Daily Archives: July 15, 2014

On quantification

I started swimming again, after a year out of the pool and then, the year before that, something like fifteen years away. I was grateful to discover that, as was the case the last time I returned to swimming, the skills and motions I practiced so much at twelve came back to me with little difficulty at thirty (a fact which raises the question of why I quit being a pretty good swimmer at twelve to be a mediocre soccer player for years and years after).

Last week, I swam ten and a half miles. I did this largely because I enjoy swimming more than I’ve enjoyed any other exercise. That enjoyment stands in particularly sharp contradistinction to my feelings about running, an activity I loathe and have loathed my entire life, despite a decade of fairly serious soccer and uncountable attempts to get back into shape by hauling my recalcitrant and intensely unhappy carcass from point to point in search of the elusive and, I’m fairly certain, entirely fictitious “runner’s high.”

The other reason I swam ten and a half miles last week is that each day I recorded my yardage on my calendar, and there’s a deeply satisfying thrill to adding them all up on Sunday converting them to miles. Not that the final number was a surprise: I was aiming for a ten-mile week, and I knew exactly how far I needed to swim on Sunday to hit that target.

The thrill of adding those numbers up and hitting a target brings to mind David Sedaris’s recent and very funny essay on his Fitbit in the New Yorker. I read it on the plane from Houston to Atlanta, and if I hadn’t been trapped in a flying tin can, I probably would have ordered myself a Fitbit then and there. Sedaris describes a satisfaction in seeing the numbers creep up each day that I found immediately familiar: “During the first few weeks that I had it, I’d return to my hotel at the end of the day, and when I discovered that I’d taken a total of, say, twelve thousand steps, I’d go out for another three thousand. ‘But why?’ Hugh asked when I told him about it. ‘Why isn’t twelve thousand enough?’ ‘Because,’ I told him, ‘my Fitbit thinks I can do better.’”

Continue reading