Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Blog Post I Hoped I Wouldn't Have to Write

Last Saturday, in St. George, Utah, I ran my 13th marathon in yet another attempt to achieve my frustratingly elusive goal to qualify for the Boston Marathon. 

I failed—again. 

Now it is time to write the blog post I hoped I wouldn’t have to write.  Here goes…

Strange as it might sound, my lucky number is actually 13.  So many things leading up to the race had portended a positive result.  I felt it was my time.  After all the work and waiting and adjustment and gained experience, I felt I had earned it.  I had convinced myself that the 13th time would be the charm in my nearly 4-year long quest to qualify for the marathon. 

It WASN’T. 

I didn’t even come close.  A faster than usual course turned out to be deceivingly hilly, and my questionable training amidst a hectic work travel schedule and plenty of parental responsibilities turned out to be insufficient.  I crossed the finish line in 3 hours and 35 minutes, missing my goal by 25 minutes—almost one minute per mile too slow to qualify for Boston. 

I’m not going to sugarcoat the fact that I was disappointed, if not devastated, at this painful failure.  Saturday was one of the more miserable days I have experienced in recent memory.  Despite being mentally and emotionally racked by the disappointment and disillusionment of failing once again at a goal I have invested so much time and effort in, I was physically sore and sick – more so than I had been at the conclusion of any of my previous marathons or half marathons.  It took me nearly six hours after the race before I had regained my appetite to eat or drink anything.  To make matters worse, my family and I had to catch not one, but two plane rides back to Houston after the race was over.  We didn’t get home until nearly 11:00 p.m. 

So how am I—the Self-Action Leadership guy—going to put a positive, self-leadership spin on my disappointing performance and failure to achieve my goal after trying 13 times and making numerous adjustments to my training?

The post I wanted to write would have exultantly shared the news of an impressive victory.  I then would have seasoned it with a few clever clich├ęs to corroborate everything I had written about leading up to the race … you know: think big, work hard, be smart, pay the price, and then collect your pot of gold at the end of Boston’s bright rainbow.  It would have essentially been a PARTY in words, and that would have been okay, because that is the expected response when you win.   

But what happens when you lose?  Tony Robbins once said, “When you succeed, you tend to party; but when you fail, you tend to ponder.” 

I was not able to have the party I had anticipated having on Saturday.  Instead, since mile 17 of the St. George Marathon—when I knew my body lacked what it needed to run a sub 3:10 marathon—I have been doing a lot of painful pondering. 

Blessedly, the more I ponder, the more grateful I am that I didn’t qualify?  Why?  Because pondering has produced more seedlings of long-term success as a runner and a human being than partying could have ever hoped to do.  As a result, I believe I am ultimately farther ahead in my existential journey than I would have been had I qualified.  Moreover, I believe this post will be more meaningful to YOU – the Reader – than if I had written the post I wanted to write.

The other day, I was reading Dr. Suess’s book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go to my little son, Tucker.  Listen to the words of Suess’s masterpiece: 

You won’t lag behind, because you’ll have the speed.
You’ll pass the whole gang and you’ll soon take the lead.     
Wherever you fly, you’ll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

Except when you don’t.
Because, sometimes, you won’t.

I’m sorry to say so
but, sadly, it’s true
that Bang-ups
and hang-ups
can happen to you.

You can get all hung up
in a prickle-ly perch.
And your gang will fly on.
You’ll be left in a Lurch. 

For the first seven miles of Saturday’s marathon, I was running not at sub 3:10 marathon pace, but at sub 3:00 pace, and was maintaining it fairly conservatively.  Everything was going as I had envisioned it.  Then, at mile seven, a series of hills came that lasted the better part of the next FIVE miles. 

I live in southeast Texas.  To my knowledge, there is not a single substantive hill in all of metro Houston.  With very few exceptions, I did no hill training.  By mile 17, despite the welcomed downhill that finally came, I was in a lurch, and knew it.  While I gave it my best shot from miles 18-26, my last eight miles saw my gang (hundreds of other runners) fly by me in embarrassing fashion.  Deflated, but determined to finish, I kept going, finished, collected my medal, and then collapsed in a heap of hurt (physically & mentally) in some unoccupied corner of Worthen Park in downtown St. George.

Thus began my treasure hunt for whatever life lessons I could glean from the experience.  I share the finds of my hunt below. 

Life Lesson #1: By shooting for the stars, you’re liable to end up reaching the moon. 

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon was my way of shooting for the stars as a runner.  I didn’t make it, but I DID complete 13 marathons, which is no small feat.  Of those 13 marathons, Saturday’s was the second fastest of the five marathons I ran in 2014.  It was also my fifth fastest time overall since I began running marathons in 2011.  So while I didn’t achieve my ultimate goal, I achieved a lot of other objectives in the process. 
My Marathon & Half-Marathon Medals (4 marathons run in practice)

Life Lesson #2: The importance of clarifying your life’s priorities. 

As I remarked in a previous blog post, I could easily qualify for the Boston Marathon if I dedicated my life to it.  Other people and things, however, are more important to me than qualifying for the Boston Marathon.  I have chosen to retire from the distance not because I am a quitter, but because my wife, son, and career are more important to me than qualifying for the Boston Marathon.  When the time comes that I have enough time to fully train for this event, I will likely choose to try again.  Knowing the extent of my aversion to failure, I don’t see how I cannot try again at some future date.  In the meantime, I choose to put marathoning in the back seat of my life.    

Life Lesson #3: The importance of recognizing and acknowledging your natural talent, and lack thereof, in different life undertakings.    

I have never been particularly talented at running long distances fast.  I was a cross-country State Champion in high school, but that was only for 3 miles.  I can run fast for 3 miles.  In college, I was an All-American in track and field, but that was in a relay where I ran only half a mile.  I can run really fast for 800 meters.  My true talent as a runner has always been in middle distances more than in long distances or sprinting.  No matter how hard I try, I simply do not have the natural talent to be as good at sprints or long distances as I do middle distances.  For example, one of my All-American teammates in college—who I ran within a second of in the 800—ran 70 minutes faster than I did on Saturday in the marathon.  One of the race’s elite runners, Mike finished in 7th place.  I love to run, and look forward to returning to shorter races in which I have more natural talent.  In fact, I’ve already signed up for a half marathon set for the middle of November.  I can’t wait to run a shorter race where I know I’ll do better and enjoy the process more.  And I look forward to continuing the habit of running regularly for the sake of physical health and appearance as well as mental, emotional, and spiritual hygiene. 

Life Lesson #4: You aren’t going to accomplish everything you set out to accomplish.

As human beings, we possess finite strength, capacity, energy, and talent.  We simply aren’t going to accomplish everything we set out to do, and that is okay.  The important thing is that we stay focused on what really matters most, and then ensure we are successful with those relationships and things.  Fortunately, qualifying for the Boston Marathon is not one of those things for me.  Thus, life goes on, I’ve learned what I can, and I can now turn my attention more fully to other objectives, while still remaining a runner and racer of shorter distances.   

Life Lesson #5: Experiencing pain, disappointment, discouragement, & rejection provides vital contrasts to positive emotions, thereby allowing us to more fully comprehend pleasure, success, fulfillment, and acceptance.   

Anyone familiar with my life’s story knows that I am no stranger to pain, disappointment, discouragement, and rejection.  I feel blessed to have experienced so much trial, illness, and struggle in my life from the simple standpoint that it makes the good times even better.  You cannot experience joy if you have never known sadness.  You cannot know victory if you have never experienced defeat.  You cannot truly appreciate success if you have not felt failure and chosen to learn there from.  In the insightful words of one of my athletic heroes, Michael Jordan:
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career.  I’ve lost almost 300 games.  26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.  I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.”

On a lighter note, I also learned that when you fail to qualify for the Boston Marathon, you don’t have to run the Boston Marathon!  I’m kind of sick of running marathons, so in one sense, it is actually kind of nice to know that I definitely won’t be running another marathon in April 2016.  Good riddance 26.2… for now at least. 

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