Confessions from the Trail: Failure and the Doldrums

Hello and welcome to the doldrums. With only five weeks to go until the Mississippi 50, I’ve hit that horrible intersection of “I’ve come so far” and “I still have so far to go.”

Five weeks is a miserable length of time away from a big event and I hit a doldrum like this with every major race or bodybuilding show I’ve done. With five weeks, you find yourself close enough to the event that you can start feeling like it’s soon, especially relative to the amount of time you’ve already trained and prepared. In this case, I’ve been training for the last five months. Five weeks is close enough to feel those nerves driving you inexorably forward to the start line. But five weeks is still a long enough amount of time away from the starting line that you can still mess it up. One wrong foot placement on the trail could knock me out with a sprained ankle. A poor lift in the gym could wreck my back. And in this, the era of COVID, meeting with the wrong person could wreck my lungs and put me in the cardio penalty box for six weeks.

I also find myself in the doldrum grind. I have been doing this for five months. I know my local trails by heart. I know what I need to eat and drink. The challenge of nailing down those things is gone and it’s a long five week grind to the starting line. Part of my brain tells me, “You could stop; you could throttle back and coast in from here. What’s the difference between a 17 mile run and an 18? Or only 15? Heck, just skip this week; you’re legs are tired enough.”

Fortunately, I have failure to spur me on through this last month into taper week. As I’ve written about in “But Why?,” “Being Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable,” and my most popular post, “Chasing the Ultramarathon,” I have failed to complete the ultra distance three times now. In 2016, I had to drop down to the 20k distance a mere week out because my body was falling apart. In 2017 I gave myself a freaking heart murmur and my doctor wouldn’t clear me to race the ultra distance. In 2020, I started training for the 50k distance but knew months out that I couldn’t make the distance and only signed up for the 20k.

Those failures burn me.

Not like the warm flickering of a candle. They burn in me like a spark ignites a forest fire. My ambition is the tinder of a dry forest floor and at five weeks out, the flames are licking at the branches. I will finish this race. I will make the distance. I will crawl across the finish line if I have to because I won’t accept failure again.

I would quit except, you see the way my ambition is set up...

So many people are afraid of failure. Terrified and paralyzed by the very thought of failing. But I ask you: if your goals don’t include a risk of failure, are you really achieving your potential?

Maybe there are folks out there who are truly happy staying safely in their personal bubble. But, me? I need goals. I need a challenge. I need the risk. Hell, I need to know I’m walking to the edge of the cliff and staring into the void. I want to know that when the void stares back, the void blinks, not me.

The failures are what drive me out of the doldrums. It’s what silences the little voices that tell me to take it easy. The fear of failing, again, is what will drive me through to taper week.

Because when I toe the starting line on March 6th and I stare into the void of covering 31.1 miles with a goal of 8 hours or less, I want to see the void blink.

Update: I ended up in the ER, on bed rest and quarantine for two weeks the weekend following this post. I missed my two longest runs but still finished Mississippi 50k in under 8 hours. It was such a significant emotional event, I even got a tattoo to commemorate it. The void stared hard, but in the end, it blinked, not me.

Pexels free images.

Happy trails!

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13 Comments on “Confessions from the Trail: Failure and the Doldrums

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