Slow and steady

Moving slowly through the UK countryside


Stairs for fitness – or – I love graphs

I love playing with data.  This is a self-indulgent number-crunching post with graphs.  I’ve just been looking at some older Excel files from a while ago, and was really pleased to see how they show that doing all the running – even though it has been very much on/off over the last few months – has improved my health.

Doing stair circuits is pretty tedious, but a good way to do some exercise when you don’t want anyone to see you, because you’re embarrassed about how unfit you are.  I started doing ten minutes of stair circuits four years ago, when I was working more or less full-time and on my feet all day, but doing little other exercise.  One circuit is thirteen steps up, then a corner-step, across the landing, up one more and then all the way back down.  I used my phone to time each circuit.  The novelty rapidly wore off though, and I went back to doing very little exercise.

A year or so later, and I was working part-time, sitting down all the time, so I had another go.  The difference in my fitness showed.  After five circuits, I couldn’t manage to get up and down in less than 30 seconds.  That persuaded me to practise, and a month later it had improved quite a bit.

Then I forgot all about it again.  A year ago, I started running with the c25k programme, mixed in with yoga, more walking and Tai Chi.  I thought I’d see how I’d do with the stair circuits again, and was pleasantly surprised to see how much faster I was.  (28 circuits in ten minutes instead of about 20).

Stair circuit graph

Improving my stair circuits

I also found a ‘three minute step test’ a while ago on the sparkpeople website.  I signed up to track my diet, after I was diagnosed as coeliac, because the blood-tests also showed that I was low in iron and folate, and they are quite difficult to get enough of, if you don’t eat fortified cereals/bread.  (I ended up taking supplements as I struggled to get enough of them from my diet.)  I knew I wasn’t very fit, so I decided to use some of the sparkpeople trackers, so I could see if I got better at anything.

The step test involves stepping up and down for three minutes at a steady pace, then sitting and counting heartbeats for a complete minute after you stop.  To compare with the ratings chart, it should be a 12 inch step, but I just use the 9 inch bottom stair.  Cheating, but convenient, and it still shows me that I’ve got healthier.

Step test ratings

Women’s ratings for 3 minute step test on 12 inch step

When I first did it back in August last year (before I started running, and before I’d started taking iron and folate supplements) my recovery minute’s pulse was 117.  Today it was 75 – which is less than my resting heart rate was eighteen months ago!  So something is working, even if I don’t run fast or often.  This is the Garmin heart-rate monitor graph from today’s 3 minutes.  (I didn’t use the Garmin for the one minute count – I just liked the look of that steep drop back down to resting heart rate.)

Step test graph

Three minute step test and one minute recovery

I had thought it was down to the exercise, but looking at the sparkpeople tracker for the step test, maybe it is as much to do with having enough iron and folate in my blood, because there was a significant improvement before I began the running in December last year.  All good fun, anyway.  🙂

Step test graph

Three minute step test progress (US-style dates, month-day-year)



Advent streaking update – trouble with laps

I’ve done something every day so far, even though some have been a bit minimal.  I couldn’t go out for a run this afternoon, as I was waiting for the plumber to fix a dripping tap (what’s the betting I stay in all afternoon and he doesn’t come?).  I felt quite energetic though, so decided to do stair circuits, with the heart rate monitor on, to see how it would compare with the same thing back in August.

So I put the monitor on, got the watch set up, and off I went.  I was using the lap register, and clicked it every time I got back downstairs for the next lap.  For the first five minutes or so, I was watching my heart rate, which went up to about 130 and then stayed there pretty much, which is fine.  Then I checked the time.  What?!  Only 2 min 30 seconds?  Something strange was happening – the time seemed to be going very slowly!  Then I realised that it actually wasn’t going at all for some of the circuits…

I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) stop to work out what was happening, so, as it has sometimes played up a bit before, I decided that I must have done about five minutes already, as I was pretty sure I’d done more than ten laps, so planned to do another five minutes by the clock at the top of the stairs.

But then I wasn’t sure I’d have done a full ten minutes, so I made myself keep going.

When I finally stopped, the watch registered 8:56.  I thought I’d track my heart rate slowing back down, to see how fast it recovered – and then it dawned on me.

I hadn’t been using the lap button at all…

In the heat of the excitement of thinking about all that lovely data I’d have to analyse, I’d mixed up the buttons.  Instead of registering laps, I’d being stopping it and starting it completely (which is blindingly obvious in retrospect) – so half of my laps were registering at all.  Doh!  I probably did almost 18 minutes of stair circuits instead of the intended ten!  Hey ho.  Something good came out of it anyway.

Garmin watch

Garmin watch – with glasses on and/or brain engaged, it is easy to see that the bottom right button is for laps

But if I want lap data to play with, I’ll have to do it again…

Edit:  I did do it again – but the plumber arrived in the middle (and he fixed the drip, hurrah!)  So then I started again, for the third time, and did another ten minutes (28 circuits – quite a bit faster than the 25 I did in August).   I’m happy with that.



We went Christmas shopping (does that count as exercise?) in Moreton-in-Marsh. Several more presents got ticked off, and I found a bargain sprig of mistletoe for £1. I’ve seen balls of mistletoe in quite a few trees recently (often on Lime or Aspen around here, and I’ve seen it on False Acacia near Cambridge), but they are invariably way out of reach. It is a very strange plant, with its yellow-green leaves and green stems.


Mistletoe bunch for Christmas kisses

I thought this car looked rather jolly.

Tinsel on car

A festively decorated bonnet.

There a some lovely old buildings in Moreton-in-Marsh. This door has wonderfully ornate ironwork hinges.

Elaborate door hinges

Elaborate door hinges

The 1905 tolls and rules for fairs and markets are still displayed.  I wonder what a ‘Cheap John Cart’ was?

Moreton-in-Marsh fair tolls

Tolls and rules for fairs and markets

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Jolly Holly

My front door looks all bright and Christmassy now:

Holly for Christmas

Holly for Christmas

Apparently, according to research sponsored by Sky Rainforest Rescue, rather a lot of British people can’t recognise holly:

The average British adult cannot identify some of the country’s most common trees, a survey has revealed.
The study, which tested our basic knowledge of the UK’s most populous shrubs showed that many adults can’t tell a maple tree from an oak or a fir.
It also revealed that nine out of ten people struggle to identify the pointed leaves and red berries of a holly tree, and large numbers also have no idea where conkers come from.  Read more

(Being a pedant, I’d quibble with the use of both of the words ‘populous’ and ‘shrubs’ in there.)

Can only 1 person in 10 recognise holly?  Not that this example is so easy to recognise, I suppose, as the leaves next to the berries tend to have fewer (or no) spikes, and there is some ivy hiding in there too.


Photo Challenge: Grand yews – or elderly ladies?

Weekly photo challenge: Grand

This challenge made me think of a grand garden that we visited a while back (just checked – goodness, it was eight years ago), where there was this wonderful hedge of topiaried yews.  It was at Powis Castle in the Welsh Borders.  The wall beneath, with its elegant flower-pots in pilastered niches is rather grand too.

The yews made us think of a row of elderly ladies, sitting waiting for a bus to arrive, though that is perhaps not such a ‘grand’ idea.

Topiaried yews at Powis Castle

Powis Castle – a garden on a grand scale


Advent streak

I’m stealing Red Hen’s idea here and starting an Advent fitness streak, though also a fully-clothed one, and definitely not all running.  Yesterday I did five circuits up and down the stairs – a gentle start, but I did run up each time.  Today I ran (very slowly) a mile, in the dark.  So I feel very virtuous.

Target is to be a bit fitter for Christmas, and to run a nice slow 5k on the 15th December, which will be exactly a year since I joined the Couch to 5k NHS running forum, and did my first one minute runs.  I may not be running very much, but I am definitely fitter than I was a year ago, when running for a minute nearly finished me off.   Though looking at my heart-rate and the super-slow pace, I can see that I have plenty of scope for improvement to get back to where I was earlier in the year – but I’m not in a rush.

Running a mile

Mile runs this year


Gluten-free Yorkshire Puddings and Chi running

We had roast beef today, and we really wanted to have Yorkshire puddings with it, but I was sure it wouldn’t work to just use cornflour.  Hubby is stubborn though (in a good way) and decided we’d just try anyway.  I did a quick web search for proportions of milk/flour/eggs – and found that recipes are extremely variable.  The simplest one just used equal volumes of egg, flour and milk, but other recipes varied the proportions a lot.  I didn’t actually search for gluten free recipes (why not? – no idea), so we made it up.

To my surprise, they were just about the best ones I’ve ever tasted!  Beef dripping from the meat, and a very hot oven were probably the key points.
We used:
1 egg
Some cornflour – I didn’t weigh it, but probably 2-3 ounces – about 2-3 tablespoonfuls-ish
Milk – didn’t measure it – about half a mugful
Pinch of salt
A dribble of olive oil with herbs (left over from snack olives)
Mix the egg into the cornflour, making sure there are no lumps, then add the milk and oil, and beat well.
Pour hot fat from the roast into patty tins or a bigger tin – we had 6 little ones and one big one – and put back into the oven (240 C) until really hot – other recipes mention smoking, but I don’t think we got quite that hot.
Pour in the re-whisked batter and bake for about 20 minutes.   Other recipes mention the importance of incorporating air in the whisking, and leaving the batter to stand – but I wonder whether those both apply to gluten-containing batter.
Whatever – they were delicious – lovely and crunchy at the top and more gooey at the bottom.

Gluten-free Yorkshire puddings

I felt I deserved the roast and puddings, as I’d been out for a walk/run earlier on, and managed to run for a total of 30 minutes, in several chunks.  It was hard going to start with, then I remembered to ‘think Chi’ (as in Tai Chi) and concentrated on keeping my chin up, and my body aligned, and it really did seem easier.  Slowing down a bit probably helped too.  🙂