Saturday, January 31, 2009

Surf City, Here we Come

Tomorrow I run the Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach, California, and I have to confess, I’m pretty excited about it. You’d think after running ultras, that a little marathon wouldn’t be much to get excited about, but I guess it just doesn’t work that way.

It’s not that I’m in great shape, or think I’m going to run a fast time. In fact, neither of those things is true. I think the excitement in the air is mostly due to the fact that this is my first race in….six months. Yeah, it’s been a long time.

I won’t go down the road of philosophical musings about exactly how this big gap in racing happened; it just did. It does, however, bring to mind something of which I am already aware: I love to race. Even when I’m not moving that fast, or near the front runners, there is just something so exciting about that racing atmosphere. I always find it hard to go into a race when I’m just trying to take it easy. It’s impossible not to get excited, and end up pushing things al least a little bit.

So, for a race time tomorrow, I really don’t know what to expect. I feel confident about going under four hours, but beyond that, I’m just not sure. I’d like to run 3:40: far from a PR, but still very respectable. Given my very-low-mileage training plan though, I’m not sure if it’s at all realistic, but I guess there’s only one way to find out.

And I have no doubt it will be a great day, running aside. I arrived in Orange County on Thursday, and the only sign that it’s January around here are the plethora of flowering trees in everyone’s yards. It’s beautiful!

I spent Friday with my parents and sister, chasing my two nephews around Disneyland. Today we went down to Surf City proper (that’s Huntington Beach to you folks) to pick up our race numbers at the expo. Playing out on the beach afterwards, I thought I should have brought my bathing suit. The sky was so clear, and the weather so warm. It was like summer, but without all the hordes of people. So peaceful.

For those who have asked about the book…well, I’m still plugging away. And I will be for quite some time at the rate I’m going. I have definitely not written a page a day. I managed to modify that goal to be: “write something each day.” Much more manageable. Still, I occasionally have productive days, and I’m having fun with it. Hmm…sounds a lot like my winter running regimen.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Big, Fun and Scary Adventures in 2009

It’s odd how I tend to take a hiatus from my blog in the winter. The cold sets in, and I retreat to hibernation and start baking things. I can only take comfort in the hope that this break is over, and the knowledge that it was shorter than those in years past. Sometimes I feel that if I’m not running, then I don’t have anything to say that’s appropriate to this blog. In reality that’s not true, and besides, I am running. Still, it’s winter, and I’ve been…distracted. Okay, maybe lazy is the more appropriate adjective, but whatever. I’m here now, and I can only be grateful that you, my friend, are still here as well.

Some notes on the running front: I have managed to do some training in spite of the snow, ice, and, oh yeah, laziness. My mileage has consistently fallen short of weekly goals. (Let’s hear it for consistency!) Quality has been good though, and I am enjoying myself. That’s about all I ask of my running in the winter. Mix in some incredible backcountry skiing, and I’m calling it a good season so far.

This generally seems to be a time of year for reflection and goal setting. Well, I don’t plan to shake up the paradigm too much here. I’ll save reflection for next week, since this post is all about goal setting.

I have to start my goal-setting pontification with a little background. Several years ago, my friend Charlie called me with a proposition that we should embark upon this project called NaNoWriMo, whereupon we would write an entire novel in 30 days.

Sound scary? What about big, or fun? Okay, if it sounds nuts, you may fall into the majority, but I thought it was brilliant.

NaNoWriMo, the better-known name for the National Novel Writer’s Month, dares participants to complete a novel of at least 50,000 words in 30 days. The main premise is that we, as writers, want to write a book, but we lack sufficient motivation to actually finish this seemingly enormous task. Apparently many writers are like me: procrastinators. I loved the idea of NaNoWriMo because it operates on the principle that we just need motivation, in the form of a deadline, to get out that first draft. We can beautify it later, we just need to keep going for now. Don’t worry about being brilliant, just keep writing. Don’t stop! Constant forward motion! Sound familiar?

In my first attempt at NaNoWriMo, I wrote about 18,000 words before I gave up. It was a valiant attempt, and although the book is complete tripe, it was a great experience and it's still the single longest piece of writing I've done since college. (Wrimo'ers believe in art for art's sake. Yay!)

In my second attempt, this past November, I basically gave up before I even started. I knew I wouldn’t finish in 30 days, but I wanted to participate anyway. I wanted that motivation that comes from being part of a large group of people all working towards the same goal. The NaNoWriMo website has some great support features, and I got encouraging emails all month long from famous authors. Pretty cool, actually.

So this brings me to my point, and the explanation for the title of this post. The creators of NaNoWriMo also sponsor a challange called Big, Fun, and Scary Adventures. If you choose to participate, you can take whatever goal you have for the year, share it, and basically let others track your progress. You choose what you want to do—hike the Pacific Crest Trail, build a house, run your first 100 miler, start a business, go back to school, propose marriage, whatever! Let me just emphasize that it should be Big, Fun and Scary to you! So I don’t want to hear anything like “get organized” or “lose 10 pounds.” Those are resolutions, and those are fine. But for this project, I want you to dream BIG!

I’m not overly fond of the discussion forum for this project, found here, but you can take a look and choose to post your goal if you’d like. What I’m really asking you to do is to share your goal with us here on my blog! Please post a comment, and if you’d like, you can write your own blog post about what you plan to do with your year. Post it on your website, update your Facebook status, and plaster it to the front door for all your neighbors to see. If you share it with the world, you’re so much more likely to actually do it! We will be here along the way to check in with you and offer as much (or as little) support, advice, help and distraction as you may need. So tell me, what is that thing you’ve been dreaming of, the one that is a little bit scary, that you keep putting off because it’s just not the right time?

As you may have guessed, I already have my big adventure planned. I’m going to finish the book I started this November. I have a paltry 2600 words at the moment, but I am also armed with a stack of character sketches and plot outlines and the like, and that has to count for something, right? Anyway, I figure writing a book is much like running an ultra. You don’t want to spend too much time thinking about exactly how far you have to go or you’ll scare yourself out of doing it. You want to break it into smaller, more manageable goals.

Therefore, my goal for now through the end of March is to write at least one page per day, every day. I followed this plan for approximately one week in November. While it’s not actually as easy as it sounds, it is still certainly manageable. (Again, let’s hear it for consistency!) After that, I will set the next goal that seems necessary to getting through a first draft. I’m hoping to have a first draft done by May.

Well, I’ve declared myself. (It’s a little scary, yup.)

I'd like to leave you with a quote from one of the final emails sent to writers by Chris Baty of NaNoWriMo. I think he says it very well. And then, I ask you to declare your dreams.

Each of us has a wealth of talents spread broadly over domains both marketable and deliciously impractical. The tricky part is that we tend to develop the former at the expense of the latter. Passions become hobbies. Hobbies become something we swear we'll get back to when we have more time. Or when the kids are grown. Or when the stock market recovers.

Which means we leave unexplored many of those paths that ultimately make us feel most alivethe moments of creating, building, playing, and doing that lead to extraordinary and unexpected things.

Like writing a book.

Or, more loosely, postponing the must-dos of the real world to spend 30 days [or a year] exploring an attractive, improbable dream.

Giving ourselves that time is so important. Because the world can wait. It's what the world does best, in fact. It was hanging out for 4.5 billion years before we arrived, and it'll be waiting around for another few billion after we're gone.

Our dreams, however, have much shorter shelf-lives.

If there's one thing I've learned from running NaNoWriMo, it's this: Whatever you think you are, you are more than that. You possess a fearsome array of skills and abilities, and the most satisfying of these may be completely unknown to you now. Your curiosity is a dependable guide; follow it. Put yourself in unfamiliar places. Kindle passions. Savor the raw joy of making things, and then remake the best of those things until they take someone's breath away. Wrestle bears.

Actually, skip the bear-wrestling.

But do keep trying big things, okay? Sometimes we can wait so long for a clear sign that it's time to begin, that the opportunity sails right past us.

Life is so short. Adventures beckon. Let's get packed and head out on a new one today.

I think it's time.”