splitting their resources (all though, in reality it would mean hiring Mac developers or another company to build it). And it could end up being like killing half a bird with one stone.

I believe they should build a very good web app along with little helper apps on both Windows and Mac that transfer data between the Internet and the exercise computer. This takes the pressure off of keeping two different complex apps current on two different platforms. It saves money and it saves time. And it makes a lot of sense.

2. Socialize

Not just because it’s hip. Running is a solitary sport. Roll it in flour, have a running club or run with a friend; in the end of the day, you stamp those kilometres all by yourself.

How much effort is Polar putting into it’s polarpersonaltrainer.com website? Although they change the copyright notice in beginning of the year to 2010 from 2008, not much has changed in a while.

Queue PolarSocial.com

Polar should extend their existing online service so that you can share your results and experiences with other runners you know and find new friends who are local to you. I would love to be able find other Finnish runners in South East London to run with. People are already doing this on other social networks and Polar themselves are in the prime position to, not create, but facilitate the community that already exists around their products.

“I’m not a runner. I’m a Polar runner.”

It’s not about reinventing the wheel. It’s really about taking their existing online services few – or few dozen – levels up. On top of it being the destination to store you past exercises and plan for future ones, you can share this data with other likeminded runners.

There are lots of running groups on Facebook, Yahoo Groups and other forums as well as there are dedicated social networks for runners; like Strands.com. From these, it’s easy to see that there is demand for this.

3. Open Up.

Polar is a hardware company. They make physical objects athletes can wear while exercising. Then, why do they tie you up to their platform when your exercise is over? Why can’t you click a button at polarpersonaltrainer.com that says ‘export my data’?

Is it because they they think closedness is good? It scares me to load my data into a place that I can’t bring it with me if I wish to leave. That’s why my exercise calendar is on Google Docs. No, it’s not a completely open platform but at least I can export my data in various different formats as a backup. Or edit it on my desktop.

There’s two things Polar needs to do when it comes to openness.

First, they have to build an SDK and example apps around their platform(s) to enable third-party developers to build on top it. Perhaps not as far as running software on the watches themselves but desktop applications that will lead the way in innovation. Think of how well the iPhone has done after allowing third party apps. Apple sells a lot more of their devices as a result of supporting a large amount of applications.

Second. The data held at PolarSocial network they should build ought to be open. API and widgets, fire hoses of data that developers can use to build other services around. For example, look at Twitter. 80% tweets come from other platforms that their own website.


What’s my point? This is the same struggle many other companies are going through. The paradigm has changed and you either change with it or you die.

Polar, if you’re listening, get in touch. I have tons more ideas on how all this should be done and I’d really love to help. I’m in the market for a new running watch and I’d like it to be a Polar.

Milestone[sic]

Briefly,

On monday last week I passed a non-insignificant milestone; 1000 kilometers ran since I started in August last year. This has resulted in a fitter, healthier, smarter and, all in all, much improved me. Thank you all for the support, I will keep going (unless another brick falls on me and is more successful than the previous one and finishes me off).

After the Race

I had no idea how hard it would be. Absolutely no idea. And this is where I would want to be a great writer. I would love to tell you in saturated technicolor how the race went; how my body performed and what went on in my head as the mile marks passed.

I finished the race in 4 hours 29 minutes and 29 second.

I started of with the pace of about 9 minutes per mile* which, if you can keep it up, gives you just under 4 hours as the final time. First 2 miles in Edinburgh are downhill, which is great. Nice easy Sunday jog down Regents Park, fantastic scenery, wide roads to accommodate 14000 people flowing down in unison. 4 mile mark was the first where I thought: ‘What a nice distance to comprehend, one sixth done’. Little did I know.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge


Anyhow. It’s funny how quickly the first 5 miles went past but soon we arrived at the beach. It was becoming clear that the weather report wasn’t wrong this time. It was going to be the hottest day I’ve ever spent in Scotland. Marathon or not. Sun was blazing from a clear blue sky, directly ahead of us down Portobello promenade. I knew Darina and her family would be somewhere there so I was looking forward to that but still.. it was about 20c hotter than I had hoped for.

By this time I really had to wee. There was the relay change over spot but no loos right next to it to conveniently use. I waited until right after 10 mile mark – while on the phone to my brother who was helping me do Twitter updates – I saw an open gate that led to a field where it’d be easy to relieve yourself. And I did.

Timing for big events like these are done with little RFID chips you wear on your shoe or – like now – around your ankle. All you do is run over this mat and it knows your there. It’s a pretty cool application for simple technology that could be more widely used. I really wonder how they did runner times for large scale races before RFID. Sounds impossible.

At 2:03:25 I stepped my foot on the half way timing point. Pretty steady speed I had kept up from the beginning.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Darina had just phoned me so I knew to expect them somewhere after 15 miles. This stretch after 14 miles was annoying if anything else. We saw the soon-to-be-winners of the race. They had a big Mercedes SUV in front of them with the time 2:03. (Winner of the race, Martin Williams, came in at 2:18:24.) Strangely and very unlikely for Scotland, the weather wasn’t turning for worse. Or it was, not just in the way you’d expect when saying it was getting worse. It was getting hotter and hotter and the last turning place wasn’t even close.

Probably one of my favorite bits of the race was before Gosford House on a field that led to a forest, one of the only places that had shadows. I think it was the variation that this field gave to the endlessly long, almost straight roads.

I wonder if they allow visitors at Gosford House, it looked pretty nice.

After the forest, we got back to the road leading back into Musselburgh. About 7.5 miles to go. I can’t remember if it was just before or right after the 19 mile mark but it was by far the most de-moralising part of the day. The water point that was supposed to have water, energy drink and gels was dry. No water, no nothing. We had already done a good couple of miles in the fields since the last water point and people were pretty angry to not get anything. What made it worse was that we had no idea if there’d be any more water before the finishing line. It was pretty bad.

I’m pretty sure we passed another one or two dry water points, guessing from the clusters of empty bottles we passed. Luckily there was a ten-year-old girl spraying water on us from the curb. I stopped to get some refreshment from the ice cold water. That was pretty sweet.

It must have been around 22 miles when we got more water and energy drinks, not too late but it took a while to get recharged.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Last miles went by really slowly, I had to walk for 50 meters three or four times, just to get motivated to continue. It wasn’t that my leg were hurting; joints were fine and I had no chafing, just really, almost completely, exhausted. Mad feeling.

But, like many things, it finally came to an end. Darina and Eilish were there just after 26 mile mark and I could see the finishing line. I crossed it and I cried like a little girl.

It was absolutely amazing.

–kristian

*as big of a metric fan as I am….

Pre-posting update:
It was a massive mistake and a failure the organiser did with the water stations. Not only was it annoying, it was literally putting runners lives in danger. 5000 out of the 13000 runners who started pulled out. 10 treated in hospital and 160 by medical staff by the route. There was also other issues that the organisers will have to improve upon for next year. More toilets along the course and better signage all around the event. I was quite disappointed to find in my goody bag a t-shirt meant for ‘the Hairy Haggis’ – relay team. It wasn’t a problem getting a new one sent out after I called them today.

With all the problems they had, I’m definite that I’ll run it again one year. They will listen to the criticism and make it a better event. It’s a beautiful and a fast route and I’d recommend it to anyone.

Few more photos from Edinburgh Marathon:

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