Running is hard, hard is good – Part 1: 0 to 10k

Chris Brooker
March 22, 2016
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I’ve never been a runner.

I’ve been a regular at the gym for years (some years more than others), lifting weights or doing crossfit but running was never really one of those things that interested me. I enjoyed shorter more intense forms of exercise.

After spending most of my time and ultimately moving to Houston in the summer of 2015, I needed a way to exercise. I didn’t belong to a gym and I was moving every month making picking one difficult. As the weather in Houston is amazing, and you just want to be outside, I decided to start running.

Starting to run is a humbling experience. You think you’re in shape, you can lift, you can do WODs without dying but running for 10 mins is something else. I know that you’re using different energy delivery systems and muscle types but it’s crazy.

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200lbs squat, photo taken on the way up.


My first run was in Toronto and I managed 2 miles in 25 mins at a 12:11 min/mile pace. Only 13 of those minutes were jogging, the rest were walking.

May 25, 2015 – First run

May5-2016Run

I wanted to get better at this so I kept at it, averaging around 1-3 runs a week. I then started reading lots about running and looking at different training programs. I started sort of following a beginner 5k program with intervals and long runs, etc. I also set a goal of being able to run a full 5k without stopping. No walking, no pausing to catch my breath.

July 2, 2015

July-2015Run

2 months in, getting closer. I have no real heart rate monitoring, so as a beginner it’s really hard to judge if you can push more or not, you don’t know yourself well enough. I can guess now that I know better I was in Z4/Z5 the whole time.


July 5th, I finally did it!

Goal Accomplished: 5k without stopping.
Total runs: 15
Time: 6 weeks

July-5k-2015Run

I jogged 5k in around 32 mins! This was a big accomplishment for me, it took 15 runs and 6 weeks to get there. I wasn’t terribly dedicated to a routine, I was traveling a lot, and it’s really humid in Houston in the summer but hitting this for me was amazing. I reached my goal, so I set the next one; Run a 5k in less than 30 mins. Sounds easy, right? It’s only 2 minutes faster.

July 22, 2015 – I almost did it. 30:15 with some walking however, my overall pace was down to 9:41/min. Whereas my fastest pace in the July 5th 5k was 9:42/min.

There were a few other runs where I got close but missed it by a few seconds.


August 31, 2015

Goal Accomplished: 5k under 30mins.
Total runs: 36
Time: 15 weeks

Aug31-2015Run

Then on August 31st, I did it! Boom! 28:54 @ 9:03/mile pace. This was one of the first times I ran with a running group and I think trying to keep up really motivated me to keep pushing and not slow down or walk. You can see from this chart that my pace is really unsteady. Up then down, up, down. Again, I didn’t have any sophisticated monitoring like Heart Rate or SPM (Steps per Minute), I just ran and hoped for the best. I was running with my phone in an arm band using the app RunKeeper, so I couldn’t really see my time, my pace or any stats related to my performance until I was done.

Something that completely blew my mind was after the run I was talking to one of the organizers and he asked me how I did, I told him and asked how long it took him. His answer, 20 mins. Damn, I just did it under 30 mins for the first time and he did it in 20 mins, no sweat.

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Memorial Park running look in Houston, Tx where I did all my running between August and Mid September. Including a few runs with different evening running groups.


It’s at this point that I get hooked and really start to get serious.

The first order of business is to step up my tracking game. Getting frustrated with the phone as a tracker, I start researching running watches. Being a tech guy I ended up getting the Garmin Fenix 3 with HRM-Run chest strap. This thing is absolutely bonkers and can tell you pretty much everything about your run. Time, Distance, Pace, Hear Rate, Running cadence, SPM, vertical oscillation, ground contact time, ground contact time balance, and much more. Do I use all these numbers? at first, not really. I didn’t know how my form affects any of these. The most useful info during this time was accurate real-time HR. I could tell exactly how much effort I was putting in and how much I had to give.

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Here’s my first run with this watch: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/890577088

Just another level of data to look over. This is just a snippet, I cropped out a bunch.
Sept 6-2015 Run

After seeing this I realized a 2 things. 1) that training effort of 5.0 means I’m totally over doing it. 2) I need to have a strategy if I’m going to improve. Just running as hard as I can until I stop isn’t very effective.


 

I decide to use my new tool and start on the Garmin 5k Level II HR training plan. It’s 12 weeks long and has 3 runs a week with 1 cross training day. The program is based on building Z2 endurance and pushing Z4 speed with Long Runs, Easy runs and Intervals.

The first run was 20 mins in Z2. OMG if felt SO Slow! It was so hard to keep my HR in the Z2. I couldn’t even run the 20 mins, I couldn’t control my HR. I kept having to walk to get it down, then speed up again. It felt so frustrating as I was so accustomed to running faster, it felt like a huge step backwards.

5k-Day1-Chart 5k-Day1-Stats

The comment I left on this workout “Workout 1 of series. Barely a workout- Had to keep heart rate between 111 and 134”.

Regardless, I stuck with it and tried to followed the program as closely as possible.


I start that program on September 8th, 2015, over the next 2-3 months (Sept, Oct, Nov), my running got faster, my runs got longer and more importantly everything started getting much more consistent.

I also started to learn a lot more about my body. You hear many people talk about Z2 being where you can run and carry on a conversation. I never really got that, as I found out the reason was I couldn’t run slow enough to stay in Z2. I now totally get it. I can tell right away when I’m reaching the end of Z2 and about to hit Z3. People tell you to listen to your body but I found I could hear it much better when I had the numbers to open my eyes. Now that I’ve learned to listen the numbers are less important.

November 20th, 2015

Total runs: 80
Time: ~25 weeks

Here’s a run from near the end of the program;

  • Run in Z2, easy, 5 minutes.
  • Run in Z4, threshold, 30 minutes.
  • Run in Z2, easy, 5 minutes.

5k-Nov20-Chart5k-Nov20-Stats

Much more consistent pace and with all this training I could keep my HR in Z4 and not push through Z5 to peek HR like I would before.


First ever race

Feeling confident with my progress and in my running I wanted to experience a real official race. Even though I still hadn’t broken the 5k in less than 25 min goal, I was certain I could easily do a 5k. I signed up for a 10k. I’ve hit this distance a few times on long Z2 runs and was confident I could finish, I just wasn’t so confident on how quickly I could do it. I didn’t just want to finish, I wanted to post at least a reasonable time.

I entered the “Run Houston! Sugarland” race on December 5th, 2015 in the 10k group with the goal of finishing in under 1 hour.

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Before

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During

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After

How did I do? I finished! and….. under an hour! The official time was: 56:30

Which puts me around the middle of the pack 97/169 men and 145/415 overall for the 10k. Not bad for a first ever race.

You can see from these charts that I speed up considerably as the run goes on. With everything I read leading up to the race the biggest mistake newbies make is going out too hard at the beginning and having nothing left to finish the race. I purposely started slow at a 9-10 min/mile pace. At the 5k point I sped up to high 8s low 9s. 2k out I was averaging an 8:30 pace, in the last km I was in the high 7s. I didn’t really pay too much attention to my HR after the first 5k you can see it climbing and climbing as I push faster.

Time in Heart Rate Zones
Z5: 11:08
Z4: 37:13
Z3: 7:47
Z2: 0:14

Solid upper end effort, I assume this is what to expect out of a shorter race.

10k-Sugarland-Chart 10k-Sugarland-Stats


In Part 2 I’ll talk about my second 10k and some set backs that hit me along the way.

Using Arduino, Raspberry Pi and Android to monitor your home

Chris Brooker
July 4, 2013

Hey all,

Just thought I’d write an update to my post “Internet connected computer controlling a dumb fan. Inefficiencies of the modern gas forced-air furnace“. It’s been a while and I’ve been busy. In that post I made the comment “Ideally, there would be a wireless temp sensor in each room, and an independent, discrete, heat source in every room that could adjust to the constant needs of the household.”.

With that in mind I started down a long road of discovery, building and hacking that lead me to where we are now, this screen shot:

Screenshot_2013-07-03-22-31-10

What you’re looking at is a shot of the home screen of my Android phone (Galaxy S4). I’d like to direct your attention to the small white text beside the weather widget. This is a little widget I wrote myself last night that displays the temperature from the 6 wireless temperature sensors I build and have around the house.

What I’ve built and put together is a network of internet connected wireless sensors. Let me go through each piece.

1) Wireless Sensor:

Here is what I’ve come up with so far for the final sensor.

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I owe pretty much everything to Nathan Chantrell who created what is called the TinyTX. An open source set of PCB diagrams, Arduino code and tons of know-how. You can find all the information about the TinyTX on his post here.

The sensor is pretty simple, it’s:

  • a custom PCB I had created in china (with the plans from Nathan Chantrell) (built by seeedstudio.com)
  • an ATtiny84 MCU
  • the RFM12B wireless transceiver
  • the DS18B20 temperature sensor
  • a resistor and a battery pack

The best thing about this V3 board design is that it exposes all of the ATtiny84’s IO pins. In this configuration only 2 are being used but it makes it so easy to use the platform to attach pretty much any sensing probe. Temp, humidity, air quality, pretty much anything.

So far I’ve only seen people using this platform to send sensor data back to a base station. I’ve been doing some playing around and have found ways to also have this receive a signal. For instance you could have this setup to read and transmit the temp but also have it connected via the free pins to wirelessly turn on and off an exhaust fan or operate lights. You just need to build a switching circuit that’s triggered by 3.3v. I breadboarded a test of this and had a transistor switching a set of 12v PC fans.

The base code for the ATtiny84 can be found on github.

 

2) The Base Station (Receiving the sensor data)

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The next piece in the puzzle is a way to receive the sensor data, as there is insufficient power and resources for each sensor to be connected to the internet directly.

The base station consists of:

The hardware is pretty straight forward. I ordered the RFM12Pi module as a kit and got it up and running pretty quickly. Installed Linux and the RFM12Pi modules.

 

3) The software

emoncmsMulti emoncmsFeed emoncmsDash

There is a fantastic open source project OpenEnergyMonitor.org that built a system called emoncms. It’s an MVC patterned PHP, MySQL system to log and visualize all the data that comes in through the sensors. As it’s open source, it’s extremely hacker friendly with all its code and modules on Git. I have this running on the Raspberry Pi.

emoncms is extremely flexible and a great way to capture and log all sorts of sensor data. It shows you the raw inputs from the sensors that you then map to a Feed. Allowing you to do any adjustments to the raw data as needed before being logged. In the case of temperature, I’m sending the float temp data as Int through the wireless transceiver, I then multiply the input by 0.01 to arrive back a the original float then log it to a feed.

You can also build dashboard as I did with the screen shot above. It’s very flexible and has been working very well, I did however, start playing with using it to send data back to the sensors. Nothing final yet, but when I have it working I’ll post some code to a forked repo.

 

4) The Android Widget (pictured above)

The last piece of the puzzle is the quickly hacked together Android Widget I wrote so I could see the temps on my phone all the time. emoncms exposes each feed through a REST API, using that API the app queries for the last feed value and displays it in the widget.

The code is in this Git Repo. It’s very rough but as there are no Apps or widgets for emoncms I’ll probably be building it out a little more over the next little while.

 

There you have it a full end to end system for monitoring pretty much anything you want wirelessly. It’s awesome and amazing. If anyone has any questions or comments I’m happy to chat. My next steps from here are to expand upon the simple node to base data flow and make the sensors wireless nodes that control things through emoncms. Stay tuned.

 

 

Update

The range is about 120 metres (~400 ft) line of sight. I’m running at 433Mhz which is nice and low and penetrates walls well. I have no signals problems anywhere in and around my house. 2 AA batteries will last upwards of 6 months (estimated) as none of my nodes have died yet. In the screen shot for emoncms there is a shot of the dashboard. Under each temp there is a dial is showing the millivolts left in each battery pack.

Internet connected computer controlling a dumb fan. Inefficiencies of the modern gas forced-air furnace

Chris Brooker
March 14, 2013

I recently moved into a new house. Yay! I know. We needed more space for our son to play and grow up. We found a place, signed the lease and 2 weeks ago moved in. This house however, is the first time that we’ve had to pay our own utilities. Electricity, Gas and Water. Now our consumption directly affects our wallets.

 

nest

One of the first things I did when we moved in is replace the old, busted and (to me) much hated mercury switch thermostat. Heating and cooler costs typically account for 50% of your utility bills and using a programmable thermostat improves the efficiency greatly. I replaced it with something I’ve wanted for a while but had no use for, the Nest Learning thermostat. If you haven’t heard of it or seen it, it’s an internet connected thermostat that learns your behaviour and automatically adjusts the temperature based on your patterns instead of you having to program it. It also allows you to control it remotely on the web or from you iPhone, iPad, Android phone, etc. It’s amazing and awesome, but that’s not the point of this post. You can check it out here.

Now I basically have this internet connected (awesome), computer controlling my heating and cooling. It’s super smart and knows when I’m home and when I’m not but it’s attached to one of the simplest, dumbest pieces of hardware in the house the gas forced-air furnace. I’m not too sure how many of you know how the furnace works or how many of you have opened up the panels and tinkered inside so let me briefly explain it. I’m only talking about your typical residential Gas Forced-air furnace.

When the furnace is instructed to go on it goes through a 4 step cycle. 1) A small inducer motor spins up and makes sure there is negative pressure venting the combustion byproducts to the outside. 2) The gas is turned on and ignited, heating up the heat exchanger. 3) The main blower fan starts up and blows the hot air through the ducts. 4) The gas stops, the inducer motor stops, when the heat exchanger cools down, the blower stops. The repeats every time the thermostat requests heat. This is a little simplified as there are a number of safety checkes that get done. But essentially that’s it, a fan blows air through a hot box and then through some tubes and into your house.

fig8

The biggest inefficiency is with the furnace itself. I’m new to this home and more than likely have things arranged differently than the previous tenants  plus lots of work has been done and things have changed. Now the vents aren’t balanced, some rooms are hot, some are cold. The super smart thermostat only reads the temperature in 1 room, so that room is the right temp but all the others aren’t. I go down to the furnace room and manually adjust louvres on the vent trunks to adjust where the warm air goes, in hopes of balancing the heat a little. This is ludicrous! Most of the time 80% of the rooms are empty.

The problem is the blower speed is constant, on or off. If I adjust the louvres, that pressure doesn’t just go away, it get redirected somewhere else. If the room is empty, it doesn’t need to be heated to the same temp as rooms that people are in. A truly smart system would adjust everything, based on where people are, how many, etc automatically.

Ideally, there would be a wireless temp sensor in each room, and an independent, discrete, heat source in every room that could adjust to the constant needs of the household. Lower the temp in empty rooms and raise the temp in rooms with people. There are sort of system that exist like this today with zoned heating, but they’re mostly in commercial spaces or very large homes. I hope in the more energy efficient future, these types of super smart HVAC systems find their way into more residential home.

You could even just have more but smaller heat exchanges, 1 on each main vent trunk line and a blower for each. At least then you could have a little more control and use way less gas.

Closing vents and otherwise redirecting the air does not improve the efficiency of the system, it in fact makes it less efficient.

And don’t get me started on how gas meters get read and estimated, that’s a whole other rant.

Photo of the Day #59 – July 8, 2012

Chris Brooker
July 8, 2012

Dogs in front of the Hardrock Cafe. Lots of dogs. All leashed up while people dine at the Hardrock.

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Shot in RAW, levels adjusted in Lightroom 4. (Exported to jpeg at 75).
Nikon D7000, 55mm, ISO100, F11.0 1/80secs exposure.

1) I have to upload one new, original photo to the blog every day.
2) The photo has to be taken on that day. No using photos taken in previous days.

Photo of the day gallery for the full sized pic
You should really check these out at full resolution 

Photo of the Day #58 – July 7, 2012

Chris Brooker
July 8, 2012

Today I was at the Festival of South Asia on Gerrard. For me this is the best festival as it’s at the bottom of my street and is so easy to get to :). This was a kid with a balloon sword fighting in front of Lahore Tika.

_DSC4115

Shot in RAW, levels adjusted in Lightroom 4. (Exported to jpeg at 75).
Nikon D7000, 35mm, ISO100, F8.0 1/200secs exposure.

1) I have to upload one new, original photo to the blog every day.
2) The photo has to be taken on that day. No using photos taken in previous days.

Photo of the day gallery for the full sized pic
You should really check these out at full resolution 

Photo of the Day #57 – July 6, 2012

Chris Brooker
July 8, 2012

One of the few times in the summer this public pool is calm and serene.

_DSC4089

Shot in RAW, levels adjusted in Lightroom 4. (Exported to jpeg at 75).
Nikon D7000, 32mm, ISO640, F4.8 1/40secs exposure.

1) I have to upload one new, original photo to the blog every day.
2) The photo has to be taken on that day. No using photos taken in previous days.

Photo of the day gallery for the full sized pic
You should really check these out at full resolution 

Photo of the Day #56 – July 5, 2012

Chris Brooker
July 5, 2012

This was taken at an all turf sports park not far from my house.

_DSC4039

Shot in RAW, levels adjusted in Lightroom 4. (Exported to jpeg at 75).
Nikon D7000, 18mm, ISO100, F8.0 1/200secs exposure.

1) I have to upload one new, original photo to the blog every day.
2) The photo has to be taken on that day. No using photos taken in previous days.

Photo of the day gallery for the full sized pic
You should really check these out at full resolution 

Photo of the Day #55 – July 4, 2012

Chris Brooker
July 4, 2012

Finally took a trip down to sugar beach. It’s a very interesting urban beach along the new water front by the Corus building. This is a shot of a waterfall water feature in the park across the street from sugar beach. Lit up from behind by the setting sun.

_DSC3909

Shot in RAW, levels adjusted in Lightroom 4. (Exported to jpeg at 75).
Nikon D7000, 18mm, ISO100, F13.0 1/80secs exposure.

1) I have to upload one new, original photo to the blog every day.
2) The photo has to be taken on that day. No using photos taken in previous days.

Photo of the day gallery for the full sized pic
You should really check these out at full resolution 

Photo of the Day #54 – July 2, 2012

Chris Brooker
July 3, 2012

Fireworks at Ash bridges Bay.

_DSC3867

Shot in JPEG, levels adjusted in Lightroom 4. (Exported to jpeg at 75).
Nikon D7000, 55mm, ISO100, F11.0 6secs exposure.

1) I have to upload one new, original photo to the blog every day.
2) The photo has to be taken on that day. No using photos taken in previous days.

Photo of the day gallery for the full sized pic
You should really check these out at full resolution 

Photo of the Day #53 – July 1, 2012

Chris Brooker
July 3, 2012

This was taken at Toronto Pride Parade 2012

_DSC3818

Shot in JPEG, levels adjusted in Lightroom 4. (Exported to jpeg at 75).
Nikon D7000, 30mm, ISO100, F6.3 1/125sec exposure.

1) I have to upload one new, original photo to the blog every day.
2) The photo has to be taken on that day. No using photos taken in previous days.

Photo of the day gallery for the full sized pic
You should really check these out at full resolution 

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