Smaller, Lighter… and Faster!

Getting Faster!

RunKeeper tells me I’m getting faster!

Another breakthrough this morning: I broke through the 13-minute mile barrier!  My fastest average pace in running prior to today was 13:09 per mile.  This morning – despite feeling at the start like I really wasn’t going to do well – I averaged 12:43 per mile.

I’ve been doing this running thing for a little while.  (I started in October 2011.)  I’ve always struggled.  A lot of that was my weight, but I never really knew how to improve my running.  So my pace really just stayed around the same speed for a long time.

Well, last week, I finally took the time to sit down and talk with some friends who are runners (duh!) and, on their advice, I began doing some intervals (alternating a slow pace with a faster pace for predetermined brief periods).  I’ve been jogging the first 20 minutes each day at my normal pace, then doing intervals the last 10 minutes, and it appears to be paying off.

What do you runners out there do to improve your pace?

RunKeeper

RunKeeper - New Activity

Starting a new activity in RunKeeper

I’ve been using RunKeeper on my iPhone for about a year and half now, and – while it has its issues – it’s a great little app for tracking exercise. I only use it for running and walking, but you can use it to track cycling, hiking, skiing – 13 types of activities, as well as an “Other” option.

When I started using the app, it had a lot of great functionality (that I didn’t use) but the interface was little kludgy, but with the release of RunKeeper 3.0 at the end of last year, the UI is crisp and intuitive. It’s easy to create a new account and jump right into a new activity.

RunKeeper

RunKeeper’s Activity Tracking Screen – So, I wasn’t running when I snapped the screenshot. So sue me!

Like other apps of its ilk, RunKeeper uses your GPS to track where, how far, and how fast you run, walk, etc. Most of the time, this works really well, but I’ve discovered that you’ll want to turn off your phone’s Wi-Fi to get the best tracking results. (The tracking has been known to go a little nuts from time to time otherwise. I’ve seen add 1/3 to 1/2 a mile to my distance because it tracked me someplace I’d never been, apparently due to interference.) I won’t say that it still doesn’t have some issues with accuracy, but frankly I have yet to see an app of this type that doesn’t.

During your activity, you get an easy-to-read display featuring elapsed time, average speed or pace (an optional setting), calories burned, distance and current speed/pace, with easy to access “Stop” and “Pause” buttons and a graph of your progress. Swipe to the right and you’ll get a map showing where you’ve been. You can even take a picture from this screen if you so desire. (I’ve been known to do this on walks. Coupled with the app’s social features, it makes for a nice way to share what you’ve been up to.)

Speaking of social features, RunKeeper integrates easily with Facebook and Twitter and will share as much or as little as you want, depending on your account settings.

One of the nice features is the ability to switch from a daytime (white background) to a nighttime display (pictured above). It seems like a small thing, but if you’re running at night or early in the morning, that white daytime display will blind you!

RunKeeper - Me

All about me.

RunKeeper also plays your music for you via the Music app. Just choose from your available playlists when you’re setting up a new activity, and when you begin, you’re rocking out. For some reason – possibly to do with iTunes Match? – this function suffers from the same kind of weirdness as the GPS tracking, so turn off your Wi-Fi before beginning. (I’ve had the app refuse to play music through my entire run – until the last five seconds.)

RunKeeper also integrate very easily with my Polar H7 bluetooth heart rate monitor. The app is great for tracking heart rate – among its abundance of available audio cues are average and current heart rate, as well as heart rate zone. (I still haven’t figured out if the voice is excited or panicked when telling me I’m in the 90-100% range!) Those cues are quality recordings of a pleasant, young-sounding, female voice, unlike some apps, which sound like the old standard female computer voice we’ve all come to know and loathe.

My only issue here is that the app does not use heart rate in its calories-burned algorithm. This was almost a dealbreaker for me, but the rest of its functionality was too good to pass on.

To be honest, RunKeeper has too many features for me to review here – I haven’t used most of them yet and may never. You can save routes that you’ve just run for later use. Via the web site, you can create your own routes by clicking and dragging on a map. (The web site also features graphs of your activities.) The app encourages you by letting you know when you’ve broken a personal record – like activities in a week or average pace for the month. The app tracks your weight, allows you to set training goals, offers training tracks for everything from Beginner-to-5K training to weight-loss.

RunKeeper is free for iPhone. They offer both free and Elite ($4.99/month or $19.99/year) membership packages. The Elite package gives you access to more detailed fitness reports and RunKeeper Live, which broadcasts your activities in realtime. This review is based on a free account.

While Endomondo’s community may be larger and Polar Beat may offer better accuracy, RunKeeper is the best all-around exercise tracking app that I’ve used.

A Day of Breakthroughs

15.2 Pounds!

Only 64.8 more to go!

I’d like to give some props to my scale today. We are often at odds, but it has always supported me – at least for a few seconds each morning while I’m standing on it.

It told me this morning that I have officially broken the 15-pound mark! I’ve lost 15.2 pounds!  Given the amount of food I ate on Easter Sunday, this is a real victory for me.  I was able to get back on path and continue the journey on Monday without letting that one day of celebration defeat me.  Thank you God!

Record-breaking pace!

Hey, I’m slow, but I’m fat, too!

Not only that, but I achieved my fastest running/jogging pace yet: 13:09/mile!  My previous record was 13:29/mile, which I hit on April 18 of last year. I took a six-week break from running in May-June due to some back issues.  I was never really able to get back on track after that.  Then, I was laid off from my job at Johnson Space Center in September, got discouraged, had some foot problems, and quit running until February 11.

So this feels like a great victory for me.  I really thought it would be some time before I was able to top my best pace, but then today, it happened!  And I beat it by 20 seconds!  Granted, RunKeeper – or any other app, for that matter – may not be the most accurate way to measure my pace, but it’s clear that I did go faster today than I’ve gone before.

Small victories are victories nonetheless.  Revel in them, and eventually, they will lead you to the larger victories.

Oh, Easter!

Copious amounts of food

Copious amounts of food

Easter is perhaps my favorite time of year, and as a worship leader, it’s also one of my busiest times of the year (Christmas being the other). And let me go on the record as saying that Easter is one of the most difficult days to stay on a diet.

You don’t want to know how many calories worth of food I consumed yesterday. You don’t. And if you do, I won’t tell you.

We all stumble from time to time when trying to lose weight. Personally, I’m past the point of giving up over one bad day. Sometimes, I think, you have to recognize that particular days – like holidays – are going to be difficult. But those days are still to be enjoyed, so don’t stress over it. Do the best you can and get back on track the next day.

I ate too much yesterday – though I never felt stuffed – but this morning, I got up at 5:10 a.m. and jogged 2.2 miles, just like I do every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Yes, yesterday set me back a little, but that doesn’t mean my journey is over.

How do you cope with these kinds of days? What helps you get back on track after a stumble? Let me know in the comments.