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is there a point to goals?

So I was at the gym yesterday PUMPING IRON... okay so not really. Really I was lifting 20lb weights over and over again to make my biceps look like they can lift heavy things, which in reality they can't, as Dan knows from my lame-ass attempts the other day to help him move two big pieces of plywood to the stage he was building (Dan: "Can you hold this up while I get the ladder?" Me: "Nooooo!"). And when I wasn't lifting those vanity bells I was doing crunches on the decline bench with a 10lb weight, also a non-transferable skill unless the skill I'm trying to build is professional loathing of my mid-section. So I wasn't really "pumping iron" which sounds hard and productive, it was more like I was airing out my personal vanity while treating it to a spray tan.

Anyway, while I was so engaged I eavesdropped on a personal trainer describing her regimin for an upcoming fitness competition. The best way to display well-developed muscles is to cut all the fat around them, so now that it's getting close to competition time she has to work out harder without eating hardly anything.

"People ask me why I haven't made pro yet," she said, "and I just say it's really hard. You have to be PERFECT. Like, you can tell I work out, but the judges are looking for a certain size of shoulder cap."

OMG, I thought, there's a perfect size of shoulder cap? Why has nobody told me this before? Here are people who've transformed judging the female body into an exact science, and I've been doing it amateur all my life? Where can I download a copy of the spreadsheet?

The trainer stopped to say hi to me as she crossed to the other side of the gym. "How are the babies?" she asked, "I see you running out on Hartwell Road."

"Yeah, I'm out there a lot," I said, and then added guiltily, "When I'm not here lifting weights."

"Your legs look great!" she called as she walked away.

Wow. My legs, huh? Coming from someone who scrutinizes bodies for a living, that feels like a loaded statement. Of course my legs look fine if I'm running 20 miles a week. Aesthetically speaking I'm more concerned about everything ABOVE them.

What is the point of making fitness goals? Are they anything more than vanity? Sometimes I find myself thinking odd things as I look at myself in the mirror doing crunches. "The God of thinness will never be pacified," I tell myself during lower body lifts (which, admittedly, I hate.) The other day I was doing a particularly hard-core twisting exercise with a medicine ball, and just as I was thinking how badass I looked the thought crossed my mind, "You won't be able to do this forever. This body will eventually decay and die."

Which, while true, is not really a motivating mid-workout sentiment.

Running, unlike weight training, is rewarding to me in itself. But I also have running goals, or rather I think about having goals. I say: Maybe this fall I can run 20 miles in one shot. Maybe next spring I can do a marathon.

The problem with those goals is what do you do once you meet them? Will running 20 miles really make me feel so much better than running 15? Will the finish line of a marathon feel like an accomplishment? Or will it be just another place I nurse a baby?

There are distances beyond a marathon, if we get into this game of making up goals. 50K and then 50 miles. Will running THEM change me into a person I magically like better? The day after I conquer a new distance, will I be fundamentally changed? Probably not. Probably I will wake up and still need to decide between a shake and an egg for breakfast, and whether I'm "doing sugar" today, and the choices will be terrifying.

What does the body building trainer do when she finally earns her professional status? Does she take a day off? Eat some food that isn't chicken breast? No, she'll need to compete with all the other professional body builders to win endorsement deals for green-tea supplements. She never gets to an ending point, a place where she can say: There. Now I can rest.

The ending point for all of us, though it's lame to admit it, is age. Or injury. Or terminal disgust at our own failure.

I wonder if something different is possible, if I could make enthusiastic fitness goals with an air of detached humility. It's not so much a cultural trope, non-attachment, not in the spirit of the Nike swooshes I wear on my singlets. It's doesn't sound right to say, "I'm planning an ultramarathon next summer, God willing and the crick don't rise." But it sounds a teensy bit less vain.


My dad ran the Boston Marathon a number of years back, wearing this t-shirt, "Eat right, exercise, die anyway".

Also- this is so true! "The God of thinness will never be pacified"

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