Thursday, July 14, 2011

What does failure teach you anyway

After a couple of weeks of decompressing (read sulking) from my DNF at the Mohican I thought I would try to figure out what I learned from that experience. This ended up being no easy task. You always hear that there is nothing that leads to future success better then past failures and the lessons learned there. Although I do agree with this for the most part I would argue that success leads to future success better then failure does. That said some things must be experienced to be truly appreciated. If that wasn't true I wouldn't run these 100 milers I would just read about them and watch some videos. Mission accomplished.

Optimist or Pessimist
I think what you take away from a race / performance like this depends on how you see the world. There are those that see the glass half full (what went right) and those that see the glass half empty (what went wrong). Then there are people like me who just see half a glass. I think that to give an honest evaluation you got to take the good with the bad so here is what I learned.

1) I really suck running in the heat.
I should have learned this lesson last year after Niagara and Creemore but the message seems not to have gotten through. I just don't run well in the heat at the start of summer. I seem to do okay once I adjust to the heat later in the summer but I suck during that adjustment time. I tend to melt down quicker then the Wicked Witch of the West in a thunderstorm. Luckily this is solvable so its sauna training next April for me no matter what race I am gearing up for.

2)Volume training works for me
All the many many miles that I put in over the winter actually did work for me. True I basically had no life but hey something has to be sacrificed on the alter of extreme stupidity so human sacrifice it was. The higher mileage did work for me just not in the way that I had anticipated. Logging the extra miles I expected to run my next 100 milers in a faster time as I would be able run stronger later in the race. Unfortunately I didn't actual run much faster due to stomach issues. Still I think that it will pay off speed wise in the near future when I don't end up spending a lot of time at aid stations puking.

What those many miles did do for me though was speed up my recovery from long races and protect me from injury. Last year I got injured in all 4 races that I ran that were over 100km. Nothing serious but still they caused breaks in training that I didn't really want or need. This year so far no problem and my legs have bounced back really quickly after races.

As an added bonus my wife still talks to me ..... sweet

3)Focus and proper prep is everything for me
My lack of focus going into the Mohican was probably the biggest mistake I made. After being so sick at Sulphur I think I got tentative on this one. Going into a race just looking to finish does not work for me and on the few occasions that I have tried this it has gone badly. I need to come out fairly hard and push early to get my head into the game because if I don't I never will find a groove. Even with races that are being used for training runs I try to run hard for a while early before pulling back. If I don't the run has and will become an epic disaster for me. I become a runners version of the Hindenburg, going down in a huge burst of flames.

My prep was okay for the race with the exception of one big mistake. I did not instruct my crew properly on what to do if I decided to DNF. After running five 100 milers and 24 hour events over the last year I had began to take it for granted that I would just push through no matter what. The thought that I might DNF never really even crossed my mind. Talk about arrogance especially for a guy that runs middle of the pack times but thats the truth. The idea that I might drop was never even a consideration until I decided to drop.

In my first few races Kim (and pacers if I had any) were told to not let me drop unless I required an ambulance. I told them to do everything possible to make me stay on the course until race officials pulled me. After a number of successful races I stopped giving these instructions so when I actually decided to drop I left Kim in a really bad position. She wasn't sure what she should do. By the way this in not a criticism of Kim at all. I blew it by not being clear on how the situation (which she had never been in) should be handled. She took me at my word that I had to stop running. Nobody should take me at my word, ever.

4)Nutrition whats that all about
Okay pretty simple, I had my nutrition down to a science. Then at Sulphur I had major stomach issues. At Mohican I stayed on my nutrition pretty good for most of the race but aid stations were problematic later in the day. I had stomach issues again but I think this was mostly due to heat exhaustion. It wasn't the same kind of nausea I had at Sulphur. I think my nutrition is solid but I guess I will find out for sure at Burning River.

I am also going to pick up a camelback with extra pockets so that if I run into another situation where I am not getting what I need for food from aid stations that I will be able to carry more of my own nutrition.

5)DNFing when you can still keep moving is bad
Should be self explanatory but really isn't. I had no idea that dropping would have the effect on me that it did. I was a second guessing, grumpy, pissed off, pain in the ass, miserable guy for weeks. I never want to feel like that again. In my only other DNF there was no issue for me, when 46 out of 49 runners have to drop due to insane weather you know that there was really no choice involved. This time it was a choice based on getting into a dark place and then convincing myself not to keep going as I wouldn't make the cutoff anyway. Now I do think that I probably wouldn't have made the cutoff but who can say for sure. If I had kept going even at a zombie shuffle pace and got pulled from the course I guess I would know and there would be no second guessing.

When I DNF again (and it will happen as thats just part of running ultras) I am going to be sure that there is no other choice.

Limberlost this weekend
Will be running 56km at Limberlost this weekend as a last really long run in getting ready for Burning River. I ran it last year and it was some of the nicest trail I have ever run on. It will be 4 times around the 14km loop for me. Going to run this with the same approach as PYP, loop 1 hard, loop 2 and 3 more laid back, loop 4 try to crank it up again. Should be a blast.


  1. Nice analysis - talking wives are definitely good, too ;-) You still doing PPM and Lean Horse - a little wild west tour?

  2. This was a really interesting look, especially about the decision to DNF. I am a champion in talking myself out of things, and my husband would definitely not be the one to talk me back in. He'd be all about me quitting. I'd need one of my racing friends--who get it there.

    I'd say you're talking a DNF in something that most people could only dream of doing way too hard...except I've been moaning and groaning and second-guessing decisions I made in a recent little bike race and have no room to talk. Good luck in the next one!

  3. Sounds like you've thought this thru ever way to the middle. I'm terrible in heat as well.

    All the best w/Limberlost this weekend!

  4. I hate heat. Someday I hope to not have to race in it ever again, just use training in it to make me stronger for the fall.

    Have a great time this weekend! You deserve a good race.

  5. I am a firm believer that my failures have taught me more than my successes. Last week I had to be rescued for the first time ever while trail running (in a different state, I got lost!). I learned lots from that. When I DNF'd a 50k due to heat exhaustion last year, I was devastated. I was physically (& mentally) sick for days! But I think I learned more about myself on that day than on any day ever. Sad but true. I am happy that you learned so much from your DNF. Running in the heat can suck.

  6. My mother told me today that I would have a heat stroke if I tried running outside. it's no joke allright. Pulling out was the right move. don't beat yourself up for it.

  7. You are so hard on yourself. We all are. I moped for weeks after pr' ing my last marathon but missing my goal and bonking along the way. It just takes time to process and move on.


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