Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tried It Tuesday: Review of GoMacro Bars

Disclaimer: Through Raynforest, I received free product in return for writing a review.  All opinions are my own.

I'm participating in a link-up hosted by Sara of Lakeshore Runner, called Tried It Tuesday. Every Tuesday, people post about something new they tried, and for me this week, it's going to be the nutrition bars by GoMacro.

I don’t discuss food or nutrition that often on the blog, mostly because I'm not doing the cooking in our house, and I don't find it that interesting a subject to write about. That doesn't mean I'm immune to nutritional considerations - and if you remember this Friday Five post, I've not only put more thought, time and effort into strength training, but also considering my macro-nutrients especially protein (mostly to control my appetite between meals).

Friday, November 21, 2014

I Mustache You A Question

I was tagged by Robyn Baldwin to do this Mustache Questionnaire... who am I to refuse?

  • This mustache and this both are... bananas!
    Four names that people call me, other than my real name:
  1. Alex.  BIGGEST PET PEEVE.  There’s nothing wrong with the name Alex, except it’s not MY NAME.  I used to joke to people that called me that that there’s a dyslexia epidemic, until I came across someone who actually had dyslexia.  Has anyone seen my foot? Oh here it is, in my mouth.  It got bad enough that I actually (in a moment of low self-esteem, probably in my teens) considered changing my name to save everyone the trouble.  Nowadays, I correct people right away so they can’t get into the bad habit - I have to confront the embarrassment head-on.
  2. Papa - only two people call me that, but they do say it A LOT.
  3. Ax - due to #1 and what must have been a record-setting number of disparaging nicknames as a kid, I generally refuse to answer to anything but my actual name.  This one nickname gets grandfathered in since my oldest friends still use it.
  4. Axe-man - see #3

  • Four jobs I have had - My career as an engineer has been quite checkered, but if you’re not in the industry, it probably doesn't seem that varied.  I think this list is more for crazy/joe jobs, so I’ll list those.
  1. Cleaning after pets at the Ontario Humane Society
  2. Tutoring (French, Math, Physics)
  3. Translating Academic Papers from German to English (or at least, proof-reading the translations)
  4. Wireless Network Engineer

  • Four movies I have watched more than once:
  1. Star Wars (all of them) - I think it was generally accepted practice in my generation (for boys at least) that social ranking was determined by who had seen the movies the most.
  2. Pulp Fiction - This is one of the movies I decided I must own on DVD once I first got a DVD player.  Highly quotable, in fact, it just gave me the idea to put “Bad Motherf***er” on some of my tri stuff (helmet, bike, etc.) just so I can paraphrase the diner scene.
  3. Swingers - From the same list as Pulp Fiction, maybe not quite as timeless.
  4. The Good The Bad and the Ugly - I love this movie, but I mostly put it on this list so anyone who’s seen it will now have the theme stuck in their head.

  • Two Books I recommend:
  1. A Prayer For Owen Meany - If this book isn't the only book to make me laugh out loud AND cry, then it’s definitely the record holder for number of times it’s done both.
  2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy - This book might not be for everyone, but if you like it, we can be friends, and if you've read it, you’ll better understand my sense of humour or even my worldview.  I try to emulate Douglas Adams a fair bit in my own writing.

  • Four places I have lived:
  1. Toronto: Grew up in Scarborough, first place of my own in North York, currently in Mississauga.
  2. Waterloo, ON: University
  3. Braunschweig, Germany: 1 year exchange
  4. Leeds, UK: Grad School

  • Four Places I have been:
  1. Thailand
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Germany
  4. Switzerland
Honourable Mentions: France, Mexico, Turks & Caicos

  • Four places I would rather be right now:
  1. Costa Rica - any place warm/tropical would do right now, but I dreamt of this place the other morning.
  2. Seville - This place made a great impression on me culturally (architecture, food, music); it’s also warmer than here, and very relaxed.
  3. New Orleans - Ditto
  4. Bed - Warmth, comfort... you know.

  • Four things I don’t eat:
  1. BRAAAAINS - this is part joke about how I’m not a zombie (yet), but some people do eat brain.  I consider myself an adventurous eater, but here’s where I draw the line.
  2. Leek - I really don’t like the taste of this one.
  3. Brussel Sprouts - Does anyone like these?
  4. Avocado - this one’s weird, I think it’s the texture, because I have no problem with guacamole.

  • Four of my favourite foods:
  1. Spaghetti and Meat Sauce - this was number one when I was a kid, and I’m not gonna change...
  2. Burgers
  3. Steak
  4. Muffins - I had to admit these were my weakness when I found that I could avoid sweets entirely, except I’d crack and get one of these mid-mornings.  I can say no to ice cream, chocolate, cookies, cake, donuts no problem, but muffins slip the net far too often.
Honourable Mentions: Butter Chicken, Peanut Curry, Pancakes, Jambalaya...

  • Four TV Shows I watch:
  1. New Girl
  2. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
  3. Brooklyn 99
  4. Saturday Night Live
Honourable Mentions: I’m working through Orange Is The New Black on Netflix, Game of Thrones (season 2 so far) on DVD, and when House of Cards comes back... hooo boy.

  • Four things I am looking forward to next year:
  1. The Lightning Kid going to school - I’m also terrified at how well he’ll cope and if he’s ready for it all, but it’s a major milestone to be in an actual school instead of a daycare.
  2. Triathlon Season - Half-Iron, Off-Road and Winter Triathlon are all possibilities in 2015.  I haven’t nailed down goals or a schedule, but there’s sure to be something exciting.
  3. Visit to Germany - We go every year, and the travel gets a little less stressful every year as the kids mature... I think.
  4. Camping - Not a certainty but we've wanted to go camping as a family since before we were a family, and we've basically waited till the Lightning Kid is out of diapers completely... maybe that’s what I’m actually looking forward to the most.

  • Four things I am always saying:
  1. No hitting, no screaming, no breaking things - the 3 biggest rules in the house, and repeating them has barely helped with complying...
  2. No Retreat, No Surrender - this started as my mantra for toilet training, but I’ve applied it parenting and advocating for the Lightning Kid’s education and inclusion.  It works for athletic goals too.  It’s a Springsteen song and a Jean Claude Van Damme movie.

  1. Alley-Oop! - Every time I pick one of the boys up.
  2. Ugh. - I guess I’m not always a happy camper...

  • Tag 4 people
  1. Hayley Goleniowska of Downs Side Up
  2. Morgan of Wildly Fit

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Five: The Five Things I Would Have Posted About If I Could Have

The blog went on a bit of a hiatus for the last month and a half, but I finally got a chance to wrap up my review of the Samsung Gear Fit Smartwatch earlier this week.  There were tons of topics I wanted to post on during that hiatus, and the truth is, I’m still really swamped with work while the holiday madness is on the horizon, so I guess it could happen again.  Still, I want to move forward, so rather than try to write all those posts that were timely weeks ago, I’m going to use a Friday Five to get caught up on the big ticket items and move forward from there, OK? These are the posts I woulda-coulda-shoulda posted:

  1. Featured Blogger at Fitfluential - Running Apps: Did you guys see my guest post on the Fitfluential Blog? In October, I covered Running Apps, what’s available, what’s important, etc..  Here’s the link to the article.
  2. Levac Attack - This year’s Levac Attack came and went, and I wish I’d been able to do more to promote it.  We were in a new location (Port Credit) and it was a fun course, with a 15 km option this year in addition to the usual 5 km, 10 km and half-marathon courses.  While we enjoyed it, I think it marks the close of our stroller running career as Shark Boy rode his bike for a lap then chose to hang out near the finish line and gorge himself of Timbits.  The Lightning Kid started to cry after a lap, so my wife and I had to split up our running and did the last 5 km of our 10 km runs separately - each taking turns to watch the Lightning Kid.  It was another big success raising money for Mount Sinai hospital, and I’ll keep hoping to get some more of my local bloggers involved next year!
  3. Angus Glen 10k/Half-Marathon - This is my wife’s favourite race as it has an awesome post race meal inside the Angus Glen country club.  Due to an organizational/scheduling snafu, we scrapped our childcare plans for the day, which was just as well as I had a splitting headache and didn’t feel like running, so I watched the kids while she ran it.  We also met my friend John and his wife there - she scolded me for not recruiting her to watch the boys, but once she saw how they tore it up running around the inside of the country club, she might have had second thoughts!  My wife was really happy with her time, as it wasn’t a personal best overall, it was certainly faster than she’s run all year, and that’s especially impressive considering how hilly the Angus Glen course is.  John PR’ed his half-marathon, which I thought would be impossible considering how hilly it was, but he had done the Scotiabank Marathon weeks earlier; being in marathon shape makes a half-marathon no big deal, I guess.
  4. New Phone - In spite of a protective cover, I cracked the screen of my Samsung Galaxy S3. One crack wasn’t so bad, but then this happened:
    And here's how:
    Anyway, we were due for an upgrade at work soon enough anyway, so all I had to do was stick it out for a couple of weeks, and ta-daaa! Samsung Galaxy S5.  So far, I really like it, and though the S5 comes in an Active version that is waterproof and shock-proof, which I didn’t get.  I still like this model, especially now that I have a Lifeproof case on it to make it waterproof.
  5. A photo posted by Axel Kussmann (@apkussma) on

I’m still getting used to the phone, having to make little changes to make the user experience more like what I’m used to, and I have yet to use all the new bells and whistles it offers (HR sensor like on the Gear Fit Smartwatch, ANT connectivity - hopefully to connect to my Garmin accessories).  I can post a review of the phone and the case in the near future hopefully.
  1. Weight lifting - The general, haphazard approach I’ve taken with my off-season is to lose weight, or more accurately, get leaner.  I’m using the principles from Tom Venuto’s Burn The Fat - Feed The Muscle; but not only am I not adhering to his prescription very closely, I haven’t even finished the book cover to cover.  Still, it’s gotten me re-engaged with strength training and considering macro-nutrients a little closer. I’ve known that protein is supposed to make you feel full, but I usually felt just as hungry for a mid-morning snack when I ate egg whites as when I ate cereal, and unfortunately, healthy snacks like veggies or nuts never seemed to satisfy.  I’ve been playing around with making a smoothie with hemp protein (from Manitoba Harvest) alongside my breakfast (which is starting to include more protein sources too).  While I’m wary of simply adding too many calories to my day, it’s better to have them earlier than later, and feeling full right through till lunch has kept me away from the Tim Horton’s more and more often.  On the exercise front, the idea has been to schedule in strength workouts as first priority, with the idea that cardio is easier to come by - I could run or even bike outside my lunchtime workout slots more easily.  While work and family chaos, high-priority items and emergencies have kept me from being on point and regular with workouts and nutrition too often during the last month and a half, when I have been good, I’ve seen results.  Pounds come off the scale and go on the barbell.  Some of the strength gains might be actual muscular strength and some might be more me getting more confident with the lifting technique and willing to push it more.  If I keep up some endurance work, I shouldn’t really bulk up, and generally when I’ve gotten too swamped to fit in the endurance work, I’ve been too swamped to weight lift too, so it kind of works out.  I’ll be posting a time-space efficiency hack of my workout routine in the near future so stay tuned for that.

Is your off-season regime radically different from your on-season? Is there a phone upgrade you’re craving?  Do you know of a hidden gem race like Levac Attack or Angus Glen?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Gear Corner: Review of the Samsung Gear Fit #Smartwatch

Ever since smartwatches were announced (and yes, it was well before Apple announced theirs) I've wanted one.  It would have to be waterproof and fitness oriented, though which narrowed down the selection somewhat.  The Samsung Gear Fit would fit the bill (and work well with my phone the Galaxy S3 since they’re made by the same company), and when one went on sale, I couldn't pass it up.

Once I got it out of the box, it was quick to pair with the phone.  There is a Gear Fit Manager app to download, and the fitness features require a separate app.  The first one (from here on, I’ll refer to it as the Manager) let me make some adjustments to the watch’s display and interface.

I didn't like the default wallpaper (too colourful) and went with a purple one.  The other default I ddidn'tlike was the orientation of the screen for data.  It was perpendicular to the way I usually look at a watch.

Bluetooth pairing went seamlessly; there was hardly anything to do - the connection can be initiated from the phone's app side or the watch. I think people who struggle with Bluetooth pairing won't have any trouble.

As I started using the watch, there were things I liked right away. I loved getting notifications through the watch - I usually keep my phone on vibrate because I don't like it making obtrusive noises, but sometimes I still miss notifications or calls. When your wrist buzzes, it's hard to ignore. You can configure what kinds of notifications get sent to the watch: text messages are probably important, notifications from Google+ communities (for example), maybe not so much. The notifications don't get sent to the watch when you're using the phone, which is a very intelligent feature.

The watch has a pretty good range from the phone (I think I got as far as 50 feet from it), so it can be handy to leave the phone somewhere nearby yet safe and secure. Of course, that range gets decreased by walls or obstructions.

Beyond the convenience of having an interface to the phone on my wrist, the biggest benefit of the Gear Fit is as a fitness device. There's an accelerometer inside which tracks arm movements and is used to drive the step counter, much like the Fitbit Flex. Unlike the Fitbit, however, you can look at your progress on the Gear Fit's own screen. Making 10,000 steps a day is a great way to keep burning calories throughout the day, and better yet, you have proof of how tiring chasing kids around really is.

The Gear Fit has a Heart Rate sensor, which I was really excited about. It's worth noting though, that you have to hold still to use it, so you can't track your heart rate continuously while working out. It's better for spot checks like seeing what your resting heart rate is; I tried taking measurements during a run, and even though I stood still it wouldn't get a reading because I was too sweaty or something. The heart rate readings don't interface into third party apps like Endomondo (see below).

Heart rate aside, the Gear Fit has its own interface to apps like Endomondo and Strava, so that you can start and stop tracking your mileage through the watch. This is probably my favourite feature, since this kind of thing (starting/stopping, pausing) is always awkward. Now, I put the phone in a Spi-belt (or armband) and don't fiddle with it once I'm out the door.

The Gear Fit has an interface to the media player, so that you can start, stop the music (or even video) you may be listening to (or watching) or skip tracks. That's a lot easier than mucking about with the phone that was nicely tucked away in a pocket. I did notice one time that when I used Endomondo to pick my music, there was a serious lag between when I'd hit a control on the smart watch and when the action (e.g. skipping tracks) took place.

The accelerometer in the Gear Fit doesn't just track your steps while walking, but you can put the smart watch into sleep mode to track the quality of your sleep, like the Fitbit. The screen makes it easier than the Fitbit to start tracking, but I didn't like how the assessments were presented. It simply gives you a total amount of time, and a percentage that you were motionless. At least Fitbit tried to differentiate (and illustrate the occurrence of) restless sleep vs. waking, even if it got it wrong some of the time.

The Gear Fit can be used for alarms, but it doesn't store the alarms locally; the phone must be on and connected (via Bluetooth) to the watch for alarms to work. In my opinion, that makes the alarm feature next to useless.

Staying connected to the Gear Fit drains the phone's battery quite aggressively, and the Galaxy S3 didn't have great battery life to begin with. Turning off Bluetooth occasionally (when you didn't need them to be connected) was a good way to save a little battery life. The watch's battery typically lasted about 2.5 days between charging. It charges with the regular charging cable that works for Samsung and Blackberry, but needs an adapter cradle. This cradle is roughly 1 square centimeter and black, so of course, I eventually lost it. I've ordered a new one from Amazon, and I've written this post from notes I've taken during my ownership of the Gear Fit. I'd probably have more details in this review if I was still using the watch (and rest assured, I will again), but I'd really like to get this review finished and move on to other posts.

Overall, with smartphones getting bigger and bigger screens, the smartwatch form factor has a lot going for it, and a fitness oriented, waterproof model like the Gear Fit is close to perfect for the tech-savvy, connected fitness enthusiast.

What do you think of smartwatches? Cool, or dorky?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Youth Are More Active Than You Think...

King of the Playground

The news has been getting me down lately.  I really don’t know how to fix terrorism or the sorry state of our culture when it comes to gender roles etc.  But I have seen a few things this week that make me want to refute claims that our youth are overly sedentary and our digital society is ruining how they socialize.

We’ve had a nice Indian Summer going on here, and when I’ve gotten home from work, the easiest way to get the kids out of my wife’s hair while she prepares dinner is to head out the back door, through the backyard, to a local playground.  If you’ve been reading this blog at all before today, it should come as no surprise that we get active outside as a family; at least half of this year’s posts follow that theme.

My kids, however, are very young - too young for cellphones, tablets, video games or even most television.  They don’t necessarily represent (even demographically) the overall problem that gets reported in the media.

On Tuesday, I was at the park with the Lightning Kid; Shark Boy is still getting used to full school days without naps, and was taking it easy at home.  I saw some pre-teen boys doing some calisthenics.  I found it puzzling, because there didn’t seem to be a real leader or purpose to their exercises, but I was still glad to see young people being active.  The Lightning Kid and I played our little game of climbing up the playground and going down the slide for a while before we got called to dinner, but on the way back, I noticed their exercises had progressed to martial arts kicks.  I started to think they might be doing some kind of pretend ninja training... then I saw one of the kids consult a tablet. They were obviously following some kind of Youtube workout/training video!  Score one for the digital age.

Yesterday, I took the Lightning Kid to the playground again, and I got a call that Shark Boy wanted to join us.  He ran out of the backyard and I made sure he got to the park.  Once we started climbing the structure, we found we had to share it with some teenagers (I’d put them around 14 - definitely a little older than Tuesdays’ kids).  They were playing Manhunt/Manhunter or something - basically a combination of tag/hide and seek that involved teamwork.  I don’t need to figure out the details - I played games like that as a kid too, and rules always vary from region to region and generation to generation.  The point is, they were breathlessly sprinting, climbing, trash-talking etc. not cyber-bullying or sexting, or any of the other things we worry about teenagers getting up to.

Technology has a way of reshaping our culture for better and for worse, but the important thing to remember is that it usually fragments the way we spend our time rather than making wholesale replacements - kids are playing outside AND playing video games, for example.  It’s not always black/white/either/or out there.

Have you seen any examples of kids engaging in traditional play, or even re-interpreting it for the modern age?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Best of the Beaches Kids of Steel Duathlon starring Shark Boy

For the third year in a row, Shark Boy has participated in this Fall tradition of doing a Kids' Duathlon down at Ashbridges Bay.  He's getting to be a veteran of multisport, but he still seems to want me pacing him for re-assurance.  I don't mind the exercise...

Saturday was a jam-packed day, as after the duathlon my wife and I attended training run by the Down Syndrome Association of Toronto, and Shark Boy would be going to a birthday party.  I'm happy to say we got it all done, but let's just focus on the exercise and activity - that's what we do in this blog.

Thanks to a public address system hooked up to loud speakers, we all knew how much time we had to get the bike and helmet set up in transition.  Shark Boy was running in the second heat (which didn't help our schedule much). I could see he was nervous before the start, and yet eager to go, but he still did a great job of keeping the excitement in check so that we could have a good time.

He's been talking a lot lately about being "the fastest" and while I don't want these events to become high-pressure and competitive, I did let him know that if he wanted to be the fastest, he was going to have to lead the pack a little and tried to coach him on how to do that.

Running, he really put the pedal to the metal - he was gasping for air after the first run leg (50m) heading into transition.  We'd reviewed the important safety steps about putting on the helmet and walking the bike to the mount line before the race, and he nailed it.  As usual, the bike course made it look like he was on a motorcycle compared to the other kids - his focus did start to wander a little on the middle part of the bike course when you can look out at the lake; I guess the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree after all! I do the same thing...

The bike course is 600m long, and ends with an uphill climb, and he got up it by himself (except for my constant cheering).   Again we executed a good transition, and then we got to see him run like I've never seen before.  He had his mouth wide open gasping for air, and though the last 25m (of a 100m run leg) started to lag a little, all it took was a reminder that "drinks and cookies" were at the finish line and he started to sprint.  It's what we call in German "Endspurt".
The Need for Speed... and anonymity.

Apparently the Lightning Kid did a great job of cheering "Go, go, go" to everyone and also enjoyed pretending to take pictures.  We looked up the race stats later that evening and found out Shark Boy was 4th overall, and 2nd place boy (the girls took the top 2 spots!).  We're really proud of him; I hope he's enjoying the sport for itself, and not just the fatherly bonding and approval, though. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Terry Fox Run 2014

On Sunday we did the Terry Fox Run at West Deane Park.  Sure, I was sore from the *Lakeside Tri* the day before, but no rest for the wicked, right?  That's what the "Indefatigable" at the top of the web page refers to....

It was a chore packing the Chariot (which the Lightning Kid has been showing a lot of enthusiasm for), and Shark Boy's new "mountain" bike into the trunk, but we ultimately made it to the park for 10:00.

My father-in-law and his wife had come to the park and convinced us that they could take the Lightning Kid off our hands during the run.  They'd end up walking a good portion of the Southern half of the trail and spending some extra time at the great playground.

Once we had our stickers and ribbons on, I got excited at the prospect of finally doing the course in its entirety, in the correct order of kilometer markers.  We took Shark Boy along on his bike and headed North.  The North end turnaround is about 2km from the start, but you see a 9km marker on the way, which we would face later.  I tracked our run with Endomondo, and when my wife heard the app announcing our pace at every kilometer, she’d cringe at how we’ve slowed down over the past 10 years or so.  I figure you’ve got to be happy to be still moving and getting out there.  We took water at the North end, and turned back toward the start.   From there, you head to the South End turn-around which occurs around 6km.  Shortly before then, we ran into the Lightning Kid and his grandparents, and Shark Boy let us know he was done for the day - he probably got around 7km or riding done.

My wife and I carried on to the Southern end, took some water, then back to the start and past it for another 1km to the 9km mark, then the final stretch. I got her to space the walking breaks up a little to more regulated intervals instead of just willy-nilly.

I don't know whether to be proud or ashamed of how I egged my wife on for the rest of the trail, but I'm proud of her for getting out of her comfort zone a little by pushing pace and distance, and hopefully it made her a stronger for the next run she does.

Once the run was finished, we had hot dogs and hamburgers with a little extra playground time. We didn't quite make it to the bouncy castle or hot air balloon before they were shutting down, but we still had a nice day out and raised $175.00 (thanks to our generous donors).