Failure Potential

I had made up my mind that I would challenge myself this year.  I would try things I had a good chance of failing at doing.  I would try some new things.  In 2016, I set a volume goal and I hit it easily.  In fact, I really didn’t fail at accomplishing any of my goals last year, so among the goals this year was a challenge to do 5 things at which I might fail.

I actually did fail at my first attempt at a 50k – we accomplished about 30k, but decided to stop due to weather conditions and the potential (turned reality) of a harrowing commute home.

My second attempt at a 50k was my second “Failure Potential,” but although it took me just about 7 hours I completed it.  I really really really hate failing.  I got the distance, but in terms of trail races, it was a relatively flat course, so while it was a personal victory not to fail it wasn’t the most technical of courses.

My third “failure potential” attempt was another 50k on a very technical course and about 6100′ of elevation gain up and down a mountain. This as one I probably should have allowed myself to fail; about mile 10 I fell, gashed open my arm, broke a toe and damaged a tendon.  I was so delirious, I actually wound up adding an extra mile by wandering around a little off track. It took more than 10 hours on a course with a 10 hour limit, having been allowed to finish by virtue of avoiding course marshalls for the last 40 minutes or so.

So the fourth was another 50k, and at this point you’re probably saying to yourself, “if you’ve already done 2 what would make you think you couldn’t do it again?”  Here’s where my head was though: the last time I had done the distance, I had messed myself up.  Badly. I really wasn’t sure I was ready to do this again physically, I wasn’t sure I was mentally able to do it.  Frankly, I may not have been able to do it, but at the end of my first of 3 loops there was my friend Rich and his son.  I was such a great feeling seeing them there to welcome me in and to see me off that it was just what I needed to keep going.  Had they not been there to volunteer, I likely would have given it up.

So where am I for the fifth?  Originally, I had a different plan.  I am registered for a December 32-miler that’s described as “nightmarish” and with December weather in New England such as it is, I’m pretty sure this may be one of the bigger challenges of the year – except my boy now has an event on that day and I need to be there.  So I needed a different plan.

Another goal was to break two-hours running a half marathon.  I was able to accomplish that in October. 1:51:56, but a week ago I as given a bib for another half marathon with a three day notice on a much flatter course than the October race.  The week before that, I had run a 10-miler at an 8:18 pace so I really thought I had a good chance of beating that 1:52 time. And so it was, my Failure Possibility was to break 1:50:00.

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That’s me in the orange shirt about 3 rows back. For the record, this was the Wave 2 start line. 9:00m/m runners don’t start at the starting line otherwise.

For the first couple of miles I was feeling good, but I really had to pee: the porta potties at the starting line were packed, so I had to wait.  Fortunately there were some on the route and I availed myself of one at mile 3.  That took about 40-50 seconds,  but my mile pace was still reasonable for that mile.  The real problem kicked in after that though.  I had slept terribly the night before; I went to bed too early, woke up in the middle of the night and was terrified I’d over sleep, so I stayed up.  It turns out running 13 miles on 4-hours sleep is really, really hard.  Never mind trying to beat a 1:50:00 pace.

It had rained all morning and through most of the race.  The course was part bike path and drainage was suspect, so on top of low octane fuel I was battling mud and the elements.  As 1:50 came and went I still had the opportunity to finish in under 2-hours.

And there it was. As I hit 13 miles, I was just over 1:55.  The last .1-mile+ was a path along a water element, which was flooded and muddy.  People were trying to avoid the water and mud by running  along the side, but if I tried that I’d never finish in under 2-hours, so I took the Spartan Race option and went through, high-stepping and all.  A minor victory in that I finished 1:57:38 so I had conquered the 2-hour mark twice this year and really twice in a month, but I failed at my time goal by almost 8-minutes. Or put another way, by about 30-seconds a mile.

My 5 opportunities for failure netted a 3 wins – 2 losses record.  Not bad, really. I found some limits, worked harder and got past one of them.  I’m going to try to beat that 1:50:00 time again, but it’s probably going to be next year before I can attempt it so I feel pretty comfortable that I can report out on this endeavor.  I learned more resilience from this than any other goal I’d set for myself, something I hadn’t anticipated.  The goal was to push myself by getting out of my safe zone.  What I got out of it was that I need to aim higher more often and what I learned was how resilient I can be.  Very awakening.

Very awakening.

 

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Races vs. Miles

In 2016, I ran 66 races.  It started as a stretch goal, and built as I went along.  I built a plan of 46 races for my 46 years, but I hit race 46 in August, and went from there.

For the first half of the year, the majority of races were 5ks.  Twice, I ran three races in a weekend.  It seemed pretty badass at the time.

My real mission there was to keep reinforcing my newfound interest in fitness.  Have a race/fitness plan, and work it.  In response to a friend asking me why, I said I was the youngest I was ever going to be.  And thus I did it.

I took few chances.  The Ragnar Relay in May 2016 was a bit of a chance in that I was saying I’ll run 16 miles in 24 hours, something I’d never done, but other than that it wasn’t a stretch goal  The real goal was getting the number in.  That would require being injury free.  And I was.

In October, I ran my first half marathon after an entire week of preparation.

I lost exactly no races to injury.  None.

In 2017 I decided to change up.  Last year I found myself focused on the NUMBER of races, and I got those in.  Hell, I destroyed the goal by 150%.  This year I decided on miles.  Training miles.  Racing miles.  Whatever.  I promised myself I would try things I could fail at.  In January, I DNF’d for the very first time, but it was gratifying.

I COULD have finished, but there was a Nor’Easter blowing in.  It took me twice as long to drive home as it did to drive there.  The trail was covered in ice and snow.  The better part of valor, though, was to say, I’m out.

Sure, this year I’ve run 5ks.  Did pretty good at them too!  But this was the year I was doing distance.  On January 1, I ran a 5-Mile Race.  Then 15k, a combination 13.1, , 10 miler…a 50k…that this time I did finish.  A Ragnar Ultra team.  It’s been amazing.

Last weekend I ran the hardest race I’ve ever run.  It was truly a race that I wasn’t sure that I would be able to finish (One of my goals for the year was to do things I wasn’t sure I’d finish).  6000′ of elevation gain over 31+ miles.  4/5 stars difficulty, technical, and the like.  It was no joke.

I completed it.  My second ultramarathon this year…my second ultramarathon ever.  It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t competitive, it wasn’t pretty.  But I finished.

But I broke my foot.

This past week has been tough.  I’ve been largely sedentary, my toe hurts like a mother.  I mean, bad.  I’ve been to the E/R, I’ve been to the hospital, I’ve had no less than 7 X-rays on it, I’m scheduled for a CT scan and surgery next week.  It’s FUBAR and bad.  That race will cost me no less than 3 more races.  I insist it was 100% the right decision to push through and complete the race, but I’m disappointed that I can’t work my plan.

My friends all had wonderful and kind things to say to me about my race total goal last year.  By the end, I was dismissing their kind words with disclaimers such as “they’re mostly 5k’s…” or “my time wasn’t that good…”

Boy was I wrong, and here’s why.  You have to maintain health and physical ability to be able to run a race total goal.  My 2017 goal was miles – I’m likely to hit that goal, even though I’m likely to wind up out of commission for a month.  If I had taken a month out of my running schedule last year, I may not have hit my goal – July 2016 represented no less than 11 races alone.

66 races in a calendar year – more than 70 if I was holding to my February-January year – was a feat not because of the difficulty of the race, but because of the difficulty of staying healthy over that period of time.

As I now nurse my foot, and pinkie toe the size of my thumb that’s preventing me from participating my favorite races – a Spartan race and a fundraising triathlon – I have to remind myself that yeah, 66 races is pretty badass.

With my one race last Saturday, I equalled 10 of my 2016 races – One 50k vs. 10-5k’s, but they’re different races with different skill sets.  My goal this year is mileage, but the importance of acknowledging what’s been accomplished remains huge.  I’m racking up miles this year – and I’ll be hitting hit more than ever once I’m recovered –  but one can rack up a lot of miles pretty quickly.  To hit X number of races over a year requires stamina, but also staying power.

Lesson learned.  Staying power, doing those weekly 5k every Saturday is important.  It means you’ve made it through another week.  That you’ve outlasted everyone else sleeping in.

The number, then, is just as important as the mileage.  Don’t belittle your accomplishments, no matter how small.  There’s a lot that goes into every single one.  Take none of it for granted.

A 50k Punch in the Mouth

Image result for 50k decalOn April 22, I hit a milestone I never anticipated, nor expected, to hit.  I ran a 50k.  That’s 31+ miles.

A year ago, I was focused on running a number of races.  By this point last year – April 23, 2016 – I had run 14 races.  14 5ks (actually 13 5ks and 1 3-miler).  Today I ran a 50k trail race.  Put another way, in one day, I had eclipsed 10 of those 5k races from last year.

Interestingly enough, this was race 18 on the year.  I’ve run 9 5ks, and a bunch of others: 5-Milers, 10-Milers, 15k.  Fully half of what I’d run to that point was far more than I could have imagined a year ago.  On May 1 last year, I ran my first race of more than 5k.  A 10k.  Or one of 5 loops I did for the 50.  To think I’d upped my capacity from 5 to 50k.  Unfathomable.

Now, make no mistake, on that last 10k I did far more walking than running.  I had no business being out there.  I finished the marathon distance in 5 hours 20 minutes.  I finished the 50k in just under 7 hours.  But I made a few promises to myself this year.

First, I’m punching 2017 in the mouth.  Taking no prisoners

Second, I’m committed to trying 5 things I don’t know that I can finish this year.  This was the second.  The first was a January DNF.  The next one is also a 50k, but a far more technical and difficult one.  I’m not sure just yet what the other two will be, but I’m working on it.

Last, I was told to make my race for my dad.  I got back up one more time than I quit on this day, and I did so because I was out there for my dad.  It’s really hard to quit on your father.

This isn’t to brag on myself, please believe me that I have a great deal to be humble about.  Rather, it’s about taking stock.  Stopping along the path, looking around and taking stock of where you’ve been, but also how much farther there is to go.  So as I write at the 40% point of the year, I’ve completed about 43% of my running goal for the year.  I’ve done something I never thought I would, and I’ve tried 2 things I wasn’t sure I could actually finish.  It’s about growth.

I’ve grown.  And I’m punching 2017 in the mouth.

DNF

I came,  I attempted something I wasn’t sure I could complete, and…I didn’t.

The Fat Ass 50K was certainly going to be a challenge – I’d never actually run more than a little more than 13 miles in one block, and I gave myself about 24-hours to prepare – but hell one of my goals this year is to attempt 5 things I’m not sure I can complete.  And Lo.

I didn’t.

Now, not completing the challenge wasn’t a direct result of being unsure I could.  I feel good that it wasn’t about defining my success too easily – we got 18 miles in.  A new high water mark for me, and I feel like I earned that high water mark.  I feel good that it wasn’t about giving myself an excuse not to complete it – “I didn’t think I could and see?”  I was ready to crawl the rest of the distance if I had to.

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My race buddy – someone whom I admire and respect immensely – convinced me to pull the plug.  I spent the better part of the last 3 miles walking for longer periods of time, dealing with knee pain.  It also just so happened to start snowing at the end of our first 6-mile loop and by the time we got to Mile 18, it was coming down pretty good – unbeknownst to us (although, as native and lifelong New Englanders we “knew”), the roads home were going to be brutal.  The trails were quickly becoming overly hazardous for running.  It was something like 19-degrees.

Now, do I have an excuse?  Sure, I have plenty.  Fact is, though, the race wasn’t finished.  It wasn’t finished for a bunch of reasons. Were it just my knees, I would’ve pushed; were it just the weather, I would’ve pushed.  But it wasn’t.  It was a 50-mile drive home in white-out conditions, it was the increasing possibility of serious injury on the trail.   Here’s one really important take away from my first completed goal of the year: when you make the decision to quit, it means other things are more important.

The reality that I would have finished last – I mean like dead last by a LOT – wasn’t a factor.  It wasn’t important enough to me not to finish last that I quit.  I WANTED to finish; hell I was all set to crawl my way if I had to.  This race was for my dad, after all. What was a factor, though, is that if we were dead last, we would have been the only people in the park and the possibility of getting stuck would be vastly increased.  So, uncharacteristically, Rich was the one arguing the better course to chart was to quit.

So, there’s only one thing I could’ve changed yesterday: my own ability.  Had I been better conditioned, we would’ve been faster, and therefore would have been better positioned to finish.

Next time, I plan to have all those variables lining up in a way that makes it more probable than not that I will finish.  My plan this year is to set goals without worrying about whether or not I know I can succeed, Sine metu ad metam.  This was the embodiment of that.

Accountability Report Week 1

In my last post, I talked about getting better (to the point I made that the title – Yay Bleachers!) and my plan for the now current year.

Here is how I plan to get better (Categories with updated bolded):

  1. 1000 Miles (20 Miles/week):
    As I near the end of week 1, I’m at 24.9 Miles – just about 5 miles over plan.  Truth be told I should be at 25, but my watch died mid run and I didn’t capture some distance.  Since I don’t have it recorded, it didn’t happen and therefore I sit at 24.9.
  2. #Kill22 Challenge: Add a push up a day to the challenge.
    1. Day 6: Check
  3. 2 Rounds (4 months) of Beachbody “Insanity”
    1. Starts Sunday.
  4. Spartan Trifecta
    1. Scheduled
    2. Additional Sprint Scheduled (x2 Trifecta?)
  5. 2 Half Marathons – one of which will be less than 2 hours
  6. I will attempt at least 5 things that I’m not convinced I can complete
    1. To succeed, you cannot fear failure.
    2. Fear is a liar, desperate to convince you that you cannot succeed.

      The first of 5 things happens this weekend: The Fat Ass 50k Trail Run.  The furthest I’ve ever run in one block was 13.5 miles.  In fact, I can count on one hand the number of runs I’ve had of 13+ miles: 3.  All of which were street runs, this is a cross-country/trail race. So I’m ill-prepared, and certainly not trained up for this. I may fail – 30 Miles is not to be trifled with.  In fact, there’s a significant probability I will fail.  But I’m going to try, because if I don’t try, I’ll never know if I can do it or even what my limits are.

      I haven’t quite figured out how to quantify this goal, so the best I can do right now is say, “trust me, I know when I’m unsure.” I’ve stated my attempt and why I believe I may not complete it.  For now, I think that works.   That said, if I do conquer the entire 30 miles, that would mean I’ve smashed my first weekly goal by 35 miles – had I set that as a goal, I wouldn’t have believed I could do that. It’s going to be a long day – easily 5+ hours.  Wish me luck.

1000 Miles: I’m staring at the interstate screaming at myself

HEY! I WANNA GET BETTER.” Last January 1, I decided I needed to do something different – if nothing changes, nothing changes – and so on January 2, 2016 I proceeded to walk 18 miles or so.  It doesn’t seem like a lot in retrospect, but at the time it was the longest such trip I had done in as long as I can remember.

This January 2, I find myself in a different place.  Before this past year, I could count the number of races I had actually run on one hand.  By days’ end December 31, I had completed 66 races; the majority of which were 5k, but as the year progressed they increased in their distance: 10k, Ragnar relay, Spartan trifecta, marathon relay, half-marathon.

On January 1, I started the year with a 5-Mile race.  Today, I ran a half-marathon distance.  I wanna get better.  My goal last year was number of races; my goal this year is distance.  1000.  I finished the race yesterday at position 100 of 254.  I can do better.  I finished 71/132 of Men.  Should definitely do better.  I finished 22/28 in my age group.  I HAVE to do better.  I’ve been working at this over 66 races and 328 miles over the past year.   If I had finished 254/254, or 132/132. or 28/28 and I felt like that was all I was capable of, I think I could be okay with that.  But its not.  I KNOW it’s not.

Last February 13, I ran my very first race of the year.  As I was leaving my then ten-year old son left me with these parting words: “I hope you do great, and that this is your worst race of the year.”  I did.  And it was.  It took me over 29-minutes to finish that 5k, but it was the best I could do at that point.  For the rest of the year, I didn’t come close to that time for a 5k street race.

I ran that 13.1 miles today.  My knees started giving me the business at mile 10 and for the next 2 miles my pace slowed to almost 11-minute miles.  I bargained one more mile with myself and pushed through a more reasonable pace, but the damage was done to my time and my proverbial heart.  I got the half-marathon, but the rest was not to be had today.

This is where it would be easy to stop.  Get discouraged.  Give up the goal.  But alas, enter the support system.

It’s not about the mileage. It’s about your inner-dialogue.  You’re done with the 5K stuff. You are on a whole level and you don’t know it. You went for 18 because there is a part of you that knows it’s possible. Trust it and again do it for someone for which failure is not an option; Dedicate your next run to your father.

I know what my plan is.  I know what I have to do to get to my plan.  I know what I have to do to punch that plan in the face and go beyond.  I cannot allow myself the option of failure.  Today was as much a failure of the will as it was of the body, and I know that.  I was given good advice and direction from one of my biggest supporters: think about your dad,

Near the end of the year, I wished that I had chronicled my races.  How they went.  Commit those feelings to writing.  I’m going to do better this year.

Here is how I plan to get better:

  1. 1000 Miles (20 Miles/week):
    As of 1/2/17 – Week 1:18.1/1000
  2. #Kill22 Challenge: Add a push up a day to the challenge.
    1. Day 2: Check
  3. 2 Rounds (4 months) of Beachbody “Insanity”
  4. Spartan Trifecta
    1. Scheduled
    2. Additional Sprint Scheduled (x2 Trifecta?)
  5. 2 Half Marathons – one of which will be less than 2 hours
  6. I will attempt at least 5 things that I’m not convinced I can complete
    1. To succeed, you cannot fear failure.
    2. Fear is a liar, desperate to convince you that you cannot succeed.

I KNOW I can accomplish most of the goals on this list, which is why #6 is so important.  It is the least quantifiable – I either run 2 halfs, one in less than -hours or I don’t – but what does “I’m not convinced” mean?  It means that it will be something I haven’t done, but it also means that I have to be honest with myself.  It can’t be an ex-post-facto excuse for failing something at which I thought I should succeed.  As such, I’ll do my level best to be honest and accountable.

January 1 – 5 Miles; 5 Miles Total

January 2 – 13.1 Miles; 18.1 Miles Total.

2017 is getting punched in the mouth.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 26

28 Days of Inspiration

Cliff Young

He didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to be able to run a 544 mile ultra-marathon.  Hell, he was a potato farmer – what did he know about endurance running?  He showed up one day at the starting line of an 875K race and won.

In fact, he took significant time off the world record for similar races.  He was 61-years old in 1983 when he won this race.  Take a look at my times this year, I haven’t come close to winning a solo race of any distance. He didn’t just win, he CRUSHED it.  544-miles at aged 61.  I’ve spent the past year running races, slowly building up distance from a 5k in February to a half-marathon in October.  I’ve run training runs, pushed myself as much as I can.  Cliff Young ran the inaugural  Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra-marathon…and won.  I must be a loser – I’ve been running my butt off this year and I’m struggling to get mediocre times on some fairly modest courses.

The lore will have you believe he’d never run, just strolled up to the starting line – oblivious to the challenge ahead of him – wearing overalls and rubber boots.  A real naif.  He didn’t understand ultra running so he didn’t know he was supposed to run for 18 hours and sleep for 6.  A great story to be sure.  But incomplete at best, and misleading at worst. Take a look at the video below.

So far as I can tell, he really WASN’T a runner and he really WAS a farmer.

But this wasn’t his first attempt; he didn’t just show up and decide to run.  Perhaps in 1982 when he attempted a 1,000 mile effort one could argue he had no clue – after all then he had only trained for a few months.  Upon failing half way through he wrote he and his support team were inexperienced.  You don’t just stroll up to a starting line in work boots and spend 6 days running a 550-mile race without having done SOME work.  In this case he had been training.  He knew the challenge before him.  He had a plan and he worked that plan.

Merriam-Webster defines “Inspiration” as “something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone.” I tend to think watching the results of another’s hard work and effort toward a goal is far more inspirational than hearing a story that’s been sanitized, cleaned up and repackaged.  Cliff was ridiculously inspirational but not because he showed up one day out of the blue and laid waste to a field of other runners en route to finishing an ultra-marathon, but because he worked his ass off as a 60-year old to position himself to be able to do that.

He wasn’t some rube fresh off the farm who decided to run an endurance course because he had time on his calendar.  He planned this.  He worked for this.  It’s unlikely that a 61-year old man is going to win an ultra marathon, but that’s the inspirational part of it. He worked and trained.  We don’t need to embellish the story; we don’t have to make up or gloss over the reality.  The facts are remarkable on their own.

Be inspired because he had a goal, worked his ass off for it and made it happen.  There’s nothing inspirational about flukes or luck; there’s everything inspirational about someone deciding they’ve got a goal that they’re going to make happen. Cliff’s story makes for a great tell, but bear in mind his wasn’t the story of unexpected glory, his was the story of hard work paying off.