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Failure and Going Back To The Well

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"Am I gratified that I got it done? Is it gratifying to have this library, this stack of things that I've worked on? Well, yeah. I like 'em all. Some of them are not as successful as others, but I like 'em all." -- Bill Murray, as told to Scott Raab in this month's Esquire. (via kottke)

Good races come and go. Like any accomplishment, it's always nice to take a moment and appreciate a race well-run or a new PR set. It's enjoyable to be self-congratulatory and analyze how nicely everything fell together once; it's easy to think about a good race and say 'yeah, that was a good one'. But what about the other races? Those happen too, and maybe they're mundane—or maybe they're hell.

Bad races linger—they're something that we build up to for months—but they happen. But here's the thing: any run is an accomplishment—even if it's not a big deal on paper. Injuries aside, just about any physical activity is better than inactivity. Without a bad run here are there we can very quickly lose sight of the good runs. Realizing this is key in getting past a bad run, a bad week, or a bad race. But our races are, in a reductive sense, our body of work (our filmography). And as Mr. Murray says, some are not as successful as others.

But it's ok to like them all, so long as there's something to learn from the "failures".

Last week a co-worker lent me Sam Sheridan's The Figher's Mind, a book detailing various MMA fighters and their mental preparation. There are a ton of good anecdotes about their training and planning for performance (there's also chapter on ultra runner David Horton), and so far the book has been insightful to say the least. I'm not finished with the book, but two quotes from fighters have stuck in my head this past week, following my awful attempt at running in the heat a week ago.

"Maturity is a big part of success in fighting, because it means you understand the game—that losing is part of the game … The key to doing well in competition is to accept; accept that you can lose, you can not perform. Take this big bag of rocks out of your backpack, take the pressure off, and you'll do better. Once you understand that, man, you can do well." -- Ricardo Liborio

"In this sport, nobody wins a world title undefeated. You have to lose fights to get better, honestly." -- Pat Miletich

Certainly I'm not out to win a world title, but these statements are directly applicable to running: there will be times when we're knocked flat on our ass by a hill, or the heat, or a cramp. We have to have shitty runs to get better, otherwise we'll have nothing to learn from. I've failed/"lost" plenty of times when out on the road. I couldn't handle the heat last week. I couldn't handle the emotional difficulty of falling short of a goal that I set for myself in New York City.

And though the setbacks aren't easy or enjoyable, I'm better as a runner having experienced them than I would be otherwise. Experience is borne out of failure. Common sense has told me that I should run earlier in the day, that I shouldn't drink the night before a long run, and that I should race patiently and run based on how my body feels. Common sense has never explained it to me though; the old idiom 'show, don't tell' applies here: without having a bad run it's impossible to fully understand just how difficult certain mistakes can make our lives.

So it seems the way to recover is to do so with a little humility, a little self-reflection, and a lot of earnestness. One of my favorite quotes is from Samuel Beckett's Worstward Ho, and certainly applies here:

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

Keep moving forward, closer to my best effort. Learn from mistakes, be proud of my races—no matter how awful they seemed at the time. All the while, fail better.