When the TomTom watch crashed right at the start of the Adidas Auckland Half Marathon last weekend, I panicked for a second or two before realising I had my iPod on me and could still track my run. Had I not taken it that day, though, my stress levels would have probably turned that run into a really bad one. And why, really? The course was gorgeous, I felt good the whole time, the day was beautiful. All of that is true but if I had not been able to add that run to my Nike+ profile, I would have been one unhappy runner (and an unhappy runner in a tutu is not a pretty image).
Now before you think I’m weird, the concept of the quantified self has been documented for some time now (since 2007, in fact). There are companies dedicated entirely to tracking devices capable of helping us cope with this newfound need to track our every movement. Last year, both the US and Europe even held Quantified Self conferences, the type of event that makes my nerdy hormones jump up and down with excitement. Obsessively tracking everything is now a thing. So no, I haven’t completely lost my mind. Compared to some, I’m actually mostly normal (stop laughing. No, seriously, stop it).
I don’t track my sleep patterns, or my food intake (well, sometimes), or my mood or the number of steps I take every day. I don’t track these mostly because I don’t currently own a device capable of tracking them all in a hassle-free way, like FitBit) but I’ve got all the symptoms of someone who would totally get addicted to one of those. The analog expression of my self-tracking needs is in my constant diary updates (I have religiously kept a Moleskine diary for years now). I’ve always used that diary to keep track of things like movies watched, books read, recipes tried, restaurants/cafes visited, or albums listened to.
More importantly, I track every single one of my runs. I know my stats well and, at times, analyse them to the point of exhaustion. I once turned around and ran back home after 400m because my iPod ran out of battery and couldn’t track the run. I know it sounds terribly lame but, in my head, if I can’t add that run to my total numbers, then what’s the point of even getting my clothes sweaty?
In a way, self-tracking helps me feel like I’m in control, especially during particularly stressful times. It ties in with my obsession for making lists (and lists of lists) and helps me feel organised. The time I trained for a 35k trail run was, so far, the height of my quantified self. On top of tracking a number of non-running related things (websites like Good Reads have helped simplify the process), I tracked my training runs, gym sessions, most of my meals and even my water and caffeine intake. Have I ever sounded more like a freak to you? Didn’t think so. But you know what? It helped. Mostly mentally, of course, although I’m sure tracking my progress also indirectly led me to make adjustments to my training and end up with better physical results. So, in the end, it’s as much about how much data you obsessively gather about yourself as it is about what you then do with all that information.
The good folk at Slimkicker have contacted a number of fitness bloggers, yours truly included, to try out their new device that will come out early next year (their iPhone app has been around for a while now). I had a look around the website and, as much as the feminist in me has a problem with their branding (slim does not equal fit, people!), I’m more than a little excited about trying out the gadget. It is one more in a pool of connected heath devices (or ‘health 2.0′ as some people call it) and even though I’m not big on counting calories (there just aren’t enough zeros to quantify some days), anything that gets people excited about getting healthier and fitter is good in my book.