Pursuing Your Best and Your Relationship To Failure

Last night I went to a spin class (after I may or may not have eaten a small cake) and afterwards I was chatting with my instructor. He was curious about how I was able to spin with the heavy load (resistance) I put on my bike. I told him I ran marathons and he goes, “That makes sense, runners tend to expect to sit in pain and push their limits.” He told me that the stakes of someone who is working towards something differ from your average person pursuing a good workout. I asked him what he meant and he said most people do what’s asked of them in class but they don’t feel compelled to push through the pain and discomfort that is necessary to get stronger. When the instructor gives a resistance or revolution range, they try to hit it (or stay within it) instead of pushing past it to see how hard or how fast they can actually ride. When the going gets tough they ease off or lighten their load instead of seeing what their breaking point is.

He then said something to me that had me like

by the beard of zeus

“I think the fear of looking stupid when you take on more than you can handle, doing it wrong, or not wanting to sit in the discomfort is what stops people from going after it. They just want to put their 45 or 60 minutes in instead of focusing on each different part of the ride. Most riders go to spin class to work out not to supplement their triathlon or marathon training. We get a lot of people who want to lose weight and I see a lot of those riders really attack their rides and push harder but unless someone has something to lose or gain, they set their sights on showing up, doing what's expected, and getting through it instead of actively finding and pursuing their best effort every moment of the class.”

mind blown

What does it mean to not give your best effort? In what situation do you walk into something and decide, “I’m not going to give my best effort right now because I’m just not in the mood.” Your best effort is, I think, whatever you are capable of doing at any given time. BUT in order to give your best effort you have to attack every given moment instead of getting through to the finish. (Though sometimes that's an accomplishment in itself.) Say your best time for a half marathon is 1 hour 45 minutes, is a 1 hour 55 minute not your best effort? I don’t think so. There's just a difference between pursuing your best effort and giving what you think is your best effort. I started to think about racing and what it means to give your best effort.

For a lot of people it’s the fear of failure that stops them from signing up for a race or even lacing up to go for a run. I see it and I hear it all the time, the fear of not running as fast as you want to, of not hitting your goal time, or not making it to the finish line. The fear of giving up or failing is greater than just trying. Ask yourself what’s at stake? What went through Shalane Flanagan’s mind when she toed the start line at Boston last year? She was very vocal about running to “win” the women’s race. Imagine what’s at stake for a professional athlete. They have sponsorships, their careers, their hopes, wishes, and dreams, sacrifices, and everything they worked for waiting for them at the finish line and it’s only theirs if they can “get there first.” I hate when people say, “My best wasn’t good enough.” WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT MEAN? It’s YOUR best! What happened to Shalane when she didn’t “win” or get to the finish line first for the women? I’ll tell you what she didn’t do, she didn’t fail. She stood proud, happy with her accomplishment. She had great things to say about her performance and her race, as well as some constructive ones, and she said I can’t wait for the next one, I’m going to win.

We have a lot to gain from this outlook, from facing our relationship to fear head on. Fear isn’t a state of being, it’s a driving force. It will drive you forward or it can paralyze you, driving you onto a different path. There’s no right or wrong, but you have to understand that it’s what you do with fear, what you do when you’re afraid that defines your best effort. Do you stop yourself from trying or do you get after it?

Failure isn’t an option because it doesn’t exist. All you have right now is what you can control which is the choices you can make now. You have to be present and live in the moment. You can’t let something that doesn’t exist stop you from trying. You have to sign up for a race before you can train for it. You have to put in the work each individual day to train before you can toe a start line. And you have to cross the start line and run the race before you can even cross the finish line. The only way you can fail is if you refuse to try. Fail better. Try, fail, and try again.

Running is a struggle and your relationship to it is always changing. You have to give yourself permission to enjoy and work through the best runs AND the shittiest runs. You can’t make excuses and you have to get out of your own way. Own your glory, rage, setbacks, trials, your right and wrong choices, and your successes and your “failures.” Remove all judgment because it will get you nowhere. Running is about putting one foot in front of the other, you just have to remember to take the first step and ALWAYS pursue your best effort. Until tomorrow, #RunSelfieRepeat.