How The International Big Sur Marathon Became a Life-Changing 10.6 Mile Run

Sometimes the universe serves up lessons exactly when they’re needed.

I woke up with a sick feeling. Something was off and I knew it.

I had gone to bed at almost midnight and dutifully set all my alarms but I was surprisingly well rested. Sure enough, when I checked my clocks, it was 5:00 am. I had missed the last bus to the full marathon starting point, which had left at 4:30am. I was screwed. I came to learn later that I was re-living the curse of Jean Paul from Seinfeld. “Why separate knob, why separate knob!”

I really should have arranged for a wake up call.

I begrudgingly took the only choice open to me — a shorter race.

As I sat in the 10.6 Miler bus among a group of middle-aged moms talking about the varied learning styles of 7th grade children, I was overcome with humility.

I’ve gotten away a lot through the years, flying through deadlines in ‘seat-of-the-pants’ class and living to tell the tales. I still frequently run late to appointments, habitually start projects just hours before due dates, wing presentations, and miss flights (well maybe just 1 or 2).

I have a lifetime of experience living on the edge as a result of deeply ingrained habits of procrastination and lack of preparation. But with frustration running deep, I see myself an inflection point.

I question, is my lesson with the marathon symbolic of other things in my life?

Because I took the race more lightly than I should have, I ended up with fewer options. In the rest of my life, by operating from a more lax place, am I also cutting off options that might otherwise be open to me?

As a lifelong student of self-mastery, I know significant change is typically prefaced by profound moments of despondency. And I feel that despair. I’ve almost always been able to cajole, weasel, and shmooze my way through consequences of my tardiness.

Today however, the universe was unbending. I had to play by its rules and I was out of bounds.

The gamble to try and work my way to the marathon start line wasn’t working in my favor. So I took the consolation prize, a shorter race. While sitting in the bus at the 10.6 mile start area at 6:50 am, the first wave of marathon runners had already started. I was so sad I wouldn’t be running the full 26.2 with them.

I accept the full extent of my responsibility for the outcome. But I don’t like it and there’s no looking back. I am going to be making some changes.

His book changed my life.

After reading Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, I realize exactly what I have to do. Duhigg says I have to identify exactly what cues (triggering behaviors) lead to routines (activities and actions) which result in procrastination and lateness (reward). To do that I must keep detailed journals to document what limits my ability to complete tasks on time and miss deadlines of various types.

The bus ride to the 10.6 miles starting point was difficult, but when someone started singing the Star Spangled banner, I felt my tears welling up in my eyes. I was in this defeated position not because I had forgotten to double check my alarms, but because I had a long term love-affair with the avoidance of planning and preparation — and that realization was priceless.

I had intended to be asleep by 8pm to get up by 2am for the last bus to the marathon at 4am. However in line with my usual habits, I ended up staying up until after midnight. I had intended to train diligently for the marathon, but had only ended up running maybe 5 or 6 times in the 6–7 months leading up to one of the hardest races in the US.

Truth is, I can usually wing it — that’s a gift in some cases, I believe in myself — but it presented as a shortcoming for this important event. I let fun get in the way — as usual — and the difficult, but meaningful work I had intended to accomplish was left behind.

The vistas were beyond spectacular.

As I ran the 10.6 miles along the beautiful Pacific Ocean coast, I embraced and internalized the tough lesson while enjoying the stunning views in the crisp fresh morning air. I was grateful and fortunate for the chance to run a course that is so popular that a lottery system is used to limit the number of participants.

As the hills rose and fell, the realization also set in that perhaps, it was for the better that I wasn’t able to run the full 26.2 miles. I might have injured myself in the process. The universe, just possibly, saved me from myself this time and handed me a beautiful lesson.

After finishing the 10.6 miles in a very respectable 1 hour 40 minutes, I sat at the finish line celebration area and was impressed by the stories of the various high-performing athletes who completed the full marathon in under 4 hours.

I really wanted it to say 26.2 but this was great too!

One of the 400 Boston-to-Big Sur elite marathoners interviewed by the entertainment personalities at the finish line was especially inspirational. In addition to running the Boston Marathon 13 days ago, he managed to squeeze in a marathon in Portugal a couple days ago before completing Big Sur in under 4 hours. When asked what allowed him to run over 100 marathons, he answered that in addition to choosing great parents, his secret is to keep moving. The only time he sits still is when he’s on a transatlantic flight.

This attitude echoes that of Diana Nyad who swam an unimaginable 110 miles from Cuba to Florida at the tender age of 64. During an interview with Michael Krasny on KQED’s Forum, she said the secret to her success is being constantly on the move whether running, walking, cycling or any other form of exercise.

As I rode back to where my car was parked in Downtown Monterey, I sat next to Mike from Rochester, NY who just had completed the full race in 3 hours It was the second time he’s run the Big Sur Marathon and his 10th Marathon since his first in Erie, PA in 2013. A TV studio engineer by day he also confirmed that his consistent sub 4 hour finishes are the result of rigorous and continuous training. As a motivated and very self-disciplined athlete, he runs 8 or more miles everyday.

Mike is my inspiration to prepare longer and harder. Thanks dude!

I see the verdict more clearly than ever. If I’m going to meet deadlines, run marathons, and constantly push myself to the limits of my potential, I have to structure my life around habits that support my goals.

Journaling on a daily basis and ensuring people in my life understand my priorities and vision for the future, will help turbo-charge my progress. Alone, it’s almost impossible to sustain effective habit change unless I’m living in a vacuum. The people in my life color me, infuse me with their thoughts, ideas, and challenge me when they hold me accountable for my actions.

Plainly, they help me step up and aim high. They each are a part of my accountability system. Like Jean Paul above, even the best among us require a support system to allow us to notice our blind spots and maximize our potential.

And, I have a request of them moving forward. Please call me out when I’m deviating from my goals:

  • To sustain and deepen my core relationships. My people are so important to me.
  • Scale my company TheBestNotary. There is so much untapped potential here.
  • Exercise and meditate daily. Continuous motion and ultimate stillness is vital to my success.

I keep a lot of balls in the air, but one of my greatest desires is to learn from my mistakes and make things right, one action at a time.