Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What is Failure?

It was one of the longest rides of my life.  For 30 minutes I sat on the cold hard steel bed of a white pick up truck, crammed in under two soaking wet sleeping bags with six other runners who for their own reasons had chosen to be there too. I sat there in silent pain listening to each of them explain their various reasons to each other, the rain, the cold, getting lost, there is no way I could have finished and so on. No reason is less valid to each individual. We must justify our choices to ourselves so we can move on. This however was not a conversation I found myself willing or interested in participating in. My decision was made and I would have to live with that. What was consuming my thoughts at this moment were how many people I may have let down, including myself.

Just 8 hours earlier I was shuffling my way toward completion of my 5th loop at the Javelina Jundred (mile 77) when I had one of those moments that keeps me coming back. I had been struggling most of the day and night when for a brief moment the pain had subsided enough that I began to run. Not with grace or speed but I was running. I had made it through many rough hours and for the first time since lap one I was certain I was going to finish the 101.4 miles I had set out to complete. During this short burst of tolerable motion I began to feel that love of brutally painful bliss. It is possible to be miserable yet wonderfully alive at the same time and that is where I was at that moment.

About 90 minutes later I slowly entered the start finish area again. I reached my gear around 11:30 pm, more than 17 hours from the start of my adventure and the reality of my situation was becoming apparent. The physical pain in my right ankle and shin was extreme as my body began to scream at me in anger. The mental decision before me was even worse and I was not prepared to give in, hoping that if I continued to follow my own advice of just one more step I would eventually fight through this somehow. As quickly as I could I prepared for the next 15.4 miles which I was now assuming would take me about 5 hours. I had been warned of a severe rain storm approaching which in these chilly temperatures can be brutal when one is not moving fast enough to generate any heat. I was ready and put on all my requisite gear of misery and crawled off into the unknown. This was the first time I have ever felt nervous about what lie ahead.

My plan at this point was to walk as well as I could to each aid station. Sit down there for a few minutes to rest my leg and take in a little nutrition. I was definitely feeling weak in my mind at this point and I wanted to be sure I took my time and thought through everything as not to make any poor decisions one way or the other. When I reached the first aid station 3 miles later it was raining hard. I was not bothered by it much and would have preferred to keep moving to stay warm but wanted to stick to the plan I had made. This may have been the big mistake but who the hell knows. As I sat there it felt as though my ankle was expanding and becoming rigid under my sock and gator. I needed to move although it would do no good.

I pushed myself back out into the freezing rain with the trail now a sluggish mess of sandy mush and invisible puddles in the dark. With every step my nerves sent an unpleasant message to my brain.  As if it were saying "If you take another step I can promise you are not going to like it". Oh yeah! Well fuck you I screamed back and I began to run. Only to be laughed at hysterically by my body which as it quietly suggested I should just lie down in the mud and quit. Of course I did not lay down but it did seem inviting on several occasions.

Several kind runners and pacers stopped to see if I was ok or needed anything during the next couple of hours, and that is what was so frustrating. I was walking as if I was catatonic, but I was not.  I was lucid, just unable to move forward with much purpose.  The effort was everything to me, the appearance was weak.

When I arrived at the next aid station now 4 miles after the last I asked for the time and was told it was 3:30. It took me 4 hours to travel 7 miles and with each step I was moving slower, with greater effort and an increased awareness of the pain. I sat again as planned only this time I knew I needed to sit for a while to see how I would feel over the next hour or so and try to make a rational, safe and smart decisions. They had a truck leaving about 20 minutes later and I declined this invite. People came and went over the next couple of hours. I was jealous, envious and angry. How and why was this happening to me. All I wanted was to keep going and finish. As I sat, my leg continued to swell and change color and I knew continuing on was not the smart choice for me. Self pitty now showed up as my hopes of finishing were now stolen from me (by my choice of course). As I barely made it to the truck under my own power, about 30 feet my fear of failure became reality.

So that's it.  Now what? What will my children think? What will my wife think? My family, friends, co-workers and all the others who have supported me, what would they think? At that moment I was not sure but I cared, a lot. At that moment I felt I had failed.

Now a couple of days later I have had time to think about it. Not justify but think and decipher. So I asked myself, what is failure? The dictionary says "lack of success". What is success? The dictionary says "the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors."

Many would say this was a failure because I did not complete the race.  If that is your definition you are correct.  Others would say I showed up and gave 100% and that is success. You too would be correct by your definition.

Well in my eyes this endeavor ended with prosperity and favor.  My family, friends and supporters have shown me that they are with me no matter what choices I made and are behind me 100%. Not just for the purpose of running and completing miles, but for what it means to so many of us who want to push limits, do more, find cures and live it like it's your last. So thanks to you all for everything.

With that, no matter what you do give all you got.  By the way, I am still not over it but some day:)

Just in case you wanted to see it! Guess which one was angry.


  1. I am awesomated by what you did, how hard you pushed, through pain etc. You take FULL ownership for you efforts and decisions (by the looks of that ankle- a good decision!- hey, it ain't the olympics, and you do want to keep running) I feel this quote is appropriat: " a man may fall many times, but he WON'T be a failure until he says someone Pushed him" So there, you're not a failure :-)

  2. Failure is a DNS! Not trying is failing. A solid DNF is simply not complete success.

  3. The most important thing ultras have to offer is this kind of reflection and penetrating insight. I always hope I have a good race and I'm not forced into any insightfulness or wisdom, -- but I know I need them too. I wish your race had been injury free, and I hope the insight becomes useful to you eventually.

  4. Tough one out there Eric.
    One thing I learned this year is if you are going to go to the limit in 100's eventually you are going to get a DNF. At least if u are a mere mortal runner and not an elite.

    After my DNF at mohican I took it really hard. It took a long time to get over it as I played the what if game in my head. Easy to do when you are no longer in the state you were in the race. Dont worry you will make peace with it eventually. As my friend JD says "no regrets". I could make sure I never dropped in a 100 again if I didnt run another one but then what fun / challenge would that be?

    Just take what you can from it as far as enjoyment and experience, you will get it done next time!

  5. There are so many great “failure/success” quotes -

    “The only real failure in life is not to be true to the best one knows.”

    “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

    “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

    “Failure is a detour, not a dead-end-street.”

    “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.”

    But truly, it is often those that are not involved in the effort that seem to always measure success and/or failure, and we tend to place a high value on their opinions, even though they do not know our struggles…they do not know our pain…they do not know what is deep within our heart and soul. Only you can determine what is the true meaning of your successes and failures, and whether or not your efforts fall into one of those two categories, and if your “failures” have meaning that you can learn and grow from, then they are ultimately your “successes”.

  6. Man! Nothing but love and admiration for you! I say a whole hearted congrats to you on your success, yes, success!

  7. This is one of your best posts, Eric. Very well written and full of the emotional minefields we deal with in this sport. Thanks for putting your heart into this, and your race.

  8. Thank you everyone for your support and comments. It has been an incredible year all around and to finish my year of racing with this incredible experience....well I would not give that up for anything. Peace E

  9. E:
    "Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It's courage that counts." -- John Wooden

    I don't have any idea who that guy is, but I like what he said :) You are so courageous, and an inspiration to everyone who knows you, and especially to those who love you. Hang in, and take it easy on yourself. You are extraordinary, but also human, and that's what makes you beautiful.


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