Saturday, January 31, 2015

Tis the end of January

Another month, another set of stats to reflect upon. Of course this month has been different because I've not only carried my trusty pedometer, but I've also had my Polar Loop too.

I've already blogged about the Loop and the way it measures "body movements" which are converted into steps compared to the pedometer that simply measures steps as best it can. Anyway, here are the stats as recorded by the pedometer.

Total steps: 369, 313

Approximate mileage: 185

Despite my calf injury sustained in the last couple of days I actually managed to make my daily target, so that means I've now reached 153 consecutive days of 10k steps a day. On the other hand, January has been my lowest overall total since September.

The Loop recorded the equivalent of 527, 122 steps, which I assume means I swing my arms a lot when I play tennis! Oh, and there's a bit of swimming in there too. Overall, the Loop recorded 7 days 13 hours of activity. This breaks down into 4 days 5 hours standing, 1 day 21 hours walking and 1 day 10 hours running. If I could do 4 miles an hour walking and say 6 running, then I could have travelled 384 miles. That's nearly all the way to Leeds and back!

Of course this is mostly idle speculation and a bit of fun with numbers. Both the pedometer and Loop serve to keep me motivated to get out and be active and I'll take every motivation I can get. I know that it only takes a day to break a habit, no matter how good a habit it is. In fact the better the habit, the easier it is to break it. Bad habits come naturally and are easy to keep, good habits are much hater work.

The calf muscle is responding well to rehab. I can't run, but walking is easier and I'm pleased to have managed to keep going even with the injury.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rice or meat after my injury?

So, soon after blogging about reaching my 150th day of 10k steps a day, and rambling on about targets and possibilities, I went straight out an injured myself. Turning to chase a cross-court backhand I felt the unmissable twang of a muscle strain. I hopped of the court, limped to the car and reach for the freeze spray and some compression bandage.

It was not good.

Back home, I strapped a Physicool bandage around my calf, elevated it and consoled myself for the next 30-40 minute by watching a bit of the Australian Open tennis on TV. I'll have a better idea tomorrow about how bad it is and how long it might take to rehab, but for now it looks like my consecutive day record will not go beyond 150.

The received wisdom with an injury like this is to apply the well-known RICE protocol. Rest, ice, compress, elevate,but there is an alternative that I came across a few years ago and that I've used on a more minor injury before. It's called the MEAT Proctocol, which stands for: Movement, Exercise, Analgesics, Treatment.

Movement begins soon after the injury, corrective exercise only after the acute phase has passed. Analgesics are pain relief (typically NSAID's like ibuprofen), and treatment speaks for itself, although treatment obviously varies according to the stage and severity of the injury.

The basic premise is that you need to start moving within the pain free range of motion as soon as possible in order to support the healing process. No moving, i.e. rest, doesn't help the blood flow which in turn doesn't help promote faster healing.

Clearly I'm not going to be able to run for a while, certainly not going to be able to play tennis, but I should be able to do some gentle walking. Hopefully I'll be racing around again sooner rather than later, but as with al injuries it's best to listen to what your therapist tells you. Unfortunately in my case that's me and although I talk to myself a lot, I rarely listen to what I'm saying!!

150 and still going!

Yesterday marked two milestones. Firstly, it was my 150th consecutive day of 10k steps or more. I worked out that I'm roughly 3 weeks away from hitting 6 months at this daily target. The other milestone was that yesterday was my first bout of the winter with the cold virus! Certainly having the flu jab in the autumn seems to have helped me avoid getting a cold so far, but it's finally nabbed me while I wasn't paying attention. Oh well, it should clear up pretty quickly, and in fact I already feel better today than I did yesterday. Let's hope that's not just a lull!

I also noticed that yesterday was the first day since I started wearing my Polar Loop that I didn't hit my target. I could have gone out in the evening and done enough, I only needed to jog for 5 minutes or so, but I decided enough was enough and I didn't need to push myself out the door for the sake a 2%. 98% of my daily target is quite possibly significantly more than many people without colds manage!

I remember years ago a friend saying that a target was like the bullseye you might aim at in darts or archery. Hitting the bullseye is great, but if you aim at it and miss, then you haven't missed the bigger target. If you run, you'll know all about personal bests. You might even be geeky enough to keep a notebook or spreadsheet about it. It's okay, if I were serious about running I'd have running journal of some kind I'm sure. PB's are subject to all sorts of things: fitness, terrain, weather, how you feel on the day, how many other people are around you and so on. Not making your PB every time you run is not a failure. The same is true of your health and fitness goals.

In the back of my mind I wonder if I can keep achieving my 10k goal every day for a year. I'm a very long way from doing that at the moment, so I don't think about much. It won't become even a remote possibility until I get to somewhere in June, and then not a real possibility until I hit August. Thinking about it now is just not realistic. In fact the only reason to think about it now is to encourage me to go out each day and finish, because if I don't then I can't achieve that particular goal. Okay, so that probably makes it realistic in some way, but the point is I'm not focussed on the 365 target, I'm just focussed on the 1 day target. The big target will take care of itself if I keep hitting the smaller one.

Maybe you set out at the beginning of the year with the intention of getting fitter or being healthier and you said to yourself that you were going to go for a walk everyday. Maybe you've managed it, maybe you haven't. It doesn't matter if you've missed a day or even a week as long as you get back out. Make each day a challenge, and when you can conquer that challenge, make each week a challenge. Do whatever it takes to keep yourself motivated and don't let the things that demotivate you take control.

Today is an interesting day. Now I've missed my activity target do I say to myself it's not worth the effort and give up on it. At least I hit my 10k target. Or do I simply say that yesterday was a good result given how I felt most of the day. Today I feel better, so there are no excuses not to achieve both goals. That's the choice I need to make.

Has anybody seen my tennis shoes!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Bit of an update on the iPod Touch and GPS

I posted a piece about using Runkeeper on my iPod Touch and the inaccuracy of the tracking I experienced with it. Given how well Runkeeper works on the iPhone, it can't be the app that's got the problem, it has to be something to do with how the device itself accesses its location.

Now there have been one or two occasions in the past when my old 3GS iPhone would produce a sudden leap off my know route leaving me both confused and with a PB unlikely ever to be beaten! That aside, I think I may have a handle on the issue with the iPod.

Reading an article about how to use your wifi only iPad or iPod to navigate around a city, it appears that these devices use a map of local hotspots to track your location. According to the article you can use your map to navigate simply by setting a route between to points while you are using say a local hotel's free wifi. Once you've done this, your device loads a database of all local hotspots.

So, if it's using hotspots rather than GPS (which might be a feature only available via the cellular data network I'm thinking), that would explain why it jumps around so much because it's not actually tracking your true position but rather the location of these hotspots. And if that is true, then the iPod will never be useful as a route tracking device which is a shame, but at least it gives me a wider range music to which I can listen while I run or walk.

The moral of the story is: If you want to listen to music, buy an iPod Touch, if you want to track your route, buy a GPS device!

Inactive, me, really!!

Okay, so this amused me a little bit today. I was looking back at my activity data for the last few weeks, wondering what it was going to look like at the end of a month of wearing the Polar Loop. Apparently I've averaged 169% of my daily goal so far. Some days it's much higher.

This activity overview is from a Friday a couple of weeks ago. It was a day when I'd spent 2 hours tennis training in the morning and another hour having a one-to-one session with my tennis coach in the afternoon.

According to the tracked data, I'd spent over 7 hours being active, counted nearly 25k steps and burned around 4000 Kcals.

Overall that meant I'd reached 300% of my daily activity goal. Yes, that's not a typo, it was 300%. So what made me smile?

See that small red triangle at around 18:00 on the left of the picture? That's an inactivity stamp. It means that for an hour I'd done nothing, just sat on the sofa. I probably fell asleep, given all the exercise I'd had during the day.

Maybe I should suggest that they redesign the software so that it uses a blue triangle to say you've been inactive for an hour but you probably needed the rest. Why don't you treat yourself to piece of cake!

Typically I get the inactivity stamps because I've been somewhere in the car that's taken over an hour. I'm not about to stop every 55 minutes to walk around just to stop little red triangles appearing on my timeline. As I look back over January so far, and in fact the whole month I've been wearing the Loop, I've actually only had 9 alerts about being inactive, and 6 of those were in 1 week.

Given that I've been sitting around doing a few bits of writing and admin so far today, I think I'd better get up move just in case I'm due another stamp. A little stroll should do the job.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Runkeeper on the iPod touch

I decided it was time I replaced my iPod touch that was stolen a year or so ago. I opted for the 16Gb version and called in at the Apple store while I was in Lakeside waiting for a call from the garage about the car (another story for another day). One of the reasons I decided to buy a new touch was that it will run apps like Runkeeper that use GPS to track movement. I rather assumed that the technology in the touch would be similar to the tech in the iPhone, but I got quite a surprise when I took out this evening for a short test run. I seemed to be covering the distance at quite a fair pace, and it wasn't long before I realised something was wrong. I know I walk fast, but I don't even run at less than 6min/Km!

It seems that the touch has much more difficulty with the GPS than the iPhone does. Here's what the touch reported:

Expanding the map showed that the GPS was jumping all over the place adding almost 2Km to the actual distance walked. Cleaning up the map took a while, but the difference is clear:

This is disappointing because I bought the touch so that I didn't have to use my phone, running down its battery and having the potential for access to more music on the iPod rather than the phone. It would also mean that if I didn't want to take my phone with me for some reason (I can't think of one except maybe because I was planning to run through a river and didn't want to ruin a phone!), I wouldn't have to. Shame really, the new touch is slim and light and lovely like it should be.

There may be a reason, even a fix, but at the moment, while I love the new iPod, I remain disappointed with the GPS performance.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Thinking about training, and how to reduce the boredom

When I go out training I have to remind myself that any fitness gains I might achieve have to have some benefit towards tennis because that's what I do most. While you need a degree of endurance, last year I played a 2.5 hours single match against a younger opponent, mostly you need explosive speed, flexibility, power and good recovery.

Sounds good, but it's to that easy to fit it all in in a normal week, and so there will always be a compromise. Plus, I actually quite enjoy doing a little bit of running. So my main approach, as you know, is to do intervals. I run for either a set time or a set distance and I slow down, usually to a brisk walk for the low intensity intervals. It's mostly random because I don't carry a stopwatch with me, although I do have one that can be set to time intervals. In the end I rely on a number of things.

For time, I tend to have Runkeeper to tell me what I'm doing every 5 minutes. Polar Beat tells me every Km, if I'm using distance. These are great for even intervals, but for something a bit more random I often use lampposts, telegraph poles or even bus stops. I also work on the principle of running when I feel like running and not running when I don't. I'm not training for a 10K or marathon, so if I don't feel like running I have no need to run. It's pretty obvious that there is a  physiological benefit to running over walking the same distance. You work your heart and lungs harder, your muscles have to be more efficient, as does your whole cv system. But a healthy cvs doesn't require that you do anything much more than moderate exercise for 30 minutes a day five days a week. I've tried to include an element of running in my training schedule only because I want to get fitter not just healthier.

Here's the data, for example, from my most recent 7Km session:

The red line is heart rate and the blue line pace. You can see that the intervals vary, and interesting to see how a couple of times my heart rate peaked just as I was coming to the end of an interval. For me, I think this is a good session because it pushes my hurt rate and recovers before going again. This, in theory, should improve my sprint speed and recovery.

So when you see bits of data about me running or even walking a given distance, it's invariably true that it's a mixture of both. Occasionally I'll run all the way just to prove to myself that I can. It's a bit of a fitness test and psychological test too. When I run, the first 100m or so can often feel like my lungs are going to burst, but once I settle into a rhythm and take control of my breathing, I find a manageable pace and away I go. Exactly how far I could maintain this pace I don't know. I do know I can run 5Km without stopping, and I'm guessing that stubbornness might just carry me another kilometre or two. One day I might try it.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Activity Tracking Update

I've been using my Polar Loop to track my activity data for 3 weeks now, and apart from the questions I have about the overall accuracy of the data, it's been interesting to say the least. Interesting of course for someone who likes these sorts of things, overwhelming tedious and boring if you don't! I get that.

Since I last posted anything about the Loop I've added using a heart rate monitor. This can be paired (it's Bluetooth) with either the Loop or with an app on my phone. I've only done the latter so far, but will have a go with the Loop at some point.

The app in question is Polar Beat. I can use both Runkeeper and Beat at the same time, and I could, as far as I know, link my heart rate monitor to Runkeeper. The dilemma is that Beat is obviously integrated with Flow, the web based service from Polar, whereas Runkeeper isn't. On the other hand, if I want to set challenges in Runkeeper, I have to use it's tracking facility because it doesn't record manually entered activity against any challenge. It's also a case that as yet I don't seem to be able to get Beat to post activities to either Facebook or Twitter so that impressed and admiring friends can feel guilty about the exercise they're not getting!!

So, apart from the issue of where I store all the boring stats about how far I've walked, run, jogged or moved on a tennis court, I've discovered the fairly obvious fact that when I play tennis it's easy to reach my daily goal and when I don't I have to do something else instead. What is helpful, and interesting to me at least, is to see what kind of exercise I'm doing. I know about heart rate zones and progressive overloading etc from my PT studies, but having a simple graphic showing me that data is nice. I haven't had to sit down and create a spreadsheet to do it for me, it's just all done on the website.

So far I've managed to exceed my daily activity goal everyday. Some days by small margins, others by quite some distance. Last Friday, for example, I managed 300% of my daily goal. Now, because the Polar Loop is a simple device, I'm not exactly sure what constitutes my daily goal, although I can hazard a guess from the "to go" information and what I personally have to do to reach it. According to Polar the level 3 goal (that's the highest one) is about 1.5 hours of high intensity exercise.

Beyond all this information and data, the big question has to be, "Does it keep me motivated?" I think the answer is yes. By monitoring my activity I do tend to check it and make sure I reach my goal rather than assuming I've done enough on the basis of how I feel. But then again, as I've said before, a simple pedometer can do that for you. In the end it comes down to one simple thing: Whatever it takes for you to get out and get moving, it has to be worth it. I have my gadgets, you'll find your motivators if you really want to.

Just in case you're interested, here's the summary from 29th December to today. Distance and steps are from actual steps and body movements made, which is why it overestimates steps.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Honours for some

Well, once again the honours system has shown itself, or at least those who decide these things, to be wonderfully out of touch with reality. Amongst the often strange and sometimes unfathomable awards there of course a number of unsung heroes and heroines who deserve the recognition of a honour, but then there are those that make no sense at all.

The one that bugs me most this time around is the singling out of only two members of the England Women's rugby team. When the men's team managed to win the World Cup in 2003, they all got something, along with other members of staff. Clive Woodward got a knighthood! But for the women only two players appear on the list. Why?

This isn't about fairness, it's about recognising that a team won not one or two individuals. Something the sport realises by giving every member of the squad a medal rather than just those who run out onto the pitch on a given day. Of course it's not always been that way. England footballers who played in the 1966 squad only got a winners medal if they played in the final, and only recently at the Paralympics have the support runners been awarded medals alongside their competing partners.

So perhaps it's time whoever it is that advises those who decide who gets honoured and who doesn't ups their personal game and makes sure that when it's a team effort the team get the recognition they all deserve.

A week with Polar Flow

I've had my Loop for a whole week and it's been interesting looking at the data. The is very simple to set up. It has only 3 options when it comes to your activity level and goal setting as far as I can see. I chose "Mostly Moving" from the list and the software set a few parameters automatically from the information I supplied (max. heart rate, aerobic and anaerobic heart rates, VO2 max). There is a fitness test you can do to get a better VO2 max by the looks of things, but I haven't explored that yet.

You can also pair a heart rate monitor with the Loop. I have a monitor, but I've only used it once and I paired it with Polar Beat on my iPhone. I might try pairing it with the Loop while playing tennis one day just to see what happens with my heart rate over the course of a single match.

I charge the Loop each evening at the end of the day and put it back on just before I go to sleep so that I get the data for sleep. There isn't much information about how the Loop collects the data and what algorithms are used to analyse it and how accurate you can expect it to be. After a week, I'd suggest that it provides a reasonable reflection of how active you've been but some of the numbers are less accurate than you might want them to be. The only evidence I have for that comes from comparing the steps taken as recorded by a simple pedometer and by the Loop. My pedometer is an Omron Walking Style II. I've been using one of these for years to record my daily steps. Comparing the two devices the difference is quite significant.


The Loop consistently records more steps than the pedometer. Now that is probably due to the fact that you wear it on your wrist and it must therefore be influenced by the movement of the wrist. The magnitude of the difference might well be a reflection of the amount of tennis I play!

Once you've synchronised the Loop with either the desktop app or the mobile app you get an analysis of your data in numbers and pictures.

The graphical image gives you an overview of the day and shows you when you've had an inactivity alert. The two in the image here are when I was in the car. The heart symbol indicates a time when a heart rate monitor was in use.
As you can see, activity is broken down into 5 categories from lying down to running. The hatched area is when the Loop was charging and therefore not being worn. The small hatched area at around 1:00am is a mystery!

There's also a summary in the form of a table.

Knowing how much sleep you get is good, but I have no idea whether the restful sleep figure is meaningful or not. And the inactivity stamps are okay, but it would be nice to get some sort of alert via the Loop or maybe even via the 'phone app.

Polar have two web based applications that you can access for free. Polar Flow is where you get to see all your data and the personal training website, polarpersonaltrainer, is also available for doing more detailed training management.

I quite like my Polar Loop, but if I were wanting to get significantly more serious about monitoring my training and progress I'd probably be wearing something with more functions. But, if you're interested in getting a broad picture of your activity level and need something to give you a little motivation to get out and do some exercise, then the Loop is a great gadget if you like gadgets.