Fitbit and Freedom: A Runner’s Intro to Walking

By ginaschmeling   /     Oct 20, 2015  /     Running, Social Media  /     4 Comments

This is my sixth year of running. I thought I knew the scene. That I was seasoned.

There was a disconnect. I’d run, train, and kibbitz online with my run group, and then find myself sitting in professional contexts thinking about the next run. Or dreaming about just getting out of my chair. They were opposite worlds.

When I did finally get out of my seat, away from the laptop, I was slow, achy, and stiff.

Recently there’s been new, healthy discussion about walking meetings, standing desks and enlightened thinking about energizing worklife. Whoa! That got my attention. As Beth Kanter has been blogging and speaking about, professional life doesn’t have to be sedentary. The science argues that it shouldn’t. I didn’t realize how walking — low tech, simple, human — would change my running. Here’s what strapping on another tracker, and plunging into Fitbit life has taught me so far.

Resting Heart Rate Matters

Many athletes track heart rate during training. Some runs are even called “Threshold” workouts, meant to push heart rate to uppermost zones. There’s a hill in Prospect Park — North Hill. It is not easy. Many of us do hill workouts there to get to the next zone. That will work, as long as the majority of the week’s runs are in a lower zone. Runners like data and numbers. Somehow fast paces and high heart rates seem like badges of honor.

“I think most runners are running their easy runs faster than they should,” says Brooklyn Team in Training Coach Jim Purvis. “It would be an eye opening surprise for many runners to run at their easy pace. Your resting heart rate (RHR) gets lower as you become more conditioned. I would want to monitor increases in RHR, as that could indicate overtraining.”

I know my speed-work heart rate zones from years of Garmin loyalty. With Fitbit, I am now on top of my resting HR. Low-zone heart rate training is key to building endurance, and making race day more effective. For those of us striving for speed, slowing down is essential in training.

License to Sit

Common runner argument: I run lots of miles a week! I can sit as much as I like, eat what I want — I’m good.

License comes in many forms, but mainly we frame it in terms of food. Runners World explores this phenomenon often. Sitting may be an invisible type of indulgence. Or worse, an accepted norm.

When I started wearing a Fitbit, I was psyched. The steps came easily. What I didn’t realize was how flatlined the rest of my day was. The inertia was a bizarre consequence for having woken up early and gotten my run in. I had been giving myself license to sit for hours.

While the Fitbit tingled to reward my step goal, the app showed me the rest of my day was spent on my rear. Not so rewarding.

It was a new challenge. I started skipping subway stops, walking the Brooklyn Bridge, making my kids walk more then they realized (shhh). The number of steps didn’t matter as much as how I felt, time spent moving, and what happened to my running. It changed because I started purposefully walking more.

My annoying, persistent middle-aged running pains abated. I slept better. I lost some weight and kept it off. In the midst of a high-pressure year, I felt lighter. My running metrics improved: better endurance, more speed, and I even placed in my age group in a few races.

Strapped in: The Multi-Gadget, Multichannel Life

Somehow the SQ (suffering quotient) of a run feels more righteous when one is strapped in to gadgets requiring charging and syncing.

This spring, I ran with Chris McDougall of “Born to Run” fame. His book started the barefoot, natural running craze. I was so excited to meet him, I geared up in reflective “tech” logo paraphernalia and gadgets (Heart Rate Monitor, iPhone, Garmin and yes, Fitbit) without realizing just how much of a Cyborg I had become. He was wearing sandals, a plain cotton t-shirt, no electronic anything. I think he had a necklace.

We ran side by side with a small group in drippy, cold weather. He generously ignored my flashing, beeping gadgets and told me I had a light stride. Sigh.

How many gadgets are too many? Purple Fitbit, Garmin watch, Mio Heart Rate Monitor.

Too much? Fitbit Charge, Garmin watch, Mio Heart Rate Monitor.

That run was revealing. A running buddy of mine noticed my gadget overload. When I added the Fitbit, he said, “Giggy, why so many devices?” Do I have the courage to unstrap? I think so, but that will have to wait until after my fall race (October 11, the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon). November will be a gadget and app Sabbath for me. Until then, the wearable tech is a training tool. It won’t get me to the finish line, but it is certainly shaping the road there.

The tech helps me see and understand how training is going. An upshot is being able to connect online with coaches, and cheer friends and allies (Strava!). I’m crediting Fitbit for opening up a new fitness space for me. The FaceBook Fitbit/Walking group I’ve joined is an inspiration for many reasons — it is playful, supportive, encouraging and not competitive. The Fitbit challenges are hard! Usually, I get schooled.

Take Aways

  1. For super charged, highly competitive runners – don’t knock the walking life. There’s no silver bullet, but integrating a generous amount of walking into your weekly training can be a major asset.
  2. Join a run or walking group, online or in real life. It is the best way to insure you do it. In my online Fitbit group, I’ve met people from all over the world and made new friendships and partnerships locally. It’s been a refreshing and wonderful addition to my online running communities.
  3. Know your RHR data. A spike is not good. The more you train, the lower it should be, yet sudden fluctuations can be a warning sign.

Good luck with your training! For those running fall marathons, I wish you speed, ease, and lots of walking.

Added October 20, 2015: I ran my fall marathon last week, and set a new personal record (PR). I had been chasing this for a few years and I’m delighted. Post-race, I’m walking for active recovery. This winter, I look forward to finding new paths with walking and running.

Think running is enough? Read this: Runners World, July 2013, Sitting is the New Smoking.

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Corral D

By ginaschmeling   /     Nov 04, 2014  /     Family, Nonprofits, Running  /     4 Comments

IMG_5276My designated start in the 2014 Chicago Marathon this October.

Corral placement (sounds equine, I know) is a predictive way to keep large races orderly. Faster in the front, middle in the middle, slower in the back. Thoughtful design embodied by 45,000 people.

The longer the race, the more likely things may not sustain. More miles mean less control. Course conditions and unplanned, uh, stuff play a part.

The day before the race, I got a cold. Many runners are vulnerable to getting sick the days before a race. Lucky for me, it was not too bad. Unlucky for me, it meant a slower run.

In the hours of not sleeping before my race day wake up, I mulled my plan. Physically and mentally. Since July, I had some big goals. Big fundraising for my charity (I did great!), a major Personal Record, and a doable Boston Qualifying time. It was within reach. All I had to do was run smart.

The story changed. Now some hard choices. I could ignore the symptoms, break the rules and take all sorts of nasty stuff on race day. Or I could dial into what was most important. While training, I’d envisioned Lake Michigan. Images of Downtown and Lincoln Park entered my mind as I ran long on NY’s West Side Highway.  I am a fourth generation Chicagoan. This was Home.

This day would be about the city. Not so much my time. With that, I finally fell asleep at 1AM.

Taping CHGO NATIVE to my back, I started with Corral D. Many miles, Kleenex later (let’s say Chris Christie would not have let me into NJ), I finished with the good people from Corrals F and G. Exactly where I needed to be to enjoy the race, take in the city, feel proud. My time goal was still in my heart, if not run by my feet. And a near miracle! My mom was at the finish line to see me get medaled.

I apply my running experience to my work. I adore planning, and admire staff who work in a team. As with ongoing fundraising campaigns and longer “marathon” plans, time and other factors shape outcome. I talk to so many runners about their dreams. And nonprofit leaders about their goals. It is easy to celebrate success. But how do we handle setbacks or midcourse changes?

Here’s what worked for me. I hope some of these are useful for you, too.

  • Be consistent, smartly aggressive, push for measurable goals. Data colors the story, but you are the author.
  • Keep your numbers in a system. Understand and analyze trends. Ask an expert to interpret what’s going on.
  • Agree on the real “real.” Is a number goal supreme? Or community engagement? Personal achievement?
  • Know the difference between giving up and redirecting. Olympian Frank Shorter calls this “reframing.”
  • Own your result. Share it.

Now get back out there for your next big goal.

Mine is the Brooklyn Marathon, this November 16th. Hope to see you in Prospect Park.

Gorgeous Chicago. This is my first neighborhood.

Gorgeous Chicago. This is my first neighborhood.





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