Moving, as the body you are, in the surroundings you are in, is one of the simplest things, and yet one of the most effective and manifold ways of really coming to live in this world.

Depending on where you focus your attention, you learn more about yourself and your abilities – physical, mental, and in the fascinating interplay between the two – or about the place you make your(self at) home, its geography and cycles of time. It is equally as beneficial for just getting into flow and forgetting, as it is for thinking about so many of the issues we face. Among those, the proper balance between observation and documentation, and simple experience.

Recently, the “Quantified Self”-movement of people who track certain parameters of their life has been gaining a lot of attention, e.g. in the Financial Times “Attack of the Body Hackers.”

Given new tools/toys and ubiquitous computing, it has become easier to track a lot more – to the point where taking photos of what you eat can reasonably well document what amount of calories you ingested (read here, for example). It’s not completely new, though.

You can find old journals in which interested persons documented the weather all through their lifetime. And to a serious runner, some self-tracking may feel rather natural. Long before I ever heard of the idea of the quantified self, I would note down when and for how long I went out running, and ever since I got my first Suunto“watch” – they already called them “wristop computer” at least 10 years ago – all the data it could track, was tracked.

With the current Suunto t6c/d, that is…

  • t6c_wristheart rate, and through that, a measure of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) and therewith training effect, plus calories and whatnot are calculated,
  • speed, distance, pace,
  • altitude, ascent, descent,
  • temperature (kinda, since it picks up body heat),
  • and, oh, time ;-)

Earlier, I sometimes also ran with a Suunto X9, which could track the route taken (which could then also be exported to Google Maps, like here in Riga, Latvia) thanks to its being a GPS device…

Obviously enough, I love it, and find that there is quite a fascination to it. Not just what modern devices can do – though there is quite a bit of that – but also the fun and usefulness of the information gained. (In that spirit: hey, pst, check out my post on the mountain marathon in Upper Austria!…)

At the same time, there are dangers. Depending on how much you really, honestly do, such recording devices are either tools or toys – and expensive ones, at that. Looking for perfection means that you’ll never be happy with what you’ve got, because there is always some problem with them. In the end, though, they are only a support, but far from necessity.

In fact, the buying of such tools/toys oftentimes – rather like the gym memberships at New Year’s – stands in for the desire to do something. Buying a thing is not doing what’s necessary, though. It can help, but maybe it should come only after you’ve been going out, doing training, and finding that you can stick to it. Then, it’s time to guide the training more effectively.

It’s also necessary not to get overwhelmed by all that would be possible, if only you could buy the device. Some data points are well worth tracking. When it comes to the very basic issue of weight, for example, tracking it (and preferably also body fat) with the same device over the long term is sensible information; just stepping on the scale sometimes and complaining can be misleading, though – even extremely so.

As with so many things, the doing is much more important than the having, and having fewer things (not just tools/toys, but also relevant points of data) and putting them to good use is better than trying to have it all, but not using it well – if at all, as so often happens. The opposite also applies: having better tools and using them more can make an activity better, while doing it and through the record of it…