10 Jul 2014

Commuting Without a Car

As I mentioned earlier in the week (see this post), at the beginning of June I began a new job downtown. In order to avoid driving downtown Vancouver and paying ridiculous amounts for parking, I initially began with driving to Bridgeport Station (in Richmond, BC) and taking the Canada Line from there. However, just last week I began something new.

TransLink has bike locker available at most Canada Line stations and at some Expo and Millennium Line stations. For $10 per month, or $100 for the year, I have a secure, enclosed space to store my bike. For my commute, I now ride to the Canada Line station where my bike locker is located (which I selected), store my bike, and take the train downtown. My office is a short walk from Waterfront station.

The bike lockers are very secure. They are completely enclosed and I was actually surprised at the sturdiness of the lock. I have also heard very good stories about the security overall.

Each storage unit is a wedge and is just big enough to fit a bike. Backed in, and with the front wheel turned, I am easily able to close the door.

The price is entirely reasonable - the $10 per month fee is far less than $200-300 for parking downtown and is even less than the $2.50 per day parking a Bridgeport (after riding only four days, I am already saving money).

I like that I am no longer dependent on a car. I like that I get some exercise on the Richmond side of my commute and a short walk once I get downtown. I am proud to finally be able to routinely use my bike as part of my commute.

Overall, I am incredibly satisfied. My ride is short enough that I do not need a shower. I am, however, not confident enough to ride in my work clothes yet, so I am carrying a change of clothes and dressing into my business casual attire once I arrive at my office downtown.

Click HERE for more information from TransLink on renting a bike locker.

7 Jul 2014

Changing My Career and My Routine

Over the last couple of months, I have been transitioning to a new job. At the end of May, I resigned from my position at the company I have worked at for the past nine years in order to start a new job on an entirely new career path. For me, it is an incredibly positive change and one that I have been working towards for some time. The side-effect of this is that since the beginning of May, my entire routine has been turned upside-down.

My old office was located in south Burnaby and was surround by nature trails, mostly the Burnaby Fraser Foreshore Park, which I have written about quite a bit (click HERE for my initial post and HERE for my post on the trail improvements that were completed earlier this year).

My new office, in contrast, is located downtown Vancouver. While I am excited to be working downtown (which is a first for me), it changes a lot of my routine, including my commute and my lunch break which is when I typically went for my runs. While I now have close access to the Seawall and many other amazing routes, what I am having difficulty finding is a place to shower afterwards (without spending significant amount of money for a gym membership).

The adjustment to my routine has taken me a bit longer to figure out than I expected, which is also partly compounded by the fact that my new office building is under renovations so the existing shower facilities are out of service for the time being.

One thing I have begun is completely eliminating my car from my commute - I now commute by a combination of bicycle and Canada Line (Light-Rapid Transit line from Richmond, BC to downtown Vancouver). I will be writing about this in a post shortly.

Until then, bear with me while I gather my bearings.

2 May 2014

Route: Burnaby Fraser Foreshore Park improvements (Burnaby, BC)

Map from the City of Burnaby website.  Click for more detail.
I work in the south Burnaby area and, given my propensity to run on trails rather than roads, exploring this park has become my most-travelled running route, by far.  I have posted previously about this route (see original post here) and love it.

The City of Burnaby just recently completed an improvement project on the section of the trail that runs along the Fraser River from Boundary Road to Glenlyon Parkway.  This project took just over six months (from September 2013 to April 2014) to complete and, from my understanding, was substantially intended to improve the dyke itself.  In this post, I want to speak about this improved section.

Now, first and foremost, I believe the point of this improvement project was to raise the trail and reinforce the dyke itself.  In that regard, the mission was accomplished.  A large stretch of the trail was raised, providing additional protection from raising water levels to the businesses along the river.

The changes to the trail, however, were made in two different sections.  In the graphic to the above, I have indicated the two different sections by the purple and blues lines.  The purple line, which I will call Section A, is predominantly a dyke trail running between parking lots and the river.  The blue line, which I will call Section B, is more of a wilderness trail through marshland.

Section B trail 
Section B is by far my preference.  I would be more than happy if the entire trail ran like this; it simply feels more natural.  This section is covered with trees on both sides and feels like the natural state of the area with the exception of a gravel trail running through it.  The improvements in this section were relatively minimal and, from what I see, looks like new gravel was added to widen and raise the trail a couple of inches.  Overall, very minimal change.

Section B trail
In this section, there is plenty of shade and tree cover.  On a hot day, it is simply more refreshing to run through this area.  There are several types of birds around that can be heard in the trees.  Plenty of benches are placed along the water-side of the trail to provide a place to rest your legs or enjoy a the view of the river itself.  There are plenty of natural ponds and streams and, I imagine, the majority of the area is simply the way it was hundreds of years ago.

The entire trail from Boundary Road to Byrne Road used to feel like this.

The improved Section A, however, feels much more like a trail through an industrial park.  To be fair, that is exactly what it is.  And to be extra fair, the changes in this area are far more drastic and, therefore, it will take time for it to feel natural again.

Section A trail
This section was substantially raised (my guess is by about 3-4 feet) and is supported by a retaining wall.  In the Section A trail photo on the right, you can see the railing on top of the retaining wall.  Aesthetically, I simply don't like the railing; however, I can appreciate that, without it, there is a substantial fall hazard there.

The trail itself is much wider here than it was previously.  The trees along the water-side of the trail look relatively undisturbed.  However, the trees along the inland-side of the trail have been almost entirely removed, which is probably simply the result of the raised ground and new soil.  Grass has been planted and is just beginning to take root.  With time, I am sure the natural green feeling of the trail will return but, in the interim, it is a hot, dusty trail sandwiched between trees and a parking lot.  I would, however, like to see the City of Burnaby plant some more trees to create a bit more of a natural fence between the parking lots and the trail itself.  That is not to say that they aren't already planning to do so; given that they just finished this project, they may still be working on the finishing touches.

Overall, I am sure we will see many more river-front trails throughout the lower mainland receive similar makeovers as a result of the threat of rising water levels.  Cities must work hard to balance the natural feel of trails with the needs of others in the area.  The City of Burnaby has done well with these improvements and I am sure they tried to minimize the impact on the natural feel of the area as much as possible.

30 Apr 2014

April and May Training Goals: To Simply Enjoy Running

Over the last couple of weeks, I admit that I have not come up with a new training plan or set of training goals.  At first, this was somewhat due to me not committing to a single course of action or even being somewhat lazy.  However, it has now become the result of a very deliberate choice.

When I started running back in September 2013, I had a clear goal in mind: to be able to run 10km (see my Introduction post for some background there).  I ran until my body screamed at me to take a rest.  In January 2014 when I started back up again, I had a very deliberate goal in mind again: run 10km without injuring myself (see my initial January training goal post).  So over the last eight months, I have always run with a very clear goal in mind.  During that time, I have clocked intervals, run to improve my time, and run to build muscle in targeted areas.

But now I feel like my body is at a point where I am able to relax and enjoy my runs a little bit more.  I am not worried about injuring myself from pushing hard on short run or extending my distance in modest amounts.  I feel like I have enough muscle built up around my knees to sustain three runs per week of moderate distance.

Over the last couple of weeks, since I posted about defining new goals (see post here), I have run simply for the pure enjoyment of running.  With the spring weather warming up, the grass, leaves, and flowers coming in, I have simply been running to enjoy the outdoors, listening to the sounds of birds, leaves, and my runners hitting the gravel.  Part of this decision has also stemmed from my recent thoughts about whether to listen to music or not (see post here) - I have left my headphones at home and just listened to the sounds around me instead.

While this is not necessarily the way things will always go for me, for the next little while, I am running simply for the enjoyment of it.  It has now become a deliberate choice to not set any goals and to simply let my body guide me.

Here are a couple of pictures I've taken recently on my relaxed runs.

9 Apr 2014

To Listen to Music or Not to Listen to Music

There have been several debates online recently in regards to whether we should be listening to music while running (or cycling) or not.  One of the more recent debates is in this article from Runner's World.  So I thought I'd weigh in with my own thoughts.

The arguments for either side are fairly straightforward.

The arguments against listening to music include the fact that headphones can block other noises, such as cars, trains, etc., thereby increasing risks to the runner because they are unable to react to warning sounds, such as a honking horn or oncoming vehicle.  While headphones are no more insulating than being inside a car listening to music (and cars these days are very well insulated from the sounds of the outside world), a runner or cyclist is obviously much more vulnerable than someone in a car.

Another argument against is that we, as humans, typically set our pace according to the beat of the music we're listening to.  Therefore, your performance is somewhat determined by the pace of the music.  This can either be a good thing (if it's pushing your pace a little bit faster) or a bad thing (if it's slowing you down).  Either way, the purists will tell you that you should let your body set its own pace.

The arguments for listening to music are more personal.  Some people are simply not engaged without music.  I admit, sometimes I need music or something upbeat to keep me focused.  Listening to music also provides a way to escape.  If you run or ride for a release or escape, then music might be exactly what you need.

So ultimately, it comes down to what motivates you and keeps you going.

For me, I am mostly indifferent.  Sometimes I love my music during my runs.  I often run on trails where my risk of being run over by a vehicle are incredibly low.  I often choose upbeat playlists for my runs so I think it helps me push my pace a little bit, or at least keeps me from slowing towards the latter part of my runs.  Without music, sometimes my mind wanders and I don't get to clear my head in the same way as I do with music.

Other times however, I love leaving my headphones at home and simply listening to the sound of my feet hitting the gravel, the birds chirping around me, and the wind rustling the leaves.  When I run at night, I like to hear what's around me so the time of day definitely factors into my decisions.

Mostly, I go with my gut in the moments before I head out on a run.

7 Apr 2014

Maintaining My Motivation and Setting New Goals

At this stage, I have completed the training goals I set out to achieve.  I have increased my runs up to around an 8km average and can comfortably complete a 10km run in under an hour.  The problems with my knee that I experienced at the end of 2013 are nearly non-existent.  Granted, I still stretch and exercise those muscles to make sure that the issues do not come back (click here to read more about that, which I included in my Week 4 update).  I completed a 15 week training program, which I began in January (view my original post here).  Subsequently, after 13 weeks, I diverged into my own training plan (view my post here).  I completed a few more weeks using the same formula but defining my own intervals and time/distance goals.

Last week, I took as a rest week with only one moderate run.  I wanted to allow my legs adequate time to rest and heal before beginning on my next venture.

Which brings me to today.  I feel rested and healed.  My legs are strong and I know I can achieve the fitness goals that I set out to achieve.  So what next...  I am at a crossroads where I need to decide what my next fitness goals are.  Given my time constraints between family, work, and school, I have limited my activities to under an hour and three times per week.  I will continue with this same restraint.

I am leaning towards sticking along the same trajectory that I started out on with a goal of decreasing my 10km run time.  And also with a little side goal of getting my 5km time under 20 minutes.  However, I want to try to incorporate a bit more bike riding into my training rather than just three runs per week.

I find, personally, that I need to set clear goals for myself in order to stay on track.  Without clear goals, I lose some motivation and my determination fades.  So, this week I am allowing myself time to explore options and define my goals.  Look for my update later this week where I will reveal my defined goals.

31 Mar 2014

Gear: My Fitbit Force Got Recalled So I Got a Fitbit One

First, let me state that I loved my Fitbit Force (click here to read my initial post about it).  However, it seems that an increasing number of people have been having issues with skin irritation.  While it is not entirely clear what the cause is, it seems that it could be anything from an allergic reaction to the nickel in the metals or to the adhesives or even something to do with battery fluids leaking.  The message, according to the recall notices, seems to have shifted from being if this happens to when.  In the most recent email that I received from Fitbit on March 20, 2014, it states very clearly that "consumers should stop using the Fitbit Force Activity-Tracking wristband and return the product to Fitbit for a full refund."  Prior to this email, I thought the recall was at my discretion or specifically for users that had experienced symptoms.  However, it is now clear that they are pulling all Fitbit Forces back (dlick here to read the letter from Fitbit CEO, James Park).  So the time has come to say goodbye to my Force.

Over the last couple of months, I have grown really attached to my Fitbit.  I enjoy being able to track my activity.  I like having my data available at my fingertips, on my phone, on the device itself, and on my computer.  On days I run, I hit my step goal without any problem.  However, on my off-run days, I have to find other ways to make sure I keep my activity levels up.  As a result, I have changed my way of doing things.  I always take the stairs as opposed to the elevator.  I force myself to walk around periodically to avoid sitting still for too long.  At work, I use bathrooms farther way and on different floors.  At home, I do more errands by foot or bike rather than car.  And if all else fails, I go for a long walk in the evenings once everyone else in my house has gone to bed.

While some of these changes I could easily do with or without a Fitbit, I like the added accountability.

I researched alternatives to the Force again, such as the Flex and the Jawbone Up - both of which are also wristband trackers.  The Flex, however, does not have a display or a have built-in altimeter.  No display means you have to sync to your phone before you can review your data.  No altimeter means that it cannot count flights of stairs climbed.  The Jawbone Up and Up24, for whatever reason, just do not appeal to me.  They also have no display and I have heard that their accuracy is not as good as the Fitbit devices.

So I looked at the Fitbit One.  The One is not worn on the wrist; it comes with a belt-clip.  And even though it is older than both the Force and the Flex (it was released in the fall of 2012), it has all of the features of the Force.  It has a display and the silent alarm.  It tracks steps, distance, calories, sleep, and stairs climbed.  The one feature it does not have is that it does not calculate active minutes on the device itself.  It does, however, calculate them in the Fitbit app once you sync it to either your phone or computer.

The one major change is where the One is worn.  Because it has a clip and is not a wristband device, finding a comfortable location for it takes some trial and error.  It can be clipped onto a belt, pocket, shirt, or anywhere else you can think of.  I have moved it from the high part of my pockets to the low part.  I've tried it on my belt and waistband.  Typically, I prefer wearing mine clipped to my pocket facing in (clip facing out) although some of my pants have the pocket seam too thick for the clip so I occasionally have to use another location.

The device itself I find to be far more accurate than the Force.  The One is less susceptible to counting missteps because it is closer to my body than at the end of my arm.

The sleep wristband is exceptionally comfortable.  However, it is an added step to remove it from the clip and place in the wristband each night and vice versa in the morning.

One initial problem I had was that, as a lefty, every time I picked up the device with my left hand, the display was upside down.  However, I was pointed to a setting on the Fitbit Dashboard to change the display to a left-handed setting.  Note that this setting is only available from the Fitbit Dashboard and is not available in the mobile app (at least not in the Android version at the time I write this).

One feature I would like is, similar to on the Force, the ability to re-order the display of the different functions on the device itself.  You can re-order and hide functions in the Fitbit Android app but not on the device itself.  Further, on the Force, when you pushed the button it would start at the Clock and then cycle through the functions in the determined order.  The One remembers the last function viewed and starts there.  I would personally prefer to start at the beginning each time and cycle through from there.

Overall, I love the One.  Even more so than the Force.  I appreciate that it is a little bit more discrete.  And while it is an older device, it has all the features and functions that I want and use.  Further, while Fitbit has promised a successor to the Force, there is currently no indication as to when that will happen.  While it could be soon, I feel that the One is not so much of a compromise because all the features are still there.  So if you have to return your Force and don't want to wait for its successor, I recommend the Fitbit One.

18 Mar 2014

Going Outside In Any Weather

I like to think I'm fairly committed to my running routine or my bike rides.  But I also live in a city called Richmond, which is directly south of Vancouver, BC.  And it rains here... a lot.  From growing up here, I have a bit of a motto when it comes to the rain: if you're not willing to do it in the rain, it'll never get done.

A lot of people rarely go out in the rain and constantly adjust or reschedule plans when the inevitable rain is forecast for their weekend activity.  Instead they choose to remain indoors and wait out the rain.  But I refuse to let the weather dictate my schedule, so rain or shine, I try to follow through with any activity that I have planned.  I also have a three year old son who has far too much energy to spend an entire day inside.  He wants to play outside regardless of the weather and doesn't mind getting a little wet.

Granted, it doesn't get nearly as cold here on the wet coast as it does in the rest of Canada.  Yet, even when it snows, I stick to my running routine.  And I'm never the only one on the trails; there are dozens of other people out there doing the same thing every time I'm out on the trails, regardless of the weather.

So in order to stay warm and somewhat dry, we try to dress accordingly.  Here is what I wear, depending on the weather:

  • Cold - I wear a top and bottom base layer under my shorts and shirt.  I like the MEC T1 long johns and long-sleeved shirt.  If it's closer to or even below 0C, I'll also through on my Saucony Kinvara Nomad jacket.
  • Wet - I wear a waterproof jacket and warm socks.  I've got my Saucony Kinvara Nomad jacket and I usually also wear a hat to keep the rain away from my eyes.
  • Windy - My Saucony Kinvara Nomad jacket has a wind resistant front and keeps my warm.
  • Riding my bike in cold or wet - I like to wear my waterproof cycling pants (I have MEC Secteur Pants).
  • Sunny - I like to feel the sun on my head so I prefer sunglasses to a hat.

And my runners, Saucony Powergrid Triumph 10 shoes, while they get wet fast (they are not waterproof), they dry overnight and are always ready by the next morning.

I am not trying to say I am more committed or more hard-core than anyone else out there.  I am simply trying to say that with the right equipment, the rain or the cold isn't so bad.  Every time I run, I feel better.  I run to be free, to breathe the fresh air, and to clear my head.  And sometimes, running in rain is even therapeutic.

13 Mar 2014

Dogs Off-Leash on Trails

I struggled a little bit to write this post because reading it could really go many different ways.  Let me start by saying that I like dogs.  I had one growing up but that didn't go over well (my dad and the dog just didn't see eye-to-eye).  When I first moved out of my parents house, I got a dog (a black lab mix).  I loved that dog and had him for quite a few years.  However, my circumstances changed and I had to give him up.  While that was a really difficult decision for me, I acknowledge that it was probably harder on the dog and so I accept that I shouldn't have gotten him in the first place.  As such, I am a big proponent of responsible pet ownership.

For the time being, my wife and I have decided not to get a dog.  We like the flexibility of not having one and admit that we are simply too busy to properly care for one.  But I also accept that when my son is older, he may ask for one and so that is a decision that we have put on the shelf for a later date.

So I tell that story to give what I'm going to say next some credibility: if you don't have complete control of your dog, it should not go off-leash in a public area.

I run a lot on trails and natural areas.  These trails happen to also be very popular areas for dog owners and their dogs.  And understandably so - they are beautiful, natural areas with plenty of room to run, walk, and play.  Despite the fact that most of these trails are not off-leash areas, the majority of dogs I see on the trails are off-leash.  In theory, I have no problem with this.  I like to see dogs running around, playing, and enjoying the public space as much as I am.  And the large majority of dogs are perfectly capable of doing so without any problems.

However, there are a small percentage of dogs that simply should not be off-leash in a public area.  Most owners of those dogs know that and leash their dogs accordingly.  But there are a very tiny few that do not.  Over the years, I have been bit, nipped, gnarled at, growled at, and snapped at.

As such, I usually slow down around dogs, keep a steady line and pace, and try not to startle dogs.  Most dogs barely pay me any attention.  But a very small few inevitably run, chase, and snarl.  The owners almost always chase their dogs and apologize profusely for their brief lack of control.  I accept that I wear bright clothing which may startle or attract a dog's attention, but I am not unique in that regard.

Some dogs wander aimlessly all over the path and I have almost tripped over numerous dogs but this doesn't bother me.  What bothers me is the aggressive dogs that are still off-leash.

So my argument is simple: if you do not have complete control over your dog's behaviour, your dog should not be off-leash in a public area.  So far, in the times I have been bitten or nipped, I haven't needed stitches (luckily all minor).  But I hate to think of the day that I, or someone else, does.

Am I out of line in my thinking?  I don't think that I am.

11 Mar 2014

My Training Plan: Week 11

My goal in my running for the next few weeks is to increase the length of my running intervals while keeping the overall session time around the same as the previous week (week 10).  In other words, I want to schedule one run around 50 minutes and the other two between 40 and 45 minutes.

One interesting thing that I've found recently is that as my run intervals get longer, I find it more of a test of willpower than a test of strength.  Yesterday I completed Session 1 - 20 minute run, one minute walk, repeated twice.  That's not an incredibly challenging run, but the longest interval that I've done so far in 2014.  About half way through each of the two 20 minute intervals, I found myself checking the clock almost ever minute or two.  While I know my legs and my cardio are strong enough to handle it, I found myself thinking about taking a break far too often.  So this run, more than any other run I've had so far in 2014, was all about willpower.

The next two sessions for this week are modest in comparison, yet they are still bigger (in terms of distance) than all of my previous runs in 2014.  In order to accomplish this, I need to focus on maintaining a reasonable pace and not pushing myself to go faster all the time.

4 Mar 2014

My Training Plan: Divergence from the Official Plan

While I have been enjoying the SportMedBC (and Vancouver Sun) Learn to Run 10K program, at this point in my training, I am making a choice to diverge from the Learn to Run 10K program.  I am doing this for one simple reason: time.

The Learn to Run 10K program is excellent and I enjoy it.  It has taught me how to build natural progression into my training rather than simply running farther and longer every day.  It has taught me that every week I should have a big run, a rest run, and a moderate run.  It has taught that intervals are good and established runners use them too.  All of these things are important lessons to any runner, whether you're training for a marathon, half marathon, or even a 5k.

However, I am busy and I am not training for anything in particular.  My goal, ultimately, is to teach myself to run and to increase my overall physical health.  So with my current schedule that I run during my lunch, I need to limit my runs to 45 minutes.  On the weekends, I can treat myself to a longer run but, in general, my runs will be 45 minutes.  So when I was looking at the Learn to Run 10K program for week 9, I realized that the time is just getting too long for what I am able to commit to on a regular basis.

So from this point forward, I am going to develop my own training plan using the same methodology as the Learn to Run 10K program, but with a soft 45 minute time limit in mind.  For this week (which is my week 10 because I repeated week 3), I am going to use the following training sessions:

On Monday (yesterday) I completed Session 1 and it was a great run in the rain.  I finished at 9.02km with an average pace of 5:36/km, which I am quite happy with.  Wednesday (tomorrow) it's on to Session 2.  And based on my results up to this point, I am confident that I can still be training for a 10km anyway.  I believe that if I increase my pace slightly and eventually work out the walking intervals, I can achieve 10km within this time.

14 Feb 2014

My Training Plan: Week 6

My running training for this week is Week 6 from the Learn to Run 10K program.  The first session, which I did on Wednesday this week, was a real push over all of the previous sessions.  By far, this was the most difficult, the most exhausting, and required the most determination.  The run consisted of 5 minutes running followed by 1 minute walking and repeated 7 times.  Including the 5 minute warm-up and cool-down, the run was just over 8km in 50 minutes.

* from SportMedBC's Learn to Run 10K program.
For the first time in a long time, this run completely exhausted me.  I even had to stop and heave somewhere during my 6th interval.  It felt great to sweat hard and really have to push through and challenge myself.  The next couple of sessions for this week are a bit lighter, going back to 3 minute runs and 1 minute walks.  Some needed recovery.  I really enjoy that this program provides ups and downs: some runs are more challenging than others while others are intended as time to recover.

Overall, more and more, I find myself constantly looking forward to my next run.  I have to use restraint not to run every day (I know my body still needs time to recover).  I have prioritized my runs higher and higher on my list of things to do.  However, as my runs are getting longer, I find the biggest challenge is finding time for runs any longer than 50 minutes.  I have to limit my workday lunchtime runs to 50 minutes and move runs longer than that into my evening routine.  There, the challenge is finding time for my runs without compromising time with my family.

13 Feb 2014

Gear: Saucony Kinvara Nomad Jacket

For the last few years, I have struggled to find ways to keep warm during my bike rides throughout the winter months.  I have historically resorted to using a loose-fitting pullover wind-breaker thrown on top of a couple extra layers for warmth.  When I was biking, this was only partially an issue.  The wind resistance was never an issue because I was only clocking against myself.  What bothered me was more the noise of my jacket flapping in the wind.  This year however, as a runner, the bouncing movement of my loose-fitting jacket was just too much.  I have mostly survived by simply wearing a good base layer (top and bottom) underneath my usual shorts and dry-fit t-shirt.  But there were definitely days where I wanted an extra layer for warmth or an outer layer to keep me dry.

And let's be honest here, I live on the west coast of Canada just outside of Vancouver where it rarely dips below 0C - so I need more protection from the elements (i.e. wind and rain) than the temperature.

So I decided it was time to invest in a light running jacket.  On our way home from a trip to Seattle this past long weekend, I was determined to find one at the Seattle Premium Outlets.  I browsed through many athletic brands' stores (Under Armour, Reebok, Adidas, Puma, Nike) without success.  In all fairness, none of those brands are actually running brands even though they each do have some running apparel.  But then, I found the Saucony store.

Because my shoes are Saucony and I am often brand loyal, I was immediately optimistic.  The store did not have many to choose from, but they did have one men's running jacket: the Saucony Kinvara Nomad Jacket.  The version of the jacket I bought has been discontinued; however, I believe the only differences between this one and the new one is aesthetic (i.e. colour patterns).

The jacket has a windproof and water-resistant softshell front to block wind and rain and a mesh panel on the back for breath-ability.  It is more than just a shell and does provide some added warmth too.  It fits me perfectly in a Medium (although I usually wear a Large) and still has room for an added layer underneath if necessary.  There are some good, bright reflective strips as you can see in the pictures from the camera flash.  It will be ideal for both running and evening bike rides, keeping me warm and making me a bit more visible to passing motorists.

To test it out, I wore it out on an 8km run today during my lunch break and it was awesome.  I enjoyed the added warmth and the shelter from the wind was great.  Towards the end of my run, the sun came out and I was close to getting too warm - the point where if it is sunny and over 6C I will probably go without the jacket.  But for any temperature under 6C, especially in wind and rain, this jacket will be perfect.

Overall, I am very happy with this purchase.  Most of the running jackets I have seen are listed for over $100 and even up to $200.  This one had a sticker price of $115 with 50% off so I paid just under $60 for it.  Great value for my dollar.

4 Feb 2014

Nutrition: Protein Powder

Among the healthy and fitness minded people I know, there is a bit of a debate going as to whether protein powder is necessary.  Some, mainly those that eat very healthy balanced meals anyway, believe that if you eat properly in the first place, protein powder is simply redundant.  The other faction believes firmly in a post-workout shake, even if you eat nothing but plain chicken, fish or beef, raw veggies, fruit, glass of milk, and lots of water.

While I don't always live by this, I am of the belief that nothing replaces healthy eating.  Sure, we splurge on junk now and then, especially with a young kid in the house and when time is of the essence.  But nothing can replace a healthy diet.  This article in Runner's World provides a bit more information on the value of protein in your active diet.  One key item in this article, cited from the USDA's Recommended Dietary Allowance, is that an average weight 165 lb runner should have 75 to 120 grams of protein daily.  I'm about 9% heavier than that, so using that same calculation, I should be aiming for 81 to 130 grams of protein daily.

So, all that being said, after a run or a bike ride, I like to have a protein shake along with my meal.  Part of the reason for my belief system comes from a few years ago  when I got heavily into bike riding.  I would average over 400 km per month and over three hours per week (usually three separate one hour rides).  I wasn't very calorie conscious back then so once I got to my peak performance, I started dropping weight like crazy.  With some helpful prodding from my wife, who is far more nutritionally aware than me, I researched diet and proper calorie intake, had my wife teach me about balancing calories and all that, and massively increased my food intake on days I went for my rides.

The end of it was that I had to completely re-think the way I eat before and after my bike rides and runs and I knew that I had to increase my protein intake specifically.  But my one issue here is that I am lactose intolerant so getting additional protein from milk and yogurt wasn't possible.  I already incorporate milk and yogurt into my diet to the extent that my body can handle it and we already eat as much chicken, fish, and red meat as we are comfortable eating.

So I started researching protein powders.  My wife helped and had a preference for powders that didn't load up on carbs, had low sugar and sodium, and, ideally, were natural.  A number of my friends recommending using the website and online store SVN Canada, so that's where we conducted our research.

The one product we found that fit our criteria and that both my wife and I could agree on was North Coast Naturals 100% Iso Protein.  The price was reasonable and it fit in with our nutritional goals.  We have gone through several tubs of it to date, and we continue to order it again and again.  I alternate between the vanilla and chocolate, both of which are awesome.  It's smooth, easy to mix, and tastes great (and I typically really don't like protein powders).  My wife also uses it in some of her breakfast smoothies.

Overall, I highly recommend it.  I definitely give this one two big thumbs up.

And a second nod here also to SVN Canada.  Great resource for reviews and products.  Fast delivery (usually within 24 hours, always within 48 - but, granted, they ship from within the Lower Mainland so it is also a short distance for those in and around Vancouver).  Great, fair pricing.  And for the two times I have had to contact customer support, they also have great customer service!

31 Jan 2014

My Training Plan: Week 4

* from SportMedBC's Learn to Run 10K program.
According to my training plan, this week is a recovery week.  As I stated in my previous update (week 3 update), I repeated week 3 to give my body and knees an extra week of early development in this program.  When I decided to do this, I hadn't read ahead and realized that week 4 was actually a recovery week.  So essentially, I gave myself two recovery weeks.  As such, I haven't broken much of a sweat in the last two weeks and I'm itching for a more challenging run.

* from SportMedBC's Learn to Run 10K program.
Week 5 steps up the pace a little so I'm really looking forward to that one.

In the interim, I have been doing a little bit of research on knee injury prevention for runners, mostly as a result of the swelling and stiffness I experienced in the fall.  Even though I visited my doctor to confirm everything was A-OK, and I haven't experienced any re-occurrence, I am still being cautious that I'm doing everything right and taking the right preventative steps to ensure that the problem doesn't come back again.

One article from Runner's World regarding knee pain in beginner runners, which I read back in November or early December, led me to re-evaluate my training plan (or create one to begin with) and progress with a more planned or systematic approach.  Because of this article I started following the Learn to Run 10K program in the first place.

This morning I found a new resource that seems to hit the nail on the head with what I experienced with my knee.  This website, Knee-Pain-Explained.com, has a page specifically on Runners Knee.  Similar to this article, I had some minor swelling and stiffness and I believe that my issue does have to do with my knee cap not tracking properly.  While I don't have the swelling or stiffness I experienced in the fall, my knee cap clicks when I go up stairs (this never happened before I started running last year).  My doctor also believed this was a likely case and gave me some exercises to remediate the problem.

Now, I am not a doctor, I have not studied sports medicine or physiotherapy, and I have very little experience dealing with injuries so I don't want to get into diagnosing problems.  I could be completely wrong.  But there is a key takeaway here.  Consistent with the advice I did get from my family doctor, there are some good, simple exercises that I can incorporate into my daily stretching routine.  This article links to some good knee strengthening exercises and knee cap exercises that I want to incorporate into my routine over the next couple of weeks.

27 Jan 2014

Gear: Foam Roller

Once I started running, and especially once I started having trouble with my knees, I had countless people tell me I should get a foam roller.  I admit I was a bit naive and had rarely ever heard of anyone using such a thing prior to about six months ago.  Before I started running in September 2013, I only rode my bike for exercise and never felt the need for a foam roller.  My whole life I've avoided the gym so useful tools, like a foam roller, rarely, if ever, crossed my path.

When I started having stiffness and some swelling in my knees, my wife went out and bought me one of these from the Running Room last October.  At first, I thought $30 was a lot for a piece of foam.  But it is $30 well spent.  Countless friends and acquaintances of mine that are far more fitness educated than me swear by their foam rollers.  A co-worker of mine big into heavy weights swears by his foam roller before and after every workout.

First, let me warn anyone who has never used a foam roller before, this is going to hurt.  If it makes you cry, you're doing it right.  After a bit of time with it though, the pain becomes far more soothing than painful.  The instructions are simple.  Basically, prop your legs on the foam roller and hold up your upper body with your elbows, arms, or hands.  Then roll back and forth from near your hip down to near your knees.

I usually start with my quadriceps (front), then iliotibial band (outside), then hamstrings (back), and lastly adductors (insides).  This routine just works for me.  I try to isolate each leg by itself.  And the key is that when you find a sore spot, go over it again and again to work out the soreness.  I often find that the sorest spots are somewhere in between the muscles, so I end up on a 45 degree angle targeting somewhere in between my quadriceps and iliotibial band.

After a solid ten minutes, my legs are often much more relaxed and the stiffness is almost completely dissipated.  In all honesty, the pain is much more relief than actual hurt.  Yes, it hurts.  But it is a soothing pain.  And it will feel better once you're done anyway.

I'm not about to make a video doing this myself, so if you want more of a visualization, check out this how-to from Runner's World.

Happy rolling!

23 Jan 2014

Route: Burnaby Fraser Foreshore Park (Burnaby, BC)

Map from the City of Burnaby website.  Click for more detail.
Another one of my favourite routes is the Burnaby Fraser Foreshore Park, which lies along the banks of the Fraser River in south Burnaby.  The park is a bit of a mish-mash of what feels like separate parks strewn alongside a business complex and an industrial area and then connected by both paved and gravel trails, which is exactly what it is.

Nestled along the Glenlyon Business Park and the adjacent industrial area, the park provides some much needed green space to these business areas.  For many who work in the area, the park provides the ideal waterfront vistas for either a lunch time stroller, afternoon workout, or morning walk.

While there isn't too much wildlife in the area, aside from birds and some evidence of beavers, there are always some fishing boats or tugboats pushing logs along the river to watch.  The estuary towards the east end of the trail has what looks like large bird perches, but I've yet to see an eagle or hawk perched atop one.  And if you're lucky, you can even catch a train crossing the old wooden CNR bridge..

In terms of distance, there is enough trail to find a route or combination of routes for up to 10km but for anything longer than that and I start to feel like I'm running in circles.  The west edge of the trail system does, however, connect to the Vancouver trail system that runs through the Riverfront Park and Gladstone Park, providing a much longer route if required.

Overall, it's an awesome trail system that provides much-needed green space in what would otherwise be a very grey area.  See below for a few more pictures.

Update: In April 2014, the City of Burnaby completed an improvement project on a section of this trail that runs between Boundary Road and Glenlyon Parkway.  See my post here.

22 Jan 2014

Route: West Dyke Trail (Richmond, BC)

One of my favourite places to run or ride my bike is along the West Dyke Trail in Richmond.  This trail runs along the west edge of Richmond from the north-west corner at Terra Nova Rural Park down to Garry Point Park in Steveston (see the West Dyke Trail map graphic to the right, taken from the City of Richmond's website).

For those unfamiliar, Richmond is a city at or below sea-level and, as such, is surrounded by a system of dykes and pump stations.  The nice perk to these dykes is that Richmond, which is an island called Lulu Island, has almost a complete pedestrian and bike path around the entire city.  There are three main sections of the dyke/trail: the West Dyke Trail, the South Dyke Trail (which connects to the south end of the West Dyke Trail), and the Middle Arm Trail (which connects to the north end of the West Dyke Trail).

I love running along the trail.  Yesterday, I passed by several Great Blue Herons, one Bald Eagle, and multitudes of people out walking, running, riding their bikes, walking their dogs, or otherwise enjoying the fresh air.  There are a couple of bathrooms along the way, plenty of benches for enjoying the scenery, and several access points (basically, one at each major road).

Given that the West Dyke Trail connects to the other trails at the north and south, there's plenty of opportunity for extending a bike ride or run as long as one would like.

Here are a couple of my recent photos taken along the trail.


21 Jan 2014

My Training Plan: Week 3

After a couple of weeks back at it, I figured it was time for an update.  I have completed the first three weeks of my training plan, the Vancouver Sun's Learn to Run 10K program.  Now, honest confession: weeks 1 and 2 were complete snoozes.  I know it's only my pride speaking here, but walking more than actually running was difficult and hardly even felt like a workout.  In the fall, I was running up to 40-50 minutes without ever slowing down; however, I probably pushed my body too hard to get to that point so quickly.  Cardio-wise, I could handle it but I was straining my joints, mostly my knees.  Knowing that I need to allow my muscles time to develop properly, I had to stick with the plan or risk injury in the future.

This week, Week 3, actually started to feel like a workout.  The first session was run 3 minutes and walk 2 minutes, repeated 7 times (note that all sessions include a 5 minute walking warm-up and cool-down, so while I won't always refer to them, assume that they were included every single workout).  Since I haven't pushed myself in a run since the end of November, this felt like a good workout.  I broke a sweat, finished somewhat out of breath, and felt it in my legs once I was done.

The next two sessions for the week weren't as good as the first, but were still better than anything I did prior to Week 3.  While I'd like to say onwards to Week 4, I have come down with a bit of a cold which has completely zapped my energy.  As such, I am contemplating repeating Week 3 this week.

11 Jan 2014

Gear: Fitbit Force Activity Tracker

Fitbit and the whole activity tracker idea is something I've been intrigued with for over a year.  I originally watched the Jawbone Up and the Fitbit Flex to see how they performed and what issues people had with them.  Both were early iterations of the technology used and were limited in each of their own respects.  Among other things, the original Jawbone Up had no wireless connectivity and the Fitbit Flex had no altimeter.  Neither one had a display.

This past fall, both Jawbone and Fitbit released new versions of their devices.  The Fitbit Force was introduced with a display, which also tells the time.  I liked the idea of a device worn on the wrist as opposed to the Fitbit One, which clips to a belt, clothing, or slides into your pocket.  I liked the new features, including the altimeter.  I liked that it had a display.  Both the web-app and Android app had very clear displays.  And I liked the silent alarm feature.  The Jawbone, in contrast, while a bit more aesthetic in my opinion, limited newer versions of their device to only sync wirelessly with  iOS devices - a painfully limiting product strategy.  But without wi
reless sync and no display to check on progress, that ruled that one right out for me.

So this year, for Christmas, my wife got me a Fitbit Force.  And I love it.  It has replaced my watch so I am not carrying anything additional - merely switching out my watch for a Fitbit.  I like tracking my steps.  I have left it with the default daily step goal of 10,000 steps.  On days I am not working, like weekends, I seem to blow past this goal and reach even 15,000 steps in a day.  However, on days I work, I have to go for a short walk on my lunch and even a 30 minutes walk in the evening (unless I run that particular day).  It has forced me to assess how much time I spend at my desk.  Even in the short time I've had it, I've taken the stairs more often and escalators less (unless I have my 3 year old with me - he loves escalators).

At first, I admit, I was quite nervous that the strap would come undone and my Fitbit would fall off my wrist.  It does "clip" together nicely but I have had it snag on clothing and come off.  Ironically though, the more I wear it, the less that happens.  This is contrary to what I would have thought - I would think more wear would make it a bit looser and easier to come undone.  But I think what is happening is that it is molding more to its shape on my wrist and, therefore, is more "relaxed" in it's buckled form.

My one complaint with it is that it is not waterproof.  I'm used to leaving my watch on - in the shower, swimming pools, etc.  So I have to remember to take off my Fitbit.  It would be ideal if it was waterproof, just like its Flex predecessor.  But it is water resistant to splashing, etc.  So a rainy run and sweat is not going to affect it.  The shower, in all honesty, would probably be fine for it - I've heard of others that wear it in the shower without a problem - but I'm not willing to chance it intentionally.

To some, it may seem over the top to be logging/tracking almost everything you do.  For me, it was simply a way to see how active I am in a given day or week and, thus, to remind me to get off my butt when I've been sitting for too long.  I have an office job; I sit at a desk all day.  Yes, I run, but that's not everyday and still not enough on its own.  So sometimes I just need a reminder to tell me how much I've been sitting.  That, and I do have a propensity to log and track things.

So if you're in the market for an activity tracker, I recommend the Fitbit Force.

Update March 30, 2014: Fitbit has voluntarily recalled the Fitbit Force.  Click here to read my follow-up post.

10 Jan 2014

Gear: Impetus Interval Timer (Android app)

In order to follow my Learn to Run 10K training plan (see my previous post HERE), I wanted to be able to program in my all my intervals without having to worry about look at my watch.  I was previously using the chronometer on my Timex watch and using the lap button to time each interval.  Counting the number of intervals took some thinking and I had to memorize the workout before setting out.  All seemingly simple tasks; but running on my lunch breaks during busy, hectic work days, I did forget a couple of times how many repeats I was supposed to do or how long each one was.

So I started perusing the Google Play Store for an interval timer.  Now, Endomondo does have this functionality in their app too, but only in the premium (i.e. paid) version - I'm looking for free.  I tried a couple out (HIIT Interval Training Timer by Caynax, Interval Timer - Seconds Free by Runloop) but immediately didn't like them.  As soon as I opened them, they looked overwhelmingly complicated.  I admit, that's as far as I went with them.  Uninstalled.

Then I tried Impetus Interval Timer.  Open it up and it's got a very simple, minimalistic display.  In the top left beside the app's own icon it shows the current "preset".  Click it to enter Edit mode.  From here, you can change the warm-up time, number of interval, time of work and time of rest for each interval, and cool down time.  This all follows their simple preset template.  Click on the current "preset" again to go back to Run mode.

Click the folder icon along the top menu bar to change to another preset.  The app comes preloaded with many presets.  I removed them all so I only have my Learn to Run 10K preset for the week one other one that I'll use for off-day bike rides.

Within the menu button in the top right is Settings.  There are a couple of settings I would recommend changing.  When I run, I listen to music.  Not loud, but just enough for the rhythm to keep me on pace.  However, I could barely hear the beeps (alerts) of the app telling me when each interval ended.  So under Settings, click Alerts and sounds.  Uncheck the box that says "Use media stream".  This allows you to set a separate volume for the alerts.  The next option I would check is "Mute music".  This is temporarily mute your music while it plays the beep, which will simply ensure that you hear those beeps.

One other setting I changed is under Display.  I have unchecked the box that says "Keep screen on", yet my screen still seems to stay on during my workout.  Just means I manually have to turn my screen off until I figure out what is keeping it on.

But that's it.  It looks great.  It's simple.  And it works.  Does exactly what I need it to do.

8 Jan 2014

Gear: Saucony Powergrid Triumph 10 Running Shoes

So after running for a couple of months in an old pair of New Balance cross trainers, I heeded my wife's advice and got a new pair of shoes back in October.  Now, I had never bought a proper pair of running shoes.  I've had high-tops, skate shoes, gym shoes (back in high school), leisure shoes, Sketchers, Vans, deck shoes... but never a proper pair of running shoes.  So I was totally out of my element.

My wife has bought a number of her running shoes from the Running Room, so I took her advice and went there.  I explained my situation, admitted to my novice running status, and that I was getting some discomfort in my knees.  They made me walk barefoot around the store and measured my feet.  They made me stand still and looked at my feet... and maybe my posture, can't remember.  Then they told me four pairs of shoes that would be ideal for me.  They were all labelled on the wall with a certain coloured sticker, which I can't remember off the top of my head.

I tried a pair of Brooks, 2 Saucony's, and a pair of Nikes.  By far, the best feel for me was the Saucony's.  So for $149 I got a pair of Saucony Powergrid Triumph 10's.

I couldn't wait to get out and try them so the next day, out I went.  I couldn't believe how light they were.  And it was like running on pillows.  If I do get them wet during a run, they're always dry by the next day.  Now, I accept that I am not comparing them to other running shoes.  But my recommendation here is not only for the shoes, but also for the Running Room staff.  Incredibly helpful and insightful.  If only all sporting goods stores knew their product like these guys do.

5 Jan 2014

Gear: Endomondo (app)

I admit it - I'm a geek.  I log things and I write everything down.  I like to keep stats and understand progress.  I track fuel mileage in my car and I track every kilometre I run or ride.  But I'm also a tech geek.  If there's an Android app for it, I will find it.  And if it's free, I'll try it out.  Combine my tech geekiness and my need to log things and you have someone who incessantly tries out and tests new apps that track stuff.

A couple of years ago, for my bike rides, I got a Garmin Bicycle GPS (Edge 200).  While I love the device itself, I was never satisfied with the Garmin Connect website.  Which led me to search for something that worked on my phone (an Android Motorola Atrix 4G at the time) and also allowed me to import from my Garmin Edge.  I tried a few: MapMyRide, Google's My Tracks, to name a couple.  But then I found Endomondo (available on Android, iOS, and some BlackBerry devices).

I immediately liked the straight-forward layout and simple functionality.  And the social media junky in me appreciated the ability to add friends and share my workouts.  I can log my runs and rides directly on my phone, which uploads upon completion to the website, or I can log them on my Garmin Edge and import them afterwards directly to Endomondo (still requires the Garmin plugin to be installed on your computer).  While I had all kinds of trouble with the GPS signal on my old Motorola Atrix, my Nexus 4 is a dream and rarely loses signal at all.

One of the things I like about the website too is that I can plot my rides before I set out, allowing my to set a distance and plan my time.  Helpful if I'm running or riding in an unfamiliar area and want to explore a little but without getting to far.

There is a premium version but I've always found the simple free version to be more than sufficient.

My 2014 Training Plan: Learn to Run 10K

Once I started running, and got hooked on it, everyday I tried to push myself further.  I started with 4km runs mixing running and walking and having no training plan in mind.  My goal was to be able to run around 30 minutes without stopping to walk.  By the end of November, I was up to between 8km and 10km runs depending on the day of the week, without stopping to walk.  I tried to do one longer run and then a couple shorter runs each week. So I pushed myself.  After a while, I started to get stiffness and some swelling in my knees.  Not pain, just stiffness and minor swelling.

First order of business was to get a proper pair of running shoes.  I went to the Running Room in Richmond and got a pair of Saucony Powergrid Triumph 10.  Best shoes I've ever bought - more on this in a future post.

Second order of business was to check in with my doctor.  He confirmed that I was not and had not done any actual damage but that I should rest until the swelling and soreness had completely subsided.  So with a busy travel schedule around the holidays, I took the month of December off from running.

Third order of business was to pick out a training plan.  For 2014, I am starting fresh - from the beginning.  I want to run and I want to do it right.  And I also want to be able to do it for a long time.  So to train my body, legs, knees, and heart, I want to follow a proper training.  I think 10km is a solid goal, so I've decided to follow the Vancouver Sun's Learn to Run 10K program.

I admit - I feel like it starts too basic for me.  My pride tells me I can do better than run for 1 minute and walk for 2 minutes and repeat 7 times.  But I want to do this right and built up the right muscles in my legs and around my knees properly.  So this first week of January I have completed the Week 1 training sessions.  Next week, on to the next one.


To introduce myself, I love to run and I love to ride my bicycle.  My love affair with my bicycle started before I can even remember - I grew up with it.  More recently (within the past six months), I have also started running.

Historically then, I'm a bicycle advocate. I try to avoid the term 'cyclist' because, for some, that relates more to the competitive sport of cycling.  I do not compete nor do I even own a road bike.  But I love my riding my bicycle.  I ride whenever I can - both for exercise and for transportation.  I support bike lanes and safe bicycling infrastructure.  My wife and I share a single vehicle, which we use to commute, run errands, and road trip to visit family in the Okanagan.  But I try to leave the car in the driveway as often as possible.

I would love to be able to commute by bike everyday; however, my 20km commute (each way) is a bit too much to accomplish on a daily basis.  Before kids, I tried for a three times per week.  Since kids, I try for the rare occasion that my wife is able to do both drop-off and pick-up from day care.

For a couple of years, I tried to get my exercise going for bike rides in the evenings.  I would aim for anywhere from 20km to 40km depending on my schedule and time available.  However, after returning to school this past year and my now-a-little-bit-older-son able to stay up a bit later, my evenings are a bit short of time for the rides I used to do.

Which brought me this past fall to try running.  For years, ever since high school basically, I have avoided running.  I remember the feeling in high school gym class after doing what we called a "block run" (basically, a 1.5km run around the block), gasping for air and struggling to get the thick phlegm off of the back of my throat.  However, my necessity to find some way to stay in shape (or get in shape for that matter) and not having the time for my usual bike rides, I thought I'd give running a try.

So in September 2013 I started bringing some dry fit shorts and t-shirt to work along with an old pair of cross-trainers I had with me to work.  During my lunch breaks, three times a week, I set out on a run along the Fraser River through the Burnaby Fraser Foreshore Park.

Thus, from my bicycle roots, which are still alive and strong, began my addiction to running...