Slow and steady

Moving slowly through the UK countryside


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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)

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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


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A wonderful breezy autumn run

A couple more rainbow pictures added from this afternoon, to this morning’s run report.

double rainbow

Double rainbow over Sumach (Rhus typhina)

Rainbow over Rowan

Rainbow over Rowan tree

Well, I was inspired by ‘juicyju’ the panther-runner on c25k, who was doing a half-marathon today. Others c25k-ers on Facebook had pledged to run at the same time, to give her moral support. As I’ve not run at all for four weeks (and then only for twenty minutes) I decided to push myself to get back out and do a bit of a run, even if it was only ten minutes. I went out before breakfast (I suspected I might not do it if I didn’t get going straight away), so a bit before the 10 o’clock start for the others.

The thought of all those other virtual running buddies pushing themselves to run ridiculous distances kept me going and going, and I did 5k! I am soooooo pleased! It’s two months since I last did that, so my joints will probably be reminding me all about it in a couple of days, but they were fine while I kept going. The pace was (of course) slow and steady, but I kept going for 47 minutes.

I just kept thinking that at least I wasn’t doing 10k or a half-marathon. I nearly stopped at 30 minutes, but then noticed it wasn’t quite ten o’clock, and it seemed a pity to have stopped when everyone else was about to begin, so I carried on, and then it seemed silly not to go all the way to 5k – though I can now see that meant I did more than half as much again!  Not sure I’d have done it, if I’d realised that at the time, but it just goes to show that bodies can often do a lot more than we think.

It was lovely out – sunny and blowy, perfect temperature for running.  I have always loved autumn – all the leaf colours and hedgerow fruits really brighten things up.  I must remember to take a hair-tie when I run though, as I kept getting mouthfuls of hair – yuk!

I didn’t take the camera on the run, but here are two pictures from the garden after I got back.

Rough Woodlouse - Porcellio scaber

Rough Woodlouse (Porcellio scaber) on moss (Grimmia pulvinata).  This makes me think of Dr Who monsters.

young frog

Young frog, about 5 cm long. I found him underneath a piece of spare pond-liner that we’ve left out on some bricks and grass, in the hope of attracting snakes. Until now, all we’ve found has been ant nests – black ants and yellow meadow ants. I imagine the frog had been feasting happily.


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Get outside

I think this pretty much sums up my running. I ran a mile again today, and then a little bit more, just to prove to myself that I don’t need to stop at a mile. So far this month I’ve run 16 times, which is way better than the three runs in July. Even if most of those runs were only a mile – and ‘only’ is the funny bit, I suppose. For 53 years of my life, I didn’t think I could run a hundred yards.


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6 months from ‘graduation’ – and a caterpillar with a turquoise horn

This is just a post for me with lots of numbers in (and a caterpillar).  I say I don’t care how fast I run, but I’m not sure it’s quite true.  🙂

I completed the NHS couch to 5k programme six months ago today, so to celebrate, I decided I should re-run the same route.

On February 13th, I ran 2.58 miles (4.15k) at 15:30 min/mile.  I ran for forty minutes – I did an extra ten minutes to prove to myself that I didn’t need to stop at thirty.

Today I ran for thirty minutes (my knee was beginning to complain, so I didn’t carry on past 30), 2.24 miles, at 13:25 min/mile.  Not quite as fast as I managed in the middle of the 5×50 challenge in May (a parkrun at 13:21) but good enough to make me feel I am making progress.

Slow and steady.  🙂

Finished painting two windows today too, and found this strange caterpillar while sweeping up the car-parking space.  I think it’s probably a hawk-moth of some sort.  Amazing turquoise colour.

Maybe a hawk-moth caterpillar

Caterpillar with turquoise horn on it’s tail-end – probably some sort of hawk-moth

 


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A year of healthy changes

My year of health-based changes – a response to this health and wellness prompt.

Last summer I found out that I was coeliac, and needed to cut out gluten from my diet. No bread, pasta, pastry, cakes… Yes, I do miss them sometimes, and reading packets for ‘hidden’ gluten can be tedious. Some complete supermarket aisles are off-limits for me. It also make eating with others more complicated (Do I ask about ingredients or just eat lettuce and tomato?), but to be honest, I think I’m pretty fortunate. Someone else at work had similar symptoms at the same time, and had to have surgery for bowel cancer. All I’ve had to do is change my diet.

rice cakes

I discovered that I really like rice cakes a few months before being diagnosed as coeliac. Very convenient for lunches and on holiday.

Mrs Crimble's Jam Coconut Rings - gluten free and mmmmmmm!

Mrs Crimble’s Jam Coconut Rings – gluten free and mmmmmmm! I may have eaten rather too many of these.

In December I started the NHS couch to 5k running programme. It hasn’t all been easy – there have been some bumpy patches on the way, and weeks with very little running, but overall it has made me fitter, and changed the way I see myself. Most runners seem to run further and faster than me (and some dog-walkers are still faster), but I have repeatedly surprised myself with what I can manage, and that has made me stronger.

Along with running, I re-discovered yoga, after a 20-year break. Yoga has really helped me improve my posture, always pretty poor, and getting worse from too many laptop hours.

My most recent wellness move has been to find out more about mindfulness meditation. The yoga had started me off, and the web and various books have helped me on my way. I took some convincing that it could work for me, an obsessive-compulsive worrier, but I can definitely feel a real change.

I love being able to find little patches of calm and quiet – even a few seconds focusing on breathing or hearing the sounds around me can open up space when my mind starts whirling, and longer sessions give me time to catch up and slow down. If you’ve never tried it, go and read up on mindfulness meditation now!

So, what health changes should I try next?


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Daily Prompt: Person of the Year – Josh Clark – designer of the c25k running programme

I needed a bit of a push to get me going again, so went over to the NHS c25k support website

It was so inspiring reading about other people’s running successes, that I stopped in the middle of reading a new runner’s blog (who had just completed the big scary week 5 run) and went upstairs, put my running kit on, got outside for a warmup walk and then did a 32 minute run.  The first one for a week.  It was pretty slow, but not as difficult as the last one.

Anyway, one of the other things I’d been reading before I went out running was The Daily Prompt
and the prompt was – who would you make Person of the Year?   For me, the biggest change this year has been doing regular (relatively speaking) exercise, and it really got going with the NHS Couch to 5K programme, which is, as far as I know, based on Josh Clark’s programme.

When I went off on a hunt to find out his name, I came across this page, based on an interview with him about the programme, which was very interesting – not least that he designed it with his mum in mind, who was then 50.  No wonder it works so well for us oldies!  Though I do rather wish he’d called it c230, couch to 30 minutes, instead of couch to 5k, as 5k is a long, long way for many beginners, not to mention not-so-beginners like myself.

Well, two weeks and a couple of days until my 5k Race for Life, so I’d better get practising again.

Race for Life t-shirt

T-shirt is ready, but what about the legs?