I’m in a new relationship, and it’s complicated. My husband surprised me with a Garmin running watch a couple of weeks ago, a splurge for Mother’s Day. I’ve wanted one for a long time—but I never anticipated I’d become as instantaneously committed to one as I did.
Initially I thought I’d wear the (very large) watch just while running, certainly not day in and day out. How little I understood myself three weeks ago. That was before I discovered the most addictive feature: In addition to tracking every detail of every run, monitoring data like heart rate and VO2 max, pinging when there’s a new text, and a trailing list of other features I’m still discovering, my new Garmin tracks how many steps I take each day. This is what hooked me.
I don’t think of myself as a Type-A person—except for all of those times when I am. With a quantifiable, health-related goal in mind, Type A is me. Throughout the day I check, often, how close I am to reaching the pre-set step goal of 10,000+ (this is based on the general, though not universally accepted, rule of thumb that taking at least 10,000 steps daily leads to significant health benefits). While I like being active, much of how I spend my time—lots of writing, lots of reading—is sedentary. The step count reminds me to move, to stretch, to use my body.
Running knocks a lot of my steps, but there are often thousands more to get in. My watch has encouraged me to sneak in quick walks I ordinarily wouldn’t. This, to me, is its best effect. I love walking—running’s cool-headed, efficient sister. I’ve started looping over to Kendall Yards for a short stroll before I set up my computer to write at Indaba on the mornings my daughter has preschool. I took advantage of a 15-minute window between one thing and another to stroll through Manito Park last night, just after a rainstorm that left the lawns a dewy, saturated green. A low step count is why I said yes to a (surprisingly fun) round of indoor soccer with my daughter the other night, even though I didn’t really feel like it, and what prompted me to turn on the music for a few extra family dance parties to the “Hamilton” soundtrack this week.
On the flip side, I now have a new gadget to compulsively check. In search of steps, I’ve marched in place in my kitchen for more minutes than I’d like to admit. This is both tedious and ridiculous. Did the number on my watch, in the middle of a stationary morning of email catch-up, recently result in some light jogging in a Starbucks bathroom? I’d rather not say. And then there are the many, pesky notifications that come from the synchronization with my smart phone. My watch is reminding me to be active, to move, to do—all while driving the reach of technology further into my life.
The balance between technology hijacking and enriching my life are, at times, precarious. The other morning while I ran, I listened to a podcast, Krista Tippett’s On Being, which featured a conversation about beauty between Tippett and the now-deceased Irish poet, philosopher, and theologian John O’Donohue. Their discussion drew my attention back to the inherent loveliness of the landscape I was passing through: the jagged basalt outcroppings and the leafy shade of the path, the movement of my body, the push of fresh air into my lungs. Is there anything better, on a fresh, green morning, than to use your healthy body to stride down a hill?
At the end of the podcast, which was recorded in 2008 shortly before O’Donohue passed away, he read one of his poems, which concludes with the words excerpted here. The title, “Beannacht,” means “Blessing” in Gaelic.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.
I had to rewind twice to listen to the poem because Garmin notifications kept popping up during its brief five stanzas. But I needed to undistractedly hear those words: light, ocean, ancestors, earth—reminders that I’m at once vital and tiny.
The Garmin still encircles my wrist and I’m glad, mostly, to see it there. But I’m trying to let its reminders to get up and move take me somewhere that matters, where the beauty of the world around and within winds around me like an invisible cloak. //
Sarah Hauge lives in Spokane with her husband and two daughters, and will be taking advantage of longer days with plenty of early-morning runs this summer. She wrote about new happenings at Riverfront Park in the June issue.