One Dirty Magazine

In 2020, Let’s Fail Spectacularly 

Fall down. Get back up. Talk about it.

David Roche December 30th, 2019

In 2020, Let’s Fail Spectacularly 

2020 is just around the corner, and Trail Runner’s podcast DNF is coming out on January 1! So maybe now is a good time to reflect on why “failure” (with strong air quotes) can be such an important part of an athletic life. Thank you all so much for the support this year!

 

Subscribe now to DNF on Apple Podcasts or wherever you download content. Creator Zoë Rom knocked it out of the park. OK, let’s do this …

 

———

 

I am scared.

I’m scared of death. My dog Addie is already seven years old, a senior for her breed, getting her adorable dog AARP card. If we’re lucky, in a few years, we’ll see the end closing in and get to give her one last cuddle and one last spoonful of peanut butter before she snarfs off into the great dog park beyond. And that’s just the start. My fear of death runs to my core, where there is a Tootsie Pop center that wants to be sweetly spiritual but can be bitterly nihilistic.

I’m scared of letting people down. If I think someone is mad at me, I become a self-loathing turtle. I retreat into my shell, only coming out for meals.

Fear is human. Anxiety is a side effect of sentience; self-consciousness comes with existential indigestion. Dig a well down into anyone’s psyche, and fears will usually bubble to the surface. 

I’m scared of writing crappy articles, of being a bad coach, of the New York Yankees and climate change and the movie Cats. You’re probably scared too. And that’s OK.

Fear is human. Anxiety is a side effect of sentience; self-consciousness comes with existential indigestion. Dig a well down into anyone’s psyche, and fears will usually bubble to the surface. 

Those fears can suck. But they can also motivate action and growth. A hominid without fear would have had its genetics snuffed out by a lion long ago. Fear isn’t a bug; it’s the ultimate feature.

Fear in an Athletic Life

Coaching helped give my own fears more context. I imagine anyone who sees the journey behind the scenes feels that way. So many athletes train scared, race scared, make social-media posts scared. I know I have.

This article is not about getting rid of that fear altogether, a task that is above my pay grade. It’s just to tell you that for many people, a bass line of fear thumps through life. It might not be the loudest or even perceptible at times, but it’s there. And all too often, that fear can take a running life hostage.

What are runners afraid of? I don’t know for sure. I’m not a therapist or a horror movie villain. But I think that if you boil it down, a lot of what we fear as athletes is connected to some type of failure. 

Injury? Failure.

DNF? Failure. 

Slow race? Failure. 

Miss a run or fall off the wagon or find out maybe you’re just not cut out for this athletic life? Failure.

A lot has been written about failure, so I won’t belabor the point here. But basically, it comes down to this: not too many of us want to be reminded of our own inadequacy or have others know about it, or to lose what we love. Fearing failure as an athlete connects directly back into all those existential anxieties. And fear is a creative emotion.

Athletic failure is not something we need to fear. It’s something we can celebrate as a community as a chance to learn and laugh. And by celebrating failure, we can truly explore our potential and have way more fun along the way.

A good race or season is triumphant! But if you’re not careful, the glow of triumph can be nothing compared to the darkness of failure. That injury is like getting fired from your job, that DNF is like a relationship falling apart, slowing down with age is a lot like death. If running is attractive partly because it’s a metaphor for life, then it can truly suck for the same reason. 

But … and here’s the point of the article … athletic failure is not something we need to fear. It’s something we can celebrate as a community as a chance to learn and laugh. And by celebrating failure, we can truly explore our potential and have way more fun along the way.

Celebrating “Failure”

Caring about running is so freaking weird when you think about it. Why should it matter if you get fractionally faster in some arbitrary distance? I say that as someone that has dedicated his life to running coaching, so clearly I think that it matters. But it’s not for the reason of who finishes first or last. It’s not related to finishing at all. It’s related to the living.

In running, you go for it. You strive against all odds to do things without too much meaning, caring a lot and making stories along the way. Maybe you succeed, maybe you don’t. Either way, it probably doesn’t matter all that much in the end. What does that sound like? 

Running won’t solve death or climate change, but maybe it can help quiet those fearful, self-critical voices inside our own heads just a little bit. Those voices want immutable, impossible certainty. Running gives us a chance to practice seeing that swirl of chaos and moving forward with love anyway. 

What can be so transformative and transcendent about running is that it’s a lot like life, but the stakes aren’t quite the same. So let’s use it as a trial run for everything else. Running won’t solve death or climate change, but maybe it can help quiet those fearful, self-critical voices inside our own heads just a little bit. Those voices want immutable, impossible certainty. Running gives us a chance to practice seeing that swirl of chaos and moving forward with love anyway. 

In 2020, let’s dream big and go for it, shooting our shots even if we’re deep behind the three-point line. Race scary races. Set scary goals. Train with purpose. Care enough for it to hurt us. 

(takes a deep breath)

Let’s confront our fears. Let’s fall down, let’s get back up and let’s talk about it. Let’s put ourselves out there because it’s one of the coolest and most badass things we can do as human beings. In taking risks, we may “fail.” But that’s where a lot of the fun happens, and almost all of the growth.

Every single breakthrough I have seen is preceded by a failure (and followed by failure too). Every good story features some solid failure. I’d argue that if you’re not “failing,” you’re not living.

So together, let’s face our fears. 

In 2020, let’s fail spectacularly. 

 

David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. His book, The Happy Runner, is about chasing your potential and having fun along the way.

 

 

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unkeymelvisBrent RunzelElizabeth AndersonWillis McCarthyAndy Recent comment authors
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Mike Heiliger
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Mike Heiliger

Great words of wisdom to finish the year and start a new year! This past year I experienced an epic failure at Squamish 50/50! It took awhile to deal with it physically and emotionally. In retrospect, I can laugh (no lasting effects, especially, I didn’t die). Hopefully, I can learn from failure to have fun in 2020. Happy New Year

David Roche
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David Roche

You are incredible Mike! I love that laughter so much. Can’t wait for all your adventures to come!

Kate
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Kate

Yet again, a brilliant article. I am going straight to my running calendar to fill it with runs that I might complete, but which I definitely have a fear of failing. Looking forward to another year of awesome words by Mr Roche, thank you!

Andy
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Andy

OK, so I am a psychologist, but also an ultrarunner who, with 40+ races under my belt, has been failing more than succeeding in the past few years as I plod through middle age (read “50s”). But do I still have goals for 2020? Hell yes! After all, you know what they say: Fall 10 times, get up 11 🙂

Elizabeth Anderson
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Elizabeth Anderson

Nothing wrong with being in your 50s! I am too, being scared of a race is much better of being scared of my health

unkeymelvis
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unkeymelvis

being on the “far side” of having to take minimum distributions from my retirement, I am still working and planning on completing my first 100 miler.
gotta have goals !!

Willis McCarthy
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Bravo, Dr Roche! The article puts runnin’ and life in the GRAND perspective.

Elizabeth Anderson
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Elizabeth Anderson

Thank you! I just scared of the races I signed up for this year. Maybe that is a good thing.

Brent Runzel
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Brent Runzel

Powerful powerful words, wonderfully delivered. Because of other commitments, I wasn’t able to read this when it first popped into my mailbox, but something told me not to delete it unread. I’m glad I didn’t. I turned 60 just before Christmas and have been pondering my running for 2020. I’ll print this and post it on my running wall to use as inspiration throughout the year. Thank you, and Happy New Year!!!

 

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