Living by Numbers

Thanks to an article in Sunday’s Guardian I am now considering the concept of Quantified Self: a term coined by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly in 2007. The latter is an ex Wired journalist, former said magazine’s founder executive editor. Both are cited as founding fathers of the Quantified Self Institute in the Netherlands, whose aims are very simple:

Quantified Self (QS) is the term that embodies self-knowledge through self-tracking. The list of things that we can measure about ourselves is endless: among others our heart rate, respiration, hours slept, or even the number of sneezes and coughs during a day. However, not all important things in life can be measured and not everything that can be measured is important. QS really revolves around finding personal meaning in your personal data.

This weekend I made a decision to stop using Fitbit as a result of their acquisition by Google, but an alternative fitness tracker has already been chosen. It would be tough to live without the mental and physical advantages a pedometer and sleep analyser provide me at present… sure, it could happen, but the benefits such metrics provide me in terms of self-motivation… I’d miss them.

I suppose I am a QS advocate without even realising that was the case.

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In a period where increasing numbers of people are rejecting and regulating their tech use, there are lots of factors to consider around who holds this kind of information and for what ends. Once, it was just about selling your name and address to advertisers if you gave details to websites. Then credit cards came into play, stakes increased, but when one thinks about heart rates, menstrual cycles and exercise frequency as saleable data…

Of course there’s a crucial caveat: as yet, wearing a pedometer/heart rate monitor is not enforced. All the people who might yet get judged for their sedentary lifestyle are far less likely to care about their QS than those who have become enamoured with the benefits of such metrics at their disposal. However, there’s at least one life insurance company asking for activity tracker data to gain discounts, and that list will undoubtedly grow.

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Without my heartrate monitor, I’d have not learnt some vital lessons in the last six months. These figures are often more accurate an indicator of general health than I’d ever be able to obtain, at speed, from a medical professional. However, they are really no substitute for actual medical intervention and regular check ups. You can be as self-knowledgeable as you like, but you’ll never be an actual doctor, so don’t try.

Any exercise plan is only as good as your own overall health, and many issues can hide undetected from sight. If you’re going to become a member of the Church of QS, remember to cover other parts of your fitness equation. Oh, and don’t get stressed if you’re constantly being beaten on leader-boards by serial overachievers. The only contest that matters is the one with yourself.

Winning isn’t everything.

Big Time

This week’s been fucking mental, it has.

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The 5 of 7 days with exercise is working out quite nicely: ideally I should break on Tuesday instead of Sunday, which is easily fixed going forward. Thus far, Fitbit has recorded 369 active minutes and we’re only at Saturday lunchtime. Steady momentum, meet consistency. I’ve today also exceeded the MEP totals of September and August: not combined, obviously, but this will put me back on track for real progress.

With 12 days left this month, I’ll end up doing summat for at least nine of them.

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There are a number of key moments to cover: the most important came on Thursday night. That block of eight minutes may not look like much to you, but it represents an important realisation that if I wanna push, it’s there. The key is wanting to do so: eating better is definitely helping. Rest is absolutely vital, and making Tuesday one of my two days will make a huge difference. The biggest shift undoubtedly is psychological.

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The other key change this week is strength, and actual muscle mass. One of my favourite coats is now simply too small to go around my shoulders: arms are being forces to sit back from my chest thanks to improvement in arm definition and bulk. I could do with a couple of leg days as a result, if I’m honest, and Sunday will probably be the right time to go flex the running muscles a bit. I’m back to leg pressing 100kg, which is great.

Lungs continue to be the major sticking point in stamina, and cardio will always be my Kryptonite. It’s not a problem: sometimes, accepting shortcomings is the means by which you are able to become better regardless. I’m not winning any sprints any time soon, but response times are undoubtedly improving. The equation is all wrapped around active recovery, and that’s an ability that is is undoubtedly getting better over time.

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It’s important to note that Thursday and Monday’s sessions (above) were both at 75% effort but the output was a fair bit different. Undoubtedly fatigue will have had a hand in events. Again, rest and common sense need to be considered… but most vitally, I need to think less. This is becoming genuinely enjoyable, not just in single session, but every fucking time I walk in the Gym.

When did I alter? That’s easy: in a hospital bed. Alone, lonely and desperately tired, I found myself being grateful for the fitness already built or else I would never have been let go in three days. There was a quiet and determined promise made, early on a Saturday morning, as a woman lay opposite me, crying her eyes out. As long as I am capable, there will always be exercise, because this not only keeps me sane but helps me cope with the World right now. Without it, I would be broken.

It’s great to be strong. I love being strong. Long may strong continue.

Happy

When I began my exercise journey, there were blog posts about it. In fact, if you go search my archive, you’ll find them. Things were considerably simpler back then, which seems quite bizarre right now to say, considering how much fear was felt. A great deal has changed in that intervening couple of years, not just my attitude towards working hard. The most significant change however is an ability to pull feelings from head to page without their inherent substance altering.

Let us begin this new venture therefore by looking at my year thus far using only the monitoring tools at my disposal.

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The Fitbit on my wrist has been on there for 51 of 52 weeks: there’s a small gap at the end of December when the Christmas present failed and needed replacement. That graph tells you when I was ill this year (March and August) and despite its monitoring shortfalls, is a pretty decent record of how hard I’ve worked. Since switching to a heart monitor, the actual scope of effort’s been far better recorded.

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For a time, this Fitbit became no more than a glorified pedometer. Using a heart rate belt for every piece of organised exercise is great for effort, but doesn’t recognise all the times my belt isn’t on. Therefore the concept of Active Minutes is gaining more prominence, especially on days when I’m not on a treadmill or lifting weights. This week’s benchmark therefore is 316 active minutes in the first four days of work. Once we have a seven day total, that’s going to guide thinking going forward.

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Then, there’s that ever-elusive Red Zone in my exercise classes. I tried on Thursday after Wednesday’s success but didn’t get close: it wasn’t a mental issue. I was just fucked. The best chance that exists to pull red minutes is when a) the workout is geared towards things I can get my heart-rate up for or b) I cheat. Wednesday night, that’s what I did. I just ran for 4 minutes and BOOM there I am.

Going forward therefore, it might be time to reassess some goals.

If weight loss is my key, this is probably the moment to start reassessing what my basal metabolic rate is being fuelled by. I don’t like using MyFitnessPal to keep a calorie goal but if I wanna get the weight to vanish, it might be the moment. All those people who tell me that knowledge is power aren’t having to fight nearly as many internal demons as me either, I’d wager. There’ll still be the occasional slice of cake. I’m not an idiot.

Learning to form good habits is one of the things I’ve been subconsciously doing for months. These are the kind of positive steps that need to be implemented as we head towards Christmas… and that’s why there’s a header for these posts. Once a week, on a Saturday, we’ll go through the week’s exercise and look where we are. Yes, there may even be a Bridget Jones’ style weigh in.

It gives me the chance to talk about other stuff in the week than getting fit.

A Whole New World

I put a lot of stock on my fitness devices and the result they provide, but today’s post is a reminder that sometimes, numbers are not the whole story:

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59% effort looks, on reflection, like I didn’t try. In this case, nothing is further from the truth. What those numbers don’t show is how long I was able to hang without arms dying, after two days of Blaze that took a lot out of them. It doesn’t consider the 25 40kg bench presses done with little to no recovery time, or the 16kg weights held when doing step ups.

What yesterday showed me is significant enough that I need to write it down:

  • My initial first burst of exercise is tough, and will leave me breathless. Once I’m over that hump, it becomes increasingly easy to manage breathing and push harder. I know this now from an absolute boatload of historical evidence. Management is the key.
  • Overthinking is inhibiting my ability to push further. There needs to be considerably less worrying about how hard shit is, and just focus on ignoring that voice that constantly suggests I should temper effort. Learning how to listen to my body is one of those skills that requires most work.
  • I am way too hard on myself. This is massive. I’m strong, and able. Technique is solid. What is required is speed, and that will only come via practice, so that is what needs to happen going forward. Less fear in being capable will then allow for increasing confidence elsewhere. Honestly is winning the day.
  • I possess so much potential to improve. There was a minor epiphany this week: the people who work hard, and practice their moves, get so much more overall out of their experience. They are the ones for whom progress really means that. All the hard work that’s being put in isn’t just about conditioning and weight loss, it involves learning how to exercise more effectively. My brain is missing out on a load of developmental activity, and that needs to change.

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These are extremely interesting times for my body. Once upon a time, half of what I’m doing seemed virtually impossible, but is now conducted with a measure of ease. Moving forward, it is time to make giving blood every sixteen weeks a bit less of a trauma, to keep building stamina and good technique, and to deal with the continuing psychological fallout when I fail to keep going at a level that feels acceptable.

However, today I’m having a rest from lifting and only doing a bit of cycling…

A Whiter Shade of Pale

It’s good to know that intellectual exercise has borne fruit. I was in the Gym for a secondary, unscheduled Saturday PT. I pay for this using a voucher system, so when my trainer goes away, the vouchers pile up. The hour was, it has to be said, some of the hardest stuff I have done for some time. Kettle bell work, clean and press, hanging: it’s been many months since my arms and core ached as much as they did after the session.

Then, last night, it was time to crack the hour mark on the bike.

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Cycling is a different beast to anything else exercise-related I have ever undertaken. It asks a phenomenal amount of you in terms of stamina and consistency. Neither of these things are particularly my strengths. I could not honestly say there was any real stress last night either, just a phenomenal amount of pain. This was not OW OW OW SOMETHING IS WRONG pain but nope, there’s just no energy here, I need to stop now and have a cuppa and cycling is ridiculous and nope there are better things to do pain.

My legs were effectively useless: the low level discomfort after 15 minutes was tolerable, after 30 minutes annoying and after an hour… BOY. Think of the most irritating thing anybody could do to you and that happens every time you push down the pedals, and so I zoned out. However, without these sessions, you do absolutely never move past anything than just casual attainment. It’s the perfect storm of brain and body telling you there’s no point to anything.

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62% when placed alongside the 80% Blaze output is an interesting comparative benchmark. The former, for starters, is absolutely not a full body workout. More significantly, there are no rest periods. Here’s where my exercise shortcomings come into stark focus as a result: stamina is still very much lacking. To build that, you really do have to put in the miles, which means every session is not necessarily about massive numbers, but just doing the work. I’d forgotten that along the way. 

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The depressing number is the 94W (effectively how hard your legs are working), because this time last year I was running considerably higher that that. However this is not a disaster, just a starting point. My husband also reassures me that the bike I’ve chosen in Zwift is far too heavy and not doing me any favours at all (and I’m sure he knows that this is important) so after I’ve finished typing this, it’ll be time to log into the app and alter my setup. However, there will be no riding, or weights today.

This is most definitely a rest day.

I’m Only Sleeping

Day 2: Welcome to the Age of Saying What I Really Wanted to Say. Today’s nugget of interest? I don’t like having my midriff uncovered. It makes me feel physically uncomfortable at present: is this a deep-seated issue or is it just too fucking cold to be wearing anything than about 35 layers? Leave that one with me.

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Blaze was… well, HARD. 2 minutes in the red zone (according to my MyZone Heart rate belt) was enough to make me physically sick. Also, FUN FACT, you wanna see what an anxiety attack looks like from my heart’s perspective? Here you go:

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With the benefit of over two hours of deep sleep and a lovely long chat with my Physio I am much better mentally. Physically however, I am exhausted. There needs to be lots of tea and quite possibly a very large sandwich because really, truthfully, this needs to be more fun than it is right now and last night was not fun.

Weigh In:
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Next up on the list of priorities is edit the novel that I want to enter for various things. It’s in a corner and won’t come out right now, which is going to require some work from me that, probably up until yesterday I wasn’t capable of doing. Then, it is probably an idea to sit down with all the other half-finished pieces of work and set up some kind of priority order with them.

There’s a phenomenal amount of work to do on some: is it worth it? Should I be brutal and start from scratch? It will be considerably easier going forward to ignore a lot of old content, but some of it will have value. I’m going to need to learn how to edit again: simple enough, but brutality is not one of my strong points. It will help that this weekend I’m away and that my brain doesn’t have to think about anything important or stressful.

Yes, I really am very tired.

The Sun Rising

DAY 2: I’ll just leave this here.

Sugar cravings are non-existent. Sleep patterns are a lot less fraught after a couple of weeks off the routine, but as I miss order so very much, and without it everything suffers, it is time to be up at approaching ‘normal’ before cracking on with the plan. Yesterday went fabulously well: poetry’s already scheduled to archive, I have a month’s worth of Motivation stacked and ready to post, Short Story is already ahead of the curve.

Today, we’ll see if we can’t get the YouTube stuff organised too, remake some website headers, before creating a ‘form’ for scheduling so that I can cut down on the massive number of PostIt notes and random pieces of paper required to make each new month happen. Call it being overly picky, or perhaps just wanting to be more environmentally sound… but it should be doable now. The routine is set, but can still be flexible.

HOPEFULLY this will assist in making weight loss and meal times less stressful. I have my first recipe ready to go. It was either a) safe with burgers or b) risky veg and YES I’M GOING FOR B because nothing changes when you’re safe. This is a line in the sand, and it will go on being pushed and redrawn, but it won’t be walked away from. I’ve wanted to do this properly for decades. It will happen.


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The other promise is to my husband, who’s been pushing me for years to expand my mind via podcasts. I’ll be honest, there’s normally just not been enough brain-space to process stuff like this between everything else that’s upended mentally over the last few years. Now, however, I feel comfortable enough to give it a go. I’m listening to 2017 podcasts, starting today, then we’ll do last year so I’m caught up to current.

After that? We’ll take a trawl through the archives and see what looks interesting. I’ll be back to you on how it all goes.

Oh, and I’m gonna exercise later, because I haven’t lifted a heavy weight since Friday.