Note: This post was written by brent Larimer and sent to me via email for publishing. Although it states me as the author, this is Brent’s work submission. I could not post under his name.
I am a failure, and I say this with great pride. I failed again this morning.
As I’m closing in on my next race, this morning’s weekly long-run became a series of 10-minute tempo repeats—a hard effort for me, especially after a decent bike session yesterday. By the final repetition, it became clear I was not going to make the set pace. Yep, I failed.
My initial response was anger and auto-exculpatory behavior. “Why doesn’t my coach give me a pace I can hit?” “I should be able to hit these sets!” “Get out of your head, it’s supposed to be tough.” Ah yes, inner turmoil. Aren’t hard runs fun? Then, something unexpected happened.
My previous approach to training setbacks has been by way of sports psychology—in essence, trying to manually override my mental thought processes. For example, I would attempt to recognize the self-deprecation when it happens and redirect those thoughts with positive self-talk, or proactively reciting positive affirmations. Ironically, the VA also tried this approach with me for years and invariably failed. The harder the docs tried to retrain my thought patterns, the more my mind resisted. That’s not who I am, nor is it how I process things.
Unrelated to training, I’ve recently been contemplating what it means to be me. I’ve found myself, once again, turning back to history’s greatest thinkers and philosophers for guidance on life. Who am I, who do I want to be as a person, what defines me? One technique I’ve used is priming my days with reflections on topics and virtues from various philosophers. This morning, before heading out on the run of the day, I happened to read some of Henry David Thoreau’s thoughts on success. I’m always amazed by how relevant philosophers, from an entirely different era, are to this today.
Let’s face it, we live in a world of “constant chase.” Both in and out of sport. I also think this topic is becoming increasingly relevant with the rise of social training platforms. Now, I’m no Strava KOM or segment-leaderboard type person, but I am the type of person that has to make “X” goal, or hit “insert” pace. I know it’s the A-type personality inside me, which constantly lurks just below the surface of my unconscious thought. No doubt social media and the omnipresent fear of public judgment heighten my need to succeed. And sure, the constant pressure helps me reach new heights, but I find it also has a way of sapping some of the joy out of what I do for fun.
“Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.” – H.D. Thoreau
I think this will resonate with many endurance athletes. How we define success is what separates us from the masses that flood the gym for the first two weeks of each new year, only to reenter 351 days later. We share the trait of defining success, not through short-term achievements, but through long-term self-realization. We begin searching for who we can be, how far we can push ourselves, how much better can I (me, my, no one else,) become.
I didn’t start running to be the best. I didn’t starting training to qualify for a world championship. I started training as a constructive outlet for life stress. So when did extrinsic rewards start overshadowing my intrinsic motivation? At what point did I start defining myself by anything other than me? Whether, I run a 5k, an Ironman, or a 100-mile ultra, the one thing that remains constant is, well, me.
“If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal,—that is your success.” – H.D. Thoreau
Unlike previous runs, today marked a noticeable difference in my mental processing of failure. The inability to make the prescribed interval raised thoughts from a recent podcast. How do we view failure? For the remainder of the run and cool down, I contemplated failure, success, training and what all of that means to me.
I realized this morning that I am a failure and through my failures, I am a success. Each day I slip into my shoes, clip into my pedals, or pull the swim cap over my ears, it’s about getting smarter, stronger, faster—which, suitably, happens to be the mantra of the team I am a part of, Team MPI. But today, I think all of this finally sunk in.
“What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.” – R.W. Emerson
So yes, I am a failure. I fail. A lot. And if I have 99 failures and 1 success, I have won against all life has thrown at me. I am stronger for each setback. And by having that 1 success, I overcame everything that should have held me back. On the other hand, if I experience 99 successes and 1 failure, would I have been any better off? Arguably, no. Very little in life grows without resistance and adversity provides the fundamental strength to grow beyond my current potential.
Some may look down on the idea of failing. Surely people will argue that I am breeding negativity by calling myself a failure. But I am not talking about failure, instead, I am redefining what success means, more specifically what success means to me. Embracing my failures is where I need to be. Remembering that my character in the midst of failure, and not the fleeting moments of success, must always define who I am as a person. And who I am as a person, makes me a great athlete.
“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” – H.D. Thoreau