Sunday, February 19, 2017

On Failing

Here is what failing feels like: it feels like two lead vices clamping around your legs as you fight to keep them in motion. It feels like dread, in that moment right before you look down at your watch. It feels like sliding backward down a hill that has no end. It tastes like metal. Looks like darkness. Sounds like silence, where there should be the deep, tremendous roar of will.

I’m running. And I’m failing. And I don’t have any answers.

Before I sound too self-pitying, I should point out that by many people’s estimations, I’m not failing. In fact, if you look at the “official record” of what I’ve done so far in 2017, you might say I’m succeeding. I’ve run a handful of races and placed reasonably well; I’ve even won a few. But is winning the same as succeeding?

Depends on your definition of success.

If I show up to a race and the only women there are at my fitness level, with my experience, then yes: I want to win. But there are plenty of women out there who are fitter, tougher, more talented, and harder-working than I am. If they show up, I will not win.

And frankly, I don’t care.

What I care about is, when the race is neck-and-neck and it comes down to who can dig deeper in those last miles, or moments, or seconds, that I don’t let up. I don’t care if my name is rendered in lights or entirely forgotten. I don’t need an extra medal, or a trophy, or a podium, as nice as all of those things are. What I need is to know that, when it comes down to it, I care more and can push myself harder than the woman next to me. If, in the end, she is actually faster and wins the race, so be it. Good for her. But as long as I ran right to the brink of self-destruction and gave it everything I had, all the way through the last centimeter of the race, I’ll be happy.

Happy . . . but perhaps still not succeeding.

The beauty of running is that I don’t have to care about winning for the sake of winning. Running is not like basketball, or soccer, or tennis, where there is one winner and one loser, and if I don’t win, I failed. In running, I can lose to tens or hundreds or thousands of women and still succeed. But in order to do that, I have to beat myself. I have to beat my own fastest time.

That is how I measure success.

So right now, I am failing. I am failing at races, I am failing at workouts, and I am frustrated as hell. However, I’ve heard some smart people insist that failure is not the end of the journey. So tomorrow, I’ll lace up my shoes, strap on my watch, and try, try again.

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