Attempting my first 24 hour ultra-run was one of my best failures yet. Although not putting in nearly enough training time, I had some great moments of growth along the way. Meeting the Fy Vay Em crew on a few occasions and enjoying the company of good friends along the training process is what this journey was ultimately all about. So onto the race.
The One Epic ultra-marathon in Spartanburg, SC has grown its reputation over the years. I have watched at a distance and each year heard or witnessed first-hand the reason for its title. Each year there is some new challenge thrown in by mother nature to keep the participants humble and quite frankly scratching our heads wondering what the hell we are doing out there. Last year it was the snow, some years it has been bitterly cold and one year they had to cancel the race entirely.
This year was no exception and although I was convinced in the weeks leading up to the race, the X factor would be the cold, just to keep things interesting mother nature decided to use rain instead. Any normal person in this area would not think anything particularly challenging or difficult with the light rain that showed up that calm Saturday morning. As a matter of fact not one hour before the race I am texting friends telling them I have no excuses today cause the weathers great. Ha!
At the start of the race a light drizzle sets in a quickly turns to a slow steady rain. Not a downpour mind you but just an unrelenting steady stream of rain that would not stop for the next 24 hours. The trail is a 5k loop that carries you through the typical trail terrain, however unlike many of the trails ( with proper drainage) that spoil us in Gwinnett county, these trails were made by amateurs. The trail was the low point in the terrain everywhere you went. More of a gully than trail really. This interesting fact dynamically changes the conditions. Quickly.
After the first lap everything I was wearing was soaked. The trail quickly begins to resemble the presupposed tough mudder courses many of us are familiar with. No problem, been there, done that. As Tim Shroer would say, “Free Mud Run!”. Continuing to slop and slide through the next few laps, many time I am able to jump on to one side or the other of the gully, avoiding the now forming brook that was the trail. Until I reach the back side of the loop returning to camp. What started off as “low Country” has quickly turned to swamp. There is no high ground, there is no longer a stream. Just a rapidly growing bog that gets deeper with every lap.
By what would turn out to be my half way point, the banks that were the high ground are treacherously muddy slip n slides. They are no longer an option. After several slips and falls, it becomes obvious that the only option is to find the low point of what is now a creek. If you run where the trail is supposed to be , you can keep a somewhat level footing and continue moving forward. All momentum is lost on the sides of what was once a trail. This is the final game changer, trying to run through some sections just simply doesn’t work. All I can say and think to myself is “This is just ridiculous!” While grateful we were not at freezing temps, staying completely drenched for hour after hour begins to take its toll. Every completed lap comes harder and slower than the previous. Every break and chance to sit, gets longer and tougher to end. Every article of clothing I brought is wet. All the shoes are not just wet but now a permanent color of muddy clay. Finally after the 10th lap (for me) everyone in our group was spent. Several of us finished together and it was great to be with Jessie as she reached her goal, earning her 1st 50k.
Even the almighty Alex Vasquez who has completed several of these races, faces the reality of this exercise in futility. All except Benji. He and I both had the goal of reaching 100k. And he has been putting in the training, doing the work. He is still not ready to give up yet. Dazed and confused, but still not ready to throw in the towel. Amazingly he pushes on through the ever worsening conditions to slog out another 20 miles reaching a stopping point of 50 miles, before he is done too. So my goal of 100k was not only a failure, but an epic failure at that. He is disappointed too but impressed the hell out of me. It funny how what he considered a failure of not reaching his goal, the rest of us consider an amazing accomplishment.
As you read this, you may be thinking, don’t be so hard on yourself or you will get ‘em next time. These are true. As I reflect back on that week end I continue to think about failure and what it means and the impact it has on all of us. What is failure? And for that matter what is success? Is it achieving or coming up short of your goal? What does it mean to truly fail? IS failure even a bad thing? Ironically I am reading Scott Adams book “How to fail at almost everything and still be a success.” And the lessons within have completely changed my perspective on failure.
Particularly in my sporting life, I have been a colossal failure. Every Ironman I have fallen short of my goal times. Almost, Every trail race I have not achieved my desired pace or finish time. PR’s are rare and getting harder. Even when making the podium, there is almost always another athlete I had hoped to surpass and didn’t. But even though I didn’t achieve the goal, was I a failure? Well first I needed to define the terms. I like Jim Rohn’s definitions. Failure – a few errors in judgement repeated over time. But I like his definition of success even more…. Success – the steady progress toward reaching your goal. So am I really failing when I fall short of my goal. If I was reaching my goal, would I really be a success or just setting easy goals.
I realized I need to embrace my failures. They are the only path to success. Failure is a necessary and critical part of the process to success. Quite frankly, it’s the only way….. long term. How many successful people have never experienced failure. How many self-made millionaires got it right the first time. None. Zip. Zero. The most successful people in the world are really good at failing. It is documented time and time again. Thomas Edison’s lightbulb is the classic example.
I have come to appreciate my failures. They make for better stories. They make for some really good memories. 5 years from now, I will probably remember that I didn’t reach my goal of 100k but I will most certainly always remember the time spent with good friends, the mutual suffering and stories that will be retold with each new training run with my friends. And this realization has made me incredibly grateful for the opportunity to fail with my friends and loved ones.
Every time I have failed it has made me better. Every failure is an opportunity to learn, and learn you better or you will repeat that failure again and again. But that is almost never the case , I rarely fail the same way. Finding new ways to fail has become somewhat of an adventure to me. I am learning to welcome it now. With every attempt, with every honest effort we are learning and improving and setting up future successes. And with every failure, the goal changes. What Was my goal the first time I failed at something is not going to be challenging enough the next go round. Growing from each failure helps push the envelope to reach newer harder goals that I may not have thought possible when I failed the first time.
While I may have experienced a few minor successes along the way, I know with certainty that I have big successes in store, because I am willing to fail to get there. The only real failure is failing to try. At least try. If I come up short, fall down, pick myself up, dust myself off and try again. The title may be One Epic Fail, but this weekend was a huge success in my book.