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Athletic Goals in 2021? None—and that’s perfect.

athletic goals

by Pam Harris

I’ve spent the past half-decade--which somehow sounds more impressive than five years!--chasing athletic goals, new distances and new paces. The experience has made me stronger physically and mentally, not least because every barrier I broke had long seemed shatterproof. This year, though, I want to try chasing something new, something radical: nothing.

That’s right. My big, shiny, hairy, scary goal is no goal.

My running journey began in 2009 and progressed in fits and starts. I got serious about running in 2015, when I found a group of #motherrunners who challenged themselves and, by extension, me. In the years since, I went from occasional runner to consistent runner to enthusiastic runner.

If I’m honest, one of the significant underlying factors of chasing goals was fear: Fear that I would stop running. Fear that I would stop moving, stop pushing, lose sight of this person I hoped I had become. Pursuing running goals was exciting and fun, but it wasn’t all sunshines and rainbows underneath.

If 2020 has taught me nothing else, it has taught me that I have actually become that person I hoped I had but was terrified I never would. I LOVE fitness. I love the pursuit of movement and strength, of challenging my body and mind in ways I never thought I could.

A lot of my running and riding in 2020 was an effort to preserve my mental health. My coach continued to send me biweekly plans, and I followed her direction, except on the days when I knew rest would be better. Like many of you, I undertook a variety of distance challenges, which helped push me along. While the cancellation of in-person races had killed my desire to break 4:30 in the marathon, I still found myself reaching toward external motivation factors.

Then two things happened simultaneously at the beginning of December.

First, I had my left big toenail removed for TMI reasons involving a persistent fungus. The toenail bed subsequently became infected, and a few days later I was in enough pain that even walking more than a few minutes at a time seemed like a terrible idea. It was over a week before I could walk for 30 minutes or more, and a good few days later before I could run.

This is where I’m supposed to say that I hated not being able to move and waited anxiously to heal only to find that I had become a slug. But, no. Nope. I enjoyed every second of sitting uselessly on my ass. I finally, truly trusted that when my body had healed I would be back out there getting things done. 

Toward the end of the toenail saga, I walked into the gym (masked, distanced, heavily ventilated), and started doing my thing with my trainer Nick. Midway into the dynamic warmup, I found myself grinning like an idiot. That grin never once left my face as I squatted, lunged, and farmer-carried with varying levels of weights. Even when I had to quit midway through a Turkish getup because my toe was not okay with the movement, I felt downright gleeful. 

I was moving purposefully in the moment, not because I want to shave some time off race paces, or because I want to raise my functional threshold power on the bike, but for the sheer joy of it.

So I find myself entering 2021 with no concrete athletic goals. I want to continue the pursuit of physical and mental challenge for its own sake. To continue running and riding and lifting, but not because I’m going after a time or a distance. I’ve even requested a rowing machine for my upcoming 40th birthday simply for the thrill of digging deep into learning a new craft.

And you, BAMR?

What athletic goals are you staring down in the new year?

7 responses to “Athletic Goals in 2021? None—and that’s perfect.

  1. This is where I am. I was a runner for so long, it was “who” I was. Then I was in a round of run, get injured, rest, run, get injured, etc. I took time off and put on a lot of weight. I kept telling myself running will help me take it off, but it was hard due to the weight, and painful. I began to dread it. Today I started a new plan, yoga and using my pelaton for biking and bootcamps. Running will come back… or it won’t. I’m looking for that sheer enjoyment I used to get out of exercise. 🙂 Thank you for this article-to know it’s ok just to find joy in the movement!!

  2. Such a great perspective! I have no idea where I’m running this year if anywhere other than Hutchinson MN, but I plan on making the best of it. I kind of miss being a traveling runner but I am blessed to run! Thanks Pam! Happy moving!

  3. Like you I have set a goal for 2021 to just run. To increase my distance but with no specific end goal in place, just for the pure pleasure of it.

  4. Love this! After falling on some uneven pavement at the end of November and then pushing myself to hit my mileage goal for the year, I never gave my ankle the time it needed to heal. As I looked forward into 2021, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I will be 40 this year and felt like my goal needed to reflect that big milestone. I just moved to San Diego and after doing some research, found there is a challenge here to climb all five peaks at a local park. Coming from the midwest, the elevation here has already been a challenge so I decided that is my BIG goal for the year. I am giving myself until my birthday in September to complete and am more than ok with doing more walking than running. For the first time in years, I am allowing something other than running be my athletic focus, and I am happy with it!

  5. For 2021, I want to change my mental perspective of working out. It’s not a chore or a consequence. I don’t HAVE to do it for my physical health. I’m not assigned 5 miles because I enjoyed the weekend a little too much. But rather, I GET to workout. I GET to because my body is fit and capable. I GET to because I made time in my day. I GET to because the weather turned beautiful and I can’t let it slip away. I GET to because I have the means. Changing my perspective from GOTTA to GETTA not only makes it more motivational, but also grateful. And I can use more reminders of that in 2021 also.

  6. I love this, Pam. I am loving movement and just added a virtual half to my calendar that would increases my mileage more than I was initially intending. I am taking it as an opportunity to take the miles as they come and just enjoy the ride. Enjoy your 2021 journey!

  7. I began running when I turned 42, and will turn 54 in two weeks. Much like the writer, I kept waiting to stop. I had never stuck with any form of exercise before, so why should it have been any different? But here I am, 12 years later, and I’ve run 19 half marathons, and countless 5Ks and 10Ks. Running led me to other fitness modes, and I have taught Zumba, Tabata, and HIIT classes. I didn’t stop! My goal for 2021 is to keep going. I started swimming last summer, and would like to improve on that. I want to enjoy the miles and not run them out of obligation or guilt. If I feel like walking, I will walk. I want to have a healthy attitude toward weight. I obsess over my weight, and when I gain, I become depressed. My husband has witnessed my meltdowns when we are out shopping and nothing fits. This lovely trait was passed down from my grandmother and mother. I want 2021 to be a year filled with joy and good health.

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