I've been into exercise on and off in the past. Now's an "on" phase.
How I started exercising again
I think the precipitating event this time was watching the documentary The Alpinist. Marc-André Leclerc, the free solo climber in that documentary, lived his life around climbing. He lived in a van in the woods near where he climbed. He climbed constantly. The filmmakers even get stood up for an interview because Marc-André decided to go climbing. I saw that he didn't "make time" to climb; he tried to "make time" to do anything else besides climb. Climbing was his default.
That changed my perception of exercise. I usually have thought of exercise as a habit or a chore that I want to try and make time for. However, like many people, I'm pretty busy; when I think about exercise as another to-do item, I start to assess it vs. other to-do items and I tend to drop off.
In my previous exercise post I also talk about "The Lefkoe Method," which is a good technique for questioning your fundamental assumptions and beliefs so that you can change them. I've been doing this on and off for a while as well. So between my questioning of beliefs and seeing The Alpinist, maybe something clicked.
Getting a smart watch
Every few months I'd tried different "interventions," or changes to try and disrupt a system, to see if they'd help me exercise. I observed that I thought of myself as a "fit" person, but that my belief about myself was from my level of physical activity many years ago. I was not objective in assessing my fitness. That led me to purchasing a fitness watch: the Garmin Forerunner 245.
I've never had a smart watch before, although I did own a Forerunner 305 back in the late 2000s. I wasn't sure what Garmin's niche was vs., say, Samsung's smart watches. I didn't totally understand that the Forerunner was a running-centric watch—"for runner," get it?
Once the watch arrived, I started to get data about myself. This objective data has helped me counter my narrative for myself by showing me exactly how in shape I am. The measurements I've found useful include
- "Body battery"
- This is a proxy for how worn out you are. It has been helpful for me.
- "Stress" level
- I have no idea how scientific this is, but the watch will show me how stressed I am (physiologically). I can see that hours after a run my levels are still high, for example.
- Current heart rate
- I didn't know the effect on me of going up four flights of stairs quickly, besides knowing I was out of breath. This helped me observe how activities became easier as I got more in shape.
- Heart rate zones
- The Garmin/watch ecosystem can calculate these zones, which helps with understanding how intense my current activity is
- Intensity minutes
- How many minutes you've worked out, but anything in a heart rate zone counts double.
- Recovery time
- This shows how much time the watch thinks you need before you recover.
- Resting heart rate
- I didn't know what my resting heart rate was, although I'd taken it with a pulse oximeter occasionally.
- Training load
- This shows how much activity you've done over the past 7 days.
- VO2 max
- I had no idea what VO2 max was when I got this watch. However, now I understand that it's a core cardio fitness indicator especially for running.
Starting to use the watch
I set a goal for myself to get at least 210 "intensity minutes" a week. I then found times to exercise, which at the beginning included
- gym workouts
- rowing machine (at home)
- running, especially on the weekend
- walking over lunch
I re-joined the local gym so that I could have another workout option. This was also helpful when Seattle was filled with smoke back in September; I could run on the treadmill at the gym.
I got to where I would walk about 3.5 miles at lunch to a vegan burger place (Next Level Burger) and back. I started to find more opportunities to run as well.
I'm very fortunate to have some good exercise knowledge from past experience, such as
- Run three times a week: once at a tempo run, once with intervals, and once on an easy long run
- Don't push it on the running and try not to run too many miles a week
- Cross-train with weights, e.g. using Starting Strength
- Follow along with Youtube exercise videos to get core/upper body training, especially if the gym's too difficult
- Walking can be done anytime
I'm very happy to say that my running progress has paid off!
My first run with the watch was September 13, where I ran at an average pace of 14:46/mile: I walked a lot. I can see the data: I ran for 19 minutes at an 11 minute pace, my heart rate got up to ~170, and then I walked.
I kept at it. By late October I went to a conference and I made running after the end of each day a focus and reward. I really enjoyed it! I wanted to run farther so I could explore the city more, and did several long runs.
The next weekend I ran my first 5K in a couple of years in 30 minutes. Then for Thanksgiving I ran a 60 minute 10K! I have also accomplished some of my big running goals, including running on the I-90 floating bridge to Mercer Island, and taking the light rail to work and then running back home.
I have faster and more confident in my running. My heart rate no longer spikes after a couple of miles; I can keep a consistent pace. I'm even doing actual intervals running at an 8 minute pace!
It is extremely helpful to me that the watch recommends exercises. These are a great default for when I'm not sure what I do. For the model of watch that I have, it gives a suggested running workout each day, e.g. "run at a 10:30 pace for 55 minutes."
Exercise as motivator
I've also gotten to where running is its own reward. It makes me feel good, and I like seeing what I can accomplish.
It's also very validating to have data showing my progress! My past times exercising, my only real data came from running a 5K race and getting a time. Now I can see on my watch exactly what my current pace is; even if it feels like I'm running a 10 minute pace, if the watch says 11 minute pace then I get feedback that maybe my body is telling me what I want to hear so that I slow down.