Saturday, April 2, 2011

Avoiding Failure

"Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be." - John Wooden

Looking at my March Madness bracket, and then, at the actual results, it has taught me a couple of things. One is to let your son pay the ten bucks to get you in the pool ("What pool? What Tournament? I don't know nothing about any ten bucks"), and the other is that if you play it safe, it's probably going to bite you in the rear. I could have picked St Peter's, Alabama St., Texas-San Antonio, and Wofford, and done just as well. But, I was TRYING to avoid failure and picked Ohio St and Duke. Obviously, this didn't translate very well into seeking success. Let's get away from basketball...please...and see how this applies to running.

For many years, I've been hobbling around with progressively achy ankles, but have pushed on doing marathons and ultras and trying to keep my mileage up. After a race or long run, I would walk around like Quasimodo on a bad day, but that was the expected post-race Al-walk. At least I could still race (well, run anyway).
As the years went by, I tried various fixes, always hoping that this was the magic that would get me over the hump and allow me run at a status quo, meaning keeping my marathon times fairly stable and also allow me to run the trail ultras. Now, let's get one thing straight. I absolutely HATE blogs where the writer goes on and on about some personal injury he has, and I am not going down that road, but hang with me for just a while. As my training times plummeted and my races became non-existent, and as I tried to find the running groove again, I couldn't quite figure it out - what the heck was going on? Even on days when pain and soreness wasn't that bad, I was still as slow as cold mollasses. Did I lose the desire to push? Did I forget how to run? My daily training times had been a gradual slowdown, but now those times had fallen off the Continental Shelf!

Then, about 2 weeks before the Mercedes Marathon, around the first of February, for no good reason, except that I was sitting on my rump too much, I developed some high hamstring pain (it certainly wasn't from all the speed work!!). In the "Do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do" vein, I ran the Mercedes (my first marathon in 2 years, so I was rested), which did a real job on the hammy. Again, skirting all the non-interesting details, I've tried to play it smart since Mercedes in trying to return my old hobbling self. I've come back slow and it is much improved. When I run with friends, I drop back. When I run alone, I want to beat myself silly about running 11' miles, but that's my pace, like it or not.

This past week, while running by myself, and feeling some better, I realized the phase of running that I'm in now. For decades, I ran to seek success on the roads and trails. Seeking success was defined by race times and the effort given. Also, the feeling that I was "red-lining it" in races and giving it what I felt was an honest effort to push during training runs. When you seek success, you go right to the dragon and stare failure in the center of it's eyes. As my superman body began to respond to my kryptonite ankles, I now realize I have been running for years to avoid failure, not seeking success. Not only am I not staring at the dragon, I'm not even entering his lair. In my case, failure was not being able to run anymore. I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to even "jog" comfortably. If you get good at avoiding failure, it becomes it's own goal. It's a good skill to have - it reduces the gremlins of running - but it's not what powers racing success. It scared the living daylights out of me to think I may not be able to run some day, so, in addition to having to slow down due to my physical restrictions, I also sub-consciously ratcheted back to where my left-sided brain wouldn't allow me to "take risks" with my running future. I think in other venues, it's called limiting your losses.

Back, about 2 years ago, I made a deal with God to just allow me to run and I wouldn't complain about the pace. Well, doggone it, He has held me to that deal, and although I waiver a bit, I am thankful to just run. Finishing Mercedes more than 2 hours slower than my PR was surprisingly a huge thrill for me, because it meant long distance running was still part of me. Being able to run slowly on a non-technical trail is not the gut-wrenching climb next to a waterfall it once was, but it is where I find the most peace in my favorite form of running. I can still run to the sunrise, and you know what? The sun doesn't care about my pace.

Now, looking at it a little more clearly, I have crested a mountain that on one side of it has you pushing, taking risks, and knowing that stretching this rope may cause it to snap and hurtle you into failure. But, on the other side, you take the safer route so that what was once failure has a totally different meaning. So, maybe I have my definitions wrong...Sometimes avoiding failure IS seeking success and my success is just getting out there and running.

I may be way back there, but, thank goodness, I'll see you all on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

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