Technology-driven fitness and weight loss – Part 1

This is a bit of a deviation from my usual IT-related content, but as many in IT share a somewhat sedentary and travel-heavy lifestyle and we’re nearing the barrage of weight-loss related advertisements and resolutions that accompany the New Year, I thought I’d share how I shed 30 lbs. (around 14 kg) over the past year. Realize of course that what works for one person may fail miserably for another, so I’ll try to temper my enthusiasm for the tools I mention, but they did appeal to my technical nature and gadget-lust, and hopefully might be valuable for others. All the fitness and weight loss “programs” are free, and work just fine without the associated toys. However I find a gadget or two makes things a bit more enjoyable!

So without further ado, here we go. I’ve put fitness-related items first, and weight loss second since I find the two combine for significant improvements in health. Personally, I worked on the fitness part first, but you could certainly explore whichever appeals to you first.

Couch to 5K

For the vast majority of my life I loathed running. Every couple of years I’d make a halfhearted attempt to start running, and after a mile of near-death cardio torture and two days of soreness I’d promptly give up and consider those who ran borderline madmen addicted to flagellation. I couldn’t run a mile, let alone imagine running half-marathons. Despite this, I decided to give running one more chance, since it was the most “portable” exercise, requiring little more than shoes and shorts, a huge benefit as I was travelling all over the world with limited gym access in some places. Running also limits my excuses. There’s no whining about how far away the gym is, or worries about buying expensive or complex equipment, you just put on your shoes and go, rain or shine.

Couch to 5K (free) turned me into a runner, primarily by ignoring distances and focusing on time. It’s essentially a 9 week program that starts with running for a mere 60 seconds, followed by 90 seconds of walking for about 20 minutes total, and gradually increases the running time. The program encourages you to repeat sessions until you’re comfortable, and upon completion, equips you to run a 5K race (about 3.2 miles).

I started C25K in mid-2008, and have since done 6 half-marathons and just started triathlons this season. I say that not to brag, but to further the point that a card-carrying non-runner can make such a dramatic transition, in my case 15 years or so past their supposed athletic prime. About half-way through the program, I’d recommend registering for a local 5K race around the time you’ll finish. Even now I find nothing motivates my training like having a race on the calendar, and experiencing the rush of finishing my first 5K sealed the deal for me. I became a runner.

I’d also suggest doing your running outside when possible. I started on a treadmill, but I find running outside much more mentally stimulating, and a better workout since you’re attacking real hills rather than the simulation a treadmill offers.

In terms of running gadgets, if you’re going to embark on C25K, visit a decent local running store, and be prepared to spend $60-100 on a good pair of running shoes. Different people have different styles of running, and a good shoe will save you significant pain as you start. You’ll pay more for the same product than a big-box outlet, but the people staffing dedicated running stores will do a much better job identifying the best shoe for your gait.

Once you get going, there are all manner of “toys” to track and monitor your progress. I like the Garmin Forerunner GPS watches, and Nike+ also offers an interesting option that integrates with iPhones and iPods. There are a slew of smartphone apps that will track your distances and even interface with heart monitors, so if you’re a stats junkie, running will certainly scratch that itch. Many of the devices have a social component (especially Nike+) that will help maintain motivation by sharing results with friends, and providing gentle encouragement if that’s your thing.

In Part 2, I’ll talk about the weight-loss side of the equation. Until then, happy running!



  1. Great post. I found a gait analysis offered by some of the better stores will allow you to buy running shoes that suit your running style is essential. Also don’t knock the treadmill because long cold winter nights can sometimes limit your running hours unless you are in a running club where there is safetly in numbers. Treadmills allow you to run in all weather

    • I would definitely concur on both your recommendations. A treadmill is always better than no running at all. I find them a bit boring, but can get some reading done on my iPad with the Kindle app, and a huge font, although my wife finds this impossible.

      I also strongly recommend a gait analysis, or just the good sense of a dedicated running store for a first or second pair of shoes. This made all the difference for me when I started getting sore knees and thought my running career would be over a couple of months after it started. With the right shoes, I’ve been running in comfort for a couple of years. Some may balk at the full-boat price you’ll pay here, so just buy a second pair of the exact same shoe online and you’ll save on every other pair of shoes.

      Thanks for the comment!

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