One of the tips I learned while writing 168 Hours is to figure out exactly how long any given activity will take. Then you can look at your schedule and figure out if you have that amount of time available. If you do, and you want to do it, great. If you don’t, you either say no, or rearrange your schedule to create enough open blocks of time to make it happen.
I have currently been taking this approach to something that’s been on my “List of 100 Dreams”: run a marathon. I’ve done 2 half-marathons and a 10-mile race, but never 26.2 miles. Runner’s World recently named the Big Sur marathon as the if-you’re-going-to-do-only-one-marathon race, and after some cheerful teasing with my little brother, we elected to sign up over Christmas, because it was selling out quickly.
However, I still hadn’t made the decision yet if I was really going to do it (I was prepared to forfeit the entry fee; I just didn’t want the decision made for me by failing to sign up before it filled). I decided to take the 168 Hours approach to this decision.
First, I looked for a 16-week training plan that looked doable. I settled on the FIRST program, which advocates 3 purposeful runs (speed-work, tempo run, long run) and 2 days of cross-training each week. I calculated exactly how long that would take. The speed run would take 1 hour, the tempo 1-1.5, and the long run 2.5-4 hours (we started with a 13-miler and do 4 20-mile runs in the course of this training program). So that’s a max of about 6.5 hours of running, plus 2-hours cross-training, for 8 hours. I was already doing roughly 5-6 hours of exercising per week anyway, so this only required an additional commitment of 2-3 hours. That seemed doable.
The key stumbling point, though, was fitting in a 3-4 hour run, as my usual exercise pattern was to do 1 hour most days of the week. I didn’t think it would be fair to take that time out of my weekends, since weekends are really family time for us.
So what I decided to do was consciously take one morning off of work per week. If I planned my work activities in advance and budgeted my time carefully, I was willing to bet that working 3-4 hours less per week for a few months would not end my career. I understood this was a risk, as I’m already taking Friday afternoons semi-off as a calculated exercise in building in more leisure and kid time (I say semi-off because Sam is sleeping so I’m writing this now, on a Friday). With a newborn who stays up late, I’m also not back to having my evening shift. So I’m working more like 35-40 hours rather than the 45-50 I’m comfortable with.
But a marathon is on the life list, and soon Sam will be older and sleeping more and so I decided that I could make it work. And so, for the past 3 weeks, I’ve been following the training plan, and blocking the 3 runs into my schedule. One day per week I get up in the morning and haul myself down the East River, down around the tip of Manhattan, up through Battery Park, and up along the Hudson River, then turning around at a specified point (Halfway = 6.5 mi, then 7.5 mi, then 8.5 miles yesterday) and running back.
With this level of planning, I feel like the marathon goal is possible. One never knows for sure — injuries and illnesses happen. But I’ve been able to fit the training in without feeling too rushed and harried. Indeed, it’s kind of fun to toss out casually at a work meeting “Oh, I ran 17 miles yesterday” and see the looks.