This past weekend, I traveled with my family to southern Utah to compete in the Zion Ultra 50K (32 miles), in what would be my first ever ultra-distance race.
I have competed at a high level in several half marathons and marathons, and competing in a longer distance seemed to be a natural progression. Furthermore, I train almost entirely on mountain trails, and with this race taking place near and atop the mesas in Virgin, Washington County, I was excited to test my trail legs in a race setting.
I went into the race fairly confident, while at the same time very unsure. I was confident in my ability to run far distances, but there were so many unknowns in the race that I felt like I was entering it blindly — which, by the way, turned out to be both literal and figurative. The race began in the dark, and I had only the headlamps of fellow runners to lead the way.
For the first 23 miles or so, I was in the lead for the women, but the race was not without many hiccups. However, I will spare you the details and cut to the chase. After 27 grueling miles, my body and mind were begging me to stop. I had given all that I had, and without sufficient fuel to carry me through to the finish, and with me terribly missing my family — including my 6-month-old (nursing) baby — I had to throw in the towel. I was finished. I had failed.
Most people would look at this and say that it was not a failure. After all, I had completed 27 miles. However, the fact of the matter was that I set out to complete 32 miles and fell short, so by definition, I failed at completing my goal.
Now, there are many productive ways one can look at and deal with failure. There is, of course, the optimistic view that I mentioned above. I completed 27 miles and should be happy with that. This is a great way to deal with failure and probably the quickest way to recover. For many, however (myself included) this is much easier said than done.
The next way is to accept defeat. While many may not see this as productive, sometimes it is best to say, “Hey, I tried, but this just isn’t my thing.” Believe me, I have had this running through my head many times, and it is not bad to do this. In fact, it can be quite humbling and even liberating to decide that something just isn’t for you. However, I am as stubborn and determined as they come, and when it comes to running, I just can’t accept defeat.
So what is left? Well, we’ve all heard the sayings: “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again,” “Never give up,” and my favorite, “Get back on the horse.” I have chosen this to be my approach in this particular situation, and that horse can’t seem to get here soon enough.
No matter how you decide to deal with it, failure teaches us many things. It teaches us what we are capable of and what we are willing to accept about ourselves, and if dealt with in the right way, it can make us even better than we were before.