Author’s note: A draft of this blog post was written in early August and has been sitting in my Google Drive for several weeks, with me tinkering with it every couple of days. I’m posting it now, and it still doesn’t feel done. The center isn’t there, and I don’t have the tone right. However, taking a cue from Anne Bradstreet, this blogger to his post says, It’s time to get out there.
What does it mean to fail and how have we come to see failure as something terrible, catastrophic?
Here’s what happened:
After over twelve hours of running, I came into an aid station called Camp 10 Bear. I was tired, but ready to keep going. However, I hadn’t peed for over six hours, even though I had been drinking regularly. I went to for a medical check because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t in the early stage of kidney failure. I got weighed and had my vitals taken. They green lighted me to keep going.
I went to my wife, she helped me change clothes, a new t-shirt, socks. I refueled at the aid station, refilled my pack, said to the volunteer there, as I pointed in a particular direction down the road, “I’m going that way?” to which he replied, “Yep.” And off I went, moving slowly, still munching on a handful of grilled cheese sandwiches.
Forty-five minutes later, after a huge climb, a runner came towards me, yelling, “We’re going the wrong way.” I was off course, on a part of the route that I was supposed to be on, but about 23 miles later. The only thing to do was to turn around, head back to Camp 10 Bear, and see where I was at.
On the way back down, I passed scores of runners coming up the hill, asking if I was okay. All I could say was “I got off route and went the wrong way.” They groaned, vocalizing my pain.
Once back there, completely demoralized and just a few minutes ahead of the cut off, I decided, with tears in my eyes, to drop.
It’s easy in this day and age to seek blame. “It’s not my fault” has become a standard phrase. As you’re reading this, you’re probably saying, the aid station worker gave the wrong directions. However, I firmly believe that in this instance, I’m responsible. I should have known the course better. I should have confirmed before leaving that I was going in the right direction. There are times when circumstances and the larger forces contrive to end our runs and force a decision. This was not one of those times.
In the media, success and failure are at the core of the narrative, especially around sports and athletics. We love the story of triumph after failure, of accomplishment after defeat. We love the come back. The underdog surmounting his or her foes. We don’t often look at failure for what it is, which is the end.
In telling this story over the past month, I try to avoid euphemism as much as possible. I lay it plain–”I went to Vermont, and I failed.” Sometimes I say “epic fail.” But even that I don’t like. I’m not Homer or Milton, and I’m certainly not Achilles or Odysseus. Sometimes failure is small, and in the grand scheme of things, nothing. Sometimes failure is a runner on dirt road watching others keeping going.
When I say that, that I failed in what I set out to do, people twitch. They shake their heads. My dad, kind and good-natured, being fatherly and protecting says, “Most people don’t even think about running 100 miles,” as if to say you did something few others did, isn’t this success? My wife wants to cut me off when I use the word failure. She’ll say, “But you ran more that day than you ever have before.”
To get to the Vermont 100, I had to have a 50 mile qualifier, which for me was the JFK50. I did over 1200 training miles, or what amounts to somewhere between 20 and 30 hours a week. The race fee was $180, with another $150 volunteer buy out. I went through three pairs of running sneakers. Most days I’m either up at four to run before work, or I’m going home after work to run before I need to get dinner on the table. I don’t keep track of the boxes of gel, energy bars, bags of electrolyte drink I take in. I also don’t keep track of the other resources I eat up following these goals: tolls on my family, my knees and ankles.
One way to look at it is that all that’s lost, and that I’ll never get it back. Another way to look at it, is to say, the experiences make you stronger. Is it human instinct to find the smallest element of success to hold onto to keep surviving, and thus to perpetuate the self and its genes? Is this the core of biology, destiny, the Darwinian selfish gene?
This is not to say, in my attempt here at the 100, that there will be no other attempts. I will take on this distance again, either in Vermont or someplace else. Success or failure? I’m still not sure, but I’ll try to figure it out as I look to toe the line again.
Author’s note: While this post needs work. It’ll be used as part of a series of model blogs for students in my English 101 and Media Maker classes this fall as a part of writing and media projects student do on reflective writing and storytelling.