Saturday, January 18, 2014

Miles for Meg

Last Monday, I'm sure, started perfectly normally for 34 year old Meg Menzies of Hanover County, Virginia.  An avid runner since her youth, she headed out on her morning run.  She was training for the Boston Marathon, and her husband - also a runner - was running with her.  I imagine that their three kids had headed off to school.  And then, at about 8:00AM, her time on this earth came to an abrupt and tragic end.  A vehicle driven by a physician, who was allegedly alcohol impaired, crossed the line onto the shoulder of the highway and struck and killed Meg.  Her husband was by her side as she died.

I don't know Meg, although many in the local running community do know her well.  What I know of her- about her running interests, her grieving family, and the fact that she was director of her church's preschool children Bible school on Sunday - came from the newspaper or from talking with others today.

Meg was doing everything right - running facing traffic; running in daylight; running off the road and on the shoulder; and even running into the sun so that drivers should clearly see her as they headed west with the low morning sun behind them.  But it was not enough.  And now, a husband is widowed, three children have lost their mother, and a genuinely good person is gone.

Today, all over the US of A and all over the world, people signed up to run and walk "Meg's Miles."  I am not on Facebook and so did not formally sign up.  But I did go out with my friends from the current Team in Training group and put in six miles for Meg.  And I logged my participation on this map, and I logged my miles on this website.

May you rest in peace, Meg.  All over Virginia, all over the United States, all over the world people you did not know were thinking of you today as we moved our feet.

Here is a view of some of the USA participation on "Meg's Miles:"
 And here is a view of world wide participation - even as far away as New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, and Japan, people were running and walking for Meg.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Rockport Mile VO2 Max Test, Take 2

I blogged the other day about cardiovascular fitness and trying the Rockport Mile Test to estimate my VO2 Max level.  Well, having the day off today, I decided to go for a five mile walk, a rare treat for me on a Monday through Friday.  And after about 1.5 miles, I came upon a middle school with a track.  As it was during school hours, I thought I'd better keep going, but no kids were out and I saw two ladies running and walking laps.  So I figured it was OK (more about that later).

I decided to do four laps on the level track and see how my VO2 Max estimate would compare to the hillier neighborhood route of the other night.  So I walked four laps on the kind of soggy track as fast as I could, and I knocked about seven seconds off my time of the other night, down to 13 minutes and 17 seconds.  And my heartbeat was slightly lower than before at 140.  The overall result was that my VO2 Max level rose slightly to 36.01.  That is still on the high end of "good" for males of my age.  To get to "very good," my heart rate for the same time in the mile would have to be about 133.  To reach "excellent," my heart beat would have to be at 114 for the same time.

If nothing else, just trying to walk a mile as fast as you possibly can is great exercise.  My normal walking pace right now seems to be about 14:30 to 14:45 per mile, so cutting 1.25 to 1.5 minutes off of that requires a lot of effort.  I'll be evaluating ways to improve my level of cardiovascular fitness in the coming months.

Now, the rest of the story.  About a minute after I finished my laps, I was cleaning gravel out of my shoes, and a police officer appeared.  He told me that the school had called in a concern that I was on school property and that I had to leave.  I apologized and left immediately.  I only walked there because the two women were, so I figured that it was all right.  Interestingly, the two women continued to walk and run, and the officer left without speaking to them.  I guess women are not viewed as the potential threat that men are, with some level of justification, I suppose.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cardiovascular Fitness

In the paper yesterday, there was a very good article about how the single most important indicator of good health as we age is our level of cardiovascular fitness.  It seems to drive just about everything else.  But there was not a reference in the article as how we can measure it, so I did what anyone with internet access would do: I used Google.  And I found that one's VO2 Max (maximum volume of oxygen) level is the best indicator of this.  VO2 Max is " the maximum capacity of an individual's body to transport and use oxygen during incremental exercise, which reflects the physical fitness of the individual."

So how does one measure their VO2 Max level?  Well, it has to be done scientifically, using measuring equipment while one works out on a treadmill, but it can be approximated with something called a Rockport Mile Test.  Essentially, you walk a mile, with no running, as fast as you safely can (please note, if you are not used to working out, it could be dangerous to do this, so consult a doctor) and then take your pulse immediately upon finishing the walk.  Ideally, the mile should be as level as possible.  Then you plug the results, along with your age, weight, and sex into the web site above, and it will calculate your VO2 Max.

In my neighborhood, I have a measured mile that I am confident is within feet of a true mile, as I measured it with a GPS - actually, 0.5 miles each way.  And while it is not perfectly level, neither is it excessively steep.  So tonight, I decided to take the test.  I felt like I would get a cardiovascular fitness rating of "good," and I was right.  My walking mile time was 13 minutes and 25 seconds.  My pulse rate immediately upon finishing was about 144 beats a minute, more than double my resting pulse of 60-64.  Plugged into the formula, my estimated VO2 Max value was 34.95, which is on the high side of "Good" for males my age.

This is interesting stuff, and I plan on exploring this a bit more in weeks to come as I try to gauge my level of fitness.  I think I might research ways of improving our cardiovascular fitness, try some of those, and see if my Rockport Mile results go up over time - or down.  I imagine there is some variabilty about the exact time to walk a mile.  Or maybe this weekend, I will go to a track and do four laps and see if there is any difference, a track being perfectly level.

If you go to that website, you will see that your age affects interpreting the results.  For example, my estimated VO2 Max value of 34.95 is considered a good fitness level for my age.  But for males 10 or 15 years younger than I am, it would only be considered "Average."  And for men 35 years younger, it would be "Poor."

Friday, January 10, 2014

2014 Fitness and Racing Goals

I had mixed results on last year's fitness goals, crushing a few and missing others by a wide margin.  But a new year is here, and I am establishing new goals.  This time, every one of these goals is measurable - I am specifically writing each one so that I will know if I attained it or not.

This first one is not a goal.  It is a resolution.  I will fit into all three pairs of jeans this year.  And not just at some point in the year - at the end of 2014!  This will be a tough one to achieve, but in setting this as an objective, I do not need a weight goal.  First, I am not a lot overweight.  Second, I can only meet this goal if I do shed my few extra pounds.

My walking goal is to take 5,000,000 steps again this year.  Because I am not anticipating training for a half marathon in 2014, I will have to be more diligent to reach this mark.

Instead of just saying "do more upper body workouts," I will set a measure.  Right now, I am doing workouts with 70 pounds of weight, and 15 pound curls.  So by the end of the year, I want to be using 100 pounds of weight, and 25 pound curls.  That would be a very nice gain - over 40% on the weights, and 67% on the curls.

We have a crunch bench in our community fitness room.  I am doing 150 crunches.  My goal is to double that to 300 crunches without stopping.

I used to do 45 minutes of elliptical workout at the highest setting (mountain, level 16).  I rarely do the elliptical now, but when I do, 15-20 minutes is more like it.  I am going to set a goal of getting that back to 45 minutes.  I'll only hit that goal if I start doing elliptical more often.

By the end of the year, I want to be holding a side plank for 60 seconds and a regular plank for 2 minutes, which is about double my current times.

By July, be walking to the top of my 18 story building.  I work on the seventh floor, so need to build up from there.

That's it for fitness.  Now, how about racing?  Well, when I say racing, I mean "racing for a cure."  Right now, I am not signed up for any races, not even the Monument Avenue 10K.  And I am not running.  I am not sure if running is a good idea for me.  My left knee feels fairly good - not pain free, though - for the first time in two years, and I have not run since the Crawlin' Crab Half Marathon.  I feel like there is a correlation there.  Entering a race means running, unless I want to walk it, which right now, I don't.  So I have to give the thought of running again a lot more evaluation and consideration.  I like running, but I love walking and hiking, and I want to be able to do those for the rest of my life.  I don't want a knee or hip replacement.  I need to take care of my legs, and that may mean not running.  Or I may figure out a way to run without damage.

Okay, enough rambling on that.  Can you tell that I am conflicted - very conflicted?  So here is my racing for a cure goal for 2014: I will do something to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I have two specific ideas in mind, and one of them is quite a different thing from my usual.  More on that later!

I hope anyone reading this has a great year ahead, and that you achieve your goals!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

175 Miles?

A calorie, abbreviated as c, is a unit of measure of energy.  If I remember from my science days, it is the amount of energy that will raise the temperature of one gram of water by 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit).  But in dietary terms, what we call a calorie, such as "That chocolate bar contains 280 calories," is really a thousand calories, or kilocalories.  So in that sense, if we eat something that contains exactly one (dietary) calorie, that is enough energy to heat a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of water by 1 degree C.

Too much science stuff?  Too much metric system (a beautiful system of measurement, by the way)?  Well, the practical effect is that everything we eat contains calories, and if we eat more than we need - I should almost say "when," not "if" - we store the excess as fat.  So fat contains calories, roughly 3,500 of them for a pound of fat, although I am sure that number can vary considerably.  And it takes energy to do everything we do - stand up, walk to the door, type this sentence, even to think a thought.  Even if we stayed in bed all day, even if we were in a coma, our body would still be burning some energy.  It seems logical that we burn more energy when we are doing something active than when we are sitting down, right?  I've heard, but cannot prove, that walking or running a mile burns approximately 100 calories - although that should vary based on how much you weigh and how rugged the terrain is.  I do know that one of the real challenges for long distance backpackers is getting enough to eat.  They burn so much energy that they can lose all of their body fat and start breaking down muscle tissue for energy, essentially starving even while eating a lot.  That is why when they hit town after a couple of weeks on the trail, they can do things like eat a half gallon of ice cream or a couple of gigantic hamburgers.

I was thinking the other day of how I am about five pounds heavier than I was in September 2011 when I walked the 60 mile Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure in Washington DC and suburban Maryland.  And I was thinking what it would take to lose those five pounds, approximating that I would have to walk about 175 miles to do it.  I doubt that losing a pound by walking 35 miles is exactly true or quite that simple.  There would be a lot of other variables involved besides just the number of miles.  And to reach my goal of fitting into all three of my pairs of blue jeans, I probably need to drop another 5 pounds, so that would hypothetically be about 350 miles of walking total to lose the ten pounds.

I realize this is all speculation and gross approximation.  One key factor is what kind of calories I am consuming.  100 calories from kale is entirely different from 100 calories from chocolate which is different from 100 calories from honey.  Plus, I doubt it is as simple as "walk 35 miles and you lose a pound" - not at all, I am sure.  But it seems logical that if I walk enough and watch what I eat a little better, those extra five pounds will slowly come off, and then eventually the other extra five pounds, and maybe I will fit into those jeans again.  Maybe it will take 175 miles to lose the first five pounds, or maybe it will take 250 miles - I don't know.  I just know that it can be done.

So with the New Year, and with my temporary 8 hour day work schedule for the next few weeks, and the cool weather, I have been walking more.  Essentially, I use most of my lunch break as a chance to take a nice walk.  I can get in about 3 or 3.5 miles, and there are plenty of places to walk downtown.  I change into a exercise shirt and underwear so I don't come back with my work clothing all sweaty, plus the cool weather helps with that.  So far, so good - now I just need to stick with it and figure out how to keep it going when I go back on 9 hour work days next month.  Right now, that is my goal - just walk a lot.  I am very unsure about taking up running again, or even about trying to do another half marathon.  And another full marathon - while you never want to say "never" - seems really unlikely at this point in my life.  I will just keep walking and trying to stay in shape and see where the rest leads.