Failing – May Newsletter
When looking at past failures it’s all a matter of degrees. Sometimes it can seem like nothing went right but they are only total failures if you take nothing away from them. For me, admitting that my failures were in fact failures helped me to look at them with a more focused eye.
Off to a rough start
The first marathon I ever ran was a trail marathon that my friend found in Bloomington. She asked me if I thought we could do it even though the race was six weeks away and we’d never been trail running. I was young and still considered myself invincible so I said yes and tried to devise a plan. We had both done half marathons and thought we were in good shape so six weeks seemed like plenty of time.
It wasn’t long into the race that we realized we had no idea what we were doing. We hadn’t taken any water or fuel with us and six weeks was definitely not enough time to strengthen our legs for the hilly course. She wasn’t hurting as bad as me so halfway into it I told her to go on. My legs were hurting so badly I wasn’t sure I’d finish but miraculously I did. The photo of us at the finish is a sight to see. Just as the camera flashes she started to cramp and winces in pain and I don’t look much better.
Failure and lesson: By overestimating my ability and knowledge I didn’t take the training more seriously and left myself open for disaster. Never believe yourself to be too good, too experienced or too smart to see things as a beginner.
It doesn’t seem to be getting better
My second marathon was a road race. It had to be easier and less painful than a trail I thought. This time I followed an 18-week training plan I found online. When race day came I felt much more prepared but rather than approach it with the eyes of a beginner and just be happy finishing I set what I now consider to be a lofty goal. I wanted to finish in under 3 hours and 40 minutes or a 8:24 per mile average. What I didn’t yet understand was that the pain I’d felt during my trail marathon wasn’t just because of the hills or lack of training. I was about to learn what lactate threshold meant. From the start I came out too fast but was able to hold my goal pace until around the 20 mile mark when my thighs started to seize. By mile 23 I had to walk-jog because the lactic acid in my legs had built up so badly. When I crossed the finish at 3 hours and 54 minutes I was heartbroken and embarrassed. My emotions got to me and I broke down crying, not from the pain but because I felt I had let my friends and family down and thought they must think I’m such a wimp for having to walk.
Failure and Lesson: I forgot to enjoy the race and be happy with the effort. I had let myself go negative. My time was still really good and my family was still proud of me. Plus I’d pushed through the pain to finish. But I didn’t see those things I only saw my failure to hit a dumb time goal. My legs giving out set me on a path to learn more about training response and ultimately taught me about heart rate training, a valuable tool I use with all races now.
By 2013 I was a seasoned runner, finishing full marathons with a consistent mile time, never needing to walk and crossing the finish line with a smile on my face. Things were going so well that my brother-in-law, Ryan, and I decided to give 50 mile trail runs a try. Our first 50 went amazing! Ryan and I did long runs together and talked constantly about training. On race day we set out at a perfect pace and finished with smiles. It was an up and down course that forced us to climb with our hands at points and taxed our legs but we loved it.
This was not a failure of any kind. I only tell you this because this next story came AFTER I’d successfully run an arduous 50-mile trail race.
Success in our first 50 got Ryan and I thinking we might like to try a 100-mile race someday. But first we signed up for another 50 in 2014 to see if we could improve our time. The training for this race didn’t go as well. In 2013, I had quit my job to open Body Evolution Personal Training and the stress was getting to me. I knew what I needed to do in training but with a busy schedule and long hours not all of the workouts were getting done. I focused on the long runs and the quality sessions hoping it would be enough.
Less than a month before the race Ryan and I met up to run the Ann Arbor Marathon and treat it as one of our long runs. Did you know that a plane doesn’t crash because one thing goes wrong but because 12 things go wrong? Well this marathon was my plane crash.
We weren’t even halfway when I mentioned to Ryan that my legs felt tight. At mile 9 I stopped to stretch. Then I stopped and walked at every aid station. At mile 14 I started to walk. Nothing felt right and I couldn’t figure it out. I was cold, I wasn’t sweating, my stomach was churning, and worst of all my legs hadn’t felt such pain. It felt like cramps at first but by mile 16 I was telling Ryan to go on without me. Trying to bend my knee felt like I was tearing my quads and every step I took without trying to bend my knee was sending shooting pain through my calves. I had no idea what was going on but I felt like I was tearing every fiber of every muscle in my entire leg. By mile 22 I’d had enough. I told my sister, who was there cheering us on, to get the car. I sat on the side of the road and waited for her to pick me up. I physically couldn’t sit in the car so I laid across the back seat. I wanted to cry but I was too angry. I couldn’t even get out of the car to see Ryan finish but I had been so far behind him that by the time we arrived at the finish line he was almost there too.
Before the race we had talked about going to a nearby brewery for our post-race meal and after dropping out I definitely wanted to drown my sorrows. We didn’t talk much on the drive. During dinner I finally tried to explain the pain and figure out what I’d done wrong. It was still a mystery but I was piecing together all of the mistakes and there were quite a few- poor nutrition, lack of hydration, poor sleep, tight muscles, and the wrong clothing for the weather.
When we were nearly done eating Ryan had only had about 2/3rd of his burger and I was still hungry so I asked,
“Can I have that if you aren’t going to eat it?”
Without skipping a beat he said, “Oh, so that you can finish?”
For a brief second I looked at him shocked then burst out laughing, “that was a good one.”
Failure and lesson: Again I had overestimated my abilities but this time it wasn’t training. I didn’t realize how important a role sleep, nutrition and hydration played leading up to the race and during training, not just race day. This race was a total failure but yet I was still proud of how I acted following it. I didn’t ruin Ryan’s day or my sister’s with a poor attitude and I was able to laugh at myself. Ryan’s comment to me was a perfect example of what makes for a great partner. He wouldn’t let me wallow in self-pity and I know I wouldn’t have let him either. This race allowed me to focus on the total package when it came to training and racing. And in case you were wondering less than a month later Ryan and I both finished the 50-mile trail race and in a faster time than our previous.
Failure is such a strange thing. They are the times that come to mind almost more often than the victories and they often make for better stories too. Don’t ignore your failures or gloss over the embarrassing parts. These failures made me a much better runner and coach than any of my successes ever could.