Even on a busy work trip to Nanjing, China, Dean Lao made time to train for an ultra marathon

In our feature, Timehacker, we match readers with coaches to help them find time for their most important goal.

THE SUBJECT: Dean Lao, 33, is a pediatric anesthesiologist. As a kid growing up in New Jersey, he was never very physically active. He was born with his feet turned inward and had severe asthma.  But when Lao moved to Portland, Oregon a few years ago, he was inspired by the active, outdoor lifestyle and fell in love with running, particularly trail running.

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THE GOAL: Lao went from running a half marathon to a 50-mile ultra marathon. Now, he wants to run a 100-mile ultra marathon. “It would be absolutely beyond my wildest dreams and imagination as a child,” he said. “But it seems so daunting…. I don’t even know where to start.”

THE TIMEHACK: Dean worked with Terry Monaghan, a time management expert with Time Triage. Monaghan suggested four time hacks:

1. NO EXCUSES: Dean is busy. He gets up early to get to work by 6:30 am, and his schedule is often unpredictable. But that doesn’t mean there’s no time to train. Rather than making time to run, Dean was spending whatever free time he had justifying why he couldn’t: he was too tired, he didn’t have enough time. “Dean was using the unpredictability of his schedule as an excuse.”

2. DON’T TRY TO SWALLOW THE ELEPHANT: “Dean thought his problem was his schedule. But it was really about confronting what it would take to train and run 100 miles. Instead of looking at the whole elephant, and getting intimidated, he needed to focus just on the next bite.”

Monaghan suggested he use time that was already in his schedule to try running to and from work some days  and to make sure he had his gear readily available at work or home to fit in smaller runs. She advised him to stand in the operating room instead of sitting. “Conditioning is a product of repetitive, regular activity,” she said.

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3. SCHEDULE IT: Dean gets his schedule at least one month in advance. Monaghan suggested he sit down and block out specific times to run five or six days a week.

4. THINK BIGGER: “The goal of running ultra marathons won’t be big enough to keep him going when life gets busy,” Monaghan said. She suggested he think bigger. “What does having this kind of discipline make possible in life, in his career?”

THE PROGNOSIS: “Dean needs to realize he’s more intimidated by the totality of the run. Once he breaks the training down into manageable pieces, his schedule is flexible enough for him to find time. No more excuses!” Monaghan said.

DAY 21:

On Day 21, I called Dean and he answered breathlessly. He was on mile eight of an 11-mile training run on his day off – even though he was exhausted from being on 24-hour call the day before.

He’d found a training plan and had penciled in runs five or six days a week every week on his calendar. That day, he’d run six days in a row for the first time in months.

And he was no longer making excuses. “I was spending a lot of time just telling myself why I couldn’t run, instead of just making the time to make it happen,” he said. “It made me realize, if this is something I really want to do, I have to make time for it.”

He began, as Monaghan suggested, using time he already had. “There’s at least one to two hours a day I’m not doing anything – I’m reading mindless news articles, or surfing the web,” he said.  “I realized I have to give up that kind of downtime, for downtime that’s more fulfilling.”

And where he used to think that running three or four miles wasn’t worth it, he also began to realize that it was better than running no miles. “Anytime I spend on my feet is ultimately beneficial.”

And he began to see that he had more time than he thought. On a trip to see his family in Chicago, he hadn’t planned on going to church with them on Sunday morning, so he took the time to run six or seven miles around a park while they did.

On a medical mission to an orphanage in China, he found an outdoor track. “I think I ran nine or 10 miles on the track, but it felt really cool,” he said. “It was also good to see all the elderly Chinese people doing tai chi and calisthenics. It inspired me.”

He started to think bigger. “I’m trying to focus more on the process, not the outcome. No matter whether I achieve my goal, or flame out after 51 miles, it will still be the longest I’ve ever run,” he said. “I’m starting to see the training as about keeping fit both mentally and physically, which helps me cope with the stress of my job and to be as healthy a person as possible.”

The other big change? Dean came one step closer to making his dream a reality – he’s now actually signed up for a 100-mile ultra marathon. In September, he plans to run the Mountain Lakes 100 in Oregon, one of the prettiest ultra marathons, which takes runners along part of the Pacific Crest Trail.

 Terry Monaghan’s TOP TIMEHACK:

“Beware of spending more time justifying why you aren’t doing something than the thing itself would take. Even the biggest goals and challenges can be broken down into small, manageable steps. Every minute counts, every step counts.”

 

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