super generic girl

the awesomely average life of a girl like all others


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Whatipu weekend

My Fitbit is pretty happy with me right now. It doesn’t know that I’m going to be on deadline at work tomorrow and probably won’t move much from my desk. All it knows, in its current blissful ignorance about the future, is that I had a pretty kick ass weekend.

And I did. It started with a bush hike in Whatipu on Saturday (which consisted mainly of going up and down what felt like never-ending hills) that made Fitbit believe I had climbed the equivalent of the Empire State Building (152 floors climbed). A slow 21k trail run on Sunday ensured the Fitbit was pleased all weekend long. 341 floors later, it told me I had climbed the equivalent of Angel Falls today. I’ll take that.

But forget the numbers and stats (whoa, who is this?). The word that best describes this weekend is “hills”. I was either going up or down one of those beasts and, even now, I still can’t make my mind up about which one is harder. My lungs complain about the uphills but my knees make a big deal out of the downhills. It’s ok. There was cider and wine, good food and good conversation. Plus, Auckland put out another stunning summer weekend and we stayed at the cutest lodge, complete with its own little library and everything. I didn’t even mind the fact that there was no cell phone coverage in the area which meant I spent nearly 48h without checking my email or Facebook. Miraculously, I survived.

I didn’t read any of the books available at the lodge but, instead, finished Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run. It ended up being a pretty good book, as far as running books written by athletes go. It had a fair deal of bragging (but I suppose he can brag…) but it was mixed with some pretty insightful and useful advice and the race recaps were exciting to read.

You know those weekends when you feel like you really made the most out of the time you had to yourself? Yeah, one of those.

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It’s the little things – my month with Fitbit

You can clip the Fitbit on as discreetly as you want under your clothes or you can show off your embarrassingly low step count, as pictured.

You can clip the Fitbit on as discreetly as you want under your clothes or you can show off your embarrassingly low step count, as pictured.

When I first heard about the Fitbit, the idea of having a tiny little device attached to me and tracking my every move seemed a little too Big Brother-ish for my taste. “Thank goodness it doesn’t have a built-in GPS” was the first thought that came to mind. Imagine all these people finding out I don’t actually run much and that my workout of choice is actually power-walking my way in and out of all stores in the mall.

Over time, though, as I became more and more self-aware of how much I track myself in different ways anyway, I started to see the benefits of the little gadget. When the lovely folk at Fitbit offered to let me try one, I jumped at the opportunity.

Zara also jumped at the opportunity to analyse the different components. And by "analyse" I, of course, mean "attempt to destroy".

Zara also jumped at the opportunity to analyse the different components. And by “analyse” I, of course, mean “attempt to destroy”.

I was a little worried it was one more thing to add to what already feels like a giant list of things to remember every morning. I’ve got a strict morning routine that consists of a set list of tasks performed in a very meticulous order within the precise time it takes me to get out of bed and out of the house each day. It goes something like: cursing at the alarm, showering, getting dressed, making and drinking coffee, combing hair and cleaning teeth, putting shoes on, leaving the house. Do not pass go, do not collect $200 (is it even $200? I haven’t played Monopoly in a while). I can count on one hand the number of times in a year I even manage to put earrings on, just because I never managed to make that a step in this strict routine of mine. So, poor Fitbit, it didn’t look like this thing would stand a chance.

The USB charger survived Zara which means it's pretty strong stuff.

Hardware analysis: the USB charger survived Zara which means it’s pretty strong stuff.

But it did. In fact, it has almost become one of those things I once thought I’d never need and now can barely live without, like my cell phone, Pineapple Lumps or Gilmore Girls marathons. These days, I’ll curse at the alarm while hitting the button to get the Fitbit to stop tracking my sleep and I’ll unconsciously put it in my pocket (or clipped somewhere onto my clothes) as soon as I get dressed so that no step goes untracked.

I’m not going to get into the technical details of this wee thingy. First because, well, I’ve just called it a “wee thingy” so that should be a sign of how much I know about it. Also, because if you want technical specs, you really shouldn’t come to the blog of someone who has trouble operating a can opener without adult supervision. It’s easy to install (easy as in you pretty much don’t have to do anything other than watch it happen), the battery lasts a decent amount of time (I’ve only had to charge it once in the month I’ve been using it) and it automatically sends your data to your dashboard whenever you’re within a short distance of the USB dongle (which I just leave plugged into my laptop all the time).

The whole setup was finished before I had time to take proper screenshots.

Serious bloggers take screenshots of stuff like software installing, right?

This tiny little thing has made a huge amount of difference in my life in the short time we’ve been getting to know each other. It has taught me a couple of things about myself, too. Turns out I was a little smug about my lifestyle when the reality is that, when I’m not running, I’m actually pretty damn lazy. That 10,000 daily average step count that any average healthy person should take? Not so easy to get to for lazy bones over here, as it turns out. But, on the plus side, I get motivated by stats and numbers and seeing the percentages go up on my Fitbit dashboard was enough to want to do better every day.

Having the Fitbit on me meant that I was always looking for a chance to up my stats for the day. Sure, I’ll take that cup back to the kitchen for you. Yep, of course I don’t mind taking the rubbish out again even though it’s totally not my turn and it’s been my turn for like the last twenty turns. I ain’t doing it for you, though, I’m doing it for the stats!

I don’t know if it’s 100% accurate and, to be honest, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter if it says I took 8,234 steps when I only took 8,232 and it doesn’t matter if it says I slept 7:42 when I actually slept 7:44. It gives me an idea of how I’m doing and, most of all, it gives me the motivation to do better. If you don’t believe me, you should at least believe the smart folk at Tech Crunch who have just named it one of the best health gadgets for 2013.

Out for a run with the Nike+ watch, the iPod Nano (with Nike+ software) and the Fitbit because there's no such thing as too many tracking devices.

Out for a run with the Nike+ watch, the iPod Nano (with Nike+ software) and the Fitbit because there’s no such thing as too many tracking devices.

What really strikes me as powerful is the focus on the little things. It’s not for runners or super buff gym nuts. It brings the attention to fitness and health to everyone, whether they enjoy working out or not. You don’t need to take part in any physical activity outside of your normal daily routines to see how you’re doing (although you’ll probably find that you need to make some changes to become healthier). It’ll track the long runs but it’ll also track those quick steps from the bedroom to the kitchen or from your desk at work to the staff room and all those other tiny little things that add up to a day in your life. According to some studies (which I purposefully choose to ignore), those small doses of exercise are actually healthier for you than endurance running, for example, so of course you should pay attention to them. It’ll also do stuff like track your food intake and count your calories if you enter information on everything you eat. I’m really not into counting calories so my food log lasted about two days before getting completely forgotten, but it’s an option for those who want a more complete report. In the brief moment of delusion when I believed I’d be using the “food log” capabilities, I downloaded the free Fitbit Android app to make it more convenient to add the food. Like most of the apps on my phone, I can’t say it’s been getting much use.

In any case, and even though it’s only been a month, I’m definitely a lot more health conscious since I started wearing the Fitbit. Carrying this little gadget with you around might not get you to join the gym but it might make you think twice before getting in the elevator again. And, in a world where more and more people are dying from diseases related to obesity and a sedentary lifestyle, if that’s not worth US$99, you’re doing life wrong.


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If you didn’t record it, did it really happen?

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.