The Pros And Cons Of The Nike Running App

It’s 7.45 AM. My alarm goes off; soft chimes. I feel serene, like I slept OK for once. The pale blue I can see through the frosted glass of my window tells me it's not too sinister a day. I look at my phone and I’ve got three messages – they’re all on the group I share with my best friends. The first is a screengrab of the Nike Running App leader board, where my friend Maya sits at the top. The second message – also from Maya – says, “It’s lonely up here *smug face emoji*. The next, from my friend Sam, reads: “What! How did you run that far already!” I reply with a curt “Fuck you.”
It’s 7.45 AM, and everybody is already pissed off with each other. Nike Running App has turned me into a monster. I haven’t been this competitive since school, where I was captain of a couple of sports teams, including the hockey team, and played football on weekends. I imagine everyone on these teams loathed me because I was that girl, the one who took it all so seriously. But, aside from winning, I genuinely enjoyed field sports for the cold air, the feel of the mud when you hit the ground, and probably the opportunity to vent some teen angst I couldn’t get out elsewhere. However, like most people, when I went to college, I started smoking, drinking more than I did in school, and began to find socialising to be my preferred sport. Going out on a Saturday night seemed far superior to getting cold and wet on a Sunday morning. I did no exercise, and continued to do none for about six years, achieving an embarrassingly bad level of fitness which peaked at the age of 22, when escalators would exhaust me. Then, last year, I suddenly got into running again. I had been experiencing mental health problems, and running became the easiest way to assuage my anxiety in the short term. I found it gave me time alone when I needed it; a mindless, solitary activity, and one that tired out my body sufficiently to improve my sleep. I would run for about 40 minutes to an hour around dark streets, at the park, or to and from the gym. I downloaded the Nike Running App – a tracker that keeps tabs on how far you’ve run, how often you run, and how quickly. It’s a really good way to track your routes and improvements on your times (per kilometre or mile). It even tells you when you hit each kilometre, dubbing your music with encouraging quotes from athletes as you break records, which is – surprisingly – a lot less annoying than it sounds.
The trouble started when I added my friends on the app. Nike connects your profiles, and allows you to compare your speeds and distances. There’s the aforementioned “leaderboard”, which shuffles around as people overtake one another in distance run per week or month. I have about six friends signed up to mine. Maya is usually in first place, me in a paltry third, Sam further down. The advantage of this app is obvious: If you are as competitive as I am, it will motivate you to exercise. When that little voice in my head starts telling me that I’m getting tired, and that it’s time to turn around and go home, the Nike leaderboard tells me I’ve got another 4k in me. ‘If Sam and Maya can do it, you can’, I tell myself. The disadvantage of the app is the number of grouchy, smug and outright rude messages we’ve started sending one another. And it’s become personal too: “Of course you have time to run 15K – you don’t even have a job!” has been bandied around a couple of times. So has “running in the gym doesn’t count!” Then there’s the palpable sense of pain through the screen when someone messages: “Guys, I’m serious, I just ran 6k and didn’t turn the app on”... "Yeah sure,” we’ll all reply.
Overall, though, I have found it useful. For some people, gauging their own improvements might be enough to keep their stamina up, but I have no problem admitting that, for me, having other people see what I'm doing forces me to get on with it. It’s the same as having a computer screen that faces the open office at work, or having your accountant nag you about your tax return. I mean, I ran 35k one week, just because I didn’t want to finish last on the leaderboard for the third week running. Between two jobs, and going out that weekend, I’m not even sure how I found the time to do it, but it made me feel like I'd really accomplished something, and pushed my body further than I thought I could. Sometimes I do worry that it might be counterintuitive to add an element of competition to a form of exercise that has been so helpful in relaxing me, but then I remember that having the app has only helped me get fitter, meaning I can run longer distances and am ultimately – in the long term – better at the thing that most alleviates my stress.

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