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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Lessons Along the Path

Intellectually, we all know our lives have a path along which we must travel.  The length of that path is undetermined, and often we’re not sure where it leads.  There are many inflection points, opportunities to course correct, and fellow travelers to influence and to be influenced by.  Perhaps most profoundly, though, is the thought that we travel these paths without knowing how the journey will end.

Perhaps it comes via our choice of direction, perhaps just by circumstance, or it’s set in motion the day we’re born.  Perhaps it’s that lack of knowledge that allows most of us to continue along our way, blissfully unaware where and when our travel ends, when we become one with time.

The longer I’m on my journey, the more comfortable I am with the idea that it’s short and by necessity the closer I am to its end.  By saying I’m more comfortable I am decidedly not saying that I am comfortable, just moreso.  I get it intellectually and I resolve to do better to reach the end without regrets…but yet I continue to do things and fail to do things that would help me come to a place without regret.

I don’t tell the people I love how I feel nearly enough.  I don’t make the time to connect with the people in my life often enough.  I allow grievances and irritations to get in the way and let myself more fully express negative emotions rather than more fully expressing positive ones.  It becomes so easy to let the time pass instead of doing the work of maintaining those relationships.

Today, I mourn the loss of a colleague and friend.  Some weeks ago she had a cold or the flu that she just couldn’t shake, only to find she had Leukemia. Where only a few months ago, she was watching her young daughter grow up, mourning the loss of a beloved dog, basically living her life, today we’re mourning her passing on.  Never in her wildest imagination did she even for a second consider that  anything other than a particularly virulent strain of the flu was causing it to linger.

I’m of course sad for her family, especially “her little” who will now grow up with only memories of her mom – a truly sad proposition on its face, made even moreso knowing what a wonderful person her mom was  – but I’m sad for my loss of opportunity to check in with her just to say “hi” and “you’re on my mind today.”

I just started to write that it’s almost as if we (I) have become emotionally lazy, making friends and just assuming they’re always there.  There’s no work at all in curating a Facebook feed.  Everyone you meet is now your “friend,” all with the same relative ranking of “friend.”  But it’s not “almost as if.” Lazy is exactly what it is.  I know I have become increasingly lazy about putting in the work of maintaining my friendships and other relationships.  It occurs to me that I’m rarely the one who reaches out at some random point and time to make a call.

So while I’ve become much better at setting goals, it’s now completely clear to me that I’ve neglected to make developing, enhancing, maintaining friendships/relationships a goal.  I’ve not demonstrated to the people in my life that they’re important to me, and thus making it increasingly likely that someone will come to the end of their path with regrets.  If I were to reach my journey’s end today, there wold be plenty of regret to be had.  I’m not willing to let that go unchecked; I have to do better.

Today, Shannon’s family replete with grief sets forth to plan the details of saying goodbye, something just a few short weeks ago would have been unthinkable.  I’m sorry I didn’t make more time to give her a call.  We just don’t know how long or short that path is, yet we pretend it goes as far as the eye can see and allow ourselves to be lazy about the things that matter most.

She made the world a better place, I want to be sure to honor that memory by letting other people know that my world is a better place because they’re a part of it.  This should be a simple goal, but I suspect it’s going to take a lot more work than anything else I’ve set forth to do yet.  Simple is not always easy.  That’s why it’s important to keep working toward it.

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.

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.

2016 The Year In The Rearview

Be sure to be thankful for the past year.

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Lemmy From Billboard.com

One of my all time music idols passed away last December 28 – Lemmy Kilmister passed away from an aggressive form of cancer days after having been diagnosed.  2016 was not  to be an auspicious year on that front: David Bowie, Maurice White, Prince, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake.  Just a tough year for the classics…and some of the names of my childhood.

The most bizarre Presidential election cycle of my lifetime came to a close in November…in the most unlikely ways.  I’m still letting the phrase “President-elect Trump” sink in.  He may well be President before I can swallow that phrase.

The mother of one of my oldest and dearest friends succumbed to the cancer that she had willed at bay.

As we close the year, I’m anticipating the flood of “So long 2016…” and “may 2017 suck less than 2016” posts all over social media.  With all of this, by and large, 2016 has been an amazing year for me. I learned some things about the power of goals and endurance.  I learned some things about humility and being willing to step out of my comfort zone and try something different.

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2016, a year of goals

On January 2, I set out amongst the snow and slush, making my way on an 18-mile round trip walk to a nearby dam. It took me a little more than 4-hours to make the trip.  Tired and exhausted, it was awesome. It also helped set the stage for more than a few workouts this year – up and down the stairs, along the trails came to be known as the “Pain Cave” in my strange little circle of compatriots.

I began with a goal of 50 Obstacle Course races by age 50 – something I may still strive toward, as that’s my real passion and interest – but my short list of a handful of races, eventually became a goal of 46 races for my 46 years.  I honestly had no idea how low I had set my target and why would I?

On February 13, I ran the first race of the year; a 5k in 17-degree weather.  A couple of weeks later, I jumped into a pool of ice water to raise money for a kids’ camp.

It wasn’t until May that I dared try anything longer than a 5k – although the day before I ran 2 5k races – and it was kind of important that I do that because somewhere along the line I had joined a Ragnar Relay team and I had never run more than a 5k at one time.  I guessed at a 10k pace time for Ragnar, and tried to match it a couple of weeks before hand.  I did well enough – not great, but well enough – that I agreed to take on a longer set of legs for the relay, and I’m glad I did.

328 racing miles on the year.  I did so much more than I ever could have imagined.  Ragnar.  Ragnar Trail. Killington Spartan Beast.  A half-marathon.  11-races in July.  An overnight marathon relay so far into the New Hampshire darkness I saw the International Space Station traverse the sky.  I met some really cool folks.  I made stronger connections with old friends.  I ran 4 races with my daughter.  I either lost 20 pounds and gained 5 or lost 15 – I prefer to think of it as having lost 15.

Completed the #22Kill Challenge, did “The Murph,” a round of T25 and of “Insanity.” Lots of stuff going on for a pudgy, middle aged guy.

Interestingly enough, that icewater fundraiser I mentioned earlier, set the stage for another key aspect of the year for me: we gave more to charity this year than we ever have, and over a wide breadth of causes.  We had international guests for 2-months this summer; what an amazing experience. We welcomed yet another dog into our home – but this time we swear, no more.

So, 2016 didn’t see us get suddenly wealthy or even progressively so.  BUT it sees us through together, healthy.  Our bills are paid.  My daughter has completed her college studies a semester early and will be going to Europe for a couple of months in celebration.

Before complaining about how crummy 2016 was to you, maybe take some time and think about all the ways 2016 was pretty good to you.  365.25 days can’t all be bad.  I can’t wait to see what 2017 has waiting; I’m ready to go.  Happy New Year my friends.

Some Stats:

9 Pairs of sneakers

  1. Reebok (3)
  2. New Balance (3)
  3. North Face (1)
  4. Asics (1)
  5. Saucony (1)

66 Races (9 Obstacle Courses)
64:33:24 Hours:Minutes:Seconds Racing
Raced in 5 States (MA, NH, CT, RI, VT); Ran in  9 (NY, NJ, NC, FL)

 

Keeping It Between the Navigational Beacons

Life itself is a process of navigation. Sometimes we successfully navigate the beacons, sometimes we don’t.  Thankfully, in most of life’s endeavors there’s a pretty significant fudge factor.  Imagine if life were strictly a journey from place to place: in order to get to where you’re going you have to be exactly on point and the slightest deviation will put you a significant distance away.  If you have a 1-degree variance from your intended destination, over 500 miles you’d be more than 8-miles off track.  1-degree!  And that’s if you know where you’re going.  If you don’t have a goal, and just roll with whichever way the wind blows, you’re liable to wake up someday wondering where all the time went and why you haven’t accomplished anything you expected to.

Oftentimes though, the carefully planned path is overly rigid.  Sometimes you want to take a detour and see what else might lie beyond.  Plan that path too carefully, you’re liable to wake up someday and wonder about the path not taken.  If your path requires 100% accuracy – perhaps your assumptions are a little too exact, or require full control over extraneous variables for which there is no way you could possibly account – you’re likely to be very disappointed.

And then there’s all the in-between.  All the space between drifting without a goal and being overly structured.  That’s where I’m thinking about when I say it’s a process of navigation.  It’s the voyage toward the ideal goal along the charted path there.  My life has taken some twists I hadn’t planned for, but sometimes resiliency is the better navigator.  It’s getting by the obstacles that get in your way. It’s about having a destination in mind, but being flexible enough that one, or two, or more roadblocks won’t drive you off course.  It’s about paying attention to how much variance is acceptable and how firm your end goal is: maybe you’re 5-degrees off course but you realize that you’re enjoying where you’re going and decide the heading you’re on is better than the one on which you had planned.  Without that reality check, you wind up somewhere completely different than your expectations.

An article in The Atlantic suggests that the conventional wisdom that with age comes increasing happiness, is changing.  The author posits a couple of different potential reasons for this; the rise of individualism, an absence of emotional bonds.  I’m going to posit my own.  We spend an inordinate amount of time planning and setting expectations.  The generations coming to middle age and beyond now were raised with the expectation that they would do better economically than their parents; and it turns out this may not be so.  It’s about navigating the definition of happiness. We spend a lot of time alone, but very little time in introspection.  We know what we want to do, but we’re planning to get there instead of enjoying the here and now.  We have more capacity to touch more people, but less capacity for those meaningful relationships.  We have the knowledge of the entirety of human history at our fingertips, yet our work often needs little more information than how to press a button.  We give ourselves little wiggle room, and in our highly structured lives, we forget that resiliency matters.

I’m gettin’ paid by the hour, an’ older by the minute.
My boss just pushed me over the limit.
I’d like to call him somethin’,
I think I’ll just call it a day.

That said, the substantive body of generational and of “happiness” research suggests we do become happier as we get older.  The dawning of middle age was difficult for me.  I took a hard correction in course, really thought about what I wasn’t getting out of life, and reset what those expectations were.  What I didn’t do was decide it was all crap and throw it in the trash.

I started this post literally more than 4 years ago.  I have little doubt the direction it would have taken then would be substantially different than where I am today.  I cannot remember a time when I have felt more empowered by having a goal, having built a plan with a significant fudge factor in it, and working that plan. I’m happy with my work; I have a meaningful career I worked hard to cultivate and got lucky to have been in a few right places when it mattered.  I never grew up with a plan of what I wanted to do, I was however one of the lucky ones who found something I was interested in early and followed that path.

So how does one keep it between the navigational beacons?  By keeping the channel wide, by paying attention to the general direction, knowing what the journey generally should look like, and keeping tabs on where we are along the journey.  By finding meaning in what we do every day, instead of finding meaning in the ultimate goal.  The goal isn’t worth getting to if the journey isn’t worth having.