Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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I Did A Chin Up!

The other day, my gym posted on Facebook that one of the trainers, Cindy Lou, had achieved her goal of doing an unassisted chin up. As you may recall, doing an unassisted chin up or pull up1 is also one of my goals and I’ve been working a lot on building up the muscles one needs to do an unassisted chin up2. So the next time I was at the gym, I told Cindy Lou that she was my hero as I was working towards that goal too. And she said, “Give it a try. You’ve been working hard, you might be able to do it now. The trick is not to think. Don’t hang. Just grab on and pull up right away.”

And so I decided to give it a try after the first set of my workout (so that my muscles would have a chance to be activated). I went over to one of the cages, climbed up on a box to reach the bar… and then I thought about it for too long and could barely lift myself two inches. Cindy Lou and I started chatting about it – basically me saying, “I was thinking too much!” and then right in the middle of chatting, I just reached up, grabbed on to the bar, and pulled myself up! The last little bit was a struggle, but I did it! I did a full on chin up, all with my own strength! No assistance3 whatsoever! I have to say, I was pretty chuffed! And there may have been a few high fives in celebration.

The trainer who writes my program, Dee, sent me a congratulatory email when she heard about it the next day. Because that’s the kind of trainers we have at my gym – they are genuinely excited and so proud of you when they’ve seen you work hard and finally achieve that goal you’ve been striving for for so long! She suggested that I now add in a chin up every day that I go to the gym. And when I get used to that, add one before every super set4. And then make it two. And it grows from there!

The next day when I went into the gym, I got lots of high fives from the trainers – like I said, the trainers at my gym are genuinely excited for us when we make progress. And I did another chin up and it felt so much easier than the day before. My first one was a bit shaky, especially at the top, but this one was smooth and I felt so strong! Now I feel like it’s not just that “I did an unassisted chin up”, but “I’m a person who does unassisted chin ups!”

Footnotes:

  1. Chin ups are where you grip the bar with your palms facing you (or you can do a neutral grip with your palms facing together, which requires a chin up bar that has grips facing this way), and a pull up is done with your palms facing away from you. The pull up is harder than the chin up. For the record, the one I did was a neutral grip chin up. []
  2. Chin ups are especially challenging for women, who tend to have less upper body strength compared to men. They have also been increasingly challenging for me as I’ve put on a fair amount of muscle since I started lifting, which means that I have to lift more weight! []
  3. In my training towards getting to this point, I have been doing, among other things, chin ups and pull ups where you tie a resistance band to the bar and you stand in it while you do your chin up or pull up – it takes away a bit of your weight so that you can practice the movement but without having to lift your entire body weight. When I started training, I used several bands and as my training progressed, I used fewer bands, and lighter bands, so that I was lifting more and more of my weight. []
  4. The way our programs are designed, we often have two or three exercises groups together. So say you are doing 3 sets each of exercises A1 and A2 – you’d do A1, A2, A1, A2, A1, A2 – and all that together is called a “super set”). Then you move on to your B exercises, then C, and sometimes also D. []

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Peak Centre Video

Hey, remember those times that I did fitness asssessments and found out that I have a respectable VO2max but I’m a wimp and getting wimpier? The place I did those assessments – the Peak Centre for Human Performance – recently shared this video from when they were on the morning news1 putting some newspeople through fitness assessments. So I thought I’d share this in case you were interested in seeing what it’s like2 ,3.

In related news, only 18 days until the Montreal demi-marathon!

  1. It was actually from spring 2014, but I hadn’t seen it before. []
  2. As per usual, I have no financial relationship with the company, other than when I pay them money for their services, of course! []
  3. The newslady is doing the VO2max and blood lactate assessment on the bike rather than running, but the basic idea is the same. []

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My Latest Fitness Assessment: Fitter, but More Wimpy

Last week I went back to the Peak Centre for Performance to do another running fitness assessment, as it was time to check in on the effects of my new training plan. Unlike my previous test, I didn’t need to measure my VO2max, so I didn’t have to wear the snorkel and breath through the tube. Which I thought meant that I’d be able to run a little bit more at the hardest level, as the last time I found it really difficult to gasp for breath through that snorkel. Boy was I wrong!

As you may recall from last time, I mentioned that people usually keep running to a blood lactate level of 8-10 mmol/L, whereas I gave up at 7.2 mmol/L, which means I am wimpier than average. This time, however, I gave up at a pathetic  5.69! Daniel’s interpretation of this is kinder than mine – he thinks that because I knew that I was running at a faster speed than I maxed out on my previous assessment, I gave up on the test too early, thinking that I couldn’t do any more than, rather than actually having quite because I was too wimpy to take anymore. There might be some truth to that – perhaps next time I should try to ignore what speed I’m running at during the test and focus just on how my body feels. Or maybe I should run until I literally fall off the treadmill!

At any rate, the positive news from this assessment is that my zone 1 training has paid off big time, as I’ve significantly shifted my lactate curve. Here’s the graph of my second assessment.

2015-08-06 Fitness Assessment Results

Then I plotted the data from both assessments on the same graph so that we can compare them:

2015-08-06 Running Assessment compared to first assessment

On this graph, the blue and green lines represent my heart rate results from assessment #1 and assessment #2, respectively, across the different speeds (with speed on the x-axis). As you can see, the heart rate results are virtually identical. The red line represents my blood lactate levels across the different speeds for assessment #1 and the purple line represents my blood lactate levels across the different speeds for assessment #2. As you can see, my blood lactate is lower at each speed throughout the assessment, which is exactly what zone 1 training is meant to do. In zone 1 training, you run at a relatively low level of exertion , a level that would allow you to run all day long. This trains your body to be able to run at faster speeds without producing as much lactate, which means you can run faster for a longer period of time.

On the down side, while I was diligent with my zone 1 training and significantly improved my aerobic threshold, I was a delinquent when it came to my intensity workouts and it showed in the results of my training. This next graphic shows my lactate and aerobic thresholds compare to the limits for these thresholds:

2015-08-06 Fitness Assessment Results - LimitsWhat this graphic shows is that my aerobic threshold occurs at 81% of my speed at VO2max and my lactate threshold occurs at 94% of my speed at VO2max – and I’m basically at the limits. This means that if I continue to just do zone 1 training, I won’t continue to see improvements, because you can’t push your aerobic threshold higher than 80-85% of your max. The only way to improve from here is to increase my max speed, which means that I have to do my intensity workouts. Normally, this would mean doing zone 5 workouts – essentially, running for as fast as you can around a lap of the track, giving yourself a rest, and then repeating that until you can no longer maintain that max speed. But given that my next half marathon is only just over a month away – and I’ll need to taper for the last couple of weeks leading up to it – Lewis suggested that until my race, I should do a zone 3 workout once per week (basically, running at my zone 3 pace, which is where my muscles start to build up lactate, for as long as I can (working my way up to 30 minutes over the next few weeks if possible) in order that I build up my tolerance for lactate (i.e., suck it up buttercup!). I’m also adding some “race pace” to end of my long runs – which I really should have been doing a while ago, but I was discouraged by the fact that my target race pace was in my zone 3 range of my previous assessment and so I just kind of ignored that I was supposed to be doing it at the end of my long runs!

So – will I reach my sub-2 hr half marathon goal in Montreal? Who knows. I might have a spectacular race day and pull it off. I might have screwed myself over by not training to build my max speed and build up my lactate tolerance up until now and now I don’t have enough time to fix it. Only time will tell. But as with my last half marathon, I’m setting a series of staged goals – so even if I don’t make my sub-2 hr goal, I’ll still have some backups to aim for:

  1. a sub-2 hour half marathon
  2. finish my first ever half marathon where I run straight through, with no 10 and 1s – I’ve done 12 half marathons and for all 12 of them I’ve done 10 and 1s (run for 10 minutes, walk for 1 minute, and repeat). This training is the first time I’ve been training on this new system where I run in zone 1, so I don’t need those 1 minute walk breaks. Each week when I do a long run I think “That’s the longest I’ve ever run straight through without walk breaks!” So doing that for an entire 21.1 km will be an accomplishment!
  3. finish – Finishing a half marathon is always worth being proud of.

So, there you have it – I’ve scienced up my running and am now motivated to go out and do my zone 3 runs from now until race day! Wish me luck!

 

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My New Training Plan

Hey, remember that time I went for a running fitness assessment? Well, this past Tuesday I went to meet with Lewis at Peak Centre for a consultation, where he explains all the stuff in the report that they send you with the results of your test.

So, as it turns out, I’m a huge wimp. Lewis didn’t say that in so many words – he’s far too professional and positive to have said such a thing – but he did tell me that on the test, people usually keep running to a blood lactate level of 8-10 mmol/L, whereas I gave up at 7.2 mmol/L. I’m not the worst he’s ever seen, but I need to train my brain to accept more suffering!

2015-05-22 Fitness Assessment Results

Graphical evidence of my wimpiness. In my previous posting, which I wrote before my consultation, I’d thought that the sharp rise in my blood lactate meant that I’d run enough to be properly tired out. Apparently I was wrong.

I won’t bore you with all the details1, but some hightlights from the consultation are:

  • When you are training, you are supposed to do some of your runs slow (often called the “LSD – Long Slow Distance” run2 ) and other runs quickly (sometimes called “tempo runs” or “intervals” or “speed work”3. You often hear that runners run their slow runs too fast and their fast runs too slow. Well, it turns out I’ve been doing that. To truly know the speed you need to run on your slow runs (a.k.a., zone 1), you need to know where your aerobic threshold is – finding this out is a big reason to do the test! The aerobic threshold is the threshold below which you could run indefinitely, because you aren’t building up any lactate (lactate building up basically = fatigue). The results from the test tell you what heart rate range you need to run in in order to stay in zone 1 – for me, it’s 138-153 beats per minute. Doing this builds your aerobic base, so that, over time, your muscles will be able to go faster while still staying below the aerobic threshold. When you go above this, you aren’t training your muscles to improve your aerobic base, so you are going to hit a plateau instead. I haven’t consistently been using a heart rate monitor before this, as I didn’t know what heart rate range to be aiming for, but I’m reasonably sure based on how fast I can currently run while in my zone 1 heart rate range, that I was running my LSD runs too fast.
  • I’ve also been running my tempo runs too slowly. Apparently it is quite common that people do what they think are “tempo” runs, but they aren’t really reaching the pace that they need to reach to increase their lactate threshold (a.k.a. zone 3). Given that, as mentioned above, I’m a wimp, I’ve totally been wimping out on this and running at what I thought was fast, but I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough because did I mention I’m a wimp? The pace I need to reach for zone 3 is 5:24-5:43 min/km. This is *much* faster than my typically “tempo” run during my BMO training, which would be closer to a 5:50 average (meaning half the time I’m above that and very little of my run would have been within the zone 3 range).
  • I’ve run all my half marathons and all the LSD runs while training for a half marathon using 10 and 1s. This is where you run for 10 minutes, then walk for 1 minute, and repeat for the entire run. I’ve always run this way as my friend who got me into running did this and it’s been a habit ever since. This was something I really wanted to ask Lewis about during my consultation, as I have been wondering if it’s time for me to leave the 10 and 1s behind. His take on them is that if you are doing your zone 1 training correctly, you don’t need to take the 1 minute walk breaks because you won’t be running too fast for the long distance. When you do 10 and 1s, you tend to do the 10 minute running portion faster than you would otherwise, since you know you have a 1 minute break coming up. And that means you are running in zone 2 and thus not training your aerobic base. So, starting now, I’m say bye-bye to 10 and 1s!
  • I haven’t been refuelling properly. For a 2 hour zone 1 run, I should be taking in 116 g of carbs. My current fuel source of choice for running is Honey Stingers, which contain 39 g of carbs per package. Meaning that I should be eating 3 packages of these on a 2 hour run. I’d be lucky if I ate 1 whole package. So more attention to refuelling on the run is another thing to work on. I will also have to work on eating and drinking while I run, since I won’t be having any more 1 minute walk breaks to do that!

So basically, my game plan is:

  • run 85-90% of my training in zone 1, based on my heart rate target range
  • run 10-15% of my training in zone 2, based on my pace target4.
  • go back for another assessment half way through my training, to see if I’ve improved enough that my target ranges will have changed
  • kick some butt on the Montreal demi-marathon!

Wish me luck!

  1. *I* didn’t find it boring – it was *super* interesting, in fact. But I can imagine that you, dear reader, might not be so interested in the minutiae of my physiological state and how this relates to the details of my training plan. []
  2. a.k.a., zone 1 []
  3. “speed work”, I believe, would be super fast (a.k.a., zone 5), whereas a “tempo run” would be quite fast, but not crazy fast (a.k.a., zone 3). []
  4. Apparently these are better done on a treadmill, since it’s much easier to control pace than running outside. As much as I hate treadmills, I may just have to add this to my “learn to live with suffering” training. And really, for an interval-style of run like I’ll be doing for my zone 3 runs, I hate the treadmill less, as I at least have something to do, what with the turning the speed up and down and watching the time at which I need to turn the speed up and down. As luck would have it, the exercise room in my building *just* got a treadmill, but it’s not yet set up as we are waiting for a special adaptor plug to be delivered so we can plug it in. I guess once we have that, I’ll be getting back together with the treadmill []

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My Fitness Assessment

Last  Friday after work, I headed to the Peak Centre for Human Performance ((As per usual, I haven’t received any form of compensation for writing about this company. I paid for my fitness assessment and just thought it was pretty cool and wanted to share!)) for my first ever fitness assessment!

Since I’ve never done a fitness assessment before, I did the full meal deal: VO2max, blood lactate, and energy usage. The test involves running on a treadmill and, every three minutes, the speed of the treadmill is increased until you can’t run anymore. While this is going on, you are breathing through a snorkel attached to a tube that is attached to a machine that measures how much oxygen is in the air you are breathing in and out; as well, blood samples are taken through pricking your finger.

VO2max test

Me running my VO2max test

VO2max is a measure of the maximal rate of oxygen consumption as you exercise until the point that you can’t go anymore and it’s a measure of your aerobic (i.e., oxygen-using) physical fitness. Blood lactate analysis involves tracking your increasing blood lactate levels as you run faster and faster and the graph of your blood lactate levels shows you how your body responds to the increasing exercise. You can use this information to determine the optimal intensity at which you should train in order to improve performance.

Computer with fitness data

The computer that was crunching all my fitness-y data

As you know, I’m not really a fan of treadmills, as I generally find them rather boring. But in this case, there was enough going on, what with trying to focus on running form (and, as things got faster, trying to focus running as hard as I could and not barfing), plus having to have a blood sample taken every three minutes, plus trying not to hyperventilate because I was breathing in a tube, that the treadmill part was actually OK. And the first three of 3-minute segments, which I ran at 7 km/hr, 8 km/hr, and 9 km/hr, respectively, went along quite smoothly. At the fourth segment, however, I could feel my breathing getting laboured and by the end of the fourth segment was starting to wonder how much more I could really last. When Paul, the guy running my test, said “You are already a minute into this one!” during my fifth segment, which I was running at 11 km/hr, I thought I was going to die because it had been thinking immediately before that “just hold out a few more seconds, I’m sure it’s almost been three minutes!” But I managed to push on, seriously thinking that I was going to barf into my snorkel and/or my lungs were going to explode. Paul took my blood sample and then asked if I was reading to go to the next speed and I just couldn’t do it. So that brought the test to an end and I was able to take off the snorkel and then gasp for breath like a dying woman, and then do a short cool down jog. After a few minutes, however, I felt so much better that all I could think was “Why did I stop? I totally feel like I can run just fine now! I’m such a wimp!”

But when I got my results emailed, I saw why I stopped:

2015-05-22 Fitness Assessment Results

 

The red line in the chart above is my heart rate, which you see rises pretty much linearly as my running speed rising. The blue line is my blood lactate concentration, which you see rises exponentially as my speed increases.

In retrospect, I do wish I had had it in me to run even 5 seconds at the next speed because it would have given me one more datum1 on my graph! And you know how I loves me more data!

The other important piece of information from my results is my VO2max, which clocked in at 41.6 mL/kg/min. Of course, I couldn’t remember for the life of me what a good value for VO2max is2. According to this random page on the Internets, my VO2max is “superior”3. In fact, it would still be classified as “superior” even if I were in my 20s, and it would be at the high end of “excellent” if I were in my teens! This all makes me feel very happy and making having all those finger pricks and feeling like I was going to die worthwhile!

The report I received also provides me with some guidance on the heart rate level/pace at which I should run my long slow distance runs vs. my speed work and suggest that I should focus on the aerobic training (85-90% of my running) with a bit (10-15%) of intense training. I have a consultation next Tuesday where we will go over my results and plan out my training run so that I can kick some serious butt at the demi-marathon in Montreal! I’m very excited for that!

  1. Datum = the singular of data. You really don’t get to use that word very often, so I’m chuffed to have a chance to use it. See also: “chuffed”. []
  2. I mean, I know I learned about it in undergrad, but I haven’t the foggiest what a good value would be. []
  3. Another random page on the Internets which uses different age cutoffs and has different values in its categories says that I’m merely “good” (which they consider as the category that is above “above average”. So I’m totally going with the other site! []

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90-day Fitness & Accountability Challenge

When I was in Toronto at Christmas, I had the good fortune of hanging out with Dr. Dan and Mr. Rick. There was dinner and beer and shopping and other such things of a celebratory nature. And there was also a discussion of an idea Rick had come up with: the 90-day Fitness & Accountability Challenge. The long version of it is over on Rick’s blog. The quick version of it is that Rick has motivated, inspired, and recruited a group of nearly 30 people to make a commitment to challenge themselves to improve their fitness levels over a 90 day period. The challenge each person is taking on is personal – by first assessing our current level of activity, we then said “What can I do that will push myself out of my comfort zone?”

For me, I’ve been doing 4 runs per week since November as part of the YVR Nike Running study that I’m participating in, so I decided that to really kick it up a notch, I’m going to do 6 workouts per week. The workouts have to be a minimum of 30 minutes and will likely consist of 4 days per week of running, plus hockey and possibly some yoga and maybe some skiing. I’m going to set up some spreadsheet awesomeness to track all this – Dr. Dan did some kickass tracking widgets over on his blog and that inspired me, but that will have to wait for another day. I can tell you that since the challenge started on Monday, I’ve done two runs and a hockey game, and I have two more runs and two more hockey games scheduled before the end of day on Sunday1, so I’m starting off strong. I think scheduling things in advance will be the key for me in this challenge. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on how things progress!

  1. In fact, on Sunday I have a 13 km run in the morning, a mid-day hockey game, and an evening hockey game scheduled! []

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This Boot(camp) Was Made For Kicking My Ass

Day 205

Not this kind of boot

As part of our preparation for the Longest Ever Game of Hockey in the History of the Universe to Raise Money for Cystic Fibrosis, a bootcamp is being run for players to help get us into OMG-we-are-playing-hockey-for-10-freaking-days shape. Little known fact: Bootcamps are called “bootcamps” because at the end of the session, you feel like someone has kicked you repeatedly with a steel-toed boot.

OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But tonight we did, in fact, have our first bootcamp session and IT. WAS. NOT. EASY. Fortunately, the trainers were very positive and encouraging and had awesome, challenging activities for us to do. Except the warm-up exercise called “the spider.” Because you know how I feel about spiders. The activities were a good mix of cardio and strength-training and though by the end of it I felt like I wanted to throw up, it was the good kind of I-want-to-throw-up feeling. It was the I-worked-really-hard and this-is-improving-my-fitness-level kind of I-want-to-throw-up feeling1. And tonight was just the first of 14 sessions, so I’m sure that after we’ve done this for a few weeks, I’ll look much less pathetic on the field.

Also, tonight’s session reminded me that though I’m pretty darned active, I have almost no upper body strength. Which may be due to the fact that I do no upper body exercises whatsoever2. When I started my 30 days of hot yoga, I really noticed that my upper body strength was, shall we say, craptastic, but by the end of the 30 days I was noticeably stronger. Then, of course, I stopped going to yoga every day and now I have the upper body strength of a carrot again. So I’m hoping that this bootcamp session will help me not only build back some of that strength, but also teach me some exercises that I can continue to do on my own in between sessions, and after the bootcamp is over. A girl can dream, right?

  1. It may have also been the as-soon-as-I-no-longer-feel-like-I-want-to-throw-up-I’m-getting-an-ice-cream-cone kind of I-want-to-throw-up feeling, []
  2. Funny how that works, eh? []

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Look At That, I Still Suck At Pushups

OK, so I have a confession to make. I’m a total, complete, absolute, 100% deliquent when it comes to my pushup/situp/squat challenge.  Week 1 went fine, but then week 2 was a total bust, as I went to New Brunswick for a few days and didn’t seem to be able to find the time for the exercises while traveling.  It’s a pretty weak excuse, I’ll admit, as it doesn’t take that long (less than 30 minutes to complete all the reps of all three exercises on each of three days in a week) and it doesn’t require any equipment, but I only managed to do it one of the days while I was away.  Then the next two weeks consists of equal suckatude – I did exercise twice one week and not at all this past week.  But now it’s time to turn down the suck and turn up the not sucking.

I did another set of exhaustion tests, just to see where I’d rank, but I’m going to start week 2 over again, since I’ve yet to fully complete week 2.  Fourth time’s a charm, right?

For the record, my exhuastion test results from yesterday were as follows:

  • squats – did 201, nearly doubly my previous exhaustion test of 105 [and anything above 41 is considered “excellent”].  Guess I don’t actually need to complete the rest of the get to 200 challenge, eh?
  • sit ups – with 56, more than double my previous 23, I jump from the “poor” to the “very good” range
  • pushups – 10, up from my pathetic, pathetic 4, steps me up to rank “2”  from “1” (where a rank of “1” is the “are you sure you really want to do this?” range and a rank of “2” is low end of “where people normally start”]

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100 Pushup/200 Sit Up/200 Squat Challenge

You pathetic maggots!   (Explore) by The mofoJT.

So, you know how every once in a while I get some cockamamie idea, like running 21.1 km or climbing up a mountain?  This is one of those.

I first heard about this 100 pushup/200 situp/200 squat challenge from Dan on our Grouse Grind and maybe it was the lack of oxygen to my brain at the time, but I said, “that sounds like a good idea! “

The idea is that by the end of a three-day per week, six-week program, you will be able to do 100 pushups/200 situps/200 squats. In a row.

Before you start the program, you have to do an “exhaustion test” – as in, you do the exercise until you can’t do the exercise anymore.  It’s meant to gauge your ability at the start to put you on the right workout schedule.  Sounds like fun, right?

So I did my exhaustion tests this weekend.  I think they show that I’m a runner:

  • squats – 105 [anything above 41 is considered “excellent”]
  • sit ups – a sad, sad little 23 [in the “poor” range of 0-37. But it’s like “upper poor”]
  • pushups – a pathetic, pathetic 4 [in the “are you sure you really want to do this?” range. *sigh*]

And that’s where I am starting out.  And today is my first day of training!  Feel free to play along at home!

Image credits:

“You pathetic maggots,” originally posted on Flickr by The mofoJT