Sunday, February 6, 2011

Keeping Track of Myself

For Christmas this year, Fred got me a “pedometer.” Not my first, but it could well be the last. It is probably the fifth or sixth device of this type that I have owned in the past 30 years, and in my estimation, it is clearly the best. All the previous iterations of this device that I have owned have been duds. Price seemingly had no bearing on functionality. Five dollars or fifty, they all were abandoned within a week or two, because, for the most part, they were too friggin fussy to figure out. A couple of years ago I ask a geeky young friend (perhaps that is redundant) to help me get one set up and working. He assured me that he would sort it out and provide me with a tutorial in a day or two. When he was likewise stymied, I threw the device in the trash and decided to just forget about it. Really, if they can put a man on the moon, you’d think that someone could invent a pedometer that didn’t require the user to hold down two buttons at once, while advancing a third! Who are they making these things for? Monkeys? Well, I have news for you. Finally they have.

Fast forward to Christmas, 2010, and my OMRON, Pocket Pedometer, Model HJ-112, and I have arrived at statistical nirvana. I drop this light weight device into my pocket first thing in the morning, where it rides around keeping track of me until the last thing at night, when I remove it, record the day’s results and then smugly trundle off to bed. If I happen to don something without pockets, such as the skirt I will be wearing later on today to a funeral, there is a clip that attaches the pedometer to my waist. It makes me look a little like a physician on call, but that’s not all bad, especially since I am neither. There is of course the risk that someone will spot me in the church parking lot, assume I am a doctor and expect me to get someone breathing again.

In the course of the day my pedometer records every step I take and then separately keeps track of the number of aerobic steps and the time in which those steps were taken. For example, yesterday I logged in 11719 aerobic steps in 100 minutes. Speaking of yesterday, it was something of a record day for me and the pedometer. My tally for steps of any kind was 19,250 which equated to 8.50 miles. My average daily mileage for the past 30 days is 6.76 miles. Are you asleep yet?
If not, there is more and it gets worse. This device also tells me how many calories I have burned along with kilograms of fat. Yesterday, the day I logged my all time high mileage, I managed to burn a measly 580 calories and 41.3 grams of fat. I bet I shot through that number with the first fistful of cracked pepper kettle chips and glass of wine, including the few extra calories expended getting the darn chip bag open. How depressing!

So, who cares about this kind of information? I mean, who else other than me? Even I don’t delude myself with the thought that when a neighbor stops me on the road and asks what is new that they are really wanting to know which “step” I am on at the moment or where I was at this time yesterday, “stepwise.” I think that in order to have information like this matter, you have to possess the C chromosome. Never heard of it? Well, that would be C, as in competitive. And, competitive in this context may simply be code for compulsive. Neither of these qualities is intrinsically bad in and of itself. Indeed, there are situations where it serves a useful purpose. A friend of mine who has an estate and tax planning law practice says that what she is really looking for when she interviews a potential hire is some evidence that they are just a little OCD. Unfortunately, she has yet to figure out a question that would elicit the desired response without being sued for discrimination.

So, why does all of this keeping track really matter? Am I really a better person because I know how many steps I took on any given day? I am certainly more boring but is that a necessary component to improved cardio-vascular health? Probably not but it does tend to be a motivator. Keeping track, that is; not being boring. My friend Mary Ellen got a pedometer for Christmas as well. Hers features a touch screen, which I am sure would frustrate me no end. But then, Mary Ellen is a higher tech than I am. Once a week, we meet at Capitol Lake and walk and talk and discuss our data. Well, of course we do talk about other things – books and food and the dogs we are walking. But at the end of the walk we compare our numbers. Her pedometer always says we have walked further than mine which may be the pay off for being able to operate a touch screen, I don’t know.

We have agreed that there is a point of no return with all this keeping track. If I walk 8.5 miles one day, do I walk 9 the next? And then, set a goal to double that in three months? So, if I walked 47.32 miles last week, how hard would it be to walk 50 this week and if I am going to walk 50 miles in a week, why don’t I just walk to Seattle and be done with it? After that, maybe I will walk to the Canadian border and see Jane. And, if I did make it to British Columbia, would I burn enough calories to add a slice or two of salami to my chips and wine? This is crazy making and I seem to be a willing actor in the drama.

Right now I need to end this circular discussion so that I can get my walking shoes on and get out the door. After all, if I intend to best yesterday’s record and get back in time to clean up for the funeral, I need to get going. On the other hand, St. Michael’s church, my destination for the funeral, is only about nine miles from here, so maybe I should just walk there!

If you read in the paper about a befuddled middle aged woman found wandering around muttering to herself and counting her steps, well it just might be me. If the article goes on to say that she was arrested for accosting the officer who tried to take her pedometer away, BINGO! Until that happens, to paraphrase Rick Steves, I guess I will just keep on tracking!