Lessons From Losing

These are some lessons I learned from my failed marathon on January 7th.  Of course, all of this is after some retrospective reflection and a bit of self-inflicted mental torment.  Maybe somebody else can avoid the traps I fell into if they read this.  Hopefully.

  1. A marathon or ultramarathon is nothing more than a running event.  Nobody is going to die if you don’t finish, and you won’t slip into a life of booze, unemployment, and suicidal thoughts.  Nor will you become gain enlightenment, overcome all of your life problems, or become the person you always wanted to be if you finish.  It’s simply not the beginning or end of the world.  It’s a long run.  That’s it.  Enjoy it for what it is.
  2. You care more than anybody else about the outcome of an endurance event.  Sure, people will be interested and even support you through the run.  But nobody will remember your finishing time one week after the event.  Unless they are endurance athletes themselves, they won’t know or understand the time invested or the experiences you acquired while running training for the event.  Don’t even try.  It’s not that they don’t care.  It’s just that the entire experience is very personal and deeper than surface level.  So, forget about time goals and paces.  Immerse yourself in the race you’ve trained for.  Don’t throw it away on obsessing over details in order to “succeed”.  Do what you already know how to do.
  3. Some endurance events might take years to train for.  Throughout my life, I’ve undertrained for a goal or overtrained for a goal.  I have done very little to train for a major 8 hour long peak climb in the Sierras, and I succeeded and suffered.  And on the other hand (and in this particular case) I have trained too hard.  Even though you follow the rules, the goal might be tougher, and you probably need more time to strengthen properly.  Don’t rush it.  Set goals realistically and conservatively, and you’ll probably succeed more often.
  4. Know when to quit.  With everything said above, don’t quit without having a very good reason.  Otherwise, you will regret it.  It might get very difficult, and you might hurt very much.  But are you permanently damaging yourself?  Are you sure?  If not, keep running.  You’ll know when it’s time, but don’t take that decision lightly.  Even though it seems to be the clear decision at mile 19 when your knee is killing you, it won’t be so clear in two or three days.  In retrospect, you will question yourself, and it you can’t escape it if you know you were not honest with yourself (then see #1).  Don’t be stupid either, because there’s no integrity in finishing if you pay for it for one year to life.  
  5. Horseflies can bite.  Apparently, I was bit by a large horsefly at mile 9.  I have never been bit by a horsefly.  In fact, I have never even seen a horsefly in a redwood forest.  It seems so random.  Yet, it made the back side of my head feel like it was Rodney King.  No, there’s probably no practical lesson here.  But it feels good to get it off my chest.

Crossing the Finish Line – Napa, CA  March 6, 2011

This is my second marathon finish.  I thought I was smiling when I finished, but apparently the pain turned it into a grimace.  But was it worth it?  Absolutely.