Polar H10

I’ve decided to try exercising with a heart rate monitor (HRM) again. I first tried one of these way back in the early 2000s, before I even started this blog. Back then, Polar sold a chest electrode/transmitter strap paired with a LCD wristwatch that received the signal and displayed the heart rate. It was primitive by today’s standards, but worked pretty well. That model had a big design flaw, though — the strap had a non-replaceable battery, and once it died, the strap was worthless. Also, the transmitter was built in to the strap, and activated by moisture. As a result, unless the electrodes were bone dry, the battery would run down. The new design is much better. The model I have is the H10, and the transmitter snaps onto the strap, and has a replaceable battery. The big difference is that it no longer comes with a watch. Instead, it uses bluetooth to connect to your favorite device (phone, watch, gym equipment, etc) where you then run an app of your choice to receive and process the heart rate data. Polar has its own app for this called Polar Beat, but there are many others out there as well.

I mainly had running in mind when I got the H10, but I also plan to use it occasionally while biking. So far, I’ve used it three times: twice while running, and once while using my treadmill desk. The latter was mostly out of curiosity: I wanted to see how high my heart rate got while I walked along at 2 mph. Turns out it tops out at around 80bpm. For running, I’m evaluating 2 different apps: RunKeeper (which I’ve used for many years) and Polar Beat. The jury is still out, but I’m currently leaning towards Polar’s app, as it includes more features without a premium subscription (the premium features are unlocked when you pair a Polar HRM with the app). I’m going to run with it a few more times, and see what I like and dislike about it.

I do kind of miss having a wristwatch, as it’s kind of difficult to get a point-in-time heart rate reading from the phone, particularly this time of year, when I keep it underneath various layers to keep the battery from running down in the cold. It may be less of an issue once the weather warms up. I may go back to using an armband in warm weather. There’s also the Apple Watch, but I’m not sure I’d get enough use out of it to warrant the price. I’m sure I’ll figure something out after I’ve been using the HRM for awhile.

Another year older

My birthday was last Thursday. It was a great day, except for the part where I threw my back out. I was just finishing up a MTB ride, and was riding a familiar section of trail that I almost always pass through on the way home. It’s a slightly technical spot, with a steep descent, followed by a small creek crossing, followed by a brief rocky climb. I usually just power right through it. I’m not even sure what I did this time around, but I could tell right away that my back was unhappy about something. Five days later, it’s still not 100%. The joys of middle age.

In my 20s and 30s, I wasn’t all that easy on my back, but managed to avoid major injuries. I wised up in my 40s, and have been pretty careful to avoid stressing it, but sometimes it just happens. This time around was unusual, because I wasn’t lifting anything. I started out by taking ibuprofen, but the past couple days, I’ve mainly been using Voltaren gel (recently made available OTC in the U.S.), which helps, albeit temporarily. Yoga helps as well, and yesterday, I tried an inversion table for the first time. The jury is still out, but stretching it that way did feel good. I think I have to ease into inversion a little bit more slowly, though, as I felt kind of dizzy and queasy for awhile afterward.

The good news is, the back issue hasn’t kept me from running, road biking, climbing, or walking on my treadmill desk. I was a little apprehensive about climbing at first, but it actually seems to help. I stuck mainly to gently-overhanging terrain, which kind of naturally stretches the back out as you hang and reach for holds. To an extent, gentle movement in general seems to work better than sitting or lying down. I haven’t yet tried mountain biking, but I’ve got to think the injury was a freak occurrence, as I’ve biked through that particular section dozens of times without issue. I suspect I was seated when it happened, so I probably want to make sure I’m out of the saddle the next time, so that my back moves independently of the bike.

Anyhow, I’m hoping that as long as I’m careful about my activities, this will resolve itself before too long. Keeping my fingers crossed.

2-Month Running Report

I’ve been running regularly for around two months now. I run mainly in the mornings, two days a week, in addition to my usual bike rides and weekly visits to the climbing gym. My regular route is 5.4 miles long, and in the beginning, I walked about half of it. I’m now up to running all of it except a tiny bit at the beginning and end, so let’s call it 5 miles. Initially, I mainly wore my Altra Escalante shoes, but more recently, I’ve been wearing Vibram V-Runs. I’ve been focusing on form, posture, cadence, and breathing, all of which I think are improving. My pace has been hovering around 10:30/mile. All in all, I’m pretty happy with my progress after just 2 months.

I’m no stranger to running. I did it a lot in my 20s and early-mid 30s, but my form was awful, and as did many others, I suffered from numerous nagging injuries, and eventually gave running up in favor of biking and other activities. I tried to pick it back up several times in my 40s, but invariably, some injury shut me down each time. Now, at 51, I’m hoping I’m finally over the hump. I credit this to three things: proper form, minimalist footwear, and perhaps most importantly, much less time spent sitting. Walking on a treadmill 3 to 4 hours a day at 2mph while working, has made a huge difference. I’ve been wearing minimal footwear full-time for 3.5 years, and have studied proper running form for about as long, but the treadmill is a recent addition, and as I’ve written before, I believe it has been a game-changer.

I’ve had to overcome some minor physical issues over the past couple of months. The plantar fasciosis that I struggled with for most of 2020 is not 100% gone, but it’s so mild that I don’t even notice it any more other than my first couple of steps after getting out of bed. I have some occasional tightness in my right hip flexor as well as my right groin and hamstring, all of which are helped by light stretching and yoga. I expect all of these will improve further as my body continues to adjust to regular running. A month or so back, I developed some nerve discomfort in the ball of my left foot, which was helped by wearing Strutz metatarsal pads over my socks during activity. The nerve pain has mostly abated as of this writing, though I’m still running with pad on my left foot as a precaution.

I don’t really have a running goal, other than to incorporate it as another way to stay active. My biking has fallen off somewhat as my running has ramped up, which I expected, and eventually, I’d expect to split my time about 50/50 between the two activities. Eventually, I’d like to run longer distances. I guess the next step would be to run 10K, and I’m pretty close to that, but am not in a hurry to get there. First, I need to get my body to the point where I don’t feel like stopping at the end of my runs. A lot of that is pacing, and possibly also diet, which is an aspect of long-distance running that I haven’t yet studied. I’ve still got some work to do, but I am happy with my progress so far, and hope I can keep this going.

Kayak Repair

In 2014, I bought my first kayak: a used Wilderness Systems Tsunami 125. Based on my research, I believe it is a 2006 model. It had some wear and tear when I got it, and it’s gotten even more wear and tear in the 7-or-so years that I’ve owned it. Last summer, when the keel sprung a leak, I decided that it was finally time for some long-overdue repairs. I don’t (yet) possess any winter kayaking gear, so winter is my off-season, making it a great time for this. One of my winter goals is to get the old Tsunami seaworthy again in time for spring. Here’s what’s on the plate.

Keel repair: The keel leak has broken me of my bad habit of “scraping” myself into the water on concrete launch ramps. Little did I know, but plastic hulls aren’t indestructible. After some research, I learned that it’s possible to “weld” new plastic onto the hull. The important thing is to get the same kind of plastic used for the hull, so I went online and ordered some Wilderness Systems brand weld rod stock. I used my old Radio Shack soldering gun as a heat source, and a putty knife to smooth the molten plastic. It wasn’t all that hard, and everything was going really well, until the soldering gun died. I heard a “pop”, it went dead, and that was all she wrote. I’m pretty sure the leak is patched, but it still needs a little bit more plastic, and some shaping up. I may try using my heat gun, or my 25-watt soldering iron, to finish the job. Then I’ll do a leak test, and sand the finished product a little bit to smooth it out. We’ll see how that goes.

New bungee rigging: My old deck bungees were losing their elasticity, and getting threadbare in spots, so I ordered some bulk bungee cord and replaced them. That’s a rather easy repair, but it can be tricky to cleanly cut bungee cord without it fraying. Similar to synthetic rope and accessory cord, you need to use heat to seal the ends. My favorite trick is to take an old table knife or saw blade, heat it with a propane torch until it is red hot, and then use it to slice through the cord (don’t forget to wear oven mitts ๐Ÿ˜€). It’s quick, easy, and leaves a nice, clean end.

The bungee cord on the carry handles, as well as the paddle holder, has also seen better days, but appears to be a smaller diameter than the deck rigging. I’m going to need to order some of the smaller diameter cord to replace those.

Bulkhead resealing: This one is TBD. My foam bulkheads have leaked for a few seasons. A couple of winters ago, I tried to fix them with silicone sealant, but the repair didn’t last. This year, I broke down and bought a kayak-specific bulkhead seal kit, and am going to see if that does the trick.

This kayak has taken me on some great adventures over the years, and I’m hoping that these repairs will give it a new lease on life.

Frozen Trails Finally

I finally got back out on my mountain bike this morning, for the first time in about a month. My last ride was not all that enjoyable, because the trails were such a muddy mess. I try to avoid riding through mud, both to keep it off my bike, and to avoid damaging the trails. As a result, it seemed like I was doing as much walking as riding that day, which really takes away most of the fun, because you can’t get into that awesome zen state of mind that you get on a long, uninterrupted trail ride.

Different story this morning. In the winter, when I wake up, my usual routine is to check the temperature. So often this winter, the forecast has predicted a dip into the mid 20s, but I’ve woken up only to find it never dropped below freezing. Today was the opposite. I initially didn’t think it was going to get cold enough, but I woke up to a very solid 26ยบ. I checked the hourly readings, and found that it fell below freezing around 11pm, and stayed there all night. A perfect recipe for frozen trails!! With mild conditions predicted for the rest of the week, I figured today was the day to get reacquainted with the MTB.

I hit the trails a little after 7 this morning. Conditions were just about perfect. It was mild enough to be comfortable, but cold enough that the trails were frozen mostly solid. None of the streams were frozen, so I had no issues with footing on the crossings (I know I could just power right through the streams, but I still think it’s better for the bike to walk it). I’m happy I didn’t wait too long to get out. There were lots and lots of sections of thick mud with deep tire ruts and footprints. When frozen, you can just ride right over them. It makes for a rough ride in places, but it’s far better than slogging through mud. As I write this at about 11:00am, the temperature has crept above freezing, and I suspect the window has closed. On several occasions this past month, I’ve been tempted to head out despite marginal temperature conditions. Based on today’s ride, I’m glad I held off, and will wait for conditions like this before I go out again. I’m hoping the second half of January brings some colder mornings with it.

In spite of my rustiness, I think I rode pretty well this morning. I rode sections of Morning Choice, Rockburn Branch, and Ridge Extension (Captain John Smith) in Howard County; and “Gunned”, Soapstone, “Starstruck”, and Soapstone Reroute/Bull Run in Baltimore County. Out of all my various modes of exercise, mountain biking is the one most likely to get me winded. Lately, I’ve been reading “Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art”, and working on applying some of the techniques while exercising. Today was my first opportunity to do this while mountain biking, and I think it helped me power up some ascents with which I’ve struggled in the past. One of these is “Water Bars”, a steep climb up from the Avalon day-use area that joins the trail network on the Howard County side of the park. One of my goals is to make it all the way up this ascent without stepping off the bike. I’ve come close, but the rocky stretch near the top has always tripped me up. Today, I got a little hung up on one of the trail’s namesake water bars about halfway up, but was able to power through the rocky section for the first time ever. I still got pretty winded at the top, but recovered fairly quickly. I think I’m making progress. I just need the weather to cooperate so that I can get more practice now!

Winter Routine

We’re coming up on a year since everything shut down in mid-March 2020, so this is the first January that I’ve been full-time working from home. For most of 2020, my morning routine several days a week was to take long bike rides before work. I would get out of the house at around 6:30am and ride for anywhere from 2 to 2.5 hours. I kind of suspected that the routine might change a bit come winter, and indeed, it has.

The first big change was in October, when I bought an under-desk treadmill. I had been considering getting one of these for a couple of years. I had been using a standing desk regularly at work, but quickly found that static standing didn’t work for me for long periods of time. I had to be moving around. While standing, I constantly found myself pacing around the office, wandering around the hall outside my office, etc. On the other hand, I could hike for hours and hours on end with minimal breaks. So, I figured that if there was a way to walk while working, I’d be able to stay on my feet and out of the chair for longer periods of time.

When the pandemic hit and I started working from home full-time, I found myself getting less exercise. My biking mileage didn’t drop, but it was all concentrated in the morning, vs. a morning and afternoon commute each day. On top of that, I found that I wasn’t getting out for afternoon walks as I used to do regularly at work, and with meetings shifting to Zoom/Webex, I wasn’t getting free exercise from walking between buildings for meetings, either. I needed something to fill the gap, and a treadmill seemed like the perfect answer: I could work and exercise at the same time. The treadmill has lived up to my expectations — I walk on it anywhere from 2 to 4 hours a day, and my average daily step count on work days has ballooned from under 10k to over 20k.

I kind of expected my biking mileage to drop in the winter, and it has, but not for the reasons I initially thought. I figured the cold temperatures would limit me to shorter rides, but so far, this has been another of Maryland’s famous warm, wet winters, and we haven’t really had a true cold snap yet. In actuality, running, hiking, and climbing have been reducing the frequency of my rides. Could be worse, I suppose. It will be interesting to see how my routine is affected if we ever get a true cold spell, or a significant snowstorm, but I’m not holding my breath for either of those things to happen this year.

Geocaching Goals

I’ve been geocaching regularly for 8 years now. While I used to enjoy doing it for its own sake, over the past few years, it’s become more of an excuse to get outdoors for activities such as hiking, kayaking, etc. One of the things that’s really cool about geocaching is that it brings you to outdoor locations you might not otherwise visit. For example, if not for geocaching, I likely would never have visited Liberty or Prettyboy Reservoirs, various remote areas of Patapsco Valley State Park, or any number of other out-of-the-way places in the area.

One aspect of geocaching is the concept of a “challenge” cache. This is a cache that you can only “find” if you have met an arbitrary goal chosen by the challenge cache creator. One simple geocaching challenge might be to find, say, 100 other caches, which would make you eligible to find and log an associated challenge cache.

I have a love/hate relationship with challenge caches. The rules for constructing challenges used to be fairly arbitrary, which led to some interesting and creative challenges. A few years back, Groundspeak, the company that runs the most popular geocaching listing service, tightened the rules for what constitutes an acceptable challenge. While well-intentioned, the result has been kind of a dumbing-down of geocaching challenges, and lately, there has been an explosion of somewhat frivolous challenges, to the point where “power trails” of 20 or more challenge caches have popped up in various areas. Challenge caches by themself are not an issue, but when they begin to saturate a given area, they can become a “barrier to entry” to new players in the area who want to pick up the hobby. I know that, when I was new to the game, I would have been discouraged if I had looked at the geocaching map, and seen that most of the caches near home were challenges that I would be ineligible to “find” until I had been caching for many years. One way that Groundspeak could address this might be to add a special “proximity rule” for challenge caches that is much greater than the 0.1 mile for traditional caches: for example, only allow one challenge cache per square mile. I think that would level the playing field nicely, allowing for challenges while preventing them from becoming too prevalent in a given area. But, that’s just my opinion. I’m sure many challenge cache aficionados will vehemently disagree with me.

Now that I’m off my soapbox, I’ll talk about a type of challenge that I enjoy. Several years back, one of my goals was to find a geocache for each day of the year. It was a very effective motivator to get me out of the house. I finally completed that quest on Feb. 29, 2016. Once that’s done, you can try to find two caches for each day of the year (which I still have yet to accomplish, thanks to Christmas Day), and on and on. I have friends who are working on 5 caches/day, 10 caches/day, etc. Then you can move on to finding one of a specific type of cache for each day. My current project is to find a puzzle or “mystery” cache for each day of the year, and my goal is to do so by the end of 2022. While you could argue that it’s a “frivolous” or “arbitrary” goal, I’ve planned several bike rides, hikes, etc. around finding mystery caches on specific dates, and it’s been a good motivator to get me outdoors during these crazy times. Once I’m finished, I’ll have to find another “arbitrary” goal to pursue, just to stay motivated.