Monday, October 29, 2012

Winter Time Challenge

Well, here we go - the Daylight Saving Time is now officially done and dusted for this year, Winter Time (as we Finns call it) is here again. Blaah. I may have mentioned earlier that I'm a summer person and the sunlight is something that makes me feel alive, so this darker period of the year is always challenging, to say the least. I also hate being cold, living in the country where the temperatures can drop to -30 °C or even lower is pure torture sometimes. Luckily the normal winter temperature is quite a bit milder, around -5 °C or so. Oh yeah, we just got our first snowfall of this winter a couple of days ago. Even though the snow is not expected to stay yet it's still the first reminder of what's ahead of us, once again.

Outdoor exercise becomes even more challenging during the winter months. My good workout routine has come to a hault
so many times before when the days become shorter and the weather colder. Now it's time for me to accept the challenge and keep going through all the four challenge levels, if needed:

Level 1: Darkness
Challenge: It's dark when you go to work in the morning, it's dark when you leave work in the late afternoon. In my opinion running or walking is so much nicer when you can actually see the road. Really. Also, seeing other people and their dogs from a bit further away than just 1 meter is quite nice too, unless you are hoping to get a heart attack. There are no streetlights where we live (well, just 1 km stretch a few hundred meters from our house) so when I say it's dark it really is dark.
Solution: Finding a well lit outdoor track somewhere further from home. There are quite a few well maintained and lit outdoor tracks and paths around my home town so that should be doable. Also going for a walk or run somewhere in the town centre right after my work day is another option, though my knees and shins don't really appreciate running on asphalt.

Level 2: Darkness + ice 

Challenge: OK, so you are running somewhere on a road or path which is nicely lit so you can see where you are going. Imagine having that covered in ice - or as a bonus, first having a good layer of ice on that road and then some water or a really thin layer of powder snow on top. Then try to stay on your feet - rather than on your behind, potentially breaking one of your body parts while landing.
Solution: Buying proper winter running shoes that have good spikes on them. And are warm, too. I have read from some running forums that the winter running shoes might not be the most comfortable to run in, hopefully I'll be able to find a good pair. Nordic walking poles help with the balancing act too, but they can't really be used for running... or can they?

Level 3: Darkness + ice + snow

Challenge: When you have found a perfect well lit outdoor track for running it will eventually be covered with a good layer of snow. What happens to those well lit tracks in Finland then? Most of them get turned into cross-country skiing tracks, of course. And what happens then? You are not allowed to run or walk there anymore, since you're going to ruin the skiing tracks.
Solution: Find yet again another well lit outdoor route, probably somewhere in the town center area, on those asphalt roads (ouch). Well, I still have to get my running training done...

Level 4: Darkness + ice + snow + cold weather

Challenge: Being able to breath without getting your nostrals, throat and windpipe frostbitten. According to the doctors I'm prone to asthma and I get bronchitis very easily so going out in extreme temperatures is not advisable. Going for a 10 - 15 km run in -15 °C or even colder temperatures isn't a good idea.
Solution: There's still that ice hockey arena I told you about earlier, which has a 261 metres long running track. The air is considerably warmer, even though the ice rink still cools the arena down quite a bit. Running that 261 metres 38,3 times just to reach 10 km (or 80,5 times to reach 21 km) sounds so incredibly boring, but I guess it needs to be done.

Luckily I didn't have to try running on challenge level 2 this weekend, since my Personal Trainer gave me a week off from running. And next weekend I will do my running training in Madrid, Spain! No ice, snow or cold weather there, yay!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

PROGRESS UPDATE - (Week 16) Banging My Head Against The Wall

I bet you can guess why I decided to add a quote like that to my blog post? Yeah. I had another Body Composition Analysis last week - and another one this week, mostly to check if the results from the previous analysis were really as bad as they were. You see, I was expecting to get really good results since I had finally had several active workout weeks after the sick leave in early September and had managed to follow my workout program as planned.

When I saw the first results, it looked like it was good news since I had lost another 2 kg in the past three weeks. Wrong! The next thing I noticed was that my body fat percentage had gone up. Whatta...? I had lost 2,0 kg but my fat percentage had gone up? Oh no, that could only mean one thing: I had started to lose my muscle mass! Nooooooooo! I had worked so hard add the gym to gain muscle mass and all of a sudden I had lost 2,0 kg of it. That if something was disheartening. 

I guess both me and my Personal Trainer were hoping that the first results were just some technical or momentary glitch but unfortunately that wasn't the case. This week the results were even more confusing - the muscle mass loss had stopped probably thanks to all that extra protein I had added to my diet but I had suddenly gained 500 grams of fat? Even after burning over 3000 kcal last week just by working out? So... not... cool.

Weight: -1,4 kg / -0,5 kg / -2,0 kg / +0,9 kg = -3,0 kg in total
Body fat percentage: -1,8 % / -4,2 % / +0,7 % / +0,3 % = -4,7 % in total
Body fat mass: -2,2 kg / -4 kg / +/-0 kg / +0,5 kg = -5,7 kg in total
Muscle mass: +0,8 kg / +3,4 kg / -2,0 kg / +0,3 kg = +2,5 kg in total
BMI: -0,4 / -0,2 / -0,6 / +0,3 = -0,9 in total

So, my dear body has figured out that it's an excellent idea to use the muscle mass I have gained instead of all the excess body fat. There is plenty of fat left in my body, all 30 kg of it. Why, for the love of God does my body decide to use my muscles instead of all that fat? WHY? Both me and my poor Personal Trainer are baffled. My Basal Metabolic Rate is more or less 1800 kcal and I eat about 1600 - 1800 kcal per day. So that should already be OK. Plus I workout 5-7 times a week, burning around 2500 - 3000 kcal per week. According to which logic am I not getting rid of my fat mass? Apparently that would be the very own logic created by my body...

After these latest results I really didn't know should I laugh or cry. I felt (and still feel) like I'm banging my head against the wall. Have I not eaten enough? Am I eating wrong food after all? Why was it working before but it's not working anymore? Should I go back to easier workout routine? Am I running too much? Am I not running enough? Sigh.

The contract with my Personal Trainer is on its last stretch and when I look at the results I can't help but feel a little disappointed. But then again, when I think about how exercise has become a daily routine for me and how I just ran 11 km with a reasonable pace last weekend I realise that I have come a long way. That lazy girl who didn't work out for weeks or months is a thing of the past, thanks to this project. Now I enjoy exercising. I enjoy going to the gym and that burning feeling in my muscles. I love the feeling at the end of a long run, when I have reached a new goal I set for myself. I enjoy going for those long boring Nordic walks, because I know they are a bit easier workout sessions but still help me burn fat (eventually, I hope). OK, I still hate the interval running training, though...

Oh yeah, one more thing, just to make it perfectly clear:

 Sooner or later I will find a way.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

RUNNING LOG - Failure And Success

Whoops, I haven't updated my run log for a bit longer than I was supposed to - seems like I have been so busy lately that posting some new blog entries just hasn't been doable.

The weekend a week ago I went to Tampere so I knew it would change my normal running routine and route. I was hoping to find some non-asphalt roads to run on so I headed to Pyynikki, recommended by my brother. Well...
Attempt number 1: Lost in Pyynikki. I tried to find my way in Pyynikki area, since I knew there would be some good jogging paths there. The run started "really well" when I noticed I had forgotten to attach the heart rate transmitter to the belt, but at least I still had the GPS function in use. But: after running for a while and trying to figure out where I'm supposed to go (three different paths, which one to choose?!) my determination hit an abrupt wall - all 200 metres of horribly steep uphill. It was time to change from running to crawling and abort the 11 km mission.

Attempt number 2: Tired, hungover, hungry. The thought of trying to run the 11 km again didn't seem tempting at all after constantly dozing off during the entire 3-hour ride home. Still, I knew I would feel disappointed if I didn't go for the run so after we had arrived home I changed into my running gear and off I went. I really wanted to run 11 km but... no. It felt like my legs weighed a ton each, I was really tired, thirsty, hungry... Maybe the long run wasn't such a good idea after a hint of hangover the same morning, not sleeping enough the previous night and not eating enough during the day. I forced myself to run 8,5 km and then my legs just stopped moving. It was like they had a will of their own and decided to stop right there.

So, after the run I felt a bit like I failed my mission, since I didn't manage to run the 11 km that I wanted to, but I was pleasantly surprised to notice that I had run 8,6 km with a pace of 6:58 min/km which was quite a bit faster compared to my previous runs. Not bad! First time the average pace was under 7:00 min/km, too.

This weekend was a normal home weekend for us so I managed to prepare myself a bit better for the weekly "long distance run". I've had some issues with shin splints (ouch to the max) and also with my calves and my knees lately, for example the interval training on Thursday was so painful that I decided to take time for stretching well before going for the longer run. I also massaged the lower parts of my legs as well as I could the previous evening. Careful preparation seemed to help since running felt easy enough time and woohoo, mission complete: 11 km done and dusted! Average pace was a welcome bonus since it was the best ever on these longer runs. Very pleased with the result, indeed!

I really need to keep on stretching well and also keep massaging my legs regularly, hopefully it will help in the long run, too.

Date Distance Time HR Pace/km Speed/km Kcal
21.10.2012 11.1 km 01:13 164 6:40 min 9.00 km/h 960
14.10.2012 8.6 km 01:00 163 6:58 min 8.61 km/h 781
6.10.2012 10.5 km 01:15 164 7:08 min 8.41 km/h 1016
29.9.2012 10.1 km 01:11 163 7:08 min 8.41 km/h 912
21.9.2012 8.3 km 01:04 156 7:43 min 7.78 km/h 775
2.9.2012 8.1 km 01:01 153 7:34 min 7.93 km/h 666
26.8.2012 7.4 km 01:00 149 8:09 min 7.36 km/h 632

Friday, October 12, 2012

You Are What You Eat?

Changing your lifestyle is not just about working out every day but you have to have a closer look at what you are eating too - and how much. When I wrote down what I normally ate and went through my "food diary" with the Personal Trainer, she only had a couple of things to change, mostly reducing the amount of sugary fruit juices and adding protein to my diet. When the disappointing two-month results were in, Sanna decided to make a new diet for me after all - cutting even more of my (full grain) carbs and the overall portion sizes of basically every meal of the day. It was time to step it up, since the exercise alone wasn't doing the trick.

So what have been the biggest changes? Well, for example my breakfast has changed from porridge with berries or quinoa-spelt muesli to boiled/fried eggs - turkey/tuna/salmon - vegetables - nuts/seeds/olive oil - combo. I have also increased my protein intake considerably, even making myself a nice protein smoothie after my gym sessions. I eat more nuts, seeds and avocado or add extra olive oil or coconut oil to my food. I changed my sugary fruit juices to freshly pressed vegetable juices instead (apple-celery-cucumber-broccoli-kale-ginger, yum!) and have just one glass per day. My portions have become smaller, too. Oh, and I have changed my milk chocolate to raw dark chocolate - but I wasn't eating too much chocolate earlier anyway. Honest!

I also had to readjust my eating rhythm, trying to eat every 3 hours or so to keep the food intake steady. It has definitely helped me since I don't get incredibly hungry anymore. Also, sometimes having just an apple as an afternoon snack didn't really keep me satisfied and I felt hungry again in no time. The added protein has changed that now.

During the workdays my meals are divided more or less like this:

07:00 Breakfast
12:00 Lunch
15:00 Afternoon snack
18:00 Dinner
21:00 Evening snack

In addition I try to drink at least 1 litre of water during the work day and additional 1 litre at home. Plus another 0,5 - 1 litre during a training session, so in total about 2-3 litres or water per day.

Oh yeah, I read this Forty Reasons Your Diet Isn't Working article the same day I had the first meeting with the Personal Trainer and found it quite interesting. Some of the mentioned reasons I already knew, some can be figured out by using common sense, but there were a couple of new tips and tricks there too, if you are interested.

What are your favourite diet tricks - or healthy treats?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

RUNNING LOG - Pain Is Good

Sometimes running can feel nice and easy enough - you feel like you could still keep going after reaching your target. Saturday was not one of those times.

My Personal Trainer Sanna told me to do my weekly longer run a) with a little bit faster pace or b) covering a 100 m longer distance compared to my previous run. Well, I almost managed to do both since the pace was exactly the same as on my previous run but I also ran a little bit further: 10,5 km to be exact. I was actually planning to go for 11 km, but my lower back started hurting pretty badly after the first 6,5 - 7 km or so and it was quite a struggle to keep running. I decided to bite through it but I must say that the last kilometres were not enjoyable at all and my pace slowed down a bit too. I think my lower back muscles were still too stiff and sore after Friday's gym session, which mostly concentrated on training the back muscles. Apparently not a good combination!


Another thing that annoyed me during the run was that we (that's me and my husband) could only go running when it was already getting dark. There is only a stretch of 1 km with street lights around where we live so you have to time your outdoors exercise carefully during the autumn-winter season. For half of the run it was near impossible to see the road clearly and knowing that there are a lot of random potholes everywhere I felt like I had to tip-toe, trying to avoid stepping in them and hurting my ankles or some other part of my body. That obviously didn't help with the pace either...

Anyway - positive thinking: I ran a bit further, the pace stayed on the same level even though my back was killing me and I had to be careful with the potholes. Looking forward to next Saturday and the change in the running scenery - have to find a good route in Tampere!

Date Distance Time HR Pace/km Kcal
6.10.2012 10,5 km 1:15 164 7,08 min 1016
29.9.2012 10,1 km 1:11 163 7,08 min 912
21.9.2012 8,3 km 1:04 156 7,43 min 775
2.9.2012 8,1 km 1:01 153 7,34 min 666
26.8.2012 7,4 km 1:00 149 8,09 min 632

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Brazil On My Mind

T-minus four months and counting - we will be on our way to Brazil in exactly 4 months today! We just booked the flights from Helsinki to Rio de Janeiro and back two days ago so yes, the holiday we have been planning ever since my brother started talking about him possibly moving there for a 10-month long work project is really happening. We are so excited! 

Here's what we have been planning, in a nutshell: a bit over 2 weeks of traveling, 5-7 places to visit. Doable? Let's hope so! We will look into booking South America air passes to cut down the travel time and the total price. Some domestic flights seem to be pretty reasonably priced too, so have to compare them to the flight passes first.

Our first stop will be Rio de Janeiro, to join "a couple" of other people going there for the carnival period. Such a once in a lifetime opportunity, that we decided to go for it. Fingers crossed we will get tickets to see special groups' samba parade at the Sambódromo! Of course there are so many other carnival events happening in the city that we will be absolutely spoiled for choice.

 Photo:, AP / Victor R. Caivano

Since our initial plans also included a visit to Iguassu Falls at the border of Brazil and Argentina, I insisted on going all the way to Buenos Aires too. I've heard some people say that Buenos Aires is their favourite city in all of South America, so of course we need to see it - since we're "nearby" already. And by "nearby" I mean 1340 km / 18 hours by bus / 2 hours by plane from Buenos Aires to Puerto Iguazú... 


The capital of Uruguay, Montevideo is also just a three hour ferry trip away from Buenos Aires so we might pop in there as well. So the trip isn't just about Brazil anymore, it also includes a quick stop in Argentina and possible Uruguay too! We will probably decide on going to Montevideo or not when we see how much time we want to spend exploring Buenos Aires.

We also want to visit Salvador da Bahía, which is more of a historic city where the Afro-Brazilian culture is also strongly present. The historic center of Salvador, Pelourinho, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and apparently the most important historical center of colonial architecture in Latin America. My husband probably wants to see the local capoeira performers in action while we are there. Well, I think I won't mind either!


And finally, we will visit a normal, more quiet Brazilian city to see the local way of life. We will have a couple of nights' stop in Imperatriz, where my brother and his wife will be staying for the most of their 10 months in Brazil. My sister-in-law warned me that there isn't really anything special to see there but of course we must see where they live.


These plans will probably still change, only the dates when we are flying to and from Rio de Janeiro are fixed.

Any hints and tips are very welcome!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Valkee To The Rescue!

Once again we have reached the time of the year when my system is slowly starting its hibernation procedures. I'm a summer person through and through - which makes me wonder why I was born in Finland of all countries..

I have suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder - or Winter Blues or whatever people want to call it - for as long as I can remember. Around the time I was in my teens people started talking about autumn or polar night depression/tiredness and I realised what made all of my energy to disappear. The period between the end of September and end of January here in Finland - and during the three years I lived in Scotland - were a complete nightmare. I felt constantly exhausted, anxious and miserable, I snapped because of the tiniest obstacles (like dropping a paper or pen on the floor - how dramatic!) and completely lost my sense of humor. I was graving foods with high levels of carbs and starch, so I was overeating them and gaining weight. I felt like the darkness was consuming me and felt trapped. It's hard to describe the helplessness I felt. Over the years I've tried the bright light lamps, wake-up lights, added D-vitamin etc - and they have helped a little but haven't brought the much needed overall help to make me feel normal again during the autumn and winter months.

I first heard of Valkee in 2011 and like so many other people, I laughed. It does sound absolutely ridiculous, doesn't it? Bright light ear-plugs? You stick them in your ears?! However, I was desperate and the results Valkee had shown already by then encouraged me to give them a try.

It took me a couple of weeks to notice anything and even when I thought Valkee was helping I was still doubting the impact. It was around late November when I suddenly realised "Oh wow. It's almost December and... I feel normal?! No anxiety? No overwhelming tiredness and feeling completely miserable? My husband can tease me and I'm not trying to bite his head off? I don't get rage attacks and throw things around? I haven't even been over-eating!" My husband agreed with my observations, he too had noticed that the "SAD-me" had not surfaced that year. To quote him: "I should send Valkee a thank you letter for giving me my wife back".

This will be my third year using Valkee and I'm never going to give it up. Even the long snowless autumn last year made it even darker and more miserable here in Finland but I felt like my normal self, even in the middle of the stress of completing my Master's thesis. That's another thing I've noticed - it seems like using the ear light has decreased my stress levels too. I have also gotten rid of my regular migraines and other PMS issues. I simply cannot believe the difference a tiny ear-plug device can make.

I have to point out though that I have been using Valkee, a bright light (SAD) lamp and a wake-up light nearly every day during the autumn and winter months, so I'm not totally sure if there is some kind of combined impact, but I do know that just the bright light lamp and the wake-up light didn't make such a huge difference. My husband has been using it for one autumn/winter period too and noticed having more energy - and feeling suddenly cranky or incredibly tired if he missed a day or two of treatments. I have also recommended Valkee for my friends, still warning them that it may not work for everyone, but I have only received positive feedback from them, too.

I know there are people who say that it's fake or it's just placebo, but I really don't even care. It helps me and it has given me back the five months that were missing from my year.
Illustrations by (photosensitive brain areas) for Valkee, 2011 

Do you have experiences of Valkee? Have you even heard of it before? I'm interested in your opinions of the gadget.

Monday, October 1, 2012

RUNNING LOG - First 10km Run

I figured it could be interesting to keep track of my longer runs to see the progress and to keep an eye on the pace and distance development. My running training also includes interval training sessions but I won't write them down here since they are a bit more difficult to compare.

First things first: I have to share a big milestone with you guys: on Saturday I did my first ever 10 km run! I think I did a little "Woohoo!" when Sports Tracker showed that I had covered the distance. I was meant to go for an hour's run, about 8 km long, but I decided to stretch it a little and go for a full ten. I felt fantastic afterwards - and so proud of myself! Just need to push myself a little bit more every time to improve the results. I was actually very pleasantly surprised when I saw the average pace - I didn't expect it to be so much better compared to my other longer runs. Good stuff, well done me!

My weekly training plan includes just one longer run, but there's also the above mentioned interval training sessions and some lower intensity workouts too. And of course the gym workouts, developing the muscle strength.

Anyway, here's my latest four runs. I'm trying to keep my pace as close to 7,00 min/km as possible, hopefully my new GPS heart rate monitor and its clear pace display will help me in that. Can't wait for it to be delivered!

Date Distance Time HR Pace/km Kcal
29.9.2012 10,1 km 1:11 163 7,08 min 912
21.9.2012 8,3 km 1:04 156 7,43 min 775
2.9.2012 8,06 km 1:01 153 7,34 min 666
26.8.2012 7,36 km 1:00 149 8,09 min 632