To All the Goal-Setters

I’ve never been into the whole “New Year’s Resolution” thing. In fact, I’ve set only one true New Year’s resolution in my entire life. I remember it very clearly because the one New Year’s resolution that I actually made, I kept. I decided I was going to make deliberate exercise a part of my daily life, whether that meant riding the stationary bike in our unfinished basement, plopping on the floor in front of the family room television and doing an hour of stretches and calisthenics (to a VHS tape, no less), or sweating it out on this strange apparatus which I can best describe as a cross between a rowing machine and a mechanical bull. For the life of me, I can’t remember what it was called, but I believe it was the thing Chuck Norris sold before he started doing the Total Gym infomercials with Christie Brinkley, if that tells you anything.

Fun Fact: Did you know Christie Brinkley (and, to a lesser degree, Elle Macpherson) was the inspiration for Billy Joel’s song, “Uptown Girl?” One time, just for kicks, I spent an entire week telling random acquaintances that Billy Joel wrote the song for his mother-in-law. I’m pretty sure the song was never the same for at least seventeen people.

At any rate, the moment I decided I was going to start working out on purpose, I pulled on a pair of blue Umbros, marched downstairs, turned on the Rose Bowl (USC versus Northwestern, in case you were wondering), hopped on the stationary bike, and began pedaling like all get-out. The year was 1996. I was twelve.

I know. What twelve-year-old makes a New Year’s resolution, much less a New Year’s resolution to start exercising? It wasn’t like I was sedentary. I played all kinds of sports. But I’ve always been rather intense (my mom’s euphemism), and for some reason I was convinced I needed to start “working out” proper. And once I make up my mind to do something, I throw myself into the pursuit with obstinate single-mindedness; whether I am the Wellington or the Custer of my own objectives depends on the outcome. But on this day way back in 1996, fate fell in favor of the Duke.

Six months into my resolution, just to mix things up, I tried going on a run with my dad. I barely made it two miles. But after a week of persistence, I could muster three. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history—especially if you keep in mind the whole Wellington-Custer analogy.

To this day, I believe it was my inner runner that prompted me to make a one-and-done resolution, even though the furthest thought from my mind was becoming a runner. Why?

Runners are the ultimate goal-setters. Runners set goals even when they don’t mean to. They can’t help it. It’s what they do. And setting a goal is the number one symptom of an impending runner flare-up.

Now, lest you think by “goal-setter” I mean you have to be some over-achieving prodigy, let me disillusion you. Here is my current list of goals for 2014:

  • Get the exterior and interior of my car cleaned.
  • Wear a turtleneck.
  • Listen to more Freddie Mercury. 
  • Stick googly eyes on other people’s stuff, randomly and without their knowledge.
  • Use the word “ghastly” with more frequency.
  • Blame Tom Brady for all the evil in the world.
  • Be cleverer.
  • PR a half marathon.

Now, I know what you’re all thinking, and to answer your question: Yes, I will say “ghastly” with a British accent.

Every day goals are knocked off my list, sometimes with great fanfare (“E’rybody in a turtleneck say, ‘Heeey!’”) and sometimes with an unceremonious strikethrough. Heck, 2010 was especially rough. Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton the same week that Oprah aired her final giveaway show, which meant that in one fell swoop, I had to scratch “Become queen of England” and “Be one of Oprah’s Favorite Things” off my list as unaccomplished.

Yeah. Tell me about it.

But instead of becoming disheartened, I simply filled the spaces vacated by Oprah and the British monarchy with a new set of goals: Learn Hebrew, find a perfect pair of jeans, and write lyrics to the theme song to Bonanza.

Dream big, kids.

Michelangelo (the High Renaissance artist, not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle) once said, “I hope that I may always desire more than I can accomplish.” Remember, this is coming from the guy who sculpted David and frescoed the Sistine Chapel.

Kinda makes you wonder what his “A” goal was, doesn’t it?

Goals are fun. Yes, they demand hard work and dedication. Yes, you must persevere through obstacles and inconvenience and the occasional lack of motivation. But the truth of the matter is that goals make life exciting. Goals infuse the ordinary with a sense of competition and gamesmanship. For me, that’s the difference between goals and resolutions: attitude. Resolutions are made. Goals are achieved. Resolutions are big, annual events. Goals are daily. Resolutions focus on the burden of the task at hand. Goals focus on the joy of completion. Resolutions are a retreat from an unattractive alternative. Goals are the pursuit of a new and exciting adventure. Just look at the world of sports. You don’t score a “resolution.” You don’t kick a “field resolution.” You don’t keep track of “resolutions and assists.”

It’s all about the goals.

Runners, more than any other group of people I’ve met, are gluttons for goals. No sooner do they finish one race than they start thinking about their next one. They set PRs only to break them. They finish a week of training and already have the next mapped out mile for mile. Bette Davis (you know, the one with the eyes) put it rather poetically: “The golden apple devoured has seeds.” In other words, goals give rise to goals give rise to goals give rise to goals. Some may say we’re doomed.

I like to think we’re infinitely lucky.

If you don’t consider yourself a “runner” but have a habit of setting goals for yourself, watch out. It’s coming. You may try to avoid it, but you won’t be able to. You may deny it, but there is no use. It will creep up behind you. It will forge a sneak attack. It will disguise itself with insouciance and deny its true identity with cavalier disclaimers, like “I’m just doing it for a friend.” But don’t be fooled. When you least expect it, you’ll be bushwhacked by something as innocent as the Disney Princess Half Marathon.

The runner inside you is wily like that.

The Resolution of 1996 wasn’t a resolution at all. It wasn’t some grand aberration in my childhood. It was simply a goal, one of the many goals I was constantly making for myself—in sports, in school, and in the front yard (we had some massive trees that were just begging to be climbed, as evidenced by their complete lack of branches). Yes, I’ve always been a goal-setter, and I’m convinced I’ve always been a runner.

I just didn’t always know it.

Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious RunnerHer second book, Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Storywill be released in 2014.

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