Monthly Archives: January 2008

Heart rate training day 10: frustrating…

1. I’m getting much better at just getting out and running. So now I’ve got to just give myself over to trusting the programme.

2. Trusting the programme is hard right now because it is really frustrating running at 153bpm. Looking back through these blog entries so far I realise it has only been 6 runs so must remain relaxed. The impatience is building though.

So, writing about this is helping me deal with the frustration and impatience by making me realise how short the time has been in the grand scheme of things. And I must look forward though at least another 14 weeks of training and think of that as simply the beginning, as a starting point for a larger goal is to find a way of running and a mind set that I can maintain for several years rather than several months or even several weeks.

Right, I’ve probably talked enough in this series about how hard frustrating the beginnings of this programme have been so here I shall quit my complaining and I’ll let you know when things are looking up again. In the mean time I’m going to get into reading and researching heart rate training so I can bring you some informative, rather than emotive, articles.

Link to the index for this series.

Find your local farmers market

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By now, most of us know that eating locally is supposed to be better for taste, our health, local business, and the environment. But how the heck are we supposed to buy local when the only place to buy food is Super Massive All-You-Can-Eat Deluxe Walmart?

The USDA has a farmers market database where you can search for markets based on state, city, county and zip code.

I tried searching for my parent’s zip code, which turned up nothing, then tried “Naperville”, which also turned up blank. But then I put in “DuPage” county and out popped a huge list of farmers markets near my parents (including one in Naperville).

All bugs in the USDA’s search technology aside, this seems like a pretty good resource. Now the next challenge is actually getting up at 8am on Saturday to actually GO to the farmer’s market. But that’s a whole different story…

Link to the USDA Farmers Market Search

Swim Lesson 3: Brain versus body

Last night’s swim lesson was exhausting. Or rather, I was exhausted.

Saturday and Sunday night was out with friends, eating and drinking and while terribly late, I never sleep very well when I’ve had too much to drink. So Monday I was tired and by 7:30pm’s swim lesson, I was more in the mood to curl up with a bowl of hot soup and a book than put on a bathing suit. But I went because I paid for it and I knew I’d miss it if I didn’t go.

I guess I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t in the mood, because our class was half the size as when it started. Fine by me: more attention from the instructor.

We spent what felt like an eternity doing the back stroke. Backstroke is sort of like freestyle but on your back (huh). The BBC’s excellent backstroke for beginners has a nifty instructional animation and some useful tips. For instance

  • It is a good idea to count how many strokes it takes you to swim a length so you will know when you are getting close to the end of the pool. (Brilliant!)
  • Try and swim with all of your body close to the surface of the water, almost like you are lying on your back in bed with your head on a pillow.
  • Use long fast kicks, making sure your legs are moving up and down.
  • Keep your knees underwater and bent a little, and your toes should make a small splash when you kick.
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Then our instructor had us learn the butterfly. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the butterfly in action, but it’s really weird looking, and somewhat ridiculous unless you’re an olympic athlete who swims to win rather than a normal person who swims to stay fit and relax. On top of all that, the butterfly requires really good technique. Wouldn’t it make more sense to perfect the basic strokes before getting into something advanced?

I was annoyed by the butterfly, and by my own unwillingness to try something new. I only did a couple [poorly executed] laps before class was finally over and I could go home and comfort myself with chickpea soup and a grapefruit (even if it’s wrong).

The learning point here is one lesson that I seem to revisit over and over again, but manage to forget every time: I just don’t have enough energy to work full-time, write part-time, swim, cycle, eat well, and have more than one or two drinks in a sitting. That last item on the list basically screws everything else, mainly because I don’t sleep well. This is an even harder lesson to learn than the butterfly. If I never swam the butterfly again in my life, at least I’d still have a social life.

What I need to remember is not the bad feeling of being tired, but the good feeling of swimming on a good night’s sleep, a well nourished body, and a bloodstream gushing with oxygen rather than toxins. Now how do I remember that when I’m at the pub?

Link to BBC’s Backstroke for beginners

Crossposted to

Heart rate training day 8: timing is everything…

I didn’t run this morning. I thought about it when I woke up and decided that as it looked like it was going to be a nice day and as I was feeling tired that I should just wait until lunch time and run then.

I spent my morning sorta waiting about to run… not that I didn’t get anything else done but it meant that I was thinking about the need to get out more than usual.

When I did run it was nice to be out in the warm and the sun but the entire thing was a bit much of an event and so a lesson learned.

Set aside time each day, if you can, and I think most people can… perhaps not if you’re working shifts, and always exercise at the same time. Start building a habit and then there’s more chance of keeping your exercise in the background of your mind and you’ll just get it done and move on.

I think that for me that time is early morning, first thing I do… ugh.

Now, if I have that time set aside each morning that I’m running what should I do with the same time slot on rest days? Go for a walk? Write? Stretch? Sleep in? I get to find out tomorrow.

Link to the index for this series.

Exercise keeps you biologically young

Worth a read from the Beeb, just incase you needed a little more persuasion that exercise is good for you:

A study of twins found those who were physically active during their leisure time appeared biologically younger than their sedentary peers.

The researchers found key pieces of DNA called telomeres shortened more quickly in inactive people. It is thought that could signify faster cellular ageing.

And with that, I should really get out for a run now…


Tough Guy extreme obstacle course, running race for those too hard for marathons

Last Sunday, and with no advertising to lure them, 5,000 people, 90% of them male, converged on a 150-acre area of countryside in South Staffordshire, the Dickensian-sounding Mr Mouse Farm For Unfortunates. There, they spent anything between 57 minutes and five hours running through turbulent streams and ludicrously uneven woodland areas, up precipitous mud hills and down nettle-festooned slopes, tackling obstacles with names such as Tyre Torture and Fiery Holes. This year, only 3,000 managed to finish the course. The 1997 race saw seven people break their legs, and in 2001, 700 people developed hypothermia. This is why participants were encouraged to take out personal insurance and sign health-risk waivers. This is why the event is called Tough Guy.

Okay, so it is a bit of fun and great marketing but is it any good for you?

The organiser was heavily involved in setting up the London Marathon in the early 80s and then decided that road running was breaking people down, causing long term injuries. He got into doing shorter off road events to reduce the amount of stress on joints by picking courses on softer ground.

The article interviews one runner who describes the functional training programme she uses to be able to compete in this race:

The specific training’s really changed my bodyshape: I’m doing a lot of hanging from bars, burpees [jumping to a squat from a press-up position, then jumping to an upright position] and press-ups, which I could never do before.” Hinks completed the course in an admirable two hours and 45 minutes. “I’m very impressed with myself. I’ve got baby biceps, I’ve lost a stone in weight, and my upper body has really developed.”

So, soft ground, full body exercise and a good chance of hypothermia… I guess it is up to you to make the trade off.

Link to the Guardian story
Link to a Guardian gallery of photos
Link to a Flickr Group, lots of good photos

Heart rate training day 7: a 5km jog

Well, today I was a bit tired and while I wasn’t hung over, let’s just say I had a couple of beers last night. I decided that I just wanted to run and not bother with constantly checking my heart rate.

I strapped on the HRM and headed out at a slow and steady pace focused on keeping my breathing easy and not paying much attention to my heart rate.

I jogged the 5km, didn’t walk up any hills, and averaged a heart rate of 158bpm, that’s 5 above my target recovery ceiling.

I wont stick with this method of running to heart rate because it just doesn’t work yet but I’m looking forward to being able to do that in a few weeks when I am fitter, there’s something satisfying about going for a run and not having to slow down to a walk every 10 minutes.

Link to index for this series.

High Protein Vegan Meals: Tofu Scramble

First in a series of high protein vegan meals!

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Tofu is a source of confusion for many aspiring chefs, vegetarian and meat-eaters alike. The trouble with tofu is that, when it doesn’t turn out well, it really doesn’t turn out well. I still recall my first attempt at stir-fried tofu, the soggy, gelantinous blobs that fell out of the skillet, ruining an otherwise edible pile of rice. A few more years and experiments later, I think I finally get it.

This recipe requires no marinating or special tofu prep – literally crumble it into the pan. You can use whatever veggies you have on hand to spruce things up, though we feel that the onion, soy sauce, nutritional yeast and cilantro are essential. Also, make sure you use firm tofu, not the silken stuff. To save on time, you can always use frozen veggies (we just discovered the joyful convenience of frozen diced onion – so wrong, yet so right).

Served with a slice of whole wheat toast, this meal has more than 25g of protein and fewer than 400 Calories.

Scrambled Tofu

Tofu Scramble

The essentials

  • 1 block (450g) firm tofu
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 10 sprigs cilantro (coriander) with stems, roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 3 Tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper

The veggies

  • 4 mushrooms, diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 cup kale, chopped
  • Other veggies: bell peppers, jalapeno, broccoli, peas

The instructions

  1. Put a frying pan on medium heat and add the olive oil
  2. When the oil is hot, add the onion and cook until onion is soft and translucent
  3. Using your hands, crumble the tofu into the pan and sprinkle on the turmeric. (At this point the tofu might give up a lot of water. If so, turn up the heat and let the water boil off. This is key to not ending up with a soggy mess.)
  4. Add the soy sauce and the remaining veggies and cook until veggies are tender
  5. Sprinkle on the nutritional yeast and cilantro. Mix well.
  6. Salt and pepper to taste
  7. Serve hot with whole wheat toast and a side salad.

Makes about 3 servings. Per serving: 103 Calories (kcal); 14g Total Fat; 22g Protein; 15g Carbohydrate
(Scrambled tofu with 1 slice whole wheat toast: 378 Calories; 26g Protein, 16g Total Fat; 38g Carbohydrate)

Nutrition information derived from the USDA food database.

High Protein Vegan Foods

Name Measure Calories Protein (g) Fat (g) Carbs(g)
Firm Tofu 100 g 91 9.9 5.8 2
Silken Tofu 100 g 62 6.9 2.7 2.4
Seitan 3 oz 90 18 1 3
Tempeh 3 oz 160 13 3.5 20
TVP (dry) 0.25 cup 80 12 0 7
Edamame 30 pods 88 7.8 4.1 6.6
Beans 1 cup 224 15 1 40
Natural Peanut Butter 2 Tbsp 210 8 16 6

The 100 most protein rich vegetarian foods is an interesting resource, but it’s not exactly practical. To add to this, we’ve brainstormed our favorite high protein vegan foods, shown in the table above.

In the coming days and weeks, we’ll feature quick and easy vegan recipes that make use of these ingredients. Is there anything we’re missing? Any special requests? Let us know in the comments, by email, or in the forums!

Feeling less good about grapefruit

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I love grapefruit. For the past two years or so I’ve eaten a grapefruit a day. They are my usual after-dinner dessert. So what’s with the British trying to sour my sweets?

A recent “British study” indicates regular grapefruit consumption increases risk of breast cancer. Whatever. I’m not going to worry about one little study. However, this little tidbit is a little disconcerting…

The study has been criticized in some circles for using conventionally grown grapefruits. Given the amount of research into the dangers of pesticides, and the kind of heavy pesticide use that goes into growing citrus fruits, it seems possible and even likely that the estrogen effects observed in the women eating a lot of grapefruit are due to chemical pesticides, and not the fruit itself.

I almost always eat “conventionally grown” grapefruit because the organic stuff is crazy expensive – over £1 ($1.96 USD) a grapefruit. But the article makes me want to brush my tongue and book a colonic. How creepy is it that pesticides can permeate the grapefruit’s skin and invade its delicious fruit? And just how many are getting through?

To find out, I looked to the Pesticide Data Program (PDP) which collects and analyses data on pesticide residues in agricultural commodities. Their 2006 Summary includes pesticide analysis of grapefruit. According to the report, “grapefruit are peeled and excess white membrane is removed” prior to the chemical check (so the fruit inside is tested, not the skin).

The lab test detected 9 different pesticides in 345 of 743 (46%) samples. However, only the fungicide Imazalil was found in more than 10% of the samples. According to the PAN Pesticides Database, Imazalil is one of their so-called “Bad Actors“, listed as a “likely” carcinogen and “moderately hazardous” in toxicity.

The sample only includes grapefruit grown in the U.S., so us expats can’t really draw any conclusions from this. But even if I were back in the U.S. of A, would I let the stats keep me from enjoying a Texas Ruby Red? Maybe. This is the kind of news that makes me want to own my own house, somewhere warm, far from crop dusters, where I can have my own garden and fruit trees.

We’re getting there…

Crossposted to