2011 was the first year I recorded the details of my workouts, including time and distance.

I have now learned that I averaged 4.7 hours of exercise a week. That was interesting, because it feels more like around twenty! It probably seemed that way to everyone around me, too. It was about 4.5 hours the first half of the year; then I started to try to reach a goal of 5 hours a week. Five hours of exercise represents a high level of general fitness, and it’s enough for running races less than marathon distances. It’s not generally considered enough for serious competitors in triathlons, who need about eight hours for the shortest distances, just to get in all the sports.

Here is a pie graph of my activities:

The story in numbers

Speaking of triathlons! I have a bad habit of asserting that running is my best sport in triathlon due to natural talent. Swimming I claim to have trouble with, despite having a lot of the raw materials for it, like ease in the water and balance in my stroke; and biking I’ll tell people is somewhere in the middle, despite my never doing the kind of structured training for it that I do for running. But when I look at my records, I can’t help but see a couple of incontrovertible facts. One is that I ran almost two and a half hours every week, while I biked, on average, a little less than an hour.

The other is that I swam three hours and fourteen minutes for the entire year.

Okay. Well. Would I, perhaps, be a decent swimmer, or as strong a biker as a runner, if I spent real time on either sport? And also, how often do we distort the truth about our “natural talents,” when it has to do more with where we are putting our time and energy?

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell demonstrates that one of the distinguishing factors for superstars like Michael Jordan or Bill Gates is that they have spent far more time on their craft than any of their competitors do. Not less time, because they’re so talented. More time. (10,000 hours is the benchmark of expertise that Gladwell cites.) The theme of his book is that we overestimate the effect of raw talent on achievement, and underestimate the huge effect of the circumstances and environment around the achiever. While some of these advantages are luck, presumably then, instead of viewing ourselves as fixed quantities of talent, we could manage our own environments to set ourselves up for greater successes. We could be that person who practices for 10,000 hours.

For me, one of the things I’m thinking about doing for 2012 is making a concentrated effort within my two weaker triathlon sports. It would be a nice early-season break from the intensity of a running plan, and it would be an interesting experiment in itself. My body still struggles with increasing running mileage — all Fall it was a race between whether the plantar fasciitis would get me before I finished my 5K training program! It would be good to know whether I could reach the same high levels in triathlon, where the cross-training provides more balance and resilience to your body.

Or perhaps, as my friend Mary-Terese asserted after hearing the results of my pie chart, the plantar faciitis would be better addressed by stretching more than my average of 12 minutes a week!

For everyone, I think it’s useful to consider what your stories about yourself and your abilities are locking you into! Are there areas where “I can’t do that” is really a function of “I don’t do that”? Record-keeping can be an eye-opening tool, too, whether a map of how you’re really spending your time, or a log of what you’re really eating. But regardless, we can all consider whether there’s something we always wanted to do or be but tell ourselves we can’t, that we’ve been missing out on for all the wrong reasons.