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.