My Early Morning Exercise Commandments

January 21, 2008

Tomorrow, at 5:45, I will get up and prepare to go on a nine mile run. It’s the only time of the day, between job and family, that I have to run, and while  I’m not a super hardcore kind of guy, you know, the kind they show in the Nike commercials, but going on a long run or ride in the morning actually helps the rest of the day go much better.

Over the years I’ve found that the following suggestions are the only things that keep me rolling out of a warm and very comfortable bed:

  1. I give myself bonus points just for being awake, let alone awake and running.  That means I spend a lot of time immediately after I wake up  thinking “way to go! way to be awake! way to be stepping out into the cold and wet!”
  2. Those bonus points mean that  I don’t have to run fast if I don’t feel like it. Which is good, especially in the first few miles, because I usually start running at a pace generously termed as an ‘aggressive shuffle’.
  3. They also mean that I don’t have to run as far as I had previously planned the night before. In fact, if I’ve been running regularly for a while, and don’t feel like getting out of bed one morning, I won’t. I wait until I’m actually looking forward to running to start up again…
  4. That said, it’s best to get out and start going before I wake up and rational thought kicks in. The rational thing to do, 99% of the time, is to go back to bed.
  5. While I love running to heavy metal, I stay away from the iPod, because on a dark and windy road at 6:30 in the morning, I need my ears and everything else fully functioning. So I run more to an internal iPod, I get a good Ronny James Dio tune going in my head and use that to kick it up a notch. We Rock, anyone?
  6. When I get tired I pretend I’m a Kenyan, i.e. I weigh next to nothing, have lungs the size of a small house, and just float over the ground. I’m still a shuffling Indian, but the visualization has gotten me up more steeps than I can remember.
  7. I cycle through my body as I run, relaxing tensed up shoulders, concentrating on good form, analyzing my foot strike, etc. It’s amazing what you can find to focus on for an hour and a half.
  8. I walk home the last 1/4 mile. You would too if you lived at the top of a steep hill. This gives my legs time to warm down, and makes them less sore.
  9. I then ride into work. This is also a good warm down for the legs, it’s about 5 miles in, with one hill of any consequence.
  10. I take the next day off of running. I ride, or climb, or do something else. This lets my 39 year old body recover in time for the next early morning session.
  11. I try to make these morning runs ‘adventures’, by going on new routes, exploring different areas, reversing parts of loops, etc. Nothing sucks worse than being unexcited about a run because you’ve done the same route for the last 6 months.

This has kept me fresh and excited about running for a long time now. Hopefully I can stay relatively injury free (ankle is bugging me lately) and keep it together for a couple of 1/2 marathons later in the year.

Garmin Developer Site — Arrgghh

January 8, 2008

I’ve been trying (after work, after the wife and kids go to bed, and before I collapse) to make some progress on my GPS site, and ran into a really strange problem running the demos, detailed here. There doesn’t seem to be a workaround, but one of the posts pointed me to the Communicator Plugin Test Page. While the Plugin API was pretty slick, it’s giving me no love, and I’m going to have to try the code referenced in GarminDeviceControlDemo.js when I’m not as beat.

Speaking of being beat, I ignored the wise rule to never increase distance, time, or intensity by > 10% per week, and took my 8 mile run at 9:30 average pace to 10 miles at 9:08 average pace. Now the 8 mile is a lot hillier, but the 10 mile loop had some hills in it too…I was beat the next day, and my ankle is a little sore. Add to that the excessive eating I’ve been doing and I feel like a total slug. Hopefully a long run on Wednesday, combined with the iron will to stay away from the office candy stash, will get me back to feeling more alert.

Morning Runs and Requirements

December 29, 2007

I used to run at lunch, it was a great stress reliever. These days, it makes more sense to run in the morning, things get too hectic at work. It still relieves the stress, in fact I usually start the day much more relaxed after a good run.

Right now I’m spending a lot of time on my runs focusing on form, specifically leaning forward and picking up my legs. Leaning forward felt really strange at first, like I was sticking my butt out. I think that’s because I actually was sticking my butt out, bending at the waist. Now focusing on leaning my pelvis forward and moving my legs back has made leaning a lot more natural.

The other thing that I’ve been working on is picking my legs up instead of lifting them forward. This feels really weird, like I’m almost running in place, I’m still playing with this, trying to concentrate on not pushing off at all.

I’ve been trying to relax my breathing — not the frequency, but the urgency, if that makes any sense. I’m just trying to breathe in and out easily, and relaxing my upper body when I exhale.

Finally, I’ve been experimenting with my arm swing. Swinging back on level ground and downhills, swinging forward on uphills. Anything to maintain the forward lean angle with the ground.

One thing I havent been focusing much on lately is effort. When I start the run, I start as slow as I want to. When I pick it up, I go as fast as I want to. I haven’t been pushing the pace at all, but the strange thing is that I’m running as fast as I used to when I was pushing it. Runs have turned into a great meditation — I’m focusing on form and breath and all of a sudden I’m gliding. I think that this is all in my head — I’m no Kenyan when it comes to form or effort. But it’s been great to get out and look forward to long runs as a chance to unwind.

When I’m not focusing on form, I’m thinking about a problem at work, or the new project. Garmin has done a lot of the heavy lifting to enable uploading to a web site — initial investigation shows that they have plugins for mac and windoze, and provide javascript access to their API. So that side of the house looks covered. Which is fine, I don’t have any issues with accessing/uploading the data, I just want to remix it in a relevant way.

One thing I was thinking about this AM was that I like to do a lot of long runs or rides because they are adventures. Even the climbs I was doing, like Outer Space and Orbit in a day, were about having a great time on moderate terrain and covering a lot of ground. The North Ridge of Stuart was another grand adventure. Every 1/2 marathon I do is a mini adventure of one kind or another, and RAMROD was some of the most amazing riding I have ever had the fortune to experience. In 2005 we got blown off of Rainier’s standard route, but still had a blast.

The thing that is missing from all of these great memories is data — I would love to have seen a Google Earth view of all of them. I would have loved to be able to insert comments/pictures at any point in a map, for instance mile 60 of RAMROD when the previous nights dinner asserted itself :). That way these adventures can be stories that I can share with people, to give them a sense of what I was feeling/thinking at what point, and where these adventures actually took me. It would have been great to see what my heart rate was doing up Cayuse Pass or slogging up to Muir with a 50 lb pack on. It would have been great to show the turnaround point on Rainier and how far off of the standard route we were (hey, 2 feet of new snow buried the wands. You try finding them at midnight in a blizzard!).

To sum up as more requirements:

  1. the application should allow me to inject pictures/comments into a map of the event.
  2. the application should show me my speed/heart rate/average pace/average hr when I roll over the map. (Ooh, that’s going to be a tough one 🙂

Time to stop talking and start coding

December 23, 2007

I was in the middle of a lengthy blog post on Java complexity when it hit me: I’ve been opinionating this whole time, with nothing but vague references to my work to back it up. So much for credibility 🙂

Obviously I can’t spill the beans about work, other than in very specific instances of technology use, like I have been. But that is of limited interest. Who really cares what I think about technology X , or that I got in a flame war about Code Coverage? I think more people would be interested in what I’m using for code coverage, how I’m using Spring, or Rails, or Ext or {insert technology x here}.

Something that would be even better would be to document an actual application, one outside of work that I can be completely transparent about.

So…I’m a data geek. I love data, and I love the way it has become so easy to mash up. For me collecting and exposing data is what motivated my early involvement in the project that eventually became a real company. While Evri has a noble mission statement that is applicable to data in general, an itch I have that is not getting scratched right now is the juxtaposition of exercise data with geoloc data in a way that is actually useful to me.

When I strap on my Garmin 305, I want to be able to:

(1) Track my HR, speed and location for any activity that I happen to do outside.

(2) Upload my data, and with little to no extra configuration

(3) View/Pivot on the data in the following ways:

  • I want to be able to view my stats — specifically, how hard am I working over the course? What is my average HR, average pace, average elevation gain, etc, for that run ?
  • I want to see that run/bike/run on the richest map UI possible. Right now that’s Google Earth, tomorrow it might be something else.
  • I want to be able to track those stats over a specific segment of my bike/run/ski. I want to break them out per mile, but also be able to be able to select a segment of my bike/run/ski and view them.
  • If the route I have just run correlates (within an adjustable delta) to a route I have previously run, I want those two to be grouped together.
  • I want to be able to view my progress (or lack thereof) over those routes by graphing the stats over time. If I run course X on week Y, then run it on week Y+1, I want to see how my average HR compares. I want to see how my average pace compares.

That last point was the important one to me. One way to measure fitness is Actual Effort Expended — how hard did I work vs how fast did I go? Ideally, if E = effort and P = pace, you would want E to drop while P increases. In other words you want E/P to go to zero. I might graph it the other way so that it looks good on a graph (going to infinite instead of zero.

Every solution I’ve looked at so far does (1) and (2) above, but they don’t quite do (3). If they do,

(1) they charge you for that kind of calculation.

(2) they make you do the calculation.

First of all, I don’t think that anyone should be charged for that. I think that the ability to mash up and pivot data is very close to being commoditized, and that the cost of that should be underwritten by ads. Additional services, like personal training, should be subscription based. But the ability to view and manipulate your data should be an inalienable right, goddamnit.

Second, I want to be able to view and pivot on this kind of data with little to no effort. I don’t want to do anything more than adjust standard defaults if and only if needed. I don’t want to have to create or update or enter new routes, I want them to emerge from the data. I want my data to tell me when I’m in shape, when I’m out of shape, when I’m having a bad day, when I’ve got a new favorite route, when my route starts to change, etc.

I dont want to think too hard about manipulating my data. I may be a data geek, but I want to have a low to no barrier experience once I upload the data.

Over the next year I want to treat this like a real software project. I want to

  1. determine feasibility
  2. evolve requirements
  3. evolve user scenarios
  4. build a data model that supports those scenarios
  5. start implementing trace route prototypes of the software using things that I want to, and processes I want to.
  6. move the app off of my box to an EC2 stack.
  7. point my friends at it (and make them write their own filters if they use some other kind of GPS).

I want to have some fun, on my own time, with something I might actually use, and sharpen up my total stack skills on the way. Stay tuned fearless reader (even if that fearless reader is the fearless writer 🙂 This one actually excites me.

The first step in the feasibility process is to make sure I can actually parse Garmin 305 data….I’ll update when I get some more details.

Leaning vs Bending

December 19, 2007

So, I just got to the part of the Chi Running book that says “Form before Distance before Speed” last night. Which means that I went ahead and did a tempo run yesterday at noon, trying to apply the principles I learned in a crash course.

I started out slowly, because I can’t start fast, but noticed I was running with less effort than I usually do. So, feeling good, I decided to pick it up. Pretty soon I was in a world of hurt, trying hard to hang on to the basic Chi Running principles: lean forward, land on my midfoot, pick up my legs, relax my arms.

It was very hard to do this while trying to run at a decent (7:30) clip, I started feeling like I was working way too hard. But one thing I did figure out was that instead of leaning I was bending at the waist. The way I figured out how to ‘lean’ correctly was to focus on bringing my pelvis forward instead of my chest. When I did that, I literally felt like someone had stepped on the gas. Of course, I was still not exactly loping along — right now that pace is hard for me to keep — but it did feel like the start of a good thing.

While I like to run fast, I don’t like doing so in pain. That was what drove me in the direction of easier running in the first place. Fortunately for me the whole Chi Running approach advocates ‘form intervals’, where I focus on one specific aspect of form for one minute, then take a 1 minute breather.

I don’t have anything major planned for the winter months other than just getting outside and enjoying movement, so this is the perfect time to work on form. Then I want to build up the amount of time I can hold that form, and when I’ve got it down, I want to try to go faster. It’s a different approach than my usual he man suffer fest.

Running with less effort

December 17, 2007

As a software engineer, I try to get the most done with the least amount of effort. That approach has bled over to other things I do in life, including running. Ten years ago when I wanted to run  I would lace up the shoes, head out the door, and give little thought to form, perceived effort, recovery — I just ran as fast as I could, for as long as I could.  This stopped working about five years ago, when I started to get all kinds of running ailments. Plantar fascitis, hip/back problems, shin splints, etc.

This made me pretty sad because (a) I love to run, and (b) I love to eat even more. Without running, I was on my way to blimpdom, joining a long line of pasty geeks who started to resemble trapezoids as the years went on. Fortunately, before I threw in the towel, I decided to see if there was something I was doing wrong, biomechanically speaking.

Turns out there was quite a lot I was doing wrong. First of all, I was landing on my heel and rolling through to my toe. As powerful as that felt, it was actually slowing me down and stressing my lower legs. In addition to slowing myself down, I was also holding my arms out to the side as I ran, which would pull me off center because the swinging motion generated a lot of momentum, and it literally moved me over to the side that was swinging.

In short, I moved down the road like a slow, angry duck. Again, this didn’t significantly bother me until the injuries started mounting.

I stumbled on Pose Running checked out some of the videos, and decided those guys were freaky. I really think they’ve got something when they talk about form, but then they advocate running in extremely thin soled shoes to ‘feel the road’. I even read that one guy ran a 3:31 marathon in crocs claiming that it ‘wasn’t about the shoe, it’s about the running technique’. Maybe he’s right, but right now I have a hard time believing that I can run fast and injury free without some kind of padding…then I started reading about chi running. Normally I run away screaming from anything vaguely mystical/new agey due to having to deal with too many New Age people in Santa Fe, but the biomechanical advice Danny Dreyer was giving in the book was consistent with pose running and actually sounded like sound structural advice. Basically, he advocates (as do the pose running guys) landing on your mid to fore foot and maintaining a forward lean, so that you are essentially falling forward all of the time.  The leaning forward and midfoot strike have the effect of distributing the shock through your skeleton instead of your muscles/ligaments.

I ‘ve started to apply some of the drills from the book in my daily runs, and I’m finding that (a) I’m not getting injured like I used to, (b) my heart rate is lower when I run the same perceived pace, and when I run at the same perceived effort, I’m running faster, and (c) I’m enjoying the movement of running much more than I ever used to. Today I went out on a 6.5 mile run and just enjoyed the movement, kept my pulse in the recovery zone, and focused on leaning forward, striking in the midfoot, and letting my arms drop to my sides. This is the first time I’ve actually thought it might be possible to run a marathon, but I want to see if I can comfortably get some high mileage in w/o injury first. I’m going to target the usual Mercer Island 1/2 marathon in the spring — last year I ran it sick and averaged 169 bpm over the course, for a (very sad) time of 1:50. This year I would love to crush my pr on the course — 1:45 —  by running ‘easier’ :). Then maybe I’ll check out some of those shoes.