Evening Bike Ride

Surly Cross Check on the New Trail Bridge

I took an hour ride after work today.  Beautiful night, great workout weather, and wonderful fall trees.  I rode the Surly!  Starting to love it, but the stock  brakes are HORRIBLE. Is it just the pads? Worse than a tandom I had, which vastly  improved with just a brake pad upgrade. My bike shop is moving 100 yards from my house so that problem will get solved soon.

As you can see Fall is beautiful here in the Midwest.

I arrived him as it was getting dark. Commuter traffic is so dangerous here. One car turned tight toward me as I was making a left, and they were making a right, off of a residential side street.  That stretch is treacherous, and especially so during rush hour when when it corresponds with dusk.

Safety First

I love the new battery powered LED lights.  Finally bike lights worth the money.


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My Bicycle Commute Home

Today I decided to document my ride home from work.  It was a beautiful fall day.  So, this is just a picture essay. The pictures start outside the building where my office is, and then end about a quarter mile from my house.  There is also one picture of me – for the record.

I am so glad I took these photographs.  It helped me to appreciate the incredible trail network we have here in Columbia, Missouri, and it made me notice the beauty and diversity of my ride home.  Columbia is one of the top 50 bicycle cities in America according to Bicycle Magazine.  For good reason.  Also, for once I paid attention.

NOTE:  I just updated this.  The slideshow was not working so I made a quick change – now the pictures are just presented in order.

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WillPower: The Book

The single best nonfiction book I have read this year, and maybe the best one I have read in three or more years, was Willpower:  Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister, and  John Tierney published by The Penguin Press in 2011.  I will save you the trouble and provide you the Amazon link here.  According to Wikipedia Roy Baumeister is the internationally known “Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.”  You can also visit his faculty web site.

This book offers remarkable insight into the obstacles we face when losing weight, exercising, and otherwise trying to lead an organized, healthy, fulfilling, and productive lifestyle.

I always highlight, and write notes when I read, if the book is intriguing. I then go back and take notes.  I have not done that yet, but below is a list of the most memorable, and useful items, that I remember from my first visit. In no particular order:

  • although we can increase our capacity for using willpower, it is also something that can be depleted.  When it is depleted you make bad choices you regret later.
  • making too many decisions too fast can deplete willpower. This phenomenon is known as decision fatigue and is related to the next item:
  • willpower requires energy (our brain is 2% of our body but consumes a whooping 20% of the total calories we burn).  If our energy is depleted our willpower, along with other functions, decreases.
  • we can have too many goals.  It is not a good idea to have a large  laundry list of goals (and goals are not to be confused with tasks).  Finishing a degree, writing that novel, and remodeling the house, while you are trying to lose weight is probably not a good idea.
  • organization is the friend of willpower.  The more organized you are the less stress, and cognitive energy, goes into finding things, doing things at the last minute or missing deadlines, and worrying about what has not been done.  Unfinished business, commitments, and obligations creates an “open loop.” This leads to yet one more item:
  • I personally think that it is essential to have some kind of organizing system like the Getting Things Done (GTD) system of David Allen which postulates the aforementioned “open loop” problem.  Tame your tasks. Unfinished business creates an open loop and we often have lots of little, and big, unfinished tasks, commitments, and promises. We are into something else, or maybe two other things, and suddenly remember another thing we forgot to do because we have no system of keeping track of what needs to be done, and what has already been accomplished.  That is known as a todo list my friend.  Get one, and love it.   The GTD system is specifically mentioned in the book and I have had fantastic results with it so far and I am just in the early stages of learning it.  I will be reviewing that book next since I am still reading it.
  • avoid having to make too many decisions and especially trivial ones.  Make a decision, and unless it is a disaster or obviously the wrong one stick with it.   Either have yogurt or egg whites for breakfast and stop worrying about it. They are both good choice.  Wear the gray or black socks.  Does it Preplanning meals, workouts, and activities is a best practice.  You can be flexible but don’t fret too much about first world problems or matters that well, don’t matter.
  • habits are your friend.  If something is habitual you don’t have a chance to think about it.

I also think that reducing clutter (in all areas of your life), and practicing some degree of minimization is helpful.  Everything is connected.

The book is not the complete instruction manual for building willpower I was hoping for.  It was also written in 2011, and I am sure there has been a lot of good research since then.  But, it is entertaining, and filled with lots of great information that you can apply.  I will be investigating the phenomenon of what we call willpower from the psychological and neuroscience perspective to try to see what best practices are being developed.  It is a fascinating and useful field.

How Many Calories Did I Just Burn?

I have found that keeping accurate records has been helpful to me as far as getting in shape, and staying there.  That means using quantifiable metrics to measure how much, how far, and how often.  Keeping records has helped me immensely although I am throttling back on how, and what, I keep track of, and especially how I do it.

We are obsessed by calories, but for good reason.  They do matter, and you ignore them to  your peril.  I know I did.  Unfortunately I think measuring calories burned, and to a lesser extent calories consumed, can be problematic. So what are we talking about?

What is a calorie?

Most of us know that food has a quality about it that we call calories, but what is it?  It is:

The amount of energy, or heat, it takes to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). One calorie is equal to 4.184 joules, a common unit of energy used in the physical sciences.

Most of us think of calories in relation to food, as in “This can of soda has 200 calories.” It turns out that the calories on a food package are actually kilocalories (1,000 calories = 1 kilocalorie). The word is sometimes capitalized to show the difference, but usually not. A food calorie contains 4,184 joules. A can of soda containing 200 food calories contains 200,000 regular calories, or 200 kilocalories.

from:  http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/diet-fitness/weight-loss/calorie1.htm

Our body:

… needs calories (energy) to survive, without energy our cells would die, our hearts and lungs would stop, and we would perish. We acquire this energy from food and drink.

If we consume just the number of calories our body needs each day, every day, we will probably enjoy happy and healthy lives. If our calorie consumption is too low or too high, we will eventually experience health complications.

The number of calories foods contain tells us how much potential energy they posses. Below are the calorific values of the three main components of the food we eat:

–   1 gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories

–   1 gram of protein contains 4 calories

–   1 gram of fat contains 9 calories.

from: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263028.php

How Many Calories Do We Consume By Exercise?

It is technically possible to measure how many calories we are burning  with  some precession.  Unfortunately it is not yet practical (issues with reliability and validity) since it currently requires laboratory conditions although advances in wearable technology coupled with smart phone technology will probably change that in two to five years.  In the meantime what we  have are essentially estimates, based on laboratory findings.  These estimates use  calculations that take into account some combination of age, weight, type of activity (running, walking, bicycling, etc.), intensity, and duration .  There are several formulas, and it depends on which formula is being  used.

How Are Calories Burned Measured?

Most modern exercise equipment has some kind of calories burned function.  GPS watches, smart phone apps, and web sites will also give you an estimate, and remember it is an estimate.  Accuracy will vary as we are about to see.

Lately I have been using the MapMyRun app on my iPhone 5 to keep track of time, distance, and calories burned while running.  It syncs with MyFitnessPal which I switched to from Livestrong’s MyPlate app (which I think was actually better).  Before that I used my Timex Marathon GPS watch  for time and distance while ignoring the ridiculously low caloric estimates it provided.  Instead I ignored the calories burned number on the GPS watch, and used the calories burned calculator from Runners World (which is specifically for running, and is available online)  using the time and distance from the Timex.  I stopped  that practice after I got the iPhone.   But, last week I decided to compare the two methods because I suspected the results from MapMyRun were too high.

For 3.19 miles, at a 10:50 pace here are the results from MapMyRun;

MyFitnessPal calculation

Here are the results from Runnersworld.com for the same workout. I used time and distance from MapMyRun.*

Runners World CalculationMy schoolboy arithmetic indicates a difference of over 18%, or nearly 100 calories.  I would say that is a significant difference.  Subsequent comparisons showed the same pattern.  The MapMyRun app  is consistently more optimistic when it comes to how many  calories I burned.

Which One Is Right?

I have no idea.  I know that the Runners World site does not take into account age or gender.  MapMyRun has access to all that information, but I do not know if it uses it. I decided to use the more conservative measure from the Runners World website for two reasons:

1.  Tired of lugging around the iPhone.  I never found a way to secure it comfortably or usefully other than holding it in my hand. Am I turning into one of those people?  I hope note. Also, battery life is problematic, and sometimes it just does strange and wacky things.

2.  I wanted to be more conservative and go with the lower estimate.

That means I am back to using my Timex GPX watch in conjunction with the Runners World website.

Are There Other Measurements?

Yes.  Some consider measurement of the heart rate over time as the best estimate.The Journal of Sports Sciences  provides the following two calculations based based on gender:

Males Calories Burned = [(Age x 0.2017) — (Weight x 0.09036) + (Heart Rate x 0.6309) — 55.0969] x Time / 4.184.

Females Calories Burned = [(Age x 0.074) — (Weight x 0.05741) + (Heart Rate x 0.4472) — 20.4022] x Time / 4.184.

Those calculations would be difficult to do in  your head while  you are out running or on the elliptical machine. Also, have you ever tried to take your pulse rate manually while running?  Of course this method requires a heart rate monitor, and the sophisticated software that comes with them.  I am still doing my research.  My current understanding is that good ones are expensive, and there can be problems with their accuracy as well.

What to do?

I think we are inclined to underestimate the calories we eat, and overestimate the calories we burn.  Because of that, I am comfortable in going with the lower number calculated by the Runners World website. I also know there are ongoing issues with reliability and validity when we measure some things (such as calories burned), but we have more mature technology measuring others (such as distance and time).  Probably the best we can do is utilize the tools we have with care, caution, and consistency.  More later.

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*M y tests show reasonable consistency between MapMyRun, the Timex GPS watch, and my bicycle computer regarding distance and time, but between them the calories burned estimates are inconsistent.

Running Ugly: The Upcoming Book

This is the preface of my  upcoming book Running Ugly: A Fitness Memoir.  I would love to get feedback from you.  

Preface

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month or even one year – but for a lifetime. Bill Rodgers (American marathon runner. b. 1947).

This is the story of a very ordinary runner, and a very ordinary person. No matter what they mean to me, my accomplishments are modest to the world, and if there are any strengths in this book it lies in that fact. This is a book for persons of modest means. What I have managed to accomplish was by the way of humble tools, and a meager athletic ability, fortified by persistence. I am still astonished at what happened, and can scarcely recognize my own hand in it.

I started this book when I was 56, and will be over 59 years old before it is done. In the meantime I have explored the jagged edges of my emotional, physical, and spiritual capabilities. In the meantime I have twice become a grandparent. I have become more at peace, and more comfortable, with myself. Fitness, the weight loss, all those original goals have become secondary. It turns out running was a tool, maybe even a metaphor, for something else, and there is no denying the existential aspect of what running represents. But, we cannot run forever. We must take time for other things, and eventually even the best runner can run no more. Aging is something that we cannot conquer but, that we can perhaps come to a gentleman’s agreement with.

What is this book about? This book is about a journey to regain my health so I could live better, and perhaps longer, and where that journey ultimately led me. I wrote it because I think there are a lot of people like me, and that I may have learned something from my experience that may be useful to them. I also wrote it for deeply personal reasons, perhaps even selfish reasons, as part of my struggle to understand what happened as well as what it might all mean in the end. This book is also about hope. This book is also about our ability to assume at least some control of our destiny rather than to be passive recipients of what popular culture wants to spoon feed us figuratively, and literally. This book is about running ugly. So what is running ugly?

Running ugly means running for the joy and the benefit of it rather than for the laurels of victory or the false accomplishment of trying to look good. If the laurels, and looking good, come to us it is a by-product of almost no consequence. A light desert to an already satisfying feast. Running itself is always a process, never a product. When you are in your fifties you are no longer the belle at the ball, and in our youth oriented society you are considered a has been anyway. So why doll yourself up for nothing? Don’t worry about how you look, how fast you are going, if you look weird, if you run strange, or lumber about on the track without grace. If so, you are probably doing something right. At the very least you are at least doing it. You have been freed from the the prison of the couch. Just run.

Run ugly. Run often. And if you can’t run too far, or often, do what you can. If you cannot run walk. If you cannot walk, live a mindful life. Exist with gratitude for the experience of being a part of it all.

I said earlier that running ugly is a metaphor. Perhaps a metaphor for something very much beyond running. Perhaps it means for us to have patience, curiosity, and grace as we explore the contours of our lives in order to make meaning of it. Perhaps it means that we cultivate an inner beauty by letting outer appearances take care of themselves as we strive to become beautiful on the inside. To become kinder to ourselves and others. I went outside to run, but instead entered a classroom.

Before & After: What Running Ugly Did for Me

What a winter!  Every February is a trial and now that we are into March we are one day away, this Friday, from mild weather.  It is not so much the cold here in Missouri as it is the huge variability. If the weather would stay the same I would be able to get used to it.  It is amazing that after all these years it still effects me so strongly.

Instead of running as much as I would like,  I have been working out inside at home, and at the gym.   I found a great weight routine that I will be sharing in my next post.  However today I thought I would share a before and after picture of me.   I found them this evening when I was going through photos.

man and women running outside
This is a picture of me running my first 5k after loosing about sixty pounds. You can see I still have a long ways to go.

The first picture is what I looked like over two years ago after I had already lost around sixty pounds.  This was my first 5k in over thirty years and I ran it with all my kids – three young women, and my son, as well as my daughter in law. It wasn’t pretty but I got it done.  My maiden voyage.  It was a bit cool, but otherwise a beautiful day, and it was good to be with my family. By the way, the shoes pictured in the masthead are the very ones I was wearing in the above picture.  I still have them in my closet. I lost a lot of weight walking and running in those shoes.

Man holding bab with three young women.
Me holding my first grandchild, pictured with my three daughters. Very blessed to have them all.

This next picture is the after picture – about a year and a half later.  In the meantime I have lost  another forty pounds or so, and gained a granddaughter. You can see my three beautiful daughters, as well as my granddaughter, in this picture. I have a lot to be grateful for.  It has been a wonderful journey.

When I started running again (after a thirty year layoff following the untimely  death of my running mentor Arnie Richards), I had made the decision to start running ugly.  I decided to throw my ego to one side and do it regardless of what I looked like.  I didn’t even think about it.   Otherwise I would have never moved on.  And, if  I can do it anyone else can.  You just have to start.  You don’t have to run fast, you don’t even have to run far, and you don’t even have to start running at all – just walk.  The secret is to just start.  I started by walking one mile and kept at it.  I was absolutely thrilled when I worked my way up to running a mile without stopping. Every time I run I am thankful for one more opportunity to move, feel alive, and be in this wonderful world.

Coming up a story about weight lifting for masters/senior runners as well as an article about running safety.

$49.99: The Affordable Misfit Flash Fitness Band

Box for the Misfit In an early post I wrote about the 10,000 step fitness phenomenon. The premise is that 10,000 walking steps per day is a good fitness goal, and there is good reason to believe that it is effective for those who use walking as their primary means of exercise. Other than finding the time to complete 10,000 steps, counting those steps can be a challenge as well, but advances in technology have made the task easier. Pedometers have been around for awhile and some of the better ones do work with reasonable accuracy and reliability. Nothing wrong with some of the better ones, but some of the cheaper models are useless. The modern smart phone, the tech equivalent of the Swiss Army Knife, has made many task easier, including keeping track of fitness data, and specifically in counting your steps. About two months ago I became intrigued with the Misfit Flash which resembles a wrist watch, and links to synchronize with a smart phone app available in Android or iPhone flavors. At $49.99 it is certainly one of the most, if not the most, affordable of the increasingly crowded wearable fitness bands that link with the users smart phone.

My impression is favorable with some caveats. The Misfit does some other things like tell IMG_1212time, albeit oddly, track sleep, and supposedly monitor other fitness activity. I did not use it for anything else. I did use it for monitoring how many steps I walked, and for that it performed admirably. The one issue I did have, and a colleague of mine experienced as well, is for the plastic wrist band to break at the circular ring part that holds the actual Misfit device in place. Replacement bands are pricey from the company, but are available on eBay from Chinese importers for about three bucks. The Misfit also comes with a clip which you can use instead of the band but I found another solution. I just put it in my sock and called it a day. Worked great.

If you want to try a fitness band for a rather modest investment, and want to track your steps this is a good product. Do keep in mind that the band the main unit snaps into is rather fragile and prone to breaking. It does comes with a clip that you can use to clip it onto your clothing but I have to tell you putting it in my sock worked as well as anything else.

Below are two screen shots, from different days. While I cannot vouch for the other functions the MIsfit, does do a good job of tracking your steps.  I also like the fact that the Misift is not always linked to your smart phone but links via blue tooth when you want it to update.  There was an unexpected benefit as well.  The device challenged me to reach my goal of 10,000 steps.  To do that I would park further away, a practice I advocate but don’t always follow, and talk longer roundabout walks in general.  It adds up.

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