Failure is a Heavy Word for Many - including myself. This blog is my attempt to shift it towards a more neutral feeling .... writing is my therapy - and after yesterday's disaster, I need therapy!
Failure = Lack of Success, or the neglect or omission of expected or required action.
By this definition, my attempt to Race the Eagle Bay Epic this year... was a "spectacular FAIL" . There was both a lack of success, and there was an omission of expected good feelings. Instead, I experienced a healthy dose of disappointment, frustration, self-anger, etc.
For those that don't know the Eagle Bay Epic is an outdoor adventure race which involves a 23 km mountain bike, 2 km ocean swim, 13.5 km ocean kayak, followed by a 13 km coastal "rock hop" run.
Since I had invested so much time, $$$ and energy into preparing for this one race, it is natural that I had expectations of success. Success in this event for me, looked like ;
Completing the Event
Appreciating the privilege of being physically well enough to participate in such an race.
Enjoying the physicality and movement variety
Enjoying meeting new friends (other competitors)
Enjoying the stunning natural environment
Seeking a sense of completion after a six month preparation road map
It's very tempting to put a positive spin on this race's outcome and move on, after all, I am the "Queen of a Positive Re-frame". HOWEVER I figure that would be a missed opportunity. If I am going to learn and prosper from failure, the worst thing I can do is listen to my friends who want to make me feel better, or to sweep it under the rug and ignore the hard-bought lessons it has.
Once you fail - it’s time to switch into learning mode.
The first step is to figure out what kind of failure it is.
Did you know 3 types have been classified ?
1. Preventable failures
These could have been foreseen but weren’t. This is the worst kind of failure, and it usually occurs because the best practices weren't followed, the person didn’t have the right talent, or didn’t pay attention to detail. If you’ve experienced a preventable failure, it’s time to more deeply analyse the effort’s weaknesses and stick to what works in future ventures.
2. Unavoidable failures
These often happen in complex situations and involve unique sets of factors. This is the type of failure that almost no one saw coming.
3. Intelligent failures
These are the best kind. They happen fast, and don’t consume too many resources. This kind provides the most useful information for the least cost. This is the philosophy behind the trial-and-error approach, in which a business conducts experiments to find a product or business model that works. The lesson here is clear: If something works, do more of it. If it doesn’t, go back to the drawing board.
My failure in this race was a preventable one. That's what made it SUCK more for me.
The thought " This could have been prevented " is not a fun thought to have running through your head, EVER.
My decision to not wear a wetsuit for the 2 km ocean swim was the preventable Error. My pre- race reasoning was that "yes I would be cold, but the time spent getting the suit on and off would be wasted time", given that I anticipated being in the water for approx 40 mins max.
Here is what I failed to consider. Entering cold water after 90 mins on a bike, with fatigued muscles is a recipe for CRAMP. I had taken anti-cramp pills before I hit the water, however they took about 20 mins to kick in. My legs went into frozen, painful, "splints"... I couldn't bend my knees because my quads were locking so tight and I couldn't kick my ankles because calves were locked also. I soon discovered it is almost impossible to swim when your legs are cramping, and even floating becomes an achievement. I kept telling myself that the pills will kick in soon, just keep moving forward and somehow finish the swim. Thankfully after 20 long minutes the pills kicked in, the muscles let up a little and i could find a swim rhythm. My 40 mins of ocean swim time had turned into 50 mins and I was shivering uncontrollably. My mission was to simply get to the kayak and start paddling in an attempt to warm myself up.
Unfortunately balancing in a kayak with an uneasy side chop is near impossible when you are both cramping and shivering. I managed for a while, until I fell out. I got back in... wetter and colder than ever, kept going for a while, fell in, and got back in, wetter and colder, shivering more and cramping more. The third attempt to get back into the ski simply didn't happen because I was shivering and cramping so much I couldn't pull myself up.
So I was humbly rescued, by cool people, given layers of clothing to stop me shivering, hot cups of tea, and plenty of "there's always next year"!
Reflecting on that one hour of my life, I really wasn't cognitively processing well ; I couldn't think clearly about where my car was, the logistics of packing up, etc. I simply couldn't think. My body was so consumed trying to re-heat, there was no glucose in the brain for thinking. Not sure how long I sat there for with my awesome support crew, in full sun, shivering up a storm, but I do know the shivering and cramping went on for a few hours after.
Six months of quality preparation was lost in one decision to forgo comfort for time.
After such a spectacular FAIL I decided it was both necessary and useful to FEEL what I had to FEEL ; frustration, disappointment, anger, etc. I gave myself a full afternoon to WALLOW in the heavy emotions. I went to sleep and woke up and attempted to let it go as best I could. With the emotions soothed, I was able to sit and reflect with a more balanced view point, and WRITE. There is such clarity that comes from writing - for me.
Here’s what I am attempting to do, to regroup:
I made a determined effort to isolate what went wrong. This has given me clear guidance about future choices.
I am not BLAMING anyone, or anything, including myself. Yes I made a poor decision, Yes it sucked, Yes I experienced a "not fun" time as a consequence, however I am smarter for the experience because I choose to be.
I will be asking for input from others; my kids, my coach, my support crew AND i will be actually trying to LISTEN to what they say.
I will be setting up new procedures for future races. In my case - I need to sit down with my support crew before next race and have them play "devil's advocate" with all my choices.
I will consider failing again. At some future point I will ride that ride again. I will take cramp pills 20 mins before the bike ride ends, and enter that water with a wetsuit, and do the 2 km ocean swim and I will see if it prevents the cramp and the shivers. This is the only way to know if my theory is accurate. I will also spend more time in the kayak in a "cross chop" and spend more time practicing falling in and out of the kayak. I had done both of these things already, which is why they aren't the focus, but rather another layer of action that will create more security in a future scenario.
I do firmly believe that when you are stretching your own comfort zones that failure is inevitable.
Feelings of unease, tension, discomfort, frustration, disappointment and anger are also evidence that you are going beyond what is safe, secure and known. So from that space I will try and welcome them.
Failure is not a signal to give up. And yes, I have had those thoughts.
Rather, failure is just opportunity -- in somewhat different dress than you are probably used to. It’s an opportunity to learn, to correct mistakes, and to fine-tune processes, training, recovery, nutrition, etc so that next time -- the result is success.
Failure, it turns out, often lays the groundwork for more success.
And how much sweeter will that success be for having experienced the opposite ?
Hopefully I can tell you next year.... when I stop shivering and cramping !
I also realised a day failing at the Eagle Bay Epic is still better than most days.
According to my success check list ;
Success in this event for me, looked like ;
Completing the Event NO
Appreciating the privilege of being physically well enough to participate in such a race. YES
Enjoying the physicality and movement variety On the Bike YES, Swim and Kayak NO
Enjoying meeting new friends (other competitors) - on the bike YES
Enjoying the stunning natural environment - NO I was too cold to enjoy much
Seeking a sense of completion after a six month preparation road map NO & YES
Any thoughts, insights, comments welcome.
Thanks for reading my "out loud" self therapy.