April 25 dawned chilly but clear in Big Sur, California. With the crack of a gun, I and a few thousand other folks started running north on Highway 1 for the 26.2 miles to Carmel. The vast majority of these people got there before I did. But, after 4 months of training, I did get there.
I can’t say I had any great thoughts during the race. Mostly, I was just trying to enjoy the scenery along the Pacific coast, and willing the miles to go by just a wee bit faster than the hills and occasional headwinds allowed (my time was a full minute per mile slower than I had trained. Ugh).
That said, spending at least 7 of my 168 hours training for the last few months has helped solidify a few ideas in my mind on how to use the hours I have to create a meaningful life. The Publishers Weekly reviewer of 168 Hours raised his or her eyebrows at my sentence that “there’s little point…in spending much time on activities in which you can’t excel,” but I particularly liked the first part of that statement: “There’s little point…in being too scattered to master something.” Maybe “master” is the wrong word. My slow miles hardly indicate mastery. I do believe, though, that great satisfaction is achieved by choosing a small number of roles or activities that mean the most to you, and then (this is key) going all-in with an eye on getting better.
Since starting the 168 Hours project, I have focused primarily on four spheres that mean a lot to me. I have my family. I am a writer. I am a musician (and for a few more weeks the president of the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus). I am a runner. I am trying to invest as many hours as I can in those things. And as a result, some wonderful things are happening. My family is growing and I am enjoying my time with my little ones more. My writing is getting better. I stayed up late reading the fresh-off-the-presses hard cover copy of 168 Hours last night and I can honestly say it is a book I am happy with as a work of craft. In December, my choir packed a record 650 20- and 30-something audience members into a church to hear us sing classical music. Young people clamoring to hear classical music! How many arts groups can say that?
Running was obviously the next arena for going all-in. And in running these days, that seems to mean doing a marathon. Big Sur, according to Runner’s World, is the one to run if you’re only going to do one. The training has been good for me. I got my head around the idea of distance. I used to think running 5 miles was a long run. Now it seems like nothing. I pushed my way through cross-country style workouts (8x800s anyone?) and as a result, I am stronger. I am (a not unimportant matter for a woman who gave birth 7 months ago) thinner. And running long builds a certain mental toughness not unlike that required in labor. Yes, you feel awful right now, but you can see through to the other side, that you will not feel awful forever.
And I don’t. But I don’t think I’ll be running another marathon any time soon. I can definitely remember that reflection, which I reflected upon again (and again, and again) from, oh, about mile 18 on.