challenge · fitness

Considering pointless fitness goals

Recently, the Atlantic featured an article on the notion of “pointless goals”– challenges that don’t seem to make sense. Their canonical case is the guy who decided to walk all the way from Los Angeles to New York– wearing a bear suit. Which he did.

Jessy Larios, alias @iambearsun, walking in his bear suit along a US highway somewhere.

Larios said he did it sort of on impulse, although he ended up raising money for charities. It was quite hot inside the suit. But he said he met a lot of very nice people.

People do variations on this theme all the time. While riding the NYC Century (I did the 75-mile route), there were folks riding it on single speed bikes, folding bikes and even unicycles. One guy did the New York City triathlon on a BMX bike. And for the annual Halloween bike ride in Boston, there’s always that person riding the route in wheelie position.

This got me thinking: maybe Larios is on to something here. We are definitely in a challenge-oriented epoch. Many challenges confer a semblance of purpose: write a novel in a month, or try one new recipe or yoga pose or language lesson or book chapter every day for a month.

There are also the infamous 30-day fitness challenges. They seem to be focused on some (possibly bogus or even downright unhealthy) so-called wellness or fitness goal. We’ve all seen the plank, squat, abs, strength and other challenges. They tend to come in graphic box form with teeny-weeny print.

In a way, lots of goals we set are pointless. After all, what does it matter if we visit every state or province, or climb all the 4000-foot peaks in New Hampshire (a popular one where I live)? Or (as my niece seems on her way to doing), collecting all of the Squishmallow stuffed animals? Warning: clicking on the link may make you want to buy one. They’re totally adorable.

And yet. It feels kind of cool and fun to set and complete a pointless goal. I once (accidentally, it wasn’t a planned goal) rode a rental bike on the beach at the Atlantic Ocean and also the Pacific Ocean (different bikes, obvs) in the same week. Yeah!

Now that I’m on sabbatical and have more time to be out and about and also travel some, I’m shopping around for pointless fitness challenges. Here are some I have in mind:

1. Swim (or at least immerse myself) in all of the Great Lakes this fall. The hard ones are Superior and Michigan, but I *could* do the drive to Mackinaw, Michigan, and then up to Sault St. Marie. Why? Who knows. It just seems like a fun thing to do.

Uh oh. I just found this site by swimmers who dipped in all five great lakes in 24 hours. See? Once you get started, you have no sense of where to stop, and before you know it, you’re walking in a bear suit outside Iowa City, looking for a gas station restroom.

Maybe there’s a way to do this in a controlled manner. How about this pointless fitness goal., which I actually want to do:

2. Ride all of the Rail Trails in the Rail Trail Hall of Fame. Yes, this seems like a lot of fun. I’ve already ridden five of them. Only 31 to go. Honestly, some of these trails I’ve been salivating over for a while.

I’m in no hurry to complete this pointless goal; it seems too nice a goal to rush. And I want to include as many of my friends on bikes as possible on my quest.

3. Another swimming goal that lots of folks have done, but I haven’t (yet): swim in open water (fresh or salty) outside in nature every month starting, well, now (August). During the pandemic, loads of folks started wild swimming. Yes, some of our bloggers have been swimming wild and swimming cold for a long time. But it’s okay to come late to the party, right? The reason is simple: use this pointless act as a way to get me out in nature, really immersed in it (no pun intended).

By the way, I’m going to count January ocean swimming in South Carolina or Florida as having fulfilled that month’s immersion quota. Consider yourself notified.

Readers: I’m in need of inspirational suggestions. What sorts of pointless fitness goals are you actively involved in, or tried and completed, or want to do, or rejected after one day? I’d love to hear from you.

7 thoughts on “Considering pointless fitness goals

  1. This may sound like sacrilege, but I think most goals are pointless. They serve to take our attention away from what we are actually doing and placing it on some abstract notion of “improvement”. I am currently engaged in a long bike ride. I am amazed at the time people spend analyzing their power output and various parameters of their day’s ride. When they ask me about my measures and goals I tell them I don’t have a device to measure BFUs (big fun units). Stopping to smell the roses might slow you down. I told one rider that the Atlantic Ocean will still be there even if he stops to take a picture.

    1. I kind of agree with you about the pointlessness of most goals. It also seems difficult to tease out the distinction between the so-called “improvement” goals and the just fun or what-the-hell ones. I do have some long rides on my to-do list. I’m doing some of the Natchez Trace Parkway (it goes from near Nashville TN to Natchez MS) while I’m in TN this fall on a writing residency.

      Maybe you can’t measure BFUs, but you certainly can detect them. Maybe that’s all we need. And I hope you and your riding pals stop to take a lot of pictures!

  2. My neighbor has skied at least a few turns every month for 142 months in a row now. Hard to give up that streak but he seems to have his process it all worked out by now.

    1. Hi Saraj– is your neighbor snow skiing? Water skiing? Does he travel far in order to reach snow or water? This seems like a serious business. Cool that he’s got his process, which clearly he’s attached to. Thanks for posting!

  3. I need more of a definition of “pointless”–from whose perspective. Yes, we “should” probably hang on to almost all of our ambitions and goals lightly. Yet, if a particular goal motivates us in a healthy wellbeing-y way, why is that pointless? It’s living. And that’s what we’re here to do. What fulfills us? How do we contribute? And how do we do least harm?

    1. Great point, Mina! “Pointless” does imply that the goal itself has no meaning, which is a harsh judgment, But of course the activities we engage in have a of meaning for us. In the Atlantic article, the author talked about activities we find meaning in, which really resonates with me. For instance, I really want to experience the different forms of natural beauty found in the rail trails all over the country. That enriches my life. Maybe that’s the point– some goals enlist us in practices that are enriching, even if the end point doesn’t necessarily result in anything in particular,. You’ve given me some food for thought…

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