Living by the Numbers
Credit: Illustration by Eddie Guy
Infatuation has a way of wearing off. And once I start focusing on Fitty's flaws, it's a bit of a crush killer. At first, I loved how small and unobtrusive Fitbit was. Then I spend an afternoon looking for it under my desk (it had stuck to the lining of my coat), and when it slips off my belt one afternoon, I have to buy another. More important, it doesn't do well counting calories burned for some activities, such as biking, because I'm wearing it clipped to my waist and it reads me as stationary. I realize this the day I come in from a 40-mile bike ride to find Fitty has a message waiting for me: you have climbed: burj khalifa. That's the world's tallest tower, in Dubai. Awesome! Fitty has logged the hills I've biked up as 276 floors. But it has also calculated the distance at a mere 12.61 miles. The pain of the disappointment hurts more than the ache in my quads.

It's the same problem for spinning, though a fellow spin geek recommends a simple hack: Clip the Fitbit to the bottom of my shorts so it logs more movement. Only before I get a chance to try this, I drown my Fitbit in sweat during a hard spin class and it dies. (Yeah, I sweat a lot.) Following the Fitbit FAQ on rebooting your device after you run it through the laundry (a more common issue, apparently, than drenching it in perspiration), I leave it overnight in a bowl of uncooked rice. It flickers back to life but never works again. Big up to Fitbit customer service, which sends me a new one when I email them about this problem, but clearly I need an upgrade.

I get a Scosche MyTrek heart monitor, a watchlike device built for rigorous exercise, worn just below the elbow, which feeds data to your phone. Set it to your desired heart rate, and a voice prompt will come through your headphones and tell you when to step it up or slow it down.

In theory, this will produce numbers nirvana: a perfect workout with an accurate calorie count, but intuitive, it's not. Eight times in, I finally have MyTrek figured out – and a new level of hell opens up: The affectless female voice telling me to "go faster" can't be appeased for long, since I'm constantly slipping into or out of the fitness zone, the way an ordinary human running on a crowded city sidewalk will. One morning I pass through a cloud of plaster dust raised by construction workers gutting an apartment building only to find myself stuck behind a dude Occupying the Sidewalk to enjoy his 8:30 am joint. For an excruciating few minutes, I'm coughing, plodding along, and hearing a woman who just doesn't get me bark the same instructions: "Go faster."

Then I get home and find the pulse monitor hasn't worked for most of the run. It was a solid run, but without the numbers it doesn't seem to count, or even to have happened. You want to finish a workout with elevated spirits and an elevated heart rate, but the frustration is pretty overwhelming and surprisingly lasting.

This is the dark side of fitness tech: Draw your encouragement and validation from a device and you'll lose sight of the experience itself. Sometimes I feel like I'm trying to drive by watching the speedometer instead of the road.

In frustration, I recalibrate. Instead of just chasing numbers, I start chasing the buzz that comes with my increasing activity and my decreasing BMI. And the funny thing is, it works. Using my tech off and on, I meet my goal of 185, and then my weight drops below 180, and then below 175. My body fat continues to drop. Not much, but enough that I have muscle definition I'd never seen before. An actress friend visiting from L.A. pronounces me "chiseled and shit" and asks what I'm doing. I attend my 30th high school reunion weighing about four pounds more than I did in high school.

It's like the numbers are inside mie now. I've learned what they have to tell me and internalized them. It isn't about whether I'm thinking about them or tracking them. I'm living them.

And as they, and I, continue to shrink (I've lost three inches from my waistline and dropped a suit size), I can feel myself growing. Things that used to seem impossible are simple to me now – my goal had been four days a week of exercise. I'm fitting in five. And then six. One morning the weather is so good that, not wanting to miss out on a perfect day, I take the subway uptown at 7 o'clock, before work, and walk over to Carl Schurz Park, one of my favorite spots in Manhattan, an elevated patch of green way above the East River. I sit for a while watching the river flow, then run downtown all the way home, about 7.5 miles, and tweet the results (58:12 minutes, avg. pulse of 152, burned 724 calories) because I'm so happy the MyTrek pulse monitor worked.

I have no idea when I became this guy.