“No human ever became interesting by not failing. The more you fail and recover and improve, the better you are as a person. Ever met someone who’s always had everything work out for them with zero struggle? They usually have the depth of a puddle. Or they don’t exist.”
Let me start my Infinitus 72 hour race report by saying: I failed at reaching my goal. I wanted to run for 72 hours. I didn’t. I wanted to run 200 miles. I didn’t. I only made 105 miles thanks to a fall that left me with a bum knee, grinding my run to a halt.
Wow. “Failure” might be a little harsh, you think. But, I don’t think so. It’s all about how you embrace the meaning of failure. In our society, most people don’t fail because they don’t allow themselves to take risks and do things that might leave them susceptible to failure. We tend to keep ourselves in a safe place, which doesn’t allow failure to appear as an option. So, we don’t do things that are scary, or that might keep us from achieving what we set out to do.
I take inspiration from ultrarunner Jimmy Dean Freeman, who writes, “Consider that I don’t sustain a normal relationship to the word/experience of failure. Me and failure are way outside-the-box. I love to fail. Failing means I’m challenging myself to the point that failure is a possibility. Many people avoid failure, and in turn fail to have epic life experiences because they keep themselves in a very tight box in life, relationships and athletic endeavors. So, those who fail (to complete a goal) have my deepest respect.”
I am learning to embrace failure. I guess I don’t really have a choice. My failure tells me that I have pushed myself further than ever before. So, in this sense, failing is good. I’m living and doing things that are not guaranteed. In those moments, we learn the most about ourselves. Most of you reading this are probably not afraid to fail, but maybe some of you are.
I challenge all of you to do something that may lead to failure. You know that super secret goal you have? Go for it. It’s okay. Reaching out on a limb is where the sweetest fruit is. So, go out on that limb, and take a chance. Do big things and dream f@#$!*g huge dreams, make a plan and LIVE. Safe spaces are comfortable, but nothing extraordinary happens there.
An important part of failure is reflecting upon what worked and what didn’t. As Henry Ford once said, “Failure is the opportunity to begin again, only this time more wisely.” With proper reflection, I will be wiser the next time. Here’s what I learned:
- Strategy is important. My new friend John Sharp, with whom I ran part of a loop in the middle of the night, told me that multi-day running is 50% planning, logistics and race management and the other 50% is about running. I messed up on the former 50%. Mess up on the front end, and it will cost you on the back end.
- The race is long. More sleep or rest would have been an effective approach to this race, as I would have been more alert and perhaps been able to avoid falling. For those doing shorter races – the broader lesson here is that discipline and patience is important. I didn’t want to rest because I was afraid of giving up too much time. I missed the forest for the trees.
- Start out too hard, and at some point you will be forced to slow down to an aggravatingly slow pace. Being conservative early is better than flying and dying.
- Eat the elephant in little bites. I was too focused on 72-HOURS-OF-RUNNING instead of one part of one loop at a time. (The race was a figure 8 shape with the top part of the 8 as a 10 mile loop, and the bottom part of the 8 as a 16.5 mile loop. You passed by crew in the middle of the figure 8 – so the middle and end of each 26.5 mile lap.)
- Have several pairs of the same shoes that you’ve tested and tested over and again in training.
- It takes a long time to walk 16.5 miles with a bum knee.
- Know when it’s time to quit to protect your body. Don’t let your pride make that decision. I made this decision based on the fact that I had to compromise my gait even to walk. I knew that pressing on for another 40 or more hours would have led to other problems.
- Having a solid support crew is important. I had an ace crew with Maria. She was always positive even when I was in some low spots during the race.
No, I didn’t reach my goal. But, I will continue to dream big and avoid safe things, and I will reach beyond my comfort zone. That’s where the magic happens. It’s strange how failing at something can still feel like a success.
“A thinker sees his own actions as experiments and questions – as attempts to find out something. Success and failure are for him answers above all.”