fitness

Easing back into fitness

by Oliver on Wednesday, June 1st, 2016.

It has been about 7 months since the birth of my daughter and I think that’s about long enough to let myself sit idle due to child rearing. Certainly as the father, I don’t have that many excuses as to why I can’t become physically active again, and I actually miss running and taking part in the various crazy obstacle races. So, I’ve resolved to get myself back into shape (without being too obsessive about it at least).

In previous years I certainly at times pushed myself too hard and ended up with some minor injuries – I guess that’s what you get in your mid-thirties. I pushed myself to get my running distances up too quickly, and ended up straining some leg muscles and needed physiotherapy for a couple of months. So far, I’ve only run about 5-6km once a week for the last few weeks and that is about all I can manage. I can feel the fitness level slowly returning (although it is also hard to tell due to the heat I’ve been running in) but am resisting running for any longer distances yet.

Since my biggest focus is getting into a state of fitness where I can again tackle an obstacle race that is not “insanely difficult” (to be defined further down), I know that one of my biggest weaknesses (literally) is upper body and core strength. To that end, and to assist with my running recovery, I’ve started a regime of stretches and small upper/core exercises which I repeat twice daily – once in the morning after the kids have woken me up, and again at night before bed. Here’s the general routine:

  • Lie on my back and stretch the entire body out
  • Pull each knee up to my chest individually and stretch the leg
  • Stretch the “glutes”
  • Hamstring stretches
  • Abductor / groin stretch while sitting
  • Front plank for as long as I can hold it
  • Side plank for as long as I can hold it, on each side
  • Push ups while kneeling (so I can do more repetitions with smaller load)
  • Prisoner squats until my legs start burning.
  • Lie on my front and stretch the front thigh area of each leg.

Sorry for the lack of accurate terminology! Some of these stretches I learned while I had a personal trainer leading up to my Tough Mudder race in 2014, some I got from my yoga teacher wife and some I just make up myself. Generally each stretch I hold for 30 seconds. I can say that my legs feel better after stretching them twice a day, and the other light exercises are having a very small but noticeable effect. It’s enough to keep those muscles a little bit active but not so much that I dread it and skip exercising them at all.

The intention now is to keep this up, continue raising the limits slowly until I feel like I can take on some of the smaller and less difficult obstacle races (and perhaps shorter regular running races). I figured out last year that a marathon is just not my cup of tea, after attempting to run 30km in one training session and finding it incredibly boring. I can manage a half marathon but I think that’s about the limit.

What do I define as “insanely difficult”? Tough Mudder definitely had at least two aspects which for me are pretty undesirable. I don’t particularly like being electrocuted, and the 12ft walls were almost impossible for me without a lot of assistance – this again comes back to the lack of upper and core strength which I hope to work on. Getting Tough – The Race was probably the hardest event I’ve undertaken so far due to the distance (24km) and extreme cold (being completely submerged for a long period of time in icy water) and sheer number of obstacles. I don’t relish the thought of that icy water again any time soon. No Guts No Glory, despite also being in very icy conditions (well, actual snow for most of it) was very enjoyable although I unfortunately did some injury to my finger which still hasn’t recovered. Bremen Lake Run would again have been more fun if it weren’t for the big walls, and it also had some cold water thrown in for fun.

So I guess my main complaint would be with the walls, which I know I need to work on a lot. I don’t know if the electric shock therapy obstacles will always be in Tough Mudder but if the walls were less of a challenge for me I guess I can work on my psychological toughening to get through being electrocuted. Meanwhile, there are actually a lot of very enjoyable (like, actually enjoyable for normal people) obstacle races coming up in Germany over the next few months which don’t have this level of insane difficulty that I’d like to attempt. Perhaps this year or next I’ll even try one or two in the UK as they tend to have more variety.

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Wednesday, June 1st, 2016 Health No Comments

Getting back into fitness

by Oliver on Sunday, November 30th, 2014.

I’ve just created a new category on this blog – Health – and recategorised one of the older articles I wrote a while ago. Being a confirmed computer geek, fitness has never really been very high on my priority list until I got into kayaking when I was about 24 or so. I managed to keep that up for several years and ended up quite fit – completing a 111km kayaking marathon three times in consecutive years and also a 5-day 404km marathon at the end of 2006. Sadly around 2007 I moved and various other factors made it more difficult to keep up kayaking, and I gave it up completely when I moved to Germany in 2009.

Since having a child in 2010 it’s been harder to recover my fitness regime. For a while I was going to the gym, but I tend to get a bit bored doing that. We borrowed a bike trailer and for maybe 6 months I was cycling almost every morning about 20km with my son sitting in the trailer behind me – it was actually a lot of fun and good exercise, picking different routes around Berlin to explore. Another winter came and inevitably I stopped exercising again and really I didn’t find anything suitable to do for a couple of years. I tried running a few times but ended up with very sore knees after no more than 5km.

A couple of years ago I discovered the Berliner Mauerweg – the entire course of the original 160km Berlin Wall built in the early 60s. It is possible to walk and even ride a bike around the whole thing. I had cycled a few 20-30km sections from time to time but last year finally undertook to cycle around the whole thing in one day, and started preparing by cycling 30-50km sections until I had finished the whole thing and had familiarised myself with the entire length. Some sections I rode more than once, so I made sure to try both directions so that I could plan to ride the entire 160km in the most logical way possible. Largely this comes down to which direction is easiest to find your way along, since some parts are not well signposted and it is easy to lose your way. Finally, and fittingly, on Tag der Deutschen Einheit last year I rode around the whole thing. The weather was perfect, I set out in the dark at 6am and finished around 4:30pm, tired but happy. I took about 3-4L of water too much for the journey but had it been hotter I might have used it all up – probably good to have been on the safe side.

I’d like to ride it again but it’s a big undertaking (and that’s not on a road bike either – just a normal “Herrenrad”). Late last year I took a bamboo bike building course, with the intention of racing it in some of the amateur races that seem to be frequently happening around the country. Finally, in August of this year, I did race the bike and had a great time doing so. There are definitely plenty of cycle-nuts at SoundCloud so for fitness I could easily stick with them and make that my primary sport.

For reasons that I still don’t understand, earlier in the year I started getting interested in doing Tough Mudder. I suspect it was a banner ad or a suggested group while I was on Facebook – that shows you how powerful these messages can be without you even realising it! After watching a few videos and immersing myself in the subject I was hopelessly addicted to the idea of doing it, and signed up, not really knowing yet how I’d get to the point of physically achieving that level of fitness required. Right after finishing the Vattenfall Cyclassic race I started doing fitness training classes twice every week, and even managed to convince a couple of co-workers to sign up not only to the training sessions but Tough Mudder itself. Along the way to Tough Mudder I also ran a bunch of amateur 10km “trail run” races in preparation, such as the Volvo Tierparklauf, Potsdamer Herbstlauf and TrailRun Berlin.

Despite training quite a lot before Tough Mudder, I still feel I was unprepared. The 18km distance was not much of a problem, but I did find that any time I went significantly over 12km beforehand that my legs would be extremely sore for anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. I actually didn’t run much at all in the two weeks before Tough Mudder because of it – something I am doing or not doing is leading to excessive recovery time between exercises, and if I’m going to further improve my fitness this is something I’ll have to address. Upper body and core strength (really important when climbing high walls I discovered) were also nowhere near what I’d like them to be. I recorded the whole thing on my GoPro and have an fun-size edit available for viewing here:

In the run-up to Tough Mudder I managed to sign up for the M├╝ggelsee Halbmarathon as well, and at 21km is far and away the longest run I’ve ever done uninterrupted. Excluding Tough Mudder I had previously done the Sydney City to Surf a couple of times, which is 14km and I had always had extremely sore knees and legs in general after doing that. Unfortunately the Halbmarathon came only a week after Tough Mudder so I hadn’t fully recovered, and so did the whole thing in a reasonable amount of leg pain. Then I had to take another couple of weeks off running to recover again, which is really unfortunate as I had also signed up for Getting Tough which is on the 6th of December. The last few weeks I’ve been training on my own for this race, which is 23km and in the cold of winter. You should really check it out, it’s amazing:

I’m feeling far more unprepared for this one, mostly because of the extreme cold conditions. I’ve developed a reasonable training regime for it, which consists of a roughly 10-11km run to Volkspark Friedrichshain, a bit of hill running, various upper-body and core strength exercises like bear crawling, climbing walls, climbing nets, monkey bars, dips, pushups etc, with running in-between to recover. I’ve been getting up at least two mornings during Monday to Friday at 6am and doing this routine all in the complete dark before sunrise. Yesterday’s session was the first where the temperature was actually at freezing point and it was nice to know that I was at least clothed well enough to be comfortable at that temperature.

But even when this event is over I have others on the horizon. I’m looking into signing up for No Guts No Glory – both the “chicken run” race which is a 6km night run on the Saturday, and the “No Way Out” race which is a regular day race of 17km on the Sunday. If I manage to complete Getting Tough and keep up my training, I figure that by February I should be able to tackle both of these races given that the first one is relatively short. Not sure what my chances are for convincing anyone to join me though!

On a similar note, I’ve been keeping my eye on various other OCR websites like Mudstacle and Nuclear Races, and other general running event websites that aggregate together information on different race styles. It has exposed the fact that the bulk of these events are in the UK; certainly I can find things to do in Germany but not so much. The USA seems to have a lot more of the “flashier” events like Zombie Runs and Spartan Races (which seem to be much more competitive). I’m considering going over to the UK for a few events next year but haven’t yet identified any that I’d definitely want to do. I’d also like to do as many Tough Mudders as I can next year, and would like to do one Spartan Race at least, to see how they are, but would need to be in much better shape for them.

On the complete opposite side to physical fitness, I’ve also been considering mental fitness. Since I’ve had a large recent shift in my career, more towards engineering management and away from an individual technical contributor role, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and self-reflection on where I want to be going and how I’m performing in my role. The main take-away from this has been that my mind is extremely cluttered at the moment and it is very hard to find my way through the fog. Part of the management training I’ve been doing at work has involved using Headspace – a meditation app designed to help you gain a bit more control over your presence of mind. I’ve had some, but not much progress, with this.

Along similar lines a former co-worker of mine mentioned that he was going to do a Vipassana meditation course. It is 10 days of no talking, frugal eating, and basically just intense meditation and self-reflection. The me of prior to using Headspace would have laughed at the suggestion – I’ve never considered myself a “meditation person” (and I would use those scare-quotes). At this point in my life and career, and having identified that I can’t mentally break through the fog on my own without having had enough self-reflection to identify and answer fundamental questions about myself, I am very tempted to go on a Vipassana course. Finding 10 days to do this would be really the biggest challenge, but perhaps something I can make steps towards in the coming months. There’s nothing stopping me from starting with a single day, or even a whole weekend to meditate. Come to think of it, I should probably find something now and just book it, as has been my habit with OCR events the last few months.

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Sunday, November 30th, 2014 Health No Comments

Fitness and stuff

by Oliver on Sunday, August 10th, 2014.

A friend drew my attention to the fact that it has been around three months since my last post on this blog. Sadly, life has gotten in the way of my more technical posts – there have been a lot of things going on preventing me from writing more frequently. Vacation, how busy I am at work with various new responsibilities and a lot of features to deliver, team-mates to train up, learning some new frameworks so I can build a website for my wife, and a bunch of fitness training.

NOTE: I was going to embed my Strava widgets here but they don’t support HTTPS connections. For shame, Strava!

I’ve been associating more closely with the bicycle enthusiasts at work, who all seem to use Strava, so I’ve started using it myself. I’m not exactly a newcomer to the fitness application thing, but also not really an old hand at it. I think I started using eCoach (which I even contributed to) when I had my Nokia N900, and it eventually gained support for uploading events to Heiaheia, which I still use to this day:

Heiaheia was started by some ex-Nokia employees and seems to be relatively successful, at least in the sense that it is still around and supports modern devices like iPhone and Android. It lets you select from a wide range of sports, tracks time and/or distance aggregates, plots your routes on a map, allows you to set goals and measure yourself against them and the usual basic features. I don’t find it does much more than this sadly. Strava on the other hand is limited to only running and cycling (which is fine for me at the moment, as that’s the majority of my exercise) but adds a far deeper analysis of your exercises to this as well as something I can only call something like “automatic socialisation” of your exercises. It figures out where you went and compares your performance to anyone else doing the same thing at any time in the past. It even figures out if you and your friends (well, followers/followees) went on the same run or ride together, which is neat.

Other colleagues of mine that do more running are or have been using such apps as Runtastic or RunKeeper but I’m already feeling the burden of maintaining two apps. I have a long history of exercise in Heiaheia that I don’t want to lose, although I find the running and cycling support in Strava far superior. On the other hand I couldn’t track anything outside of these two sports in Strava to gain an overall view on my training time (since I’m currently also doing some general strength/agility training in addition to running and cycling).

The whole point, of course, is to build up to competing in a few events. Later this month I’ll be doing the 55km race in the Vattenfall Cyclassics on my completely self-built bamboo bike. It will also be with a bunch of colleagues from SoundCloud so it should be a lot of fun. Then in October I’ll be competing in the Hamburg Tough Mudder obstacle race (which is probably putting it very lightly). Training up for this latter event is really the main focus though, and it has also raised my interest in other similar events. I won’t list them all but a good page for information on the general topic is Mudstacle.

This year I turned 35, by which time you really need to be in good shape already or have a very good plan to do so, otherwise you’ll just find it getting harder and harder as the years go by. Fortunately in Germany they are fairly fanatical about health and preventative measures so they offer such things as health-provider-covered skin cancer checks, and comprehensive health checks. So far everything has come out looking good, so it’s just up to me to get back into relatively good shape so that I can continue feeling good as long as possible. I do miss kayaking, but if I can substitute these crazy obstacle races and general fitness training for it then I think I’ll be just as happy.

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Sunday, August 10th, 2014 Health No Comments