Fitness tracking and scaring Monsters

I have a new bit of technology which is pleasing me far more than it should. It allows me to indulge the competitive side of my nature even when I am asleep. Perhaps against my better judgement I have gone over to the dark side of fitness. I asked Santa to bring me a personal tracker for Christmas.

It tracks my steps (minimum 10,000 a day), my heart rate (surprisingly high – I blame the mountains of Christmas cheese) and silently nudges me into action with a gentle vibration if I have been sitting too long at my laptop or in front of the telly/cheeseboard. It has warned me that I should (occasionally) take two minutes to breathe deeply and relax, and it tells me when my phone is ringing, which is handy if it’s in the other room.

It tells me how many hours of sleep I have had each night, breaking it down into deep sleep and light, REM sleep and times when I was awake. But I’m not sure how accurate it is – I woke up this morning safe in the knowledge that I’d slept right through, but apparently I had been awake for 37 minutes during which I had managed to clock up 184 steps. Maybe I should enable the GPS function to find out where I had been? Curiously I had also used up 597 calories…

Fitness trackers have been on the market for years and I know I’m late to this particular party. But I have resisted wearing one up till now precisely because I know how obsessive I can be about statistics and competition, and because I have experienced first-hand how easily – if I let them – those same statistics can suck the pleasure and enjoyment out of what was otherwise a brilliant couple of hours on my bike.

I can’t count the number of times I have come back from a cycle feeling exhausted and elated. The combination of hard exercise in stunning Highland scenery coupled with the company of good friends reinforces the feeling that life can’t get any better. It’s a couple of hours without emails or deadlines, and away from the endless round of domestic chores and ‘to-do’ lists. Being high in the hills on single track roads surrounded by moorland, lochs and mountains and with a vast sky overhead helps to give me back the perspective I too often lose.

I’ll park my bike in the shed and head for the shower. And then I’ll check my Strava stats. (Who am I kidding? I check them before I’ve even reached the front door.) Occasionally I’ll be pleasantly surprised – there will be ‘cups’ galore marking tiny milestone victories, and I’ll have beaten my own previous record up a hill. That will be the icing on the cake. But far more often the shine will be taken off my ride – a previous ‘personal best’ is still eluding me, or I have been pushed even further down the leaderboard on a hill climb, usually overtaken by my younger, fitter sister who was out a few hours earlier.

Of course the results and the stats shouldn’t matter. The real gain should be the pleasure of being outside – of being fit and healthy enough to get out into the hills. But surely a little healthy competition never did anyone any harm? As long as the focus is on ‘healthy’…

And that’s my aim for 2018. Less competing, more taking part. Less doing, more being. Less judgement, more acceptance.  Less stress, more naps.

So where does the personal tracker fit in? With a target of 10,000 daily steps it will (hopefully) encourage me to get outside more – to cycle, to walk, to run – or even just to breathe the air, look at the sky and help restore life’s balance. I shouldn’t need a digital nudge to remind me to take advantage of what’s outside my doorstep, but it seems that I do. Wish me luck!

Monster bait

One activity I have totally (and quite deliberately) failed to track these festive holidays is ‘swimming’ with my sister. I can’t really call it proper swimming, because putting my head below the water for more than a few seconds at a time still eludes me. But I am not beating myself up about that. Because 20 minutes of my old-lady breast stroke in Highland lochs in the depths of a Highland winter is sport enough, thank you very much.

I was first introduced to wild swimming in August, and since then have become hooked. The sensation of bobbing (thanks to a thick, buoyant neoprene wetsuit) in water temperatures just above freezing is utterly exhilarating.  We declined the option of breaking the ice on the surface of Loch Farr a couple of weeks ago and opted instead of swimming with Nessie. 20 minutes in the water is enough, but the benefits, in the form of tingling skin and mental well-being, last all day.

Lying on my back in Loch Ness watching the light change as dawn broke on Christmas Eve was magical. The hot chocolate and mince pies we devoured on the shore for breakfast afterwards have never tasted better.

If this is the sensation she experiences every morning it’s little wonder that Nessie has stayed here so long. I just hope the sight of me in tight-fitting neoprene hasn’t scared her away…

Boxing Day Bikini. With socks.

SUBSCRIBE to receive a weekly email with a link to my most recent column – just enter your email address in the wee widget on the left hand side of my home page.

This column first appeared in six SPP Group newspapers week ended 5th January 2018.