Short takes: Kids coding in C (!); new car; and finally “fit at 40”!

Last week I kicked off my new initiative to actually get some blog posts out, despite not having time for all the details…

This week was less event-focused but nevertheless contained a few things that I thought were worthy of note.

Kids coding in C? (Our Arduino)

Last weekend, I was “playing” with my new Arduino proptotyping board, with my sons.  Understandably, my 5 year-old wasn’t too bothered (to be fair, he liked putting components onto the breadboard) but I was amazed to see just how my eldest (who is 7) grasped the programming side of things.  I’m not saying he’s writing C – but just using some example code to flash a set of LEDs in sequence, he asked why he was putting // in front of some lines.  I showed him that each was a function call and he was “turning on and off” different things that the program could do.  Before I knew it, he wanted to chain functions together, before then moving on changing the delay times on the lights.  I thought that the coding side of things would be an uphill struggle but I was really encouraged to see how quickly kids can start to adapt the examples. Hopefully our Raspberry Pi will arrive later this month – and then I’ll get him writing in Scratch or another child-friendly environment!

New toy for Mark

Last November, I wrote about ordering my new car and it arrived on Monday. No longer am I tarred with Top Gear-esque comments about Audi drivers (I did really like my A4 though) – I’m now a sensible, 40-something Volkswagen-driving type! The Tiguan (or “softroader” as my hardcore Range Rover-driving manager calls it) has a towbar too, so I should be able to load the family bikes on more easily and, hopefully, we’ll get out a bit more this spring/summer… which leads me on to the next feature…

Another decade on the clock – and my “Fit at 40” challenge draws to a close

Towards the end of the week I celebrated  my 40th birthday – which marks the end of my Fit at 40 challenge. Having hit my target weight a couple of weeks ago, I’ve managed to hold that off but haven’t managed to push any further yet.  The final numbers are not quite in, but it looks like I’ll have raised just under £2000 (plus gift aid) for The Prostate Cancer Charity – thanks again to everyone who has supported me and helped make me a happier, healthier husband and father to my wife and children!

Fit at 40: Achievement unlocked

I’ve written previously on this blog about my Fit at 40 challenge and, for those who haven’t already seen my excited tweet from earlier today, I weighed in and found that I have hit my “realistic yet challenging” goal of getting to 14 and a half stone (92kg) by my 40th birthday (I’d already completed the three races at 10K distance or above which was the other part of the challenge).

#Fitat40: Achievement unlocked. 92kg (Just under 14st 7lb); 2 weeks to go http://t.co/mQGE4DP6 http://t.co/LMvbfQl3 #stoked
@markwilsonit
Mark Wilson

I have to say that I’m totally stoked. Whilst some people might say something like “yeah, whatever, so you lost some weight, it’s just willpower isn’t it?”, I can tell you there’s a lot more to it than that – it’s taken a year (so far) or hard work and dedication, together with the occasional bought of self-degradation after falling off the wagon. This wasn’t a diet, it was a change in lifestyle; reprogramming my brain if you like (and this week’s BBC Horizon documentary which examined how two hormones impact our appetite and “fullness” was very interesting).

JustGiving - Sponsor me please!I’ve still got 2 weeks to go until my 40th, so there’s room for a stretch target yet (actually, I’ve set myself a goal of losing another 13kg before my 41st birthday – to bring my BMI into the “healthy” range – how achievable that is I don’t know as that’s going back to around my teenage weight but it’s worth a try). Most importantly though, I’ve achieved what I set out to do by my 40th (a fitter, happier, healthier me) and raised a chunk of money for The Prostate Cancer Charity in the process. If you’d like to donate to The Prostate Cancer Charity, my JustGiving page is still up and running!

So, here are the stats:

Start (Fat) Today (Fit) Difference
Weight 113kg 92kg 21kg
Chest 120.5cm 112cm 8.5cm
Waist 122cm 107cm 15cm
Upper Arm Not recorded 33cm Not recorded
Thigh Not recorded 60cm Not recorded
Hip 109cm 100cm 9cm
Body Fat 28.5% 22.5% 6.5%
BMI 35.7 (Obese) 29.0 (Overweight) 6.7

Incidentally, on a recent overseas trip, I noticed that our (heavy) suitcase weighed 21kg. That’s how much less weight my body is carrying around. Scary really.

Fit at 40: Nearly there!

It’s been a few months since I gave an update on my Fit at 40 challenge but last weekend I ran the Milton Keynes 10K, which marks my third major race since taking up the challenge. Whilst my time was best described as disappointing, I did at least run the whole course (for which the last mile or so is all uphill!) in torrential rain and I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold…

Meanwhile, the weight loss continues: inevitably, Christmas saw a couple of pounds added (although it was mostly the pre-Christmas celebrations – over Christmas I continued exercising – including spinning on Christmas Eve and a run with my brother-in-law on Boxing Day) but I found it really difficult to push through my previous milestone and was stuck at 100kg (15st 10lbs) for a couple of weeks until, suddenly, I managed to blast through it.  Since then I’ve been religious about counting calories, making full use of the Weight Loss Resources website and making sure that I’m getting plenty of exercise (tracked on Runkeeper). Sadly an injury in January – immediately followed by snow and ice in February – meant I couldn’t run for a bit, but I kept up the swimming and spinning… and I seem to be fixed up now.

After getting stuck again at 97kg (15st 4lb) and 95.25kg (15st 0lb), I weighed in on Saturday and was really pleased to be able to say that I’ve now lost my third stone placing me at 93.5kg (14st 10lb). That means I still have 3lbs to lose before 5 April but I’m confident that I’ll make it. And, for the first time in goodness-knows how many years I’m now simply overweight, instead of obese (my BMI is now 29.5, down from 35.5 at the start of the challenge)!

As for the running, well, I was tempted to enter the adidas Silverstone half-marathon (I did say I might try for a half-marathon at the end of the challenge) but I’m starting to feel the odd twinge at about the 5 mile/8 km mark so I don’t really want to risk injury right now.  I’ve entered the Bupa London 10,000 again in May – and hope to knock 10-12 minutes off my 2011 time. After that, I may see if I can build up to a half marathon but, for once, I listened to my wife’s advice and decided not to risk the whole challenge by pushing my body too far – I may feel better than I have in years, but I’m not 25 any more and my knees are certainly telling me that 10K is about my limit at the moment (I ran just over 13K once, when a bridlepath was closed and I had a 3 mile diversion to get across the river!).

JustGiving - Sponsor me please!As for my fundraising for The Prostate Cancer Charity, so far I have raised around £1100, with another £650 pledged from friends and family, but I’d really like to make it to £2000 (plus gift aid). You can donate on the Internet or, in the UK, by SMS (text message) – just text MWIL72 £1 (or whatever your donation is!) to 70070.

So, where next? Well, “Fit at 40” was a good start, and going from almost no exercise to my current levels, whilst losing just over three stone was no small achievement. I know that some friends and colleagues have doubts – after all they see me eating badly from time to time but we all do that – and the whole point has been about making sustainable lifestyle choices – not living like a saint.  I could have “gone on a diet” but past experience tells me I’ll pile it back on.  This slow, steady, sustainable weight loss seems to be working (and its always good when people comment how much weight I’ve lost).

I still have a bit of a belly though, so I’m not stopping here – it would be great to lose another couple of stones over the next year – and I’m going to give it a shot.  I won’t be pestering friends for sponsorship but it’s my personal goal.

My health is improving too – I did recently start taking medication to control my high blood pressure but that in itself is not an illness – I have a family history of hypertension and if I can keep it under control then that should help prevent serious illness as a consequence. More seriously, at 6.3mmol/L my cholesterol level is too high. Importantly though, that’s down from 6.9 when it was measured 5 years previously – and the ratio of “good” (HDL) cholesterol to “bad” (LDL) cholesterol is improving – clearly “Fit at 40” is working and will continue to work as I lose even more weight (really, I need to get that number down below 6mmol/L and ideally to around 5).

Finally, I recently read an article on the Sydney Morning Herald website about people turning 40, and turning to exercise… well – maybe that’s what’s happening here. Perhaps the sports car, etc. will have to wait until my 50th…

Update on my Fit at 40 challenge

Today’s the last day of Movember and, whilst I said I wouldn’t be growing a ‘tache this year, I did say I’d push to make sure I’d lost my second stone by the end of the month (all part of  my “Fit at 40” challenge). Despite not being able to exercise for nearly two weeks earlier in the month due to a heavy cold (man flu), I’ve been pounding the streets since then, combined with spinning classes, the occasional swim and being really careful about what I’m eating.

Even so, it was with some trepidation that I stood on the scales this morning and…

…I did it!

15st 10lbs (100kg) means I’ve shed two stone since I started this challenge and, for those who are thinking “yeah, but anyone can lose a couple of stone on a diet” the whole point has been to avoid “diets” and to lose weight by switching to a more healthy, sustainable lifestyle (i.e. I can still have a drink from time to time, and eat food that I like, in moderation).  It also means I’m lighter than I’ve been in years – probably since before my wife was pregnant with our first child (I put on weight to match, but she lost hers…) – and certainly fitter than I’ve been since… my teens I guess.

My weight loss seems to come in fits and starts (it plateaus, then I lose half a stone, before it plateaus again) and the 16 stone barrier has been tough to break through – if I can get below 15 and a half stone before Christmas (and keep it off after Christmas), I should be back on track!

So, here’s where I’m at:

  • 10 months into my challenge, 28lbs (12.7kg) lost, a lot leaner body, and two 10K races under my belt (Bupa London 10,000 and Buckingham 10K).
  • 4 months to go, 15lbs (6.8kg) to lose and another 10K race (at least) to run.

The challenge continues… Thanks to everyone who has supported me so far and who continues to do so – donations to my JustGiving page in support of the Prostate Cancer Charity are a great motivator!

Movember 2011/Fit at 40 update

Today marks the start of Movember and, although I’d like to support the Mo’ Bro’s and Sisters out there, unfortunately this year I won’t be sporting a ‘tache.

I grew one last year and, aside from the fact that Mrs. W. was less than impressed (quite happy with my usual face fuzz, but not with a dodgy moustache), it didn’t go down too well at work – Movember is just not established enough in the UK for me to meet with potential customers sporting dubious facial hair!

Even those of us who can’t take part in Movember can still support it virtually – all the Mo’ Bro’s are raising money for charities working with Prostate Cancer (so you could donate via the Movember website) or, alternatively, my Fit at 40 Challenge continues and I’m still working hard to raise money for The Prostate Cancer Charity at the same time as losing weight and getting fit.

Almost half way through the Buckingham 10KSo where am I at? To be perfectly honest, I’m a little behind where I would like to be but still making progress. Two weeks ago, I ran the Buckingham 10K (my second 10K race) and beat my London time, although I was disappointed that I couldn’t push hard on the downhill stretch at the end because my knee was hurting and I didn’t want to risk injury (stats). Thankfully it seems OK now – I’ve run a couple of 5-milers since without issue. Mixed in with some spinning, the occasional bike ride and some swimming, the exercise is going well and I’m starting to see the results. After months of not losing much weight (but clearly gaining muscle), I’m now noticing the difference on my belt loop, and am tantalisingly close to having shed the second stone.

So, I may not be able to grow a ‘tache for Movember but I can push hard on my fit at 40 challenge – if I get below 15st 10lbs (100kg) this month (and I certainly intend to), why not donate to The Prostate Cancer Charity via my JustGiving page?

Global Corporate Challenge 2011 (#2011gcc) – now complete!

Global Corporate ChallengeA few months ago, I wrote a post about my participation in one of the Fujitsu teams taking part in the Global Corporate Challenge (GCC).

My team came fourth (out of 15) in the UK and Ireland, which is not bad at all, although I suspect I was the weakest link in the team.  Even so, I was glad to post a new personal best on the penultimate day of the challenge and we almost made it around the world (virtually) reaching location 126/132.

For me, the GCC was supporting my bigger challenge to be Fit at 40 and I’m pleased to say that I’m still making good progress, adding swimming, cycling and spinning activities to the running.  Over the period of the GCC a clocked up an average of 10,715 steps (1,189,435 in total) with an average daily distance of 6.86km (761.24km in total), burning 47,958 calories in the process.

The good news is that I didn’t really change my behaviour for the GCC – I had already made the lifestyle changes and the GCC re-afirmed my choices. Whilst the muscle gain is making it harder to lose weight it shows just how fat I was and I’m now making good progress towards shedding that second stone – soon I’ll be dropping below the 100kg in weight for the first time in many years…

And I’ve now got so used to wearing my GCC pedometer, it feels strange not to have it there any more!

How fat is really fat?

Regular readers will know about my “Fit at 40” challenge and I have to say it’s pretty hard work right now. I lost the first stone (and a bit) and I built up to the point where I ran my first 10K race (albeit a little slower than I would like) but now it’s into the real hard slog… and I’ve found that I need to focus a little harder (although I’m still heading in the right direction).

I mentioned previously how my friend and former colleague, Garry Martin, is providing motivation with a sponsorship deal that requires me to meet certain targets that we have agreed as realistic but challenging. I will lose the three-and-a-bit stone, and I will run three races of at least 10K before my 40th birthday – but I really do hope to do a little better than that (let’s call it a stretch target!)

Friends and family keep on telling me that I’m looking slimmer, fitter, and healthier, but I put that down to wearing dark colours, a recent holiday leaving me suntanned and breathing in/standing upright! The fact is that the scales tell me I’m not shifting the weight fast enough – and the running is getting harder, not easier. Even so, I decided to take a look at my body fat measurements.

It seems that, in the UK, health professionals are obsessed with the Body Mass Index (BMI) – a simple calculation based on height and weight.  That’s all well and good, but some of us really are “stockier” than others.  According to a simple BMI calculation, I am obese (I am) but, I’ll still be overweight when I reach my goal… in fact, I’d need to get below 12 and a half stone to be “healthy”, despite having not been that weight since I was a teenager (and still growing up, rather than out).

In theory, all of this exercise is helping me to build muscle so it makes more sense to understand just how much of me is fat.  For a while, I was using one of the many calculations available on the ‘net but they really do vary tremendously. So much so that they can only be considered as a guide (not much better than the BMI):

More importantly, the calculation I was using wasn’t suggesting any progress – despite clearly losing weight and being a lot leaner, my wrist and forearm measurements (two of the metrics used) are probably not going to change much.

When I look at my “ideal weight” there are just any many ideas of “ideal”:

  • Based on the Robinson formula (1983), my ideal weight is 156.5 lbs.
  • Based on the Miller formula (1983), my ideal weight is 155.0 lbs.
  • Based on the Devine formula (1974), my ideal weight is 160.9 lbs.
  • Based on the Hamwi formula (1964), my ideal weight is 165.3 lbs.
  • Based on the healthy BMI recommendation, my recommended weight is 128.9 lbs – 174.2 lbs.

Then, last month, I saw that one of the local leisure centres was advertising Body Stat tests (body composition testing) for £5, so I booked myself in.  Using a bio-electrical impedance analysis (BIA) test I was given a range of figures indicating how fat I am and what I should be aiming for. BIA is not without it’s faults but at least by using a commercial product rather than a consumer body fat meter I’ll have increased the chances of accuracy. Just as important was the confirmation that my goal weight is realistic as well as the information that I’m not sufficiently hydrated (drinking more water should help me to lose weight). It also told me my basal metabolic rate (I could also calculate that myself or use a different calculation to take into account exercise and target weight loss), which explains why I’m so damned hungry if I don’t eat enough… and I want to lose weight at a sensible rate or 1-2 pounds a week, not go on a crash diet (I use the Weight Loss Resources site to help with tracking my food and exercise).

Ideally, I would have baselined this when I started the challenge but at least I have the numbers now I’m part way in, and I can check them again as I hit my milestones over the coming months. For what it’s worth, the ideal weight that the Body Stat test came up with was 85-91kg (13st 5lb-14st 5lb) and 13-19% body fat. That seems a lot more realistic than the numbers above and the top end is just below my “Fit at 40” target (so, “Fitter at 41?”)

Just on more thing before I sign off… a quick video from the Dads’ Race at my son’s school sports day last week:

I think I came second (I’m in the green t-shirt). The challenge continues…

Run Fatboy Run!

BUPA London 10,000
Was it just a co-incidence that the Simon Pegg film, “Run Fatboy Run” was shown on British TV this weekend? I think not! (great film by the way).

For those who’ve missed my last “Fit At 40” update – yesterday was the Bupa London 10,000 – and I lined up with several thousand other competitors (including my friend Eileen Brown) to run the course from St James’ Park to the City and back.  This was my first 10K and I’d been training with 5 mile (8km) runs at around 01:06:00, so I was hoping to come in at around 01:20:00 but, to be honest, a finish was what I was really after!

Not only was this my first 10K, but it was my first big race too – and, with the race starting in nine groups (with me in the ninth), the elite runners had completed the race before I was over the start line!

The first kilometre flashed by – I set off way too fast but I was in clear space towards the front of my group and wanted to stay out front so my supporters at the end of Horse Guards’ Parade could grab a decent picture. After that, I tried to settle down into a comfortable pace but my pre-race efforts to make sure I was sufficiently hydrated set me back a bit (and I wasn’t going to “do a Paula” [Radcliffe]).  I couldn’t see the toilets that were supposed to be at 3km so I kept going until I saw a McDonalds at just after 4km – and rushing off the course, down the stairs into the basement and back out again must have cost at least 3 minutes (I wasn’t the only one to do this either!).  Only then could I settle into my planned pace of 12 minutes run, 2 walk at around 12 minutes per mile (I’m not fast!) but the point is I did it!

I have to say that the whole event was incredibly well organised (by the same people who organise the London Marathon), the weather was kind to us, and even though the water station at 7km had run dry by the time I passed, some wonderful people were handing out cups of water just before, at around at about 6.5km (thank you guys).  Kudos too, to the guys who were clearing up the thousands of plastic bottles etc. on the course as well as to the marshalls that lined the whole route.

So, how did I do? Well, my (unoffocial) stats (from RunKeeper) show me at just over 1 hour 30 minutes and the official time was 01:30:04

Even though I’m a bit disappointed with my time, I’m absolutely stoked with the achievement. Not that long ago, I couldn’t run to the end of the street. Now it’s time to push on and lose some more weight, then run another 10K later this year (hopefully at closer to 01:20:00).

The challenge continues…

Global Corporate Challenge 2011 (#2011gcc)

Global Corporate ChallengeToday marks the start of the 2011 Global Corporate Challenge (GCC) and I’m really pleased to be a member of one the Fujitsu UK and Ireland teams that are taking part. The GCC is the world’s largest and most exciting corporate health initiative, in the form of a pedometer based walking challenge where employees engage in a virtual walk around the world for 16 weeks. I already walk from London Euston station to Baker Street (and back) on the days that I’m in the office but the GCC should help me get a little more active and shed some more pounds (which will help my Fit at 40 challenge), whilst competing against other teams (and hoping to beat our colleagues down under).

Based on an average of 12,000 steps per day, Fujistu UK and Ireland’s 15 teams should be able to acheive a total of 139,860,000 steps (89,510 km/55,619 miles) and:

  • Avoid 241.4 days of absenteeism.
  • Lose 525kg/1,157lbs in weight.
  • Increase our ability to handle stress by 40%.
  • Increase our quality of sleep by 40%.
  • Achieve an increase in overall health and wellbeing of 40%.
  • Including a 42% increase in energy.
  • Increasing productivity by 40%.

We’ll also avoid carbon emissions of 3.36 tonnes and the corporate sponsorship means that we’ll support some worthy causes too.

The Global Corporate Challenge runs until 6 September.

Update on my Fit at 40 challenge

It’s been a couple of months now since I wrote an update on my Fit at 40 challenge so here’s how I’m doing, in a nutshell:

It’s tough

April included a number of events including my birthday and the Easter holidays but I was doing pretty well – my weight yo-yoed a bit but was heading down overall (I got down to 105kg/16st 8lb) and my mileage was increasing with the runs even if my pace was dropping (towards the end of April I managed my first 5 mile run and, for the first time, I was geniunely confident that I can do a 10K).  Unfortuately I lost my way a little when I ran the Harrold Pit Run – a 4.8km (3 mile) race which I ran/walked last year in just under 33 minutes (my first race) and this year I ran (not walked) it a full 5 minutes slower. I was gutted.

I was a difficult day: the race is in the afternoon and it was hot; we’d had a  a Royal Wedding street party the day before and, although I’d been careful not to eat/drink too much, I’ve since learned that drinking beer the day before a run is not a good idea; and it had been a pretty full-on week as I was attempting to redecorate my office, have a new carpet fitted, and put it all back together again in 4 days. Added to that, I was pretty emotional. It was the first time I’d run in The Prostate Cancer Charity‘s t-shirt, complete with a note on my back advertising my fundraising site and someone said “good on you” as they ran past me.  I’m pretty sure that they were referring to my cause (not the snail’s pace I was jogging at) and that got me thinking about why I was doing it – which seemed to upset me, rather than help me get going. To say I was dissappointed with the result would be an understatement – it was all I could do not to burst into tears at the finish line.

The rest of that final weekend in April was no better either – I’m not sure how, but I finished the 4-day weekend 5lbs heavier than I started it.

The good news is that I’m back on the wagon, watching what I’m eating again, and pushing to lose another half-stone or so before the BUPA London 10K at the end of the month.  In the first week of May I managed to run a 3.4 and a 5 mile loop (albeit in 12+2 run/walk intervals), so I know I can cover the distance – all that remains is to increase my pace (and hopefully cut out some of the walking). My workload has been crazy, which doesn’t help the stress levels but I’m determined to complete the course – there’s too much at stake now!

I’ll let you know how I get on with the BUPA London 10K at the end of the month!

BUPA London 10,000