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.