Thursday, January 26, 2012

Calories and just how many am I actually burning?

This isn't about calories consumed, as there are a million sites out there that help with that, one fun one is Get Drunk, Not Fat, about getting the most alcohol per calorie, and there are a plethora of sensible ones, this is about how many calories are getting used up during exercise. The whole calorie thing isn't as exact a science as you might hope and many discussions go on, daily, on the many exercise forums on the Internet. I've found a couple of good resources about calculating calories burned and the associated VO2 max values needed in order to find out. In case you don't feel like clicking on the link VO2 max can be defined as the maximum capacity of an individual's body to transport and use oxygen during exercise.

My good friend, Endomondo, seems to base it's calorie calculations on either your weight, the type of exercise and distance (for distance based exercise), or on weight, type of exercise & duration, this seems fairly close in some occasions but not in others. There always seems to be a lively debate about whether or not the site is calculating it's cycling calories burned as too high, funnily enough the runners seem to say yes, but the cyclists disagree, who'd have thought it?

The reason I started thinking more about this was that my regular lunchtime walk involves walking around this inside of the Ford offices, I work at, regularly interspersed with runs up to the 7th or 8th floor of the Ford World Headquarters building. This gets me (a) sweating & (b) feeling quite put out by having to choose 'walking' as my exercise type in Endomondo. I'm certainly not walking all the time, I'm not stair stepping either, as I'm taking these stairs two at a time, but I'm not running either. I have said previously that I have a nice Garmin exercise watch that monitors my heart rate, so I'd thought I'd see what could be done with that information, hence this posting.

To start, lets look at a couple of workouts;

Endomondo Calorie Estimates
Date Duration Av. HR Max. HR # Fights Calories
1/12/2011 1hr 1min 117 171 36 448
2/12/2011 1hr 2min 119 172 38 448

Both almost identical in duration, one with two more flights of stairs, but I can assure you that the second one was way tougher than the first. Ok, so now for a little analysis...

Equipment needed to find VO2max - and ergospirometry lab, funnily enough  I don't have one and don't plan on picking one up any time soon...

I found a cool blog about someone originally training for a triathlon, but now just keeping on exercising called Triathlon Training Blog, there is a page dedicated to trying to calculate calories burned based on average HR, see here. The problem with this site is that it requires that I estimate my VO2 max value, which led me to another couple of pages, Wikipedia &, that will help me try and calculate. Let's use some of the methods mentioned on these pages to try and get a very rough feel for what my VO2 max value actually is, so I can see if I'm getting ripped off by Endomondo and my stair walking.

VO2 Max Calculations
Method VO2 max
Resting Heart Rate Based 41 20sec HR value of 21
1 Mile Walk Test 42 15:30 for 1 mile
pulse of 105 on completion
1.5 Mile Run/ Walk Test 44 12:00 for 1.5 miles
Pedersen estimation
44.3 HRmax=192; HRrest=65
Cooper test 43.8 2,478m in 12mins
Average 43

So we can see that based on four different calculations my VO2max comes it at around 43, so now I can go back to the calories burned to see what numbers come out of that, I'll just add a column onto the table created earlier, as it's easier.

Calorie Burn Comparison
Date Duration Av. HR Max. HR Calories Calculated
1/12/2011 1hr 1min 117 171 448 624 +176 (39%)
2/12/2011 1hr 2min 119 172 448 653 +205 (47%)

Hey, guess what, I'm working even harder than I thought. I'm now in the process of creating a Google spreadsheet so I can do some more testing.

Note: In Endomondo's defense I really have no idea how far I am walking while inside the building due to GPS reception issues, but based on how fast I generally walk and how long I am out there I pick a nice round number and go for it.

Friday, January 13, 2012

First run in ice spikes

One of the hardened steel ice spikes
I had been concerned that I was going to be unable to keep up my running over the winter and knowing me, then my chances of ever getting back to regular exercise would be very slim. I mentioned this to a colleague at work who was apparently feeling the same way and he had been looking around online for something that may help. As it turns out, there are a number of solutions, most of them being an 'over the sole', kind of thing. The ones that Matt had come across were slightly different, they actually screw into the sole of the running shoe, see them here,

Heel placement of the spikes
I had decided to take today off as the kids were off and school and looking at the weather it looked like a good time to use my aging Saucony's and convert to my new winter running shoes. The trick here is to put twelve spikes in each shoe, three in each side on the heel and three on each side of the front half of the shoe, trying to avoid the ridges in the sole, about 3/4" (~20m) from the edge of the shoe. For obvious reasons, I cannot use these on my VFF's, as the sole is only 4mm thick. The sire says that the spikes can be removed without damaging the sole of the shoe, although I'm (a) not convinced and (b) it doesn't really matter anyway as the shoe soles and buggered anyway. One major warning here is no walking in them anywhere where there is surface you don't want to bugger up as they will chew up carpet, linoleum, wood, etc, without beaking a sweat.

I decided that I couldn't delay it any longer, Bren had taking the kids out the a local skating rink. There is a fairly good trail, without half a mile from the house that a friend runs regularly. The run involved running along the side of the road for about a quarter of a mile, then some fairly decent trails, with a short paved section, then a quarter mile run back along the side of the road, all in approx 1-2" of snow. All in all, it went very well, I started out a little cautiously and admittedly I never ran across pure ice, I didn't feel any slippage at any time.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Barefoot/ minimalist - a new beginning

My first 'real' running shoes
Initially I picked up a pair of cheap running shoes from Walmart for $15-20, which, of course ended up being really crap, really fast. I currently run in a pair of Saucony ProGrid Guide 3 running shoes. These were chosen way back when I started running because they were the right price and I'm a frugal Scotsman and I thought that's what running shoes were supposed to look like. Having looked at reviews after the fact, I guess I didn't make too bad a choice, considering how little I knew about running.  I've had them since June 2011 and have run & walked approximately 720 miles in them and now the sole is almost devoid of tread and it is time for them to either retire, or, with the addition of ice spikes, at least become winter running shoes (more of that in future blog postings, hopefully).

My mentor, Stuart, mentioned the whole minimalist thing to me right when I first started running, although back then I had no idea what all the fuss was about. I eventually picked up a book that he mentioned, called Born To Run by Christopher McDougall which stresses the benefits of barefoot/ minimalist running, which really convinced me that this was something that I needed to do, sooner rather than later. I subsequently picked up another book by a hard core, barefoot running evangelist, called Barefoot Running: Step by Step by Barefoot Ken Bob Saxton. Barefoot Ken Bob believes that barefoot is the only way to go, in everything you do, which is a little bit much for me, but we'll see what happens.

What's the big deal?

Proponents of barefoot/ minimalist cite many reports that would seem to imply that the current design of shoe is a major cause of many of the back and leg problems that people report while running. If you look at the construction of the foot and the mass of nerve endings and muscles that it contains, it is really quite amazing. Then the amazing thing is that we then cram all that stuff into a artificial holder and hope for the best. To compare, can you imagine wearing a pair of ski gloves all the time and trying to function day to day like that. Evangelists also point to the horrible, large, clunky heel design of these and how they actually force you to run in an unhealthy manner, i.e. landing heel first. If you look at the many peoples around the world that do not spend their entire life in shoes and how they walk and run, they tend to land on their midfoot or on the ball of their foot. For a little more detail, checkout Wikipedia or the many other barefoot/ minimalist running resources on the web.

It is quite a controversial topic in the fitness world, as there are many bigots both ways.

Now what?

My new, bizarre & comfy shoes
'The kids', got me a pair of Vibram Bikila running shoes for my Christmas, thanks Bren :-), just what I wanted. As you can see, they are very different from your standard running shoe, or pretty much any other shoe, to be honest. It is now a couple weeks after Christmas and I haven't actually ran in them yet as I know I will injure myself. The trick with transitioning to minimalist/ barefoot running is to do it properly and gradually as it is very different to how I run now.


Planning a good transition is key to doing it right and not buggering up my legs all together. I will be trying to follow the training plan from the Vibram Five Fingers (VFF) education & resources website at I will also be doing 100 up challenge, which I originally came across in Christopher McDougall's blog posting about the Natural Running Store.

I have been thinking about this for a while and decided that the winter might be the best time to start for a couple of reasons. My chances for running outside are going be dramatically reduced, but I have found a local high school that has an indoor walking/ running track which I hope to take advantage of during the winter in order to work on my gait. The nice, short track, will be key for transitioning as not overdoing it at the start is very important.