Failure To Fail

I had another topic in mind for this week but after hanging around the Rio Del Lago 100 Mile Endurance Run watching and helping out several friends and runners, I was inspired to talk about failure. Thanks to Nic Errol,  Donna Ni Cuarta and Todd Larsen for the reminder and lessons learned.

.300 and above is considered a very good to excellent batting average in baseball. That’s approximately one hit in three attempts over a season. That kind of average over a career would make the player a candidate for the Hall of Fame.

In the world of start-ups from which I carved a career, a 1-in-10 “hit rate” for success is considered ‘normal’ and those founders and entrepreneurs that beat those odds are considered savants and fringe exceptions.

In ultrarunning we commonly toe the race line hoping for a PR, break-out race and/or exceeding our goal time. The majority of the time we whiff; I’d guesstimate over a trail running career, we achieve ~25% of our goals. The rest of the time we encounter unplanned obstacles – physical, nutritional, mental and/or emotional – that run us into a ditch. We “fail” – the word we utter directly after the DNF, DNS or less-than-desired time.

But do we really fail, or are we actually gaining something, potentially more valuable than the PR or goal?

In fact, if only 25% of our races end up the way we wanted or expected, isn’t the way we handle the other 75% even more important? What we glean may be THE most beneficial outcome of our sport – for ultrarunning and life.

Introspection, maturity, self confidence, motivation, determination, perseverance, focus, tenacity, humbleness, respect, patience, diligence…

All of the above attributes are what I and many of my ultrarunning friends say they learn from failure. Dang. That’s a stout list. I’ll take a dozen failures to go, please! Seriously, the potential gains from things not going as expected are exponential to those that come with achieving the goal.

The trick – and opportunity – is how we manage the way in which we process the lessons. It requires practice – just like our physical, mental, nutritional and emotional training we do leading up to a race. But, the better we become at absorbing the valuable information we learn about ourselves or how we plan, contend with pain and suffering, frustration, lack of stomach, energy, etc… – the better our odds are that we can improve our ultra-batting average from .250 to .300 or above. And that goes for life too.

So next time you encounter a “failure” with your ultrarunning, take a moment to revel in the privilege, take inventory of the lessons learned and make a pact with yourself that you’ll use the opportunity to make you a better runner…and person. I look forward to seeing you out on the dirt soon – odds are we will be in the midst of another failure. Can’t wait!


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