shutterstock_247848172The Boston Marathon is less than a month away. If you are training for the 26+ miles of winding, hilly roads through and around Boston, the odds are good that you are using some kind of wearable fitness device to track your run. You may find yourself constantly trying to top the stats of your last run, pushing harder and racing against previous times, perhaps even risking injury. How did we end up training against our fitness devices instead of training with them?

There’s no doubt that fitness data is a growing trend. Whether you are a runner or a couch potato, the fascination with such data has become an obsession. There are devices that tell us how far or fast we run, how much sleep we get, how many steps we take, and how many calories we consume and burn each day.

According to a recent article in CNN Money, shipments of fitness-focused wearable devices are estimated to top 68 million this year, and the industry is branching out from wristbands and watches into shoes and clothing. One company has developed shoes and insoles that vibrate to help the wearer stay on a particular route or increase performance.  A buzz from the shoes tells you to run faster!  Another company has a running jacket that collects performance data.  Yet another company makes tracking devices that measure and compare team performance. The data measures how each member stacked up and can tell who is risking injury through over-exertion.

This begs the question: are fitness devices a good thing?

The answer could be yes. Fitness tracking devices can provide even the most sedentary of us with a solid starting point and can serve to motivate us to get moving and get on the path to healthy, active living. If you need that extra little push to get off the couch, one of these devices might be useful. For the active person among us, having accurate data can help to address weaknesses, which can lead to increase health and overall athleticism.

And, the answer could be no. Many among us are getting preoccupied by the data the fitness devices provide. We can be obsessed with the numbers and lose focus on the real goal, which is health and fitness. We mine the data in a way that is not necessarily useful. We, for certain, have heard of users manufacturing data by marching in place or peddling the air to “beat the tracker.” And for those truly obsessed individuals who wear multiple devices, we may find that the devices provide disparate data. We don’t know which numbers are accurate, so it’s easy to manipulate the system by choosing the most favorable data.

In the end, if we find ourselves succumbing to the “paralysis by analysis” syndrome, we have to ask ourselves whether we have gone too far. Sometimes information can be TMI (too much information) and can distract us from the ultimate purpose. In short, be careful that we are using your fitness tracking device for the right motivational reasons, and that data fixation doesn’t lead us off course.

Good luck Boston Marathon runners. See you at the finish line!