Very briefly, ViewRanger

ViewRanger is a big, complicated app which links to a confusing website. Luckily, the mapping provides plenty of value on its own. There is no need to take any notice of all the social media nonsense. So, no mention of POIs and geocaching here. Instead, I’m using ViewRanger to provide authoritative measurements of the distance I ran while assessing two other apps and two devices.

ViewRanger’s endless 1:25,000 scrolling is brilliant for route planning and, in the field, the app is also useful for detail, such as putting names to coastal rock features.  I must look out for the Scholl next time I’m aiming for Noss Head.

IMG_0712.jpg

Withings Go relies on accelerometers and is claiming that today’s run was 3.2 km (2 miles) further than ViewRanger states. However, ViewRanger explains what GPS readings it has recorded – 387 in 10.5 km, which is one every 27 metres – and so it’s distance is far more likely to be reliable (albeit an underestimate as I wasn’t running in straight lines).

IMG_0711.jpg

For the record, these are the distances claimed by each of the apps for today’s cross country run.

ViewRanger: 10.5 km

ISmoothRun: 11.32 km

Wahoo RunFit: 11.01 km

Withings app: 13.71 km

Apple Health: 10.9 km

The Withings Go’s accelerometers can distinguish between a fast walk and a slow run but appear unable to cope with a stride shortened by tussocks and bogs, hence the inaccuracy of the Withings app.

Note that ViewRanger has imported the heart rate and paces from Apple Health. Health says I took 12223 paces during my run whereas the Withings app has only recorded 12112 paces so far today. It seems wrist accelerometers and accelerometers in a chest pocket record movements differently.

Advertisements

Tracking a run

In a year’s time, I will be able to claim to have been enjoying activities in the great outdoors for half a century. Although I am no longer a member of Walton Chasers Orienteering Club, my navigational skills have reached such a high level that the idea of needing a GPS is silly. I just don’t.

So, a GPS is unnecessary but one thing has driven me to purchasing maps for the ViewRanger app – I bloody hate counting contour lines. Having distance travelled and ascent undertaken sorted out for me is a delight.

Other apps offer other metrics. An inexpensive Withings Go pedometer counts my paces and the time spent swimming. It also offers a rough assessment of my sleep via a fairly good app.

A cheap but limited Wahoo heart rate monitor helps me stick to an 80/20 running regime. In theory, at least, 80% of my running is at an easy pace with rest being quite a bit quicker. The aim is to include both quantity and quality for maximum progress. Wahoo’s app for displaying data from the heart rate monitor is pretty basic so the iSmoothRun app also helps track my workouts.

Some of these apps are able to use weight readings from a Lumsing electronic scale, which I found on Amazon for a third of its usual price. The apps use the latest weight measurement to guess at the number of Calories burnt during exercise. The calculated value is one I only take seriously if it justifies a pig out. The Lumsing’s display shows weight. To discover percentage body fat the iWellness app is needed. I thoroughly dislike this app.

You get what you pay for. ViewRanger has proved expensive because I gave in to the temptation to buy 1:25,000 maps for the whole country. Regrets – none at all because I love maps and ViewRanger is fairly usable. The pedometer, heart rate monitor and weighing scale, by contrast, were relatively cheap and are OK rather than good. Good enough? For me, yes, although there are features I miss.

I am going to compare these devices and apps in the hope that you will gain sufficient information to be able to decide whether the cut price approach, in general, and these items, in particular, are of any use for the things you do. A daft number of screen shots will be needed, which is a good reason for splitting this review into parts.

Kale crisps

Two powerful hikers who eat more interestingly than most when backpacking are Aria Zoner and Liz Thomas. Both have mentioned kale crisps as a source of veggies for wild camps. I like kale and miss green vegetables when walking from one remote pitch to the next so I decided to give kale crisps a try.

The recipe is really simple but I’m not going to provide it here. After eating half of my test batch, I experienced nasty, sulphurous belching. I dread to think what the farts are going to be like. A recipe strictly for wilderness walks, I think.

Diets

Some of the books currently available on the subject of dieting are very good indeed. Books written by paleo dieters and also by committed vegans deserve praise, in my opinion. Of course, if books on low carb and on low fat dieting are both of a high standard, reading them could be confusing for someone who just wants to be healthy and a little lighter.

So, to start with, here is some simple guidance. The right diet for you is

  • One you can stick with
  • Promotes big, easy poos

Not so difficult after all, is it! Recent research from Belgium, which was corroborated by Dutch scientists, found that big, easy poos are a characteristic of a rich and varied community of gut microorganisms. You probably want a healthy community of gut bugs if even half of the claims currently being made on their behalf is true.

My own preference is for a whole food diet similar to the Mediterranean diet recommended by the NHS. However, I have enjoyed reading both of these.

  • The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living by Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney
  • How Not to Die by Michael Greger


They come from opposing viewpoints and both manage swipes at the other while promoting their own preferred diet.

As a neutral, I can’t help noticing that the vegans use the latest research when explaining the benefits of a plant-based diet but then use older research when discussing the opposition. That older research lumps grass-fed meat and beef broth enthusiasts in with the pie and chips brigade, which has the effect of making saturated fats look bad.

But the paleo and primal enthusiasts are equally guilty. They, too, use the latest findings for justifying their own choices but use ancient research which groups cake, biscuit and fizzy drink guzzling in with the kind of diet for athletes described in Matt Fitzgerald’s book.

Bang their heads together and you might get some sense out of them. Crucially, both camps are down on refined foods, which is why both kinds of diet, vegan and paleo, can work for the people who adopt them.

Despite all of the claims of bad advice from the medical community, damning saturated fats, the average person has not cut back on fats. Modern diets are high energy diets, rich in both fats and carbs. If we worked the way Superhod used to work or if we tried to backpack over all of the Munros, we could get away with eating a high energy diet, but we don’t and that is why so many of us now have Type 2 diabetes.

For sitting, whether in a car, at a desk or in front of the TV, we need a low energy diet which fills us up and that is where whole foods come in. Sugars, starches and fats are OK when encased in cellulose cell walls. We can’t digest the cellulose but our gut bugs can. They love the stuff and, at least until they digest it, the cellulose makes us feel full.

There is no end to the cake or pie, both sweet and savoury, that I can eat but apples and baked potatoes soon fill me up. Meaty diets also tend to promote satiety but the best diet ever measured for quelling hunger pangs was a super high fibre diet, which involved eating 3kg of vegetables, berries and nuts a day. Five hundred grams of cabbage as part of lunch is a little more than I could manage.

One other benefit of eating dietary fibre lies in the slowing down of absorption of glucose into the blood. If glucose levels stay within homeostatic limits, no new insulin needs producing. As insulin promotes weight gain, keeping its level constant is good for those of us who are already big enough.

Our taste buds can soon get used to a diet which contains very little refined sugar. When I was 14, nearly half a century ago, my mother announced that we were all giving up sugar in our tea. Getting used to tea without sugar took roughly ten days. Now, I cannot stand tea with sugar in it.

Life without sweets or cakes is also achievable and results in the discovery of sweetness in all sorts of natural foods, for example, ordinary potatoes. Taste buds recalibrate fairly quickly, although discipline is needed during the transition.

If you can make that breakthrough, whichever diet you opt for will work. Saturated fats may not be the danger still claimed by some and gluten definitely isn’t for the vast majority of the population but John Yudkin was right. Refined sugar is pure, white and deadly. Avoid!

Food for Thought

In a recent Guardian article, Martin Robbins wrote about weighing himself hourly for three days.  The article is well worth reading.  This paragraph caught my eye.

“The first surprise was just the sheer amount of mass involved. In three-and-a-bit days I consumed a massive 14.86kgs of stuff – about 33lbs. That was made up of 3.58kgs of food and 11.28kgs of drink (including 700 grams of a nice red). That’s way, way, way higher than I expected.”

That mass is roughly what my rucksack would weigh in total, including a tent and a stove, at the start of a six day hike without resupply.  Assuming I consume a similar mass when at home, two conclusions are obvious.  First, an awful lot of a backpacker’s daily consumption comes out of streams.  My second conclusion is that my lighter, backpacking diet is so different from what I eat at home that I really should treat myself to more, better, restaurant meals when I hit town.

Exercise versus ageing

Between the ages of 77 and 95, Olga Kotelko set more than thirty world records for running and jumping.  A book was written about her by Bruce Grierson, a man who had started feeling  a bit frail after turning 47.  Shortly after an article appeared on the BBC website about her, Olga died.  Her death may have been delayed by exercising but that’s not the point.  The reason for carrying out endurance and strength training after retiring is to stay as active as possible so that life is as fulfilling as possible for as long as possible.  Olga certainly achieved that.

Is there anyone who wants to sit in a chair till the minibus comes to take them down to the Centre, where they can sit in another chair?  Is there anyone who wants to face up to the statistics on the many old people who die within a year of falling and breaking a hip.  Ageing can be grim if you do it sitting down.  So, health permitting, get up and boogie.

Telomeres

Here are a few of the many articles on the internet about the effect of exercise on ageing.  The first, from the Daily Mail, discusses telomeres.  Let’s face it, no discussion of ageing would be complete without giving a mention to our cellular aglets.

Can endurance exercise SLOW ageing? Intense aerobic training ‘prevents cells from shrinking and breaking over time’ 

Please note that lengthening telomeres may also require reducing stress and improving the quality of both your diet and sleep.  Warning: the following reference contains traces of Ornish.

Lifestyle Changes May Lengthen Telomeres, A Measure of Cell Aging

Promoting independence by defeating chronic illness

Staying active is what it’s all about.  Arthritis and diabetes brought on or aggravated by obesity is certain to put a damper on things.  Here’s what the US Department of Health and Human Services has to say on the benefits of exercise for the elderly.

Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging

The Guardian has this positive offering.

Could extreme exercise help slow down the ageing process?

Sadly, Dr Charles Eugster, whose photograph begins the article, has also died but, as with Olga, he did not go gentle.  I quite fancy being a wild man who caught and sang the sun in flight so it’s a good job I like backpacking.

The fight against muscle wastage

The next article, from the New Scientist, suggests that a pill may help those who cannot maintain muscle mass through weight training.  It discusses sarcopenia and alleges the problem is the biggest killer you’ve never heard of.  Free radicals are at the heart of it.

Exercise may be the best anti-ageing pill

I wouldn’t mind betting that Olympic athletes are already abusing the drugs mentioned in the article.  You heard it here first!  For the rest of us, Mens’ Fitness has this practical advice.

The anti-aging workout

The Brain

Remember that the brain is a physical structure which responds to the burdens you place on it.  According to 80/20 Running by Matt Fitzgerald, one of the reasons we tire when running is because the brain gets tired.  Training strengthens the brain and so we are able to run further and more stylishly.  Personally, I’d learn to paint, a language such as Italian and coding in Swift if I wanted to get smarter but the Independent has this article on how exercise can improve brain activity.

Do these exercises to make you smarter?

 I’ll end with this reference to an article in Time because most readers (both readers?) will have given up a long time ago.

Exercise Slows Brain Aging By 10 Years

Ten more years of sharp thinking because exercise helps to maintain an effective blood flow to the brain.  Sounds good to me.

 

 

Citius, altius, fortius for the Over Sixties

A demanding job can erode the willpower needed for making the best health decisions on arriving home from work. My fitness had certainly started to slide by the time I reached retirement age. Luckily, retirement is a wonderful opportunity and health became one of the projects I took on to occupy the time once spent earning a crust.

Apparently, serious illness is common in the first year of retirement. In my case it was shingles. Buying a house was the next distraction so only last Autumn, following weight gain during a visit to Paleo friends, did I finally get serious about my health and fitness project.

A confession is needed. Thanks to cycle touring, backpacking, jogging and some kayaking, I’ve always been fitter than average. The job was demanding enough, though, in terms of time and energy, to ensure that I never reached my potential in any physical activity. Also, I didn’t enjoy gym work and never realised how important physical jerks are till being incapacitated by back trouble ten years ago. The pain was astonishing.

The doctor said the back problem was age related. In other words, I needed to get used to it because it was going to get worse. Luckily, he was wrong. I did what the physiotherapist said and was soon free of pain. But I was inconsistent, doing enough work on core stability to stave off back trouble but no more.

Last Autumn, that pattern changed.  At least five days a week since then, I have exercised before breakfast and the consistency has paid off. I can run faster, jump higher and lift more than I could five years ago.

Obviously, I’ll never again achieve the athletic prowess enjoyed thirty years ago. I could run a half marathon then in the time I now need for ten miles, but improvements are still possible.

And that is the takeaway message. There is no need to cling to the shreds of what once was. We can improve on every physical measure by wise use of the opportunities provided by retirement. I’m not just talking about endurance. We can improve speed, strength, coordination, balance and flexibility after our sixtieth birthday. I’m even walking more fluidly than I used to.

The key is putting some work into the muscles of the lower abdomen and also into the muscles around the shoulder blades. I had to start with Sarah Keys Back Sufferer’s Bible. Then came the 12 exercises of the 7 Minute Workout and a move on to Adrian James’s three apps. This morning I kept pace with Mark Lauren’s EFX Workout Number 1. Progress is addictive and fun, even though I get nothing from these recommendations.

The reason for starting with exercises for the torso is that good technique becomes easier for any other activity, meaning fewer injuries. Over Sixties are likely to be slow recovering from damage so injuries need avoiding. Many years ago, a brilliant rugby player told me that his secret was the strength in his abdominal muscles. I wish I had understood what he was telling me because a lot of running injuries and that back trouble could have been avoided.

Bones need help from muscles in keeping us upright. If the muscles of our torso are effective in rotating our pelvis, supporting our spine and in moving our shoulders, there is little we cannot achieve.

Even if we are Over Sixty.

Getting fit for backpacking

Prepare to hike.  Hike!

Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could get fit for walking just by walking.  Ray Jardine has an excellent chapter on physical conditioning in Beyond Backpacking, now updated as Trail Life, which bases training largely on hiking.  I like the way he talks of building up slowly and regularly until he is comfortable carrying 35 pounds for 12 miles.  Given some of his accomplishments, this might seem modest, but his target is in the context of logging 500 miles over the 5 months before turning up at the start of a 2000 mile journey.

He also writes of the importance of training on uneven ground and suggests a little gym work for those who have no hills to train on near their homes.  Ascending while carrying a backpack is one of my few strengths.  I’m slow on the flat, concerned on scrambley bits and uncertain when descending*.  All of these attributes I owe to the miles spent cycle touring.  Cycling strengthens the thighs and helps make light work of walking up hills so there is no need to go to the gym for barbell squats on a sunny day.  Just ride a bike.

Too much of a good thing

Unfortunately, for those of a certain age, and particularly for those who have walked over all of the Munros, spent eleven months tramping in New Zealand and enjoyed several trips to the Pyrenees, overuse injuries mean that reliance on preparation solely by walking can be problematic.  Will the plantar fasciitis flare up again?  Is the scar tissue in my calf muscles going to stop me?  Will the damage to stretch receptors in my ankle ligaments caused by previous sprains contribute to another serious sprain?  In other words, will walking stop me from walking?

A lot of anything will eventually harm anyone who lacks a perfectly symmetrical body and whose performance is other than perfectly stylish, which is why getting fit to walk just by walking isn’t a great solution.  Sadly, symmetry and style are two qualities I cannot lay claim to.

Why bother?

In the Autumn I put on a few pounds while visiting friends and my BMI hit 24.9.  Another stimulus for getting some proper training done came from memories of the difficulties I had experienced starting my Kintyre to Cape Wrath hike.  I had prepared by catching shingles, moving house and failing to break in my footwear.  This meant not having a clue how far I could walk each day and so being unable to plan effectively.  Finally, when I met other walkers who had trained before starting, they made coping with the demands of the Cape Wrath Trail look far easier than I was finding it.

In a previous post, I mentioned the initial benefits of doing a few minutes of physical jerks before breakfast.  For once, I have persisted.  Improvements continue.  I used to walk like a cyclist, with a fairly rigid torso.  I feel far more fluent now even though the exercises I have been doing have little to do with walking on the face of it.  I don’t know yet whether I’ll be backpacking more effectively in the summer but I’m a minute per mile faster while running than I was in the Autumn, my BMI is down to 23.9 without dieting** and I’m in a great mood.  Even if the exercises turn out to have no value for backpacking, which is unlikely, they have already proved worthwhile.

Resources

Apps I have found valuable for workout guidance, advice on style and timers include

  • Mark Lauren Bodyweight Training
  • Adrian James Boot Camp
  • Adrian James High Intensity Interval Training
  • Johnson and Johnson Official 7 Minute Workout

Warning!  Only the last is free.  I paid for the others.  One type of app has not helped at all – yoga apps.  Their fondness for the downward dog is completely at odds with the muscle damage in the top of my calves so I’ve given up on yoga.

I don’t just do exercises!  Of course I include walking in my preparations for backpacking, although I will not reach the 500 miles recommended by Ray Jardine at my current rate of progress.  Measuring routes on maps and counting contour lines have, as the Americans say, become very old so I use apps to record walks, runs and rides.  Logging in before an app will work or having to turn off social media is unacceptable to me so I avoid MapMyAnything, Nike+, Strava and Runtastic.  Yes, I’m a curmudgeon.  The apps I enjoy using despite having handed over money are

  • iStepsPro
  • iSmoothRun
  • Cyclemeter

Crossed fingers

Note the word enjoy.  I enjoy all of this stuff.  That’s why I do it.  I’m hoping that once the walking starts, I’ll see a greater ability to cope with carrying a backpack over the hills and that I’ll suffer fewer injuries but benefits are already clear.  Most aspects of life are a little bit easier and people are accusing me of looking younger so the time and money seem well spent.  I acknowledge your right to disagree.

Notes

*Ray Jardine includes  a paragraph in Beyond Backpacking on improving balance.

**Despite their doctorates, the experts who claim exercise cannot help with weight loss are wrong.  Quantity matters and backpacking is ideal.  After all, we are the ape species which evolved to walk around carrying stuff.

 

 

 

Fitter, stronger, older

One thought fills my mind as I approach small towns during cycle tours.  Food.  Specifically bakery products and milk, the original isotonic sports drink.  Going slowly means the expensive food-like substances used by real athletes are unnecessary.  It doesn’t matter if some of my blood flow is diverted away from my limbs and towards my gut for digesting the real food which fuels me as I have plenty of time.

Or do I?

Researchers have found that the branched chain amino acids, leucine, isoleucine and valine, found in weightlifting supplements prolong the active lifespan of nematode worms.  They knocked out a gene called bcat-1 which breaks down branched chain amino acids and found C.elegans bulked up, had more sex and stayed active for longer.  They then confirmed that feeding more of the amino acids to the worms had similar effects.  The relevance is that we share the bcat-1 gene, and several others affecting longevity, with nematodes.

No wonder Tesco has a shelf of supplements for athletes near the vegetable aisles!  You guys were already on to this.

Two hikers who know all about getting the miles in are EA “Snorkel” Thomas and Gilad Nachmani, the Hiking Father.  Snorkel has several great posts on food on her blog, for example this one, and Gilad knows his onions on helping us flatlanders prepare for hiking in the hills.

The Secret of Eternal Youth

Old fart, flat water

This scruffy, old fool doesn’t look much of a guru but wondrous things have been revealed to him.  Of course, if you live into your sixties, many wonders will be revealed to you, too.  No one needs me as a guru.  You need information.  To the point – here is some information I have chanced upon.  On Saturday, I had to take my belt in a notch.  On Sunday, I ran my quickest three miles for quite some time and the run felt fairly easy.  On Monday, I pedalled the world’s slowest bicycle, a Thorn xTc tourer, for 28 miles, including rough, forest roads, at 12 mph.  That’s the fastest sustained ride my Thorn has ever managed.  The only change preceding these improvements was to begin exercising before breakfast.

This is anecdotal and definitely not a well designed experiment.  As well as just five days of exercising before breakfast, the weather has been glorious.  Light levels have been higher and wind speeds lower than last week here in the far north.  I’m sure an expert could identify many other variables.  Nevertheless, the anecdote is worth pursuing.

For years, I’ve been reading articles in cycling comics which touted the fat-burning benefits of riding before breakfast.  Given the state of Britain’s roads, I haven’t been tempted.  Full alertness is essential and that is more likely after a decent breakfast than before.  Runners also claim that getting out before eating will enhance fat metabolism but I find running very hard and prefer to set off with a nice concentration of sugar in my bloodstream.  So, getting the miles in early had little appeal.

Luckily, I remembered the Michael Mosley TV programmme in which he claimed that short bursts of high intensity exercise build stamina at least as effectively as long, slow distance.  Twaddle, I had thought at the time.  No gym work will build the muscles in the sides of your legs that you need for control while backpacking.  He was looking for a short cut, I decided – a magic bullet which would instantly sort out problems caused by years of abusing his carcass.  I’m right about the leg strength issue.  Only hiking miles of rough ground will do, but, this week, I have discovered he was right about general purpose stamina.

All I’ve been doing is drinking two cups of tea and then cranking into standard physical jerks for between three and eight minutes.  I eat afterwards.  Several apps on my phone help.  They provide timers and advice on how to do the exercises properly.  An app which is both useful and free is the 7 Minute Workout from Johnson and Johnson.  There are many others.  Please don’t ask me why it’s called the 7M Workout because I don’t know.  Twelve exercises lasting for thirty seconds with 10 second rests do not take 7 minutes.

Whichever app I use, and I vary them, the activity periods are short so I do the drills as fast as I can while maintaining good form.  This means going anaerobic.  After five days, my muscles were aching, which is why I took a break from the apps on Sunday and Monday, for running and cycling.  Today, Tuesday, I worked through one 7M Workout set before breakfast, achieving 16 press ups in the thirty seconds devoted to that exercise.  I think that’s as fast as I can do good press ups so I may have to consider doing two sets.

So far, I’ve focussed on fitness but note the bit where I mentioned taking in my belt a notch.  Fat around the waist is considered more harmful than fat elsewhere.  Experts claim it isn’t the fat you can see which predicts diabetes and heart trouble – it’s the fat around the organs so reducing the circumference of my waist suggests that exercising before breakfast may have brought actual health benefits.  (I don’t think Michael Mosley mentioned time of day but I vaguely recall he didn’t eat as he was worried about puking.)

I’m not the most conscientious person in the world.  My haphazard approach to fitness had left me on a plateau where I had begun to wonder if a man in his early sixties really could make much progress.  For example, this Spring I had walked more than 400 miles from Kintyre to Cape Wrath and, at the end of the walk, I was still slower than younger walkers.  However, a couple of hours after breakfast today, I went out for a 7 mile run and that is my longest run of the year.  A personal best and two season bests in three days.  I may have discovered the secret of eternal youth!