Success or Failure?

I’m training for a marathon.  This will be my 20th marathon.  I’m excited and eager to get to the line and run this race.  I think it will be my best race in a long time.

There’s only one problem.

The race is 34 weeks away.

***

For a period of time, in my mid-to-late 30’s, when I was new to marathoning, I was the runner that pushed hard one day and then pushed harder the next.  I believed in the mantra “The only easy day was yesterday.”

I ran speed drills as quickly as I could.  On drills like Yasso 800’s, I liked to cut the recovery times short.  I invented my own speed work drill (Semmer 400’s) that pushed me even harder.  (There will be more on that running exercise in a future post.)

I ran my long runs as fast I could.

I ran my slow runs as fast as I could.

I ran hills.  Hard.

Back then I knew I was getting close to Marathon Ready when I could run 10 miles each day of the week before work and then follow that with a long run on Saturday.

I loved pushing myself – hard.

Every song on my playlist, it seemed, discussed overcoming pain or were songs from the Rocky movies (and, in a sense, what is the difference?).

The results were actually great.  For a period of time, from 2002 to 2006, each marathon I ran was faster than the previous race.  I broke four hours.  Then I broke 3:45:00.  Then I broke 3:30:00.

In 2006, in Chicago, I ran a PR of 3:25:16.

I believed I was on the precipice of a Boston Qualifying Race.  Maybe I was…

I haven’t made it.  Yet.

***

In the years since 2006, I’ve had some pretty quick races and some slower races.  I have enjoyed great success because I finished well and enjoyed success because I overcame injury and pain to just finish.

I consider every marathon finish a success.  One cannot call a marathon finish a failure – even if he falls short of his time goals.

I have come to realize that it’s all good.

As long as I am running and doing my best, it’s all good.

***

In the last seven years, as I have pushed into my mid-to-late 40’s, I have suffered or struggled through my fair share of running injuries and pains:

Plantar fasciitis, a torn Achilles, a torn soleus, a stress fracture, and other bumps and aggravations along the way.

Where once I thought I was indestructible, I now realize that I am all too fragile and that having the opportunity to run is a gift.  A true gift.

Following a stress fracture in my foot in 2013 (I ran through this to complete the NYC Marathon), I took two full months off from running.  I realized in that time that a life without running, for me at least, is empty.  I craved the opportunity to run again and promised myself that even on my worst day, when every step is a struggle, that I would treasure and embrace the runs.

I have pretty much kept that promise to myself.

I find a way to enjoy (almost) every single run.  I have also learned that when I’m not able to find a way to embrace the effort, that it is time to end the run and stay strong, sharp, and physically ready for the next one.

***

Over the last 15 years, I have developed many different running plans.  Last fall I developed what I hope is the prefect marathon plan for me.  A slow, steady, determined, but smart, build up, over a year, to get strong for my next marathon.

Rather than building up to a rigorous 16-week marathon training program, I have decided to build slowly and steadily to be in the very best shape I can be in for my next race.

Along with this, I have changed a number of practices.

I’m eating better.

I warm up before I run.

I have embraced compression socks.

I run slower.  Speed work comes occasionally.  I don’t treat every race like it’s the Olympics.

I visit my chiropractor as often as I can.  (He is a miracle worker, by the way.  If you live in New Jersey, send me a note, I’ll pass his name along.  He is the greatest doctor in the world.)

And I stretch.  (Those who know me know that I was the guy who said, “I’ll never stretch.”)

So far, it’s going great.

(Please don’t add any negative comments about this plan.  If my “advances” are all psychological, that’s fine with me.  I’m a big fan of the placebo effect.)

***

Which brings me to today.  I woke up today knowing the plan was to run 15 miles.

In New Jersey right now, the weather is frigid.  It’s not just cold.  It’s bitter.

I decided to do the 15 on my treadmill.

(People who know me know that I enjoy running stupid long distances on my treadmill.  I have completed a few (what I call) Treadmill Marathons.) (It’s a little strange.)

Today, I fell short of my goal.

I hit 10 miles and was done – mentally and physically.  So I stopped.  I failed.

Or did I?

***

What is success?

If success for me today was running 15 miles, I didn’t make it.  I fell short.  I failed.

But did I?

I woke up.  I put on my running clothes.  I warmed-up.  I stretched.  And I ran.  And ran. And ran.

I didn’t plan to run fast, and I didn’t.  I stayed at about 9:40 miles.  Slow, steady, consistent.

I pushed through some pain.  I pushed through some boredom.  I pushed through some monotony.

As I approached  10 miles, I knew, at my current “speed,” that I’d have about 48 more minutes of running to hit 15 miles.  I dug deep.  I searched for more inside.  And today I found that I didn’t have 48 more minutes to give.

So I stopped.

You might call me a failure.

If I did fail, I am okay with that.  I am firm believer that we learn when we fail.  In each failure there is the opportunity for reflection and growth.  Success is not a straight path, it’s a process.  Sometimes we stumble along the way.  Sometimes we fall short.

Sometimes we fail.

But, I refuse to look at my run today as a failure.  Instead I know that I gave it my best.  And I did well.

I quit my run a bit short of the goal, but that doesn’t make me a failure.  It actually makes me hungry to try again.

I may just run another 10 tomorrow.  Or, next Saturday I will try for 15 again.  I did 15 three weeks ago.  I know with the right circumstances that I can make it again.  I don’t want to push too much, too soon.  The race is a long way off.

I running smarter and better than I have in a long time.  I’m not injuring myself.  I’m enjoying the process.  I’m smelling the roses along the way.  (Actually, I mostly smelling treadmill rubber, Lemon Lime Gatorade, Chocolate Gu, and my own sweat, but you get the idea.)

As long as we’re moving forward, as long as the effort is there, as long as we give our best, we are successful.

Success is sometimes a mindset, not necessarily a result.

We run against ourselves.  We run to find the best that is within us.  We run to find out who we are and who we can be.

As long as the effort is there, as long as we try, as long as we give it our best…we are successful.

10 miles today?  Pretty good.  I’ll take it!

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