The Quantified Self

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While I’ve been out of the #tiegrad loop with the FitBit frenzy, I am a devotee to employing a good bit of technology in my own fitness regime of late, and wanted to collect a few thoughts on how the phenomenon relates to digital storytelling and learning.

Having received a Garmin GPS watch for my birthday, I’ve been cataloguing and measuring my runs, cycle commutes, and other workouts for almost a year, something of a surprising development at this stage in my athletic life, I have to say. Without getting back into a story that’s been rehashed in bits and pieces on my blog in recent years, once upon a time I went away to university on a running scholarship. However (as I delve into in greater detail in this post here),

Since graduating in 2004, I hardly thought about running. And if I did think about it, or even found myself on an odd streak of jogging on the paths around the inlet near my house, I hardly thought of racing.

When my track and field days had been petering out, I struggled to find motivation to work my way out of injuries that had severely limited my capacity and potential as an ‘elite’ athlete. Having once been at least good, if not great, I had very little interest in fighting my way through the middle of the pack, and as I began to excel in my studies, my desire to compete slowly waned. And while I’ve generally remained an active person – hiking, participating in intramurals, biking to work and the like – I’ve remained apart from organized competition, leaving it in my ‘former’ life until only recently.

About a year ago I started running again, heading up the narrow trails above my house into the forests on Heritage Mountain. Beginning at a few kilometers, I started supplementing these jaunts in the woods with sessions at a spinning studio where I met local endurance-athletes, started to push myself beyond mere aerobic exercise, and began to talk about racing again.

I became reacquainted with the satisfaction of tired legs, the zen-like trance of the anaerobic threshold, and the no man’s land beyond what I knew was within my grasp.

Since adding my Garmin to the mix, and even more recently a heart-rate monitor, I’ve only been able to push this nebulous threshold further: because I can see it.

When my heart-rate falls following a climb, and I might be inclined to dip into recovery for longer than necessary, a quick glance at my watch lets me know there is room to be pushed. Or when I’m panting near the crux of the steep hill that begins most of my trail jaunts, I can be reassured that I’m pushing 90% of my maximum effort.

Totals

Toward the end of the month, I am pushed to get out the door more often, as my totals will be tallied on my Garmin Connect profile (which leaves something to be desired as a social network, but nevertheless aggregates my workout history), all because of what my watch makes visible in its record keeping.

Not that this couldn’t (and isn’t) achieved through keeping meticulous notes on exercise as it happens. I still have my training logs from high school and university and am comforted to know that I was, in fact, in peak form leading into my last few weeks of high school, right when it counted. But the ease and portability – not to mention the sheer diversity of data collected – of the digital markers can be an inspiring reflective tool.

Because each of these workouts, bike rides, hikes, and spin cycles was just an effort made on a particular day – none of them were completed with a particular view of their significance in the greater scheme of things. This isn’t unlike a series of Instagram selfies, or Twitter updates, or even lengthier blog posts.

In fact, the benefit of each of these digital tails is that when we stop to look back, these individual records become constituent parts of a whole that is itself perpetually coming into being. In the self-recognition generated by these opportunities to reflect, and be reflected, we are often pushed further on, and we continue to emerge.

One Comment:

  1. I like you enjoy the ability to “quantify” my self.

    I have been doing it off and on for years, long before the onslaught of digital fitness bands and the like. I use to do it old school and create spreadsheets of the data I collected from my athletic endeavours. I would use step counters, time exercised and when I cycled my kilometres traveled. Pretty crude measures as compared to today but those were the measures I had to work with.

    Today, we can track a whack more as you know, but i am no where near as fit as I was back in the analog days. Employment, children, age and the destroyed joints that came from a stupid youth, has sapped 98.3% of my fitness from my person.

    Has the new era of quantifying self, improved my health? I like to think so, but my pattern of health and fitness hasn’t changed in 16 years. January to August, I build up my fitness and September to December I let things go to hell in a hand basket.

    What I do know is that my training for things like the Ride to Conquer Cancer and the Penticton Gran Fondo is very measured and all the data keeps me focused. I obsess over missing a training day and constantly check my stats and expect to see improvement.

    The most fun I have is with Strava segments, competing with other cyclists for best times on a myriad of cycling routes. I do quite well when I use the data filters for age and weight.

    Anyhow, enough of my nonsensical rambling. I say giddy up with Quantifying ones self.

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