Saturday, 27 September 2014


This new heart-rate based workout is a killer.  It is apparently much more intense than that candy-ass (!) workout I had previously been doing, because I have been positively dragging ass all week.  By this morning I could barely get myself out of bed, although some of that may have had to do with the ride-along with a merchandiser I did yesterday, putting product on shelves for 8 hours. 

Amusingly, I wore my Polar H7 heart rate monitor yesterday while merchandising, just to see how hard I was working.  Which was, it turns out, barely at all - - my average heart rate for the 4 hours until my phone died was 84 beats a minute, which qualifies as "awake" but is not anything near a workout. 

It felt like a workout, though, what with stomping around on concrete grocery store floors in my steel-toed boots for 8 hours.  My legs ached from all the walking so that it was hard to fall asleep last night, even though I was exhausted. 

I had to actually have a nap this afternoon because I was falling asleep on my feet this morning at shopping and coffee with the Matriarch, and even after my nap it was all I could do to finish the 60 minutes on the elliptical at a decent heart rate.  I was able to keep an average heart rate of 132 bpm for the workout (mostly zone 2 with a little zone 3), which, although not the most intense workout I have ever done, feels like about the most I could have survived today.  And even after dinner I am still feeling my legs.  They're not painful, exactly, but I am noticing that they are there, which is a strange feeling.

I am hoping that next week is a bit better, and that my body will get used to this new and improved workout so that I do not feel exhausted all the time.  When I am tired I want to snack and sleep, and while one of those impulses is good, the other is counterproductive. 

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Well THAT was a workout...!

I may have just experienced my first real endorphin, because hot damn that workout felt great, even though I was pushing myself more than I have done in years, apparently.

Today was the first day of the new experiment with the heart rate monitor and trying to get into a proper training zone.  My previous workouts on the elliptical were done on an incline of 10 (out of 20) and at a tension of 5 (out of 20).  I had briefly flirted with a tension of 6 for about 2 minutes about a year ago, but it was hard so I quickly went back to 5 (hangs head in shame).

Yesterday when I wore the new heart rate monitor for the first time to properly see how I was doing vis a vis training zones, I was properly mortified to see how easily I had actually been taking things (albeit unintentionally).  Although my elliptical workouts felt tough to me (in my head, anyways), that was just an illusion - - my body was so accustomed to the workouts that they were just not challenging enough any more (challenging, that is, physically). 

Today I resolved to push the tension up until my heart rate went into a proper training zone.  No more baby tension for me - - today I started at a tension of 6...then 7, but after 25 minutes my heart rate was only begrudgingly above 121 bpm.  It was clear that drastic measures were required.  That's right - - it was time for tension 8

It turns out that 8 was the magic number, for me at least.  You can see in the above chart exactly where I kicked it up to 8, because it's where my heart rate went into the green zone (121-139) and stayed there pretty consistently until the end. 

I can really feel this workout in my legs right now, which is the first time in a long time that I have noticed my legs after an elliptical workout, so maybe there is something to this heart rate zone training after all.

All I know is that I felt great throughout my workout, and I felt super great after it finished - - full of energy and ready to tackle the world.  Fortunately I was able to have a rye and Diet Coke and sit and read for a bit until the feeling passed, but wow, it felt great while it lasted! (grin)

It looks like heart rate zone training will continue to be part of my ongoing workout routine.  Level 8 - - I'll be back for you tomorrow!

Friday, 19 September 2014

The good news and the bad news

I have tried three new things in the past week, and today has been the first day that everything has been tried together.

First off, the good news is that I have EXCELLENT cardio health.  How do I know this?  Aside from the fact that my resting heart rate is usually 40-45 bpm, I recently started using a heart rate monitor again and it is very difficult for me to get out of the "mild workout" zone.  Damn cardio fitness.  It wasn't too long ago that merely turning over in bed would have pushed my heart rate to 220 bpm and walking down the hallway was considered a vigorous cardio workout.  Those days are gone.

Let me take a step back to give some context. 

As you know, I started a new job 4 months ago, and among many other positive qualities my company places a strong emphasis on personal fitness.  The company fielded a corporate team in the recent Weekend to End Women's Cancers 32 km charity walk, and they encourage employees to wear pedometers to become aware of their activity levels.  The company also has a partnership with Virgin Pulse, an online and app-based fitness tracker that gives members points for performing and recording physical activity. 

Although I have been working at the company for 4 months, it took Virgin Pulse 3.75 months to recognize me as an employee of said company, and so I was only able to register my account last week ... two days after the big 32 km walk.  Curses and shakings of fists were had in my office, to no avail.  But I am registered now, which is what counts.

One of the elements of the Virgin Pulse program is that users can get points for manually entering workouts, but users can get more points for validated workouts confirmed by a pedometer and a heart rate monitor.  In my case I have been wearing a Fitbit for years - - although the poor little guys die out regularly, Fitbit customer service is excellent about replacing the units- - and Virgin Pulse syncs my Fitbit steps. Score one for Virgin Pulse and wearing a Fitbit all day.

But it has been more than a year since I have worn a heart rate monitor.  I used to wear one when I used the Digifit app, but the app was very hinky and kept crashing so often that I just stopped using it - - and I also stopped using the heart rate monitor.  This Virgin Pulse program was a new opportunity to try the whole heart rate monitor thing again.

In the intervening year and a half since I last wore a heart rate monitor my cardio has significantly improved.  Imagine my disappointment last night when I did a quick test spin on the elliptical trainer for 14 minutes and I could not get my heart rate above 120 bpm for more than 10 bloody seconds.  WTF??  When did this happen?  Sheesh (yes, yes, I fully understand the irony of being disappointed that my heart health is good).

This morning I did my usual 45 minute elliptical session with the machine at a ramp of 10 and a tension of 5, and I was stunned to see that what I had always thought of as an intense exercise (judged purely by the amount I was sweating, which may not be scientifically accurate) was in fact really a "light" exercise, with 63% of the time spent in training zone 2 (104 bpm - 121 bpm), and a mere 4% spent in zone 3 (122 bpm - 139 bpm).  What an eye-opener.  Apparently in my case the "sweat of the brow" scale of effort does not correlate to heart rate, much. 

Needless to say, the calorie burn recorded by the heart rate monitor mirrored these results, giving me a burn of about 252 calories over the 45 minutes rather than the 450 calories that the elliptical gave me credit for, or the 500+ calories that MyFitnessPal thinks I should have burned.  Ouch!

Things only got worse when I turned to my new Zumba Dance workout.  I say Zumba Dance rather than merely Zumba because I am using the Zumba Dance app (the officially sanctioned Zumba app), to get a Zumba workout at home.  I quite enjoy it, actually, although it is pricy to purchase all of the different dance packages (around $30 all-in), but all the reviews I read recommended the variety to avoid wearout and boredom.  So far, so fun.

As it turns out, I am completely uncoordinated when it comes to moving my hands and feet at the same time, so most of the time I am shuffling around and waving my arms (apparently randomly, but in reality almost-but-not-quite mirroring the instructor) looking the opposite of graceful.  Kind of like a dancing zombie ... a dancing zombie in yoga pants and sports bra.  I am starting to get used to the Zumba-type movements over time, and ever so slowly I am starting to be able to shuffle my feet in more of a dance-like way, but it's still a loooonnnnggg way from proper Zumba technique.   

This morning marks my third Zumba Dance workout, and I have found it an enjoyable way to work out, and certainly it is a nice change from grim death marches or the elliptical.  Judging from the amount I was sweating (again, I understand this is not a scientific measure, even if it feels scientific), it sure felt like a good workout.  "Not so!" says my heart rate monitor - - 70% of my 30 minute workout was in Zone 1, or at a heart rate below 104 bpm.  Ack!

Soooooo.... it looks like I am going to have to take up the resistance on the elliptical to try and bump up my heart rate. Not sure what to do with the Zumba Dance app, but I do note that I am using the short intro class, which is probably easier than the more advanced stuff.

I don't mind my low heart rate too much, actually, because knowledge is power, and it's nice to know that my cardio is so good after two and half years of working out that I need to really push things to increase the challenge.  I won't say that I got complacent, exactly (*ahem*), I will just say that it was easy to push what I felt was a good amount - - when it turns out that I was barely pushing at all. 

So this is really a good news/bad news kind of thing.  The good news is that my cardio is great, and the bad news is that I have been overcounting my calorie burn for, well, years.  But back to the good news, I now have the tools to try and break out of this little rut and stretch myself again, which makes me happy.

So once again it is time to kick things up a notch.  Bring it on!  But this time I am bringing it on armed with better data, just like the numbers geek I am.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Trying to get this zen thing down

One of my biggest challenges whenever I have worked to lose weight (both back in 2000 and more recently over the past couple of years), is that I am impatient.  I want to lose weight, and I want to lose it now.  I am sure that this is because somewhere in the dinosaur part of the back of my mind is the idea that if I just lose the weight, I can go back to "eating normally" and stop working out.

Of course you and I both know that this thinking is based on an inherently faulty premise, namely, that one can ever really "stop" eating healthy and working out if one wants to stay healthy. 

I am starting to discover that lifestyle change is just that - - a change in one's overall lifestyle.  This is something that continues on and on and on, no matter what one's weight.  Viewed through the lens of lifestyle change, it really doesn't matter whether I am overweight (as I currently am), or morbidly obese (as I once was), or a normal BMI (as I once was, ever so briefly) - - the lifestyle does not change. 

I am slowly, over time, coming to realize (and more importantly, to accept), that being vigilant about what I eat and working out 6 days a week are just part of my life from now on.  Like a recovering alcoholic, a recovering "foodaholic" like me needs to be constantly aware of the opportunities for backsliding as well as aware of coping mechanisms to deal with the addiction. 

In my case, my most successful coping mechanisms have involved regular exercise and logging my food consumption in a food diary.  I will likely need to keep a food diary for years no matter what my weight is, because I am still working through my tendency to overeat and binge.  Emotional eating is never more than arm's length away for me, and I need to keep tracking to keep myself accountable. 

Surprisingly, the exercise has been easier for me this time (compared to back in 2000).  Back in 2000, I was doing 60 minutes a day with a combination of recumbent bike (boring!), NordicTrac ski machine (too challenging), and weight machine every other day (super fun).  I learned that consistency is critical, and the key to consistency is finding a workout routine that you can maintain.  For me now this means elliptical machine (a true godsend), free weights, and walking, along with opportunistic exercise like swimming or kayaking on occasion. 

This time I am not so desperate to hit my goal weight just so that I can stop working out, because I know that working out will be a part of my life even after I reach my goal weight - - perhaps not to the same intensity, but it will still be a part of every day.  I hate to admit it, but perhaps I have started to experience endorphins.  In other words, working out makes me feel good.  More accurately, perhaps, finishing a workout makes me feel good, but I do love that feeling of accomplishment that comes from pushing myself and getting a good sweat on. 

I would not say that I have reached a Zen-like state of perfect acceptance.  But I am getting there.  I am focusing less on "when will I hit my goal weight?" and more on "what can I do as part of my healthy lifestyle today?" I still would love to hit a normal BMI, but I am beginning to recognize that it is the journey, and the mental changes I am making along the way, that is important. 

So not quite Zen, then, but Zen-in-progress.  I'll take that.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Achievement unlocked - 20 mile charity walk and 50,000 steps in one day!

After months of training and lots of pre-event jitters, I am pleased to announce that the Nerd and I completed the Weekend to End Women's Cancers 1-day charity walk here in Toronto, along with the rest of our Coca-Cola Canada team and more than 3,000 other walkers. 
The walk training schedule that got us to the end intact

Let's start off with the training.  A good friend recommended that we follow a training schedule to get our bodies (and especially our feet) in condition for the Walk, and I have to say that this is a definite key to our success and enjoyment of the event.  Sore feet are no fun at all from what we could see from other walkers, and we were blissfully free of any blisters or chafing to speak of.  Physically, aside from being tired and sweaty (in other words, super glamorous), we had absolutely no sequellae from the Walk.  In fact, we were basically back to normal the very next day, something I did not expect. 

The next day, both the Nerd and I felt fine, albeit a little more tired in the legs than usual during our normal workouts.  We slept great the evening of the walk, and had no significant leg pain to speak of.  And this morning it was back to my normal elliptical routine with 60 minutes on the elliptical, and I felt great (other than the fact that I was on the elliptical machine for 60 minutes, that is!).  Although I did begrudge the time spent doing the training walks when we were doing them, the training and preparation sure paid off.  I know it is possible to do the Walk without training at all, but we had more fun than some of the people who did not prepare simply because our conditioning was exactly what we needed and because we felt fine all the way through. 

Before the Walk - a little nervous...and damp
The walk to the Skydome from our place was rainy, and although we had completed numerous training walks in everything from high humidity to drizzles to torrential downpours, a rainy day would have promised to make a long walk feel just that much longer. 

Fortunately for us though, although it started off grey and drizzly, the day quickly cleared up into intermittent sun and clouds, not too hot, and with a nice breeze.  Perfect walking conditions, in other words.
Waiting for the start
Before the walk we met with the rest of the Coca-Cola team, listened to bursts of almost entirely incomprehensible noise from the loudspeakers (apparently these were motivational speeches, but between distortion and echoes from loud noise in a largely empty stadium, I could barely understand a word) and avoided doing any of the stretching that our other Walkers engaged in. 

Traffic jam
We did not train with stretching and had no problems along the way, and I didn't want to change things up at the 11th hour.  I was comforted in this decision by thinking back on dinner with friends the night before where one was espousing the benefits of being a "supple leopard" - - after all, leopards do not stretch before chasing down prey, so why do we?  I won't claim to be anything close to "supple" (I'm more of a stiff plank, myself), but we are none the worse for having not stretched at all during the day.  I noticed that other walkers were stretching at almost every rest stop, and it allowed us to get ahead of a lot of people simply because we did not stop other than for lunch, and once to eat some fruit at a pit stop.

With the speeches done it was time to hit the road...only to get caught up in the mother of all traffic jams made up of literally thousands of walkers.  Toronto traffic is bad at the best of times, and it is good to know that sidewalk traffic can be just as messed up.  It was worst at the start, but equally bad on some of the small neighborhood streets we were traversing, simply because the sidewalks there were never designed for foot traffic in our numbers. 

Although our team wanted to walk together, we were pretty far back in the pack and the Nerd and I are impatient people by nature so he and I tried to follow our natural pace that quickly took us closer to the front.  It turns out that we finished reasonably far ahead of the rest of our team, but as everyone had fun and made it to the end, I think it still counts as mission accomplished for us all.

One of the more moving moments of the Walk was when we passed Princess Margaret Hospital (the recipient of our fundraising dollars) and ran a veritable gauntlet of doctors and patients cheering us all on.  I am not ashamed to admit that I got a little misty eyed at that point, which I am blaming on air pollution or someone cutting onions in the vicinity rather than the attack of the feels which it really was.  Very moving, to say the least, especially when you consider that all we were doing was spending one day taking rather a longer walk than usual, and those people are fighting the battle against cancer every single day.  I tried to clap and cheer them, but I do not know if they could hear me over the general cacophony.
The 2014 Walk to End Women's Cancers Walk Route - Day 1
Our route took us all over the midtown and west areas of Toronto, generally no further north than Bloor Street and out past High Park (the big green bit in the map above) to the Humber River valley.  We did not go into High Park itself which I found surprising, but it probably would have resulted in shorter mileage, given its location relative to downtown.  Although much of our walk was familiar, we got to discover some new bits too, like the Humber River valley south of our walk last weekend.  Once we hit the Waterfront Trail after lunch I knew we were within 6 miles of home, because this had been part of our first long training walk, the one that saw me almost crippled at 8 miles.  Now here I was at 14+ miles feeling fine and passing people.  Yay for training and gradually building up distances.

The very final stretch was through another gauntlet of cheering volunteers into the Skydome itself with our arrival announced via the PA system to all in the area and our faces on the jumbotron.  Well, the Nerd's face and the top of my head, probably, as I kept looking down at the stairs we had to descend to make sure I did not wipe out in front of all and sundry (I remained trip free on the day, yipee, although I did get stepped on once and elbowed once in the chest - ouch!). 
After the walk, glad to be done!

Once we arrived we took stock and were pleased to note that our only physical symptoms after our long walk was a little stiffness and tiredness in the legs.  We were feeling so fine that we walked the mile and a half home and even did a little grocery shopping, although we perhaps looked a little more bedraggled than usual.  Understand me when I say that bedraggled is probably being kind. 

We had one additional win for the day, as if doing a good deed, pushing our limits, and discovering hidden strengths was not enough - - both the Nerd and I topped out at more than 50,000 steps during the day, the first time either of us have done that. 

And to think, all it took was spending 6 hours walking 22 miles (give or take, including the walks to and from the Skydome).  Trust me when I say that this feat will not soon be replicated, at least not by me!

Would I do it again?  Very likely, if I am still at my current company.  After all, now they know I can do it, so there's no excuse not to do it again...but we don't need to worry about that right now.  All that matters is that there are no training walks for me in the near future - - any walks I take will be for fun...and maybe for fitness.

Back to the normal routine tomorrow!