When I was growing up, there was an annual event in my area called "the 50/20." (Some brief googling reveals that this event still occurs. I also discovered a Facebook page dedicated to the 2014 iteration of the event, although if it were still as popular as it once was, I'd be able to find more information about it.) The goal of "the 50/20" was to cover 50 miles on foot (running, walking, or both) within 20 hours. I first heard about it when I was in elementary school. Some of my friends had done it. In fact, lots of grade school children and their parents and grandparents completed the 50/20 back then. I remember seeing people walking and running down US Highway 89, AKA "State Street" in Utah, in the mid-afternoon as they made their way from the state capitol in Salt Lake City to whatever their final destination happened to be, somewhere in Provo.
Smart phones and activity trackers didn't exist back then, and even pedometers were uncommon. We measured distances using odometers and "engineer's wheels," wheels that drove odometers and were attached to a handle. We'd walk or run the distance we were curious about, while holding the engineer's wheel, and by the time we were done, the odometer would display the distance traveled. Had smart phones and activity trackers existed back then, however, think how many people would have achieved 100,000-step days. At least hundreds of them, per year, and that was just one area local to me. Surely other "50/20" events, or similar undertakings, existed elsewhere across the country and around the world.
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I was thinking about "the 50/20" because I recently came across an autobiographical article/blog post written by a 65-year-old man who recently trained for and accomplished a "100,000-step day." That is precisely what it sounds like: he registered 100,000 steps on his fitness tracker within a single 24-hour time period, walking the equivalent of just over 40 miles in 19.5 hours. This old guy pretty much staged his own, private 50/20, all by himself, and then wrote an article about how you, too, reader at home, can accomplish the same thing.
My first thought was, "Yeah, you can. You can just enter the 50/20 and be done with it." That was when I realized that "just enter the 50/20" means something to me that doesn't translate to you, nor would it translate to the old guy who trained for and achieved a 100,000-step day. That made me wonder: Why doesn't it translate?
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"The 50/20" is a phrase that roughly maps to the following concept in my brain: It is a relatively hard thing that grade-schoolers do with their parents, once a year. Reading the old man's article makes clear, however, that "walking a 100,000-step day," which theoretically should map closely to "the 50/20" on a conceptual basis, instead maps to something more like "the greatest physical accomplishment of my lifetime."
Let me try to rephrase that in a clearer way.
A = "walking 50 miles in 20 hours"
B = "an activity suitable for very young children and very old men to complete annually with minimal training"
C = "walking 100,000 steps in a day"
D = "walking 41 miles in 19 hours"
We know from the old guy's article that C = D. We know by definition that A ~ D, and thus A ~ C also (since C = D).
What we cannot conclude without risk of insult to the poor, old man is that C = D = B. In other words, it's impolite to suggest that what the old man accomplished is the completion of an activity suitable for very young children and very old men to complete annually with minimal training.
One of the reasons we aren't supposed to say that is that the old guy took all that time to glorify his accomplishment with an explanatory blog post.
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Certainly, what the man achieved is some sort of accomplishment. I, myself have only topped 20,000 steps a handful of times since I started wearing fitness trackers. That, too despite working out multiple times per day and being an avid runner. Despite the achievement of it, though, it struck me as being a rather odd thing, emblematic of a strange social shift away from the spirit of competition. It made me wonder some more about why my mental concept of "the 50/20" (which is Statement B, above) doesn't translate onto other people's mental concept of "getting 100,000 steps in a day."
The article itself gives us some insight, though.
It isn't until the second half of the blog post that he describes how he actually did it, which involved getting up at midnight and walking on a treadmill while binge-watching on Netflix series. (Those of us with some exposure to the ultra-marathon world, where it is not uncommon for people to walk every uphill section and pause to take naps, should not be surprised by his strategy. It still caught me off-guard, though.) My first thought was that the way he did it was cheating. But that sentiment reflects the biases of a bygone era, in which second-graders walk 50 miles in a single day, every year. In the new world, this is how it's done; we walk 100,000 steps in part by watching television.
Watching -- no, binge-watching -- television, taking breaks, slurping down sports gels, and snapping photos. The 100,000-step day is perfectly emblematic of what fitness means in the year 2019 (or, rather, December 2018, when he actually performed this feat).
That's the second half of the article. The first half is even more revealing. In it, he presents the "seven essential ingredients in the recipe of [his] life." Presumably, we are interested in these ingredients because he managed to achieve a 100,000-step day. In other words, walking 40 miles in a single day is a feat noteworthy enough that many people who read the internet might be inspired to pattern their whole lives after this guy.
Imagine if I said, "I read 2,000 pages last month. Here's how I did it -- but first, let's examine my personal philosophy to set the stage for the greater insight I am about to provide for you…"
You might think, in response to such a statement, "Dude… you just persisted in reading, that's all. There's no great wisdom about it, you just started reading, and then kept doing it." If so, you have an approximate idea of my reaction to this man's article.
Of course, as the article proceeds, the hidden motive is revealed. All this autobiography and personal philosophy, and even the story of walking 100,000 steps in a single day, is in service of David Paul Kirkpatrick's real objective: To sell you on his public speaking business on "intentional dreaming."
That's a big difference between a public speaker who did a thing with his Fitbit that he can now use to advertise his public speaking gig, and a bunch of grade-schoolers in rural Utah who did a thing because it seemed badass. Kids don't generally need to dress their accomplishments in the language of new age hocus pocus. They just need to be adequately convinced that something is badass.
Or, at least, that's how it used to be, back when my friends and I did stuff like "the 50/20."
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Still, I can't help but think that there's a causality here.
In today's world, people are motivated by the prospect of monetizing their blog or Instagram account to track minor personal accomplishments at home, while binge-watching TV programs and waxing new age gibberish. In the 80s and 90s, people were motivated by the prospect of doing something badass to perform minor personal accomplishments with their friends, and watch TV later while laughing at each other if they sounded too circumspect about what they'd just done.
There is a performative aspect in both cases, of course, but it does not seem accidental to me that new age nonsense, and social media, and monetization all go together on the one hand; while being badass, and hanging out with friends, and trying to make it seem like no big deal all go together on the other hand.
Would it be too controversial to suggest that only one of these attitudes is psychologically healthy?
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