Bouncing back from failure.

As you may or may not know. I recently decided to tackle the Montane Spine Race. This is a race in the UK, 430-something kilometers along the trail known as the Pennine Way over the course of 7 days in January. I trained, I obsessively researched and bought gear, then returned it and bought better gear. I bought a GPS unit, maps, and a compass and learned to navigate. I counted out trail snacks into 500 calorie portions, agonized over footwear and clothing, packed, and repacked my bags, and finally set off to England for the start of the race. Where I failed spectacularly and DNF’d on the very first day, just 42 short kilometers into the race.

Kit check

Yes, that’s right, just 11 hours in my race was over. I was racing with my friend, and somehow our pace was so slow that the safety team strongly advised us to stop, saying that we would be a danger not only to ourselves, but to anyone who may need to come to our rescue if it came to that. The weather conditions were horrific…winds gusting up to 115 kph, driving rain, cold temperatures. However, it was the same for everyone. Just like navigating was the same for everyone, though not knowing the course we were having to stop and check more often than a lot of people, plus the shoes I was wearing did not have the right kind of traction for the wet, slippery limestone slabs that make up much of this section of the trail. None of these are excuses because, as I said, it was the same for everyone, but all of this together meant our pace was glacial slow. Some members of the safety team met us at a road crossing, and as soon as they told us to get into their car so we could have a chat, I knew it was not looking good for us. Although they did tell us we could continue if we really wanted to, they strongly discouraged it, also pointing out that even if we carried on we were likely to time out at the next checkpoint. 

And so, just like that, the dream of completing the Spine Race came to a thudding halt. My body and mind were still in it….I wasn’t even tired yet, but I was being told I should not continue. I have DNF’d in races before, but never one of this magnitude. Never one with this amount of investment, in time, money, and emotion. Never one where I had put myself out there quite this much, and while everyone around me has been supportive, reassuring me that I made the right choice, and giving me their compassion, I can’t help but feel embarrassed, like I’ve let people down. Like I’ve let myself down! All in all, it was a massive failure. We all have failures in our lives from time to time, and sometimes it is easier to define ourselves more by our failures than our successes, to dwell on them and even let them take over our lives. I know I’ve been guilty of this myself on more than one occasion.

This time, however, I’ve decided to not let myself be defined by this failure, not to dwell on it, to move on immediately. And maybe it is just because it hasn’t hit me yet and I’ve not had time to process this whole thing, but I actually think I’m ok! Before the sweat had even dried I was thinking of a plan B, a way to make the best of a bad situation. I feel like I have moved on, but I know I will still have moments going forward where I have bad feelings….disappointment of course, anger, regret, all of the negative things associated with failing at something.  And I think it is ok to feel all of these things, not only ok, but completely normal to feel them as well. Ok to feel them, but not dwell on them. To keep moving forward, keep looking forward, setting a new goal and moving towards that. 

After a set back like this, I think it is really important to remind that you are not a failure just because you have failed at this one thing,  to remind yourself that even though you haven’t been successful, at least you’ve been brave enough to put yourself out there. It is easy to never fail if you never challenge yourself. If you never even try something, there is never the opportunity to grow, to learn from your mistakes.  It’s not easy to look failure in the face and move on from it, but it is possible, and also incredibly important to do so. Your feelings are valid, but don’t let them define you. Pick yourself up, set a new goal, and move on! I’ve got it permanently written right on my arm….just keep moving forward!!

Plan B…. a 120 km canal walk

12 thoughts on “Bouncing back from failure.

  1. Awesome blog Carolin. Your feelings are right on the page. You are brave and strong and I love you. So well done to move on to plan B and make a new adventure and memories! Beautifully written

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  2. You didn’t fail, you learned. A lot. (and stayed safe, most important!) I agree with you on bouncing back, and that not achieving a goal doesn’t make one anything other than someone who tried and didn’t achieve the goal…the important part is the trying. I hope you enjoyed all the prep, research, training, etc. And your plan B looks good to me! (ever thought of doing GUCR 145? it fascinates me, but I’ve yet to get 100 miles, so it’s a bit out of my reach at the moment…did hit my lifetime PB of almost 82 miles in 30.5 hours in a timed race last month though!) Congratulations!

    (Also – I apologize if this sounds odd – I love your hair. Do you cut it yourself with a clippers? I have friends with styles similar to yours who do, and I’ve wanted to try it for ages to save $ and time, but my fine/straight hair may not be as friendly to it as someone else’s thick or curly hair.)

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  3. You are an amazing athlete and person! I am glad you had plan B and are not beating yourself up too badly! Courage is to overcome this shit and come out on top!! Big hug again!

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  4. Thank you for writing this post. I think it’s so important that we embrace the things that don’t go according to plan and take them for what they are – not a failure but an experience to learn from. Your attitude is great and, while I know how disappointed you must have been, you’ve turned it into a positive and helped others feel better when faced with a similar situation.

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  5. Hi Carolin, I was following the race on the tracker as a friend of mine, Kevin Bowen, was competing (and he finished!). I think a lot of the British competitors will have recce’d at least part of the route. Also I imagine that many have more than one attempt at this race as it is so demanding. There must be a lot of variation in the surface underfoot and that is a challenge too if you are not familiar with it. Attempting it and putting yourself out there is an achievement in itself and you should feel proud of yourself. I’m impressed by all the races you’ve completed. I hope you enjoyed your time in the UK despite the disappointment. Katie

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