The Art of Failure

This time of year brings a flood of articles in magazines, on the internet, on social posts all discussing similar topics for athletes…

 

*“How to _________ better than ever!!!  

*10 off season habits for eating the perfect amount of CHO’s

*3 swim sessions to tune up during the off season!!

*Stay in Zone 2.5Aa, but not 3.4-6 for the next few weeks!!

Make + build your core & stamina with these 4 steps!!!!

 

… it goes on.

 

I’m not bagging on this.  Maybe I’m making fun of my own hidden obsession with looking for a new trick or treat. I read and get sucked in too.  But why

 

Because other writers, (better writers), athletes, and coaches are smart(er) and more experienced. 

 

But be careful.

 

Think back, if you will, to a time when a radio was tuned (not sync’d or Alexa’d) and frequency fought and got caught between a good tune and a commercial ad bleeding in from an adjacent station. As a coached athlete for many years I was told continually to ‘tune out’ noise and ‘focus on our relationship’ (athlete and coach) “There’s a lot of noise out there,” were wise words from a previous coach. Athletes are information junkies and as we train and race we desire to improve.  But problems sometimes grew for me when I over-researched strategies for improvement. 

 

Confused thoughts + patterns = mish-mash of ideas.  Good ideas all converging into mud. Roads to building success with insight and information from too many different sources usually congested into a mental traffic jam.

 

(Disclaimer here—Listen to your coach!  Yes, its totally, TOTALLY fine to read and study! Talk about information with your coach!!!  But back to my opening statement— with all the off season writing and advice—just be smart about what you chew on, and what you spit out.) 

 

Ok-Rabbit trail there ….Where was I?

 

Oh yeah.…

 

So-what to discuss?   I want to be sensitive and careful and careful not to waste your time, ensuring there is relevance.  I’ve decided to steer clear of lists, swim sets, and try this’s. So what perks my ears when I read?  What topics are worth the “click” and time on my clock? 

 

I’ll just share some thoughts, if that’s cool with you. For me, articles written by people who know what they’re talking about because they’ve lived it and truly feel something—conviction, success, hope, accomplishment, improvement, a way of overcoming obstacles.

 

For example, watch Eliud Kipchoge run, and then listen to him speak. 

 

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So…what do I feel? Really feel, and know enough about to make you want to keep reading?

 

Easy.

 

Failure.

 

Tougher than any indoor trainer session, swim, or interval run, failure is something I’m incredibly familiar with.  Maybe we all are. What do I say to myself or the athletes I’m coaching when the old friend comes to dine and haunt the house? 

 

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Throughout my career as a multisport athlete, I’ve been given opportunity to talk and travel. Schools, churches, youth groups, athletic teams. It was tough at first, but once I figured out how my opening would go, the body of my discussion sort of just fell into place. 

 

 Goes something like this….

 

“Thank you so much for allowing me to come and share with you today. 

My name is Christian. I am an Endurance Athlete…and, I’ve never won a single race I’ve competed in.

 

Ever. 

 

Second, third, fourth, fifth. 

But never first.”

 

This leads to the same question, almost every single time. “Why keep doing it if you fail?” I do my best to avoid overcooked cliches.  But ultimately the types of failure I’ve experienced are boiled down to a singularly refined statement.  Trying to explain myself sometimes can be tough, but it goes something like this…

 

Failure, rather perceived failure in finishing time, placing, qualification or whatever goal was unachieved, is an experience — sometimes in training, but often during a race —  that gives  me what I need, not necessarily what I want,  so I can go where I really want to go. 

 

Failure usually masks a future success, and sometimes I’m just too impatient, and stupid to allow that possibility.  It functions like a big computer. A strange and ugly computer collecting pings and data on a spread sheet.  We need to get over the feeling, (feeling being the key word here) of the initial disappointment of unmet expectations, and try, even when it’s difficult, to gain perspective on what it truly means. 

 

I know that’s a mouthful and am almost certain I’ve not fully conveyed my thought.  I admit I struggle putting this into practice.  In 2015 I almost lost my life as a result of a ‘failure’.  I did not at the time see it as a ‘great opportunity’ to get me where I need to be.  I thought ‘This freaking sucks!” and “I may never race again.”

 

**Another interesting characteristic of the ugly computer of failure. Collecting data is no reason to give you a why. Or when the ‘why’ will make sense to validate the failure. 

 

Just don’t quit. Ever.

 

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Situations and whys I’ve used to get over myself and understand the whole year, 2 years, however long was a build to this failure-the one that gets me to the goal.

 

I often think of times, and reasons, in a race where I wanted so bad to quit and did not. Only to find the next moments the precious seconds that sling shot me past the valley-to the next little victory to get me to the finish. 

 

Or to the next valley.

 

I’ve read that success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. I could not agree more. 

 

So the point of this rambling is I encourage you to find look for reasons and figure out why your failure is a success.  Much in the same way I have taught athletes to find a ‘focus for the misery’ in a race.  “What’s more important than the discomfort your feeling now?” Something to get you past it. 

 

I’ve run for clean water in Africa, Prostate Cancer Awareness, to build awareness about the destructive nature of pornography, for Romanian children in need of clean clothes and a shower, to put a spotlight on sex trafficking and the need to stop it, to inspire my children, to feel better, fitter, happier. Through constant failure I kept collecting data, getting better, and finding reasons to welcome the struggle. Talking in Kenya to a group of children I had one ask me, “Do you think if you would have succeeded at every race you felt you should have-would you be here talking to us right now?”  

 

How can failure at a race equate to anything but a success if the reason for racing is bigger than a result?

 

Your why could be something like losing weight, fighting a habit, breaking a cycle, getting fit. It could be cancer, a promise, a hope to feel better, raising awareness for a cause, charity, children, food, etc.  This is the art of sport I’m so drawn to.  The art of sport as the canvas,  and the reason for racing is the masterpiece.  

 

 

Dick & Rick Hoyt - Team Hoyt began in 1977 when Rick asked his father if they could run in a race together to benefit a lacrosse player at his school who had become paralyzed. He wanted to prove that life went on no matter your disability.

 

Roberto Clemente - Clemente spent much of his time during the off-season involved in charity work. 

 

Billy Miske - Miske's family struggled financially following his retirement, and though doctors only gave him a few months to live, he decided to fight once more in order to earn enough money to buy Christmas presents for his children.

 

 

Artists in sport making beautiful works of art in life.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Louisville Post Race

Wanted to share a few images & thoughts after Ironman Louisville. 

Thank you.

As I prep to leave for Louisville I again thank the team I'm a part of.