Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Five Thoughts On Failure

I spent this past weekend at the Bryce Canyon Ultra (they have 100 mile, 50 mile, and 50k distances). I was there to pace my friend Jared Thorley as he worked on tackling his first 100 miler. If you haven't yet experienced the beauty of Bryce Canyon in Utah, stop reading this post, throw some stuff in a suitcase, and go. Now. It is arguably the most beautiful place on earth.

I planned to meet Jared at the 50 mile point, make sure everything was going okay, and then ride with his wife to the 60 mile point and run the last 40 miles with him. This plan allowed me to enjoy the most awkward shuttle ride EVER. Imagine this:

  • I'm in a school bus.
  • Only one other guy in the bus.
  • There was the bus driver, a young kid. And his assistant (?) an older, clearly unrelated lady. 
  • He grabbed his phone and started a play list on the radio. Then these two kind souls sang Josh Groban as we cruised down a dirt road for an hour. Nope. Not a joke. I plead the 5th on whether or not I joined them on a rousing version of "You Raise Me Up."

I waited at the 50 mile point. And while I waited I chatted with ultrarunning legend Hal Koerner. All the ladies in ultrarunning have a crush on Hal. (And if we're being completely honest about this, so do all the guys.) This made my day.

But it wasn't just Hal I talked with. I also visited with elite runner / freak of nature Timmy Olson who has won the Western States 100 the last two years in a row!

Jared's expected arrival time came. And went. A half hour passed. Then an hour. And then another hour. By the time Jared arrived it was cold and dark and he was flirting with cutoffs. I was concerned. I knew that Jared wanted this race badly because it demolished us when we ran it last year. I decided I wouldn't wait to join him at 60, I'd start at 50. We plunged into the darkness.

Jared was struggling. His legs felt like they had been blown up with dynamite. Everything hurt. Every ounce of energy had drained out of him. Then the most incredibly peaceful, awe-inspiring sight opened up before us. The moon rising over the horizon had me stopped in my tracks. It was stunning.

Keep in mind, the Bryce 100 course is BRUTAL. One of the most scenic places I've ever run, but INCREDIBLY difficult. Jared made up a fun game to distract himself from his legs yelling. The game was called Name That Fluid. Barf? Bathroom? Blood? We saw all of the above on the trail.

The reality of the situation gripped Jared and he knew that he wouldn't be making the next cutoff. So when his legs could take no more, we'd sit on the side of the trail for a minute with our headlights off staring at a trillion stars above us.

At mile 60 Jared's race was over. At exactly the same place our race ended last year. I knew the feelings he was having. I know that realization that I gave the best I had, but my best wasn't quite enough. I've been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt in the past, like at this race and this race. That feeling really, really sucks.

I want to say something about this. Getting a DNF (Did Not Finish) at a race is NOT failure. Here are five truths about a DNF:

1) Just clicking the "Register" button for a race shows epic faith and determination. Countless people think these races are cool, but they are too scared to pull out the credit card and make a commitment to run. You were brave enough to take that risk.

2) Running is a gift. I work in a healthcare setting with people who would KILL to be able to run. We are blessed to be able to do this. So whether you make it 3 miles or 89, we are so blessed to even be out on the trail.

3) Consider this from Theodore Roosevelt who said "Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure...than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat." Just showing up at the starting line proves that you "dared greatly."

4) Valuable lessons can be learned when things don't work out as planned. I HATE hearing that kind of crap after I've "failed", but after a little time passes, I can see that every single time I have collected a DNF it has been a valuable learning opportunity and I have bounced back smarter and stronger.

5) Let that "failure" light a fire under your rear end. Ramp up your training. Add some miles to your week. Run another hill. Eat an apple instead of a glazed doughnut. (Just kidding, pretend I never said that.) Make your legs burn. Push out of your comfort zone. Strengthen your mental determination. Do a speed workout. And most importantly CLICK "REGISTER" FOR ANOTHER RACE so you can KICK SOME BUTT!!!!!!

On my drive home from Bryce Canyon there were clouds in the sky that only come around once or twice a year. The sunrise was breath taking. It was the beautiful dawn of a new day.....literally and figuratively.


  1. Love all of your thoughts on "failure". Just what I needed to hear today. And that moon picture is so, so beautiful!

  2. Jared was looking rough when I saw him around mile 40ish , but he was still moving forward . Struggle is part of the sport , that's what make success so sweet . I have so much respect for Jared and his running abilities . There will be other events and much more struggles for each and everyone of us . Super Proud of Jared making it to 60 miles , thats not a short jaunt , by any means !

  3. It's hard to hear after a failure, but all very true.

  4. I love that Teddy Roosevelt quote. It's one that was shared with me after my first Dirty Kanza DNF, which led me to train more for my second Dirty Kanza DNF, which really motivated me to train more and better for my third Dirty Kanza and finally finish. So I definitely know the sting of a DNF and the courage it takes to try and try again after falling short. A little distance gives you the ability to look at the race in a clear way and analyze if there was something you should've done different in training or execution or if it just wasn't your day.

    60 miles at Bryce sounds like an amazing accomplishment to me.

  5. Well said, yee wordsmith. The different feelings between this DNF and last year's are immense. I got a sense of calm when I realized I wouldn't make the cutoffs on this one. And that realization came very early in the day. Last year pissed me off to the core (and still does a bit). These things are supposed to be hard and humbling, and I seem to continue to need that reminder.

    As always, great to enjoy some trail time with you. Thank you much for coming out and keeping me going when I didn't want too. That little bushwack was fun too. I'll be at the Wasatch this September and see if my idiotic fascination with the hardest hundreds in the state will come to any fruition.

  6. Great post. Sounds like a killer but beautiful course.

  7. Very well said. No matter the race, whether you complete the course or not is not all that counts, especially in an event of this distance.

  8. I had my first DNF at a race a nasty hilly 50k a few weeks ago. It wasn't that anything was even "wrong", it's just that I was emotionally spent having forgot my hydration pack and was being a big wuss about it. And beings it wasn't a big A-race, I just sucked it up to experience and grateful for the several hours I WAS out there. The DNF didn't hurt nearly as much as I thought. :) Hope your friend is recovering well and looking at future 100s! :)

  9. Nice writing Cory -- explaining the unexplainable -- the section on DNFs is one of the largest in my book and could easily have gone on and on and ... I visit dark places often.


  10. Great insights and as always beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Great blog post on DNFs. Running a 100 ain't no joke. I've yet to do one myself. One day, I keep telling myself, one day. The more I read your blog and others, the more confidence I get in pulling out the credit card...not quite there yet, but soon. I dig your sense of humor, I think we'd get along swimmingly.

  12. i thought i was the last runner when i reached Mile 60 but only to find out that Race Bib #148 is trying to reach the Aid Station at Mile 60. i was the 62-year old guy sitting in front of the bonfire trying to warm-up my body. i finally dropped at Mile 82 after my body would no longer ingest any form of food intake to my body with 4.5 hours to spare to the finish line. for sure, i will be back next year with a vengeance! nice blog!

    1. I humbly bow to your bad-assery. Well done to get through that 73-82 section with those brutal climbs.

  13. Thanks so much for this post Cory! This week I've been getting excited about doing my first 50 miler in 9 months time so found it very fitting.

  14. Love this! I'm hoping to go for a 100-miler in the next year or so and my biggest fear is failure. There hasn't been a race I haven't finished, but I'm trying to prepare myself for it. I know it will happen sooner or later. This was great to read.

  15. I LOVE this post. Awesome stuff.

  16. What you've said here is so true. Just daring to dream so big is success. And as far as failing is concerned - it's just a matter of perspective.

  17. GREAT post!


  18. Some great and needed perspective. Thank you!