lifestyle

Really Getting to Know My Quantified Self

It seems that every news feed I look at has a story advising how we all spend far too much time sitting down, whilst a combination of our lack of motivation and sedentary lifestyle will quite literally be the death of us all.

However, we don’t need to worry because there is an antidote to this lazy behaviour and technology has the power to get everyone back on their feet again, if we all invest in the latest tech wearable that promises to kick start everyone with a healthy dose of motivation, at a cost of course.

Many combine the use of tech wearable’s with another set of buzzwords known as lifelogging, self-hacking, body hacking or the quantified self where people are increasingly using technology to track measure and analyse data from your daily life.

Quantified-self facilitates the tracking of diet, sleep, heart rate, activity, exercise, and moods and allows individuals to gain better insights on physiological parameters that were never examined earlier, advised Sumit Kumar Pa

Although I am usually quite cynical about this sort of thing and confess that I am happiest when sat down looking at a myriad of tech devices or playing on a games console, but equally aware that if you need a website to be successful you need to closely monitor google analytics to examine data and improve performance, so pondered if this same school of thinking could be applied our own life?

After reading that the smartphone you already own can perform that exact same tasks only more accurately, I decided to embark on an experiment for once week where I track every aspect of my life to see if it reveals anything different about me using only my smartphone to see if there really is a need for slight changes to my lifestyle.

For my experiment, I began by downloading the app called “Moves” that claims to be the activity diary of your life by simply counting how many steps you take each day. (more…)

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Do Online Quizzes Fuel Narcissism or Just Harmless Fun?

The average Facebook timeline is not a place for the cynical or easily frustrated and even the most patient will tire of being bombarded with bridezillas, drinkers, wannabe politicians, constant game invites, baby bores, fitness freaks or even people practicing the relatively new art humblebragging where an individual delivers hidden claims on status by presenting them as an innocuous or humble personal anecdote.

In our constant quest to show the world something about who we really are, we have almost become our very own PR manager in this digital age. Whilst attempting to illustrate our uniqueness we have given birth to the ubiquitous online Facebook quiz.

The increasingly familiar quizzes all begin with “What (insert generic TV character here) are you?” or something like “What city should you live in?”

BuzzfeedQuiz

Zimbio and Buzzfeed seem to have captured the mood of the moment with their countless quizzes for all to express their individual personality. With millions of people across the global community falling over themselves to share their results, its of no surprise that the infamous “What City Should You Live In?” has amassed more than 20 million unique visitors and this kind of data is incredibly lucrative if marketed correctly.

BuzzFeed have recently begun working with clients to make the quizzes, which currently include “Which David Bowie Are You?” from Spotify. The “Which Barbie doll are you?” quiz from “featured partner” Mattel has around 152,000 Facebook shares since it launched on Feb. 21, a spokesperson for the site told Mashable

These types of quizzes are not a new idea and families have been filling out very similar in magazines and newspapers for years but the difference now is you can instantly share your results to everyone you know within a quick click and after all it’s just a giggle isn’t it?

han

Breaking it down, it’s very often, just a bunch of friends who all love the same TV show, entering a quick quiz to see which character they most resemble before sharing the results together and this cleverly taps into the oldest aspect of the social human condition which is to find a common connection with each other.

The more cynical amongst us, would suggest that we have all become infected with a heavy dose of narcissism and we should actually ask ourselves what our behaviour says about ourselves?

Spending your spare time searching through endless online quizzes, for the soul purpose of expressing to the world what kind of person you really are, is not a healthy pastime.

Maybe the antidote to our modern narcissism can be found in the 1985 Brat Pack movie, The Breakfast Club and the poetic closing scene where the cast learn that although they all come from different social groups and have stereotypes about each other. Ultimately they realised that they all had universal problems in common and learned new things about each other that actually made them more the same than different.

“We think you’re crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…athlete……and a basket case… …a princess… …and a criminal.  Brian Johnson: Does that answer your question?… Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club”

Ironically though, I have probably just unintentionally (honest) just given birth to a “Which Breakfast Club Character Are You?” online quiz and between me and you, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

**Update** 24th March 2014.

What was that ruckus?

What was that ruckus?

Several weeks after this post, can you guess what appeared on Buzzfeed?

Correct, the “Which Breakfast Club Character Are You?” arrived for all to answer and share, but as much as I would like to think that I inspired this latest quiz, I believe the true inspiration is because it was unbelievably 30 years since the day of the most infamous school detention in movie history.

Saturday March 24th, 1984, Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois.” So said Anthony Michael Hall in the opening voice over and if that doesn’t make you feel old, nothing will.

 

 

The Road Ahead…

After spending months waiting for the snow to disappear, so I could sneak in a cheeky 3 mile run to maintain my fitness, I’m happy to say that the never ending winter is finally just a distant memory and it’s time to start building up a few miles on the road again.

It’s hard to believe that it’s just over a year since my first run but the Ronhill Tracksters that I have become quite attached to are showing some wear and tear, in fact two holes have appeared on the errm under carriage so maybe it’s time I reinvested in some new kit.

My faithful he Saucony Pro Grid Ignition 2 Running Trainers are also in need of being retired to gardening and dog walking duty but to be honest, this is what I love about running. The fact you can throw on some old clothes and just hit the road, there is something quite poetic and therapeutic about it all.

The last two months has seen me gradually get back up to 9-10 runs a month with an approximate monthly mile count of around 30-35 miles. With the old motto of “Running is 90% mental, the rest is physical” in my head, I realise that I need something to aim for again to keep me running and on the healthier path.
I simply don’t have the discipline or time to commit to a full marathon, a four hour training run several times a week scares the hell out of me, so intend to keep things real by aiming for the Birmingham Half Marathon again in October.

running

Over 56,000 calories bite the dust…

So I have set myself a realistic target of running 40 miles a month for May/June and if this goes to plan, then I will sign up the half marathon and maybe even the Black Country Half Marathon too but there’s a fair amount of work to do until I commit to anything like that.

A healthy runner beats an injured runner every time they say, and the sound advice over at Runners World “To avoid injury when upping your mileage, you need to take it slow and allow your body time to adapt to the increased workload. In general, you can add a mile for every run you do per week, provided you then run at least two weeks at the new level before advancing again. If you run six times a week, for example, you can up your weekly mileage by six miles. Then stay at that higher level for two weeks before adding another six.”

With this in mind, I will be slowly building the miles over the next few months and try to avoid any injuries to stop my over enthusiastic self from doing too much too soon which is ultimately the cause of most problems. This is one lesson I learned the hard way last year.

Who would have thought that one mobile app called “Get Running” could have had such an impact on this beer swilling, junk food eating gamer. Enough of my ramblings, I’m just going out for a run…

Get Running: Couch to 5K – One Year Later

Where does the time go? Exactly 12 months ago, I was measured for my wedding suit only to be told I was a 38” waist which was just the kick up the arse I needed to take immediate action. Luckily I was able to combine my love of the great outdoors and listening to music to try and get to grips with running.

I quite literally started out with an old pair of trainers, a Spotify running play list and the Get Running C25K App. It was bloody hard work and was horrified to discover that I couldn’t run for more than a couple of minutes without gasping for breath. However the app gradually builds you up with a combination of walking and running until it finally installs the running bug deep into your soul and within 2 months I was running for 3 miles without any problems at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I am no athlete and never will be, but by making a few adjustments I was able to lose 2 stone, squeeze back into a 34” waist and even completed the Birmingham Half Marathon but the craziest part of all of this and I can’t believe that I am writing this down but I actually love it!

It is very easy to see why they call it the running bug because if I am stressed out after a bad day at work, had a heavy night on the beer or over indulged on food, a quick 30 minute run makes me feel me so much better and clears my head. The weird thing is when the snow settles, I’m actually gutted about not being able to get out there and I am the least likely person to ever say that.

#c25k

So a year on and my biggest battle is motivation but looking at my runkeeper, I have enjoyed over 100 runs, ran for over 370 miles and burnt a whopping 56,000 calories. So if you are reading this thinking of starting out, if a self confessed gaming couch potato like me can do it then anyone can.

You don’t need fancy clothes, £100 trainers or expensive gym memberships; it’s just you and the open road. My best advice to you all is ALWAYS remember the old adage of “Running is 90 percent mental and the rest is physical.” Despite this advice, people tend to spend much more time preparing physically than they do mentally. It really is that simple.

As for myself, its time to look at booking a race on the horizon to keep me motivated and something to aim and push for, although I completed the half marathon in October it seems a lifetime ago and running for more than 5 miles fills me with dread, but once again its all about the very powerful contraption in your head. The mind is a very powerful tool that just requires a few Jedi mind tricks to trick it into getting your arse in gear.

Enough of my ramblings, spring is officially here, so if you were thinking of starting to run, now is the perfect time to start.

 

 

The Running Man – The Next Chapter

Another wet week here in the UK, which wasn’t made any easier by my legs aching like hell. When I first started my new running regime, I was running about two and a half miles 5 times a week (Mon-Fri) but as I am now running for longer distances, I have learned my lesson the hard way that I need to think about running for only 3 days a week and make sure my body gets time to recover.

Although notching up over 20 miles this week, my legs have been feeling the strain, this made a few of the runs very hard and sluggish, which required me to dig deep to finish. There was also an incident that had me enjoying a lunch which involved enough spaghetti and meatballs to slow down an elephant which is probably explains my slowest ever run.

I developed a nasty pain between my calf and ankle that left me walking like John Wayne, so I persuaded Kerry to bring out the healing Mr. Miyagi hands one more time and although I squealed like a Ned Beatty in Deliverance, to my amazement it made a massive difference so think I might have to marry that girl.

To avoid getting bored, I often just pick a direction and start running and on two occasions this week I got lost again, but its all part of the adventure and appeal of running. The first incident involved a 5 mile run along the canal only for it two fork off into two separate directions,  I took a punt and panicked after about 20 minutes when I found myself in the middle of nowhere, but luckily a quick look on Google maps informed me that I was heading in the right way after all.

On Friday, I was heading down my usual route and saw a gap in a fence so decided to explore but I ended up on a dual carriageway, luckily curiosity didn’t kill the cat on this occasion but drivers must have thought who is this nutter running through the pouring rain in a t-shirt trying to cross a very busy road.

On a brighter note, maybe all this madness is worthwhile because for the first time in five years, I am saying goodbye to a 36 inch waist and a welcome return to my old friend the 34 inch waist which may have something to do with me running down the mysterious Slim Avenue every night. All this makes my aching legs worth while, but there is still much work to do to remove this beer belly, before I can join the hipsters in skinny jeans and no socks.

Wolverhampton is this way…

Another lesson learned this week was the power of music and especially the fact that tunes you would never usually listen to given the choice, will suddenly inspire you to keep running for one more song. This can especially be said of songs by people such as Pitbull and FloRida which would never normally frequent my play list but suddenly make me want to run a little faster.

However nothing beats the power of a movie montage and there was a moment when I was going to stop and walk for a minute when Rocky Balboa said “But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” followed by Gonna Fly Now and for a brief moment I had my own montage. The funny thing is later on my play list, “You’re The Best” from the Karate Kid made an appearance too which made me feel invincible. Unfortunately though, “Montage” from the Team America soundtrack failed to appear.

Throw a little Bombay Bicycle Club, Black Keys, Maccabees and Arcade Fire and my mind is tricked into thinking I could run forever. The fact my body shuts down and I can be seen walking like an 80 year old man a few hours later though is another story.

Good tunes, a little urban exploration whilst taking some photos along the way is ensuring that this running malarkey is actually really enjoyable.

Couch Potato to 5K – What Happens Next?

As my time with the Couch Potato to 5k “Get Running” app has now come to an end, I found myself at a bit of a loss as to how I can build up to my next goal of running for 10k.  Do I need another app? Should I look for a guide on the internet were the first thoughts to cross my mind but I got a gentle nudge in the right direction from fate, which made me realise sometimes you really don’t need a guide.

On the Bank Holiday Monday, I went out for a run on a different route and ended up getting a little lost. Suddenly I found myself in an industrial estate with nothing but a dual-carriageway for company but rather than panic, it was time to put into action, lessons learned by Bear Grylls and Andy McNab by looking for the canal and then followed it home, in what turned out to be an adventure rather than a run.

When I finally made it home my Run Keeper app, told me I had actually run for 6.2 miles or should I say 10K! No guides, no tips, I simply ended up running 10k by accident and it was much easier than I expected in a respectable 1 hour 6 minutes. Dare I say it actually felt pretty good too, especially considering 10 weeks ago running for a minute had me panting like an over excited dog so maybe I can call myself a runner now after all.

My small victory was short lived because when I awoke on Tuesday there was a sharp pain between my ankle and calf on my left leg when I walked, which left me thinking maybe I had overdone things and ended up pulling something. The pain continued for the rest of the week and with a combination of wet weather, working late, wedding plans, a trip to the pub along with many other excuses that my body was happy to accept and use as a reason to grab a few days rest.

So after Mondays 10K run, I now found myself doing nothing for the next four days and although a rest was needed, I was beating myself up over not doing enough but Saturday morning it was time to “pay it back” so off I went on a gentle run and promised myself that I would take it easy.

After a 4 day rest, I found that everything felt so much easier and even the twinge in my left leg went away allowing me to thoroughly enjoy the run with some good tunes and a top up of Vitamin D, thanks to the return of the sunshine. In fact, I enjoyed myself so much that I ended up running another 10k in 1 hour and 2 minutes making me very happy.

Since my first run on March 12th, I have now notched up 108 miles in total distance whilst burning 17,309 calories along the way which proves that replacing a few bad habits with some good ones, makes anything possible.

Just like in Mork & Mindy, what lessons have I learned this week?

There have been a few occasions where I have been desperate to stop and a have a slow walk for a quick rest during a run, but if I see someone walking towards me, I make sure that I run past and don’t stop until they are in the distance. Your mind is the most powerful weapon of all, and if you convince yourself you can so something, you really will carry it through and accomplish what you aim for, no matter how tired you are.

My final lesson is to always listen to your body, if it is telling you to have a few rest days, then make sure you listen because a lengthy injury could stop you running for weeks or even months. With a little patience you will be back on the road in no time and you will feel fitter, faster, stronger and smarter.

 

Get Running: Couch to 5K – Week 9

By day I work in a busy IT team at the NEC, which basically means I am deskbound  for at least 8 hours a day and by night I help run a gaming website called This is my Joystick which involves either sat in front of a laptop or in my throne with an Xbox controller in my hands. All of this is great for this self confessed geek but add a lethal combination of alcohol and a love of chocolate and it is no surprise that I found myself weighing 15.5 stone and feeling breathless when climbing stairs or running for my train home.

I also hate the whole gym culture and the many self obsessed characters with heavy hints of narcissism that frequent them, but maybe most of that is in my over-active imagination. Whichever way you look at it, I was out of shape, overweight and heading into the infamous heart attack alley which is never a good thing. However, I found salvation in the Get Running App (couch potato to 5k in 9 weeks) which enabled me to combine my love of technology, photography and music whilst also making me get a little fitter, with the added bonus of also losing a little weight in the process in a cunning move that was very similar to a Jedi mind trick.

I started out 9 weeks ago weighing 15 Stone 5lb struggling to run for sessions that consisted of one minute runs and I’m quite proud to say that as I leave the couch potato to 5k in 9 weeks program, I’m now 14 stone 7lbs and I have finally reached my first target of running 5k in just under 30 minutes.

Slow and steady wins the race...

Slow and steady wins the race…

As my first goal has now been reached, it also time to say goodbye to the Get Running app that made it all possible. I will definitely miss the words of encouragement from Claire telling me to keep going because there are only 30 seconds left but I guess this is the time where I leave the camp and go on a walkabout to fend for myself on a voyage of self discovery or should I say aim for my goal of entering a 10k run.

Before I do though, I thought I would have a little fun with my running and find myself very tempted by the Zombie Running App where you are told to tie your shoes, put on your headphones, and take your first steps outside. You’ve barely covered 100 yards when you hear them. They must be close. You can hear every guttural breath, every rattling groan – they’re everywhere. Zombies. There’s only one thing you can do: Run! It sounds like the perfect antidote to this apocalyptic weather that we are having here in the UK.

The running in the rain novelty is wearing off a little now, and this weeks runs were quite tough which is not made any easier by me carrying a coat along with my work clothes in my rucksack but still managed around 12 miles this week.

With a Bank Holiday weekend upon us, I will try and get out without the handicap of my bag and get some miles under my belt armed only with my trusty Runkeeper app and Spotify running playlist as I begin heading for my next goal of running in a 10k race. Only when this milestone is reached will I refer to myself as a runner, so until then a massive thank you to everyone who made the Get Running App and a fond farewell to the encouraging voice of Claire as I head out for another run.

Get Running: Couch to 5K – Week 8

Daily Mail readers might be fooled into thinking that England is going through a terrible drought at the moment where arid landscapes are common place but don’t go looking for the tumbleweed just yet because this week I have seen nothing but rain whilst on my travels.

As I consider myself an old school male, I would never let a little rain stop me from running or in fact anything at all. I must confess to getting frustrated with people who moan and complain about the weather and say things like “You can’t do anything in this weather”. You can do anything you want and as a man much wiser than me once said “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”.

Despite the weather, I have managed to notch up a respectable 15 miles running this week, in fact the only negative aspect to report is that I only have one week left of the Get Running App that has proved that you really can go from being a couch potato to 5K if you want to.

I am somewhat surprised but pleased to announce that I am now managing a 5k run in around 31 minutes, so although it’s not under thirty minutes which is my ideal target, it is still a hell of a lot better than the guy that struggled to run for a couple of minutes a few weeks ago.

As for running in the rain, am I on my own in thinking that it actually feels pretty good?

Follow the light at the end of the tunnel...

Follow the light at the end of the tunnel...

I ended up on an unintentional adventure on Wednesday which consisted of a very wet and muddy 5 mile run along a canal path in the rain but the highlight was running through Coseley tunnel which is 329 metres long and the only light is what you can see at each end of the tunnel making it quite atmospheric

Now for the historical bit of my story, the approaches to the tunnel were cut by 1829 and the underground construction carried out during 1835. In 1837 the 360 yards long (329 metres) tunnel, with a tow-path each side, opened. Now both the north portal, in Ivyhouse Lane, and the south portal, in School Street, are Grade ll listed and industrial traffic has given way to leisure transport on the Birmingham Canal Wolverhampton Level.

Once inside its much darker than this photo suggests.

Like at the end of any Mork and Mindy episode, I have learned a few lessons this week, such as don’t let bad weather stop you from doing anything that you want to do and always head for the light at the end of a tunnel. However the most important lesson is to forget about times and distances and enjoy your surroundings because its the overall experience that makes you feel alive.

Once I finally achieve 5k in under 30 minutes and enter a 10k run then maybe, just maybe I will call myself a runner but until then, I will keep hitting the streets and earn my stripes on the treadmill of life.

Get Running: Couch to 5K – Week 7

My motivation for running is being able to get out in the great outdoors after being cooped up in an office with no windows all day and do it all on my way home from work without it eating into my personal time. Life is too short to finish your day by setting out to the gym and finally getting home at 8pm for a few hours before going to bed and doing it all again. For me that would be like being caught in a hamster wheel, so I have replaced a 25 minute tram ride with a 25 minute run home and so far its doing me the world of good.

On March 12th I started out with the Get Running Mobile Application and their Couch Potato to 5K running plan. The plan started with me struggling to complete eight 1 minute runs due a life of self confessed slacking that left me with the lung capacity of a mouse and the belly of a whale. However after only 7 weeks I am now running for 30 minutes at a time proving just how well this plan works but also how quickly your body can adapt, no matter how out of shape you are.

This has been a week of distractions, after going for a run on both Monday and Tuesday, suddenly I found myself working from 2pm on Wednesday until 6am on Thursday morning after a software move took a little longer than expected. This wiped out two days running, but I still have Friday right?

My good friend was celebrating his birthday and brought in a Smörgåsbord of cakes and treats into work. One month ago I would have demolished this fine selection but suddenly I equate cakes to having to run 30 minutes just to burn the calories off, so I just sneaked a few flapjacks due to their slow releasing energy qualities of course and realised the former couch potato is now talking like a big girl.

This was not the biggest temptation of the day though, everyone finished work to share a beer with the birthday boy and I found myself saying out loud “but I need to go for a run”. What the hell has happened to me? Anyway despite fierce peer pressure I made my excuses and left the pub on a Friday night with no beer!

After a 2 day rest, I was raring to go and felt inclined to “Payback” what I had missed and ended up going for a longer run, in fact I actually ran for 6k which is actually the first time that I have broke the 5k mark, which makes me living proof that you really can go from couch potato to 5k with some good old fashioned dogged determination.

The House of Birds on the Black Country Route.

Whilst running along the Black Country Route, I thought I would stop and take a photo of the House of Birds by Jamie McCullough which is a 12 metre high sculpture designed to celebrate the birds that once nested in the area. I think its important to enjoy your surroundings whilst out and about rather than concentrating on times and personal bests etc besides it gives me a chance to rest my ageing bones and get my breath back.

It will be quite sad to say goodbye to the app and lose the encouragement from the mysterious Claire in my ears but will I be forever grateful for how it has given this fatboy a kick up the arse in the right direction. The main lessons I have learned are that you simply need to eat less and move more whilst replacing a few bad habits with good ones.

Just when you might think that I am getting a little preachy, rest assured that I am writing this on my third double Jack Daniels and Coke (zero hehe) on a Friday night, after all some bad habits are worth keeping around, otherwise you could end up being quite a dull character and although I love a good run, I also like a cheeky JD and a late night session on my Xbox.

Get Running: Couch to 5K – Week 6

This has been a tough week, which involved having a nice 5 days off work, so my normal regime of running home has been interrupted leaving me to gather some motivation. Throw in a sprinkle of crappy wet  British weather and the added temptation of many chocolate Easter Eggs at my disposal and you have the perfect recipe for a disaster.

However, Kerry has decided she wants to start the app during our bank holiday break after feeling both excited and eager to get cracking, which was just the kick up the backside that I needed. After 25 minutes with Kerry doing week 2 though, I was left wanting a little more so ended up doing my Week 6 run immediatley afterwards, meaning I have been notching up 4.5 miles a day.

I think this has actually done me some good in building stamina because today I completed Week 6 and Run 3 of the app which consists of a 25 minute run with no breaks, which is a massive achievement for me considering I am a self confessed couch potato who could not run for 1 minute without stopping for a breather just over a month ago. I guess this is where the app says “no more mr nice guy”  because every run from now on has no breaks, and will consist of 25, 28 and 30 minute runs.

All this is quite strange for me because this is everything that I have always been against, but it was more than amusing to see the hilarious Charlie Brooker go through a very similar experience after being bitten by the Get Running App and how he has now become a runner. You can read the article here.

One of my biggest weaknesses is warming up and down correctly, I feel quite self concious about stretching in public so although I always warm up with a 5 minute walk and warm down with a 5 minute walk, I think its time for me to take the art of stretching a little more seriously. Although these are quite easy to get online, quite a few people reccomend the iPhone app Stretch Guru: Run, so I might give this a run out (see what I did there).

The main reason for my sudden attention on stretching is because I picked up an annoying and frustrating strain/injury in the most unlikely of places. My legs are feeling great and I pace myself, so gasping for breath is not a problem. Just when I think all bases are covered and I have everything sussed, I am struck down with troublesome upper back pain just below my right shoulder blade.

Kerry offered her healing hands and just like Mr Miyagi she found straight away that my backs was full of knots. A few quick excercises on the area and my back was sounding like a bowl of Rice Krispies. So as I begin to take stretching more seriously to avoid rolling around the floor on a few tennis balls in the future. Luckily Kerry ‘Miyagi’ has been able to sort out the knots but I consider this a very valuable lesson learned.

My main calling points at the moment to get me through each day and keep me running are:

There are no more easy rests between runs now, as the next few weeks consist of longer runs with no breaks, so things will start to get interesting as my time with the C25K app reaches its final stages. I will refrain from calling myself a runner until I have mastered 5k in under 30 minutes without stopping and entered a 10k race, so this acidental athelete still has lots of work to do.