“Failure is always an option. It is what you do with the failure that makes you who you are. Our failures mold us. I have failed at several things in my life. What sets some of us apart, is that when we fail, we can't sleep at night. It haunts us until we have our time at redemption.” -David Goggins
Saying failure is always an option seems like such a negative thought coming from someone who has such a positive outlook. But there is a powerful truth in the statement above. I read this a few weeks ago and it resonated so loud and clear within me.
Back in October, I toed the line at the start of my first Ultramarathon, Cactus Rose in Bandera, Texas. Originally, the plan was to tackle the 50-mile option and break myself into the ultra world “gently”. In the months leading up to October the training miles piled up and my training buddies and I decided to go for the 100-mile option. The course was a 25-mile loop in nasty, south Texas hill country that we would now have to cover 4 times instead of 2. This would also mean running for over 30 hours non-stop through the night and navigating 14,000 feet of elevation change on a fairly technical course.
To make a long story short, I failed. Now before you think there is a dark cloud hanging over that statement you need to hear more. I failed, but I failed GLORIOUSLY. It was an amazing, life-changing experience that I will never forget. Around mile 50 I “tweaked” my knee. On this difficult of a course a little tweak can turn into a big problem fast. I spent the next 43 miles, most of them in the dark, wincing in intense pain as I prepared to take the next step. I quit at least 1,000 during that race, but I also chose to re-start myself at least 1,001 times. Sometimes I would let out a primordial scream of “Freeeedddooommmmm!” ala Braveheart and feel the pain leaving my body and run relatively comfortably another mile or sometimes just another 10 steps before my knee would collapse on me yet again. After 93 miles I quit a mere 7 miles from realizing my goal that day. Aside from my kids being born, it was the greatest day of my life.
So, despite my GLORIOUS “failure”, technically I have never completed a 100-mile Ultramarathon. True, I have only tried it once, but that truth still remains. This is where the second part of Goggin’s quote comes into play. Haunting. Emotionally after this race I was spent. My lady running friends equate it to post-partum depression. The fact that I suffered severe tendon damage and was in bed with both legs in compression boots did not help(picture to the right). I began to question myself if I could have somehow dug deeper 1 more time or 100 more times to somehow drag myself across the finish line. I could not get it out of my head that the possibility existed that maybe I could have finished.
Part of my path to redemption involved getting back on my feet and running again. It took a few weeks, but eventually I worked all the kinks out. While laid up with my injuries I had already set my sights on a new target: The Rocky Racoon 100-miler in February. Only this time I am not only going to finish it, but do it in less than 24 hours. Yes, I know. I am setting myself up for another GLORIOUS failure. I do not think so. This time I am going to train harder and I will be more experienced at GLORIOUS failure.
The White Rock Marathon was coming up in a few weeks. Now, I do not enjoy running long distances on pavement like I used too, but running a marathon with 20,000 people is a great way to log some miles. The support you get from complete strangers cheering you on is very uplifting. Sounds like a good training run eh? Well I could not leave well enough alone. I couldn’t just show up and run 26.2 miles like 20,000 other people. This kid had to do his own thing. I ran 28 miles from my house to the starting line and then ran the full marathon for a total of 54 miles. Also, I almost forgot, I was wearing a 20lb backpack the entire way.
Now 54 miles does not sound like a lot when compared to 93 on very hilly, rocky terrain, but there were several elements of this run that made it seem as hard (besides just the 20lbs of gear). This was a solo run downtown. When I left my house at 1:00 am it was foggy, misting, and about 42 degrees. I warmed up quickly and was excited about the run. Within a few miles I was pretty wet and the cold began to creep in. There were times running alone in the cold, dark night the thought crossed my mind that I did not “have” to do this. This is where I would remind myself that failure is always an option and think of all the second-guessing I did to myself after Cactus Rose.
If you are reading this blog you probably are also friends with me on Facebook. I am that crazy running friend of yours that is always posting about his latest exploits. I sincerely hope no one has ever thought that anything I posted was me being boastful. I have been touched by the positive feedback and encouragement I have gotten from many of you. To be completely honest I post all that stuff and write this blog primarily for me. It is a little psychological game I play with myself. If I put it out there on FB that I am going to run a 54-miler this weekend, I am sure to have a few of my friends that will ask me how it went. I do not want to have to tell them that I stayed in bed because it was warm, soft, and dry and that the road was too cold, hard, and wet. I want to be able to tell them about my latest GLORIOUS failure. If they happen to take a small piece of inspiration from it even better for all of us!
I made it to the AAC at Victory Park at about 5:30. The marathon was not going to start until 8:00. I found a very warm bathroom at the W Hotel to camp out in for about an hour. I changed into dry running clothes that were in my 20 lb backpack and tried to get warm. I waited out the next 2.5 hours with the cloud of doubt creeping in on me. I was still cold, slightly tired, and my muscles were starting to tighten up. I pulled Goggins’ website up on my iPhone and read his post about failure at least 10 times. I watched videos of him running across Death Valley. Scoreboard: Doubt/Failure=0 David 9,743.
Finally the sun came up! It was light out, but not very warm. It felt good to be a part of the gathering crowd of 20,000. I could feel my energy rising. At 8:05 we were off. I got plenty of strange looks in my knee-high, white compressions socks, 20lb back pack, and the Forest Gump running beard I am sporting. I actually did have several people yell “Run Forest! Run” in their best Jenny accents. I was quite a sight. 4 miles in and the doubt monster tried to creep back into my thoughts. It kept whispering to me that I could just turn off with the Half Marathon people. It would still be 41 miles for crying out loud! I would have none of it. The turn-off shortly after mile 6 came and went and I trudged on.
Doubt really tried to raise his game against me from miles 6 through 10. It whispered: “You know Dave, you could just step off the road into the crowd and walk away. No one will even notice. The Dart station is only a mile the other way. That will be much easier than another 13 miles.” This is when I knew I had to vanquish Doubt once and for all for this day. I gave one very loud “Frrreeedddoommm!” cry and took off running again. Now on the trail, people would see you do that and not only would they understand, but they would think: “That dude is hard core!” and pick it up themselves. On this day, the weird guy in the backpack was getting weirder and I could have cared less.
Once I got to the lake and made mile 16 there was no question I was going to make it all the way. There was only one question left to be answered: How long will it take? Originally I wanted to do a nice steady pace and run the entire 54 miles in under 12. I ran the first 28 in just a bit over 5 hours way ahead of my plan. I started to run the math in my head as I looked at my watch and calculated pace the best I could after 40+ miles of running.
With 10 miles to go I figured I could finish in 11 hours if I can keep it together and not break down physically. At this point in the race it actually hurt more to walk than it did to run. I used a very systematic run-walk strategy to make it this far. I was not going to abandon it now. 7 minutes running. 3 minutes walking. The watch would beep and I would change gears accordingly. I repeated this cycle 65 times that day. With the right inspiration I could finish this right.
Watching a world class marathon runner is a sight to behold. They make it look effortless. It is impressive, but not necessarily inspirational. Inspirational happens at the back of the pack in a marathon. This is where you find the first-timers who 6 months earlier were sitting on their couch. You find the 68–year-old man who shuffles along without barely lifting his feet off the ground. People running in shirts that say “In memory of Dad”. Trail runners by nature are fairly social creatures and I made it a point to talk to as many of these people as I possibly could. They too knew that failure was an option, but if they could keep moving so would I!
Coming around the corner for the last stretch of a marathon can be an emotional moment. On a day when you ran more than 2 marathons and booted doubt and failure to the curb it better be an emotional moment. This home stretch did not disappoint. The crazy guy with the backpack gave one last cry of “Frrreeeeddddooommm!” and kicked it into a full sprint.
I still have not completed a 100-mile Ultramarathon, but on this day I did not fail gloriously. It was simply GLORIOUS!
Failure = 0
Dave = 54 miles in 10 hours 45 minutes.