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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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.

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 16

The Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired “Team With A Vision,” Tina Luce and Helen Forte.

The organizations I’ve chosen to highlight to this point, the O’Connell Valor Fund and the New England Spahtens’ “Rucksgiving,” are small organizations with no overhead spreading inspiration and good works by sheer force of individual volunteerism.  The MAB on the other hand is a larger organization, but the “Team With A Vision” program demonstrates what their mission is right down to the core – empowering those with disabilities to accomplish their goals.  It turns out, though, that the program does more than empower those with disabilities.

Team with a Vision pairs vision impaired runners with sighted partners to assist them in running road races, of specific note the Boston Marathon but other races as well.  The case stories are incredibly empowering.

Consider the case of Tina Luce.  She started running with a timer and a treadmill, and when paired with a sighted partner to run with her, she was able to complete a recent 10k. For Helen Forte, her partner, it gave the opportunity to make a difference.  It’s this pairing of needs and interests that creates such a powerful combination.  What could possibly be more powerful than enabling anothers’ independence to meet their goals?

I’m such a fan of programs and organizations that work in this way, giving back in equal measure to those the program is designed to assist and those who do the assisting; they enrich the lives of all who participate.

28 Days Of Inspiration – Day 13

The 2016 World Series

Of the major sports in the United States, baseball is arguably the most storied.  The championship series is clearly the oldest of the major championships. I’ve discussed in this blog before that for sports fans, even perhaps non-sports fans as well, history matters.  The 1903 World Series was the start of America’s love affair with the game, and we’ve been watching the storyline in a few different incarnations more or less since…you know, except for 1904…and 1994.

We watched in 2004 as the Boston Red Sox improbably beat the New York Yankees in 7-games to advance to the World Series after going down in the series 3-0 to win their first World Championship since 1918.  The next year, the Chicago White Sox won their first World Series since 1917…of course, they had the opportunity to win the 1919 World Series, but there was this little gambling scandal and all.

This of course left two franchises with a World Series drought: The Cleveland Indians and the team from the Northside of Chicago, the Cubs.

Now, the Indians had the opportunity in 1997, taking a little upstart team from Florida into extra innings in Game 7, but in the end lost their bid on an RBI single. AS an aside, I remember listening to that game driving home from the 1997 MLS Cup Championship game in Washington DC.  If the Red Sox couldn’t break their curse, the Indians shouldn’t be able to, and lo, they weren’t.

The Cubs have had an even more tortured history with the baseball championship.  The lore includes the curse of the billy goat, curing the teams’ chances in the 1945 World Series…where they haven’t been since.

So here we are – 2016.  68 years since the Cleveland Indians won the World Series; 108 years since the Cubs were World Champions.  By the end of this series, one of these historic franchises will have broken a curse, will accomplish something that most people alive today have never seen and may perhaps launch a new dynasty.  In 2003, if you had told me after the Red Sox got bounced from the ALCS, that they will win three times in the next ten years, I wouldn’t have believed it.

The amazing story and the guaranteed heartache the fans of one of these teams will feel, the guaranteed elation, the feeling that nothing will remotely come close just cannot be over-estimated.  I know – I’ve lived that feeling as a Red Sox fan.  Cleveland and Chicago are both 4 wins away from erasing generations of disappointment and despair.

THIS is what inspiration looks like to me as a sports fan.  Generations coming together.  The common connections within these cities.  The comradery felt – even if it’s for ten days or so – has no equal, and is understood by only a few.  It’s a disappointing season for Yankees fans if they don’t win it all.  For fans of one of these two teams, it will be adulation.  For fans of both of these teams, it will be a season to remember.

And that to me is inspiring.

Beware For I Run Fearless…

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On Saturday, I completed race 46 of my goal 46 in 2016.  The Ragnar Trail Run is a three loop trail race, completed with a team of 8 with each runner completing all three loops, and in this case it meant covering about 15 miles over the course of however long it takes one’s team to complete the circuit.  Except my team was short runners…and half way through, we had an injury.

My 15 miles became 24, 19 of which were run in the second 12 hours of the race.  It was a monstrous race.

I’m a street runner.  I’m an obstacle course fan.  Elevation gains and long distances arent my thing.  Coming down that last trail – the longest, highest elevation – running, running, running…almost unable to stop, with quads screaming to stop and yet not being able to – it was a feeling like I’ve never had, truly something alluding to what I have to believe hell must be like.  Being Ragnar, and being the last runner, as I came to the transition area to complete the race, my team joined me to cross the finish line together.  It was an amazing, awesome conclusion to the race, but a fantastic way to mark the completion of my 46 race goal.

These were folks I had met only for the race.  I didn’t know any of them.  Not one.  I responded to a Facebook post looking for team members.  Their only interest in me was that I was filling a slot that would have otherwise gone unfilled.

41337066_race_0-9710193401717151-originalAnd, yet, by the time we crossed the line together, this was their goal too.  It was important to them that they were a part of this for me.  I heard them talk with pride about the fact this was my 46th race on the year.  I kept the bib.  It was important to me, and it was important them.  That meant so much to me that over 28 hours,  we went from strangers to friends bonded by the completion of a goal.

It was a powerful experience; not just the completion of my original goal, but how these strangers came together to care about my goal.  Years from now, I will look back at 2016 and I will remember this experience fondly.

This year has helped me be fearless about setting goals.  Fearless of taking on unknown challenges.  Fearless about pushing myself for more, to be better, to compete in the unknown.  And this has made me powerful.  I’ve taken chances.  I’ve lept from safety and pulled the ripcord, not knowing where I would land.

I honestly thought it would be more difficult to accomplish than it was, but as I look back I realize I’ve relied upon my old friends, stepped out of my comfort zone and met new friends, and have joined strangers who have become friends.  It’s been a fantastic year and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year holds.

I met one person in March by happenstance who has become a solid race buddy.  I met another guy who responded to my call to join our Ragnar Relay team with whom I’ve now run a couple of other races and recorded our #Kill22 pushups together at the Providence City Hall. I jumped into a pool of ice water in the middle of February just because I was asked to, to raise money for a kids’ camp.

I feel incredibly powerful for having met my goal.  I feel incredibly blessed for having met so many wonderful people in my year of running.  I already know how ridiculously blessed I am for having such a fantastic peer group of old friends supporting me.  My family has been so loving and supportive.  Nothing happens in a vacuum.  I’m living proof.

Beware I am fearless and therefore powerful.

Goals

On or about my most recent birthday, I committed to a plan to run in 46 events for each of my years.  Actually, it kind of evolved from 50 Events by Age 50 – meaning about 11 yearly because I was going to retroactively apply the handful of races I had done the year before…you know, just to make an even 5 year period and not because I had questions.

The idea wasn’t that there is some magic number, but rather that attaining that goal would require continuous, sustained commitment to fitness over a lengthy period of time…and that I really didn’t have enough T-Shirts so this seemed like a good way to get them.

Realizing, of course, that having a goal without actually having a plan, was a recipe for failure, I set about finding these events to run.

In the months previous, I had registered for several races in advance as doing so is generally cheaper and, frankly, I’m kind of cheap.  I signed up for the Rugged Maniac onsite of last years race at some ridiculous discount, and the Battle Frog sometime in October at an equally ridiculous discount – both of which I’d registered to run by myself, something I’d never EVER tried.  Sometime later, I registered for the Spartan Sprint, so I had the nascent beginnings of a “plan,” but only that.  I suppose it’s really helpful to WANT to do  what you’re planning.

My plan slowly grew – adding a “fun run” 5k in February run by a local running group, then a series of St. Patricks’ Day themed runs and my plan was hatched.  In fact, it was at this point that I began thinking “perhaps I could do a little better than 50-by-50.”

Now, I have to disclose at this point, that I’m not much of a runner.  I don’t particularly like running, I’m not really built for speed either.  What I do enjoy are obstacle races – hence, the reason the first three on my agenda were OCRs.  They’re physically and mentally demanding, and let’s face it, pretty damn badass.  Not everyone wants to do them, not everyone actually can do them so when you want to and can, you should.

There’s little by way of a secret as to why it became important to me to pick up this mantle on or about my birthday.  As one’s youth gets progressively distant, and the questions, doubts, perhaps even fears of middle-age come into the forefront, time ceases to be your friend.  If it’s going to happen, it needs to happen now.  I didn’t want to be that late middle-aged guy who has a few tweaks and dings, perhaps a spare tire, and high blood-pressure medications.  I didn’t want to be that senior who has to sit by a window watching others go about their activities of daily living.  We’re not here forever, and we’re only here once, so I want to be sure I’m physically able to do everything I want to do.

By February I had done 4; March 10; and April 16.  By this point, I’d registered for a couple of what I would consider epic challenges: A 200-mile Ragnar Relay, a Spartan Super, and quite possibly the most demanding Spartan Beast.  A marathon relay tossed in there, and some thoughts of a half-marathon as well, although that remains unscheduled.  Some weekends I would run 3 races: once I ran 2 5ks on Saturday and a 10k on Sunday, another weekend I ran a 5k and the Spartan Sprint on Saturday and ran Sprint a second time on Sunday.  This was as much an expression of my goal motivation as it was my sometimes extreme personality.

None of this happens, of course, without accountability and without a supportive peer group.  The people I went to high school with have been the most important influence toward working to this goal, holding me accountable – because they all have their individual goals as well – and, perhaps most importantly, refusing to allow those goals to keep me from achieving more: achieve one goal, define a new one.  I’m thankful I had the good sense to define my peer group wisely and I’m thankful I have such a strong bond with these men.

Today, I run race 38 on the year – a 5.5-mile, hillfest.  My 46 has grown now to a plan of 54 and half way through the year I’m left to redefine my goal further and to set new ones.  None of which could have happened without setting that initial goal getting me off the couch.  There is a lot of literature about goals and goal setting, not all of which I’ve found helpful in this journey.  For me, having a fitness goal was important, but I needed to bite off small chunks.  I needed to have a series of successes and demonstrate such a schedule was possible before I lept in.  Had I set a goal of 100 races for the year, I could imagine being here in Mid-July deciding I couldn’t make it.  For me, having a modest goal and building out worked wonders and I can’t imagine I’d have been better off for having a more audacious goal – I may have been worse off.  I know my personality and that’s made all the difference here.

I’m pleased with what I’ve accomplished to this point, accomplished with the support of my friends and family, but I’m not done and nor is my plan done.  Without my initial simple goal, I’d have never have found out where I could go and the power of ones friends.  I’m incredibly fortunate.