Failure Provides the Education for Future Success – and For That, I Am Thankful (PART 1)

While there are still more than 5 weeks until we ring in 2014, I’ve taken this day before Thanksgiving to develop some 11th hour thoughts on my 2013 goals and their corresponding status. As you may have already guessed – it is NOT pretty.

While 2012 was a year of success for me (12 marathon in 12 months, 3 of them being solo expeditions all over Manhattan), 2013 seems to be a classic example of “The Sophomore Jinx”. The Sophomore Jinx, if you look the term up on Wikipedia, is defined as:

“A sophomore slump or sophomore jinx refers to an instance in which a second, or sophomore, effort fails to live up to the standards of the first effort. It is commonly used to refer to the apathy of students (second year of high school, college or university), the performance of athletes (second season of play), singers/bands (sophomore album), television shows (second seasons) and movies (sequels/prequels).”

…I wish I could blame my poor 2013 performance on this jinx…but I can’t. So let’s begin to take a look at where I stand at this point, and then I’ll share my lessons learned. Today I’ll start with my primary goal for the year, and I’ll chime in daily with analysis on my other goals over the next few days. Consider this my way of licking my wounds before moving on.

Goal #1
My primary goal for the year was to try to run more than 2,013 miles this year. As of today, I continue to be WAAAAY behind on this goal. As of today, November 27th, I have logged 1,048.64 miles in 2013. At this point, even if I logged a marathon a day until the end of the year, I would wind up 134.56 miles short of attaining my goal.

So far, I am 0 for 1.

Where Did I Go Wrong?
In order to attain this goal, I needed to stay focused on it on a day in, day out basis throughout the year. I failed to do that. Instead, I became distracted with countless other things all year long, and I consistently told myself “don’t worry about missing your 5 miler this morning – you’ll make it up at some point…”. I told myself that so many times that, by the time I decided to dig in, the daily amount of mileage I needed to record went up drastically. Instead of needing to log 5.5 miles a day, the number shot up to 8….then 9.5….then 11…. You can see where I am going with this.

I should have realized that triathlon training, amping up overall workout intensity, and trying to get quicker as the year progressed would also take a toll on my body. And it did. The second half of the year – especially after the July 2013 New York City Triathlon – I began to experience almost daily discomfort. Some days it was just a simple “I’m achy – I don’t feel like getting up and putting in the work today”. Other days, however, I experienced genuine nervousness about the pain I was feeling in my lower back, or the heel of my foot, or my knee. I took days off to try to recover, and those days allowed the injuries to heal just enough to get myself back into working order. But I never stayed 100% physically healthy for too long. Did I go see a doctor? Heck no. Why? Because if I went to see a doctor, he/she would have told me to shut it down for a while and give myself a real chance to heal. And he/she would have also called me nuts, crazy, stupid, or asinine for attempting something like this. And I don’t like being called names. So I “saved myself the aggravation”. Yeah – right. I’m a real rocket scientist.

The Lessons Learned
Oh where do I begin…there are just so many things I have learned from attempting this goal. Hopefully what I learned from my failure can be useful to you in charging forward pursuing your own goals. Class is in session:
· If you are going to set a big goal for yourself, then attack it right from the start and do NOT lose focus. Involve others in your quest. Ask for help from friends and family to motivate you to get out there and do what needs to be done on a daily basis to stay on target and achieve your goal. I didn’t really do that very well. Instead, I kept my goals to myself on a day-to-day basis…and I have the attention span of a three year-old. So I lost my daily focus and I paid for it in the long run.
· Each day you’re given a choice: do what’s right, or do what’s easy. If you want to achieve your goal, no matter what that goal may be, you need to grind it out. Every single day. You can choose to do what’s easy – but then don’t expect the same results that you aspire to. Demand more of yourself, constantly. I failed to do that. Too many days, I choose the easy route.
· Develop a plan, and then STICK TO IT. I had a great plan – and then life got in the way. I failed to adjust the plan as things came up along the way. I just simply made the assumption that I could amp up my efforts whenever I wanted and pull big numbers to get myself back on track. I was 100% wrong.
· At the outset of your endeavor – whatever that endeavor may be – you need to spend a little time thinking how to protect against your mission going FUBAR (Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition). Think first about the biggest hurdles you may encounter, and then have a “break the glass” plan for addressing them, just in case. My biggest hurdle was staying focused on the goal on a day in, day out basis. Another large hurdle was dealing with the physical breakdown that developed during the second half of the year. I didn’t think about my potential FUBAR list, because I made the assumptions that:
o if I needed to amp up mileage when I began lag my monthly mileage goals, I simply would put in more miles at a later point. (THAT WAS DUMB), and
o If I experienced an injury, I could just push through it, because I have a high threshold for pain. (THAT WAS EVEN DUMBER).
· Take your injuries seriously. Don’t ignore them. See your doctor when something doesn’t feel right and it’s affecting your daily efforts. I ran the New York City Marathon with a pulled lower back muscle, combined with planter fasciitis in my right heel. I gutted it out, but shouldn’t have had to. If I went to my doctor promptly, maybe I could have addressed the injuries, healed up, and ran much better than I did. But I’m…well….DUMB. So I toughed it out, and then went down to Orlando to run the 2013 Wine & Dine Half Marathon the next weekend, and made the back injury much worse (that one required a trip to a medical tent, post-race). But me being the schmuck that I am – I was not done yet. The following weekend, I attempted my first ultra – the New York Road Runners 60k in Central Park. I got about 14 miles into the race when I actually had to withdraw due to injury. THAT felt incredibly awful to do – but I actually needed to. I couldn’t just grit my teeth and keep moving. The pain was THAT distracting. My November could have been MUCH better if I took better physical care of myself.

If you are going to set a goal for yourself, make it a big one. Let it scare you. But also respect the goal itself and what it will require from you, physically and mentally, to accomplish. Do not make any assumptions. Have a plan, and stick to it. Get those around you to cheer you on, or kick you squarely in the rear-end when needed. Grind it out, daily. Break up your large annual goal into smaller, more manageable goals to hit throughout the year to keep you on course. Reward yourself when you hit one of these smaller goals. Those are my lessons learned.

I’m actually thankful for even attempting this mileage goal. Go big or go home. I may have failed here – but “I failed” has a much better ring to it than “I never tried”.

Set a goal for yourself – it doesn’t matter what it is. Then grind it out and work your butt off to achieve it. Even if you fail, you’ll come out a different person than the one that began the quest…and the journey is what matters.